Thursday, November 15, 2012

Liz Curtis Higgs Interview (with Mary Nichelson)

What would an author who has penned thirty books with over three million in circulation desire for her readers? For Liz Curtiss Higgs, that is an easy question to answer. “I confess I’ve fallen hopelessly in love with Scotland, having traveled there fifteen times, often for several weeks at a go. If time and money were in limitless supply, I’d whisk (the reader) away for a fortnight and escort you around bonny Scotland in person.” When pressed on why Scotland of all places, she simply states, “Perhaps because when I’m there, I have a sense of rightness, of completion, of belonging.”

That same passion carries over into her writing where many of her fans would acknowledge that her novels have had that impact on them. There is a strong connection with the fragility of humanity and the complications of the emotions involved throughout her books. Life has a sense of completion, whether a happy or sad ending, when the reader finishes each book.

Not surprisingly, her newest release is no exception. A Wreath of Snow has arrived just in time for Christmas and Liz Curtis Higgs was excited to share about it-explaining among other things why she chose to briefly step away from her favored Scotland as a backdrop and instead, went Victorian.

MN-With over 30 books written, it would seem that you would run out of ideas for novels by now.  Where do your ideas come from for new writing projects?

LCH- Many things press on my heart, but the fear of running out of story ideas isn’t one of them! This snippet of poetry says it all:

O Reader! had you in your mind, Such stores as silent thought can bring,
O gentle Reader! you would find, A tale in everything. —William Wordsworth

“Everything” is right. It might be a photograph in a history book, a brief mention in a documentary, a side comment by a lecturer, even a word in the dictionary that prompts me to dig deeper. Before long, scenes begin to take shape in my mind, dialogue fills the air, and I’m off on another adventure. Many story ideas never travel beyond that first spark, but the ones that continue to prod my imagination are the ones that eventually end up in print.

MN- I have read several of your books and one common consistency in all of them is that you have no problem forming believable characters. I think about them long after I finish reading the book. Does that come easy for you; is it as strong of a writing trait as it appears?

LCH- I’m so grateful my characters continue to live in your heart, because they certainly do the same for me! Even years after meeting them on the page, I find myself thinking about them, wondering how they are doing, and in some cases, wishing I might have written a happier ending for them. Even if a story closes on a redemptive note, a few characters are inevitably lost along the way. Those are the ones I miss the most.

For me, I don’t so much create my characters as discover them. I often compare it to boarding a cruise ship. You meet people one at a time, see them interact in different situations, day in and day out, until you know them quite well and are reluctant to say farewell when you reach the final dock.

I often completely rewrite the opening pages of a manuscript after I’m well into the story and know the characters better. Names may change, physical descriptions may be altered, back story may move in new directions, until the moment comes when the characters say, “Enough! On with the story.”

MN- Let's talk about your most recent novella. You're well known for your Scottish historical novels, yet the Victorian era in A Wreath of Snow is positively modern compared to your previous books. Why did you choose this time period?

LCH- It all started with an enormous resource book—World Railways of the Nineteenth Century. Turning those pages, looking at all those pen-and-ink drawings, I began envisioning a novella set on a train. Since the Victorians loved Christmas, that season of the year was a natural fit. Then it started snowing—at least, in my imagination!—Margaret Campbell walked onto the set, and A Wreath of Snow was born.

As it happens, I actually took the train from Edinburgh to Stirling one wintry day in December 1998, so I had that experience to draw from. I also spent a week in Stirling when I began writing the story and another week when I was finishing it, so the railway station, the winding streets, the Victorian neighborhood, the Wallace Monument, and the Ochil Hills were all firmly etched in my heart.

MN- Francine Rivers, author of Redeeming Love endorsed A Wreath of Snow by saying it is a "wonderful story of redemption and restoration." Why did you choose those themes to write about in a Christmas themed novella?

LCH- Sadly, Christmas is not always merry. For those who are estranged from their families or from the Lord, it can be a very difficult time indeed. I wanted to explore that aspect of Christmastime through the eyes of two people who are filled with regret. I loved watching them work through their issues, past and present, even as they slowly move toward each other and toward a more hope-filled future.

The challenge as a writer is to add some surprises and turns along the way, so the journey is interesting and not predictable. This is, after all, a Christmas novella, so a redemptive ending is to be expected. The interesting bit is how we get there. One of the secondary characters in A Wreath of Snow became much more central to the story than I’d originally planned. What happens to him may be quite a surprise for readers. It certainly was for me!

MN- I love the forgiveness aspect in the story. To me, that is what Christ's birth embraces. With Christmas being so commercialized, what are some practical ways we can reintroduce the true meaning of the holiday season while remaining relevant to our generation?

LCH- Here’s the good news: the story of Jesus’ birth truly is relevant to every generation. If we can focus on that babe in a manger, rather than on the expensive gifts the magi brought, I think we’ll come closer to the true meaning of Christmas and the greatest gift of all: God’s grace. To that end, I’m trying to take our family’s shopping and gift-giving efforts down a notch each year, focusing instead on being together and on shared experiences.

MN- The holiday season means different things to different people. What does Christmas look like at your house?

LCH- Our traditions are simple, even silly, but we love them. Trimming the tree is a family affair, with a particular holiday CD to put us in the mood, chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven, and our grown daughter running through the house with the tree skirt tied around her neck like a caped superhero—something she’s done since she was three.

Certain holiday items are placed around our old Kentucky home—a Christmas quilt here, a grouping of candles there. I also display a dozen Christmas novellas I enjoy reading each year. What fun to add A Wreath of Snow this season!

None of us are any good at wrapping gifts, so the same decorative bags and tissue paper are recycled year after year. Christmas morning begins with stockings, then breakfast, then gifts are opened one at a time, amid much laughing and hugging. Christmas dinner comes next, with a traditional Kentucky menu: honey ham, corn pudding, green beans, flaky biscuits, cooked apples, and an assortment of pies for dessert.

By evening the house is quiet again and we’re curled up on the couch, grateful not for our gifts, but for one another, and for the One whose birth changed everything.

MN- As you look back over the year 2012, what is one way Liz Curtis Higgs the author has changed?

LCH- I’m editing myself more. Holding my tongue when I might be tempted to gossip or say something unnecessary or unkind. Typing words in an email, then taking them out, rather than risking offense. It’s not only what we do and say that shows the world what a follower of Christ looks like; it’s also what we DON’T do and say. This year especially I’ve been asking the Lord to still my mouth, stay my hand, keep me humble, make me outward focused. To any extent that I’ve managed that, it’s by God’s grace and mercy alone.

MN- Your vision for 2013 is to......

LCH- Choose wisely and well, seeking God’s direction at every turn. There are only so many hours in the day. I’d like every one to count for his Kingdom, even in small and seemingly insignificant ways. It truly all matters to God!

Author Bio- Liz Curtis Higgs is the author of thirty books—fiction, nonfiction, and children's—with more than three million copies in print. Her six Scottish historical novels have won the hearts of readers and reviewers around the globe. Whence Came a Prince received a Christy Award for Best Historical Novel. Here Burns My Candle won theRomantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Inspirational Romance, and Mine Is the Night was a New York Times bestseller. Her latest release is A Wreath of Snow: A Victorian Christmas Novella.

Liz has also presented more than 1,700 inspirational programs for audiences in all fifty United States and fourteen foreign countries, She is happily married to Bill Higgs, who serves as Director of Operations for her speaking and writing office, and they are the relieved parents of two college grads. When she’s not traveling to Scotland for research, Liz can be found curled up with a good book in their old Kentucky home, a nineteenth-century farmhouse near Louisville.

You can connect with author Liz Curtis Higgs on her website, on Facebook, on Twitter @MyScottishHeart or on Pinterest


About Mary Nichelson:

This interview is courtesy of The Wordsmith Journal Magazine.

Interviews with Tim Redmond, William Burt, and Karen Kilby are also featured in the November issue TWJM.

1 comment:

  1. I think Liz Curtis Higgs is great. She's definitely a veteran in the writing field with many successes under her name. I'm glad she's reaped some rewards for her many years of hard work. I think the field of writing is one of the more difficult ones through which to earn a living. I'm a professional writer and editor, but have not achieved Liz's level of success.