Warm near-Thanksgiving greetings from Marti Pieper in Seneca, South Carolina, where we had our first frost of the season last night. Although I haven’t met Delores Topliff in person, I am so excited to share this author interview. That’s especially true because her upcoming book fits into the “most wonderful time of the year,” which happens to be my favorite season—and my favorite novel-season as well! So without further ado—let’s get started with today’s interview.
Welcome, Delores, to the CAN blog! Please tell us about your book, Christmas Tree Wars.
The son and niece of two feuding Wisconsin Christmas tree farmers come home to boost finances. They enter a contest to supply the White House Christmas tree, but only one can win. As their competition turns to romance, the feuding farmers and town rediscover the reason for the season.
Intriguing! What inspired you to write this book?
One Sunday morning driving on a different Minnesota farm road to church. I saw a row of tall uniform evergreen trees lining one side of the road. On the other, one lone nicely-shaped evergreen tree stood at the edge of a large hayfield. Instantly the Lord gave me the story. The owner of the stately row of trees was to provide an evergreen for a national event. Instead of sacrificing a tree from his handsome row, he cut down and used his neighbor’s sole tree, kind of like the Old Testament prophet Nathan talking with King David about a wealthy man stealing a poor man’s only beloved ewe sheep instead of using his own. Details changed a bit during the tale’s writing, but I’m forever grateful for the story kernel dropping into my heart on that Sunday morning. This has been a fun, lighthearted book to write.
I look forward to reading it too! What’s your favorite scene in this book?
The Epilogue, where the two crusty feuding farmers establish friendship and brainstorm some mischief together.
Perfect! What themes do you return to again and again in your writing?
Individuals on their own, familiar with hard knocks—young people or adults—find their identity and true home and usually a network of friends or family as well.
I love that! Now, why do you love writing?
In third grade when our teacher left the room, I rattled off the rhymed Halloween story I was composing. My classmates loved it. They became my instant approving audience, and I was hooked. In high school, an inspiring teacher started a creative writing class we had to write entry auditions to enter. Her outstanding encouragement and inspiration added more to my life than she realized. I already knew I wanted to be a teacher. After being taught by Jane Weber, I also wanted part of my teaching role to be an English teacher who helped young people discover the freedom that writing and self-expression brings to lives.
So many of us (including me) had teachers who supported and encouraged our writing. What ministries are you involved in, and why?
I did volunteer Bible teaching at a Minnesota women’s penitentiary for a full day or two a month for three years. Since I knew the director and they hadn’t yet adopted curriculum, I got to research and prepare my own. I discovered how very much the Lord loved each of those women and how much each one mattered to him. I’ll never forget the very first day I walked into the back of the large impersonal classroom and saw them sitting in rows near the front with their backs to me. Before we were introduced, I asked the Lord to tell me/show me how He saw each one—and He did!
That’s beautiful. Do you have a “day job” or a previous career? Does it influence what or how you write?
My day job for the last 14-plus years is teaching classes mostly online at the Univ. of Northwestern-St. Paul, Minnesota, where Billy Graham was the second president. I’ve taught university elsewhere longer than that, but this is the door the Lord opened when I moved to Minnesota from Canada. Teaching online is perfect during COVID and/or at times when I travel or “snowbird” in Mississippi. An occupational hazard is that I have to be careful my writing goes beyond teacher-type delivery to fully connect with and stir readers.
That’s fantastic! Tell us about your favorite library memory.
Our grandmotherly local neighborhood librarian took me seriously at age nine when I said I wanted to fill a houseboat with books to supply residents up and down the Columbia River. That desire combined with the actual invasion of a Japanese submarine into our river formed my Books Afloat novel.
Intriguing! What are your hobbies or activities or passions outside of writing?
I love travel—it’s my favorite way to learn. One university course I teach is World Geography, and my students love my true stories. At my agent’s urging, I’ve written a fun, informative book based on my eight extensive trips there on arranging your own travels in Israel, but due to COVID, publishers now want domestic not international travel.
For many years, my two sons and I lived in a fairly remote area off the Alaska Highway in Canada. There, we learned and improvised many skills. For me, that included missionaries to indigenous people teaching me to use porcupine quills for jewelry making. Friends sometimes brought me frozen roadkill for quill supplies. I also chased and gently swatted living animals with soft sweatshirts because quills will release if loose. My sons are both gifted medical doctors today. We have many stories to tell.
I’m pretty sure that’s an understatement! Please tell us about your next project.
Books Afloat, Book I of Columbia River Undercurrents, released in January 2021 and is based on a true World War II event. My publisher, Scrivenings Press, has requested two more books in the series. Book 2, Strong Currents, is half-written and will be released in February 2022.
Thank you so much for sharing with us today, and His best to you with all your writing adventures!