Becky, welcome! Your new Fallout series (YA/Coming of Age Fiction) is published by Clean Teen Publishing. They say:
“At Clean Teen Publishing, we believe that our readers deserve to know ahead of time what they are reading. We do not believe in censorship; we believe in the right to know.”
As both a parent and a reader, I’m all over this. Please tell us what it means to you for your books to be published by this house.
My journey with Clean Teen Publishing (CTP) has changed quite a lot since I first signed on with them. I originally submitted my manuscript to Crimson Tree Publishing, a division of CTP that publishes fiction geared toward older readers. All the Way to Heaven was written with the New Adult reader in mind—the protagonists are all college age and older—and one of my goals was to provide college-age readers with a “clean” alternative to what was being produced in that genre. I was drawn to CTP specifically because of their “Content Disclosure” form—I, too, think the concept is brilliant. I felt it would be a good opportunity to have a book that quite literally had a “stamp of approval” on it, or at least some kind of label that stated it was a clean New Adult Romance.
However, because it was quite different from other books they’d published in their Crimson Tree line (much more comparable to other New Adult fiction out there), the publisher opted to list it under the Clean Teen line, with the book still bearing the NA genre label inside. They felt that because it was clean enough for underage readers, the Clean Teen division would be a better fit. This decision was debated heavily, and in retrospect, we really should have left it in the Crimson Tree Line, primarily because the “Teen” in the label is misleading. This series is definitely more Coming of Age/Contemporary Romance, and not categorically Young Adult at all. Ah well. Live and learn.
However, the decision to publish under Clean Teen instead of Crimson Tree caused a domino effect that rerouted this series in several ways. I originally signed All the Way to Heaven to Crimson Tree as a standalone book. I knew the company preferred series, especially under the Clean Teen division, and although I already had some pretty solid ideas for subsequent books about Ani and Paulo that included marriage, career, family, etc., I knew they wouldn’t work for YA readers. So I brought the series back to the United States and focused on college-aged characters with younger lifestyles, while still promoting strong family values and common coming of age themes. The protagonist in Book 2, A Light in the Dark, is a female rocker on the cusp of launching her musical career and the brooding young guitar player who captures her heart. Book 3: A Long Way Home is a convoluted version of a “prodigal daughter” story. All three books have overlapping characters and storylines, but are essentially standalone novels.
Though All the Way to Heaven (the first in the Fallout series) is targeted at YA, the story has enough gravitas and “adultness” to captivate even adult readers. I was swept away by your sparkling prose and often thought as I was reading that I’d never seen words strung together in quite that way. It was delightfully refreshing, and you made it all appear effortless, though of course I know it wasn’t. What was your greatest challenge in writing this story?
First of all, thank you for your kind words. I’m so glad you enjoyed this novel! My greatest challenge in writing All the Way to Heaven was in the decision to write it at all.
Several years ago, I went to Italy with a friend, and we spent four glorious October days in Lucca, one of several stops we had planned in our three-week trip. I was completely charmed by the city and the people who live there. Less than a week after leaving Lucca, however, I received word that my strong-as-an-ox father had suffered a massive stroke. It took two days of rerouting tickets and sleeping in airports to get me home, but I still didn’t make it back in time to say goodbye—I learned of my father’s death in a bathroom in the international airport in Paris. Needless to say, I was devastated and I simply put my trip to Italy “away,” not knowing what else to do with it.
Eight years later, during that same week in early October, I awoke one morning to the sound of Puccini being sung below my window…but it was only a dream. Except that it wasn’t exactly. I kept my eyes closed and remembered my own first morning in Lucca when a saucy Romanian girl named Georgiana had awakened us singing opera arias below our window. If you’ve read All the Way to Heaven, you’ll recognize Georgiana in Madalina, a character taken right out of real life. I remembered, I grieved a little, and I knew I had to revisit Lucca so I could cherish the memory instead of hide from it. And in making it Ani’s story instead of my own, I was able to distance myself and my own feelings from it enough to fall in love with Lucca all over again.
(Note from KSJ: Get All the Way to Heaven on Kindle free! by clicking here.)
I know it’s like asking you to choose your favorite child, but do you have a preference between writing YA and Women’s Fiction? Why do these two genres so capture your heart?
Good question. I’d have to say I prefer Women’s Fiction mainly because it’s where I live. But I do find myself blurring the lines between these two, particularly with my YA/Coming of Age Fiction. I tend to write with a style more characteristic of Women’s Fiction (versus the fast-paced, cliffhangers of YA). I’m not skilled at world building, so although I love to read about other worlds and other times, I typically write about the world and time in which I live.
Why do these two genres capture my heart? For YA it’s pretty straightforward. I love the transition from childhood to adulthood, that period where you usually discover your mettle, your beliefs, abilities, what you’re made of—such an exhilarating and terrifying season in one’s life. I don’t necessarily have an agenda when it comes to YA/Coming of Age, but I love being able to offer relevant and clean fiction to readers of this genre.
Women’s Fiction—again, this is where I live. I write about the stories I see unfolding around me. I’m always up for a good romance novel or mystery/thriller, but I find with Women’s Fiction there’s a foundational depth that no other genre has access to. And the scope! Women’s Fiction—and YA/Coming of Age, to some degree—is a wide open playing field where “formula” is best left benched. The themes, the styles, the language, the settings, the options are endless. With Women’s Fiction, stories are given license to be told the way they need to be told, rather than following a protocol.
[Tweet “On clean fiction, magical realism, adultery, good cover art & more! Chat w/ @BeckySDoughty”]
I love talking about book covers, making no secret that they matter to me. Back-cover copy and front-cover artwork are two key factors in helping readers determine whether they will pick up a new book. Consciously or not, we do judge books by their covers. I know that for me, it can go even further: a good or poor cover can actually influence my enjoyment of the story. Both Waters Fall and Elderberry Croft, published by Brave Hearts Press, are exceptionally lovely. Is there a story behind these covers or the designer who created them?
Thank you! I totally agree with you; covers can truly make or break a book. BraveHearts Press is my own independent publishing company and our staff meetings consist of the publisher (me), the author (myself), and the interior/exterior designer (I). Up until The Fallout Series, I’ve designed my own covers. I will be the first to admit that I don’t love doing it. I know what I like and I know what I want, but everything I know I’ve had to learn by Googling. I don’t have special programs—both the covers you refer to were done with a combination of Word, Paint, and Gimp, all free and/or open source programs—and I have to reteach myself each time I make a new cover, because it’s not my first love.
Interesting story behind the Waters Fall cover. I actually had a designer create a cover for that book…but even though we worked together, every time I saw the cover, I knew the designer wasn’t getting it, no matter what I said. So although I went ahead and published it originally, I knew it wasn’t right. I finally pulled the plug on it, redesigned it myself, and the cover you see now is the one I whipped up for free. (I use the word “whip” very loosely – ha!). It was the best decision I’ve made because I knew what I wanted.
Needless to say, I was a little gun-shy working with the CTP designer, but I couldn’t be happier with those covers – they’re gorgeous and I love them!
The way you handled the heavy theme of adultery in Waters Fall displays a non-judgmental touch while doing nothing to shy away from devastating consequences. Is there a particular reason you chose to write about this topic?
Waters Fall is a story of second-chances, and it contains a strong faith element. What do you hope readers take away from it?
I’ll answer both these questions together. Adultery is alive and thriving in this world, and statistics show that cheating wives have pretty much caught up with cheating husbands as far as numbers go. Yet, as exciting and enticing as it may be, the consequences are always devastating, whether you’re religious or not. There’s simply no way around it.
However, one of the lessons I’ve learned the hard way is that Christians are notorious for shooting their wounded. I wanted to portray some of the isolation that results from the church turning a blind eye or pushing away someone hurting…and the good that can come when it does what God intended for it to do. A marriage isn’t glued together by the church, but fellow believers can certainly help hold a broken marriage together until healing takes place—this is something I really wish we spoke more openly about in our churches today. In Waters Fall, Jake and Nora struggled through much of their worst times alone, and yet, I wanted to show how God still met them where they were, thanks in part to the faithfulness and unconditional love of a few stout-hearted believers.
However, rather than write another story about a man who cheats on his wife and the process of restoration, I opted to write about a woman who cheats on her faithful husband, because I knew it to be a timely and relevant topic. And because I’m a Christian, I wrote it from a Christian perspective, knowing that the topic wasn’t common in Christian Fiction. Ironically, Waters Fall landed me an agent who shopped the book everywhere. Countless times we heard back that the writing was great and the story well told, but that an adulteress as a protagonist would be too hard a sell. If I’d consider making the husband the adulterer?…. So I opted to independently publish it.
Guess what. They were right. In the Christian market, it’s a hard sell. My harshest critics have been Christian women who have stated that they didn’t like Nora, that they couldn’t relate to her, and that they couldn’t understand why she would cheat on such a wonderful man (A comment that always makes me squirm because Jake had settled for being far less of a man than God had created him to be!).
But for every one of those comments, I’ve received ten others stating how important the book is—ministry leaders recommending it to married couples, pastors’ wives using it in counseling, men who have had their eyes opened to the importance of going beyond being a baby Christian to become Soldiers of Christ fighting for their marriages and families.
Which is exactly what I want people to take away from it. It’s not a fun read; I know that. But it’s a relevant read. And because the book walks the couple through the anatomy of an affair from before, into the middle, and then through the raw and oft-ugly restoration process, I want people to come away with hope, with a better idea of the road that leads to restoration in broken relationships of any kind. Forgiveness in the face of adultery is one thing. Restoration is another. Because restoration requires team work and changed hearts and minds for all parties involved. But it’s possible!
One of the things I enjoyed most about Elderberry Croft is what I would call a light dose of magical realism, such as what readers will find in the novels of Sarah Addison Allen. Did you intentionally go about including that element in this collection of whimsical short stories, or did it choose itself?
I devour Sarah Addison Allen books and others by authors who write like her. So yes, Elderberry Croft intentionally has that feel to it. But because of my faith, I wanted to treat it as more of a spiritual gifting than a magical gifting, even though I don’t come right out and say it. I firmly believe that if we really embraced the spiritual gifting God endows us with, we’d see a little more magical realism in our lives. Wouldn’t that be awesome???
At the heart of the Elderberry Croft collection is Willow Goodhope, who journeys from grief to hope by losing herself in helping others. Specifically, she helps them become their better, truer selves, and in so doing, she finds healing for herself. Tell me what it was like for you as a writer to breathe life into this beautiful truth through the machinations of this delightful character?
This collection of stories is another one that came out of a bittersweet season in my life. My husband and I separated for several months and I moved into a little place of my own during that time. Again, it was many years before I could go back and revisit the time and place, but I knew even while I was there that a story would come out of it. The setting was too ideal not to be in a book! My own experience was actually similar to Willow’s in that I kept my reasons for being there to myself. (It was something my husband and I agreed upon—because we were working toward getting back together, we committed not to gossip about each other to others.)
Like Willow, I stepped out and made an effort to get to know my new neighbors…albeit I must admit, not for the reasons that she did. I was a woman alone for the first time in my life, and I was afraid, and I figured if I made my neighbors get to know me, they’d be obligated to look out for me – ha! But in reaching out for selfish motives, I found a community of friends who embraced me and did look out for me, and who cheered me on when it was time for me to go home. This story, in essence, is my tribute to those friends; it’s what I wish I’d been like when I was there!
A prevailing theme in all of your novels is self-discovery. What do you hope your readers discover about themselves in books by Becky Doughty?
I’ll try not to answer this one ethereally, because I know I could just wax eloquently and not say a whole lot. But this is a tough question! You know, some of my favorite reviews are from readers who write that they’ve come away from one of my books being challenged to do something differently, something more, or something less. Self-discovery, to me, is the ability to look at ourselves and evaluate the pieces that make up who we are. And inevitably, when we evaluate—when we look closely—we see the chips and dings, the fault lines and imperfections, those there by our own hands, as well as those there by the hands of others.
But that’s the easy part. We’re conditioned to see the broken stuff, the stuff we’d prefer no one else to see. Yet self-discovery is about finding the best parts about ourselves, too! We are each fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of the One who made us, and when we look closely, along with the not-so-great stuff, we need to learn to see the wild beauty God constructed in every one of us. That’s what I want people to discover about themselves when they read my books, when they get to know my characters who are getting to know themselves. I want readers to discover the wild beauty in each of them. The fearfully and wonderfully made parts. The truth about what makes them who they are.
Katherine, thanks so much for having me here and for letting me go on and on about this job I’m so passionate about. I’m so glad we connected—you’re such a blessing to me!
Likewise! It’s been a pleasure.