by Matthew Nies
Cecelia Dowdy is an Amazon bestselling author who lives near Washington, DC. She enjoys listening to old tunes with her husband and chauffeuring her teenaged son to school sports events. Baking is one of her favorite passions. She loves experimenting with bread recipes using her sourdough starter. Serving homemade desserts to friends brings her joy. Her love of baking shines in her romance novels. When she’s not in the kitchen, or spending time with her family, she’s cooking up delicious faith-filled plots.
In a candid interview with our Prose Editor Matthew Nies, Cecelia talks about faith, writing, publishing, baking, and beyond.
Cecelia, I am amazed by your many pursuits. You are a multi-talented individual, a true Renaissance woman. How do you find time to be a publisher, author, baker, accountant, mom, and wife? Is there anything I left out?
My house is a mess, literally. It’s hard to find time to do everything, so I’m afraid the housekeeping is always on the back burner. It helps when I wake up early in the morning – I can get more done that way. Our son is a teenager and he loves to eat. If he doesn’t have a lot homework, he cooks dinner most nights.
One of my duties which takes up a great amount of time is studying. I’m currently working on my master’s degree in Accounting and Finance. My studies should be completed in November 2023.
Have you always wanted to be a writer or was there something in particular that drew you to writing?
I wrote a book entitled Candyland when I was ten – but didn’t think about pursuing a writing career until I was in my late twenties. I was on my lunch break one day and I’d forgotten to bring a book with me to read, so I started writing a book. I’ve been writing ever since.
Although I’d not seriously considered writing before that, I was always an avid reader. I would get annoyed because the school library only allowed us to check out 2 books every couple of weeks. I’d devour those two books quickly. It was nice when the bookmobile started coming to my neighborhood. The bookmobile allowed me to check out as many books as I wanted!
Your relationship with Christ shines through your work, and, as in reality, your characters are dealing with their faith, too, not simply their relationships with each other. How do you explain your faith journey and relationship with Jesus in the context of your writing inspiration and message to readers?
When I first started writing the Christian fiction genre barely existed. I wrote a novel and paid a professional editor. When I received the edits back (snail mail – this was a long time ago!), the editor asked if I was writing a Christian romance.
My novel talked about the characters going to church, and I quoted scriptures. The book wasn’t very well-written, since I was just learning, but, that editor helped to pave the way for my writing journey. I researched the genre and sometime later, I joined a Christian writers’ chapter of a national organization. The Christian romance genre grew. I started reading more of the titles. I also met a lot of Christian authors at conferences.
As far as my faith journey, I have always been both curious and fascinated about the Bible, especially Jesus. I love reading about Jesus’s miracles. Some of the most vivid miracles include Jesus walking on water, healing Malchus’ severed ear by replacing it back onto his head, healing a blind man…there’s just so many miracles in the New Testament that are amazing. It deepens my faith whenever I think about all that happened when Jesus was on earth. His sacrifice for us makes me feel humble, and I just feel so in awe when I think about Him.
When I create my characters, I try to be realistic. I think all of us struggle, at some point, with our faith. Sometimes these struggles can affect our personal relationships. I want to show how my characters can overcome their faith-based struggles and learn to fall in love while continuing to have a deep faith in Jesus.
I hope that thoroughly answers your question.
In your interview on the Write Stuff podcast, you said you got into writing when you didn’t bring your book with you for lunch one day, so you started writing instead. You started longhand and before the widespread distributive powers of the Internet had been realized. Can you tell us a little more about your experience with writers’ groups like the Romance Writers of America and different book clubs—how your involvement helped you write and publish?
Wow, I’m answering your questions in order and, coincidentally, mentioned the lunchtime incident in an earlier question!
When I first started writing, which was about three decades ago, RWA was the only professional writers association for the romance genre. I got involved in a local chapter, Washington Romance Writers. I also joined Faith, Hope and Love, a Christian/Inspirational chapter of RWA. I know RWA has had some recent trouble within their organization. I won’t talk about that here.
However, RWA was the organization that helped me to publish. When I attended the writers’ conferences, I could meet editors, agents and authors face to face. Seeing these editors and agents each year helped me to build relationships which were instrumental with my landing a publishing contract.
I volunteered for my local chapter. I served as a board member for Washington Romance Writers and Faith, Hope and Love. When planning events, being a board member gives one more opportunity to interact with successful authors, editors, and agents. It was a wonderful experience for me. I learned a lot.
As far as book clubs, I was involved in a couple of local book clubs as a reader. I have had readers to tell me that they’d read one of my novels as a book club pick. However, I was not present when the book club discussed my novel(s).
On a related note, before the days of online purchasing, some readers would obtain novels from book clubs. They would sign up to receive books each month snail mail. My first novel was published by Crossings and Black Expressions Book Clubs. Both of these book clubs were under the Doubleday Book Club umbrella.
You’ve said that you think the Christian Publishing industry really took off after the Left Behind series. What are some Christian books that have inspired you to write?
Too many to name! That question is like asking a parent to choose their favorite child!
I especially enjoyed reading Tracie Peterson’s books! That woman can really write a good story! I also read Robin Lee Hatcher, Brandilyn Collins, and Julie Lessman. I also read tons of Christian category romance, namely Love Inspired and Heartsong Presents titles. The Heartsong Presents line was cancelled years ago.
What led you to founding Divine Desserts Publishing?
Thanks to Amazon, the publishing industry has really changed. Authors are able to self-publish their stories on Amazon with minimal expense. If they are crafty enough to write an amazing story, and market it well, they can get the same, if not more exposure, than working with a traditional publisher.
After not being able to land a contract for years, I’d heard about authors self-publishing e-books. I attended a workshop led by Randy Ingermanson. I took lots of notes and asked questions. When I started publishing my own works, I saw that authors would band together and release box sets. When I started working with other authors, that prompted me to start my own company, Divine Desserts Publishing LLC. I chose that name because most of my books feature desserts, and I chose divine because of the Christian element that’s featured in all of my novels.
In April, you posted a “hello” blog post and mentioned that your grad school classes were about finished. Can you share with us a little more about your grad school experiences?
I’m studying Accounting and Finance. When I posted that, I was probably referring to being done, for the time being. Meaning, I was probably just going on a break/hiatus (either Christmas or Spring). I will be completing my studies in November 2023.
I’d wanted to study for my masters when I was in my late twenties. I started writing instead and didn’t pursue my degree. It’s always bothered me that I never enrolled to pursue my masters degree. So, I decided to rectify that by going back to school.
You’ve asked in blog posts for reviewers for your books. How do you approach your relationship with critics and your at-large audience?
I mostly post review requests on my blog and via my mailing list. I might approach others using other social media such as Twitter and Instagram. I don’t spend a great deal of effort seeking reviews. I tend to spend more time trying to market the book itself, enticing readers to purchase it.
Can you speak a little about your relationship with fellow authors?
I have several authors that I communicate with on Facebook and via email. At times, I might go for several days (or weeks) without checking my email due to time constraints. I find that grad school takes a lot of time, and I can’t spend as much time on my writing. I used to meet with writers more frequently when I was a board member for writers’ organizations. After our son was born (he’s now 17), things changed. I still saw writers at conferences and online but, I simply didn’t have the time to spend as I did before our son was born. I didn’t attend as many conferences as I used to, but still fellowshipped whenever I could. I have several writers that I’ve known since I started my writing career. Even though we may not have spoken in a long time, if I happen to think of them, I’ll reach out and we begin chatting like long-lost friends! I enjoy attending conferences when I can, reconnecting with authors that I’ve known for years. Such a joy.
In a previous interview, you had mentioned that you write early in the morning. Does that time of the day make you feel closer to God?
I used to write early in the morning! I still do occasionally. Currently, when I get up early, it’s usually to study or work on a project for school or for my day job. I believe I used to write early in the morning because since I was awake, I figured I might as well get started on my day. Getting started used to include working on a novel. I don’t believe the timing was about feeling closer to God.
A number of your blog posts are entitled “Sunday Brunch.” I like how you write about these intense Bible passages and then you jump to a question akin to “do you like Christian fiction? Check out my books.” The Bible has undergirded so much literature throughout history. How often do you find yourself drawing inspiration for your work from the Bible, too?
All the time. Sunday Brunch were Bible-related blog posts that I started a long time ago. The original plan was to do one each Sunday, but, that was difficult for me to do because of the time involved. The Sunday Brunch blog posts receive the most traffic on my Christian fiction blog. If people like talking about the Bible then the might enjoy reading my books which is why I encourage them to give them a try.
I talk about the Bible a lot, asking questions. If something doesn’t make sense, I’ll try to reason it out in my mind. Reading Bible verses inspire me with ideas to use for my novels. I suppose my Biblical inspiration is seen in my characters when they struggle with their faith.
What is a favorite Bible verse(s) you turn to for encouragement or perspective?
John 3:16 and Psalm 23. Amazing, inspiring Bible verses. We need to remember that the Lord is always with us.
Talk to me about your Hallmark Movie Reviews. I can imagine that the Christmas season might be an especially busy movie-watching and review-writing time for you. Have you explored turning a book into a movie?
I honestly haven’t had time to explore making my books into movies. I am acquainted with some Christian and sweet romance authors who’ve had their books turned into Hallmark movies.
I would like to have one of my books made into a Hallmark movie. That would be so cool! If anybody reading this interview is interested in making my book into a movie then please contact me!
I started the Hallmark Movie Reviews because I wanted to expand my readership. I thought if visitors came to my blog to read the movie reviews, then they might purchase my novels. I’ve not had time to spend on the blog since I’ve enrolled in graduate school. I do get a lot of traffic on the blog during the holiday season. I plan on posting more reviews for Christmas movies since I’m on a break from school.
Food plays a role in your books. Do writing and baking help you relieve stress?
I believe baking might help me more than writing when it comes to stress. I also love to eat while stressed. I get so hungry when I’m upset about something. When I’m going through rough times at my day job, or in school, a good dessert always perks me up!
A lot of your books highlight food: Bakery Romance series, Candy Beach series, Christmas Tales series. And you’ve also written a couple of standalone titles featuring historic romance stories in Underground Railroad Brides and A Teacher’s Heart. Do you approach historic romance stories differently, maybe with more research, to give the characters and their settings more authenticity?
Yes. Actually, I was invited by another author to submit a story in the two aforementioned collections. It took a lot of research. I had another author to read the book to ensure it was historically accurate. I enjoyed writing those stories and look forward to writing more historicals if time permits.
What is the most heart-warming feedback you have received so far?
It’s difficult to remember the exact words, but, once a reader left a review on Amazon for one of my books. This person said that they normally don’t read Christian fiction because they didn’t care for the genre. However, my book(s) broke the mold and they thought my books were wonderful and refreshing. It made me feel good to entice somebody to read a Christian novel when they normally would not choose to do so.
You travel to conferences, book signings; you’ve done a lot of interviews; what’s something you say to aspiring writers or advice you’d give to yourself when you were writing freehand prose in the library?
Don’t give up. Join a writers’ group. Attend conferences.
Tell me about your family and how they have supported you in your writing journey.
My family has been terrific. They support my writing and tell others about my books!
What would your advice be to aspiring writers, especially those in the Christian Romance genre?
Check out writers’ groups virtually or in person. If you are indie publishing your work then seek out indie author groups. I rely on such groups when I have a question about something. I also offer advice whenever I can.
Can you give us any details on some future ventures you are looking forward to or planning?
Grad school won’t be completed for another year. Until I pass the last three GS classes, I’ll begin to fully map out future writing projects.
For now, I’m working on a Christmas novella as an exclusive e-book giveaway to my newsletter subscribers. After that, I plan on writing another later-in-life (older character) romance novel. I’m currently on a 2-month break from my classes, so, I hope to get at least one, or both, projects completed.
Sign up for Cecelia’s newsletter by clicking here