Canadian author and speaker Valerie Comer has a passion for natural food, faith and fiction. In addition to her website and blog, she contributes to at least four other blogs or websites, runs the To Write a Story site (where you can get a free writing course), and writes fiction with a green twist. Her novel, Raspberries and Vinegar, released this month.
Janet: Welcome, Valerie, and congratulations on your new novel!
Valerie: Thanks so much! I’m very pleased to have Jo and Zach’s story out in the wide world, seeking its fortune.
Janet: I like Jo and Zach, and I hope they’ll make a lot of new reader friends. Tell us a bit about Raspberries and Vinegar.
Valerie: It’s a contemporary romance, first in a series called Farm Fresh Romance, in which sweet and tart Josephine Shaw is on a mission to rid the world of junk food and chemicals by promoting local foods and sustainability. Problem is, the reluctant farmer-next-door thinks city life is the simple life.
Janet: I love the series tag line: Farm Lit with sweet simplicity and a bit of zing. What’s farm lit? Is it light humour like chick lit, or more serious?
Valerie: Farm Lit is in its infancy, so only time will tell what nuances the term will come to mean. For the time being, it’s any fiction that is rooted in contemporary farming, living with the growing seasons and in sync with the land. It includes memoirs such as Ree Drummond’s The Pioneer Woman, and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle.
My personal take in Raspberries and Vinegar is within a romantic tale with real, local food on one side and the modern compulsion with fast junk food on the other. And because Jo Shaw is rather opinionated and (perhaps) a bit insensitive to those who disagree with her, I tried to infuse the story with a light, humorous tone—and made sure other characters called her on her attitude from time to time.
Janet: In the wrong hands, Jo could have been overbearing and obnoxious, but you made her a character I could relate to and sympathize with. I think her regrets when she sees she’s overstepped make her human. She’s like the rest of us: she gets carried away by the things she’s passionate about. Where did the story idea come from?
Valerie: It came from my passion for real food. My husband and I live on a small farm where we try to grow the majority of what we consume—vegetables, berries, nuts, meat, and honey. What we can’t grow ourselves, we seek in our valley before buying elsewhere. We’re delighted to live where we can buy local organic grains and a wide array of fruits and vegetables.
Our adult kids are raising our granddaughters on real food as well. Watching them and their peers seek ways to get involved in the growing world of local food and farmers’ markets is where this series germinated.
Janet: This is the beginning of the Farm Fresh Romance series, right? So we’ll be able to follow your characters into other stories?
Valerie: Yes! While Jo is the focus of this first book, you’ll also meet Claire, a chef, and Sierra, a naturopath, as all three young women work together to build their farm. The second story is Claire’s, while the third novel focuses on Sierra. Throughout the series, the reader will get to experience some of the challenges of contemporary farming while enjoying the romantic nature of each woman’s individual story.
Janet: Jo, Claire and Sierra name their farm Green Acres. They’re too young to know about the classic TV show, but am I the only one with the theme music running through her head?
Valerie: You’re not the only one! I had it a few times, too. I guess I never did say how the farm got its name. I’ll have to make sure that goes in a later book.
Janet: You describe yourself as a ruralist, among other things. How does that look in your life?
Valerie: I discovered the word ruralist when I sought out the antonym of the word urbanite. I was simply seeking an unbiased term that referred to someone who didn’t live in an urban setting. Something that included farmers and ranchers but also embraced folks in small rural towns. I was appalled to discover the derogatory terms pinned on those who (obviously) weren’t sophisticated enough to crave the only satisfying option—life in a city.
I’ve never been a city girl and never felt the desire to become one. I cherish elbow room, mountains, valleys, lakes, wildflowers, streams, breezes, trees, and bird calls far more than shopping, museums, operas, or international cuisine.
Ruralist is simply a respectful term for those of us who live in the country. We’re farmers, but not all ruralists are. Still, all of us value the charms of a slower pace more connected with the seasons.
Janet: I like the convenience of suburban living, but it’s things like streams, trees and wind that refresh my spirit. You’re blessed to live in the country. Your author bio says in part, “Valerie and her husband of over 30 years live on a small farm in Canada with assorted cows, chickens, pigs, and bees. They grow much of their own food and preserve vast quantities by canning, freezing, and dehydrating. They are avid supporters of their local farmers’ market, where they sell honey from 75 hives of bees.” When do you find time to write?
Valerie: It’s a challenge!
Janet: What got you started writing?
Valerie: Because farming these days isn’t particularly lucrative, my husband and I have been forced to view it as a lifestyle choice more than as a family-supporting income stream. In 2001, shortly after we bought the farm from his parents, I landed a job at a small town flooring shop. My duties included everything in the store, while my two boss guys did all the measuring, quotes, and installations. Sometimes it would take me mere hours to set up several weeks worth of work for them.
It didn’t take long for me to crave something to do during quiet hours at work, and my boss guys were totally okay with it. They knew there was only so much dusting a gal could do (though I admit I could have done a bit more…) and allowed me space and internet access to work on writing.
For eleven and a half years, the majority of my writing time took place in my carved-out space at the back of the flooring shop around customers, phone calls, salesmen, and delivery trucks. During those years I wrote 11 novels, sold a novella to Barbour, and worked hard on my skills.
In November of 2012, the flooring shop closed and I moved my “office” into a spare room in our farmhouse. It is definitely more challenging to find writing time now that I’m at home, but now I’m addicted. I start by getting up at 6:30 Monday-Saturday to devote the first few hours to my current story or, now in August, to blog-hopping and marketing.
If it’s a rainy day, or Jim is haying, or busy with the beehives, or nothing on the farm is pressing, I’ll head back upstairs, but if the garden, grandkids, or hubby are calling, my office hours may well be closed for the day by mid-morning.
Janet: It took a lot of discipline to get to this spot. Enjoy it! In your research of all things green, healthy and creation-care-oriented, what’s the weirdest bit of trivia you’ve picked up?
Valerie: I don’t know about weird. We became beekeepers four years ago. I’d never given a lot of thought to their specific challenges before, but the bee population is struggling from pesticide use and commercial monoculture. Still, a high percent (some place it at 70%) of the foods we regularly consume require bees for pollination. It’s unbelievable to me that governments aren’t doing more to protect the bees. Some say that if bees disappeared, mankind would have about four years left on the planet. (Hmm, maybe THAT is the weirdest bit of trivia I’ve picked up…)
Janet: Sounds like the plot for a science fiction novel. And it’s incredible that there’s not more talk about what the declining bee population could mean to our food supply. Another question I wanted to ask you: Is there a particular song or Scripture verse that’s made a big difference for you?
Valerie: I love I Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NIV): “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life. You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
Definitely some are called to visibly lead, but it reassures me to know that it’s also biblical to be an introverted ruralist.
Janet: What do you like best about the writing life?
Valerie: I love that I’m doing something creative with my curiosity. It’s a reason to ask questions, learn things, and experiment. Perfect!
Janet: What do you like least?
Valerie: Probably how long it takes to write a novel. Maybe especially how long it takes to REwrite one!
Janet: Writers are told to read widely and voraciously. I think that’s one of the perks of the deal. What are you reading these days?
Valerie: I read a lot of inspirational contemporary romance… and historical if the author’s voice catches me. I read writing and marketing “how to” books as well as farming, gardening, and simple living guides.
Janet: Thanks so much for taking time to let us get to know you a bit, Valerie. May the Lord continue to bless you and make you a blessing to others—in every area of your life.
Thank you, Janet. I love your thoughtful questions. I’m thankful for God’s many blessings, including being here with you and your friends today.
Sweet like Raspberries. Tart like Vinegar.
That’s Josephine Shaw for you: complex yet singleminded. Everyone in nearby Galena Landing, Idaho, has heard her opinions on simple, sustainable living, but what does she really know? After all, she and her two friends are new to farming.
Zachary Nemesek is next door only until his dad recovers enough to work his own farm again. Zach braces for the fall-out when the new neighbors find a mouse invasion but soon discovers Jo has everything under control. Is there anything she can’t handle? Surely there’s more hidden beneath all that vinegar.
Click to read a sample chapter of Raspberries and Vinegar.
A Farm Fresh Romance. This unique farm lit series follows the adventures, romantic and otherwise, of three college graduates who move onto a reclaimed farm where they plan to take the rural area by storm with their sustainable lifestyle and focus on local foods.
Buy Raspberries and Vinegar (includes links to various stores/versions)
Buy through Choose NOW Publishing (includes various links)
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