Today I want welcome Cindy Sproles to my blog. Cindy is an author and speaker. She is the cofounder of Christian Devotions Ministries and managing editor for Straight Street Books and SonRise Devotionals, imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Cindy is a conference teacher and speaker, working conferences all across the country. Her devotions are found in newspapers all over the eastern seaboard. Cindy is the executive Editor of ChristianDevotions.us and InspireAFire.com. She is the author of four devotionals and compilations and her first fiction novel, Mercy’s Rain is now available.
I am so excited to have Cindy here to talk to her about her debut novel Mercy’s Rain. When I read it I remember thinking this is so well-crafted it reminds me of someone’s tenth rather than their first. I loved this sad hopeful story. So we are all on the same page (no pun intended) here is the book blurb.
Mercy Roller was raised by a twisted father who wore the collar of a Pastor, and chose to be Jesus, judge, and jury, by his own appointment. Abused, broken and bitter, Mercy lifts the hand that takes the Pastor’s life. In one swift action, she becomes what she despises most about the Pastor. Now she seeks redemption. Can the unconditional love of a mountain preacher and his friends, guide Mercy to find peace?
Cindy, thanks for being with us today. I am so looking forward to learning more about the process you went through writing Mercy’s Rain.
Why did you chose this subject? In your acknowledgement you say this is not your life experience. How did you ever capture the essence of Mercy’s broken heart and life without ever experiencing it? I went to bed one night and couldn’t sleep. At 3 in the morning, I flipped the television and found a documentary on child abuse under the age of seven. It broke my heart. So when I began to write this story, I tried to take my head into the place of these children. I wanted to find their hurt, brokenness, and anger. I wasn’t a hard story to write, but definitely a story that wore at my heart. I wondered, if this were me, how would I feel? If this were me, what would I do? Given my own personality, how would I handle this?
I am a mountain girl and we are taught to toss things over our shoulders and move ahead. As we know, that doesn’t always work. It eventually comes back to bite us. So in my head, I became Mercy. I applied my own self-reliance, honesty, and personal determination to Mercy. If that were me?
My ministry partner once said, “To write real emotion, you have to find your own scab, then scratch it. Scratch it until it bleeds. And when that happens, you can write the emotion as it bleeds onto the page.” All of us have hurt in our lives. I simply found the one that broke me, and I scratched the scab.
Being in only Mercy’s head gave me interesting insights into her past and her reactions to her present. How difficult is it to write from only her POV? It wasn’t hard to write in Mercy’s POV. First person seems to come natural to me. It’s human nature to talk about ourselves, to share our own personal experiences…it was no different for Mercy. She could easily talk about her past and she could tell you about her anger and frustration.
For me, I’m a storyteller. I can easily speak a story. Writing it was no different. I find great fun in embellishing the facts of a story so first person was not hard for me. In fact, being in Mercy’s head was much easier than telling her story from 3rd person. By telling it from her POV, we could see her reactions to the things that boiled in her past.
Mercy is a complicated character. When did she introduce herself to you and share her secret? How did you decide which secrets to tell your readers? Mercy started out as MaryBeth. By the time I finished the first chapter, MaryBeth wasn’t a strong enough character. This character needed to have a name that would haunt her. One that would drive her. I knew I wanted the story to be about redemption and mercy. What a better name? She introduced her real self to me at the end of chapter one. I went back and renamed MaryBeth to Mercy.
To me, and I know this sounds crazy, but there are letters of the alphabet that have a heavy sound. A strong sound. Names that begin with the letter M generally have a heavy sound, a hard beat. I liked MaryBeth, and even though the M is a heavy beat, having Beth added to the name softened the strength of the name. Mary is to cliché and overused. Since we are constantly saying “Lordy mercy,” in the mountains, the M on Mercy struck a chord. It fit perfectly.
What kind of research was needed to bring this story to life? I always research my cultural facts. It didn’t take much. I was raised here. My grandmother lived the hard life in the mountains and she trained my mother, and my mother trained me, in the skills of survival. I have a strong work ethic, something that is tried and true to the real mountain folks. I knew how to can, raise tobacco, garden, cook, sew. And I knew from the stories my grandmother told me of her life in the mountains, how the culture progressed. I did research the dialect, even though what you hear in Mercy’s Rain is how we talk, I know there are more modern versions of our slang. I made sure the dialect rang true. I made sure the life style in the 1800s rang true. In fact, even into the mid-1900s, life had really not modernized. Truth be known, when you get into the true mountain folks today, many still do things the old way. They may own a truck or car, but they still set tobacco with a horse and tobacco setter. They still warm their homes with hickory wood, and cook on the iron stove . . . even if they have an electric stove. Mountain life is simple. People don’t covet the modern desires of life. They love the smell of hickory smoke, the taste of home canned green beans, and sweet butter.
Was there such a man as The Pastor in the 1890s Tennessee? Or is he a figment of your imagination? This character is a figment of my imagination. But the weight of his authority is not. Circuit riding preachers were fairly knowledgeable men. They were also strong salesmen. They had to be in order to teach the love of Christ to a rather closed community of people. Most could read very well and had some portion of education as opposed to the mountain folks who could barely read and write. You’ve heard of people putting their X on the line? This is because they couldn’t write, much less read. An X was easy to make. The mountain folks, once they accepted the facts of Christ, were very faithful people. Since many had no reading skills, they relied on the Pastor to read and teach. Like any profession, there were evil men who hid behind the cloak of the ministry. They could live for free on the generosity of the mountain people and if they wanted to twist the truth to benefit their own agendas, they could. The people trusted. They were, by all intense purposes, ignorant. Ignorance is not an insult – it’s uneducated. And because of the lack of education, ignorance was a fact of life in the mountains. For every ten wonderful, good-hearted, and genuine Pastors that traveled the circuit, there was one just like Pastor Roller. But this is not only in the ministry, it’s in any profession. It could have just as easily been a medicine man, a farmer, or a sheriff. Evil does not exempt itself from a profession. It finds the weak and preys on them.
I loved how each of Mercy’s new friends represented some aspect of Christ. Were any of the characters patterned after people you know? No, not really. These folks were just good people. I wrote Mercy’s Rain to the general market. I didn’t set out to sell this to the Christian market. I wanted it to be prevalent in the secular world and therefore, I wanted people to see that in a world of horrible things, there are still good people. There are people who have scruples, faith, and true love. They have honesty and they have a love for Christ even in a world who says religion is unimportant. I know there are tons of wonderful people like my characters, the Johnsons. I’ve met them through the years. I didn’t base these characters on anyone person, rather I chose the nature of goodness and the face of Christ to develop them.
Cindy, are we going to see more of Mercy Roller in future books? I’m not sure. Mercy’s story is pretty much complete. But I’m still pondering bringing her and Samuel into a second story as secondary characters. I think their lives together could be great examples. So we’ll see. If the story lends itself toward them, I’ll add them.
What are your plans for future novels? There are three more books in this series. All Momma’s Children, Coal Black Lies, and Cobb Hill. All are part of the Appalachian cultural historical fiction stories. Each a standalone. And like I said, some of the characters from Mercy’s Rain may find their way into these stories. It is regional so we’ll see.
I always like to end my interviews with the author giving my readers a piece of writing advice. So, if you would give us one thing you’ve learned on your writing journey.
My best advice is not to marry your words. There are always better words. It goes back to my momma teaching me humility. “Cindy, if you are first place in a race, remember – there is always someone else out there better. Strive to reach better.”
I would apply this to your writing. There are always better words. Strive for better.
Thank you Cindy, for me our time together as been more than so inspiring.
We are giving away a copy of Mercy’s Rain to a lucky winner. Cindy has also brought along a copy of her devotional New Sheets- Thirty Days to Refine You to the Woman You can Be. Just leave a comment with your email if you’d like your name place in the drawing.
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