This interview with Talena Winters has been a month in the making. Numerous email correspondences back and forth, and an in-person meeting during a stop on her book signing tour. Talena is a home-grown author, hailing from Peace Country in Northern Alberta where she lives on an acreage with her husband, three surviving boys, her dogs Sunshine and Hiro, and numerous farm cats, and chickens. Talena is a kind soul, and shines brightly, and through this interview, you will come to like her as much as I have begun too. 🙂
CORRIE: How’s the reception so far on the book signing tour?
TALENA: In general, I’ve had a lot of positive responses to both my books. People are picking up The Friday Night Date Dress because it’s a fun, quick, uplifting read without a huge time commitment. I’ve been surprised how many have sold, considering that the generally-accepted “wisdom” is that “no one reads novellas anymore.” This book is proving them wrong.
As for Finding Heaven, there have been a lot of positive responses and people interested in taking it to their book club. (It would be a great book club book. I’ll have to put together some questions to go with it on my website or something.)
The thing I’ve found is that if you are respectful of people and their time, and are upbeat and interesting to talk to, you generally get a positive response. But that’s true in any situation. 🙂
C: That is fantastic that Friday Night Date Dress is also being well received! I understand this Novella is your first story? And well, I don’t know about you, but I love Novellas. 🙂
T: The Friday Night Date Dress was my first published book, which I wrote as practice while learning to write fiction. It was supposed to be a short story, but, well, I suck at short stories. 🙂 Since seeing how popular this length is, I think I will try to write more of a similar length. It IS nice to have a “quick fix” when it comes to reading. It makes one feel so accomplished, but lasts a little longer than a movie, which is nice.
C: What inspired you with Sarah’s story in Finding Heaven?
T: There were actually several pieces of inspiration that went into creating this story, and some of them are difficult to define. But the first one I can point to as the “seed” would be that, while I was taking a class on how to write fiction, the instructor (Holly Lisle) related a story of a successful author she knew who hated what she wrote and the people she wrote it for but felt she couldn’t change genres. I questioned why ANYONE would do that. So then I thought that perhaps she had been sexually abused as a child and ended up writing erotica. She’d be good at it, but probably wouldn’t enjoy it.
Other pieces came from different places–I wanted Steve to be a humanitarian and to use his story to raise awareness about sex trafficking. I drew inspiration for his character from real-life humanitarians Greg Mortenson (Three Cups of Tea) and Jaume Sanllorente (Bombay Smiles), as well as my own and my husband’s experiences in India. (We both volunteered there for several stints in the late 90s, as well as visiting Mumbai in 2016 to research this book.)
The final piece of the puzzle came while I was grieving the recent traumatic loss of my 3-year-old son in 2015. I hadn’t known if I’d ever be ready to write this book, because I wasn’t sure I could truly understand what Sarah had gone through well enough to write about it constructively. But while wrestling with the magnitude of my own trauma and loss, a friend of mine posted her cancer survival story, which was also her love story. It was the final bit of inspiration I needed to tie Sarah’s and Steve’s stories together. I began writing the book within a week.
C: Oh my heart. I am deeply sorry to hear about the passing of your young son. I can only imagine how hard it was for you, and your family. Would you say that writing Sarah’s story, and even writing in general, is cathartic for you?
T: Yes, very much so. While I was walking with Sarah as she healed from her grief and trauma, I was learning the lessons that helped me move past my own. But before that, I have always written through my own problems. When I was a teenager in a tumultuous household, I journaled. After discovering blogging in 2006, I did that. Many people have told me that the posts I wrote as I processed Levi’s death helped them deal with some of their own issues, which was awesome, but wasn’t why I did it. I just had to get it in words so I could try to make sense of it. That’s been my go-to mechanism for most of my life.
C: What was the research like, in preparation to writing Sarah’s Story?
T: Long and intense. 🙂 I had begun researching the effects of childhood sexual abuse, rape, sex trafficking, and more after I got the initial idea in 2012. After deciding to write the story in 2015, I did even more intense research, and read a ton of books, many of which I think would be very helpful for people who are dealing with these types of trauma or who wish to help someone who is or simply become more informed. (I have listed the most impactful on my website at www.talenawinters.com/resources/.)
The interesting thing is that, while I was reading books about healing from childhood sexual abuse and trauma, God used those stories to help me in my healing journey from PTSD and grief at losing my son, as well as working through difficult pieces of my own childhood. I have yet to read an entire book on child loss, but empathizing with another type of trauma allowed me to heal, in part, from my own.
C: How did your experience in visiting Mumbai affect you? Your husband?
T: Well, that was not our first experience in India, and our visit to Mumbai occurred after we had already been in India for a week on that trip. So to answer what I think you want to know, yes, my experiences in India have affected me deeply for both the good and bad.
I spent five months volunteering at a Bible College in south India in 1997, which is where I fell in love with my husband as well as the country. (That was his third six-month stint there.) In 2016, we returned to India for the first time in 18 years to check on an orphanage we were working with. We combined a research trip to Mumbai with the journey. Unfortunately, the night we landed in Mumbai, the government cancelled the two most common denominations of cash currency (in a cash economy) with 3 hours notice—and we had almost all of our money in those two denominations (and our cards had not been working). I won’t go into the very long story about it here, but you can find it on my blog, if you are interested, in a rather disheartened post written at the tail end of that trying adventure: https://www.talenawinters.com/wintersdayin/2016/11/10/misadventures-in-mumbai.
Thanks to the currency kerfluffle and the fact that our entire trip was somewhat last-minute, I didn’t get to visit the organizations I had hoped to visit in Mumbai, but I did get a half-decent sense of the city and the settings. I relied on Internet and email-a-friend research for the rest of what I needed to know for the book.
Despite the things about India that are difficult to accept, my husband and I have a deep and abiding love for the people and culture in many parts of the country. We have dear friends spread all over India, so we hope our next visit will not have to wait another eighteen years!
C: Were you touched by the stories of others? How did that affect you?
T: Definitely. When I first began researching this book, I was actually afraid to tell people what I was writing about. After all, I was writing about very difficult, real topics, specifically to do with sex (which is somewhat taboo in Christian circles), and I was including subject matter that I knew would not be acceptable in the Christian publishing industry (which is why I published independently and decided not to market it as a Christian book). So not only was I not sure where my book would fit, I was concerned that there was a reason why Christian publishers didn’t print these kinds of books–even though this is exactly the kind of book I would want to read. (Many others have agreed with me, btw.)
But after I actually began writing it, I began talking about the book with others. And SO many people, mostly women, opened up to me that they had been raped or sexually abused. At one point, I may not have been able to handle that kind of information, but after losing my son, my heart had been enlarged to be able to accept other’s pain without being afraid of it. (When people react to difficult facts about someone with discomfort, in my opinion, it’s because they have undealt-with pain in their own life that they daren’t acknowledge, or perhaps they have not yet had to deal with this kind of pain and can’t empathize.) I am so very grateful to the many women who shared their stories with me. And I’m also thankful that, because I was brave enough to write this book and start talking about it, some of these women began dealing with their own trauma for the first time and working toward healing. I hope that the same will be true of those reading the book.
C: Are you writing anything new currently?
T: Of course. 🙂 I am working on a young adult historical fantasy called The Mermaid’s Tear that explores the consequences of slavery and gender oppression. I also have plans to write another contemporary story this year, but haven’t decided whether to put it into the women’s fiction or romance genres yet.
C: That sounds fascinating! What was the inspiration for The Mermaid’s Tear?
T: I didn’t have life-long dreams of being a novelist, but I’ve always enjoyed writing. After high school, I went to college as a pianist and composer, and most of my creative writing after that focused on songwriting and my family blog. When people told me I should write a book, I always heard “novel” and had no idea what I would write about–I didn’t know how to write fiction. But I’ve always loved mermaids, and in 2010 I got the idea for a mermaid novel (while watching Australian YA show “H2O: Just Add Water”–don’t judge!) based on a single question–where are all the mermen? And since that story didn’t exist, I knew I’d have to learn to write it. And now I finally am. 🙂
C: What’s your favourite pie? (Question from Twitter – and well, pie!)
T: Hmm… I’m not a huge pie fan. Does quiche count? Lol. I guess pumpkin would be my favourite “traditional” pie–you can eat it for breakfast and not even feel guilty. 😀
C: Yes! We will count Quiche. 😉 Mmmm …Pumpkin. Love that logic!
C: What are your writing rituals? Do you need music in the background? Pure silence? Do you sit outside – weather permitting? Spill your secrets! (You know you wanna. ;))
T: I prefer silence and to write alone. I like my laptop for writing over my PC, as the keyboard is easier to use and I have turned off all notifications, so I can leave my phone elsewhere and write undistracted. I’d love to write outside, but then I have a difficult time seeing my monitor and my needy dog refuses to give me the room to do so, so I usually sit in my office or at the kitchen table, depending on which is warmer (or cooler in summer). 🙂 I use music at other times of the day, like making supper or folding laundry, to help me switch my brain from “hard-thinking mode” to letting my mind wander and relax, which is also an important part of my process. That is often when my brain solves the problem I was working so hard on earlier—when I finally let it go.
C: Who is your greatest inspiration (book related and/or life)?
T: Wow, that’s a hard question. I have had so many people that have contributed to my life in many ways, and I am continually inspired by the stories of people I meet and authors I admire greatly. Probably the most influential would be my parents and my husband. My dad taught me work ethic and stubborn determination. My mom taught me that it’s never too late to start something new and to be an entrepreneur, and that gentleness is its own form of strength. And my husband continually supports me through all my long hours and personality flaws, and shows me what unconditional love looks like on a day-to-day basis.
C: Awe. It sounds like you have such an amazing support team surrounding you. I can feel the love. ❤
C: Favourite genre to read? (Question from Twitter)
T: Fantasy. 🙂 I actually seldom read romance, though I love stories with a romantic element to them. But honestly, I will read pretty much anything, though I discovered that I don’t love horror.
C: I don’t know many that love horror (save myself, lol).
C: I want to thank you again Talena for sparing some time in your busy schedule for this short and sweet interview. And I am honoured to have read & reviewed Finding Heaven for you. It was such a pleasure to meet you on one of your book tour stops in Edmonton. I wish you further success as you delve into the last couple weeks of your tour.
T: Thank you so much for interviewing me. You have no idea how much it means to have one of my stories connect with someone deeply enough to have them put this much of their own energy into promoting it. I am so glad I reached out to you to be an ARC reader—I feel like I gained a friend, too.
C: Such kind words, thank you Talena. You most definitely have a new friend in me. 🙂
If you are in the vicinity of Edmonton, Calgary, and even Red Deer, Talena still has FOUR book signing dates to come in the month of March. If you are in the area, swing by and meet up with Talena. See what all the book buzz is about with Finding Heaven!
Remaining tour dates:
Thursday, March 22 – Chapters West Edmonton Mall, 3:30-8:30
Friday, March 23 – Indigo North Town Centre (Edmonton), 11:00-4:00
Saturday, March 24 – Indigo Shepard Centre (Calgary), 11:00-4:00
Sunday, March 25 – Chapters Red Deer, 11:00-4:00
You can also check out any upcoming events on Talena’s website; https://www.talenawinters.com/events/
If you would like to keep in touch with Talena, please sign up for her monthly newsletter, and as a sweet bonus, you will receive the first three chapters of Finding Heaven FREE! www.talenawinters.com/contact. You can also find free excerpts for both her books on the books’ pages on her website; http://www.talenawinters.com
Until next time! Stay cool and expand your mind! Read everything. 🙂