Interview with Linda Evans and Eva Marie Everson by Christian Book Previews’ editor, Debra Murphy:
CBP: We would love for you to share your Christian testimonies.
EVA MARIE: I’m Eva Marie Everson. I grew up in a Christian home and (like many others) stepped away from it in my late teens. I also tested God a lot in my earlier/mid teens. I became very angry with God when I was 18-years-old and I quit going to church. When I married, my husband and I began to go to church again. We raised our children in the church. I was very active in the church, helping out with the children’s ministry and this and that. I still had this awful anger towards God in me.
It came to a head in 1986 when I finally said I couldn’t live like this anymore. I felt that it would just be better to die. I pretty much had my suicide planned out. Before I acted on it I had to go up to Atlanta to see some friends. They had just started going to this new church and they said, “You have to go with us; it’s fabulous.” So we went to this church. As soon as we entered the auditorium we became separated. I was shuffled into the aisle when I saw my friend and his wife. I got his attention and I said, “I don’t want to be here.” I don’t like to be in crowds of people I don’t know. And he said, “What do you want me to do?” So I was stuck in the middle of these people who have this joy toward God and this exuberance praising him. The music started and something fell over me like a blanket. I loosened my hands and started clapping. Something rose up inside of me, and I went home that night driving three to four hours home. I lay across my bed and I said, “Lord, I don’t know what it is that you’ve got, but I want every part of you. I’m not afraid of you anymore, I’m not angry at you anymore.”
I woke up in the middle of the night having a conversation with God, just talking away in my sleep. I went right back to sleep, waking the next morning to never be the same. I’m sold out, I love God, I’m not afraid, where He sends I’m going, what He wants me to do I’m doing, what He gives me I’ll take it. And I’m not angry anymore.
CBP: What was that anger?
EM: I had married a man who was a preacher’s son, he came from a good family, and I was the good little girl in that relationship. I stayed pure, I did everything right, everything for the Lord. One month after we married, he beat me to the point that I was unconscious; he was a drug pusher and a homosexual. I lived for thirteen months in hell. When I literally ran for my life, I said to the Lord, “How could you have done this to me? I married a preacher’s son, I married pure, How could you have done this to me?”
My present husband and I have four children, three grandchildren, the fourth one is due. I was married to him for a long time before I finally went to the Lord one night and I said, “This question still remains, how could you have done this to me?” And the Lord spoke to me when I got quiet enough to listen. “You never asked my opinion.” And that was true. In a way it seems so simple, right? I realized that because it looked good, I just went with it. But God was saying, “no”. I just never asked God, should I do this? But did God still turn something that was horrible and turn it into something good? Yes, because He loves His children. So that was the answer plain and simple.
CBP: You are not alone. So many stories like that are out there. I also know that I have said “But I’ve prayed about it.” When questioned further I realized that I was too generalized with my prayers and non-specific.
EM: I was in Sunday school and I was 10-years-old – I will always remember this – the Sunday school teacher said, “You cannot choose who you will fall in love with, but you can choose who you marry.” And that is something that, looking back, I should have said to the Lord, “Ok, now I’m in love with this man, is this who you want me to marry?” Because sometimes you fall in love, and God says no. And that’s okay.
CBP: I don’t think there is enough written out there about that for women, your ladies making the choices of who to date and marry.
EM: I’m working on a book called Sex, Lies, and High School. It will go into depth on the dating issue. When you are dating, the question is, is this guy the someone God wants you date? If you can’t date the one whom God wants you to date, then you’re not going to marry the guy God wants you to marry.
I do want to tell you this – I always feel like I have to say this: In 1992, my ex-husband gave his life to the Lord. He lived four years in ministry before he died of AIDS. So while he could not be my husband on earth, he will be my brother in heaven, and I praise God for that part of the story.
CBP: That is a wonderful ending of that story. Linda, what about your story?
LINDA EVANS: I don’t have anything like that. I grew up in the church, and I came to the Lord when I was 10-years-old, very stubborn 10-years-old. I did not want to go down and repent publicly in front of my mother because she wanted me to make a big public showing, and she was praying for me. I just resented all the pressure, so I just decided I was just going to do it when I felt like it. So one day at Vacation Bible School, they had us check whether or not we wanted to talk to the pastor. Well, I did want to talk to the pastor, but I didn’t want my mother to know. She couldn’t see me check the card so I checked the card.
Well, the pastor and the evangelist came to my house that night. My mother opened the door to let them in. I was very embarrassed. They came in to our home and they led me in the sinner’s prayer, which I had prayed many times when they were singing Just As I Am. So that night I prayed it once again, and that night in Vacation Bible School, the traveling evangelist said he saw a junior girl accept the Lord that night, and I thought, he saw me! I thought that means I’m really a Christian, that means it really works. Yet it wasn’t until I walked down the aisle that night – I was a weeping 10-year-old because the Holy Spirit touched my heart. And I cried for, I think, half an hour. No one could comfort me or stop my tears, and it wasn’t that I was grieving; it was just finally I had broken through that stubbornness, which, by the way, serves me very well. I like to consider myself the most stubborn woman in America.
It’s amazing. We are two suave women who have had an amazing time writing this book about six very strong women. It’s a wonderful gift.
My testimony may be plain and simple; however, I had to prove it when my daughter was 18-months-old and was thrown out of a car in a violent car crash and spent a year in a coma. My daughter could not communicate; I had nothing to hang onto but my faith. Today my daughter is 18-years-old, and she is more disabled than Terri Schiavo. However, my daughter has the richest life, and has more joy than any person I know. My daughter stood up to the Denver media here in Colorado during the Terri Schiavo situation. We allowed them to meet my daughter, and she became the Colorado media darling during the Terri Schiavo situation. The reporters who met my daughter, their lives were changed forever.
LINDA: I had to be stubborn because I had to stand up to all the doctors and say, “No, you may not pull her plug.”
EM: She was just a young mom, and these medical professionals are looking at her like, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Medically your daughter has no hope. But Linda is standing in her faith with the stubbornness of a mother and saying you will not pull that plug. And she was right.
LINDA: They even sent the hospital chaplain after me. She said, “Now, why do you believe that your daughter can get better?” And I said, “The bible.” And she said, “Can you tell me exactly where in the bible?” And I said, “The whole bible.” She walked away with her head shaking sadly. She knew she couldn’t get anywhere with me.
CBP: How did you find each other? Why did the two of you write this story? Why did you use this setting?
EM: In 1999 I was going to my first Christian Book Association (CBA) conference and it was being held in Orlando, which is where I live. We have a mutual friend named Deb Haggerty who has a beautiful home with lots of square footage. So she allowed about 10 of us to come and stay in her home because it’s close to the convention center. When I got the word that Linda Evans Shepard was going to be in that house, I got so excited because I had been reading her compilation book. So as it turned out, though, Linda was going through a very difficult time.
LINDA: My editor had left the publishing house, and when he left, they cancelled my three-book contract. It was very difficult to deal with at that point.
EM: Linda was very sad, and I was very exuberant because everything was going great.
LINDA: And here I was Eeyore.
EM: So I was really hoping to like Linda Evans Shepard, but I didn’t think we could be friends. And Linda was thinking, “I don’t think I can deal with that much energy in a person.” So she went back to Colorado and decided to start the Advanced Writer’s and Speaker’s Association, which would help Christian authors and speakers, support one another, and pray for one another, and learn from one another.
LINDA: I really saw a need for that at that point and time in my life – I don’t know why.
EM: Yes, and so as God would have it – I can’t come up with any other reason – Linda contacted me and said, “Would you like to be a part of the founding of this?” And I said, “I would.” And it was my energy that she hated that came along beside her and helped her build what are now 250 women. And she is no longer Eeyore.
So we worked on several other projects together, and then one day in 2002 and said –
LINDA: I had been reading a lot of novels in the ABA market on the friendships of women, and I hated them. I thought, if I were going to write a novel about the friendships of women I would do A, B, and C and I would call it the Potluck Club. And I just suddenly thought it would be about these different women characters, and I called Eva who was in the airport in Baltimore.
EM: I had been traveling for four straight weeks; I was exhausted. Linda calls me no longer Gloomy Gus and says, “Eva, I have this idea for this book, and I think we should write it together. And it’s going to be about six women who get together for potluck, and they’re going to have some recipes, and we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that.” And I’m like, “Linda, I am so tired, I really can’t talk to you right now.”
LINDA: In the meantime, I’m driving between Golden and Boulder going in and out of cell phone range, so we kept getting disconnected.
EM: I said, “Just let me call you back.” So I turned off my cell phone and I’m closing my eyes to try and get some sleep before my plane comes in, and all of a sudden I remembered --I grew up in the South and potluck is huge in the South – I remembered all of the potluck dinners that we went to and how the women would congregate and how there was a little bit of gossip going on and a little bit of backstabbing and a little bit of love, and a little bit of prayer, and always fun.
I called Linda back and said, “Linda, this is what we could do …”. So we came to CBA 2002 with our little idea, and then we waited a whole year-and-a-half before we got this phone call from Baker Revelle that said, “We would like to acquire this book.” But by this time, though, we had already well developed our characters, we knew our story, we had been going back and forth. And it just kept getting better and better and more and more fun. So when they said we do want the book, I flew from one end of Florida to Colorado, Linda picked me up, we drove up into the mountains to her cabin in Frisco –
LINDA: It takes place in the Frisco area.
EM: We took the Frisco area as our backdrop, we called it Summit Butte, Colorado, we wrote for a solid week.
CBP: And I know there’s a "Thank You" to the bakery.
LINDA: Yes. We were in the bakery last Friday morning, and the owner was in the bakery and Eva approached her. Tell her what you said to her.
EM: Well, I went up to her and told her who we were, and what we were doing, and I said that so many of the scenes take place in Higher Grounds Café, which is actually based on Butterhorn. And I had the book in my hand and I said, “This is where we acknowledge your café, and I would just like to say thank you for having this place for us to come and kind of unload in the middle of the day and to give us a backdrop.” Well, she just began to weep. I took her over to the table where Linda was and she said, “This is the best thing that has happened to me in my whole life. I am taking the rest of the day off.” Now, mind you, this was like 7:30 in the morning. She said, “I am taking the rest of the day off to read.”
So we continued our meal, we had our editor with us. We wanted her to go in and be able to see all of these places, and we ate our meal then we’re like, where’s our check? The waitress came and we said, “Where’s the check?” And she said, “It’s on Cindy.”
CBP: And, of course, readers always want to know whom you based it upon.
EM: And, truly, these characters came out of our heads. They were not based on any one person, or any six people. We just developed it, and the more we would talk about it, they became real for us.
Some of our characters are very naughty. And we will not admit which one of us wrote that character.
LINDA: No, we will not. And there is one particular character that goes through a tremendous hardship. And it’s actually based on someone that I know. And I got her permission to tell that part of her story. Now, the entirety of this character’s story is not my friend’s story, but there’s an element of it that is real. That part of the story has developed into a very center part of what happens in book two, and there will be an absolutely hilarious ending in book three.
Eva’s in charge of three of the characters, and I’m in charge of three of the characters. We take turns writing what’s happening based in that character’s viewpoint. So, I do not know what Eva is doing with my characters while she is writing her chapter, and so then she practices revenge on me when I give her back my chapter and then she writes the next chapter. So we’ve got all of this wonderful tension going back and forth.
CBP: Do you know what the end is going to be?
EM: No. We have direction, but the fun is along the way.
But we know, we have a general idea of we know what we want to accomplish within this book, and how we’re going to get there we don’t know. Because what is life between friends anyway but acting and reacting? They are responding, praying, loving and fussing, and fighting. It’s real.
When we get together to write in Frisco, Linda works in one room and I work in another off of our separate computers. And so what happens is I’ve written a chapter, and then I send it to her and she’s editing that chapter, and then after she’s done with that then she sends it back to me and then I do the rewrite. So she knows now what happened, she starts working on her chapter, and we just start this rotation with each other.
CBP: I was wondering how this was done together.
LINDA: We have to compromise, but if one of us is very strong on something then the other pays attention because we both want the book to be good.
EM: That’s our main goal. Not to be right or whatever. We compromise. It makes the book better, but the fun thing is that when we’re writing in our separate rooms and we hear each other cackling, and we’ll say, “What’s so funny.” “I’ll tell you later.” And it’s just fun! Then there’s times we’ll come out crying and the other will say, “What happened?” And we’ll say, “You’ll read about it in a minute.”
And then there’s times when a chapter becomes so intense and Linda may say or I may say to Linda, I just need to go for a walk for a little while. And we understand that and we respect that.
CBP: How long does it take you write then?
EM: One year. We wrote half the book before we got to Frisco. So we wrote like 45,000 words of the book. Then we arrived in Frisco and so in seven days we wrote another 45,000 words. And at the end of that, instead of celebrating, we wrap ourselves up like tacos and lie on the couch and watch I Love Lucy reruns. We were brain dead.
CBP: Since there were messages in every one of your characters, I’d kind of like to go down the list and if you could – so readers can really relate to all. First, there’s a young woman with a broken heart, anything that you can elaborate on that? A broken heart and a surprise.
LINDA: Evangeline Vincent is the woman who started the potluck club and she pretty much thinks she earns the town because her father was the mayor before he was tragically killed in a car accident. Evangeline’s niece, who she just loves dearly, shows up. Her niece in her twenties, about 25-years-old, and she had been living with a man – unbeknownst to Evangeline – and she has now shown up about eight months pregnant. She is unmarried, and this man did not want to marry her, but then she came to the point of realizing, “I stepped away from my faith. I don’t think I want to marry you anyway”.
For Evangeline, she had her first and only kiss when she was 12-years-old with Vernon Bessie the sheriff, and when he ended up going steady with Doreen Roberts, who he eventually marries, it broke Evangeline’s heart. As she is nurturing and loving her niece through this very difficult last two or three months of her pregnancy in this unmarried state, she also has to deal with her own bitterness that she was never loved, that she never had children, that she never married. So that’s Evangeline and Lee, her niece. Evangeline is in her 50’s, and Lee is in her early 20’s.
CBP: That is amazing how you have something in the book for all these different generations.
EM: Every generation can enjoy this book.
CBP: The second would be Lisa LeAnne.
EM: Lisa is our naughty character from Houston, Texas who has infiltrated the potluck club on the bribe of her hot and delectable cinnamon rolls, and she is a very conniving woman who loves to use the power of her cooking, as well as gossip to get her way. She has to learn that she cannot rule people’s lives, and she has to learn that she has to “Let go and let God”.
LINDA: And Evangeline does not like Lisa LeAnne.
EM: There is a lot of tension between Evangeline and Lisa Leanne.
LINDA: As a matter of fact, there’s a lot of tension between Evangeline and everybody.
CBP: Then Goldie’s marriage turns sour.
LINDA: Yes. Goldie is a woman who has lived with an unfaithful man for the majority of her marriage. He has always kept his wandering ways to women who are out of town. And she has somehow learned to live with that because she has convinced herself that because he is a good provider, and he’s a good father, and he doesn’t hit her, that it’s okay for him to do this.
CBP: And she knows it’s multi-generational.
LINDA: That’s true. It’s a multi-generational thing. She was warned about it by her mother-in-law, but her mother-in-law lived with it so why can’t she? But then when he begins to date the high school Spanish teacher and brings it into their faces – into her face specifically, but into the faces of their friends and neighbors and loved ones, Goldie just can’t take it anymore. So for the potluck club, they come beside Goldie as she is making these decisions about her marriage. And Goldie’s is a very gut-wrenching story.
CBP: Donna stews over a strange encounter.
LINDA: Donna is our young, single career woman, who, in fact, is not a believer. And she has a lot of anger; the source of her anger is not going to be uncovered until book two.
CBP: Oh, I thought I felt some sources, but there’s more?
LINDA: There’s a lot more. She’s spunky and cute so she gets away with that anger. The guys just love her, but she hates that because her anger – she really gets angry with the men in her life. And she’s Vernon’s daughter, her mother abandoned her, so she has a lot of anger, a lot of reasons for anger.
The stranger that she meets is a young man who is looking for his birth mother, and she begins to help him find his birth mother. That’s part of the big mystery of the book the missing jewel.
CBP: Okay. Lizzie. You didn’t play this character up a ton.
EM: No, we didn’t, and there’s a reason. Lizzie was the voice of reason; her faith is very strong. When they need someone to pray and pray now, they know they can call on Lizzie; when they need someone to rush them to the hospital, they know they can call on Lizzie. But that is truly the calm before the storm because no one goes around her faith, and Lizzie’s trauma will come in books two and books three. But we just felt like we needed someone. This is a typical librarianesque woman. But yet, if you look at her, she had a son who had to get married, she has a daughter who’s deaf, so she’s got her troubles but she just kind of moves through them.
CBP: Bonnie. Bonnie must come to terms with a secret she’s hidden from her best friends.
LINDA: Bonnie has made some, not necessarily mistakes, but like a lot of women today, she has a past. A past that her friends know nothing about, and that past comes back to meet her. Not only to meet her, but to meet her loved ones in the potluck club, and it’s quite a shock. Bonnie is a retired nurse; she is the sweetest person you would ever want to know. If you think of Bonnie, think of your favorite Sunday school teacher. That would be Bonnie, and she has to realize that she has lived a life of secrets and it’s time now to tell the truth.
CBP: I think at one time it wasn’t so good to be transparent, and she gave a message that she found out it wasn’t so bad.
LINDA: But the secret carries over into her personal life, even into her marriage. It has come between her and her husband, and she realizes that she has to tell the truth.
And then there is that one other character. His name is Clay Whitefield.
CBP: That was a tough one for me. I wasn’t sure why that was in there but at the same time I’m not sure if I could have strung everything together without Clay.
LINDA: And that’s why we did that. Because this is a book that is written from a first person point of view by six individual women, so to have someone who would come in in a third person point-of-view as the observer. And the thing about Clay is that as you get to know him in book one, you are really going to get to know him in book two because his life-long dream is to figure these women out; to tell their story. He has been watching them forever.
CBP: And his age, I wasn’t sure. He’s not that old.
LINDA: Well, he’s 30. He’s the same age as Donna.
CBP: I would have thought he was more like 50 or something.
LINDA: These women raised him – some of these women have raised him. One of these women, Donna, was his schoolmate. But as a journalist, he’s curious. Bonnie was his Sunday school teacher. And you know, he went to the library at school. And Evangeline was, of course, the mayor’s daughter so he always knew whom Evangeline was. But he strings these women together with observations that otherwise the women individually would not have seen because he watches from that one spot at the café. As he’s being developed in books two and three, I think our readers are going to just love Clay, and want so much for him.
CBP: I like to end on what is next for you but we have touched on that. Tell me about the trilogy.
LINDA: Lizzie is going to have some trauma in her life. Goldie is making some very unbelievable decisions; I don’t want to give away the book. Donna is just – everything in her life is going to turn upside down. That is the thing, we all have secrets.
CBP: Are there discussion questions at the end of the novel? Can your readers get together for their own potlucks and book clubs?
LINDA: Yes, and they can join our potluck recipe club at our website www.thepotluckclub.com; it’s listed in the back of the book. They’ll get a recipe a week, and that is where they can actually go and get some discussions questions.
CBP: Will readers get to hear more about the Victorian home that was going to be remodeled, the bridal shop? I was hoping there would be weddings taking place on the grounds.
LINDA: There will be. And not only that but, of course, Lisa LeAnne will want to control everyone’s wedding. And she’ll insist that some of the characters that are married and have been married for a while renew their vows.
CBP: I am looking forward to all of that. Thank you.