Patricia Raybon Interview (P. 1)

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.

Spiritual Background 

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. 

As a book author… 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.

Patricia Raybon

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!

Professional Background 

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’d started a mystery novel 10 years before, but put it on a shelf. Then, during the pandemic summer of 2020, during the COVID lockdown in my state, I challenged myself to find the novel, revive it and, and finish it.

PATRICIA RAYBON

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.

Patricia’s next book, Double the Lies releases in February! You can pre-order it here!

Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip (Book Review)

  • Author: Sara Brunsvold
  • Publisher: Revell (Baker Book House)
  • Available Now
  • Synopsis: Rookie journalist Aidyn Kelley lands an unorthodox assignment— writing the obit for the vivacious Mrs. Kip, who is spending her final days in hospice care.
  • Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher. Opinions expressed are my own.

Scripture Connection 

I always let the LORD guide me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Psalm 16:8

Spiritual Themes

Brunsvold explores the question of what it means to live. The answer is so clearly found in Jesus! Mrs. Kip doesn’t live a perfect life, but she certainly lives a meaningful one— deeply in love with her Savior, walking in close relationship with Him, loving others with the love Jesus shows.

Faith is deeply integral to the plot line, which revolves around Mrs Kip.

What I Liked

The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip is a warm, powerful novel that reminded me a bit of the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Death plays such a significant role in the book, but the true emphasis is on living life to the fullest. And, most importantly, Brunsvold highlights what that means— and where true life is found. The writing was excellent—beautiful and insightful.

Characters/Relationships

The characters were believable, interesting, and multidimensional. For most of the book, I really liked Rahmi and enjoyed watching her friendship with Aidyn. I appreciated that the characters weren’t predictable.

One of the elements that drew me to the book was the intergenerational friendship. While I would have liked to see Aidyn interacting with her own parents, too, I was looking forward to a book that portrayed a lovely relationship between a younger woman and an older one. Our twisted world has some very unbiblical ideas about how we should treat the elderly, so I anticipated a refreshing read that instead emphasized the wisdom of the aged. This book definitely offered that, and the best part was that the wisdom wasn’t based on worldliness, but complete, constant surrender to Jesus. This is exactly what I like to read about!

I enjoyed reading about Aidyn’s career as a journalist. The Kansas City Star office made me think of the Daily Planet (mostly because I really like Lois and Clark) and the office hierarchy was interesting, too.

The treatment of singleness was neat. Usually, I think of singleness as “not getting married.” In Mrs. Kip’s case, she lives a long life of singleness, after a much-too-short marriage. This was a different perspective, for me.

Evangelism

Overall, I appreciated the author’s treatment of evangelism. I liked that Clara’s urgency to share Jesus was based on her desire for people to know Him, not based on a fear of hell. This kind of evangelism makes sense to me, because we, as people, are empty without Jesus. Clara’s evangelism flows from love, not guilt. Indeed, Clara’s entire life reflects a softness toward her Creator.

Historical Elements

The historical elements shed light on an important, but lesser known, event in the sixties, drawing attention to the disparity between our country’s promises in the Vietnam War and the reality for the refugees. I think it is very important for people to know what happened, in this era. This is a situation I would have been unfamiliar with, myself; however, my mom, like Mrs. Kip, helped to welcome a similar population, in Fresno, a while after the events of the novel. I do really appreciate books that explore lesser known history, which is also a form of advocacy.

Along this line, I appreciate that there’s clear mutuality in Clara and Mai’s friendship. It’s apparent that the two love and minister to one another. It’s not about Clara “saving Mai,” just because Clara happens to have been born an American citizen.

Heartwarming Elements

The continuous supply of chocolate chip cookies was so delightfully cozy-making. I very much notice the foods I’m reading about and was sorely tempted, multiple times, to purchase a giant chocolate chip cookie (And the featured image is our own outdoor pavilion).

My favorite part of the book was absolutely the message, and, in particular, the scene that highlighted Psalm 16:8. So rich and powerful! It felt realistic, the way the verse was repeated meaningfully, rather than simply being stated once. I’m also really impressed that Brunsvold was able to employ repetition in the scene, but in a way that did not feel boring, or repetitive. Instead, it was powerful, memorable, and grounding. That was a scene I really felt “part of,” as a reader.

Content

This is an adult novel, but I honestly can’t recall any “content” concerns. For this reason, I think it’s a great read, even for teenagers.

Recommendation Status

Highly recommended! Although a bit “slower” than the books I usually choose to read, The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip was rich with insight. Recommended for fans of contemporary Christian fiction and those who enjoy books about intergenerational friendships.