In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy interview Chrissy Garwood, author of the River Wild Christian Romantic Suspense series and the YA Fantasy River series. Chrissy talks about being a ‘genre butterfly’ and how she dealt with the idea that someone in Christian ministry doesn’t sit around inventing stories.
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In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, writing coach, accredited editor with qualifications in theology, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, romance author, former early childhood teacher and mother of 4 adult children
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of the Armour of Light urban fantasy series
- Chrissy Garwood, school chaplain, mother, and author of romantic suspense and fantasy
Topics covered in this episode:
- Why Chrissy put writing on hold to be a ‘proper adult’… and how God changed her mind.
- The key to Chrissy’s writing productivity – 8 books written in 3 years!
- How developing an anthology with school children has changed the course of several young lives.
- Dealing with opposition to her writing from fellow Christians.
More about Chrissy at https://chrissygarwood.com/
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters Podcast – Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture. Hit subscribe on your favourite podcast player so you never miss an episode and find show notes, useful links and a full transcript at gracewriters.com.
Today on the podcast, our special guest, romantic suspense and fantasy author, Chrissy Garwood.
I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and publishing consultant with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. Find links to my books, blogs and online courses at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I’m a former early childhood educator living in south-east Queensland. I have four adult children and I write romance under the pen name Alison Joy. You can find all my information at alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi, I’m Donita Bundy. For the past 20 years I’ve been using my theology degree to underpin my preaching and public speaking and more recently to inspire my young adult urban fantasy series, Armour of Light. You can find out all about that and my other projects at donitabundy.com.
Well, this morning we have Chrissy Garwood with us. Chrissy is a writer and a primary school chaplain who enjoys living in Tasmania at the bottom of the world! Storytelling and creative play are important elements in her busy life. Chrissy has published eight books and counting. She writes the River Wild Paranormal Romantic Suspense Series and the Phoena’s Quest young adult fantasy trilogy with more underway. Chrissy is married with two adult sons.
Chrissy, welcome to the show.
Chrissy Garwood: Thank you for having me.
Donita Bundy: Now, just so that we can get a little bit of context about who you are as a writer, we were wondering if you would undergo the Rapid-fire Five? All right, who is your target audience?
Chrissy Garwood: I’m still trying to find them!
Donita Bundy: Okay. Then what is your main genre?
Chrissy Garwood: My preferred genre is romantic suspense. I thought I just wrote romance but very early on in the editing process my editor came back and said that it was considerably more than a romance. Not light and fluffy at all. So, romantic suspense and then I passed it on to some readers and they’re going, “This is more than romantic suspense,” so somewhere in the paranormal, supernatural, speculative – it won’t settle! I’m a genre butterfly!
Alison Joy: I like that! I like that!
Donita Bundy: Chrissy, when is your optimum time for writing?
Chrissy Garwood: My optimum time for writing is after school and on the weekends. I usually come home after school and I’ve got the house to myself and I just write until it’s time for dinner and if I can manage it, I sneak away after dinner and I’ll keep writing until the end of the day. So, I steal moments wherever I can.
Donita Bundy: Excellent. And where is your favourite place to write?
Chrissy Garwood: My favourite place to write is my home office. I’ve taken over what would have been a second bedroom and it’s absolutely full of everything that I’ve collected for school and for my artwork and for my writing and the complicated life that I’ve got. So, here I am!
Donita Bundy: Excellent. And lastly, in a sentence or two can you tell us how you got into writing in the first place?
Chrissy Garwood: I’ve always been a storyteller. When I was younger, I wrote what I thought were romances in my head which turns out not to be romances in my head but all kinds of suspenseful things. And I put that on hold to be a proper adult!
Didn’t write anything until I was in my early 30s and I entered a competition, and I wrote three novels that are unpublished in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet. And then somehow, I got the idea that someone in Christian ministry doesn’t sit around inventing stories, so I stopped.
And then I was going through a rough patch, ministry had been pretty tough for a few years and I was on summer holidays. The word came from my mentor that I had to take a break and I thought, “Right!” I usually sit in front of the Australian Open and knit or draw or whatever my hands need to do and in between the ball going backwards and forwards I’d invent stories and that was the only time I would allow myself for the whole year.
And the beginning of 2018, God said, “Go and sit at your computer and write,” and I’m going, “Are you sure?” And I spent a month kind of looking over my shoulder and saying, “Are you sure about this?” And I had 120,000 words and I said, “I’m in trouble now!” And it’s taken off from there.
Donita Bundy: Wow! That’s wonderful.
Belinda Pollard: You’re amazing, Chrissy. I’m just in awe of your productivity as a writer and how much you have achieved while being busy with so many other things as well. I think it’s eight books in three years.
Chrissy Garwood: Yes.
Belinda Pollard: Because we record a bit in advance, by the time this goes out you’ll probably have a couple more out! And how do you do it? What is it about your mindset and your schedule and perhaps the way that your loved ones and your work works around that? How is it that you manage to be so productive?
Chrissy Garwood: When God made me, he gave me the ability to focus on something. Before I took up writing I was at the final stages of a university degree. Everyone thought I’d do teaching but having worked in schools as a volunteer and then as a chaplain, the last thing I wanted was to take on the admin role. I’ve seen the paperwork and I’ve seen the stress.
And praying about what will I do, what will I do, in the sidebar up pops Fine Arts and Visual Culture and I rang the number and suddenly found myself enrolled in an online Arts Degree. Wouldn’t recommend it! But it set me up. I had a counsellor that I was seeing and she said, “For deadlines, the constant ‘this has got to be in this week,’ ‘this has got to be in this week,’ ‘this has got to be in this week,’” triggered something that was good for me.
And that’s what’s happened with my novels. I sat down. That book that was 120,000 words, thanks to my very kind editor, got cut down to 67,000 words and took me about six months. By the time I’d finished that I had seven more outlines and it was like, “Okay, you’ve got this one finished,” and then I published it. And then the people that read it said, “Where’s the next one?” And I made the mistake at my launch of saying, “My next one will be out in three months’ time!” And three months’ time I had another one and then the few readers that I’ve got, particularly my family, the first thing they say is where’s the next one. Where’s the next one? So, I’m kind of stuck on a treadmill!
Belinda Pollard: I’m really interested, too, in what you said during your Rapid-fire Five about how a person in ministry can’t sit in a room and write stories because I think that’s something that a lot of us, particularly fiction writers, struggle with.
I’m really glad that you’ve found a way through that. I mean, that’s an issue that my pod-buddies here, they know that I’ve actually wrestled with that issue, even myself, quite recently. So, it continues sometimes to come up. Should we be sitting writing stories? But one of the things that occurs to me too is that we follow a storyteller. We take up our cross and follow a storyteller. Jesus did most of his teaching through story. Some of it was non-fiction but a lot of it, He used story and narrative to tell it.
So, yes, I’m really interested in the fact that you’ve raised that. What do you think it was? Was it more just finding a deadline and pushing through to that or was it more of an understanding of the task itself being worthwhile? What was it that helped you get through that particular blockage?
Chrissy Garwood: Oh, that’s a big question! I kept on going back in prayer and I kept on getting from different people who didn’t have a clue what was going on the same scriptures, the old one about Jeremiah 29:11, I have a plan for you and a purpose, but then it goes on into those other verses where it’s to give you a prosperous future; to give you hope. And those things were pretty key in my mind.
I work as a Chaplain. I’m classified as a low-income person. I’m on a fixed-term contract. The amount of money I get paid wouldn’t support me if I didn’t have a husband who had worked really hard and paid off the mortgage and covered all the bills. I was looking at the long term. “Okay God, what am I going to do next?”
I had friends around me that believed in me. Once I started saying that I was writing a book, I’ve got a reader team sort of stuck with me from the beginning and they read little bits and they wanted more and they’ve prayed over me and they’ve prayed for me and they’ve sent me messages when I’ve not been able to make any progress and they’ve just continued to encourage me. To continue to lift me up and that’s an essential thing for anybody that thinks they’re going to step into public life and write. Find yourself a team of people that believe that God’s called you. That believe that God’s gifted you and are prepared to be there on the other end of the phone when things are rough and who pray for you.
Belinda Pollard: That’s fantastic! Thanks, Chrissy. What was it that challenged you to step out of the romantic suspense and into young adult fantasy?
Chrissy Garwood: In my romantic suspense series, in this one in particular, there’s a vision that the main character goes into and as the other books came out each one of the characters goes to the same place and I thought, “Well, this is a supernatural place where unusual things happen. What would it be like to live there?” and then suddenly I’ve got this young lady and I’m thinking, “What would life be like for her to actually live in that magical place without knowing,”
And I’ve used the dreaded word ‘magic’ which to me means something completely different to the Old Testament. Something fantastic. Something amazing. Something that gets you, “Ahh!” and it suspends reality. And that’s what a fantasy is supposed to do. It’s supposed to take you out of the terrible place that you might think you’re in. This world can be pretty hard. And it puts you in a place where reality is suspended so anything can happen.
So, someone can talk to a dragon. Someone can want themselves to be invisible and everybody ignores them and they really are. All kinds of amazing things. And the same thing happened with this book that happened with my romantic suspense series. By the time I’ve got to the end of book 2, I suddenly had another six stories that I go, “Oh, I’m in trouble again!”
Now, I’ve got two series with characters that are telling me, “Hang on. You’re not writing my story!”
Alison Joy: Okay, Chrissy, I’m really intrigued about the Salamander Appreciation Society. Can you tell us a little bit more about it and how that came about?
Chrissy Garwood: This is an anthology. One of my schools at the time that we sat down and wrote this in 2020 we’d just hit lockdown but in Tasmania if you were an essential worker you could still send your children to school.
And so I spent some time in a classroom with seven kids whose parents were all essential workers and we were talking about what could I offer and one of the teachers had joined my reader team.
So, she’s a non-Christian. She’s reading my paranormal Christian romantic suspense books and the Christianity and having God in her face isn’t bothering her at all. And she asked me would I like to do something with the kids that were online.
I had three of them in the room with me and the other 17 were on the computer and we had a couple of camera-to-face meetings and then I followed the three kids that I had with me around the playground and they built the project.
So, I gave them a story idea and they walked the playground and they workshopped what their characters were going to do. Then when we came back as a face-to-face group and we met an hour a week, they sat in a circle, they talked to each other and they interacted with each other. They created some incredible stories and we got to the end of the year and we had a book.
We’re doing it again this year. I’ve got 12 x eleven and twelve-year-olds. One of the children from last year has aspirations to be a writer. She’s got an uncle who said that writers can’t make a living from writing; get yourself a proper job. She’s going to start high school next year knowing that she’s a published author. Knowing that it’s a possibility. She’s got an epic series in her. She just doesn’t have the skills yet to do that. But last year she came to the end of the project and she said, “This is the first story I’ve ever finished.”
The boy that can’t spell and doesn’t know anything about punctuation, he is still writing. And there’s one character called Agent Spaghetti who was one of the original kids that was in the room with me and he has run the project. So, when he started the project, he was one of those kids that wouldn’t speak up. We got invited to go and talk at a writer’s workshop and as soon as he got beyond the formality, he was telling all these kids about this story project and he just wouldn’t stop and this year he’s done the same. So, he’s written about 11,000 words this year. So, for a kid that really didn’t want to do anything he’s a published author heading off to high school next year.
Belinda Pollard: It could be interesting to see what sort of changes that causes for those kids in the years to come in terms of extra opportunities.
Chrissy Garwood: I’ve heard one student who was diagnosed about six months ago with a developmental disorder that really rocked the whole family. He came and said to me, “When things are getting really hard and I just can’t cope anymore, I just sit down and I work on my story.” And then the next week his mother came and said that she couldn’t put a price on the importance of her son being in the project.
Alison Joy: That’s amazing. It’s really good, Chrissy. On your website there’s a caption that says Story Weaving, creative play and conversations. So, how does creative play tie in with your story weaving?
Chrissy Garwood: Okay. So, most of my lunchtimes at my small school are spent in the sandpit or in the kindergarten playground and I get dragged along in the children’s stories. So, I’ve always been a storyteller and I’m a story keeper. So, someone can tell me a story and I can weave it. I like to think that I’ve learnt that from Jesus. So, when I became a Christian as a teenager they plugged me straight into the Sunday School so, I was there teaching little kids so I learnt the value of story.
When I did my formal qualifications, I’ve got Children’s Services, so I’ve worked in a childcare centre and I used to walk around the childcare centre telling stories with the kids following along behind me being part of the story.
Alison Joy: I love your insights and how you’ve worked with the kids. It’s great.
Donita Bundy: Chrissy, your storytelling is obviously four-dimensional. It comes through every element of your life.
The Gracewriters slogan is ‘Christian writers changing popular culture’. How does that challenge you, changing popular culture as a Christian writer?
Chrissy Garwood: I’ve had some tricky questions since I’ve started writing. The hardest thing right at the very beginning was when somebody didn’t think it was Christian enough. That my writing wasn’t uplifting and wasn’t inspirational. But there was a flipside to that. One of the people that was on my reader team when they were going through the interview process and I said, “God gives me nudges in the right direction. It’s like God’s talking to me while I’m writing,” asked me whether I thought I was writing like the writers of the Gospel did. Whether I was writing something that was going to have an impact worldwide kind of thing. Be put up here whereas I know that my writing is meant for entertainment. It’s meant for fiction.
And then I hit a new problem when I wrote my first book, one of the characters goes from being an unbeliever to being able to pray for somebody else in a couple of scenes. And I had someone come and say, “That’s impossible,” and I’m going, well, one of the characters, spoiler alert, one of the characters dies and comes back to life again. They were able to accept the visions. They were able to accept the ways God stepped into the characters’ lives but when it came to a non-Christian meeting God and transforming and becoming a Christian that was a public Christian, that really impacted them.
Then I wrote book 3 and one of my reader team came and said, “Start praying. I want to go through the transformation that this character did,” and I’m going, “Oh!” So, there were some dark themes in this, and this person was a survivor of childhood trauma and they wanted the transformation that I wrote about in the book and I had to go back and say, “This is a God thing.”
I’ve got a book with the editor at the moment and one of my reader team is really struggling with it. She said it’s like pushing all her buttons. She can identify with the central character and I’m going, “This is a God thing.”
I’ve found that the non-Christians will accept this is a God thing really easily and some of the Christians think that I’m turning myself into superwoman when I say that. That’s a big challenge.
Donita Bundy: We can’t please all the people all the time and wherever we go, I think, we’re going to receive criticism and judgment. As you’ve said before right at the beginning one of the most important things is you pray about what you write and we’re going to receive attack from within the Christian community and outside because people are not going to agree with what we’ve written but if we prioritise prayer, I think that’s our only way to just keep forging on.
You’ve had some incredible responses through your faithful writing and that’s just something worth celebrating and giving thanks for.
Chrissy, how’s your writing journey impacted your faith and your personal relationship with God?
Chrissy Garwood: I’ve always had a close relationship with God. I’ve always been aware of His presence. I didn’t know until I was about 26 that other people didn’t just natter away to God all the time. So, I’d walk down the street and I’d look at that person over there. Let’s pray for them.
I talk about the play in the sandpit. I talk about the trees. I talk about the clouds. I didn’t know that that wasn’t ordinary and so I went through a stage where I’ve tried to be pious and I’ve tried to pray the proper prayers and it never seems to work for me so I’ve gone back to the “Oh, look at the sky and look at that person over there. I wonder what they need from you today, God.”
Belinda Pollard: Sounds a bit like ‘pray without ceasing’ to me. It could be quite biblical!
Chrissy Garwood: But I’ve had to learn because all my characters are recovering from trauma and the only way they ever go from ‘their lives are absolutely shattered’ to ‘their lives are in victory’ is stepping into a relationship with Jesus.
I’ve had to look at what that looks like. So, I’ve had some trauma and recently I’ve retriggered some of that trauma and it comes down to do I really believe. This God that I say can step in and bring somebody back from the dead can put person A and person B in the wrong city at the wrong time and completely turn not only their lives around but the lives of a whole heap of people.
If I believe that, then why do I so often lose my self-confidence? So, I’m spending more time reading. I’m not very good at non-fiction reading so I’m doing little devotionals that are three to seven days. Just soaking it up. I’m listening to just scripture being read while I’m driving. I’m just trying to saturate myself in who God is and what He said before. And I’m also giving myself permission to just sit, so I colour in.
A lesson I learnt during COVID at one of my schools. I was having a meltdown because I was trying to be in three places at once and the principal sent me outside and said, “Go and sit on a rock! It’s a sunny day. Enjoy it!” And I’m learning to do that. To just sit and go okay God, it’s okay to be here. It’s okay not to be running around like a chook with its head chopped off and I’m pulling back. I’m pulling back and saying, “No, I’m not going to fill every moment. I’m not going to be busy. I’m just going to enjoy what I’ve got now.”
Donita Bundy: Amen!
Belinda Pollard: Fantastic stuff, Chrissy. Thank you so much for that. So much richness that you’ve brought into that interview for us. We really appreciate it. How can listeners find you?
Belinda Pollard: Excellent. How about I pray for you and for the Gracewriters before we finish.
Chrissy Garwood: Thank you.
Belinda Pollard: Heavenly Father, we thank you for Chrissy and for the amazing things that you have brought forth from her life and even from past traumas and from the ways that you are using her writing in extraordinary ways that she could never have anticipated. We pray that you will continue to bless her faithfulness and strengthen and encourage her and I pray for all the other Gracewriters out there too who are struggling with various things. Whether it’s trauma, over-busyness or wondering if they’re even doing the right thing. I pray that you will guide them, bless them, and encourage them in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Donita Bundy: Amen
Alison Joy: Amen
Chrissy Garwood: Amen
Belinda Pollard: Chrissy Garwood, thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you, Donita Bundy and Alison Joy.
I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time on the Gracewriters podcast.
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