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Christy Catherine Marshall

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April 26, 2007

Christy Scannell is visiting with us today to share about a topic I hadn’t given much thought to until now: the stressful role of being married to a pastor.

Although Christy isn’t a pastor’s wife, she and fellow author, Ginger Kolbaba, researched this topic extensively while writing their first novel together, Desperate Pastors’ Wives.

Christy is associate editor of The San Diego Metropolitan, a monthly business magazine, and The North Park News, a quaint community newspaper. She’s also a freelance editor and a featured columnist for the new magazine, Catholic Couples. She mentors for the Christian Writers Guild and is a staff member of The Christian Communicator, among many other positions that keep her busy traveling around the country!

Hi Christy, and welcome! Can you tell us why you decided to write a novel focusing on the role of pastors’ wives?

There is no other role in our society that has the same kinds of pressures a pastor’s wife (PW) has. When a pastor interviews with a church, the PW is often brought in during the process.

Sometimes that is a friendly meet-and-greet kind of experience, but other times it is a grueling “what do you bring to the table” kind of interaction.

And it only gets worse from there at some churches — PWs are asked to lead every ministry imaginable, and meanwhile they are critiqued on everything, from how they dress to how their children behave to whether their chicken casserole is up to par. (Note that I said “some” churches — treatment of PWs obviously varies from church to church, and many are wonderfully loving to their pastor families.)

Are you or your co-author, Ginger Kolbaba, personally familiar with the role of being a pastor’s wife?

Neither of us is married to a pastor, but Ginger’s dad is a pastor so she was raised in a pastor’s home. Over the years, though, we’ve known many PWs through our work in Christian publishing and our attendance at various churches.

How did you go about researching your novel? Did you interview any pastors’ wives?

Yes, we talked to a lot of PWs personally and used some of their stories. We also drew from stories we’d heard in the past. And we read some PW websites where PWs post their stories anonymously. We didn’t use any of the stories we read on the websites, but reading them helped us know our characters were in line with what many PWs experience.

Wow. I had no idea that PWs have their own websites. Your book has really made me think more about the difficult role of being a pastor’s wife. Can you give us any specific examples of why these women might feel “desperate” at times?

There is no other role like the PW. The only role I can liken it to is perhaps the First Lady of the president or a governor’s wife. But although First Ladies are critiqued for what they do and how they look, it is not through a lens that is based in religion.

So while we might look at a First Lady and say she isn’t supportive of her husband, when we do that to our pastor’s wife, we are not only saying she is unsupportive, we are implying that she is somehow not fulfilling her role as a Christian. And that distinction gives the PWs’ hurts and sorrows much more impact than a First Lady’s.

That does sound like it can lead to feelings of desperation.

Some of what PWs experience is brought on by churches with extraordinary expectations, or churches that don’t recognize a PW is doing the best she can. Other bad situations for PWs arise from certain church members who, while perhaps well meaning, make a PW feel she is not living up to some unwritten standards.

According to one study, 80 percent of PWs feel left out and underappreciated by their churches! Another problem is pastor-husbands who are not supportive of their wives, many because they are under so much stress themselves from church responsibilities.

In another survey, the majority of PWs said that the most destructive event that has occurred in their marriage and family was the day they entered the ministry. Fifty percent of pastors’ marriages end in divorce.

I had no idea! What are some ways we, as church members, can reach out to encourage our pastor’s wife?

There are two levels: small and large. At the small level, simply telling a PW she is loved or appreciated can make a world of difference. Give her a compliment. Drop her a card. Take her a plate of cookies or a bottle of bubble bath. Offer to take her kids to the park for an hour so she can relax.

On the larger level, churches need to build stress-relieving benefits into their pastors’ compensation packages. Ninety percent of pastors work more than 46 hours per week and rarely take vacations.

Churches should help their pastors plan for two or three vacations per year by providing pulpit supply, paid time off, and even a paid location. Also, at least once a year, the church should pay for the pastor and his wife to go on a retreat, either on their own or at a pastoral retreat center, where they can relax and renew.

Finally, every church should provide their pastor with a list of counselors he can contact in confidence should he or his family need assistance (there are many pastoral counseling centers where pastor families can receive help without their churches knowing).

These are great ideas, Christy. Can you tell us how you and Ginger Kolbaba got started writing a novel series together?

Ginger and I were born exactly ten months apart (Feb. 28 and Dec. 28). We were both “only” children who were raised in Akron, Ohio. We grew up in the same small church denomination, although we did not attend the same church (Ginger’s dad was the pastor at her church).

Then we both attended and graduated from the same, small Christian college. She was a year behind me, and we knew “of” each other because she was a theater standout and I was editor of the college newspaper. But with all of that in common, we were not even acquaintances.

Fast forward to around 1999. Ginger was working for a Christian magazine, and I was working for a Christian book publisher. We were both on staff at the Florida Christian Writers conference, and when we saw each other we did the “aren’t you…” questioning and found we were indeed those campus co-eds from the late 80s. During that conference, we enjoyed finally getting acquainted and reminiscing about our college years. As we parted, we exchanged contact info.

Well, as it turns out there were many more of those Christian writers’ conferences in our future, because that’s where editors go to find writers to edit. At most of the conferences, the staff has to share rooms due to tight quarters, so Ginger and I chose to pre-select each other as roomies. Over the next few years, we grew to be great friends during our little junkets.

In 2005, we were back in Florida for that same conference where we originally met. By that time, we had started coming into the conference towns early so we could have dinner and catch up before our duties began. It was at this dinner in Tampa that we started talking about writing a book together.

Neither of us really remembers how the topic of pastors’ wives came up, except that we knew we needed to write about something that hadn’t been done a million times. First we tossed around a non-fiction treatment, but then we decided fiction might be more fun (neither of us had written it before) and allow us liberties that non-fiction wouldn’t.

The title — Desperate Pastors’ Wives — was just a natural for what we were proposing. I don’t know which of us came up with it, but we knew right away that it would be our marketing tool.

At the conference, we met with an agent who liked our idea and said to mail him the proposal. Encouraged, we stayed up every night of that conference outlining our characters and plot (I apologize to whomever was rooming next to us for all the giggling!). We also devised a way to split up the writing.

When we returned to our respective homes (she in Chicago and me in Southern Cal), we emailed and phoned until we had the book figured out. Excited, we mailed our proposal to the agent. He was thankfully quick to get back to us.

Thanks, but no thanks, he said.

Oh no! I bet that was a disappointment after all of your hard work!

We were crumpled but not crushed. We knew we had a good idea — we just needed someone to help us finesse it a bit.

That same week, Ginger was having lunch with a fiction editor friend, and Ginger mentioned our floundering proposal. The editor loved the idea and said she would take a look at it and let us know how we might “fix” it. She also said Howard Books, a publisher for whom she freelanced, was looking for a new fiction series, and they might be interested in ours.

She did, we did, and they were. Within weeks, we had a contract not only for one book, but for the three-book series we proposed. We were floored that a publisher was not only taking a chance on unpublished fiction authors, but agreeing to three books.

A few months later, Howard was bought by Simon & Schuster, so we lucked into the extra panache of publishing an S&S book.

What kind of an impact do you hope your novel will have on readers?

First of all, I hope it lets PWs know that they are appreciated and understood. We’ve already received e-mails from some thanking us for writing about them (or what they perceived to “be” them!) so I am confident that ministry is already taking place.

Second, I hope churchgoers realize how difficult it is for PWs to juggle church responsibilities and private life. Perhaps more people will approach their PWs with compassion after they read the book.

Third, I hope readers, regardless of church affiliation, come away with a feeling of sisterhood. No matter what kinds of lives we women lead, we do face many of the same trials. It helps to support each other.

There are two more novels in the series — will these be coming out soon?

The second book, A Matter of Wife and Death, will be out in March 2008. We are really excited about this book because it allowed us to go further in-depth with the characters. And we took the big leap of killing off one of them! A third book will follow, probably in March 2009.

Thanks so much for visiting here! I’ve learned a ton from this interview, and I’m going to send my pastor’s wife a card this week and tell her how much we appreciate her. Your book makes me realize how stressful her role can be.

Thank you for this opportunity!

You can learn more about Desperate Pastors’ Wives co-authors Christy Scannell and Ginger Kolbaba through visiting their websites. And look for their novel out in stores now or check it out here on Amazon.

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