STEPH: I don't much about FORGIVEN. What's it about?
MICHELLE: Readers met Nikki in previous books, or at least heard about her. She's the foster daughter of Dr. Holwood at the university, and is basically the good girl who backslid, and is now making good. She works for the Arc Foundation, a philanthropic organization with some hints of cloak-and-dagger, and in this book, Nikki comes back to town to assess the Mission, an outreach of Tabor Christian Church, to see if the Arc Foundation wants to come on board as a sponsor.
Brock, our hero, romanced Nikki into running away from home with him when she was barely 17. He was the front man for a drug kingpin, but started doing some serious thinking about his life, thanks to her influence. By the time Nikki got pregnant, Brock had started going undercover work with the DEA. He basically drove Nikki away to protect her. When the dust finally settled, Nikki was on her way home, found by her half-sister and rescued by the Arc Foundation. Brock's boss kidnapped her to use as a human shield in his flight from the authorities -- and nearly killed Brock in the process. Nikki was injured in the car chase/accident and gave birth prematurely, and then her baby died from her injuries. Brock went to jail and Nikki joined the Arc Foundation.
NOW ... Nikki is back in town, facing down all the people who knew how badly she messed up. She has a job to do. It wouldn't be so bad, except Brock is out of jail and he's determined to win her back. Plus, there's the boy who broke her heart in high school -- he's a single father and decides he and Nikki will get back together to become a happy little family. So she's trapped between two guys trying to win her heart. And then Brock's former drug-running associates show up and start putting the pressure on him. Should he leave to protect Nikki? Is she going to let him leave? And who's making false allegations against Brock and attacking the Mission?
STEPH: How long did it take it to write?
MICHELLE: Years. I've done so many revisions, I couldn't tell you. I do know I wrote it in 3 different word processing programs. I actually wrote Nikki's "rescue" by the Arc Foundation long before I wrote her Tabor Heights story -- and in the first draft, Nikki and Joan aren't even sisters. This story has gone through a lot of revisions. And in transferring from one computer to another, I know I've lost notes and drafts and scenes -- which I had to recreate for this book. For instance, Vincent, the chief of security for the Arc Foundation, comes to town to check up on Nikki. I had notes for changes to the Vincent scenes -- but I didn't have a draft where he actually showed up. Frustrating!
So the easy answer is: It took years to write this book. But I think it's worth the wait.
STEPH: How does this story fit into your Tabor Heights Series?
MICHELLE: It actually overlaps several books -- bits and pieces of scenes. Nikki is in the background or has a small part to play in the events of Firesong and Behind the Scenes. Calendar-wise, the story takes place in March, April and May of Year One. Events in this book have ripple effects on future stories. For instance, in A Quiet Place, Pastor Wally is in slightly worse health because of trouble that happens in Forgiven -- so he's more vulnerable when Jeannette's vicious ex-mother-in-law attacks. And Nikki shows up in one of the short stories in the Seasons anthology.
STEPH: Where does the inspiration for your writing to come from?
MICHELLE: The easy answer is "everywhere." After you've been writing long enough, and you have something that's ongoing, like the Tabor Heights series, you're constantly subconsciously looking for details, ideas. The "ah hah!" moments hit because you're looking for them, waiting for them, and because your subconscious knows it needs something. Does that make sense?
For instance, we were driving back from Florida last weekend -- these wonderful ideas always come when you can't stop and write them down! -- and I got this title idea: Beowulf -- Beo-Ralf. Okay, I have the title -- now what is the STORY?
I'll figure it out in a couple years. Maybe...
STEPH: What's your writing space like?
MICHELLE: Right now it's a wretched mess. I have my former bedroom in the basement. There are bookshelves at the far end, just lining the walls. Where there aren't bookshelves, there are posters, and my maps of Tabor Heights, Neighborlee, a game I'm trying to create (and haven't worked on in years) for my Commonwealth Universe series. I have a drafting table at one end of the room next to the windows -- that's where my notebook computer sits. It's covered in papers, files, some DVDs/TV series I want to watch, a big bucket of pens, books that I've read and haven't entered in my computer, and some computer equipment. On the opposite wall is my computer desk with my desktop computer, which is covered with papers, software, etc. Plus there's my NordicTrak, and an exercise ball and these 20-pound dumbbells that I hardly ever lift anymore. (Bad girl!). And there are PILES of things on the floor, projects I'm in the middle of, promo material I'm either unpacking from a booksigning/book talk, or experiments in promo material I'm still putting together. Somewhere under there is a carpet. And a stereo.
STEPH: If you could name a song which embodies the theme of FORGIVEN, what would that song be?
MICHELLE: Honestly, I never thought about it. I usually play movie soundtracks when I'm writing.
Maybe the chorus from an old Gaither song: I'm not what I wanna be, I'm not what I'm gonna be, but thank God I'm not what I was.
Or pieces from Rich Mullins' song: It's about as useless as a screen door on a submarine. Faith without works, babe, it just ain't happening.... Gotta be active if it's gonna be alive, you got to put it into practice, otherwise.....
STEPH: Cast the movie. Who are the leads?
MICHELLE: You know, I really can't say. Haven't thought about it. I've been working on this story for so long, they are their own people, not wearing someone else's face.
STEPH: What's the one thing you'd like readers to take away with them after reading FORGIVEN?
Happy endings take a lot of work, and will continue to take work, but they're more than worth it.
STEPH: Do you have an ebook reader? If so, which one?
MICHELLE: I started with a Palm. Then in 2009 I bought one of the first Nooks -- and my Palm died 2 days before it arrived. I needed an MP3 player, so I bought an iPod. I have Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, E-reader and Stanza on it. My Palm partially resurrected, so I have Acrobat Reader, Mobipocket and Palm Reader on that.
So, 3 ebook readers. And I use all of them! Sometimes at the same time.
STEPH Chocolate, Vanilla, or Strawberry?
MICHELLE: If it's milkshakes, vanilla.
If it's ice cream, either vanilla bean or chocolate-peanut butter.