Friday, September 20, 2013

Featured Debut Novelist: Michèle Phoenix

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Michèle Phoenix is an international writer with multi-cultural sensitivities, having been born in France to an American mother and a Canadian father.

A graduate of Wheaton College, she taught writing, music, and theater at the boarding school for missionaries' children she attended as a teenager.

With a background in screenwriting, Michèle soon turned her attention to novel writing.  Two of her novels have been published by Tyndale House Publishers: Tangled Ashes and In Broken Places. In 2013, Tangled Ashes was nominated for a Christy Award.


The following is a September 2013 interview with Michèle. 

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ENTER THE GIVEAWAY 
AT THE END OF THE INTERVIEW

Be in to win a digital copy of either 
Tangled Ashes or In Broken Places

 One copy of each to be won

Contest open to entrants worldwide.

Contest runs from 20 September - 3 October NZDT


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Tell us a little about yourself.    

I’m 45 years old.  My mom is American, my dad is Canadian, and I was born in France, so I own three passports.  I’ve spent 38 years of my life overseas (France, then Germany) and am now settled into a small town near Chicago.  I’ve been involved in MK (missionaries’ kids) ministry since 1991, and I continue to devote my life to helping them today.


What inspired you to become a novelist, and did you always want to write?    
I think I’ve always wanted to write. When I was six years old, I wrote my first poem.  It was a morbid piece about baby seals being bludgeoned to death, which I blame on the French tendency toward dark art!  I majored in Creative Writing in college, attracted to the craft by the satisfaction of exploring flawed characters and following their journey.  I self-published my first novel in 2005, followed be two more in subsequent years.  With each one, the incentive to write came from a “flash” in the mind—an image or plot element that appeared out of nowhere and instantly sent me to the laptop to write.  I generally don’t know how my novels are going to end, but prefer to let the story be guided by the choices the characters make.  It’s a voyage of discovery that keeps me on the edge of my seat.


What do you think is significant about Christian fiction?

I think there is a redemptive thread woven into Christian fiction.  A novel needn’t quote scripture or preach the Gospel to fit the bill.  It simply needs to point to Truth, either by contrast or example.  My only concern regarding Christian fiction is the limitations some publishers place on authors who want to more realistically explore the darker side of real life.  I find it frustrating that our efforts at honest and fearless storytelling so often are hampered by a fear of offending and the red-marker approach to “sanitizing” the writing.

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How do you hope your readers react to the stories you write?

I hope my readers will connect with the characters.  I try to infuse them with equal parts complexity, mystery and whimsy.  My writing is dialogue driven and intimate, focused on the events and choices that shape flawed lives.  My greatest satisfaction is when readers tell me that they miss the characters when they’ve finished reading, as I do when I’m done with the writing process.  My aim is to explore facets of humanity we too often try to mask or stifle.  I would hope this makes the characters accessible and relatable.  And if readers come away having learned something about how God works in spite of our often misguided attempts at helping ourselves, all the better.


What has been the most surprising aspect to becoming a published novelist?    

My greatest surprise was the way in which it happened!  I never sent out a query letter or sample chapters.  My friend introduced me to an acquisitions editor at Tyndale, and after an awkward 10-minute meeting, I left a self-published copy of “Tangled Ashes” in her hands.  A few weeks later, I received an email asking if I had any more novels already written.  I was in the Tyndale lobby with my two other books in hand within five minutes!  The next thing I knew, I was calling my former writing teacher from college (25 years later!) to ask if she knew of any agents because Tyndale wanted to publish two of my novels.


How has being a novelist impacted your relationship with Christ? 

Becoming a published novelist was part of God’s validation of a recent move from Germany to the States.  It was an unmistakable divine urge that made me leave my home and ministry in Germany three years ago.  I didn’t have much more to go on than the certainty that the time had come for a change.  Packing up and leaving was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever made, but God used the first few months of my new life to prove, again and again, that the prompting had come from Him.  My miraculous connection with Tyndale and the subsequent publishing contract were all part of his provision and affirmation.  He has proven himself faithful, wise and compassionate.

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Other than being a novelist, what other goals do you have for your life?    
I want my life to matter—to make a difference.  In 2008, I was diagnosed with two forms of cancer, and there were several weeks when I didn’t know how long I had left to live.  It’s during those months of waiting and contemplating that I made the choice to live intentionally, to make sure that I invest my energy in important endeavors.  Speaking Truth in fiction is one way of doing that.  My MK-focused ministry is another.  As a result of the scares of 2008, I am viscerally aware that I can’t predict how long my life will be, but that I can be the architect of whatever time I have left.


What do you like to do in your spare time?    

I’ve dabbled in photography for quite some time.  Pictures are the evidence of experiences lived and roads traveled.  My other passion is cooking—French, German, Italian, American.  I love nothing more that whipping up new dishes and desserts.  The downside is that I end up eating them!


What can you tell us about your novels?    

Tyndale published Tangled Ashes first, though it was the third novel I wrote.  It’s a World War II mystery anchored in present day France.  It really began as a desire to write a story that takes place in the castle in which I grew up.  (The castle housed a Bible school where my parents taught.)  As I began to research the castle’s history, I discovered that the small town of Lamorlaye had actually been the location of one of Hitler’s Lebensborns or baby factories in 1944.  The more I dug into the past, the more excited I got about what I was uncovering!  What resulted is a story in which an American architect travels to France to restore a medieval castle and uncovers clues about events that unfolded 60 years before that are linked to mysterious occurrences still happening in the castle today.

Six months after Tangled Ashes, Tyndale published In Broken Places.  The response to this story has been extraordinary.  Its protagonist, Shelby, is an adult woman struggling to figure out how to be a mother to the 4-year old child she has just “inherited.”  A survivor of childhood abuse, she moves to Germany with her new daughter in an attempt to escape the past’s control over her, but finds that it must be faced if she is to achieve the future she desires.  Though there are some fairly heavy flashback scenes in the story, Shelby’s relationship with her brother and her trial-and-error approach to motherhood lend levity and wit to the story.  And as a colleague’s romantic attentions turn toward her, she finds herself in the unfamiliar territory of wanting to believe in a brighter future…while trying to disentangle herself from the demons in her past.

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What stories can your fans expect from you in the days ahead?

More of the same, I hope!  I’m waiting for the next story to hit me and can’t wait to curl up in my writing chair and watch it unfold.


What would you like to say to your upcoming fans in New Zealand and around the world?   
I’ve spent so much of my life writing “into a void” that it still astounds me to know I have readers all over the world.  I’m thrilled that my novels are available in New Zealand and would love to interact with those who have comments or questions regarding my writing.  I can most easily be reached through my website, michelephoenix.com


Do you have any parting words?    

Yes!  My website is a treasure trove of bonus information about my novels.  My first novel, The Edge of Tidal Pools, is only available from my website.  You’ll also find pictures of the real places featured in both of my Tyndale novels, as well as behind-the-scenes glimpses into the writing process.  You’ll be able to click your way through information regarding my ministry, links to my photography and a thorough biography too.


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Tangled Ashes

When Marshall Becker arrives in Lamorlaye, France, to begin the massive renovation of a Renaissance-era castle, he unearths a dark World War II history few in the village remember. The project that was meant to provide an escape for Becker instead becomes a gripping glimpse into the human drama that unfolded during the Nazi occupation and seems to live on in midnight disturbances and bizarre acts of vandalism.


Populated with a cast of complex characters, “Tangled Ashes” follows Becker’s exploration of the castle’s shadowy past as he seeks to cope with an unbearable present.  From the virtually mute recluse who lives in the gatehouse to the feisty and enigmatic nanny of the owner’s children, every one of the château’s inhabitants seems to have something to hide and something to survive—but none more so than Becker himself.


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In Broken Places

Shelby’s life isn’t glamorous, but it is predictable—and that’s the way she likes it. A survivor of her father’s violence, she has spent a lifetime creating a safe existence devoid of dependence. But her carefully managed world begins to break when, under staggering circumstances, she becomes a single mother to four-year-old Shayla. 


In a drastic attempt to escape her childhood’s influence, Shelby moves to Germany, but she quickly discovers how intimately linked memory and healing are—and how honestly she must scrutinize her past in order to aspire to a richer future. As she juggles a new job, a new culture, a new daughter, and the attention of an enterprising man, Shelby’s fresh start becomes a quest for the courage to be not only a survivor, but someone who prevails.


Tangled Ashes
[Purchase:  Amazon.com | Amazon Kindle The Book Depository]

In Broken Places
[Purchase:  Amazon.com | Amazon Kindle | The Book Depository]


Buy Michèle's Books at The Book Depository

Free Delivery on all Books at the Book Depository

ENTER THE GIVEAWAY

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Be in to win a 
digital copy of either 
Tangled Ashes or 
In Broken Places


 One copy of each to be won

Contest open to entrants worldwide.

Contest runs from 20 September - 3 October NZDT

Please comment about the interview or leave a message for Michèle when making a blog post comment - simply commenting about entering the draw or wanting to win the books does not qualify for valid entry into the draw.


Read Previous Featured Author Interviews

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