By Jeff Reynolds
This month, I'll be interviewing Christine Hunt, whose writing includes fiction, non-fiction, and stage plays. Christine formed Right Line Editing & Design in 2005, assisting clients with a wide variety of projects —from business cards to editing manuscripts and book production. In 2010, she started Right Line Publishing to produce You Are What You See by Scott Nehring. (You may remember I reviewed this book and interviewed its author in my November and December installments last year.) Christine is a member of the Editorial Freelancer’s Association (EFA) and other industry groups.
JR: Welcome to Hoosier Ink, Christine. Let me start with the typical starting question for authors: How did you start writing?
CH: Thank you for inviting me, Jeff. You’ve collected some interesting, informative reading on Hoosier Ink. I like Millie Samuelson’s suggestion of AYC for “at your convenience.” Everything doesn’t have to be done immediately; so many well-done things take time.
Reading and writing were always my escape. During high school a friend and I wrote a play based on the Biblical book of Acts. Our church’s youth choir loved it—performed it during a summer choir tour through several southwestern states, and I was hooked. I stayed active in church and since I wanted more than the normal fare of bathrobe dramas during the holidays, and being a Type A personality, I volunteered to write and direct. Productions became more professional in quality. I was hired as scriptwriter for an audio/visual production company, and it’s progressed from there—ghostwriting and clean-up work for businesses, individuals, and non-profits.
JR: You've told me your writing is primarily stage plays, though you do have both a narrative non-fiction work and a novel in the pipeline in addition to business writing. How does writing a stage play differ from other writing, and does it help you in your other writing?
CH: That’s a thoughtful question, Jeff. We are created to emotionally respond to story—the journey of a heroic character through extreme difficulty. Even small segments of that journey resonate with us; that’s why advertising works. We see a guy who’s had a rough day, he climbs into his quiet car, turns on the A/C and the radio, relaxes back into cushy leather, and drives fast out of the city with a smile on his face. Even if we’re not in the market for a new car, we identify with the guy and this snippet of his story.
Watching audience reactions to moments in my stage plays provided instant and unguarded feedback. I saw what worked, what didn’t, what could have. I learned the need for economy in words, actions, even characters. I think one of the most valuable things I learned, however, was the importance of communicating an understandable, retainable, orderly progression of information—revealing point upon point. In that particular, all writing can be considered similar. Whether it’s a small business’s annual report or personal e-mail to a friend, if your writing isn’t understandable, doesn’t connect with the story of life or communicate your intent, then it’s a waste of everyone’s time and effort.
JR: Your stage plays and some of your shorter works are adaptations of Bible stories. How do you balance between having a fresh story -- especially with the much adapted Christmas and Easter narratives -- while being accurate to the Biblical text? This may either be a clarifying question or a related one, but how do you keep from putting a spin or agenda to the story while retelling it?
CH: If you don’t mind, I’d like to break the question into sections.
You ask about keeping a familiar story fresh. My instant reaction is that Scripture is alive, powerful—it’s a treasure trove we can’t find the bottom of. As we grow in Christ, as we experience hard times or become aware of new truths, as we see more and more of His grace and how He is active in our lives and in the world—as we live life in Him—our perspective changes, we have deeper understanding. That’s one way it stays fresh.
Another thing that keeps story perspectives fresh is keying on different individuals, learning more of what life was really like for them in their time, in their place. One resource I recently found are the works of Dr. Kenneth E. Bailey, specifically Jesus and the Prodigal and Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.
Your saying, “while being accurate to the Biblical text” is probably the most important piece of the whole puzzle, whether or not I’m writing something with any overt spiritual content. To me, if what I do or say doesn’t line up with the truth of Scripture, then I’m in error, whether it’s my personal life or my writing. Part of digging for the treasure in His word is searching for understanding—deeper truths—studying the nuances of words and their meanings within their accurate context.
Everything we say or do—or write—comes from our individual set of experiences, awarenesses, our scars and sorrows and joys, and lessons learned; so, from that standpoint, there’s always going to be pieces of an author in everything they write. As far as a spin or agenda—that’s an excellent question because today’s movers-n-shakers, our culture makers, are always spinning things to their advantage. Even when we mean well, we, as humans, are bent toward putting the best face on things.
That’s where, for me, writing from the word of God is so very different than any other writing. It’s not my story, it’s His. He’s just letting me use a little sanctified imagination to nuance out of it, if you’ll allow me to use that term, to delve into it and extract truths to communicate. But I have to remember, always, it’s His story not mine. I’ll get a check, a hesitation, an impression—whatever you want to call it—that I’m going the wrong way or pursuing a tangent, and I have to stop, back up to where it’s safe, and then pray for wisdom and guidance to do it right. It’s always done in prayer. And I have a core group of people who intercede for me.
JR: I mentioned your narrative non-fiction work that's nearing publication and the novel you're working on. Could you tell us about them?
CH: An interesting tie-in, because the whole time I was writing the non-fiction work I constantly reminded myself, “This is Norm’s story, Norm’s and Jerry’s and Joe’s, not mine. I just have to find the best way to tell it.”
In May 1973, a florist named Bob Nachtsheim was murdered. The media named it The Orchid Murder, but the crime was never solved. Years later, Norm Wartnick, Nachtsheim’s former employer, was sued by the victim’s widow. Norm’s attorney was incompetent—made egregious errors in Norm’s defense and, in 1986, Norm heard a jury declare him responsible for the wrongful death of Nachtsheim. A three-million-dollar civil judgment forced Norm to sell his family business and branded him a murderer.
Jerry Snider and Joe Friedberg, two of Minnesota’s top trial attorneys—knowing they would battle enormous pressure from the legal community—put their profitable careers on the line in a six-year long, contingency-fee struggle to get Norm out from under that judgment.
In 2007, Norm decided he wanted his story told by someone he could talk with eye-to-eye. It didn’t take much investigation to realize Norm’s was truly an inspirational story—a fight for justice for an innocent man. I quickly understood Joe and Jerry’s passion in wanting justice for Norm. I found the heart of the story, though, when I realized the significance of how the two families handled the situation: the Nachtsheims were splintered apart by greed; the Wartnicks were strengthened through adversity. Throughout the Wartnick’s 21 year struggle, their belief in each other and in the truth preserved them. The Wartnick’s faithfulness to each other touched me deeply.
The fiction project is a spin-off. Connections were alleged to exist between the murder and organized crime—plus a slew of fascinating tidbits I couldn’t include in the non-fiction narrative due to story structure constraints. So, I’m using those juicy pieces as back story for a detective/crime novel. My main characters and their story, though, will be totally fictitious.
JR: What future projects do you have on the table? Or, in other words, what burden or vision do you want to deal with in your writing?
CH: Wow, let’s see. On the front burner is a one-act play based on the Orchid Murder that I hope will be used for high school and college one-act competitions.
On the back burner, and unrelated to Wartnick, are four projects: a screenplay based loosely on Jesus’ parable of the prodigal; a series of detective fiction short stories; a fictional trilogy about a female photojournalist’s fight against human trafficking; and a non-fiction project on the “I Am” statements of Christ. Though they seem unrelated—and why it’s interesting that you ask about “burden or vision”—at the core of each story is our desperate need for significance, for value, for purpose. We try so hard to earn them, but they really are unattainable until we find them in the One who designed and intimately crafted each one of us.
JR: Thank you for your time, and have a blessed day.
CH: Thank you, Jeff, for the opportunity to share.