Oklahoma author Carla Stewart came to writing later in life than most, after a career in nursing, raising four sons and becoming a grandmother. In 2002, Stewart earned the opportunity to travel to Rye, New York to attend Guidepost’s Writers Workshop. She wrote articles that later appeared in Guideposts, Angels on Earth, Saddle Baron, and Blood and Thunder: Musings on the Art of Medicine.
Looking back, Stewart says, “Having articles published in Guideposts was a real boost to my writing resume when I switched to writing novels and those credits also caught the eye of agents whom I queried. From going to writing conferences and reading agent blogs, I decided early on that I would try to get an agent before sending my work to publishers. The wisdom of that is that once a publisher has rejected your work, your agent has fewer options for submission, and a few years ago, the only way to get your foot in the door at major publishers was with an agent. That is less true today with the variety of new publishing avenues, but it is still helpful to have an agent pave the way.”
While Stewart will always be indebted to the writer’s group Tulsa NightWriters for their support and the early critiques on what would become her first published novel, it was a new writing group in Tulsa – Writers of Inspiration Novels (WIN) – a local chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) – where she made the “agent” connection at one of their annual conferences.
“I had won a couple of unpublished writing awards through ACFW’s Genesis contest which I think helped a lot, too,” the author reflected. “An agent requested my work which he passed to an associate, and she’s the one who eventually offered representation. The process was not fast – about a year and a half from the initial contact until I was represented. My agent sold my book seven months after I signed with her in a two-book deal.”
In 2011, Stewart’s first novel, Chasing Lilacs, was published. The novel was a 2011 Finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award and winner of the 2011 Best Fiction Book for the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. It chronicles the struggles a young girl encounters when trying to recover from her baby sister’s death and mother’s suicide in the 1950’s in East Texas.
Now, in 2014, Stewart’s writing has earned her a spot as Oklahoma Book Award Finalist three more times for her books Broken Wings, Stardust and Sweet Dreams. All of her books have also been named Pulpwood Queen books.
Broken Wings explores the unusual relationship forged between two women in the Jazz Age in Tulsa. One woman is a retired performer whose husband has retreated into Alzheimer’s and the other is a young woman who is dating a volatile man running for district attorney.
According to Nicole Seitz, author of Beyond Molasses Creek, “In Stardust, Stewart writes honestly about family – the good, the bad and the unexpected – and about the choices we make – to hold on to our past hurts or to unshackle our lives with forgiveness.” The book follows a woman who starts over after burying an unfaithful husband.
In Sweet Dreams, Stewart examines the friendship of two female cousins who end up at an East Texas charm school together in 1962. One is the daughter of a self-made millionaire oilman who has never wanted for anything and the other has been traveling with her bohemian mother for longer than she would like. Although the charm school is not what the cousins were expecting, more serious problems arise when they both fall for the same young man.
Stewart’s agent reads all of her writing, but she doesn’t critique it beyond the proposal stage which usually includes the first three chapters. “I’ve been fortunate in that my editor has a hands-on approach in helping with the flow of the story and/or character development early in the project so I’ve not relied so much on critique partners for the last couple of books,” Stewart states.
The author’s most recent book, The Hatmaker’s Heart, was released earlier this year. The book is set in the Jazz Age – the 1920’s. In it, readers get to know Nell, an apprentice hat designer at a prominent millinery shop in New York City. When her hat designs begin to become popular, her boss holds her back from public scrutiny because of the stutter she has struggled with since childhood. As Nell’s designs continue to attract attention, she has an opportunity to make hats in London for a royal wedding. After arriving in London, she sees an old friend and a spark ignites. She has to decide how much she wants to sacrifice for her dreams and what those dreams truly are.
“I’m a huge advocate of rich settings and do quite a lot of research to establish authenticity,” Stewart explains. “I love to visit the settings if at all possible, but if not, I read widely about the area, watch movies or documentaries, and read novels or periodicals from the era. My current novel and the next one are set in the Roaring Twenties which was a new era for me, so I’ve been quite busy learning all I could about the glorious Jazz Age – and it was wild and glorious!!”
She added, “I often take two or three unrelated ideas and weave them into a story which is a little like connecting the dots to see what I come up with. Almost always, the setting and/or situation comes to mind first, but as I’m mulling that over, characters appear on the horizon, fully formed.”
Stewart specializes in stories with a nostalgic flare for times gone by. She also tends to write stories about main characters who are at some kind of crossroads in their lives and how finding a good relationship or friendship can bring redemption, healing, direction and guidance.
“As a nurse, I never knew who might walk through the doors of the hospital and require my care, so in the same way, I don’t avoid tough subjects or flawed characters because that’s part of life. Just as not all of my patients recovered so, too, not all of my characters are changed for the better, but I do try to bring a sense of justice to the page. Of course, the main characters have hopefully learned something or grown in the process of three hundred pages, and I do love when I’m able to hit the soft spot of the curmudgeonly characters and see them change,” Stewart said.
For more information, go to www.carlastewart.com