Interview with Novelist Tina Rae Collins
Our latest interview is with Tina Rae Collins, author of several books. We are honored to have such an experienced author with us today. I hope you enjoy her thoughts.
1. Tell us about your books.
My favorite books are my youth novels. The setting is eastern Kentucky in the Appalachian Mountains in the mid-’50s and early ’60s. I have long loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and decided that my youth books would make a good story if I presented it the way she presented hers. After all, I began my schooling in a one-room school with a pot-bellied stove. We used an outhouse and drank water at school that we carried in buckets from a mountain stream.
I wanted to write books that would entertain, but I also felt that if God had given me a talent to write, then I must use that talent to glorify Him. So all my books gently teach moral lessons. Emily, my main character (who, of course, portrays me in the books) is inquisitive and adventurous. She gets herself into some messes but always learns an important truth in the end. I have published three books in this series and the fourth should be published shortly. I am now offering a special price for the set of four on my website.
Besides these books I have published six others–two poetry books, a fable about chickens that I co-authored with James Johnson, a novel about my divorce, a non-fiction book for pre-teens about growing up in the Lord, and a book for women on being the glory of man. All these books are available on my website.
2. How long have you been writing? What led you to fiction?
I have been writing since I wrote with a big fat blue pencil in first or second grade. I took creative writing in both high school and college.
I helped publish a small magazine called “Brown Paper Bag” (we put our stories and poems in a brown paper bag and sold them) when I was in college. Years later I published a small poetry magazine called “Poetry Plain and Pure.” I had subscribers to that and also sold it door to door.
I was producer, director, and star of “Writers Reading,” which aired for five years to about 25,000 people on WPRG in Harold, Kentucky. I interviewed authors on that show and was able to read quite a bit from my own writings.
I published my first book, a poetry book called Down Mare Creek Road, in 1993. About that same time I began writing fiction with When Angels Cry (2004), an adult novel, as a form of therapy to get past the pain of a divorce. I called myself Emily in that book and continued with that name when I decided to write my youth novels so that my children would have a record of what life was like when I was growing up.
3. What do you feel are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?
I feel that one of my strengths is that I let the characters tell the story. I love dialogue in books so I try to put as much as I possibly can into the mouths of the characters. Another strength I believe I have is that I write in the language of the people in the story, trying to bring the characters alive and make them believable. I also use humor, which I think adds to any book. And I write about what I know. Weaknesses? If I knew what they were, I would probably correct them.:)
4. Where do you get your ideas and characters?
I get the characters from my life. I rarely have any character that is not based on someone I know or have known. That way I know my characters won’t say or do things that are out of character. I get ideas from absolutely everywhere–even a stray comment or a stray leaf falling to the ground.
5. What does the act of writing mean to you? Do you read books on writing?
For me personally writing is something I don’t have a choice about doing. I have to write. I feel that it is what I was born to do. It is in me and if I didn’t come it out I think I would go stark-raving mad. I was told by the editor of a magazine that I have many voices. I think all the voices we have, when put on paper, are types of writing, whether the writing is a heartfelt letter to our child or a journal entry. We can usually take any writing and put it into a novel or poem if we ever decide to do that.
No, I do not read books on writing. I believe these books would teach me something, but I also fear that I might lose something in the process. We all have our own ways, and I believe we need to go on own way in order to offer our particular stories.
6. Did you have storytellers when you were growing up that influenced you? Were you an avid reader as a child?
My mom used to tell ghost stories. And a lady came to our school and told us Bible stories. I read the little blue biographies and the Betsy series of books as well as the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. And I have always been a storyteller. I put my children to bed every night with a new story that I made up on the spot as I sat on their beds tucking them in.
7. Describe your editing process.
I write and then set it aside for a few days–maybe weeks or months. Then I go back and beef it up. Usually my first draft is much shorter than my final copy. I try to get the story out and then go back and fill in the details. After that I edit for mistakes. Then I hand it over to my younger daughter, Rachel, who usually finds more grammatical errors and comments that don’t make sense. Her questions prompt me to rethink some of my ideas. After that my older daughter, Rebecca, looks at it and tells me if something is too detailed or not detailed enough or just plain no good. She too offers her own ideas about what ought to be added or deleted. Then I change the manuscript and proofread it again. Often I will give it back to one of my daughters for yet another look. This can go on for a while.:) Although I am a professional editor myself, I know that it is nearly impossible to edit your own work; so I depend on the free services of my daughters.
8. Do you outline your books or let the story go where it wishes?
Oh, I outline! That is the shell of my book and helps me know where I’m going. However, the first chapter of my outline could possibly turn into five chapters in the book. But that’s okay. When I’m finished with that chapter, I go on to the second chapter of my outline and continue where I left off. An outline of ten chapters could turn into a manuscript of twenty or thirty chapters.
9. Do you write biographies of your characters?
My books are a biography of my characters, at least during a certain period of their lives. They are all based on my life. However, I have written a totally fictitious book tentatively called A Time to Dance, which I hope to publish in the future. It is finished and ready for publication, but I just haven’t taken the effort to get it out to the public.
10. Where do you see publishing going in the digital age?
I imagine that books will be on CD and read on the computer, as they already are. However, I believe that we will always have books. People love the written word too much for it to disappear.
11. What lessons have you learned as a published writer?
Write about what you know. This is, in my opinion, the most important concept of writing. You cannot write about New England if you have never been to New England. You cannot write about the UK Wildcats if you have never been to a single game. You have a unique story to tell; and if you don’t tell it, nobody will.
Open yourself up; don’t be afraid to put your thoughts out there. You will be surprised at how many people feel just the way you do. Share your manuscript with as many people as you can and seek ideas even from unlikely sources. Accept and even welcome criticism. We all need input from others. However, don’t let anyone steal your faith in yourself. Just because one person doesn’t like your work, that doesn’t mean the next person won’t.
To young people, I want to say: Keep a journal! As you get older you forget all those funny stories that you might like to write about later in life. My creative writing teacher in college, the late Dr. Leonard Roberts (also an author), made my class write down everything we could remember from our childhood. Over the years I have been very grateful for that, as I have a record of events that I would have otherwise forgotten by now.
Don’t expect success in a day. And realize what success really means. It is not a fat bank account. It is knowing that you have written something that others learn from or enjoy reading. My niece was checking out at a store one time and the woman checking her out was reading my poetry book. The lady pointed to a poem and said, “That’s my life!” And that is why I write. I want to share the human experience. I want to say: You are not alone. Or, as Matthew Arnold said in “The Buried Life,” “The same heart beats in every human breast.”
Most important, do all to the glory of God. If what you write is not pleasing to the Creator of the universe, then it’s not worth writing and nobody needs to read it! Remember to keep your mind on what is true, honest, just, pure, and lovely. That does not mean that you have to be “preachy” or that you can’t write about your sorrows or your struggles, or even your anger. But make sure of your purpose–that it is to find redeeming value and honor your Father in heaven.