Time to get to know Marita “Mari” Thelander – whose beautiful and poignant entry, “Hail Mary,” took second place in the 2012 Writing Challenge Best of the Best competition. Join me as I chat with Mari about writing, FaithWriters, and her life in general.
JOANNE: First of all, congratulations! Tell us a bit about how you found out you were second place in Best of the Best. How did you react?
MARITA: Thanks, Jo. I could almost hear you WOOHOOing me!
On July 1st, my phone chimed early in the morning with a Facebook notification. Lisa Mikitarian congratulated me for being a winner but she failed to say what I was a winner of. :-/ Not long after, I received a text from Laury Hubrich letting me know I won 2nd place for BoB. I didn’t even realize I had an entry in the BoB contender list. How lame is that? I spent the next hour getting ready for early choir practice at church in a bit of a shocked daze. I couldn’t even remember the story. How crazy is that?!
JOANNE: Sounds like quite a shock – I think I wouldn’t have minded being a fly on YOUR wall that day! You’ve been a BoB contender before, but this is the first time you’ve placed. And you’ve entered the Writing Challenge over one hundred times! How has the Challenge helped your writing?
MARITA: Over one hundred times? Seriously? Wow. That sounds almost obsessive. But none of us at FW are obsessive, right? (Nod and smile, Jo.)
When I first started submitting for the Challenges, I wanted to see if I “could” write. Every time I began on an idea for a novel I would stop and think, “I’m wasting my time. I’m not really a writer anyway.” FaithWriter’s Challenge entries gave me the platform not only to practice putting my creative thoughts into stories, but to receive valuable input from seasoned authors who have traveled the road ahead of me.
As a beginner, I took my time to read every entry in the masters level each week, observing the way they could make a story come alive. I begged for red ink and many answered my plea to improve and helped nurture me.
JOANNE: And they did a GREAT job of nurturing – your writing is wonderful. God has definitely gifted you. Do you have a process for creating challenge entries? Do you just start typing, or put pen to paper first? How do you narrow down your ideas, and how long does it typically take you from the time you begin to the time you hit the “submit” button?
MARITA: I can’t help but laugh. I remember when it took me the entire week to complete an entry. I used to think about the topic, write notes, jot down ideas, and plan a story. Then I’d send it to my buddy editor (Laury) and wait for her to red ink it. I’d fix it… and fix it some more, and maybe even a bit more before I anxiously submitted on Wednesday night.
Now I often come up with the ending and then work my way towards it. Sometimes I imagine a character before I get a story planned out. Other times I just start writing and see where it goes. I’m pretty random, I guess. Overall, I tend to chew on the story and sit down to hammer it out in one sitting. I still send it to Laury for fresh eyes to catch any errors before I submit it.
I’ve come a long way, Baby!
JOANNE: You certainly have. Your winning entry, Hail Mary, was so creative and evocative. Where did the idea come from? How did the piece come together?
MARITA: Is it bad to say I can’t remember where the idea came from? I wrote Hail Mary almost a year ago!
I do remember feeling a surge of excitement as I was able to intertwine a story within a story. One of the things I’ve learned in writing for the Challenges is how to make the most of 750 words. I try to tell as much story as I possibly can and leave the reader understanding the MC and perhaps allowing them to create their own perspective of the multi-layered story.
JOANNE: You are SO good at squeezing all those layers into 750 words! Have you always enjoyed writing, or is it something that developed later? What is your favorite genre to write in?
MARI: You know…I don’t know.
I do remember a time when my daughter was about 12 years old (about 16 yrs ago). We both were reading a series of historical fictions. I closed a finished book, mildly disappointed in the lack of fresh plot and a lame ending and declared, “I could write a better story than this.” Her response was, “I think you should, Mom.”
I made a stab at it, longhand, in pencil, in a spiral notebook (prior to home computer/internet). What stalled the process was lack of historical knowledge and the inability to research it with confidence. I still have that first attempt at writing…somewhere.
My favorite genre to write in? I know FW has stretched me. I tend to take real life situations and fictionalize them. Almost everything I write has a twinge of true life behind it. Maybe not my own, but someone’s life I’ve witnessed. I think I like to write stories that beg to be told. I know I’m not a sci-fi, horror, fantasy or a mystery writer. I want everything I write to have a realistic feel to it, even if it is fiction. I want my readers to “think” the story is real.
JOANNE: How about reading? What’s your favorite type of book to read? Who are your favorite authors?
MARITA: I’m one of those writers that isn’t a reader. Lame, I know. I should be reading more, but if my choice is to read or write, I always choose to create my own work. Years ago if you asked me this question, I would have said Historical Fiction Romance, hands down. Authors like Janette Oke and Gilbert Morris were always at my fingertips or on my library order.
Now I tend to read new Contemporary Christian Fiction authors on my Nook so I can see what kind of stories have been accepted by publishers. Someday I hope to have my WIP published, but I often wonder if it isn’t a complete waste of time. I’m sure I’m not the only author that struggles with this.
JOANNE: You are DEFINITELY not the only one who struggles with this. I’d wager to say that all of us do, or have, at some point or another. I know you’re very busy outside of writing. Tell us a bit about you, your family, and your ministry.
MARITA: I’m in love. Like, crazy in love. Sometimes I have to remind myself we’re 49 not 19. That’s how fresh and alive our love is. Les and I have been married for over 30 years and have three adult children: Melissa (28), Jacob (25), and Kyle (22).
The last four years I’ve spent a great deal of my time helping raise my five grandkids. They currently rang from age 4-6. The economy has made it such that at times we needed to allow both sets of grandkids (and parents) to live with us. (Not at the same time…whew!) I’ve loved being a part of molding and training them, but I’m thankful for the new kidless season.
My husband is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God. We’ve pastored for over 25 years and are currently pursuing Evangelistic work. We are doing some remodeling of our 1972 Eagle bus conversion and will be on the road much of the summer in ministry. If Les had his way, we’d be traveling all across the country in ministry.
JOANNE: I KNOW your kids appreciated you helping out with the grandkids. And I ADORE your “love story” with Les. What are your hopes and dreams for the future, both personally and professionally?
MARITA: I love writing short story fiction for the instant gratification. FaithWriters satisfies that need. Where else can you hammer out a story and within days know if it was worthy of producing? But I am bad at finishing bigger projects. I get distracted, I lose interest, and I lack drive. I guess my hope and dream is to complete the re-write of my novel I wrote for my 2008 NaNoWriMo project.
Besides writing, I partner with my husband in ministry endeavors. I speak at women’s events/retreats and minister in music. I dabble in blog design and enjoy helping new bloggers find their blog-voice and begin the process of getting their feet wet in the big scary World Wide Web.
JOANNE: Anything else you’d like to share?
MARITA: Hmmm….like… I have a dimple on my right shoulder? Is that what you mean?
If I had an acceptance speech I would include a few names. Can I do that? (absolutely, Mari!)
- My Husband, Les Thelander, for being the patient man that he is and giving me the freedom along with providing me with the tools and time I need to write. (I love my laptop)
- My kids, who have patiently gone from being sermon illustrations for their Dad to story inspirations for me.
- Laury Hubrich, always and forever cheering me on and an excellent edit buddy.
- All my friends and family (this list is thankfully long) who read my work and tell me they like/love it. This feeds the addiction.
- Jan Ackerson, for the invaluable writing tips, lessons, and practical words of encouragement (as opposed to gushy words) when I whined and wanted to just give up because I was stuck in Advanced forever. (or so it seemed)
- Lisa Mikitarian, for confusing me and waking me up at a very early hour on July 1st.
JOANNE: Thank YOU, Marita! Love your acceptance speech, and praying for many more in the future (including when you get that book published!).
If you’d like to read more of Marita’s work, check out her FaithWriters profile here.
Watch this spot in a week or so for an interview with Linda Germain, 3rd place BoB winner!