Today’s Wednesday Writers guest is author Alice K. Arenz. Today I’m talking with Alice about her latest release, A Question of Survival. Be sure to read to the end for an excerpt from this Women’s Fiction Suspense.
Welcome, to the blog, Alice, and congratulations on finishing a book that was 40 years in the making. I recently read A Question of Survival, and although it deals with spousal abuse and other heavy issues, I feel it is a well-written, thoughtfully constructed story that can help bring these issues to light. It certainly touched my heart.
Hi, Catherine! Thank you so much for having me on your blog today. AND, for the compliment. You’ve made my day!
- I know from reading other blogs about your book that A Question of Survival started with stories of your family’s exploration of the snowy Colorado Rockies where you stayed in the car with your 6-month old and waited for their return. Having read the story, which, by the way, kept me up way past midnight, I’m wondering, given the many starts and stops you’ve described, which part of the book came first: the winter storm story or the heroine Jessica’s domestic abuse story?
Sorry about keeping you up—though that, too, is a compliment! 🙂
You’re right, there were a lot of starts and stops through the years—but the answer to your question is an easy one: the original novella started with Jessica snowbound on a mountain pass with the why of how she got there told in flashbacks. I always knew the story wasn’t as complete as it should’ve been, and that haunted me. But, no matter how much I wanted to “finish” her story, something held me back. I believe it was God telling me it wasn’t the right time. Till now.
- From my own experience in writing dramatic scenes I can easily weep at the typewriter. You deal with some heavy social issues in the book—spousal abuse, suicide, miscarriage, and betrayal—how did those affect you while you were writing them?
There were a lot of tears, frustration, headaches, and even more prayer. Every time I tried to return to Jessica’s story, I thought I’d prepared myself for the onslaught of emotions. Needless to say, I never succeeded. It wasn’t until last January when the manuscript came out of the closet once again, that I really listened to God’s leading in finding the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. And with the COVID pandemic, that wasn’t always easy. But He reminded me that until Jessie’s story was completed, she remained in limbo. And, in many ways, so did I.
- You write across the spectrum of genres: Mysteries, Cozy Mysteries, Suspense, Romance, Romantic Suspense. How hard was it, aside from the long writing time, to switch gears and write a Women’s Fiction about abuse?
To be honest, I don’t really think about it. I fully believe that God just takes over. I get hints now and again, like a person’s name, maybe a location (almost always fictional), but that’s about it. When I’ve tried to “go it alone” so to speak, I don’t get very far. Even when signing up to be part of a novella set, I wouldn’t commit until I felt His leading. Most people would think I was nuts for saying this, but it’s true. Hopefully, not the part about me being nuts…
Okay, let me give you an example. When I was about two-thirds into The Case of the Bouncing Grandma, I wanted to know how all the mysteries were going to wrap up, how the manuscript would end. I kept praying for the answer, kept writing what I was given each day, but really, really wanted the answer. I didn’t have a clue! After a day of rapid-fire typing at the computer, I asked God for a hint, something that would show me the end of Glory’s story. In the middle of my shower that night, He finally answered—with one sentence: “And then he kissed me.” A month and a half later, it was, indeed, the end of the book!
You know, when I first started writing Survival, I’d never heard the term “Women’s Fiction.” There was a story that demanded it be told, a young woman whose life was in shambles, and the perfect setting. The moment I saw the vista from that backcountry location in Colorado, shut inside my brother-in-law’s Bronco with my six-month old daughter, I KNEW something powerful had taken hold of me.
- One more question about the book, before I ask some more generic questions. I’m dying to know if you did any tromping around in the snow so you could accurately describe the heroine’s winter snow experiences.
I spent a lot of time on sledding hills in Alaska when I was a kid. 😉 Later, as an adult, I tromped through plenty of snowdrifts, chasing after my kids in Missouri. Once you’ve navigated knee high—and higher—snow with varying degrees of “hardness,” the experience stays with you.
- Keep reading because Alice has an excerpt at the end of the interview. You won’t want to miss it! Now on to some fun questions–What snacks, if any, are in your office right now?
I write in the kitchen, so that’s kind of a loaded question. However, if I were in my old office, there wouldn’t be any food around. Only water. Food’s a distraction.
- Are you a morning writer, afternoon, evening, or midnight oil writer?
Any and all of the above. It all depends on how urgent the need to write happens to be.
- What’s the first book you ever remember reading as a child?
I had what I called record books, where you listen to the record—actually a vinyl 45—and follow along with the Little Golden Book. I loved Cinderella when I was very small. Once I learned to read, I devoured anything I could get my hands on.
- What’s the book you are reading now?
Actually, I’m not reading anything. Taking a break. I’ve watched a lot of Hallmark Christmas movies, though.
- Name three interesting things most people don’t know about you.
I love lighthouses, butterflies, and the idea of a unicorn.
- Is there anything I haven’t asked about your book that you’d like the reader to know?
Um… the subject matter is difficult, yes, but there’s something upon which I focus more attention. I look at A Question of Survival as a story of hope in a future beyond a damaged past. Faith, hope, and determination are all part of Jessica’s story.
I imagine that’s what everyone who deals with a damaged past hopes for, too. Thanks for being part of the blog today, Alice.
Now on to the excerpt!
A Question of Survival
by Alice K. Arenz
He knew exactly how to hurt me so it wouldn’t leave any marks—at least on the outside. Would I ever be capable of doing the same to him?
I asked myself that question every time he abused me. It didn’t matter whether it was through careless words or deeds… or with his hands. Oh, the hands stung more, but the words stayed with me long after the redness of the slap or the bruises faded away. The comments were like barbed wire poking and sticking me, a constant reminder of all the ways I could never measure up to his level of perfection.
The rhythmic tick of the ceiling fan and clicking of the pull chain from each revolution pierced my brain in much the same way as the harsh hundred-watt bulbs in the light—all things to his specifications.
Too much illumination, too much sound, too many thoughts, too many emotions…
Huddling in the corner where I’d sought solace, Domino, my one true companion, inched forward on her belly. Even my little dog knew to fly under the radar when Jonathan was in one of these moods. Something that happened more and more frequently.
Domino crept onto my lap and whimpered. It was a soft cry, barely audible, something only we could hear—a cry from the heart between the two of us.
I hugged her to me, holding back tears that threatened to fall. Jonathan hated when I cried. Since it would only make him angry and more disagreeable, what was the use?
Burying my face into her soft fur, I thanked God for my little dog and her companionship. I’d never been allowed a pet, wasn’t allowed friends that weren’t preapproved by Jonathan. But even he couldn’t dismiss a gift from my formidable grandmother.
Drawing a deep breath, I peered around the dresser and wished for a way to be absorbed into the wall behind me. A nice thought, but imagination didn’t count when dealing with Jonathan. Once you were in his reality, that’s where you remained.
He’d gone into the bathroom to shower after the … encounter. He’d expect me to be ready by the time he was finished.
You can find A Question of Survival at Amazon.
A note from Catherine:
As someone who has read several of Alice’s books, if feel this is a must-read novel from this author. She handles not just one tough subject, but several, with great care and in a clean, non-graphic manner. Even though I was certain the heroine would find her way out of her situation, Alice’s writing drew me into the story and had me rooting for Jessica as she suffered and grew and learned how to deal with her fears and trials. I became so emotional invested that I wanted to reach into the pages and throttle Jessica’s abusive husband. Although the story may be hard to read at times, the hope that lies in the book makes it worth the read.
About the Author:
Mysteries, Cozy Mysteries, Suspense, Romance, and Women’s Fiction–writing across the spectrum with a Pinch of Humor and a Twist of Faith.
Alice K. Arenz has been writing since she was a child. Her earliest publications were in the small, family-owned newspaper where her articles, essays, and poems were frequently included. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Arenz is a Carol Award winner and two-time finalist. She writes “clean” fiction as well as Christian fiction in a variety of genres and lengths.