I reviewed After the Leaves Fall by Nicole Baart a few days ago. It is a wonderful book, and I am so happy that I had a chance to interview the author after reading it. You can read my review of her novel here. To learn more about Nicole, visit her official site or blog.
Is there anything you learned while you were a teacher that helped you write realistically about teenagers and for teenagers? Did you find that your experiences gave you some insight into what life is like, what that age is like?
I absolutely loved teaching high school students. The first year was incredibly difficult for me (I was only 21 years old and some of my senior students turned 19 during that first scary year!), but after that I really fell for the profession. I never wanted to be a high school teacher, it was merely something to do in the interim before my “real” life started, but I ended up discovering that I was a teacher at heart. And to say that I learned a lot about teenagers would be a bit of an understatement. I think that because I was young and because I could still relate to my students, I developed respectful friendships with a number of them. They would ask me for advice, and though I seldom had the answers, I loved to listen to them. And I could still very clearly remember my own teenage years and the awful mistakes that I made. I wanted desperately to save my students from falling prey to the same traps I got caught in when I was young, but so much of being a teenager is figuring things out on your own. It hurt me to watch these young men and women that I cared for stumble and fall. But then again, they were learning the same way I did. I’m just thankful that most of them had a wonderful support system to back them up when they did end up flat on their faces. Anyway, I still stay in contact with a number of my ex-students. Now they’re all in college or they are married and have small children--it’s crazy, these are young women that I would love to invite to my playgroup or Bible study!
Julia’s grandmother had a huge influence on her life. She was a constant supporter, a person who gave her unconditional love. Who has been your biggest supporter? Your spiritual mentor?
My parents have both been incredibly influential in my life. I’ve mentioned my father often in interviews and throughout this entire journey to publication, but my mom is also an amazing woman of God. She and I are best friends, and I am so thankful for her love and support. And I’ve been incredibly blessed to be a part of a believing family for as far back as we can trace. My grandparents and great-grandparents walked with the Lord and their faithfulness has brought us many, many blessings today.
You have a great first sentence, “Waiting is a complicated longing. I lost my father when I was fifteen, and I’ve been waiting ever since.” Did this come easily or did you struggle with getting it just right?
It just came to me. I’ll often come up with a sentence that speaks powerfully to me, almost like a line of poetry. And then I’ll write a story around that one line. It’s probably nuts to construct an entire novel around one catchy phrase, but I’ve done it a dozen times before and I’m sure I’ll do it again!
After the Leaves Fall is not your typical Christian fiction. Its message is less in-your-face and much more subtle. In fact, for most of the narrative, Julia is struggling with unbelief and doubt. There are two scenes that stick out regarding this issue. One is early in the novel where Julia is seeking advice from a youth pastor about her mother. Abrasive is the term that comes to mind. The second is a conversation between Julia and her grandmother. It is very grace and prayer-oriented. In terms of evangelism and outreach, which comes closer to representing your own view?
I definitely think that there is one word that we should hear over and over again when we consider evangelism and outreach: GRACE. I understand that some people need to realize the depth of their own depravity before they can accept the fact that they need grace, but I think that the Holy Spirit is much better at convicting people than we are. If you look through the gospels, you won’t find a single passage where Jesus used guilt or condemnation to draw people to him. Time and time again he offered a hand of grace, of love and compassion, and people were restored because they felt the touch of the greatest love they had ever experienced. I believe our job as Christians is to love the world to death and let God worry about judgment. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of the gospel--I believe that God’s word, Jesus sacrifice, and the Spirit’s gentle prodding are more than enough to soften even the hardest of hearts. After all, it’s not our job to save anyone. That’s up to God. All we can do is be His hands and feet, His agents of love and grace, in this hurting and broken world.
The seasons play an important role in After the Leaves Fall, they help set the mood and tone. Do you have a favorite time of year?
Fall is my favorite time of year, though I love every season. I don’t think I could ever live in a place where there are not distinct seasons. Sometimes I think the very rhythm of my life is tied to the ebb and flow of the year--I’m full of energy and excitement in the spring, I’m cheerful and laid back in the summer, content and thoughtful in the fall, and a comfortable homebody in the winter.
Julia, at eighteen and nineteen, is struggling with defining who she wants to be and where she fits into the “bigger picture” of life. Yet she isn’t content to be “undeclared” or “undecided” at this stage in her life. At nineteen did you have struggles and doubts about who you were and what you wanted? Were you going through life “undeclared”? Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known then?
I never really thought about it, but yes, I was quite “undecided” at that age. I started college as a pre-veterinary major and I just hated it. However, I had also grown up loving politics so I easily switched to political science--I thought it would be great to get a government job. That also lost its luster, so I switched to psychology… Then I was undeclared for a while, but I felt so purposeless that I forced myself to pick a major and stick with it. I had always wanted to be a writer, but everyone knew that was a total pipe dream (he-he-he!) so I went with English Literature, Spanish, and English as a Second Language all under the canopy of a bachelor of secondary education degree. Funny how God directed my path exactly where he wanted me to be. If I had it to do all over again, though, I don’t think I’d change a thing except for my attitude. It was great to spend time learning about myself, but I was so controlling at the time and so anxious to know who I was and what I should be doing. I should have just relaxed and enjoyed the journey.
When reading the novel, a phrase kept coming to me “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Does Julia have a theme song by any chance? A motto she lives by?
I don’t know that Julia has a theme song, but there were a number of songs that I listened to over and over again as I wrote the book. One of them was “Wheel” by John Mayer. I love the lyrics near the end where he sings: “If you never stop when you wave goodbye, you just might find, if you give it time, that you wave hello again.” I loved that idea of returning with Julia, of finding yourself back at the beginning and knowing so much more now than you did before.
“I began to carry Grandma’s Bible with me everywhere. It was a security blanket of sorts, a survival manual that I had not yet opened nor tried to understand, counting on the hope that when I truly needed it I could whip it open and some resounding truth would ring forth with unmistakable clarity. The Bible was my backup plan if my own resourcefulness managed to fail me.” (313) I found this statement to be very realistic, very true. Do you have any tips or advice on how to not just use the Bible as a security blanket, but how to apply it each and every day…how to make it a part of our lives? Is this something you think every Christian struggles with?
I think the only way the word of God becomes a part of your life is if you make it a part of your life. As long as it is an addendum, an occasional afterthought that enters sporadically into your thought process, it will never be more than exactly that. You have to treat a relationship with God exactly like a relationship: it takes time and sacrifice; sometimes it’s hard and you don’t feel like working on it. I’m bad at this because it’s so easy to take God for granted. It’s so easy to assume that even if I wander for a while He’ll be waiting for me when I choose to turn around. And He will wait. But I want so much more than that! I want a living, vibrant, exciting relationship with the Maker of heaven and earth. Something that has really helped me to this end is being a part of a good, solid Bible study. When I have “homework” and need to keep my nose buried in the Word on a regular basis my whole life is better.
I know you love to read, but I also know you are very busy as a writer, a wife and mom. How do you find time—do you find time—to keep reading? Do you have any favorites of the year?
I read every singe night in bed. My favorite part of the day is crawling into my comfy bed and curling up with a book. Aaron is always right beside me, usually reading something theological, and we often share out loud certain sentences or paragraphs that grab us. Sometimes we just switch books and say, “You have to read this passage!”
As far as favorites go, I’d have to say that this year I enjoyed and then fell out of love with Gregory Maguire’s stuff. I was captivated by Wicked and Son of a Witch, though I found his sexual metaphors really tiring. I don’t usually wish I could have the PG version of a book, but I found myself wanting that once or twice with both of these books. I got so sick of it I couldn’t bring myself to read his other stuff, though I know I’ll be doing so after I’ve had some distance. I also read and cried over the final Harry Potter. In the non-fiction department, I liked Sex God by Rob Bell (though not as much as Velvet Elvis). Other than that, I can’t really think of any huge standouts…
In an earlier interview you said you were a bookworm from birth, who is (or who are) your reading “heroes”? Who taught you to love books, to love reading, to lose yourself in a good book? Do you come from a family of readers?
Both my mom and dad read to me a lot as a child. I have to give my dad credit though for turning me into a bona fide bookworm. When I was a kid he’d take me to the library every Saturday (in the summer we’d take his motorcycle!) and we’d each pick out a huge stack of books. As I got older, he’d actually recommend books to me. He taught me to love political thrillers and I grew up on Robert Ludlum and Frederick Forsyth. When all the Bourne movies came out I was so excited because I had read those books more than once in high school. What a let down. The movie is never as good as the book.
To visit other sites participating in Nicole Baart's blog tour:
1 ~ Sept. 3-7 (Carrie at “With all I have been given…”)
2 ~ Sept. 10-14 (Becky at “In the Pages”)
3 ~ Sept. 17-21 (Amy at “Pretty Shiny”)
4 ~ Sept. 24-28 (Laurel Wreath at “Laurel Wreath’s Reflections”)
5 ~ Oct. 1-5 (Amanda at “A Patchwork of Books”)
6 ~ Oct. 8-12 (Becky at “Becky’s Christian Reviews”)
7 ~ Oct. 15-19 (Novel Reviews)
8 ~ Oct. 22-26 (Miriam at “In His Grip”)
9 ~ Oct. 29 - Nov. 2 (Sally Bradley)
10 ~ Nov. 5-9 (Deena at “A Peek at My Bookshelf”)