Five on a Friday with Cara Sue Achterberg

As promised, we’re starting something new today! One of the great things about the publication process is how many other authors I get to “meet.” We all hear about the big, flashy books by big-name authors, but there are a host of gems we as readers may never even hear of. I’m seeing a lot of those books these days as I help other authors, and I thought I’d use my little platform to feature some stories I’ve really enjoyed.

We start with Cara Sue Achterberg and her gorgeous book, “Blind Turn,” which released yesterday.

About the book:

Liz Johnson single-handedly raised an exemplary daughter—honor student, track star, and all-around good kid—despite the disapproval of her father and her small town. How could that same teenager be responsible for the death of the high school’s beloved football coach? This is Texas, where high school football ranks right up there with God, so while the legal battle wages, the public deals its own verdict.

Desperate for help, Liz turns to a lawyer whose affection she long ago rejected and attempts to play nice with her ex-husband, while her daughter struggles with guilt and her own demons as she faces the consequences of an accident she doesn’t remember.

Can one careless decision alter a lifetime? A tragic, emotional, ultimately uplifting story, BLIND TURN could be anyone’s story.

Let’s start by asking about you as a person. What should people know about you, Cara?

I am a wide-open person, which means I’ll tell you nearly anything. I think that comes through in my writing. When I write fiction, I write from my heart and wrestle with everyday issues and day-to-day humanity. I want people to read my writing and find something in it that applies to their own lives—lifts them up, inspires them, or makes them examine their own thoughts and motivations.

I am also a dog rescuer. I have fostered nearly 200 animals, written two memoirs about my experiences, and am the co-founder of Who Will Let the Dogs Out, an initiative to raise awareness and resources for shelter dogs and the people who fight for them. When I am not working on fiction, I am writing to save the lives of animals who deserve so much better in a country as rich as ours.

The other thing I would want people to know about me is that I’m approachable—I love talking to readers and writers, especially young writers and writers just getting started on their writing journey. I’m happy to engage with people via email, social media, and in person. Writing is a solitary act, but it is not a lonely one, at least not when it leads to new friends and connections and meaningful interactions.

That’s the best thing about the writing community! So–you and I have both written books with, let’s say, a “difficult” premise. My main character has lost her whole family. Yours is dealing with the aftermath of a teen texting-and-driving accident. Did you ever have people say, “Oh, you can never sell that book, nobody will read it”?

The first publisher we approached with this book (seven years ago!) ultimately passed on it with the bizarre (to me) explanation of ‘we don’t want to touch texting and driving’. That made it clear that the book would hit a nerve, but it also made me realize my story was important.

I wrote it because of an accident that occurred in the next county over from mine. I was in the midst of teaching my oldest son to drive—a terrifying parental right of passage—and the story haunted me. In that accident a teen driver killed an entire family with no real explanation (other than inexperience or possibly distraction).

I couldn’t shake that nightmare, so I wrote through it, which is how I deal with pretty much everything in my life. I wanted to sort out how a family could move on from a tragedy like that and how a ‘good kid’ could cause such devastation. I think ultimately a tragedy will change a life –not just in terms of pain, but in terms of growth.

That’s so beautiful. You and I clearly have a lot in common with our writing philosophies. But I think readers don’t always realize the insecurities we writers go through–imposter syndrome, the fear that the naysayers are right and nobody WILL read this book… What’s your take?

Oh my gosh, YES! For many years I didn’t even attempt to get anything I’d written published because I thought—who am I to think I can write a book? Having a publisher behind you helps, but it’s still you putting your heart on the page, handing it out to the public, and then bracing yourself to have it stomped on. I saw a film once (blanking on the name) that compared being a writer to being a boxer—it’s just you out there in the ring, totally exposed, your skill or lack-there-of will be clear to everyone and even if you’re good, you could take a beating.

Thankfully, my books have been well-received. I’ve made so many new friendships with readers and other writers. It’s always risky, though. I teach creative writing and I tell my students that all the time. You have to be brave. You have to be willing to risk being embarrassed and ridiculed. You can’t worry about what people will think as you write, if you do then your writing will always be in a straight-jacket, or worse yet, it will be watered down and mediocre.

Forgiveness is a strong theme in BLIND TURN: Jess’s need to forgive herself; the town’s need to forgive Jess–these were really front and center. But Liz has people she’s struggling to forgive as well. You tie it all together so beautifully. Is there a guiding vision behind all your writing?

In a recent interview (on the excellent podcast, Lovely Books), I was asked if second-chances were a theme in my writing. I’d never thought of this. The interviewer pointed out that I spend a lot of my time and energy trying to save dogs that need a second chance, but in my fiction it seems evident that I believe in second chances for people too. I’d never considered that as a theme to my writing, but it is a foundational belief of mine—everyone deserves another chance. No one is unredeemable.

And quite definitely forgiveness is also a guiding vision in my stories. I believe that forgiveness is necessary for real love of any kind. In order to love, we have to choose to forgive, sometimes on a daily, even hourly basis.

For me, it’s always redemption. Characters are always broken and in need of healing and redemption. A lot of commonality there! Do you find that your books end up reflecting realities in your own world and, in turn, shining light back on them? Were there any moments like that in the writing of BLIND TURN?

I can’t remember who said that all writing is autobiographical and I would quite definitely agree. In writing Blind Turn, I worked through some of my own issues with forgiveness. For instance, I’ve always wrestled with the idea of penance being necessary for forgiveness – and that struggle came out in one of my characters. It wasn’t something I planned, in fact, I remember seeing the words on the page and thinking, “Oh! This is what I’ve been trying to figure out.”

I’m not a planner; I don’t map out my stories ahead of time. I spend a lot of time getting to know my characters and then place them in a situation and see what happens. I follow the story wherever it takes me. Occasionally, I realize I’ve followed it down some odd path that has more to do with my life than the characters, and I have to retrace steps and go back to where the wrong turn occurred.

This book has had such a long, winding path to publication. More than anything else I’ve written, this book’s journey has been a journey for my own heart and a test of my commitment to pursuing this crazy dream of being an author.

You’ve given us a lot of food for thought! Thanks for stopping by!

Cara Sue Achterberg’s new novel, BLIND TURN, is available from all your favorite booksellers. Find the links on her site!

Cara Sue Achterberg is the author of four novels, two memoirs, one work of non-fiction, and multiple blogs. She is the cofounder of Who Will Let the Dogs Out, a nonprofit initiative to raise awareness and resources for shelter dogs. Cara currently lives in New Freedom, Pennsylvania, and Bentonville, Virginia with her husband and far too many animals. For more information visit CaraWrites.com, or look her up on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.