CBP: Hi Rene! Since we haven't formally interviewed together, can you share your Christian testimony?
Rene: I was five years old, and it was Christmas Eve when I accepted Jesus into my heart. I'd been going to Sunday School and had been raised in church, and that was the beginning. My journey--like a lot of people--has been some ups and downs; times when I've been away from the Lord, and times when I've come back. He's been through all of that with me and has never left my side. No real exciting conversion story.
CBP: I think more people can relate to that.
Rene: We all have our personal journey with the Lord, and go through different things.
CBP: Tell me about Scoop.
Rene: Scoop is my tenth book that I've published; I have a suspense series with Tyndale, and I have a Women of Faith book which was just released, titled My Life as a Doormat, and it's a romantic comedy.
CBP: Now, Scoop is full of new characters, takes place in a newsroom. You write with such understanding of what goes on in a newsroom, have you worked in one before?
Rene: I haven't, I was a broadcast journalism major for a while. Then I saw the movie Broadcast News, and I changed my major. I thought, I can't do this for the rest of my life. I did a lot of research, interviewed reporters, and tried to get a feel for what their job is like. That's the whole idea of the Occupational Hazard series, is exploring occupations and how their perceived versus the reality of what they really do. We've got a whole line of occupations we're going to be exploring, and this is the first one.
I've always been very curious about local media, their day-to-day job, and how they seem to sensationalize a lot of tragedy, yet seem to want to do good. I figured it would be a good place to start, there would be complex characters and quirky scenarios I could work with, which I love. It's a lot like the Boo series. I like to say I've moved from the small town to the workplace. But it's in the same vein.
CBP: One of your main characters is a homeschooled girl, Hayden, who's suddenly thrown into a situation where she has to work, no longer in a sheltered life anymore. She's a breath of fresh air in the newsroom.
Rene: A little bit. She's also very aggravating to people. Let me give you the background to the Hazard siblings. There's seven of them, and they were all raised and homeschooled and worked in the family business. Their parents suddenly die while on vacation for the first time ever. The coroner says they died with smiles on their faces, they were fine with going to heaven. All of these adult children have to go out into the world, and all they're equipped with is their faith. They don't understand office politics, so they just go around talking about their faith, and you get to see how that affects everyone in the newsroom.
So each sibling will have an occupation that we'll explore, but the unique thing is that the Hazard sibling will only have a point of view in the first chapter and the last chapter. Everything in between will be the point of view of everyone around her or him. So that's a lot of fun, too. Hayden is very naive, but bubbly and nice, so people are very conflicted about being around her.
CBP: She's very straightforward.
Rene: And she doesn't know she's being straightforward. She has no concept of what she's doing to people when she talks about Jesus as if they're talking about bagels. I think as Christians we really want to be that way, have that kind of faith where we have no shame or embarrassment. But I think we're more like the other characters who don't know what to do with her. There's even a Christian character in there, Ray, the reporter who is struggling with his own issues and has a crush on her, but has a hard time being around her. Lots of conflict through comedy.
CBP: Hayden's boss, Hugo, has anxiety problems and takes medication for it. I found that fascinating because you have Hayden nudging him to get off the pills and trust in the Lord; and I think that's a big issue within the Christian community, people using meds to cover up emotional pain.
Rene: I dealt with it very carefully because anxiety and depression can be a chemical imbalance, but for so many people it's just stress. That's what Hugo's dealing with. He's got to get his stress under control and he wants this pill to deal with it. That's a struggle for him, and he's got to work his way through it. But I wanted to be very careful with that, so through the book I make it clear that his doctor isn't too happy with him being on the medication.
I loved playing with how everyone sees him as a very calm person, because he's on these anti-anxiety medication. But in reality, he's very high strung, and Hayden sees through that.
CBP: Where do you come up your ideas for these quirky characters? I'm sure you don't live in a town where everyone is this bizarre.
Rene: I just think I take pieces from people I know and blow them up, or make them more eccentric, to make them a unique character. They're definitely a blend. Usually there's a little bit of me in some way, and then grabbing things from other people that I observe. I had to explain to my family early on, "Don't take anything personally, these books are not about you." When I published my first book, Ghostwriter, there's a man in there who's on the verge of having an affair. I actually had relatives calling me after they read the book asking if my marriage was okay. I had to say, "It's not about me, I promise. Stop." Pretty much everybody knows I make them up, or borrow, but then I cleverly disguise if I borrow.
CBP: Which Hazard sibling are you going to be following next?
Rene: That's what I'm in the middle of now that I've had to pause (Rene had broken her arm before this interview, and was unable to write for a period). The second one is Snitch, and it's about undercover police officers. And Mack, who is Hayden's sister and comes to visit her in the first book, will be the central character in Snitch. I'm having a lot of fun with that. I've always been very interested in undercover work, what it does to the people who are in it, and how it functions. I actually have a technical advisor that I used in my Storm series, and he's been in undercover work for many years. I've known him for a long time and have wanted to write something about it. It's a comedy as well. It doesn't seem like it would be a good comedy, but there are a lot of funny things that happen in that line of work. I wanted to paint a realistic picture of what it's like, rather than what movies and television say it's like, because it's quite different.
CBP: When you went to do your research about the newsroom, was there anything that surprised you about what the local media was like?
Rene: Oh, yeah. There were a lot of surprising things. There was a certain anchor in our town who is aging, and I was amazed at what lengths they go to. They shine a special light on her neck to make her neck look less wrinkled. But I really respect women in the media who are treated differently while they're aging. Men, it's never an issue, but for women it is. I really wanted to bring out that point.
Another surprising thing is they actually get hate mail about their hair! If they change their hairstyle, they'll hear about it. That just shocked me.
CBP: Do they really have clauses in their contract that say they have to get approval for hair changes?
Rene: Yes, there's some that do. It's just a very interesting culture. It was fun, fun getting the scoop on it. Especially since I had started to major in it.
CBP: So after looking into it, are you glad you didn't pursue that avenue?
Rene: I think so. I'm glad I didn't. I think I would really wrestle with some of the things that they have to do and report on. I'm a pretty positive person, so I would want to be the person who's bringing the good news, but that doesn't make you the top news station. I deal with that in Ray. Ray is very conflicted about it.
CBP: There are several great topics you deal with in Scoop, and one is that issue of how can Christians stay true to their convictions within a secular workplace, especially when being told to do something else.
Rene: Ray really struggles with the sensationalizing of tragedy. I have a lot to say about the kinds of stories they come up with, too. I poke a little fun at that, because some of them are really ridiculous.
CBP: How to get out of a car when there's nobody with scissors around...
Rene: Yes--to get out of a burning car. I think I also came up with five diseases you can get from your toothbrush. You see these things being pitched, and you think, Oh my gosh, it's hard to even take it seriously. In another way, they're doing something very important, which is giving information. They think that's where things are going wrong, is the information. But I try to keep the book lighthearted, I like to make my readers laugh, that's my favorite thing.
CBP: Well, you do that very well.
Rene: Thank you!
CBP: In terms of writing, is there anything in the process of writing Scoop that the Lord was teaching you personally?
Rene: A lot. I think the idea of trusting God. I really liked Hugo's character, he has a lot of idealism about the way the world should be, and it's leaving him behind. He has this idea of how the workplace should be, and how the employees should interact. For me, I've learned that I've been placed in this time and place for a purpose, and it's no mistake that we're here during this time. Instead of trying to fight what is progressing, we need to ask the Lord to use us in that how He would want to. It gets scarier every day in this world, it's not going uphill. I get overwhelmed by technology, and a lot of information, and a lot of time drainers. I'm almost the kind of person who could take my family and move to Montana to live on a ranch. But that's not where God wants us, so it's accepting what the world is now, and then allowing the Lord to use us.
CBP: The Bible says we're to be in the world, but not of it, and that's a really hard balance to strike. Not to be influenced by it.
Rene: Right. I always remember we're never going to be accepted by the world, but we will definitely be used for it. So that brings a lot more peace.
CBP: Especially because you have children, and that can be a whole other level of worry.
Rene: It is! You think, what's the world going to be like in another twenty years? It's hard to let them suffer. You want to help them and keep their world nice and neat. When they suffer, it's the hardest thing for a mother. Somebody was telling me this week that the stone is being polished, and that God is in control of their lives early on. Again, it comes back to trusting God.
CBP: How old are your kids?
Rene: My son just turned seven, and my daughter will turn four in August.
CBP: Because you're writing, do you get to be home with them a lot?
Rene: Yep. I stay at home, and, in fact, this next year both of the kids will be in school, which is going to give me a ton of writing time. My first book proposal sold to Bethany House when my son was five weeks old. I had to write the book then. I've never known what it's like to write without kids. Which is probably a good thing, because it would be hard to make that transition. Now, John will be in first grade all day, and Kate will be at half-day preschool, so I might write ten books next year! I don't know what's going to happen! That's a lot of time; I hope I use it wisely. Surely I won't be on the couch eating bon bons.
CBP: No! Is there anything else you want to tell us about Scoop?
Rene: I think the readers will have a lot of fun, and there's a good message in it, and characters that will stay with you a long time.
CBP: Thanks, Rene.