7q - Alanna Rusnak
Thank you so much to Ms Alanna Rusnak for agreeing to answer my questions about the writing process of her phenomenal book The Church in the Wildwood! (Click the image to purchase on Amazon)
1. There are a lot of religious elements that your story is wrapped around. What kind of research did you do to capture the spiritualism accurately?
I read about real polygamist cults and their leadership systems, but I didn’t depend heavily on research because I didn’t want the world I created to be too closely reminiscent of any actual event. I wasn’t interested in a narrative that was ‘stolen from the headlines’ so I did my best to imagine a believable religion that twisted typical Christian values into a corrupt and damaging theology. Having been raised by conservative Christians and holding to much of those same values now as an adult, I am quite familiar with the teachings of the Bible. It wasn’t hard for me to take that foundation I was raised on and twist it into something vulgar for the sake of fiction.
2. What did you find to be the best method for keeping track of your timeline with your dual perspectives?
I have a little room in my house devoted to my writing and on the back of the door I had a puzzle of sticky notes that were constantly in motion as I figured out what went where and what happened when. When I started writing, I knew I wanted the main storyline to take place in the 70s. From there I had to calculate earlier dates based on ages. It was confusing chaos for a long time.
3. How long did it take you to write The Church in the Wildwood?
I began in November of 2014. I wrote the first draft during the first month. After many edits and rewrites I had it ready for my first beta readers in January of 2016. After more rewrites and two more rounds of readers, I had it ready to launch in May of 2017.
4. Did you visit any locations specifically to set the scenes?
I didn’t, though the fictional small town of Fallmoore is based on my own hometown. The site of the polygamist commune is based on an abandoned ski resort I once visited, and which I did return to, but not until after the book came out. It was an eerie experience to stand in the spot where I’d made such horrible things happen.
5. Were there any particular authors or books/stories that kept you inspired throughout?
I was so focused on the story I was creating that I don’t remember if I read anything during the time I was writing it. I run a Monday night writer’s group and I think they were my biggest inspiration. They cheered me on and put up with me when I needed to talk through character or plot problems.
6. In moments when The Church in the Wildwood refused to cooperate, what encouraged you to keep writing to the end?
Pure stubbornness! I had wanted to be a published author as long as I can remember. Fear held me back for way too long, and when I finally decided enough was enough, I wasn’t about to let anything stop me. I was public about my journey, posting regular updates on my website and on social media. It helped to have a tribe of people who knew what I was up to, because I was terrified I’d have nothing to share if one of them asked how it was going. They kept me accountable, and honestly, that’s probably the only reason I was able to finish. There were days when I was convinced I was writing garbage, but I did it anyway because I decided garbage writing was better than the no-writing I’d been doing all those years before.
7. How do you want this story to affect people?
I want people to be a little uncomfortable with the story. It deals with a lot of heavy issues—abuse, spirituality, corruption, suicide, prostitution—but it’s also about perseverance, hope, and family. I hope it encourages people to look a little deeper before they pass judgement, to understand that a person’s past will inform their future but doesn’t have to rule it, and that redemption is available to those who are patient and bold enough to wade through the darkness. This is not a neat and tidy story, but neither is life. There is great beauty in the brokenness if we’re willing to stop and look.
If anyone has additional questions for this incredible author, please let me know and I'll pass them on!