“Writing that portrays God's grace. I like that.” – An Interview with Catholic Fiction Writer Linda Mansfield
Most Recent Book: Stories for the 12 Days of Christmas
Education: BA in Communications from Shippensburg University, Shippensburg, PA.
Current Employment: Self-employed as owner of Restart Communications, a motorsports PR firm (RestartCommunications.com).
Profile: I would like to be seen as a slim, sexy-looking movie star, but that's never going to happen.
Author Website: LindaMansfieldBooks.com
Author Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Linda-Mansfield-Author/849930131741938?ref=hl
Author Twitter Account: https://twitter.com/RestartLM
Favorite Quote: "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."
Favorite Novel: Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.
Favorite Movie: The Sound of Music (1965) and The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996).
Favorite Painting: Equine paintings by C.W. Anderson, especially ones of fillies and colts.
Favorite Piece of Music: “It's a Long Way Up" by Barry Manilow.
Favorite Place: A winged sprint car race where the track is tacky and I know most of the field personally.
Favorite Meal: Smothered chicken with cheese, onions, and mushrooms.
Favorite Cocktail: I like wine and the occasional margarita.
Last Book Read: The Power to Write by Caroline Adams.
Last Movie Seen: A rerun of Field of Dreams (1989).
Last Trip Taken: The Chili Bowl midget race in January in Tulsa, Okla.
Last Non-literary Feat: I paid my bills last month!
CatholicFiction.net: Why do you write?
Linda Mansfield: It's really the only thing I'm good at.
CF: What first inspired you to become a writer?
LM: I won second prize in an essay contest in elementary school. That led to me having an auto-racing column in my local newspaper before I even had a driving permit. I've been going strong ever since! I've had articles published in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, etc.
CF: If you were a critic writing about your own books, how would you describe the defining characteristic of your writing style?
LM: My style is writing for the common man. I do not use a "literary" style. My whole point is to communicate.
CF: Is there a favorite place you have to write?
LM: I usually write at my very cluttered desk in my very cluttered living room. Lately I've been trying to write at restaurants with a local writers' group, with varying success.
CF: What is your cure for writer's block?
LM: I don't believe in writer's block.
CF: What is your cure for procrastination?
LM: Just do it! A deadline is a good incentive.
CF: Describe in your own words what the “Catholic imagination” is – or alternatively, what it means to be a “Catholic writer.”
LM: I've read that it's hard to define, but it can include writing that portrays God's grace. I like that.
CF: What is the "best thing" about being a writer?
LM: I like being my own boss. I work harder than I did when I was employed full-time elsewhere, but I enjoy it and I don't have to suffer through office politics. I found that to be very difficult.
CF: What is your latest book about?
LM: Stories for the 12 Days of Christmas provides 13 breaks from the often-stressful holiday season.
CF: What inspired you to write this story in the first place?
LM: After observing stressed-out people everywhere I went last December, I decided they all needed a break so they could enjoy Christmas. I'm providing 13 little breaks that will hopefully help people slow down so they can enjoy the holidays, remember the real reason for the season, and perhaps have a book they'll enjoy re-reading at future Christmases.
CF: Did you hold onto the idea for a long time before giving it shape, or did it come together in a flash? Describe the process.
LM: The rough draft was finished in six weeks. Revisions, editing, and formatting took three months. I started writing in the second week of December and the book was published in April.
CF: All fiction comes from a mix of past influences and impressions – things we’ve lived, seen, imagined, or read. Can you talk about some of the elements that came together to shape this particular fiction?
LM: Some of the stories are combinations of things that happened to me or to other people I know. Some of them were just a glimmer of something and I went for it.
#1. The little boy in the first story is a combination of me and a friend of mine when he was little. I was the bean-eater. He was the generous giver of a coat.
#2. Amanda stems from the 23 years I lived in the New York metropolitan area, several of which were spent working at the copy desk of a publishing house.
#3. The donkey story is very loosely based on something I heard once happened at my own church. I don't know the particulars, so I made all the details up.
#4. “No Hunting” came from a brief news story I heard on TV.
#5. Minerva's story was generated by a Christmas decoration I bought on clearance a couple of years ago. It was just a wire-formed electric decoration that spells "Peace." I think it was on clearance because the other two thirds ("on Earth") were damaged. I took that decoration and just went with it.
#6. This was all made up but I do know a couple of truckers.
#7 came just from a comment a high-school friend of mine made when he mentioned that the people he helps at a homeless shelter in Colorado need a lot of socks.
#8 came from a casual friend who lost his brother last Christmas due to a traffic accident.
#9 came from the fact that I wanted to have a Hispanic family in the book. My sister runs a Hampton Inn in Pennsylvania and she told me about a short lady who works on her housekeeping staff that got stuck under a mattress one day, and I just went with that.
#10 is pretty close to being all true, and I lived that one.
#11 is all made up simply from a comment someone made on NPR about a violin piece they liked.
#12 is all made up too, although the original stuffed animal came in a flower arrangement I got from a friend last Christmas.
#13 is very loosely based on an auto racing engineer I know. He was badly hurt in a motorcycle accident though, not a sprint car accident. The track involved is my home track in Pennsylvania.
CF: What did you learn about yourself in writing this book?
LM: I was surprised to learn that I really could knock out a book of short stories and actually get it finished. I have three other books that are still in pieces.
CF: What did you have to do to prepare for this book in terms of research, etc.?
LM: Nothing really; I did some fact-checking but no real research.
CF: How does this book differ from either a) previous books you’ve written or b) other writing work you’ve accomplished?
LM: This book is completely different than anything else I've ever tackled. I write press releases and feature stories for a living, and I have to have everything as accurate as possible. Here I just let my imagination run. It was liberating and yet a little intimidating, because anything could happen to my characters and it was all up to me!
CF: What was the most challenging aspect – a character, a plot point, etc. – of writing this book?
LM: For me it's plot. I find getting into the head of a character is easy, but figuring out what they're up to can be a little daunting.
CF: Which characters in this book did you find most challenging to work with, and what was it like to write with them? Conversely, do you have any characters that came particularly easily to you?
LM: They were all pretty easy because I know these people very well. The father in “The Treehouse and the Butterfly” was probably the most difficult, but I just thought of some wealthy people I know and he flowed too. I'm very lucky in that I have friends from many different walks of life. I enjoy wondering about people I don't know too. Sometimes for fun I simply people-watch, and write little stories in my head about what the strangers I see are up to. It's fun!
CF: Creating a work of fiction is a spiritual journey in itself. Can you talk about your own spiritual life – realizations, doubts, crises, etc. – that came during the writing of this work?
LM: Before I wrote each story, I prayed to God for direction. I wanted to create a book that would help people to remember what Christmas is really about without preaching to them, because I think preaching often isn't the best way to make a point. I also wanted some of the stories to make the reader smile, because I'm convinced that God has a good sense of humor, and it would also help the reader to relax. I really want the reader to be able to slow down a little and enjoy Christmas. I believe the fact that I was able to finish the book so quickly while other manuscripts I'm working on are still stewing about was God's doing, not mine.
CF: Name one good habit you do have as a writer and would like to continue to cultivate.
LM: I think I'm a fairly good copy editor.
CF: Name one bad habit you have as a writer that you would like to break.
LM: Procrastination is #1 unless I'm on a roll. I love it when I'm on a roll.
CF: Name one good habit you would like to have as a writer and do not have at the moment.
LM: I don't take rejection particularly well, and you need to have a thick skin if you're a writer. Not everyone will like your style or your finished project.
CF: What is the most discouraging aspect of being a writer?
LM: How hard it is to actually make a living.
CF: What one project do you daydream about accomplishing as a writer – your magnum opus?
LM: I have an idea for a romance novel. Its structure would be unusual, and I think it could be GREAT.
CF: If you could no longer work with words, what medium would you work in to create art?
LM: Probably jewelry-making, music and perhaps painting. I enjoy all three, as well as interior design.
Subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter Catholic, Ink. - click here - receive book reviews and the column "The Catholic Imagination and You"
Be part of the Catholic Literary Revival.