2012 BEST OF THE BEST INTERVIEW
With Allison Egley
FaithWriters 500 member, Allison Egley, has been entering the Weekly Writing Challenge for the past 7 years! She's placed in the top 10, but this year, she made it not only to first place, but to the very top of the top, as the 2012 Best of the Best! Join interviewer, Lynda Schab, as she chats with Allison about her life, her writing, and the sweet taste of victory.
LYNDA: First of all, Allison, congratulations on your win! You've been a FaithWriters member for a long time, and have been entering the Challenge for just as long. With only one contending entry this year, can you even describe how it felt seeing your name on top for the title of Best of the Best?
ALLISON: Thank you! I must say, I am still totally shocked. When Deb posted on the boards a few days before about having determined the winners and that she'd love to see the winners' face when the names were announced, well, my mind grabbed hold of that and would NOT let go. I had to convince myself many, many times throughout the week that no, I did not win, nor did I place in the top three. That way I wouldn't get my hopes up too high. There was always this part of my brain, though, arguing that idea... "You know, there's a chance...." But to actually see my name up there.... Wow. I would say words cannot quite describe how that feels... Amazing. Awesome. Wonderful. But so much more than that, too.
LYNDA: I'm with Deb. I would love to have been a fly on the wall as you checked the names and saw yours in that top slot.
As mentioned, you've been entering the Writing Challenge pretty faithfully for a very long time. In fact, your very first Challenge entry dates back to 2005! In what ways have you grown as a writer in the past seven years?
ALLISON: I have learned so much through FaithWriters! I've gone back to read some of my earlier articles and cringed a bit. There's more than one I sometimes wish would just somehow disappear from my profile. The Challenge has allowed me to experiment with different genres, for one. I have never considered myself a poet, and yet some of my winning entries in the challenge were poems. And this article that won BoB? Well, I'm STILL not sure exactly what genre it is. But I suppose it doesn't matter much, does it? I'd also say I've grown stronger as a writer overall. I've learned how to "show" instead of "tell," I think, but other than that it's hard for me to come up with specific ways I've grown as a writer. But I definitely know I've grown!
LYNDA: Let me ask you about the Challenge in general. Do you have a particular process for entering each week? 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?
ALLISON: Well, coming up with ideas is a process that usually takes most of the week. I often play what I call "The Alphabet Game." I try to think of something associated with the topic for each letter of the alphabet. Usually, if I get to X,Y, or Z (This game is frequently played as I'm trying to fall asleep...) I have one or two pretty good ideas that I try to expand on. Then I'll choose one and write it out. For the writing process itself, I normally just sit down at the computer and start typing. Then I go back and make edits, but usually my final draft is pretty similar to the first draft. After that, I'll have someone read it through to check for major problems, I'll do a few more quick edits, and hit the "submit" button. Oh, and at some point in the mix, there is usually prayer.
LYNDA: Prayer is very important, for sure! Your winning entry, Upload Complete, was such a creative piece. Was there something particular that sparked this idea?
ALLISON: You know, it's funny you should ask that question. I was thinking about that the other day, "just in case." But I was sure I wouldn't need to explain.... *rolls eyes* : I told my Challenge buddy that the idea just kind of popped into my head during work. But if I recall correctly, I developed the idea further later that night, after choir practice. It was almost December, and we had been going over Christmas music. So as I was driving home, I looked up to the sky and thought about the Star of Bethlehem that led the Magi to Jesus. I thought about God "uploading" it to earth. The idea just expanded from there. The warnings included in the piece were almost an afterthought, but they were the most fun to write. At first I was trying to come up with actual computer warnings and options. But then I figured, "Hey, this is God's computer system," and started playing around and having fun with it.
I honestly did not expect this piece to do well in the Challenge at all, let alone win BoB! I asked my Challenge buddy if I should even continue writing it. I thought it was too crazy and off the wall to resonate with people. I was afraid it would be one of those entries where the judges would read it and think, "Well, it's creative, but...." Fortunately, the judges thought it was more than just "creative." I have always been over-critical of myself, and sometimes I need an extra nudge or reassurance. So thanks, Challenge buddy (you know who you are), for encouraging me to keep going with it and enter it!
LYNDA: Well, we are all glad you entered it, Allison. It truly is extremely creative-and too fun! So what would you say is your favorite genre to write? And in what genre would you classify Upload Complete?
ALLISON: One of my favorite genres to write and read is Biblical fiction, which I suppose "Upload Complete" could fall under. I also love writing humor and scripts/plays. The scripts also usually involve humor of some sort. I also write general fiction. I occasionally dabble in other genres, and have been using poetry more frequently, though, as I mentioned earlier, I do not consider myself to be a poet!
LYNDA: What about your favorite genre to read? Who are some of your favorite authors?
ALLISON: In addition to Biblical fiction, I love historical fiction, especially regarding slavery and the Holocaust. They are often hard to read about, but they have always fascinated me. I am also reading more sci-fi and fantasy. Currently, one of my favorite authors is Andrew Peterson. He's also my favorite singer/songwriter. He has a series of fantasy books for children/teens (though as an adult, I LOVE them) called "The Wingfeather Saga." He writes about a family who gets caught up in the hunt for the "Jewels of Anniera." In their quest to find the jewels, they find themselves in more danger than they ever thought possible. The children begin to wonder if this quest is even worth it. When they find the truth, they are amazed at what it means for them and their family. I also enjoy Karen Kingsbury, Dee Henderson, Beverly Lewis, and Terri Blackstock, among others.
LYNDA: Is writing something you've always been interested in or did your love for it come gradually? What is the first thing you remember writing?
ALLISON: This is such an interesting question for me, and I always have to laugh a bit when I answer it. I think that maybe I've always been a writer but just didn't know it. The first things I remember writing are English assignments in elementary school. I always got good grades in English, but I just thought I was a good student. I liked writing, but again, I liked school in general. I have always loved learning, and to this day, I consider learning to be a hobby of mine. So I think I've always been a good writer, but it wasn't until my junior year in college that I really made the connection.
I was taking an English course as my "Senior Seminar" elective. I wasn't even supposed to take the course until my senior year, but due to the demands of field experience and student teaching, it was recommended that all education majors take their "Senior Seminar" course one year early. That course was team-taught by an English professor I'd had before, Dr. Hamblin, and another professor, Dr. Azuma. I had stayed behind one day to tell Dr. Hamblin that I didn't meet the prerequisites for the course, based on my number of credit hours. He looked at me and said "Allison, I know you. You'll be fine." Then he turned to Dr. Azuma and said, "Have you met Allison Egley? I've had her in class before, and she's a good writer." I remember standing there in shock. A college English professor had just called me a "good writer," and to another professor, nonetheless! That is the moment it finally clicked that I was more than just a good student. I was a good writer.
Shortly before this, I had written a story, Except God, for an anthology about songs that have touched lives. It was never published in the book. But after the comment from Dr. Hamblin, I decided maybe there was something to this whole "writing" thing, so I started looking for a place to post that article. I found FaithWriters through a Google search, and I entered the Challenge. Except for a break during my student teaching, I have been writing ever since.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of telling Dr. Hamblin how much the statement he made had meant to me, and was able to give Dr. Hamblin a signed copy of "Hidden in the Hymns," the FaithWriter's anthology which contains my very first Editors' Choice story.
LYNDA: Very cool! I love hearing testimonies like that. What a wonderful feeling it must have been to be publically praised by your professor! What is your day job now?
ALLISON: Though I was an education major, I'm not teaching. I work for the State of Missouri with Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). VR is a job networking program for people with disabilities. I am the "Intake Specialist," which means I do the initial interview for services. When clients come through the door, I interview them to figure out what their disability (or disabilities) is/are, how that impacts their ability to work, and what types of services they are interested in. We take clients with any type of disability, including mental disabilities, such as depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia; cognitive disabilities, such as learning disabilities; and we also work with people with substance abuse problems. As I'm sure you can imagine, I meet some interesting people on the job! I also find it somewhat ironic that, at least in the state of Missouri, VR is under the department of education. So here I am, an elementary education major who has never taught, yet I technically work for the state department of Education. I also find it interesting that this job involves medicine, at least in a round-about way. I've always been interested in medicine and disabilities, partially because of the medical problems I've been through myself. God has a sense of humor!
LYNDA: Totally sounds like a God-thing to me! So where does writing fit in? Is there a particular time of day when you feel most creative? Do you write every day or is it more sporadic?
ALLISON: I write during the evening and at night. I sacrifice sleep to write, which I probably shouldn't do as often as I do. Unless you count writing my reports at work, I definitely do not write every day. Right now I write almost exclusively for the FaithWriters challenge, so I write about once a week. I really should look into expanding my repertoire, I suppose...
LYNDA: What do you do for fun?
ALLISON: Besides writing, I mostly play around on the internet. : I read some, but not as much anymore. I love watching Cardinals baseball on TV... 2011 World Series Champs!! (Sorry. Had to give a shout-out...) I also love working with children. This summer, I am involved with a children's musical at my church, involving 50 to 60 kids. It is always so much fun to watch the musical come alive and watch the kids catch on and learn the lessons involved in the musical. I also love music (as if that weren't somewhat obvious by my some of my other answers). I used to play piano and clarinet, but I haven't touched the clarinet in over 10 years, and I only tinker around on the piano about once per year. I also love to sing. That's pretty much it these days. So to summarize, my main hobbies are surfing the internet and music. And I usually listen to music while I surf the internet. :
LYNDA: Tell us a little about your family. Any other writers in the mix? And are they supportive of your writing?
ALLISON: I live with my parents and one of my brothers, and I have another brother and a sister-in-law who live in Maine. My parents are both retired, but my dad was an English major and a technical writer, and my mother was a teacher, and she still takes substitute teaching jobs on occasion. My oldest brother has also had a few things he's written published in school literary magazines and the like. My family is definitely supportive of my writing, though my mom does come by my room occasionally and, if it's late, reminds me that I don't have to enter the challenge EVERY week.... ;) I love my family, and they have been amazingly supportive of me, not only in my writing, but in every aspect of my life. God has blessed me with wonderful Christian parents who show me what a Christian marriage is supposed to look like. They have brought me and my siblings up in a loving Christian home. We have never known a time where we didn't know God's love, and all of us have come to a personal saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, thanks to the foundation laid by our parents.
LYNDA: Your family sounds wonderful. And an "English major and writer" and "teacher"? You've clearly come by your gifts and talents honestly!
What are your hopes and dreams for the future, both personally and professionally?
ALLISON: I would love to get married and have a family one day, though I have also begun to realize that if that is not God's plan for me, that's okay with me too. God has already turned my professional life around in a way I didn't expect, so I'm not really sure what to say about that. I honestly think writing will remain just a hobby, but you never know. I know I want to get my Master's degree one day, perhaps in counseling. I can see many ways I could use that, either in my current job, or in other ways. I can't say my life has been predicable by any means, and I've found the best thing to do is to cling to Christ and His promises and hold on! He'll give you the ride of your life. It may not be what you expect, but it WILL be for the best, even if we can't see it.
LYNDA: What a note to end on, Allison. Wonderful advice! And as you said earlier, you weren't expecting this win, but God had different plans! And I, for one, couldn't be more thrilled for you. Wishing you the very best in every avenue you pursue. Enjoy the 2012 Best of the Best crown. It is well-deserved!
To learn more about Allison, and read more of her work, visit her FaithWriters profile: HERE