It didn’t look like her dream of being published would ever happen for Debbie Macomber. For five years, she pounded out one book after another, and struggled to see her novels on bookstore shelves, to no avail. But she soldiered on.
Fast forward to 2013. Macomber, 64 and the grandmother of eight, has sold more than 100 million books in 23 languages. Her 136 books and 14 novellas (yes, you read that right) include women’s fiction and Christian romance. Macomber’s latest book, Once Upon a Time, is nonfiction that shows readers how to perfect their own writing, know themselves better and sharpen their faith. In August, the #1 bestselling author has yet another novel, Rose Harbor in Bloom, coming out. We caught up with by telephone, wondering all the while if the Washington state-based Macomber was forgoing the chance to write an entire book in the length of time she was being interviewed.
TIME: You strongly advocate journaling in your book. Why?
DEBBIE MACOMBER: I think it’s a wonderful way of passing [along] and remembering your own history. It’s a wonderful way of looking at God’s faithfulness. I look back and read these journals and I think “Oh, how did I ever get through that time?” It’s how I process the day.
You knew very early that you wanted to be a writer.
I did. As young as I can remember, I would go to sleep every night making up stories. And there’s just a history of storytelling in my family.”
You write about a teacher who told you that you couldn’t be a writer because you couldn’t spell.
I’m dyslexic. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, they really didn’t understand that. I didn’t learn to read until I was in the fifth grade. The only reason I was passing classes because I was smart enough to learn how to sight-read. I could memorize what other people were reading and I could say the same words. So I was passed from class to class. The third-grade teacher told my mother, that Debbie’s a nice little girl, but she’s never going to do well in school. And I didn’t. I mean, it really was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I feel fortunate to have graduated from high school. And I married as a teenager because there was no chance of me ever going to college.
So you never went to college?
No. When I decided I wanted to be a writer at age 30. I took some creative-writing classes at the community college so that’s the only college I had.
With your proven talent, why do you think it took you so long to get published?
I have a theory about writers. There are three different kinds. There are the natural born writers, you know. You see them in school, they can just smooth their way through essay questions, but often times they get so caught up in the beauty of the words — they’re phenomenally talented; can create incredible, beautiful word pictures, but often times they can’t tell a story. Once their story telling ability is par with their writing talent they sell. I’m just the opposite. I’m the storyteller. I had to learn to be a writer. And once my writing skills were on par with my storytelling ability, I sold. And then there are those who posses both talents, writers and storytellers. They almost always sell quickly. I joke around at writer’s conferences, I say, these people have not suffered enough!
How does your faith inform your writing?
It’s hard to describe because I can’t separate the fact that I’m a Christian from I’m a writer. It’s sort of like being of Germany-Russian heritage. That’s just who I am. I belong to Christ.
Would you describe yourself as born-again, or evangelical?
Born-again, I guess would be. Evangelical, I suppose. I live by biblical standards. I certainly will have a good glass of wine, though. My husband and I dance.
Do you write about sex?
Of course. I don’t go into a lot of details. First of all, I’m married, I don’t know that much. [Laughs]. I’ve written about pre-martial sex because that’s a part of life. And generally, there are consequences one way or another. We are not perfect beings. I do get a lot of criticism for that. I’m not writing for the choir.
Can somebody appreciate your books with no religious beliefs?
Absolutely. I’ve gotten so many letters from people that said they haven’t picked up a Bible in 30 years.
Has your lifestyle changed much with your success? You started out with a rented typewriter.
Yes. I have more than one computer now. I’m sitting right now in a beautiful [second] home in Florida. It’s a little town called Vero Beach. We are on the island, so we are on the river. My husband was able to retire at age 50. It’s been a wonderful reward.
To what do you attribute to your prolific style of writing?
Two house payments. [Laughs] You know, I have so many stories to tell that I get ideas everywhere. Like I said, I’m a storyteller. That should be on my tombstone. Not that I was a great writer, not that I influenced anybody, but that God gave me the gift of being a great storyteller.