Focus on Fiction is pleased to feature
Rene is a wife, mother, basketball player, best selling author, and a playwright with over thirty dramas published. She studied screenwriting under a Mass Communications degree, graduating Magna Cum Laude from Oklahoma City University, and earning the "Excellence in Mass Communication" award. Besides her writing, she enjoys directing plays, and instructing at writer's conferences and in college classrooms. She lives with her husband, Sean, a musician, and their children in Oklahoma City.
Focus: Rene, can you start out by telling us how you began your writing career? Did you choose writing? Or did writing choose you?
Rene Gutteridge: Writing chose me, but I was happy to come along. I've loved writing ever since I discovered I could write! When I went to college, I thought I'd choose a 'stable' career so I tried Broadcast Journalism, but realized I definitely could not do that for the rest of my life, which is when I decided to pursue screenwriting. While studying screenwriting, my professor suggested I try writing a novel, to which I said, "Why would I want to mess with all that descriptive stuff?" But he urged me, so I did, and ended up really liking the process.
Focus: How many books have you published so far?
Rene Gutteridge: Four books. The fourth, The Splitting Storm, is coming out June 1st. My first was Ghost Writer, second was Troubled Waters, third was Boo. And later this year comes Boo Who, which will be number five.
Focus: The last books you mention are part of a great new series, one I'll affectionately title the 'Boo Trilogy', that you're releasing with Waterbrook Press. Can you give our readers a quick synopsis of the first book, Boo, and a sneak peek at what they have to look forward to in book two, Boo Who?
Rene Gutteridge: Boo is about horror novelist Wolfe Boone (affectionately called "Boo" by the townspeople) who decides to convert to Christianity after he realizes his life is very empty. Problem is, the town he lives in, Skary, Indiana, is a tourist trap because of their famed resident. So the town plots to change Boo's mind, and in the process, they are changed themselves. There's a great love story in this book, too.
Readers can read the first chapter of Boo, here.
Boo Who is the continuing saga of the town of Skary and their now not-so-famous resident, Wolfe Boone. It seems everyone in town, including the town itself, is having an identity crisis. Wolfe is trying to figure out if he has it in him to sell used cars. His fiancé, Ainsley, believes she is destined to become the next Martha Stewart. And then there are all these weird, creepy people wandering around town that nobody can explain. Skary is trying to decide what kind of town it should be, now that it is no longer a tourist trap for the dark side. Comedic chaos ensues as everyone tries to find out what exactly their purpose is in life.
And believe it or not, there may be a third book: Boo Hiss. Somebody stop me!:)
Focus: Ainsley Parker is faced with a serious challenge of her beliefs when Wolfe accepts Christ. Has God ever used someone to similarly challenge your ideas or beliefs?
Rene Gutteridge: Everyday! Which is why I wrote the book. Just when we think we have it all figured out, God shows us someone that breaks all the rules. My horizons are gradually being expanded, and I'm seeing the great love God has for all different kinds of people, and how much he uses people who we may consider not 'usable' by God's standards. And the fact of the matter is, everyone falls short. It's a lovely thing, though, to see and be open to the work God is doing all around us, even if it doesn't meet our man-made standards.
Focus: I come from a town that boasted it's own 'Roadkill Café', but Scary, Indiana definitely tops that with the Haunted Mansion restaurant. Where, oh where did you get your inspiration for that fabulous restaurant menu?
Rene Gutteridge: The dark side of my mind:) And I interviewed a lot of eight-year-old boys.
Focus: Besides your upcoming book, Boo Who, you also mentioned The Splitting Storm, a fantastic novel you have coming out with Tyndale House Publishers. Can you tell us a little about the story?
Rene Gutteridge: The Splitting Storm is the first book in a series for Tyndale. It follows the character of Mick Kline, who is an FBI agent. When Mick's brother is murdered, Mick is put on administrative leave because he becomes obsessed with his theory of who is behind the murder. Tracking clues that take him to Bakerville, Texas, he confronts a woman whose sight was impaired two years prior when she was attacked and her husband was killed. Mick believes she holds the key to the killer's identity, but she seems to be harboring her own secrets as well.
Next up will be Storm Gathering, the prequel, and then Storm Surge.
Readers can get a sneak preview of The Splitting Storm, here.
Focus: Mick Kline, in The Splitting Storm, has a penchant for chasing tornados. I imagine living in Oklahoma may have given you the chance to see some interesting storms, but have you ever chased one?
Rene Gutteridge: Not really, though I have been known to step outside my house when everyone else is running for shelter. Chasing tornadoes is really dangerous, but I have studied tornadoes and storm chasers pretty extensively. I love all of it. And living in Oklahoma, we see tons of tornadoes every year. The most powerful tornado ever recorded in history (May 3rd, 1999) missed my house by only a few miles and destroyed an entire part of our city. The tornado was more than a mile wide and stayed on the ground for hours. It wiped out an entire town in Oklahoma. Then it moved into Oklahoma City. Forty-four people died that day, but it could've been much worse.
I'm pretty much obsessed with the weather. In fact, last week in my son's preschool class, the teachers were asking all the kids what their mom's favorite TV show is, and my son answered, "The weather!" He knows me well. I hardly ever miss the weather report, especially during the spring, which is our tornado season. All of it completely fascinates me. I've seen the movie Twister about thirty times.
Focus: Oklahoma is also the place where a terrible bombing took place. Can you tell us what happened after that bombing to the disk that held the original manuscript for your book, Troubled Waters?
Rene Gutteridge: The original was destroyed in the Oklahoma City bombing. I worked next door to the Murrah Building and my office was on the second floor of the church. Our church was massively damaged, and the FBI seized our building for use as a morgue but also for evidence. The manuscript was on a disk, and when I finally got to go back into the building a few weeks later, the disk had vanished, along with a few other things. I've always said somewhere out there is an FBI agent moonlighting as a novelist!
Focus: In general, how many hours do you spend researching and writing your books? And did writing Ghost Writer take you longer because of the triple-story within the plot?
Rene Gutteridge: I spend anywhere from ten to twenty hours a week writing and researching. It depends on the book I'm writing, of course, and the kind of deadline I have. The FBI books take a lot of research. And yes, Ghost Writer did take a long time to write. It was my first novel, I had a five-week-old baby when I started it, and like you said, the triple story within the plot was very involved.
Focus: What do you feel is the greatest message with which God has entrusted you, and why have you chosen fiction as the medium for that message?
Rene Gutteridge: Hmmm, good question, but not an easy one. I feel the greatest message I have to offer is Christ's love, but I don't just offer that through my stories. I feel God is very concerned with my ministry as a human being, and he wants me to conduct my life in a way that portrays Christ's love. My books are always filled with a Christian worldview, but they're not five point sermons. They're simply stories, and people get out of them many times what they bring with them. I think fiction is so powerful because three different people can get three different messages out of the same story depending on where they are in their lives. I truly trust the power of storytelling coupled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and I feel comfortable relying on those two things to bring the message that is supposed to come, no matter what that message may be. In fact, I try to step aside and let the stories speak for themselves.
Focus: You write stories that keep us laughing, crying, and flipping pages late into the night. But you also have another hobby--basketball! Can you tell us how a game of HORSE introduced you to one of the top editors in Christian fiction during a writer's conference?
Rene Gutteridge: It goes like this: an editor was talking about his glory days in high school when he played basketball, and I mentioned I played basketball when I was in high school too. Long story short, we decided to play HORSE and I beat him. Three times in a row. I was pregnant at the time. And a foot shorter than him, too. For the purpose of this story, to protect his identity and his pride, I've chosen to change his name from Steve Laube to Bob Laube.
Focus: Other than basketball, you're also an avid reader. Do you have any favorite authors? If so, could you name a few of them?
Rene Gutteridge: I like to read a wide variety of authors and genres. Recently I've read Neta Jackson, Kristin Billerbeck, Ted Dekker, and Sharon Dunn. With two kids, though, I don't get as much reading time as I would like.
Focus: In addition to sending you e-mail and posting reviews of your stories on Amazon, are there any other ways your readers and fans can encourage you?
Rene Gutteridge: Prayer is so powerful, and I covet prayers. I know most Christian writers do. I truly feel the power of prayer in my life, and in fact have a prayer team that prays for my writing on a regular basis. Buying my books doesn't hurt either!
Focus: Is there anything else you would like your readers to know?
Rene Gutteridge: How much I love God! And how thankful I am to have Christian readership. Christian fiction readers are a special group of people, and I pray you will continue to be blessed by the stories you read. I hope, too, that all of you would continue your great support of Christian fiction. I truly believe we're changing lives.