Debbie Macomber on 35 Years of Storytelling—and Still Going Strong

Adrian Liang on July 18, 2018

Thirty-five years ago, the reading world met Debbie Macomber for the first time. Now a New York Times bestselling author with more than 200 million copies of her books in print worldwide, Macomber is beloved for her stories of women and men who find strength and hope after challenging times through their friendships and family.

We spoke with Debbie Macomber by phone about this 35-year milestone in her writing career and what she's learned along the way.

Adrian Liang: Did you always know that you were going to be a writer?

Debbie Macomber: Not always. I always knew I wanted to be a writer. But I didn't start until I was thirty because I'm dyslexic and I never did well in school. I barely graduated from high school; I married as a teenager. So there were a lot of things against me, and I didn't believe that I could ever be a published author. But then there was a death in our family: a cousin I was very close to died of leukemia. It was as if God was saying to me, If you want to be a writer, life has no guarantees. If you're going to do it, do it now. And that was when I started.

How has the book business and how has book readership changed in the last 35 years?

It's changed tremendously. I started with a rented typewriter on our kitchen table! Just the advancement [in technology] and the way to compose a book has changed. Back in the 1990s, I can remember talking to a friend, and my friend said to me, "You know, there are going to be ways of reading a book that we know nothing about right now." And that was the nineties! Technology has changed everything about publishing. The readership has changed too. Back in the nineties, it was not uncommon to have a print run of a million copies. Now the paperback book market is dying. The New York Times doesn't even publish a list of the top paperbacks any more. Young writers are struggling to find a way to make a name for themselves, unless they do it in ebooks. When I first started out…my goodness, it was a man's world. It really was. And if you look at the women authors that are my age today, we all started in romance because that was the only door that was open to us. Sandra Brown, Tami Hoag, Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz... all of us walked through the door that was open, and that was romance.

There's a lot more competition for reading time now than there ever has been. I make reading a priority because I love it and it fills my brain, and it's what I choose to do. Reading and knitting and cooking and family—those are my passions. And so I have to set priorities about what I want to do with my time. As everybody does!

Have you changed as a writer during those years? Are there things you've learned about writing or yourself that you wish you'd known at the very beginning?

Oh, I don't know that I'd say I wish I'd known them. I'd say it's a natural progression. Malcolm Gladwell has this 10,000 hour theory [in which you don't become good at something until you've practiced it for 10,000 hours], but I think that you can't help but improve as a writer as often as I've written. And I have my 10,000 hours in category [romance], writing for Harlequin and Silhouette. I've vastly improved as a writer. But my ego is not tied up in my writing ability. I'm a storyteller. In fact, I frustrate my editors because I do so little description. Words get in the way. I just want to tell the story! That has not changed.

You have a new book out this month called Cottage by the Sea. Can you tell me more about that book?

I like to base my books on something that's relevant and something that's going to provoke thought with the reader. And the relevancy of this book is something that happened right here in Washington State—the Oso landslide [which killed 43 people]. There's been so many of those landslides in California and other parts of the country too. Cottage by the Sea is about a young woman who is very self-centered, in her twenties, and just discovering life...and everybody in her entire family is wiped out in this mudslide. She goes through survivor's guilt, and she's going through counseling and the lawsuits, and the counselor tells her to find a place where she's been happy. The happy place she can remember is the vacation she took as a child with her parents at the beach, where they always rented the same house. And so she goes and she rents that house. It's the story of her finding a new family.

Last time I saw you, you had plans to visit a refugee camp. Can you tell me more about that?

My daughter and I flew to Lebanon and Jordan with a group from World Vision to visit the refugee camps. My goodness, what an enlightening experience that was. We met with a mother. She had nothing. Absolutely nothing. There was a tent there that she stayed in, and a rug on the floor, and that was it. She had six children, and the oldest was a boy. And he was the only boy. Her son worked in the potato fields in Lebanon for them to be able to stay in the camp and to have electricity. We asked him, "What is your hope for the future?" And he looked at us and he walked out of the tent. His mother said, "He has no future. He has no dreams." It just stabs at your heart.

One of every three people in Lebanon now is a refugee. Lebanon does not accept refugees—they call them displaced persons. World Vision and the United Nations have set up these camps that provide the water and everything for them.

What have you been reading and recommending lately?

Well, I just finished the book Educated by Tara Westover. It's really, really interesting. I'm currently reading Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan. It's a World War II story in Italy. My dad was in World War II. In fact he was a POW inside Germany. And I just put on my Kindle The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang. There's been so much buzz about it; it sounded really good.

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