Marlo Schalesky File:
by April Gardner
Marlo Schalesky Interview
I was thirteen I told my mother (with all the angst of a newly-turned
teenager), 'I will just die if I don't write!' So naturally when I
grew up I decided to get my degree in Chemistry."
-- Marlo Schalesky
Author of Veil of Fire (an awesome book, by the way), Marlo Schalesky is also the busy mother of four young girls, two being twins. Marlo is no stranger to heartache and disappointment, and now, through her books, she’s sharing with us the lessons God taught her during those times.
The following interview is one you won’t want to miss. Marlo has opened the door of her home and heart and invited us in for a chat. She’s having a white mocha venti. Will you join her?
April: So you like to read the New Testament in Greek? How has that impacted you spiritually?
Marlo: Oh, I love New Testament Greek! It has deepened the meaning of so many familiar passages for me. Two of my favorites are 1 Peter 5:7 and Philippians 4:13. 1 Peter 5:7 usually reads, “Cast all your cares upon him for he cares for you.” But in the Greek the meaning is more along the lines of “because it matters to him concerning you.” When I was struggling with whether my pain, my hurt, my sorrow, my disappointments mattered to God, if I truly mattered to him, it was the Greek that spoke so deeply to me to confirm God’s love. I had read the passage a hundred times in English, but when I saw it in the Greek, God used it to heal my heart.
Similarly, Philippians 4:13 is the familiar passage which usually reads, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” But in the Greek, the word for “strengthen” is actually “in-power.” And that has been so encouraging for me. God doesn’t just take what I already have and give it a boost (which is how I’d been reading “strengthen”), but he puts his own power in me (like it says in the Greek). And that’s why I can do all things – because I am in-powered, not just strengthened.
And one more before I move on (I could go on about the Greek for pages and pages, but I’ll spare you!) The theme for my latest book, Veil of Fire, came out of a word I learned about in my New Testament Greek class. In the Greek, the word for truth is alethia. Alethia shares the same root as the word for “unhidden.” That connection was key for understanding the veiled and hidden character in Veil of Fire, and for setting that character free. As I pondered the connection between truth and unhiddenness, I knew that to live in the truth, my hermit character had to become unhidden, unveiled, before the town, just as you and I, in order to live in the truth, must be unhidden, vulnerable, with God and others.
Share with us how you came to know you wanted to write.
When I was thirteen years old, I wrote a poem on the bus on the way to school. It was about an old tree, forlorn and desolate, standing alone in a field. I read that poem at every recess, tweaked it, polished it, and for the first time, felt the thrill of how the written word can convey profound beauty. That day, I fell in love with writing.
Shortly after that, I told my mother (with all the angst of a newly-turned teenager), “I will just die if I don’t write!” So naturally when I grew up I decided to get my degree in Chemistry. And, oddly enough, I didn’t die. I enjoyed chemistry. But always that desire to write was with me, in the back of my mind, saying “Someday, someday.”
Someday finally came. I started writing articles for various magazines and putting out proposals for book projects. I thought it would be easy to get my first book published, but alas, it took years of writing and honing my craft. And more than that, it took giving up my dream entirely. For me, I had to come to a place in my heart where I didn’t have to write to be content. I had to let go of that strong desire born at thirteen years old and embrace God’s will for me whether that will included writing or not. Only then, only when my dream had given way to God’s, was I offered my first contract. Only when writing became worship could I do it the way God wanted it to be done. And I’ve been writing books ever since.
Give us humorous insight into life with very young twins.
My twins just turned two on July 5. Mothering them is all about running around saying, “No no no, don’t do that! Put that down. Don’t put that in your sister’s mouth. Get down from there. Don’t hit sister in the head. Be nice to sister.” And repeating every couple minutes. Because what one doesn’t discover, the other will, and get her sister involved. A couple months ago, it was the toilet paper – one unrolled while the other ran about the bathroom tp’ing everything. Then they tore it all into little bits and put it on their heads. After that, it was the magazines. Nothing tastes better than a picture of a good chicken dinner, all torn up and shoved into sister’s mouth. After that, it was the trash, with the dirty Q-tips. “Here, sister, have some earwax.”
Then Grandma thought it would be good to get them princess wands for a gift. Princess wands are excellent for pounding sister on the noggin until sister shrieks. And of course, no toy is as good as the one sister has. So there’s a lot of refereeing that goes on as well. And don’t even get me started on how the one taught the other to throw her food on the floor while teaching her sister to first spit it out and smear in on her face. Ah, the joys of motherhood! But, I tell ya, after all my years of infertility, I ain’t complainin’!
What is your favorite quiet retreat from the hectic life of full-time mommy of four little ones?
Four words: Starbucks. Venti. White. Mocha. Oops, doesn’t sound very spiritual, does it? But really, it is. Because if I’m having a white mocha it means that I’ve gotten away for a little while to write and to focus on God. For me, writing is an act of worship. It’s about getting in tune with God and trying to see as He sees and understand the things He’s trying to tell me.
So, getting some time away to write is also getting time away to rejuvenate, to take a few deep breaths, to stay sane. And, let me tell you, with four little girls (ages 7, 4, and twins who just turned 2), there’s plenty of run, run, run around here! Between laundry, dishes, diapers, running two businesses (besides writing), and finishing the log home we just built, there’s lots of opportunity for crazy. But, a nice hot mocha, a few minutes of peace with no one hollering for “Mom,” and my laptop computer make all the difference.
As a busy mom, writer, and student, what is your favorite fall-back quickie meal?
Anything someone else cooks. Really, though, my favorite thing is to go down the road about a mile from my house and get Round Table pizza. And it’s even better if we can eat it there so that I don’t have to clean up (clean up takes as much time as cooking around here). If that’s not possible, then I like to throw in a frozen pizza, add some extra cheese and meat, and we have that here at home.
Can you tell I like pizza?!!? Yum!
Which Christian fiction authors to do you enjoy reading?
Oh, there are so many good ones! A few of my favorites are Francine Rivers, Cindy Martinusen, Rene Gutteridge, Tricia Goyer, Angela Hunt, Randall Ingermanson, Karen Ball, and I’m sure I’ve missed a few. Christian fiction is so rich and varied these days that it’s easy to find great reading.
What two things might we be surprised to know about you?
First, I’m a chemist! Well, I used to be a chemist anyway. I got my bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Stanford University and, in the early 90’s, worked in research at IBM to develop read/write discs.
Second, in the middle of writing Veil of Fire, I gave birth to twin girls (and still managed to write!). Now, after eleven years of infertility, we have four beautiful daughters who keep their mommy very busy and who like to push buttons on my laptop while I’m trying desperately to meet deadlines.
Regarding Veil of Fire…
Veil of Fire is a novel about finding hope in the fires of life. You’ve also written Empty Womb, Aching Heart, Hope and Help for Those Struggling with Infertility. Both are very deep topics that touch the tender places of the heart. Do you feel called of God to, in this special way, reach out to those hurting?
Yes, I do. I’ve found that in this area specifically God has concentrated his lessons for me and his work in my life. And so, Veil of Fire is very much a book of my heart – it comes out of my journey with God and the things I’ve learned in my own firestorms.
So, I believe God has called me to reach those who have been scarred by failure, discouragement, pain, loss. Those who know that the life they live is not the one they once dreamed. Those who are in the fires. Where doubts rise. Where fear whispers that hope is gone. And where that which was once a simple faith can fail in the face of that fear.
So, for those burned by life, for those who carry scars that cannot be seen, for those who have retreated for fear of more pain, Veil of Fire is for you, this journey from the hidden places of pain to a new hope in the unhidden truth of Christ’s love.
How long did Veil of Fire take to write from concept to completion?
I’ve been pondering the story for Veil of Fire for ten years. In that time, it went through many changes (what the book became is completely different from where I started all those years ago). But once the book was contracted, it took about 9 months to write it and get it in the form that readers now see.
Did the story touch you personally in any way? If so, how?
Absolutely! For me, Veil of Fire was very much a way to explore what God has been doing in my own life. Through all the characters, but particularly through the hermit in the hills, I was able to delve into the deep places of God’s truth for me. Through the hermit, I asked my questions, aired my doubts, and sought for my own understanding. For example, just as the hermit questions God’s love, believes “I am Esau, unchosen, unloved,” so I too have struggled with those same feelings, doubts, and questions. I, too, have cried out to God, “Why don’t you love me?” For the hermit, it was a question born out of fire, abuse, and disfigurement. For me, it was a question that came out of failure, infertility, and miscarriage. So, in many ways, the hermit’s questions were my own, the answers mine, the external scars reflections of my internal ones, and in turn, I think, symbols of the scars of us all.
Therefore, in writing Veil of Fire, God has shown me that I cannot measure his love by my successes and failures, or even by my happiness. Who I am on the inside, how I am being shaped into the likeness of Christ, the character of my life – the color and beauty of it – are what are important to God. And to create that color and beauty, sorrow is necessary. Hurtful things happen.
So, I’m starting to understand that my life, too, is a story that God is writing. And since the best stories have conflict, disappointments, and plenty of action, I shouldn’t be surprised when my life takes a turn and my faith is challenged once again.
And yet, my sorrow matters to God, my tears are counted by him as precious. He does not leave me alone in my hurt. He touches me, he heals me, he creates beauty from the ashes of my pain.
Because of Veil of Fire, I’m learning to walk through the fires in my own life. And to dig deeper – not to answer the question of why but the question of who – who is God really, who am I, and who is he making me to be? Those are the questions that matter. Those are the things that help me to face my own fires, accept my own scars. As I hope will be the case for readers as well.
I can see this book being passed out in hospitals and disaster areas where tragedy has taken its toll. Is anything like this taking place?
Oh, I would love for that to happen! This book was written for those burned by tragedies of life. For those who carry the scars. It’s meant to explore and wrestle with the hard questions. In the midst of life’s disillusionment, do we retreat? Hide our hurts far from probing eyes? Do we embrace bitterness and cynicism? Do we use deceit to try to obtain our goals? Do we give up, give in, forget that we ever dared to dream?
Or is it possible to reach the high places of faith in the low valleys of life’s reality? Can we still live a life of bold faith, of fierce hope, when fairy tales don’t come true? How do we live this life that God has given us when it’s not the life we dreamed?
These are the questions in Veil of Fire. These are the questions which underlie each character’s journey in the aftermath of the great fire of 1894.
Which came first—plot or characters?
The firestorm itself, and the mystery hermit in the hills came first. After that, the plot and other characters evolved together.
What prompted you to write about the Hinckley firestorm?
People often ask where I get my ideas for my books. My answer? You never know! For Veil of Fire, the idea was birthed at my favorite Mexican restaurant in the mission town of San Juan Bautista. There I was, sitting with my family, nibbling chips and salsa, when a wedding party came by. The bridesmaids were dressed in beautiful turn-of-the-century style gowns. As they passed, my mother-in-law began to tell me of the dresses that her great grandmother, who lived in Hinckley, used to sew for the rich ladies in Minneapolis and St. Paul. From there, came the story of the great Hinckley fire and the rebuilding that this woman, my husband’s great-great-grandmother, was a part of. And finally, I heard the tale of the mystery figure in the hills, a person burned beyond recognition. A person never identified, living as a hermit until one day he just disappeared.
At that moment, the first inklings of the story that would become Veil of Fire were born in my heart. Who was the hermit in the hills? What happened to him? And how would I solve the mystery if I could? As I pondered those questions, I knew that I had to write the hermit’s story. Had to explore what it would be like to lose everything, even your identity. Had to hear the hermit’s voice in my mind, and hear the story for myself.
So, the writing of the book became for me a process of discovery, as I hope it will be for my readers. I hope that as the mystery of the hermit drew me, so too it will draw others to this story of how fire can change you, take from you, and in the end, may just set you free.
Tell us a little about the tragedy your plot is based on. What exactly is a firestorm? How did this particular one affect Minnesota and specifically Hinckley? Is it true that the fire could be seen as far away as neighboring states?
On September 1, 1894, one of the worst fires in history ravaged east central Minnesota. It was the first firestorm (a combination of intense fire and cyclonic wind to create the “storm” effect) in Minnesota history, destroying six towns, including Hinckley. Descending on the towns like a red demon, the fire consumed 400 square miles, killing 418 people in four hours. The maelstrom of flames caught the townspeople unaware. Five hundred were saved on the train to Duluth, with a bridge disintegrating into the fire only minutes after the train passed. Another hundred were saved in the gravel pit, where they desperately poured water on each other to keep their clothes from catching fire in the intense heat. A few others were saved in potato patches, water barrels, and by sheer grace. And yes, the fire could be seen from neighboring states.
After the fire, the townspeople rebuilt their town, but in the midst of rebuilding, a rumor began of a hermit in the hills - a person severely burned, disfigured beyond recognition. The identity of this person was never determined, and it remains to this day a mystery, a myth, a shadowed figure whispered about in tales passed from grandparents to grandchildren. Who was this monster in the hills?
And out of that tragedy, out of that mystery, Veil of Fire was born.
Any thing you’d like to add?
I hope readers will come visit my website at www.marloschalesky.com and drop me a note! I have a sample chapter and discussion questions for Veil of Fire as well as convenient links to Amazon and CBD for purchasing my books.Wounded Spirits, releases with Vintage Romance Publishing in November of this year. She is a member of ACFW and reviews for Title Trakk, At Home With Christian Fiction, and FIRST Wild Card Blog Tours. A military spouse, April has performed the art of homemaking all over the world. Currently, she lives in Georgia with her darling Hubby. A homeschool mom, she fills her mornings talking fractions and phonics with her two sweet kiddos. In her free time, April enjoys reading, gardening, and DIY. In no particular order, she dreams of owning a horse, visiting all the national parks, and speaking Italian. Visit April's Website or her blog, A Writer's Journey. You can also get to know April on Facebook and Twitter.