Sandra Orchard is a Canadian author whose debut novel, Deep Cover, releases in early September from Love Inspired Suspense.
Janet: Welcome, Sandra, and thanks for taking time to join us. Was it only last year you were a finalist in American Christian Fiction Writers’ Genesis contest for unpublished novels?
Sandra: That was actually in 2008. It led to a number of requests by editors, but no sale.
Janet: It’s a pretty prestigious contest. Well done! And congratulations on your first novel! Tell us a bit about Deep Cover.
Sandra: Maintaining his cover cost undercover cop Rick Gray the woman he loved. Sweet Ginny Bryson never really knew Rick–he never gave her the chance. Not then, and not now, when he’s back with a new alias to gather evidence against Ginny’s uncle. The man’s crimes led to Rick’s partner’s death, and Rick wants justice to be served. But his investigation is stirring up trouble, and Ginny is in the middle of it. Someone wants Ginny to pay the price for what her uncle has done. But how can Rick protect her without blowing his cover, jeopardizing his assignment…and risking both their lives?
Janet: Where did the story idea come from?
Sandra: I wanted to explore the complexities of trying to make a relationship work while living a dual life, compounded by the dangers the undercover life poses to real relationships, as well as to explore the question: Is it possible to be a man of honour and live a life of lies? The Bible says, do not lie. Undercover cops play a vital role in bringing criminals to justice yet they’re faced with the need to lie day in and day out. How does a believer reconcile the two? The original title for the story was Shades of Gray, because Ginny is a black and white kind of person, while Rick lives in shades of gray. But if he’s going to win the girl, he has to realize that there’s no room for shades of gray in his heart.
Janet: The cover’s very attractive—looks like an ocean shoreline. What’s the setting?
Sandra: The series takes place in a fictional town called Miller’s Bay on the shores of Lake Erie in the heart of the Niagara Region of Ontario Canada. The view of the lake is used a number of times in the story to deepen the emotions of the characters. I love the mix of ominous looking clouds and rough waters, with rays of light reaching down. And if you look closely, you’ll see a dove. The dove is a recurring symbol in the book of God watching over them.
Janet: I see the dove now, and I’ll be watching for it when I read Deep Cover. The next title in your Undercover Cops series is Shades of Truth, due out in March 2012. Are you already hard at work on that?
Sandra: I handed in revisions on that manuscript June 1st and am now hard at work on revisions to the third book in the series. That one’s tentatively called Dose of Deception, and it will release later in 2012.
Janet: Good, more books to come…. The Novels page on your website gives sneak peeks at your upcoming Undercover Cops novels, but it also lists two unpublished manuscripts: Escape to Terror won the prestigious Daphne du Maurier (unpublished) award, and Murder by Marigolds which is looking for a publisher. They’re all intriguing, and I hope we’ll get the chance to read them some day.
I’m impressed by the endorsements you’ve received from respected writers in the Christian fiction field. What’s the path to publication been like for you?
Sandra: Writing is an emotional rollercoaster ride, from the thrills of editor requests and contest wins to the disappointment of rejections and criticisms from readers. But God always gave me just enough encouragement to persevere. I have met so many wonderful people, made dear friends, learned tons about writing, people, and life. While in the throes of wondering if I’d ever sell a manuscript, I longed for validation for the tremendous time and effort I was pouring into my novels. But I am so glad that God made me wait for that first coveted contract. I still have much to learn, but I am far better equipped to meet the challenges of writing to a deadline now than I would’ve been if I’d sold my first manuscript.
Janet: That encourages me as I continue waiting for a publisher. God’s timing is everything, and there’s definitely lots to learn. Back to Deep Cover, what do you want readers to take away when they’ve finished the book?
Sandra: Everyone is in a different place physically, emotionally and spiritually and what each of us get from any book we read will be as different as we each are. What drew me to inspirational fiction was the hope I felt in seeing characters grapple with a lot of the same kind of issues I was facing in my life and experience victory. Some stories cause me to rethink how I look at things, or give me hope that circumstances will improve, and some prompt me to make changes in my life, while some are simply a few hours of pleasant escape. I would be thrilled to know that in some small way my readers are touched by the experiences of Rick and Ginny.
Janet: Are you a writer who likes to immerse herself in details of the setting while incubating the story idea?
Sandra: Setting is one of the most difficult things for me to write so I probably don’t do this enough. But I did go sit by the lake to watch and listen and inhale the scents, while brainstorming metaphors that related the setting to the characters emotions. Restaurants are another great place where I find myself absorbing story ideas. People do a lot of quirky things in restaurants. <grin>
Janet: In your research, what’s the weirdest bit of trivia you’ve picked up?
Sandra: I’m not sure it qualifies as weird, but while doing research for my murder mysteries I discovered a lot of cool ways to kill people that are difficult to trace. Hee, hee, hee.
Janet: I’ll try to stay on your good side! Is there a particular song or Scripture verse that’s made a big difference for you?
Sandra: Hebrews 10:35-36 “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”
Janet: Definitely a good verse for perseverance! What do you like best about the writing life?
Sandra: I don’t have to drive to work.
Janet: What do you like least?
Sandra: The criticisms.
Janet: What do your family think of your writing?
Sandra: They are incredibly supportive. My youngest daughter (18) is a writer, too, already published in magazine articles and short stories. She’s a wonderful critiquer. My eldest daughter helps me with my website. And my son and hubby don’t complain about the dust bunnies or late dinners when I get caught up writing a scene. In fact, when my hubby is home during the day, he’ll always make me lunch, and when I’m really caught up in writing, he’ll offer to order a pizza for supper. <grin>
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?
Sandra: I got a Kindle last year for Christmas and I love to read books on it. At 44 my eyes aren’t reading the small print in books as well as they used to. Every week I download the latest “free” offerings that appeal to me so I’ve found myself reading a much wider variety of novels than I used to. I do love the fast pace of Love Inspired Suspense, and am thoroughly enjoying the historical line. Generally, I like to read novels that have a little more going on than just a straight romance.
Janet: What are you listening to?
Sandra: I can’t write with music playing in the background so I don’t listen to much. The one exception is a Robert Alexander CD I picked up called Happiness. It has easy-to-listen-to piano solos that I don’t associate with any lyrics so they don’t distract me. I find them very soothing.
Janet: What do you like to do to get away from it all?
Sandra: I love to go to the lake. There’s something about the smell of the air and the sound of the waves lapping on the shore that soothes the soul.
Janet: What’s the most surprising/ zany thing you’ve ever done?
Sandra: At university, my roommate and I snuck into the room of one of the men in the same dorm as my now-husband and magic-markered tops on a poster he had on the wall of women riding bikes topless. He was so not impressed!
Janet: Not “deep cover” but cover of a sort! Thanks so much for taking time to let us get to know you a bit, Sandra. May the LORD continue to bless you and make you a blessing to others—in every area of your life.
I caught up with Sandra for a chat at Write! Canada this June. Thank you to Ray Wiseman for taking our photo. Stop by Sandra Orchard’s website to learn more about the author. You can also find Sandra at her blog, Conversations About Characters, or on Facebook.