Jane Kirkpatrick interviews Meg Moseley

Meg Mosely has come into my life as a new author with a writing style that is spirited and warm. I invited her to be my next guest author and to talk a little about her first novel When Sparrows Fall with WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, (May 2011). I reviewed the book in my Story Sparks newsletter last month. We share a publisher and much more. The publisher will provide a free copy of When Sparrows Fall to someone who comments on this blog so comment at the end for a chance at Meg's great book.

JK: Please tell us a little about who you are, Meg? Where do you live now? What landscapes have touched your life the most?

MM: The rolling hills of California will always feel like home, but I’ve also lived in Michigan, Alabama, and now Georgia. I’m always drawn to landscapes that have something haunted and haunting about them—the desolate beauty of California’s Carrizo Plains, the endless vistas of the Blue Ridge, or the lonely forests of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Each wilderness has its unique appeal.

JK: I've been to Upper Michigan and can see those forests and there is a haunting feel to them.

You chose a difficult subject for a first novel and you infused it with heart, humor and wisdom. How did you decide to write your first novel about homeschooling gone awry and dominance within a church setting?

MM: I loved the freedom of teaching my own children at home. In the early years of homeschooling, the movement felt like the Wild West. We were a bunch of happy non-conformists, high on the love of learning and enjoying our independence. But as time went on, some strange beliefs crept in from various sources. I didn’t appreciate being told that my daughter mustn’t work outside the home or go to college, or that she shouldn’t date because “courtship” was good and dating was evil. My research led me to a steaming heap of legalism and spiritual abuse. Then Miranda wandered into my imagination, and I had to write about her journey to freedom.

JK: Your many references from favorite books were great -- books the children of When Sparrows Fall weren't exposed to but that are considered classics. You must be a big reader. What are some of the titles that affected you as a child? How did they do that?

MM: I still love children’s books. As Jack says in the novel, “That’s where everybody starts.” I have fond memories of everything from Mother Goose to every horse story the library owned. Some of my favorite books were Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses,” “Sara Crewe” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and “I Am David” by Anne Holm. I loved them for the way they let me know I wasn’t the only one who sometimes felt lost in loneliness or bedazzled with happiness. Then I enjoyed them all over again with my own children.

JK: I know you're a home schooling parent yourself and that enriched the interplay of mom, Jack and kids. How did Miranda come to be so…obsessive in her life as a home school parent? I'm sure that isn't you! Have you encountered parents like her though? What are her strengths and what do you see as detriments in her desire to raise her children as faithful people?

MM: Miranda’s obsessive choices originated with her late husband, who isolated the family in order to protect them. I have met overprotective parents with beliefs very similar to his. I’ve even run into parents who don’t trust their teenagers to pick novels for themselves. I can’t wrap my mind around the kind of control that won’t let kids learn discernment by enjoying age-appropriate freedom.

One of Miranda’s failings is her tendency to over-protect her children. To her credit, though, she wants to prepare her children to face the real world with real faith. I think her shining qualities are her love for God and family, her integrity that won’t let her live a lie, and the humility that allows her to admit she has made big mistakes—as all parents do, one way or another.

JK: My Change and Cherish series about a communal society of the 1800s made me think often about the individual versus the group and the power of a leader or rather the power the group gives him/her. In one scene, Miranda is thinking of the other women in the church wondering if there are any who would stand up to him. What do you think gets in the way of people seeing the negativity that such a leader presents to the lives of his congregants? (I'm especially interested in your answer because of recent reading about a woman having this affect on a small religious group in the late 1800s in Texas).

MM: Good people who’ve been caught up in a bad situation tend to hang onto their love and loyalty for a group and its leader, even when there’s evidence of an abuse of power. Maybe the problems are compounded when the leader is put on a pedestal. His flaws are harder to see if you’re looking up to him instead of assessing him as an equal.

JK: Great response. I think that image of the pedestal says much. Mason is a dominant character in the book and we learn of him first through others which has a way of building suspense. How did you decide to approach the antagonist that way?

MM: I don’t remember making a conscious decision about approaching him that way. Actually, Mason is one of the characters I wish I’d fleshed out more completely. Even a villain has his reasons for being villainous, and I could have explored his motivations in more depth.

JK: Memory played a role in this story. I'm intrigued by how our memories can help transform us or hold us hostage. How did you come to employ memory as part of the suspense of your story?

MM:I like to wonder about a character’s past and ask myself where his emotional scars came from. Sometimes I don’t have the answers until I’ve finished writing the story, so I’m in suspense too. It wasn’t until I’d finished writing the story that I fully understood how the main characters had been shaped by long-ago experiences.

JK: That happens to me too when I write. I like the suspense of not knowing for sure what's going to happen. I loved the interplay between freedom and safety in this story and the way love helped cover them. Could you talk a little more about that?

MM: I think all parents struggle with the balance between freedom and safety. Loving parents want to keep their children from harm, but loving parents also want their children to become capable, independent adults someday. In the novel, of course, Miranda is bent on keeping her children safe, while Jack is determined to drag the whole family to freedom. They’re both motivated by love for the children.

JK: I loved your back country wisdom like "if you obey God with your whole heart you'll usually scare off the folks who want you to obey them." Were those phrases you'd heard or are they lovely imaginative phrases perfect for your characters to say?

MM:Thanks! The phrase about obeying God came out of my own head, and probably most of the others did too. I’ll admit to eavesdropping in public places, though. Sometimes a few interesting words of an overheard conversation will find their way into a story, if they’re a good fit.

JK: I love your fresh metaphors and similes, like the one when Miranda starts talking more "like a spring that had been paved over and broken open again.” Are you like a lot of writers who use their spare moments of time to think of new similes? Have you always been interested in words?

MM: I tend to scribble things down as they hit me. When I go searching for new similes, I usually find clich├ęs instead. Yes, I’m a word geek. I can get lost in a dictionary, reading the etymologies.

JK: Me too! Finding out that family came from the Latin word famalus meaning servant changed an entire storyline for me. Is there anything more you'd like to tell us about being a novelist?

MM: Writing novels is a mixture of hard work and sheer joy. I remember laughing out loud at Joshilyn Jackson’s wonderful description of the thrill of having finished writing one. She wrote on her blog: “I made that! I MADE THAT WITH MY BRAIN!” I love that feeling, and I love to hear from readers who’ve connected with the characters who started out in my brain.

JK: Ah, the magnificent brain! How exciting that the first novel of your brain, When Sparrows Fall, is getting rave reviews. That means there'll be many more, right? What are you working on now?

MM: I never want to stop writing. I’m working on a novel about a young woman who lost her father to a deep mountain lake when she was a teenager. His body was never recovered. Now it seems he might have faked his drowning and fled to the hills. Her search for answers might explain everything but might break her heart.

JK: I'll look for that one, too! Thank so much for being a part of my blog as a guest author. I look forward to meeting you one day and until then, our paths will cross within our hearts as we tell the stories. You can visit Meg's website at www.megmoseley.com and keep up with book signings and events. Read reviews of this great novel at http://www.amazon.com/When-Sparrows-Fall-Meg-Moseley/dp/1601423551/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

And don't forget to sign up for my Story Sparks newsletter so you don't miss out discovering some of these great new authors! Meg's publisher is also giving away a free book. The name will be drawn at random from those who comment on the blog. Happy Reading!