Believing God had more in store for her, Sandra Robbins followed her heart in the pursuit of writing. Now she has three successful books in her catalog, and her fourth and fifth books will release this fall—including her debut historical romance.
Creativity is often innate. Did you begin writing as a child?
I didn’t begin writing when I was a child, but I did make up stories all the time. I loved to play with paper dolls and had dozens of them. I could make up the most intriguing adventures for their different characters.
It wasn’t until I was in college and took a fiction writing course as an elective that I began to think about writing. My professor encouraged me, and an idea for a novel was born. That plot is still in my head. Maybe someday I’ll put it on paper.
Was there an a-ha moment when you decided to turn writing into a career, or did your interest in it develop slowly?
In 2004 I decided the time had come for me to write the novel I’d dreamed about for years. At the time I was still working, but my nights were devoted to creating what I thought would be the next great American novel. However, in the summer of 2005 I had a heart attack while visiting my daughter in San Antonio. While I was recuperating, I thought about my life and how God had spared me for some reason. I knew there were still some things He wanted me to do, and I felt that writing was one of those things. I returned to the school where I was principal in October, but at the end of the school year I retired and began to devote myself to writing full time. I sold my first book, Pedigreed Bloodlines, in 2006, and it was published in 2008.
How did you find time to write while working full time?
While I was working, it was difficult to juggle all the responsibilities of being a principal, taking care of my family, and writing. The early and sometimes late hours of the night were devoted to writing. It wasn’t always easy, but I never gave up, and God blessed my efforts both in school and writing.
You write mystery/romance. What genre do you prefer to read when kicking back with a good book?
My favorite books when I was growing up were the Nancy Drew mysteries, and I still enjoy mysteries and suspense. I love to lose myself in a good mystery that keeps me turning the pages until the villain has been identified. I have to admit, though, that I do like some romance sprinkled in.
Who/what influenced your writing career the most?
There have been many people who have helped me on my journey to publication, but I would have to say that the biggest influence in my career has been American Christian Fiction Writers. When I first began to write, I had no idea where to look for guidance. One day as I was searching the internet for Christian writers, I found the ACFW (then it was ACRW) site. I joined right away, and through my association with other writers, membership in a critique group, and the conferences I was able to fulfill my longtime dream of having a book published.
What was your big break? Any advice for new writers?
My big break came in September, 2005 when I attended the ACFW conference in Nashville. I was still recuperating from my heart attack, but my doctor gave his approval for me to attend the conference. While there, I met Susan Downs who happened to read some of my work that her conference roommate was critiquing. She liked what she read, and we struck up a friendship. A few months later when she became an editor for Barbour with the Heartsong Presents Mystery line, she bought my first book.
I had never heard of Susan before that conference, but God arranged for us to meet and eventually for me to get a contract. So, to new writers I would say: Put your writing journey in God’s hands. Don’t limit Him with what you think you want. His desires for you are so much better than you could ever imagine.
How does your faith play into your writing?
All of my stories have an inspirational thread that run through them. These themes are a direct result of the faith that guides my life each day. Thanks to my parents I have a strong belief that God is in control of my life, and I hope to convey it to my readers. I often say that I will never meet all the people who read my books. My desire, however, is that the words God gives me will be like seeds that I send out into the world. My prayer is that they will find fertile soil in the hearts of my readers.
Has God ever provided an unexpected “detour” in your life that turned out to be positive?
I suppose my heart attack is the biggest detour that turned out to be positive. When I became ill, I was on a boat in the middle of the San Antonio River along the famous River Walk. EMTs responded to our call and within minutes had transported me to a major medical center that was less than a mile away. In the emergency room, the doctor told me that a cardiologist had just finished another procedure in the cath lab and was ready to work with me. Later I found out that the cardiologist was a world-renowned heart surgeon who wrote for all the major medical journals. I later said that if I had called for an appointment, I probably would have had to wait months to see him. That night, however, God had made me an appointment that saved my life.
When I reflected on all these things, I knew that it was time for me to quit work and write the message God laid on my heart. I have never regretted that decision.
Let’s talk about your upcoming books. You have two releasing between now and the end of the year. Please tell us about your historical romance from Barbour releasing in September.
When I first started writing, I thought I would write historical romance. At the time, though, nobody was buying it. So I turned to mystery and suspense. Now I’m thrilled that I’m getting to write both.
My first historical romance that releases from Barbour in September is The Columns of Cottonwood. It is set in Alabama’s Black Belt, an area where the farmland is fertile along the Alabama River, after the Civil War.
She grew up there; she lived through the war there; she lost her parents there. Even in its burned out condition, it’s still home to Savannah Carmichael. But now it belongs to a stranger—a foreigner!—who paid the back taxes on it and bought it right out from under her.
Dante Rinaldi never expected that the culmination of his dream—to own some of Alabama’s rich farmland—would mean the destruction of someone else’s. He hasn’t done anything illegal; in fact, he’s worked hard for the privilege of land ownership. So why does Savannah Carmichael’s plight affect him on such a deep level?
Both believe in the sovereignty of God, but how can this situation be orchestrated by Him? Can they find a solution. . .a compromise to benefit both?
You also have a Christmas romantic suspense from Steeple Hill, to be released in December. Please tell us about it.
My December release from Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense is Yuletide Defender. The murders of gang members are being reported in the local newspaper by a young woman who hopes her stories will lead to a better job with a television station or larger newspaper. When a confidential source tells her the murders are being committed by a vigilante intent on sparking an all-out war between rival gangs, she decides to go after the story and discover the identity of the vigilante no matter where it takes her. Is it the rogue Santa Claus who stole her purse, the young man stalking her, the custodian with a fondness for high-powered rifles, or the intruder who left a lipstick scrawled message of death on her bathroom mirror? The police detective who’s falling in love with her knows he’ll do anything to protect her when she becomes the vigilante’s next target.
Besides providing entertainment, what is the one thing you hope readers will take away from each book?
I put a message of hope and encouragement in all my books. I pray that my readers will come to know the peace that has guided my life by placing my faith in Jesus Christ. It is my hope that those who read what I’ve written will draw strength from my life verse Isaiah 40:31—But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
When you sit down to start a book, do you have a theme in mind or does it evolve as you write?
I have a theme in mind. It may evolve in a different way than I first imagined as I write the story, but it basically stays the same.
A few fun questions…
When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food and why?
Just the thought of chocolate chip cookies makes my mouth water. There’s nothing I like better than a cold glass of milk and cookies still warm from the oven. Maybe it’s a holdover from childhood. I doubt if I ever outgrow that desire.
This website features writers as well as musicians, so I like to mix it up a bit. Do you have musical, as well as literary, talent?
I am also a musician. I began taking piano lessons when I was six years old and continued on through college where I earned a degree in music with a major in piano. My college piano teacher was a child prodigy who was discovered in Australia by Eugene Ormandy. He brought her to America where she studied and later married a man from my area. After her husband’s death, she settled in Tennessee and began to teach at the university where I attended. Through her, I can trace a line of piano teachers back to Beethoven.
What kind of music do you listen to when you’re relaxing with the radio or an mp3 player? Does music help you write?
I love to listen to classical music. I also am a fan of Broadway musicals, and I enjoy listening to show tunes. I don’t play music while I writing. I need the room to be quiet when I’m concentrating on a story.
If you were a song, what kind of song would you be?
I think I’d be a folk song that is based on tradition. Having lived in the South all my life, I have a deep appreciation of the history and the struggles associated with our part of the country. When my grandson was a little boy, he asked me if our ancestors lived in big houses on plantations. I laughed and told him we are descended from the tenant farmers who had a strong work ethic and a deep love of God and family. The values they passed down through the generations bless me today.
Are you a major or a minor chord?
I like peace and harmony to reign in my life and family, but I also like to shake things up sometimes with change. I thought about this question a LONG time, and I don’t know if I’ve come up with an answer or not. I don’t think I’m one or the other. I think I’m a combination—a major/minor chord. I think of a major chord as a strong sound that demands order, and in a minor chord I hear a darker tone that stirs the senses. So if I put the two together, what do I get? A dominant seventh chord. The major triad gives it strength, but the minor seventh can lead you in a new direction. That seems to describe my life. I like the strong foundation and order in my life, but I’m always open to change. And that minor seventh just may take me in a totally new direction.
In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?
I think anybody who knows me well would agree with me that I am the strong, female lead.
I’m a dog lover. Please tell us about your pets, if any, and your other pastimes.
Oh, I may cry talking about this. My sweet little Yorkshire Terrier Belle passed away a year ago from renal failure. I got her as a puppy and loved her for fourteen years. She was more than a pet. She was a member of the family. She stayed by my side all the time when I was home. I still look down when I’m writing to see if she’s sitting at my feet like she always did. Now instead of her presence at my desk I have her portrait that my daughter gave me last Christmas. It reminds me of all the wonderful times we enjoyed together.
Maybe someday I’ll be able to get another dog, but I haven’t reached that point yet.
It has been a pleasure to get to know you, Sandra. Thank you!
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For more information about Sandra and her books, visit her website at www.sandrarobbins.net.
To order Sandra’s books at Amazon, visit her author page at http://www.amazon.com/Sandra-Robbins/e/B002R1TYF2/ref=sr_tc_img_2_0?qid=1283096005&sr=1-2-ent.
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Thank you for having me as a guest today. It’s always a pleasure to share how God orchestrated my writing journey.
I enjoyed getting to know you, Sandra!