Genre: Contemporary Christian Romance
Format: ebook, paperback
Buy: Cowboy (The Harmony Series)
Life has done its best to knock Beth McCasland to the ground, and the truth is: it’s done a pretty good job of keeping her there. Stuck in a minimum-wage job with a young daughter counting on her, Beth does her best to stay standing under the weight of it all because she knows God is on her side. Then one night she gets the chance to be an angel to another of life’s weary travelers. For once hope has never looked so real.
Cowboy is a grace-filled story about the power of giving everything to God and how a simple act of compassion can change lives forever. Emotional, soothing, and heart-wrenching, Cowboy is infused with the message that no matter who we are and no matter what life has thrown at us, we never have to walk alone.
I recently had the pleasure of reading Cowboy by Staci Stallings and wanted to share this great contemporary romance with my readers. If you’d like to see my review, please visit Goodreads. Welcome, Staci!
1. In the beginning few chapters of Cowboy, the scenes are shorter and bounce back and forth between Ashton and Beth. I think it’s a great approach for relaying important parts of the story. Can you share what motivated you to write like this?
When I quit teaching to have my family in 1995, I got super bored really quickly. At home all day with a small baby and nothing to do will do that to you. This was before the Internet, before DVD’s, and before Satellite–when I got 3 channels plus PBS (hello Letter Lion!). So first I read. Danielle Steele, Frank Peretti, and John Grisham, but I’m a really fast reader so I was spending a mint on books. I also watched soap operas because I couldn’t go to the movies and there was literally nothing else to do. I liked the soaps mostly because they were stories (in fact, years before, that’s what my grandma called them “My stories”). I liked the intrigue and following characters and trying to figure out what was going to happen. However, the drama, drama, drama got old. Finally I got a book by Anthony Robbins which said you should do what you loved. What did I love? Writing! (and romance!)
When I sat down to write, however, the only background I had was the single POV stories I had read growing up (hello, Sweet Dreams romances!). The thing was, however, that since then I had read Grisham, and I really liked how his stories kept you involved and in the action. You were in Mississippi and then in New York and then in Idaho, and you knew as you went that all of these different characters were somehow tied together. It was like a giant jigsaw puzzle that you watched him put together one or two pieces at a time. I loved it. So when I started writing, I took a little bit of all of that experience and put it together.
2. Both of the main characters have suffered grief—it’s what gives them some common ground. Is there some part of your own life that you drew on to create the depth of emotion the characters faced?
I often say that real life is emotional if you really pay attention. The teacher with too many papers to grade and a husband waiting at home. That’s emotional. The new father up at night with a sick child that he doesn’t know how to mend. That’s emotional. Add in some back story about why he feels like he should be able to control this, or how he feels like an utter failure because he can’t, and voila! Emotional writing.
As for my life, when I wrote Cowboy, I had a few grief experiences to draw from like my oldest child being born three months early and the shock and determination to get through that. Since writing Cowboy, I have had numerous and ever-deeper chances to learn what real grief does to a person. I lost my church to a fire, my older brother to suicide a month later, my brother-in-law to suicide 18 months later, and my trusted writing partner to surgical complications less than 9 months after that. I don’t know that any of that really changed the emotions that I write with, they all more deepened my understanding of how things and people can look so good on the outside and be hurting so deeply on the inside. And they taught me how very fragile and temporary this life is. I think Cowboy was kind of an intuitive understanding of all of that long before I was given the chance to learn it so concretely.
3. Is there a message you would like readers to grasp?
Yes. That our God is not a fair-weather, only-when-things-are-good God. Sometimes it takes hitting bottom and being completely out of control to really begin to grasp that. Just like Ashton. He had a great life–mega work success, a beautiful wife, a wonderful home, and when his wife died, it threw him into a complete tailspin. The details may be different for all of us–maybe it’s being laid off, or someone close to us getting sick. Maybe it’s a parent’s death, or losing a child. It could even be something far less dramatic like having an injury that will heal but takes some time or not getting something we thought we had to have. All of those and so many more can point out to us that we are not in control, and we’d better learn to grab onto the One Who is. He can and will get us through whatever life throws at us, and as I’ve learned–some of that stuff ain’t easy to get through. But He will be there, and He wants to help more than we will ever know. I often say that what Beth gave Ashton was not so much herself but God. I just wish more of us could do that.
4. Many romance authors decide how far characters will go in their physical relationship and what level of detail to use in describing the attraction. A friend of mine recently observed that even Christian novels aren’t so tame any more. What’s your approach when writing the romance scenes?
I think, for me, when my husband and I were dating, there were lines I would not cross in real life. Those are the lines I try really hard to keep in my writing. Some may think that goes too far. Some may think those lines aren’t being realistic. A long time ago people used to tell me that you should “write what you know.” Well, the God-stuff and the physical lines are what I know so that’s what I write.
5. What is the most challenging aspect of being an indie author? What the most rewarding?
I think the most challenging has been people in the industry wanting to change my writing to make it “good enough.” They didn’t read the story. They saw how I broke “the rules,” and used that as a reason to put down my writing and me. It was really hard for a lot of years to believe in myself and my writing when so many people wanted and tried so hard to put it in a formula box. In fact, I’ve been told because I was indie (when it was still called self-pubbed) that my writing must be full of holes and need a lot of editing and that it surely wasn’t as good as it could be if I had real editors read it. I was told by the editors I got along the way that I had to write their way or they wouldn’t accept it (and they didn’t because I didn’t change). I was told in a couple of contests that my characters were emotional messes that no one would want to spend any time around. In fact, some people went so far as to say I was not listening to God by going that route, that I was being selfish and willfully disregarding God’s Timing. That hurt. It really and truly did. But God showed me through it that the world is ALWAYS going to tell you that you’re doing it wrong (yes, even Christians). They will do everything in their power to make you question yourself, your commitment, your ability, and even where God put you. But if you will hold onto Him and listen to Him, no matter what others are telling you, He will bring you to the place you were always meant to be.
What’s the most rewarding? Ah, that’s easy. Being able to give what I’ve found with God to other authors–whether they are indie-pubbed or not. I love helping them to come to realize that God’s got this and all they have to do is to get really good at listening and being willing to take the steps He’s asking them to take. That’s what I like the most–watching God set others free of the chains the world tries to put on them.
6. Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Right now, I’m about 25 pages from finishing my 31st full-length novel. It’s about a dyslexic writer. The companion book to that “Something’s Not Right” details our family’s struggle with my dyslexic son. The really cool thing about this is, I started writing the first book “More Than This” before we found out what we were facing with my son. As God has walked me through the trials with my son, He has given me the insights to write the novel. It was only as I started talking with others about my son’s struggles that I became convinced to write the non-fiction companion that because of the number of novels I have available to put out will probably come out well before the novel. That’s okay. It’s just fun to watch God put the pieces of my life together in ways I never could have imagined.
7. Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
You know, like Beth in Cowboy, we all have moments every day in which kindness will change everything about everything. So often we choose to be too busy or too caught up in our own lives and our own drama to recognize them. But the fact of the matter is this world is filled with hurting people just like Ashton. They may not be Country Music Mega-Superstars… but then again, they might be. In my own life small kindnesses I’ve extended have lifted people who were really struggling in the mire of daily life and set them on a path for good that have taken them to heights they never in a million years dreamed of reaching. Is this a perfect science? No. Will your efforts sometimes seem to make no difference at all? Yes. That doesn’t mean you should give up and stop trying, just that you need to ask God for His strength to do it anyway. When you do that, miracles happen!
Read the first chapter of Cowboy right now!
A stay-at-home mom with a husband, three kids and a writing addiction on the side, Staci Stallings has numerous titles for readers to choose from. Not content to stay in one genre and write it to death, Staci’s stories run the gamut from young adult to adult, from motivational and inspirational to full-out Christian and back again. Every title is a new adventure! That’s what keeps Staci writing and you reading. Staci touches the lives of people across the globe every week with her various Internet endeavors including Spirit Light Books–The Blog http://spiritlightbooks.wordpress.com/ among others.
Visit Staci at her website: http://spiritlightbooks.wordpress.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter.