A few months ago I shared with you all about how blog buzz encouraged me to buy a certain book, namely The Secret Life of Becky Miller by Sharon Hinck. Though the days of being a young mom juggling pre-schoolers is way behind me, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and was thrilled to have an opportunity to review the sequel Renovating Becky Miller on its debut tour this February. I have to admit that one reason I'm keeping an eye on Sharon Hinck is that she has a fantasy trilogy coming out this year as well. I love her writing voice and I'm excited to see how it will translate into a fantasy setting.
That doesn't stop me from finding much to love in stories about Becky Miller in the meanwhile. In this second book, Becky and her husband, Kevin, decide that buying an old farmhouse and fixing it up will be the therapy they need to get out of the rat-race a bit and slow their lifestyle. These people are crazy! But some of us have thought the same thing...and then learned how much work renovating a house will be. Along the way, Becky discovers a few areas of her personal life that need renovating as well. Not everything is as easy to fix as a house, though. In fact, there are things she can't fix at all. Learning to depend on God (who CAN fix it) is a great lesson for Becky to learn. And it's one of those that I keep on learning, over and over again. Does that make the book a heavy read? Not in the slightest. In great mom-lit style, Sharon demonstrates the laugh-yourself-silly method of showing deeper truths.
Hubby and I renovated a house in the late 90s, then promptly sold it and purchased our current place. We bought it for the forty-acre property, not for the house. We couldn't face renovating again quite that soon after the last one, so we've been making do and are just now embarking on the Big Remodel of the farmhouse. Reading about Becky and Kevin's experiences made me wonder about Sharon's background in renovating, so I asked her.
VRC: How extensively have you renovated a home?
SH: My husband and I got in training for the real event by doing fix-up work at various apartments we rented over the years. When we purchased our first home, it had been a rental that had been on the market a long time. It was amazing how much work a tiny little house could create. Our first plan was to add a closet to the main bedroom – so Ted set about happily knocking out walls. But soon we realized the whole house was infested with fleas, mold was a problem, and huge slugs kept creeping under the back door and into our kitchen. What we thought would be a “cosmetic fix-up” in the bathroom ended up being a complete rip-out and re-do when we discovered all the walls rotting behind the tub-surround.
At our second home, we put walls and ceilings and floors into the unfinished basement, completely ripped out the kitchen, and put in a new kitchen one cabinet at a time as we were able to get them from a “scratched and dented” cabinet warehouse. We tore out a wall to create a pass-through into the dining area. We also re-roofed that house ourselves.
Our current home had a dark narrow kitchen with one wall completely brick. The weekend we moved in, Ted took sledge-hammer and crow-bar to that wall and pulled it all down (with an earth-shaking crash) and begin installing a completely new kitchen. He learned the wood floor in the rest of the house DIDN’T extend under the cracked old linoleum, so he also ended up installing a wood floor to match...one board at a time...in the kitchen.
Have I scared you yet? Just remember Becky’s renovating rule of budgeting the gross national product of a small country – then doubling it.
And of course, everyone knows the rule about remodeling projects taking three times as long as your longest estimate. :-)
VRC: You say home remodeling takes three times as long as the estimate. Our rule of thumb has always been double the expected cost, and multiply the timeline by ten! There are just so many surprises when fixing up an older house.
Sharon, I must say you've done it again. In The Secret Life of Becky Miller, I totally didn't see the last few chapters coming. Once again in Renovating Becky Miller, there were surprises. Not the kind of surprises that didn't fit the story, but just not what I thought I'd seen coming. Do you have any tips for writing unpredictable endings?
SH: I’ll let you in on one of my favorite secrets. Sometimes when I’m writing a novel, I let family members (especially my husband) read each chapter as I get it written...then I ask them, “what do you think will happen next?” I want to see what they expect as an “obvious” next occurrence, and then I brainstorm different directions to go. Not to “fool” the reader...but just to keep from becoming predictable. And I love watching for “God surprises.” They happen so often in my life, I want to reflect that in my novels, as well. Where a character sees maybe three possible choices, yet God has in mind an option better than all of them combined...but DIFFERENT.
VRC: So you're telling me that you don't extensively outline the novel ahead of time? How can that be? Is it LEGAL to not outline? I'm in shock!
SH: Illegal, immoral, and reprehensible. That’s me.
When I do careful outlines and plot out scenes, it feels too much like writing a term paper. I have a B.A. In education, and a Masters in Communication (Theatre/Journalism) so I’ve written TONS of research papers. I don’t want to write that way anymore. :-)
I confess that I often have a general arc in my mind – a sense of where the main character is going – but I LOVE the discovery of letting a story unfold and take zigzags. Sometimes something will be in a scene – I just know I’m supposed to mention it – but I don’t know how it will become important until much later. Then, sure enough, a character reveals something that makes me realize WHY I wrote what happened many chapters earlier.
Instinctual writing is much scarier and messier, though. If you CAN work happily using outlines and plots and character charts – go for it. You’ll avoid ulcers.
VRC: Because we're jumping into our second extensive renovation ourselves, I feel for Becky, but I fail to see how she ever thought renovating would be easy for folks who weren't already avid do-it-yourselfers. Yet we all tackle much of life in a similar way: with rose colored glasses on, seeing things the way we want to see them. Optimism seems necessary just to get through daily life, but it's how we react when optimism isn't enough that really proves who we are and what our foundation is.
SH: Wow! Well said. I think that’s exactly right. Nothing wrong with being a bit of idealist (Becky sure is, and I confess I am, too). But what happens when things don’t go the way you expect? For example, Becky’s faith is very vital to her. But some of the things she experiences lead her to feel confused and hurt. “Hey, God! I’m doing all this for You. Can’t I get a little help here?” LOL!
Like Becky, my faith-life is central to me, and I’ve had to wrestle with disillusionment when I thought I had God all figured out (blessing my little agenda) and things went a different way than I expected. Illnesses that don’t heal, problems that aren’t fair, relationships that hurt. I’ve had honest questions for God. Honest tears. But never felt chided for asking them.
Also, just like good-hearted Becky, I told myself my excessive efforts to serve were coming from deep devotion-- wanting to show my love for God and others. That was part of it. But actually my motives were more tangled. I wanted to feel needed. I wanted to know I mattered. I’ve spent too much energy in my approval addiction.
Now I’m trying to rest in the truth that I’m precious to God – NOT for what I do, but because He chooses to love me. I’m still not always wise about saying “no.” I’m still a muddle of genuine compassion mixed with dysfunctional desire to fix everyone. I don’t always get that sorted out very well. :-) But that’s okay.
VRC: How many books did you have written before landing that first sale? You have, what, six books coming out in under two years? What are your future writing plans based on?
Good question. People don’t realize I’m a rather slow and meticulous writer. The Secret Life of Becky Miller was my fifth completed manuscript. I had it finished (along with a good start on Renovating Becky) by the time the contract was signed. I also had three finished books in the Sword of Lyric series for when I signed that contract last summer. Of course, a completed manuscript is only one step in the process of revisions and honing. Right now all these manuscripts are completed and turned in, but I have plenty of work ahead as each is at a different stage in its life-cycle. I was HUGELY aided by both publishing houses being accommodating and supportive in laying out a schedule that worked for everyone.
The Secret Life of Becky Miller (Bethany House - June 2006)
Renovating Becky Miller (Bethany House - February 2007)
The Restorer (Book One in the Sword of Lyric series) (NavPress - May 2007)
The Restorer’s Son (Book Two- Sword of Lyric series) (NavPress - September 2007)
The Restorer’s Journey (Book Three – Sword of Lyric series) (NavPress - January 2008)
Key of Mom (Bethany House - February 2008)
Penny’s Project (Bethany House - September 2008)
My future plans?
A long nap. :-)
Okay, okay. I confess. I’m doing a little new writing on a manuscript... Too soon to know if it will go anywhere. But it’s fun to play.
Thanks SO much for inviting me to visit, and for your interest in my slightly off-center “stories for the hero in all of us.”
If you are interested in reading other stops along Sharon's Around the World Blog Tour click here. She's been a busy gal this month, visiting with so many of us, answering questions, sharing her joy and delight in life. You'd think that after 26 stops, questions and comments would start to repeat themselves. I've been following along (though rarely commenting, sorry...) and I've been really surprised how little overlap there has been. Thanks so much for stopping by, Sharon! Need a throat lozenge? (Or a finger massage?)