Last year, I had the opportunity to read an ARC of All that is Secret, the fantastic first book in Patricia Raybon’s Annalee Spain mystery series. I am so honored that Patricia agreed to an interview! This is a two-part feature. This week is a “get to know you” with the author, and next week delves into the novel, and racial reconciliation.
Questions are bolded; answers are plain text.
Can you please share a little bit about your personal walk with the Lord? How have you experienced Him drawing you to Himself? Do you recall a specific “turning point” in your life?
I was born into the faith, so I grew up on a pew. From birth, I was taken to church, growing up in our little Methodist congregation in northeast Denver. It a Black church and the small building felt like my home and the loving people there felt like my family. This was during the 50s and 60s during Jim Crow days. So, the church was our sanctuary. We met God there, but it was also our spiritual and social harbor. So many places were closed to Black people. Church was one place we could go, so we went a lot! Twice on Sunday and many times during the week. But we loved the church and the Jesus we served.
Once my sister and I had a choice between going to a high school basketball game and going to a Friday night program at church. We chose church! We loved it that much.
What has the Lord called you to, as a writer? Are there any themes that He frequently invites you to write about? What passions has He placed in your heart?
I’ve been writing almost every day since I graduated from journalism school decades ago, starting as a newspaper reporter, then moving “upstairs” to the newspaper’s features department where I was compelled to write “the story behind the story” of people’s lives and struggles.
As a book author, however, I felt called to write at the intersection of faith and race. I grew up under Jim Crow segregation—before the Civil Rights Act was passed (or the Fair Housing Act or Voting Rights Act), when African Americans struggled with having essentially zero rights. My family, however, always believed the record of God, and that God loved us. The tension between those two realities continues to inform my writing, including my debut fiction, a historical mystery novel.
How does your walk with the Lord inform your writing?
I’m deeply aware that the Lord has already written the story. My challenge is to listen and take down notes in order to best write the story!
From your bio, I can see that you have a lot of experience as a nonfiction author and journalist. How did your experience with nonfiction prepare you for or shape your fiction writing?
Daily journalism teaches discipline in writing. As a newspaper reporter, I never had the luxury of not meeting a deadline.
At what point did you know you wanted to write? Do you see this as your calling?
In third grade in my inner-city Denver elementary school, my teacher, Mrs. Laura Smith, called me to her desk one day and asked if I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. When I said yes, she replied: “Patricia, you are a writer.”
As a third grader, I wasn’t sophisticated enough to discern or perceive what she was declaring over me. I understand now she saw something in me—in my skill level perhaps—that showed her I was a writer. More important, she was saying that I had something to say. What a profound declaration to call out of a child.
When I had my first book signing many years later, I invited her to be my special guest and she was celebrated by everyone who attended. What one says to a child can be life changing. She affirmed my life path and I’m forever grateful for that.
What prompted you to write your first fictional novel?
As a working writer, I always wanted to learn how to plot a novel. I’d learned to write in half a dozen other formats – including news stories, personal essays, personality profiles, long-form news features, devotionals, nonfiction inspirational books. So, I believed it was possible to learn to plot and write fiction.
I sat down on my back deck and read everything I could find on novel structure, story beats for mystery and romantic plots, character archetypes, dialogue in fiction, and dozens or other elements.
Then, I went back to my novel and rewrote, especially the second half. After writing thousands of articles, plus devotionals and personal essays, I wanted to give the world a fictional story. Or, maybe I was giving it to myself.
Indeed, as I discovered, fiction writing is enormous fun. I loved writing the fiction and I’m so thankful and gratified that people are enjoying my debut novel, All That Is Secret.
As a novelist, what does a typical day (or, rather, night) look like for you?
When I’m on deadline, after doing devotions and prayer with my husband, I do my writing first thing. I try to get in 1,000 words minimum every morning. Then I use the afternoons for doing book marketing, social media, answering email, running errands—all those sorts of things. But most days, the writing comes first.
Who are your literary influences? Which authors do you enjoy reading, and do you see any similar elements in your own writing?
Howard Thurman takes the top spot. He was the philosopher-theologian who was Dr. Martin Luther King’s spiritual mentor. A brilliant scholar who grew up near the beach in Daytona, he was a naturalist—a Black version of Henry David Thoreau, and also a pacifist—who, more than anyone, inspired Dr. King ‘s passion for nonviolence. Two of Thurman’s books are my absolute favorites – his autobiography, With Head and Heart, and his reflection on Jesus’ relationship to the poor and oppressed, Jesus and the Disinherited. In my humble view, it’s one of the best books ever written on faith and race. It’s stunning.
As for the craft of writing, I’m inspired most by film doctor Robert McKee, whose treatise on cinematic writing is called “Story: Style, Structure, Substance and the Principles of Screenwriting,” and John Truby, another film doctor, who’s author of The Anatomy of Story. Third is fiction editor Sol Stein, author of Stein on Writing and How to Grow a Novel. Brilliant, all three.