2003, 2004, 2005 & 2006: Named one
of the 101 best Web sites for writers by Writers Digest Magazine.
Stallings has a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Texas Tech University and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a major in Journalism and minors in Education and Secretarial Business in 1991. In addition to being a mother of three children aged 7, 4 and six months, she’s also a monthly columnist for ChristianMagazine.org, a bi-monthly columnist for SpiritualWear.com, a co-webmaster for her Web site and a part-time bookkeeper for her husband's carpentry business. She lives in Amarillo, Texas.
Question: Have you always been a writer?
Stallings: I've always been a reader, but writing didn't really hit until junior high. In junior high I wrote my first "novel," and by "wrote" I mean literally by-hand. It was about 150-200 pages--a romance of course. All the girls in my class loved it. I sent it in to a contest after an older friend of mine typed it, but it didn't win.
When I was in high school, I found Journalism. A fabulous teacher who worked with me one-on-one enabled me to win the Texas State U.I.L. Feature Writing Competition my senior year. In college I worked for the school newspaper but realized that the super-fast, super-competitive world of journalism wasn't where I wanted to spend my life. I got out with a teaching degree and taught English, journalism, and typing for three years. Then I quit to have my first child. At home by myself with a tiny baby, I started going stir-crazy. That's when I went back to novel writing.
Q: Why did you want to get a book published?
Stallings: At first I didn't want to publish. In fact, I wrote five full-length novels before I even looked into publishing them. I was making copies for my friends--$75 for 5 copies at Kinko’s. Then those copies would disappear down the rabbit hole of 'I hope you don't mind, but I loved your book so much I loaned it to...' After the fifth book, I decided that it was silly not to at least look into publishing them.
Q: How did you schedule time to write?
Stallings: At first I wrote when my baby was asleep. She was a good baby and my only one at the time so most of the time I could even get something written while she was awake. One day I did find her standing on the table, so I figured at that point I had to back off a little, but with just her, writing wasn't too hard.
My second child was a year old when I started to pursue publishing. Eight months later I finally faced up to the fact that I simply couldn't do it all alone. I hired two young ladies from a local college--one to help with the Web site and one to watch the kids a couple days a week. That turned into such a blessing. Prior to that it was getting to the point where my kids wouldn't let me walk out of the room. They were with me 24/7, and their attachment was becoming smothering to me and unhealthy for them. This was a great solution because I could be home, but I didn't have to be right there with them all the time. By the time my third child came along, I was doing my own promotions, my Web site, keeping books for my husband's company, and doing all the finances for the family--plus writing. Without great help, I'd never be able to do even 90 percent of what I do now.
Q: Did your children understand what you were doing?
Stallings: To begin with, they were too little. There were many times in the beginning that I would type with them sitting on my lap--hunt and pecking with one hand (still do that occasionally with the baby). Now the older two just take it for granted. In fact, one day my middle one and a friend were playing. I walked in, and they had all their kid books stacked all over the floor. When I asked what they were doing, my then three-year-old looked at me proudly and said, 'We're playing book signing, Mama.'
Q: What was your biggest challenge in trying to write a book and be a parent at the same time?
Stallings: Orange juice. I don't know why but that drove me the craziest. I would be in the middle of a great scene and... 'Mama, I want orange juice.' Many, many times I was left trying desperately to remember what came next when I got back to that blinking cursor. Fortunately I type really fast, and my brain works even faster, so I could get a lot done between orange juice requests. Now with the help, I do a better job of partitioning my time. That's a good thing because now we have first grade homework and an increasingly active family life to contend with. I've just had to set priorities. Like when 8:30 chimes, everything else stops so we can all sit down together and watch Gilligan's Island or in the morning when I sit in the chair with each child when they wake up. I have to remember that those must be my priority, and whatever doesn't get done besides that, didn't really need to be done.
Q: Did you seek support during this time?
Stallings: For the most part my husband was very supportive. He even put his money where his mouth was by financing my publishing promotions. He also took the kids out with him when he could. They'd mow or build things or whatever. We've always been a team, so that wasn't terribly surprising. I think he liked seeing me happy, and writing makes me happy. We just have to work out and then renegotiate the logistics of that undertaking periodically.
Q: Did the schedule you set up for your writing time work best for you?
Stallings: I have a different schedule every day. In fact, right now I'm concentrating on articles and promotion projects rather than writing full-length pieces. There are just too many other things to attend to with a baby--doctor's appointments, pictures, feedings - my books have had to take a backseat. But I know he won't be a baby forever, so I have to enjoy this precious time with him now. I can be a best selling author down the road. God has a time for that all laid out. My job is to do the work I can and let Him take care of the rest.
Q: What do you feel is the most important thing a writing parent needs in order to get their novel written/published?
Stallings: Courage and stamina. Courage because reaching for a dream takes guts. And stamina because being published is only the first obstacle. As a parent don't get tunnel vision and think that once you're published, then you'll have time for your kids. It just doesn't work that way. Once you're published, there are a whole host of new, steeper obstacles to climb, and the kids certainly won't get your time then if you don't start making time for them now. Keep the difference between "important" and "urgent" always in perspective. Just because something seems "urgent" doesn't mean it's always "important."
Q: Is there anything you feel you should’ve done differently when you were juggling writing and parenting?
Stallings: Early on I was much more, 'Just a second I've got to get this finished first.' What I finally realized is: it's never finished. So now I do what I can, make the most out of the opportunities I have time for, learn, and move forward. I do think I will be able to be a better parent because of the experiences I've gotten to have in this business. I am much more willing to take risks and much more confident in taking a stand. I'm much less fearful of and intimidated by other people than I used to be. More than that I've learned to have true trust in God--all of that will translate into a better life for my kids regardless of if I ever "get rich" from my books.
Q: Was guilt during your writing time ever a problem?
Stallings: I've only felt guilty a few times. Mostly that was when I was at the end of a book, and I could see the end so clearly, but it wasn't coming as fast as I thought it would. Besides those times, I think I do pretty well understanding that I need my time to grow and I need my time to be with them. It's always a balance.
Q: How did you explain to your children what it is you are doing?
Stallings: Books are and always have been a part of our household. I don't think that they see anything "special" or "out-of-the-ordinary" about it.
Q: After this, do you think it’ll be easier for you to write more books?
Stallings: No, it's never easy to write a book. It's time-consuming and sometimes so frustrating you'd like to scream. With life getting busier and busier, I don't think writing will get any easier for the foreseeable future. I do look forward to getting back to writing books again though. There's just something about seeing a great story unfold before your eyes... Ugh--makes me want to go write right now!
Q: What is the best advice you’ve been given as a writer?
Stallings: It can be perfect--just not the first time you write it down. When I was in the Journalism competitions, I only had an hour to hand-write an entire story--sometimes as much as three or four pages long. I didn't have time to guess and second-guess myself about what I should write. I had to choose an angle, and go for it. Once it was written, then I went back and corrected. Very rarely did I correct in mid-story. Eventually I started writing with a pencil, which helped in more ways than one. My high school teacher often "bled" over my practice stories. Between her corrections and my ink-marked-out-and-rewritten-over corrections, you couldn't even read the piece when I got it back. Writing with a pencil at least took out one set of those corrections--mine.
Q: What is the best advice you can give to other writing parents?
Stallings: Do what you love because you love it not because it will make you rich. Learn all you can, but keep what's truly important in perspective. Make sure you nurture your relationships with your kids every single day. When the accolades for your writing die down (which they will eventually), if your family isn't by your side, you've lost. If the accolades never come and your family is by your side, you've won. So how do you make sure they'll be by your side? By being by their sides right now.
Dana Mitchells is the Internet pen name of the writer Dawn Colclasure. She is a former weekly writer for the former e-zine, Griper, and she has a poetry chapbook, Take My Hand, available from Amazon.com. Her work can also be found on Ten Thousand Monkeys , E-Fido and Absolute Write . She is currently seeking a literary agent for her novels. She lives with her husband, Jason Wilson, and daughter in California.