Christian Book Reviews, Author Interviews, Excerpts

The Cross & the Pen: Playing by Heart

  • Eva Marie Everson Contributing Writer
  • 2003 18 Sep
The Cross & the Pen: Playing by Heart

Welcome to "The Cross & the Pen,"'s author-to-author interview column! My sweet friend, Deborah Raney, and I recently shared food at a lovely banquet...including the most delicious dessert. Bemoaning the fact that we'd be sorry later, we delighted in sharing with each other the raptures of every single bite. Afterward, we found a nice little cubbyhole to sit in...and to chat about her latest work, "Playing by Heart" (Barbour 2003). I had to admit to Deborah that I wasn't sure I'd get to read the whole book (even though it's short) before we met...however, as soon as I picked it up, I was hooked! Naturally, this tickled Deb!

Want to hear the rest of what we had to say?

Eva: "Playing by Heart" is the most fun little read! It's called...

Deborah: ...a gift novella.

E: Oh, I like that. A gift novella. It's about 30,000 words. It's just a great read and I think that if someone were making a gift basket this would be the perfect addition.

D: Oh, right! It does have a real gift feel. I call it a romantic comedy because several people have said it made them laugh out loud.

E: I definitely did!

D: It's different from what I typically write – the heart-gripping. This is a more fun read....

E: Okay, let's just start with the title. What was the inspiration?

D: It was kind of a situation where the woman falls in love with someone she's never officially met and so she has to learn to trust her heart. She and this man exchange notes...but she thinks that he is 80 years old! Now I don't want to give too much of the story away, but the main character plays a piano. Her mother always said, "You don't read music. You play by heart." So, it just made a natural title.

E: Did you have a title before you started?

D: It came to me as I was writing. In fact I didn't have the piano in the story, even when I turned it into my publisher. They couldn't quite see the connection, so the piano brought it all together.

E: This takes place largely in a bed and breakfast inn. Now, I happen to know – because we are friends – that you went to a b&b to do some of the work for the purpose of inspiration. Tell me about that.

D: The idea for the story came when I went to a b&b to finish another novel I was working on. We still have children at home and things get hectic. I needed to escape from the telephone, the Internet, the doorbell...all of that...and so we have a bed and breakfast about a mile from our house. I called the owner and said, "Do you have a rate for someone who doesn't need the bed and doesn't need the breakfast but just needs a quiet place to write." They said, "It's free. Come. We'd love to have you." So, I got to go to this beautiful Victorian house and just write. The first day I was there, I was at the dining room table working when this HUGE cat comes up the stairs ... which is what happens in the novella. The character is a writer; she goes to a bed and breakfast ... and up the stairs comes a huge cat.

Anyway, I jotted a note to the owners, thanking them for the use of the house and also talking about the cat. We exchanged notes for a few days ... when suddenly the words, "What if ... " came to mind.

E: What if ... Those two words are, for those of us who write novels, are our mantras. "What if ..."

D: Magic words for a writer.

E: What inspired you for your main character?

D: Well, she's a writer and so am I – although unlike Maddie I'm happily married and she's single. And I have to tell you that I hate research, so anytime I can write about what I already know, I do it. I wanted to write about the writer's life. I think a lot of people have our lives romanticized, they don't realize we're just people and writing is really a job. It's hard work. We have challenges just like any other job....

E: Sometimes more. I think sometimes that living up to the dream is the most difficult. Deb, we are inspired every day by everything we see ... so why did you experience this particular thing and think: I'm going to write about this as light-hearted?

D: It's wrenching on the author to write the heart-wrenching words and I just felt it was time to do something a little more light-hearted.

E: But, what are the other differences in writing a novel versus a novella?

D: Probably the main thing is that the author doesn't have time to develop a lot of the story. You can't get the complexity that you get in a novel.

E: I think that's interesting. I think most authors would think the novella would be easier, yet the tone of your voice tells me otherwise.

D: Exactly. In a novella every single word counts. Every single word counts in a novel, too, but it's different. It's not to that extent. With a novel you can go down some bunny trails.

E: And throw in a few red herrings.

D: Yes. That's true. But it's really hard to get your readers to fall in love with a character when you only have 30,000 words; and that's the goal of writing fiction, to get the reader to fall in love with the character and identify with her.

E: So how did you make Maddie lovable?

D: (smiles broadly) Oh, I made her just like me!

(E & D laugh)

D: That was easy!

E: What about Art?

D: Oh, I was in love with Art before I even wrote him! I think the lovable thing about Art is that he is hurting. He's lost his wife and he's hurting. A reader will feel a natural compassion for him. But also, Maddie was exactly what he needed, which the reader would automatically see. Both Maddie and Art had waited a long time for God to do the perfect thing and that's really the point of the book. God's timing is always perfect.

E: What part do you feel that romance fiction plays in furthering the Gospel.

D: God's story – of God and His people – is a romance. We are the bride of Christ. Romance is a perfect reflection of God's relationship to His people. We live in a time when we've forgotten how to cherish the importance of marriage ... how important romance is. We have a lot of secular romances that pervert what God intended romance to be. A lot of Christian romance writers are trying to undo that.

E: Deb, would you pray for those believers who need to be reminded of the Great Romance?

D: Father God, Romance – the love between a man and a woman – is a beautiful gift from Your hand, but every person we love will eventually disappoint us in some way. We praise You, God, that You will never disappoint us for Your love is perfect because you are Love. Help us to embrace Your perfect truth and thus know the Great Romance that has its source only in Jesus Christ. Thank You for loving us when we were unworthy. Thank You for sending Your son, Who loves us with A love so powerful that He willingly laid down His life for us. Help us to remember, Father, that only Your love can offer what we crave, only Your love can satisfy completely, only Your love will never fail.

We thank you and we praise You in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Eva Marie Everson is also the author of "Shadow of Dreams" & "Summon the Shadows" and an award-winning national speaker. She can be contacted for comments or for speaking engagement bookings at or you can go to