I’ve known Connie for many years. She lives right up the road from me in Maryland and I am delighted to host her here on my blog. She has four books out now, and she’s here to tell us about her latest.
Tell me about the story of Flee from Evil.
It’s a story I first conceptualized almost twenty years ago after seeing the Mel Gibson movie, Ransom. I’d just started reading Christian Fiction at that time and wondered while watching the movie, how could this story be written from a Christian point-of-view? Then, because I love a good thread of romance, I also wondered, how could it be made into a romance? Some ideas swam around my head and just wouldn’t leave. A decade or so later, I decided to get serious about writing, but for some reason this was not the story I started with. I think God knew I needed to exercise my craft a little before tackling the many layers, so He kept it at bay. Finally, last year, I decided to take it on, and here it is. However, it ended up a very different story than the one Mel Gibson starred in.
Give us the backcover blurb of the book.
A pastor with a past uses his underworld connections to try and save the child of the woman he wronged many years ago. Pastor Vince Steegle thought his destructive beginnings were ancient history, but the ramifications of his prior choices just walked in the door of his church. Is Romans 8:28 really true? Can God really make all things good? Or is Vince’s past just too ugly?
After the death of her much-beloved husband, Cassandra Whitaker is looking for security for her children. One, a teen on the cusp of womanhood. The other, a young boy struggling with the effects of autism. But there are those who seek to destroy them. Can Cassandra keep her family safe, or must she flee from evil?
Share the first page of Flee from Evil.
This is the first page of Chapter One …
Cassandra strode through the parking lot, her kids, Sophie and Tibo, in tow. “I can’t believe you still go to this church, Mom.”
Mom lifted her brow. “You mean the redneck church?”
“I didn’t say that.” Cassandra’s ten-year-old son turned in a circle—one of his many autism perseverations. She pulled him along.
Mom tucked her purse under her arm. “But that’s what your fancy friends at that Country Club used to call it.”
Cassandra ground her teeth. “They weren’t my friends, Mom. They were patrons. I waitressed there, and that was a long time ago.”
Mom waved her hand. “Didn’t you hang out with a few?”
Cassandra shrugged to stave off the shiver her body ached to do. She didn’t want to go there. Too many bad memories. Tibo took another circle. Sophie, his fifteen-year-old sister, prodded him straight this time.
“You know Jesus was a redneck.”
Would her mother ever understand that Cassandra’s choice to get a college degree had nothing to do with placing herself above her family, as Mom always seemed to suggest. She just loved the study of things, and knew God chose each to follow different paths with different goals, all for the same glory.
Mom’s chin hitched higher. “That’s okay. Since Pastor Vince started here, we’ve become very diverse. His goal was to make us look more like the body of Christ. You know, different parts with different functions, all working in the same body.”
Huh? Did Mom just pick those words from her brain? Cassandra might just like the new associate pastor.
“But even so, we’ve kind of adopted the term, redneck. It was first used for field workers with sunburned backs, so we take it to mean hard-working and down-to-earth. At least that’s what Pastor Vince always says. You’ll love Pastor Vince. I think he’s leading the sermon this morning.”
Cassandra sighed. The words you’ll love Pastor Vince seemed her mother’s mantra these days.
“He’s cute. He’s single.”
“And he’s refined. Well educated. Just your type.”
So maybe he didn’t look like a Duck Dynasty knock-off. “And a former drug dealer as I recall you mentioning.”
“Yes, a forgiven sinner.”
Or a man capitalizing on his wastrel youth.
Wait till you see what happens when she enters the sanctuary and that pastor takes a gander at her walking up the aisle.
What’s next after Flee from Evil?
Well, for some reason, I’ve written myself into three different series: Dark Forest (modern-day retellings of fairy tales); the Maryland State University series (about resident directors in college dorms trying to stay safe from the on-campus drug ring); and now the Water’s Edge series (about this pastor, his family and friends, and how they use his old “connections” to save people). I had planned to start a modern-day Sleeping Beauty until I was asked to join a Romantic Suspense anthology coming out next Spring. I couldn’t resist, so everything else will go on hold until that novella is completed. It will delve deeper into a story that was hinted at in An Insignificant Life, about a man who’d failed in his role with US Intelligence looking for terrorist connections, only to find himself immersed in terrorist activity at the request of his neighbor.
What would you be doing with your free time if you weren’t writing?
Listening to Christian contemporary music or even going to a concert. I’m a huge music fan. I was a music major in college … until I became a Sociology major (neither of which promise great career opportunities). While writing One Among Men I became a humungous Third Day fan (you’d understand if you read that book). I credit the band for much of the inspiration in that story. I eventually discovered there was a group of people Mac Powell (the lead singer) affectionately calls their “psycho fans.” The official name of the group is The Gomers after a song from one of the band’s earliest albums. We Gomers wear orange T-shirts to concerts in order to find each other in the crowd (usually near the front row). You know I must love this group of psychos—I mean, wonderful people—because I hate the color orange!
What is your favorite season of the year? Why?
Fall! I love Fall. The colors, the cool breeze, and especially the way the sunlight is slanted, leaving long shadows that lend a mystery to all of God’s creation. Yes, I just said I hate the color orange—a prevalent color in my favorite season—but trees wear it better than I do.
Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters.
Lots and lots. There’s probably a little me in just about all of them. Samantha Hart, in One Among Men, was formed from a Connie Almony template. I had the job of running, and living in, an all-male dorm. I’m a bit ADD and not altogether organized. I dream of painting murals on cinderblock walls. My past was a little rowdy, though unlike her, I had the reputation of a “good girl”—a relative term. I wrote my love for information and books into Tiffany Lundgren of An Insignificant Life. Many of the issues I face with my son who has autism have been written into Flee from Evil. Oh, the list goes on!!! In fact, one of my most memorable characters, Preacher (a very large black man from the hood), was written cathartically because of issues I was having with people in my life who wanted to mock my faith.
What do you love about writing?
What’s NOT to love? I am encouraged to live in a fantasy world to the point I get to create lots of details around it. I’d like to say I have total control of this fantasy world—which would make it ideal—but sometimes characters and issues get kind of carried away from me. The fantasy world only behaves slightly better than my real world. Hmmmm. I take that back. Given the broken beginnings of many of my characters, it might actually be the other way around.
What do you feel are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?
It’s hard to say. As a writer I know what I want to convey, and how I want it conveyed, but that may not always translate for the reader—which is why critique partners and editors are so crucial. But I think if I were to ask my critique partners and readers, they’d say characterization and realistic dialogue (which often comes from good characterization). I usually have a larger than average cast (which is likely my greatest weakness), so it’s imperative to distinguish one from the other. I also crave this aspect in my own reading most of all. I always tell people, if the book has a good story, I can get it from the library, read it and be done. But if it has good characters, I want to hang out with them again even if I already know their stories. Those are the books I don’t just borrow. They line my shelves and fill my ereader!
Has being an author been everything you thought it would be? If not, what has surprised you the most?
Two things surprised me most. One, that it is as much work as it is. Two, that it is as much FUN as it is. Number two is the reason I bear with number one. We don’t often think about all that goes into a story. Let me give you a list: 1) Story idea/premise, 2) How to unfold the story details (ie. action, dialogue, flashback, thoughts, dreams) and in what order, 3) Word crafting (ie. metaphors, flow, pacing, vocabulary, sensory information, emotional development), 4) Dialogue, 5) Author Voice, and 6) Characterization. Each of these need to be intentionally created and then polished over and over again until it engages the reader so that he or she is completely invested. Lots of work! But in the end, I have this wonderful creation that is exactly what I’d write, if you could. <gasp!> It IS what I’d write if I could!!! I just LOVE that!!!
How much of your own experiences influenced your characters? What aspects became traits that were theirs and theirs alone?
In Flee from Evil, the main character, Cassandra, has a ten-year-old son who has autism. This young man is patterned after my own son, who is a bit older than the character, Tibo. In this story, I wanted to show the gift of this wonderful young man, in the theme of Corinthians 12:22 where Paul calls the “weaker” members of the body “indispensible.” My son’s gift of gentleness, peace, and finding the fun in the little things, have been an invaluable element in our household. He has also shown all of us how best to LOVE without saying a word. It has greater depth that way.
It’s because of this thread in the story that I have chosen to give a portion of my author income to Capernaum, the special needs club within Young Life. I am really grateful that my son has a Christ-centered group to hang out with and learn about God.
Where the experience is different in Flee from Evil is that Tibo is the younger of the two children. My daughter is three and a half years younger than her brother, though she tries to be his care-taker (even when I ask her to leave him alone!) in spite of the fact. In Flee from Evil, the sister is five years older and because her father is deceased, finds herself needing to be the care-taker when her mother can’t be.
The theme in Flee from Evil comes from Romans 8:28, and how God can make all things good—not just the bad things that happen to us, but bad things we’ve done. At the same time, forgiveness plays a central role in the story. I don’t consider it really a theme, only an important facet of every day. So therefore, it will appear to some degree in each story. One of the things I wanted to portray was what forgiveness looks like in real life. Sometimes the human version—as contrasted by our Savior—is imperfect, long-time-coming, and/or requires a push of some form or another. Also, even though Jesus calls us to forgive unconditionally, I wanted to show how the forgiv-ee should not arrogantly expect this, but may choose to ease the forgiv-er into it as a form of serving the person he or she has wronged.
Connie Almony is trained as a mental health therapist and likes to mix a little fun with the serious stuff of life. She was a 2012 semi-finalist in the Genesis Contest for Women’s Fiction and was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Winter 2012 WOW Flash Fiction Contest. She is also the author of One Among Men and An Insignificant Life, about women who run dormitories at a major state university, and At the Edge of a Dark Forest, a modern-day re-telling of Beauty and the Beast about a war-vet, amputee struggling with PTSD. Watch out for more books in each of these series, as well as a multi-author book anthology coming Summer 2016.