She has served on the Board of Directors of Inprint, Inc., a non-profit organization supporting the literary arts in Houston, Texas, as well as the Advisory Board for The New Orleans Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of The Tennessee Williams Festival in New Orleans; Pamela is a co-founder of the Northshore Literary Society in the Greater New Orleans area. She is also a member of the National League of American Pen Women.
Pamela’s first novel, Walk Back The Cat (Broadman and Holman. May, 2006) is the story of an embittered and powerful clergyman who learns an ancient secret, confronting him with truth and a choice that may destroy him.
She is also the best-selling author of the acclaimed non-fiction book Faith On Trial, published by Broadman and Holman in 1999, currently in its third printing.
1.How did you come up with the idea for Dancing on Glass?
I’m interested in relationships and the choices that we women have to make, and how faith and grace affect our lives. In the Moon in the Mango Tree, I told the story of my grandmother’s life in the 1920’s, a period of time when women had just won the right to vote, but still weren't allowed to sit on juries, and in some states, weren’t allowed to own property.
Still society was changing and women had great new opportunities, although there was still no support system around a woman who wanted a real career, like my grandmother. She was a wonderful singer and was given the opportunity to sing on stage. But, my grandfather, a medical doctor just back from WWI, was offered the chance to be a medical missionary in Siam, and took the job! So she had to choose between love and a career on stage. In 1920 she chose love. But she was unable to banish that longing to sing, and after years in Siam, Paris, and Rome, once again at the end of the decade she was forced to choose between two things she loved.
Dancing on Glass also explores one woman’s approach to those kinds of choices in New Orleans, circa 1974, over fifty years than my grandmother’s time. (About half-way between then and now.) But your review underscores my heroine, Amalise Catoir’s problem, perfectly, Nora. Today, with our support systems and society’s encouragement, women do have real choices. We can chose to stay home and raise children, or to go out into the world and climb the ladders of success, and sometimes we can have both. But a new problem has risen during that fifty years since my grandmother’s time. I call it the ‘double bind’.
The double bind is this: Woman today are strong, we have great inner strength, as I believe we’ve always had, but we have more power now. Society has changed and we’ve grown more self-sufficient, confident, accomplished, and many times today, we’re financially independent as well. But our softer side’s still around—that nurturing empathy, the maternal instinct. The combination of our two sides—strength (and self-confidence) and empathy—sometimes leads us to believe that we can fix any problem. Even a broken man…even a broken, abusive relationship. As you said, we struggle with our hearts and souls to do the right thing—to help the needy and the weak. And we will struggle as long as we can hold on to honor our commitments.
That combination of qualities, I believe, is what’s behind the question being asked so frequently these days—‘why does she stand by her man?’ We look at someone like Elizabeth Edwards and ask ourselves why it took so many years for her to recognize what was happening and leave. Fifty or a hundred years ago women didn’t have the choice to leave. Today we do, and yet often in abusive relationships (emotional as well as physical) we’re finding women still sticking it out. On one level, Dancing on Glass explores the answer to that question for so many women today—why, and how does this happen—the consequences of the double bind.
(NORA: Pam I love how you put this. It's such an important issue. You did such a great job of exploring all sides of the subject! Fascinating, suspenseful and scary all at once!)
2.Dancing on Glass is an honest look at how a “Good” Christian girl can be lead astray and go down a path she never thought she would, and the strong message of God is there to pick us up and love us when we fall. What do you hope readers take away from your book?
Understanding! Because knowledge is power, and understanding and faith are the keys. If only one woman caught in Amalise’s position learns how manipulative and predatory relationships come about, the book will have accomplished everything I hoped. This is a fast-paced story, suspenseful, and Amalise is well-grounded in her faith, and she’s optimistic, with a basic joy for life regardless of Phillip Sharp. My hope is that readers will love the story, that they won’t be able to put it down and that they’ll love Amalise and Jude. But my hope is also that anyone who sees herself in Amalise will realize that even when we deviate from the right path, even though we fall over and over and over again, even when our choices are wrong and yet deliberate and we’re rationalizing them, we are never alone. God is there to lift us up each time we fall, and to show us the right way out. At its heart this is a story of faith and God’s grace.
(Nora: I LOVE that aspect of the story. Just because we've made a bad choice -no matter what it is- even as a Christian believer- God can and WILL FORGIVE US!! We don't have to beat ourselves up over it as punishment for sin and/or bad choice. The message in your story that God will FORGIVE us no matter what - if we've known Him forever or not yet. We can run into His arms and say, "I've messed up - will you forgive me?" You were real and not preachy in your approach.Liked that. POWERFUL!)
3.Christian fiction continues to boom. What would you like to see happen in this field?
I love fiction that pulls me into the story and through the plot and the characters I learn something new. Something that makes me stop and think. Christianity is such a rich treasure trove of wisdom! I’d love to see Christian fiction more readily featured for secular readers, particularly in bookstores where it’s separated from ‘ordinary’ and ‘literary’ fiction in the stacks. Every book has ideas and a world-view, and in the end, for me, that’s what makes a really good book, whether it’s labeled Christian fiction or not. I think. Ideas have effects! So I’d really like to see more cross-over between Christian fiction and ordinary fiction.
4.Can you tell us about your Christian testimony?
When I was a young adult just out of the nest, I began reading philosopher’s that were hot at the time—Ayn Rand for one. It was the nineteen-sixties. Philosophers, media, many writers—they made such rational arguments against our most fundamental religious principles. Time Magazine put out an issue with a cover saying “God is dead.” This raised profound questions in my mind and I went back to my pastor and asked: How do you know the Gospel stories are true? Until then, I’d just taken their truth for granted.
And the answer I got was there’s no way to prove it. You just have to have faith.
Many people have the gift of unquestioning faith, and I envy them. But I’ve always been a questioner. (That’s probably why I am a lawyer.) With me, my heart won’t accept what my mind rejects. The answer I received from my pastor, and then others, didn’t help against the strong arguments I was suddenly facing. As a result, I ended up an agnostic – wanting desperately to believe, but unable to hold on to my faith. I was the 100th sheep who’d slipped the fold. This lasted for years, twenty or twenty-five, I think.
But through all of this, I still wanted to believe. And during this time I was practicing law. One day it dawned on me that lawyer’s verify whether events in the past really occurred all the time. Murders that happened two years ago, a red car hitting a green car six months ago—these were facts, and facts can either be proven, or not. So I decided to use the tools of research that I’d learned as a lawyer, and began digging into the question, searching for proof, to see if the testimonies of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John would stand up in court. Were their Gospels just myths and legends as many claim? Or were they actual testimony of credible witnesses. In other words, I put Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John on trial.
And they won. The evidence I found created a powerful chain of proof that their testimony was valid, credible—they wrote what they saw. I found proof that these evangelists were for the most part, eye-witnesses. The result of all this research was my first book, Faith On Trial, and finally…at last…I returned to faith as a committed Christian. The things I’d learned researching Faith on Trial provided a foundation for faith to grow. Of course, this changed my life in many ways. For one thing, I retired from practicing law to write full time, Christian fiction. And you may have noticed that most of my stories introduce characters that are searching for faith, or questioning or testing it…because I’ve been there. I know how desperately people want to find the answers. Faith on Trial is out of print right now, but I’m working on that. But you can still get it on Amazon, even now twelve years after the first release.
Now my faith is grounded and strong, and I hope that resonates through all my writing. Because I’m writing for fun and for readers that I love, but especially for that one lost sheep.
(Nora : Wow, Thanks for sharing this with us!)
5.Where do you get your ideas for your plots?
All over the place – the world is full of amazing stories! I developed the idea for Secret of the Shroud (Walk Back the Cat, reissued last year), from two situations. First, there was a story in the news about a very young child being thrown from the roof of a 14 story building, and that story just broke my heart. I couldn’t forget it. In the article the reporter wrote that a young boy, a child, who ran down all 14 flights of stairs and burst out of the building just as the police were arriving. A policeman grabbed him and asked why he’d run all the way down those stairs. The little boy was breathless—but he managed to say that the victim was his little brother. He’d thought, that maybe he could catch him!
So I asked myself what would that do to any child, his or her faith, relationships, world view and “Little Guy” in Secret of the Shroud was born. In addition, I’d become fascinated with the Shroud of Turin while researching Faith on Trial, and that fit in perfectly into the mystery of the story I had in mind.
On the other hand, the plot for the Moon in the Mango Tree arose out of an unexpected discovery, from my grandmother’s letters and journals found after she passed on. I was very close to my grandmother, who is the heroine of the book. It’s the fictionalized story of my grandmother’s life in the 1920’s. I was lucky to have been very close to her for many years. So her stories of living in the jungles of Siam as a medical missionary’s wife in the 1920’s were well known to me as a child. But when she passed away and I found her letters from the period of the book, I discovered another layer of my grandmother’s life that I’d never suspected. Not only having to do with her own journey to faith, which was strangely similar to my own. But also the fact that she’d given up a career to sing grand opera because of her love for my grandfather. She made that choice in 1920, but faced another more difficult one that truly amazed me near the end of the dazzling decade, alone, in Paris and in Rome.
So, plots are everywhere in real life. You just have to spot them, and then let your imagination run.
6.Could you tell me how the cover process works for you? The covers of your books are eye-catching, just wondered if you have a say in how they turn out? Just wondering how involved you are in this process?
First, thanks for the compliments and I can thank the B&H artists for that! They are spectacular. And covers are so much fun. A good cover should illustrate the ambiance and point of the book, really let the reader know what it’s all about. And it should be, as you said, eye-catching!
Every one of my books has been published by B&H Publishing and I love every cover they’ve used, particularly, I have to say, Dancing on Glass and the Moon in the Mango Tree, both of which were the work of Diana Lawrence at B&H, with input from my editors. I don’t know how other publishers work with their authors on this issue, but with B&H it’s really a team effort. B&H allows their authors to become very involved in the process. They have the final say-so, of course, but my guess is that they’d never use a cover that the author didn’t really like.
First we—meaning the author, the editor, the artists, and marketing and sales--start with a long questionnaire that the author fills out. It gives the artists a feel for the story, the ambience and the characters and the setting in the author’s words. I try to give them my own vision of things—colors especially. They usually ask what covers I’ve seen recently that strike me as being just really beautiful, that struck me, to give them a better idea of how I’m thinking about the book.
Then the artists pick up on the concept and go with it. They’ll send sample covers, all different kinds, and together as a team we eventually come to an agreement. When we finally got there with Faith on Trial, someone wrote “OK - stick a fork in it!” It can be a process, but usually there’s one cover that just hits you when you see it! But getting there takes some time, and all of these people at B&H really work hard on getting it right. I can’t say enough good things about the covers they’ve created.
7.Can you give us a sneak peek into what book you are working on right now? When does it release?
Just a few days ago I turned in the manuscript for a sequel to Dancing on Glass. The saga of Jude and Amalise continues in Chasing the Wind. I don’t want to tell too much and give things away. But I can say it’s set in New Orleans again – circa 1977.
This story centers on love, ambition and envy, and a mysterious child with a forgotten past, and a razzle-dazzle international financial deal. When they collide—anything can happen! This book was really fun to write! (Like eating Roman Candy—a sticky taffy made in New Orleans] It’s set for release next summer 2012, I think.
And here’s a secret: Something just popped up in the news last week that almost laid me flat because it involves one of the characters in the book. This was so unexpected! I can’t tell…but maybe you’ll catch it when the book comes out.
QUESTIONS I JUST HAD TO ASK!
1.What are three things you wouldn’t want to live without—besides family and faith and bible?
Books—I always have one with me. Sometimes I read two at a time, depending on my mood! And diet coke!
2.Your friend has a time machine and they’re going to let you use it, but you can only experience two events in the history of the world. What two events would you like to experience and why?
a. I really had to think about these, because the first one was easy, but the second one was like choosing my favorite marble from hundreds dropped on the floor.
Okay – the first: I would choose to be in the room with the Apostles when Christ came to them after he rose from the dead.
b.The second! I think I would choose to visit the library at Alexandria, Egypt before it was destroyed. I’d want plenty of time to browse and read, and I’d have the ability to read any language in which the books were written!
3.What are two places you’d like to visit if you had a chance? Why?
I’ve always wanted to visit Thailand. When I wrote the Moon in the Mango Tree the country described by my grandmother and grandfather was so beautiful, so lush with trees and innocent, almost untouched. I’ve heard that since, much of the area they lived in in the north has been deforested, and of course Bangkok itself is a completely different city. So I didn’t visit it during my writing because I had my grandmother and grandfather’s descriptions and pictures in my imagination. I’d created her world, not the one existing today. And later when my grandparents passed on, we found so many letters and journals describing the country. I also did a lot of research, and there were many writings of other missionaries who’d passed through that area in the 1920’s and earlier.
The second place—probably Tahiti. Just because in pictures it looks so serene, so peaceful and beautiful. So relaxing.
4. Name two movies you could watch over and over again.
5. Name three favorites books you read as a child.
When we Were Very Young – which is a book of children’s poems by A.A. Milne who also wrote Winnie the Pooh. The poems were so rhythmic and lots of fun to chant along with, and there were great drawings to go along with them. And, third, Little Women. I loved all the characters in that book, especially Jo. I wanted to be Jo.
6. You’ve been given the opportunity to hang out with two people (alive or dead) in the history of the world for 48 hours. Who would you hang out with and what would you do?
a. Jesus Christ would be my first choice. Can you imagine anything as fascinating as having 48 hours to spend with Christ? I would listen to everything he said and try to write it down. And if he’d let me, I’d ask a million questions.
ANY FINAL COMMENTS FOR MY READERS?
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk with your readers, Nora. My husband, Jimmy, and I are going on book tour at the end of the month, visiting stores from Virginia down through Georgia and Alabama. We just drive around and meet people in the bookstores, usually. Jimmy calls this ‘driving Ms. Pamela!”
But I do have book signings in several places, so readers, please check out www.pamelaewen.com for the schedule, and I’d love to meet you if you have time to stop by and say hello!
LOVE this picture Pamela! I'm THRILLED that you will be doing a book signing at LIFE WAY MALL OF GA store on SATURDAY, August 27th from 1-3p.m. I'll definitely be seeing you then. How exciting. I had no idea that what we'd be able to meet so soon!
Blessings to you on your travels. I highly recommend your new book. This was the first of your books I've read. I'll be checking out your others!
SEE YOU SOON!!
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