Q&A: Ann Gaylia O'Barr
Ann Gaylia O'Barr's newest novel, A Sense Of Mission tells a tale of war, diplomacy, tragedy, and redemption as it follows the life of Kaitlin Sadler after the death of her parents.
WHAT INSPIRED A SENSE OF MISSION?
I think it began with the image of a young girl, bereft of her parents due to an act of senseless violence and the people who love her as she struggles with her loss. She’s able to grow beyond the tragedy because of their love for her. Perhaps it’s my fictional answer to the suffering that’s so prevalent in the world today. Kaitlin will always struggle with a too serious nature as a result of her loss, but she learns to trust “the good times,” to believe that God ultimately desires her good. She’s able to go on with her life, her career, and her relationship with Ethan without giving in to melancholy and despair.
WHICH COMES EASIER FOR YOU, WRITING THE "ROMANCE" OR WRITING THE "SUSPENSE"?
It’s easier for me to write the romance because the romance deals with the characters and suspense with the plot. I’m a character-driven writer. How does the plot change the characters? How do they grow as a result of the things that happen to them? How do the happenings affect the romance? The conclusion of the plot results in the characters reaching a new level in their growth.
HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN A BALANCE OF THE TWO IN YOUR FICTION?
I have a pretty clear idea of the characters in the beginning. Mapping out the plot leads to new insights about them: what they learn, how they change, decisions they make. My plots are usually wound around real world events. The events, and the characters’ insertion into those events, provide much of the plot.
Taken as whole, the niche for all five of my novels is the near-history period of the United States between the end of the Second World War and the present. I’m fascinated by how our country changed in that period, a challenging one for American Christians. Kaitlin and Ethan not only find their careers but also the place for their faith in this new world.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE TV SHOWS, MOVIES, OR AUTHORS THAT YOU THINK DO A GREAT JOB OF BALANCE THE ROMANCE WITH THE SUSPENSE?
I love Meg Moseley’s When Sparrows Fall. It’s a study of the subtle growth of relationships and of maturing, even as the characters deal with troubled pasts..
I like stories in which the romance includes married love. Jan Karon’s Mitford series is a blend of the two characters meeting and falling in love, then marrying, even as they deal with human foibles, diabetes, and small town problems.
Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter follows a woman as she falls in love and marries, is widowed, then falls in love again, and raises a family in the period during and after World War II.
IN WHAT SPECIFIC WAYS DOES YOUR FAITH IMPACT HOW YOU WRITE FICTION?
My fiction often answers my own faith questions: What is the place of a Christian in the multi-cultural world we live in? How do we live out our subversive Christian views? I became aware of these questions as a result of living for several years in countries where Christianity was not the major religion. I began to see American Christians from a global perspective. All of my characters discover in one fashion or another that they are exiles from the mainstream of American culture.
During a recent Christian writers’ conference, I refined further the audience for which I write. One of the participants in a discussion on the characteristics of readers of Christian fiction said: “I know Christians who don’t read Christian fiction. They prefer secular fiction.” I pondered that. Perhaps I write for Christians who prefer a hybrid type of literature: Christians dealing with a secular setting, one that requires them to move out into a non-Christian world with a minimum of support from traditional institutions. They depend on the basic Christian community, like the early Christians did.