Writing a novel like A Fragile Hope
takes a lifetime. First, you must collect memories, observations, and bits of overheard conversation. Next, mix in a “hefty investment of time training for Extreme Imagination Sports,” as Cynthia calls it.
To the impassioned observer, her fans and this interviewer, Cynthia Ruchti can’t get books out fast enough. At any given time, she’s brewing up two, three, sometimes four projects within a single year. But A Fragile Hope was a little different than her other stories. A Fragile Hope “aged, not as long as 100-year soy sauce, but about as long as balsamic vinegar.” The first few chapters simmered in a “file folder vat” for eight years, waiting for her to “discover the specific ingredients that would allow it to mature.” She adds, “I’m glad it wasn’t published when I first got the notion. The author had to mature, too.”
And mature she is, a writer of award winning fiction, nonfiction, and now a literary agent.
What does it take for a writer of Cynthia’s caliber to mature, especially when she’s so young? Do her “Qía Ancient Grains hot cereal with fresh blueberries and/or nectarine” breakfasts add to her maturity? Possibly. Or maybe, when she grows up, all she wants to be is taller.
Perhaps we can find her maturity by looking into her past.
Cynthia, as a youth, was called into the principal’s office twice. Stunning, I know. But she wasn’t a party animal. Instead, she was academically competitive. “Not against other students,” she explains. “Except for the one guy vying for my spot as valedictorian,” she was “always striving for excellence from herself.” Starting in grade school, her father was a band teacher and pastor, while her mother worked nights as a nurse. “As the oldest of five children, I planned and made meals, kept the house clean, watched over my siblings, and yet still found time to fall in love with the boy who would one day be my husband.” He was a year older, so during “my senior year in high school, the highlight of my day was checking the mailbox to see if he’d written me from college.” She must have been a hoot as a pen pal back then, especially with papers like “The Psycho-Social Aspects of Leprosy in the United States Today.”
Some aspects of her nurturing personality come naturally, which is ideal for agent work. “I would probably rank high on the ‘Identify with Other People’s Pain’ spectrum.” But she won’t take credit for her natural gifts. “God uses a big ladle to poor out what we’ll need in order to do what he’s asked us to do.” The journey came with a close devotion to God during her childhood, and deepened in her teens. In her twenties, her relationship to the Creator experienced another growth spurt. With the consistent drive toward God, “I pray people would observe in my life ‘a long obedience in the same direction,’ (one of the phrases the German philosopher, Nietzsche, got right).” Nietzsche goes on to say, “The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”
Cynthia follows the theme and turns it into actions, showing that maturity doesn’t only come naturally. First, thirty-three years in a radio ministry, then president of ACFW for two years, an author, and now an agent. But when it comes to writing what you know, both in mind or heart, she is a lifelong student, expanding her knowledge base by “venturing bravely into new territory.” She learned her craft from the dialogue passed through microphones on the radio, and prose from instructors at writing conferences and ACFW connections, all the while trimming unnecessary words.
Her fiction displays contemporary scenarios where faith is lived out in real life, “hemmed-in-hope. My prayer,” her heart cries, “is that readers would finish a book I’ve written with greater courage to say, ‘I can’t unravel. I’m hemmed in hope.’”
“My characters are the woman halfway across the country who writes to let me know she has her own Charlie (Song of Silence), or that she is the grown daughter whose parents never did figure out how to bond with her (All My Belongings), or that he’s ‘Max’ and doesn’t know if his marriage will survive his incarceration (As Waters Gone By) but now has hope. The people who inspire my characters are the unknowns who connect with me after reading They Almost Always Come Home or When the Morning Glory Blooms to say, ‘That’s my life. How did you know?’ It’s the person who stops me at the grocery store to say, ‘I’m the one who lost the directions to the on-ramp in my marriage’ (Josiah in A Fragile Hope).”
She writes her nonfiction in response to her characters. “Here, honey. Read this.”
God is continually surprising her. Additional takeaways that God imbedded in her stories are one instance that delights her. “Sometimes the reader who gets the most out of my story is me. It’s not uncommon for me to stop editing to let Him have access to a place in my heart I didn’t know wasn’t yet fully His.”
Without doubt, her closeness to God is her bedrock for her maturity. Her faith is also built on a heritage from a godly mother. “I watched my mother’s faith get more solid footing when she was in her mid-sixties and began to read Christian fiction. In the remaining almost twenty years of her life, I steadily grew in my appreciation for the power of story as I watched its influence on my mom. She prayed that first novel into existence. Two weeks before she died, my first Advanced Reader Copy arrived in the mail. She kept it on her bedside table until Jesus took her hand and freed her spirit from the body that was beyond worn out.”
“How could I not want to tell stories with the potential to heal, encourage, embolden, mend, strengthen, challenge, and comfort?”
Ronald Knox once said, “There is to be no standing still in our pursuit of maturity.” Cynthia Rutchi is a fantastic example to follow, and, given time, your gaze will turn away from her and point toward Christ, since she is a beautiful reflection of His holiness.
Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing’s Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. For entertainment, he reads historical books, where he finds ideas for new novels. Whenever he has a chance, he takes his wife and two homeschooled children on crazy but fun research trips. Learn more about Peter’s books, research, and family adventures at www.peterleavell.com.
You can see the interview in its entirety and learn more about Christian fiction at FictionFinder