Interview with Kay Marshall Strom, author of ‘The Love of Divena’

Kay Marshall Strom

Kay Marshall Strom is the author of forty published books.  Her writing credits also include numerous magazine articles, short stories, curriculum, stories for children, two prize-winning screenplays, and booklets for writers.  Kay speaks at seminars, retreats, and special events throughout the country.  She and her husband Dan Kline love to travel, and more and more Kay’s writing and speaking take her around the word.

Her latest book is the Christian historical fiction, The Love of Divena.

To find out more about Kay, or for contact information, check her website at www.kaystrom.com.

Visit Kay at Twitter: http://twitter.com/kaysblab

Like Kay at Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=251622274091&id=738699091#!/profile.php?id=738699091

Pick up your copy of The Love of Divena at Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Love-Divena-Blessings-India/dp/1426709102/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1348760002&sr=8-1&keywords=the+love+of+divena

Pick up your copy of The Love of Divena at the publisher’s website: http://abingdonpress.com/forms/ProductDetail.aspx?pid=7312

Q: Thank you for this interview, Kay. Can you tell us what your latest book, The Love of Divena, is all about?

The trilogy centers around an Untouchable family and the high caste landlords who own them. Set in rural India in 1990, this final book tells the story of a little girl abandoned by her father and left on the doorstep of her desperately poor grandmother. Practically every area of the grandmother’s life is bound up in the constraints of society: her outcaste status, her poverty, her religion. But Divena sees the promise of a wider world. The choices she makes rock the world of both families and shake the foundation of an entire culture.

The Love of Divena

The main character of each of the books in the trilogy has a name that means “blessing” in Hindi.  Hence the series title, Blessings in India. Divena, the main character in this book, loves her grandmother dearly, but she cannot accept the older woman’s resigned attitude of “This is how it has always been, and this is how it always will be.”  Adventurous and persistent—also desperate—Divena determines she will change her life.  She does, in ways her grandmother Shridula (book 2) and her great-grandfather Ashish (book 1) never could.

Divena’s grandmother is Shridula, the young mover and shaker of book 2 (The Hope of Shridula). But the years have weighed heavily on her. Trapped by poverty and her low status as a female outcaste, the spark of hope has long since faded away.  When she sees the scrawny waif left on her doorstep, she is overcome by memories. Yet she tells the child, “You did not want to be left in my doorway, and I did not want you left here because I have no money to buy food for you. But here you are, so we will live together.”  When she changes the girl’s name from Anjan (fear) to Divena (Blessing), she has no idea how prophetic that name is.

The other major character is the wealthy, educated young man being groomed to inherit his father’s land—and also his father’s village of bonded servants.  The family is Christian, though that means little to them beyond freedom from Hindu constraints. But the son is a far different person than his father. In his objection to his father’s oppression of the laborers, he is drawn back to his family’s true Christian roots where he finds more than he bargained for.

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

Without a doubt, characters are inspired by people I’ve met on my nine trips to India. There really was a little girl abandoned by her father and left on her unsuspecting grandfather’s doorstep.  I think this reality base is important for a book such as this because so many people find it absolutely unbelievable that such oppression and abuses are still around today.

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?

Yes and yes. I write out a basic chapter outline before I begin, sort of like a map to where I’m going with the book. But as I write, things change.  Some events seem contrived, so I change them.  Or I drop them altogether. Characters get pushy and begin to go their own way, to get themselves into more difficulties than I anticipated.  Thanks to discoveries along the way, I end up with a better book than the one I plotted in the beginning.

Q: Your book is set in South India.  Can you tell us why you chose this place in particular?

Several years ago I had the opportunity to travel throughout Ireland with the advance team of the movie Amazing Grace. Sam Paul, a team member from India, spoke about modern day slavery as it exists there. It is the most prevalent cause of slavery today.  On the last day of our time together as a team, Sam Paul asked me, “Why don’t you write about my people?  We need someone to speak for us. Why don’t you write about us?”  So I did.  I chose to set the story in rural South India because that is an area in which I have spent quite a bit of time and where I know a number of people.

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

Absolutely. Without the setting, there would be no story.  The location—as well as the Indian society in which it is immersed—forms the only world in which the story could exist.

Q: Open the book to page 69.  What is happening?

Oh, good spot!  Sixteen-year-old Divena has spent the past years trudging back and forth from the market with a basket of vegetables from her grandmother’s garden balanced on her head. In blistering heat and in monsoon rain. Lots of work for so few pennies earned.  Beckoned by the sweet fragrance of ripe mangos hanging on a tree, but warned by the tree’s owner not to touch them, Divena proposes a trade: some of her vegetables for a couple of mangos.  The woman drives a hard bargain, but the barter pulls Divena into a much wider world of possibilities. On Page 69, Divena makes her first foray into business.

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?

Little Daniel stood up and scowled at his leaning block tower. “Not good!” he pronounced, and he kicked it over.  Joanna giggled and clapped her little hands.

“Would it not be wonderful if we could solve our problems so easily?” Ramesh asked with a laugh.  “If all of India could?”

Baruch grabbed his son and pulled the child to him. As Daniel squirmed, Joanna climbed onto her father’s lap.  “Here it is, right in my grasp,” Baruch Sundar said as he hugged his children.  “New hope for India.”

Q: Have you suffered from writer’s block and what do you do to get back on track?

I have to say, I don’t believe in writer’s block.  I mean, what happens if a dentist gets dentist’s block?  He gets busy and works on teeth.  When I get writer’s block, I get busy and write.  It helps that I generally have a couple of projects going.  If I’m stuck on one, I work on the other.

Q: What would you do with an extra hour today if you could do anything you wanted?

Mmmmm, what a delightful thought!  I think I would head out to our hot tub/spa and read.

Q: Which already published book do you wish that you had written and why?

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I love the way C.S. Lewis wrote a book that works on so many different levels.  Eight-year-olds are transfixed with the tale of talking animals and witches, families read the book together for its moral values, and theology students take entire courses on it.  What a gift to be able to write a book like that!

Q: What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors regarding getting their books out there?

It is a tough field today, with so many books out there. I would say, demonstrate your writing by blogging.  Offer to write guest posts for other bloggers.  Speak wherever you can—at the library, at service clubs, in your church or other associations—and always have your book on hand.  But remember, you must not come across sounding like an advertisement.  Your listeners will be asking, “What’s in this for me?”  What they want to hear from you is, “A wonderfully entertaining story, and even more.  Much, much more.”

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Kay.  We wish you much success!

Thank you for talking with me.

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