Alissa Callen currently lives on a small slice of rural Australia in central western New South Wales. She is the author of two novels, Beneath Outback Skies and Down Outback Roads. When Alissa isn’t writing she plays traffic controller to four children, three dogs, two horses and one renegade cow who really does believe the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. After a childhood spent chasing sheep on the family farm, Alissa has always been drawn to remote areas and small towns, even when residing overseas. Once a teacher and a counsellor, she remains interested in the life journeys that people take. She is also partial to historic homesteads and gardens and has been known to drive hours to visit an open-garden. She draws inspiration from the countryside around her, whether it be the brown snake at her back door or the resilience of bush communities in times of drought or flood. You can follow her on Facebook or visit her website for more information.
Monique: Your latest rural love story Down Outback Roads has just been launched. What do readers have to look forward to with this book?
Alissa: Down Outback Roads revisits the colourful and close-knit community of Glenalla that featured in Beneath Outback Skies. There will be familiar faces as well as quirky new characters and animals with plenty of personality. The drought has now broken but the bush community still has many challenges to face, least of all finding the missing backpacking brother of the heroine, Kree Garrett.
Monique: What do you like most about Down Outback Roads?
Alissa: All my stories are special to me because they reflect the real world in which I live. The small town of Glenalla, and the surrounding red earth countryside, is very much based on my local area. From bushranger murals, to an old Cobb and Co. coach station, to a tin hut standing alone and aloof in a canola crop, threads of the central west of NSW are woven into Down Outback Roads. I hope readers enjoy visiting Glenalla as much as I liked bringing this fictional town to life.
Monique: Which is your favourite character from this book, and why?
Alissa: Picking a favourite character is a little like picking a favourite child – impossible – but for this book I’d have to say Ewan Mackenzie was both a challenge, as well as rewarding, to write. Damaged, guarded and closed off from the good things in life, Ewan has an endless road to travel but he does so with strength and determination.
I also have a soft spot for my heroes (and cowgirl heroines) as they embody the ‘cowboy code.’ Life on the land can be challenging and it takes a certain set of timeless values to survive. Ewan needs to be resilient, courageous and honourable. His toughness also needs to be tempered by tenderness. It does also help that he looks good in dust, boots and denim.
Monique: What led you to writing rural romance? What do you think are the best things about this genre?
Alissa: I’m a country girl and have always lived in remote or regional areas so it was natural my imagination played itself out against a rural backdrop. I love writing stories that encapsulate the rural way of life and that pay homage to the resilience of bush communities. I also love the strong heroines in the rural genre (no swooning allowed) and the way the landscape becomes a character in itself.
As for writing romance, a lifetime ago I was a counselor and saw firsthand life doesn’t always deliver a happy ending. So now, no matter what I might throw at my characters, I know there always will be a happily-ever-after.
Monique: Some of your books are set in rural and small-town America. What led to choosing this location?
Alissa: I have lived in rural and small town America so the setting for my Montana-set Wildflower Ranch series is both familiar and personal. The accents might be different, the cowboys and cowgirls might drive pickup trucks and not utes but the small town values that unify and enrich isolated communities remain the same regardless of which hemisphere rural towns are located in.
Monique: How do you feel when you’re about to release a book?
Alissa: Nervous. Writing can be a solitary pursuit and there is a big difference between creating a story in the insular world of a home office and it then going out ‘into the wild’ to be either liked or disliked. Reading is also such an individual experience, what one reader may like another may not enjoy.
Monique: Tell me a bit about your day-to-day life, aside from writing.
Alissa: I live on a small farm and have four children. So in the mornings there are shoes to find, horses to feed, ducks and chickens to be let out and lunches to be made. I write until school pick up and then play taxi until late afternoon. Then there are the evening farm jobs to be done, a dinner to cook and homework to be completed. I also try to sneak in a walk down to the river with the dogs and to find a quiet time to read and recharge.
Monique: What’s your writing process like? Where do you write? Do you need complete silence or can you cope with noise? How do you get into the “zone”?
Alissa: I’m a hybrid-plotter. I plot in broad brush strokes and then pantser my way through filling in the finer details. A title always comes first. For some reason I can’t seem to settle on a plot if I don’t have a title to pin the story on. I write in a home office and generally have my iTunes playlist humming away. Sometimes it can take a while to get into the ‘zone’ so that’s where being slightly addicted to Google helps – there will be something on Pinterest or You Tube that will give my sleepy muse a nudge.
Monique: You’re having trouble writing. What do you do?
Alissa: If a story trickles to a stop I know I haven’t planned it sufficiently or have my character’s motivations drilled down. Often I’ll go for a walk, or do something outside, and it’s then when I’m not thinking about the story, that the words will again flow. I also revisit what I’ve written as sometimes my subconscious has planted story seeds that will provide a new way forward or a character insight that will untangle the plot threads.
Monique: What do you do when you’re having doubts about your writing?
Alissa: I don’t go on good reads or look at reviews. It’s funny how an author can have a raft of positive feedback but it will be one uncomplimentary review that will stay with you.
Monique: What’s the biggest myth about being a writer?
Alissa: That you can retire early.
Monique: Which books have impacted on you in your life?
Alissa: As a child I loved The Silver Brumby series by Elyne Mitchell. As a young adult I was addicted to Louis Lamour and the historical western worlds he created.
Monique: Which authors do you admire the most?
Alissa: I admire all authors. Finishing a book and then releasing it into the world is something that takes courage, resilience and a skill-set that ranges from marketing to accountancy.
Monique: Which book are you reading now?
Alissa: A Scottish medieval by my critique partner that I can’t wait to be out later this year.
Monique: Do you ever skip ahead a few pages or read a book’s ending?
Alissa: All the time. I always read the ending of a book first, but write my own ending last.
Monique: If I came over for dinner now, what would we have to eat?
Alissa: Beef and vegetable kebabs cooked on the barbeque by my sons, garlic bread (my youngest daughter’s favourite food), pavlova (my oldest daughter’s favourite) and red wine (courtesy of my husband).
Thanks for answering my questions, Alissa.