Colleen is one of the judges to help choose the top 3 stories in the Summer Writing contest. She, along with Donna Patton (you know Ms. Patton from helping her choose covers for her mysteries), are avid Andi fans and I trust their judgment with choosing the stories they feel best tell a story with the Circle C and Goldtown in mind. Let’s learn more about Miss Colleen L. Reece!
Website & blog: ColleenReece.com
1. Tell my readers a little about yourself; where you grew up and what it was like.
I was born in the little logging town of Darrington in western WA on October 1, 1935. I learned to read beneath the rays of a kerosene lamp in a home without electricity or running water. Our home had once been a one-room school where Mom taught all eight grades. The cloak room became my bedroom.
2. How old were you when you first discovered you loved to write, and what did you write?
As soon as I learned to read and write, about age 4—all kinds of stories that had been running around in my head.
3. What was your first published work?
My first writing “sale” followed a June 3, 1947 letter to a radio contest. I was eleven years old, and my parents could not afford very much in those days. I wrote this letter and won a bicycle!
Dear Free for All,
I’ve heard of the “Gang” as you call them and if they can’t guess this, something is wrong. Because, it’s easy as pie. Most of the children around here have bicycles, but I don’t have. Daddy goes up every day to fall timber (as we live in the heart of the timber country) and by the time he gets home, the store is closed. But if I had a bicycle, I could go to town and bring thing [sic] home in the day-time. Although there are lots of trees around here, money doesn’t grow on trees and neither do bicycles.
I’ve written before and so, Free for All, if you don’t send me a bicycle pronto, I’m going to spend more money in postage writing to you than the bicycle costs.
If I won it, I would be the happiest girl in the Universe. There is one chance in a million and I’m taking it. I wrote in on a quiz once and I won some money so I’m signing myself
The Lucky Girl, Colleen Reece
4. What were some boulders on your rocky road to becoming an author?
Boulder #1 – When I was 17, I wrote The Staircase Mystery by kerosene lamp light, a full-length novel designed to out-Nancy Nancy Drew, and out-Hardy the Hardy Boys. I typed it on cheap paper, underlined the title in red (gasp) and submitted again and again. Two-and-a-half years later, I received a contract. The company loved and praised the book—and wanted me to send them $1,800 to publish it! I did not do it and thank God my yellowed-page, unsold manuscript still lies in my closet and shouts, “amateur” at me. Years and years later, Mrs. Marlow and I spent time together at a writers renewal. She brought an early work, and I brought The Staircase Mystery. We laughed so hard it is a wonder why didn’t fall off the beds.
Some good did come from those books. Our first works did have interesting characters, settings, and plots. We knew we could finish a complete book. I also learned what a vanity press was: Publishers who ask for money for books like mine that should NOT be published.
Boulder #2 – Decades after that early Staircase incident, I wanted to write an inspirational romance. Unwilling to spend a whole year writing a manuscript and then finding out I probably couldn’t sell it, I wrote one chapter and submitted it. World. Class. Dumb. Three days later (and this was before email!), I got a letter saying that the editor really liked my chapter and (gasp!) wanted to see the whole manuscript! I figured I’d just blown my chance for a contract because I did not have the entire book written. The happily-ever-after is that I finished that book fast, and she bought it. The Heritage of Nurse O’Hara, my first novel, came out in January 1977. I sold Avalon Books ten more titles. Moral to this story? Before contacting a publisher, at least have a good first draft completed.
5. How many published books do you have in print?
More than 175, with 6 million copies sold.
6. Which is your favorite kid series that you wrote, and why is it your favorite?
The Juli Scott Mysteries: Mysterious Monday Trouble on Tuesday, Wednesday Witness, Thursday Trials, Friday Flight, Saturday Scare, and Sunday Suspicion.
There is a lot of me in this series. Julie and I are strong Christians. We both wanted to be an author. Juli dreams of building a colonial mansion overlooking the Skagit River, which I wanted to do if I ever got rich and famous. Neither of us ever did, but in the books, Juli’s friend Shannon’s grandfather built the Skagit Inn in the exact spot (an important part of the series).
7. Many aspiring young authors wonder if they can make a career out of writing what they love. Very few authors can make that work. You are a success story. How did that happen?
I was working and winning honors (Secretary/Administrative Assistant of the Year) at a good-paying government job in the summer of 1977. I’d had a couple of inspirational novels published and had just finished Belated Follower, my one and only Biblical novel, a book I felt compelled to write. While driving to work one morning, I prayed, “Lord, what am I doing spending most of my time and energy on the job? I could be making the world a better place with my writing.”
I listed all the reasons that was not practical, then found myself writing down, “I feel like Peter, James, and John must have felt when Jesus called them to leave all and follow Him. I gave notice that same day. The summons to serve Jesus was so powerful it outweighed all the obstacles, then and ever since.
8. What do you always keep in mind when you are writing?
To write only those things I feel God leads me to write, and to honor Him by making sure everything I do is acceptable to Him.
9. What are your recent titles, and what are you working on right now?
I recently did a revision of my finest book ever, Belated Follower, the book that led me to walk off my job into full-time freelance writing. An interesting note: Written in 1977, it was not published until 1995. However, when it came out, it brought in more praise than all my other titles combined. God’s timing is perfect. He knew I needed those extra years of growing as an author to do this special story justice.
Lexi’s Last Chance will be published soon. A shy Canadian girl, the only one not invited to her high school graduation party, moves to the United States . . . and vows to become someone who will gain respect from those who persecuted her. Among my favorite titles.
10. Most of us know you as a successful novelist, but during your career as a writer, you have written much more than novels. What other ways have you been published?
Over 1,300 short stories and articles in magazines, mostly Christian, as well as many inspirational gift books, especially Walking with the Master (God’s provision and protection all the days of my life). From Lamplight to Limelight, Journey of Joy, written at students’ requests, shows how God multiplied the “someday” book I wanted to write as a child and led me to become a best-selling author.
11. Have any of your books been translated into other languages? If so, which ones?
Several of my older books have. A Gold Star for Eric, the true story of a little boy who lived with my parents and me from age 8 to 18, started out as a short stories serial in church weekly take-home handouts. In 1989, the stories became a book, which later was translated into Spanish and Portuguese. The Portuguese edition has sold over 28,000 copies and continues to touch lives for Christ throughout Brazil.
12. You are advanced in years, Colleen, yet still writing strong! What is an important piece of advice you can give to young writers who would like to emulate your success?
Yes, I’m 86 on the outside but always young on the inside! Advice? Learn all you can about the craft of writing. I never had the opportunity to take writing classes and workshops, although starting in 1979 I began teaching them (from having developed expertise in the field). I was fortunate in having editors who saw potential in me and went out of their way to mentor me. Unfortunately, editors today can’t or won’t take time to mentor beginning authors.
Find yourself someone with whom to share. For over 25 years, Mrs. Marlow and I have brainstormed, and monitored each other’s work. Most importantly: Write what you feel God wants you to write and never compromise your ideals in order to get published.
The best test of any manuscript is whether you would be proud to show it to Jesus.
Thank you so much, Miss Colleen Reece, for taking your time to share with us. I loved your interview and I hope other readers enjoyed it too!
If you have a question for Miss Reece, leave a comment. She is a follower of Andi’s blog and I’m sure she’ll see your comment and take time to answer.