We caught up with one of our favorite authors in Memphis, Candace Echols to learn more about what inspired her latest book Josephine and the Quarantine!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a native Memphian! I have lived all over Memphis including in Frayser, Bartlett, midtown, downtown...all over. While I enjoy my hometown, I love to travel too! I have traveled to almost 40 countries and lived abroad for a couple of years earlier on. At one time, I was a teacher and I have a Masters in Education. The most adventuresome thing I have ever
done is either paragliding off the top of an Alp in Switzerland or zip lining with my mother across Niagara Falls. My real life, though, is lived inside a minivan where I drive hours and hours of carpool each week. My husband, Jim, and I have five children and a dog (Rookie) and we love the phase we are in right now. It's a fun one!
How did the idea for Josephine and the Quarantine come about?
About two months into COVID, I noticed I had a hankering for a dog. I'm not naturally a dog-person AT ALL, so this was noteworthy. I started doing the research and realized puppies were actually kinda hard to come by. I finally found what we were looking for and went for it, but as time went on, I heard more and more people talking about how they were in the same boat we had been in: they wanted a puppy, but there were none available anywhere. This got me wondering: what is it in the human heart that desires animal companionship during a pandemic? I already have a house full of people who need care, so it's not like I was bored, but I had this tiny hole in my heart that only a puppy could full. What IS that? Any chance it's a unique way that God himself could be showing us something about his own character?
How did you select the illustrator for your book?
I had to take Rookie to get his shots in the early stages of puppy-parenting. While I was at Walnut Grove Animal Clinic, I noticed some striking pet artwork on the walls. I asked the vet who had done it and he connected me with Dare Harcourt, who just so happens to be the BIGGEST dog-lover I have ever met in my entire life. And I've known some dog-lovers! She's got them all beat! So when she read my manuscript, she was ALL IN and I love what she did with it so very much!! I couldn't be happier to have had her with me on this journey.
What challenges and successes did you have while writing it?
The biggest success was choosing Dare as my illustrator! She brought the story to life in a super unique way that I just fell in love with. In addition, the support of our local Memphis community was beautiful! I didn't realize how much people actually DO want to help people out when they find out they are connected to them geographically (and in the south, that translates into things like, "I grew up with your first cousin and I know your sister's best friend.") The challenges mostly involved communication with the publishing company (we got through it, but it was definitely challenging) and also, embracing the social media component when it comes to advertising. I was on no social media before this, so Kristy Dorman, a local marketer for people who have their own brands (her experience comes from years of marketing for FedEx), was willing to take me on and she has done wonders for my journey as an author!
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Do it! So, so, SO many people have said to me, "I've always wanted to write a book" or "I've got a book I've been working on for ten years" or "I think it would be amazing to write a book." What's holding you back!? Do the thing! You only have one life. Go ahead and live it. Today. Who cares if you fail? You're miles ahead of the person who is still just thinking about it. I will say this: writing a book is even more fun than jumping off an Alp! So, do it!
Have you had specific challenges that have focused your career?
My number one challenge is time. With five children (one still at home with me all day), finding time to write is extremely difficult. It's it's own editing. I only have time to write the most important things because the MOST important thing is my family. So, if I'm going to write, I must limit it to only the things worth writing. I've loved being asked to write a column for Storyboard Memphis. I call it the Yellow Chair ChronEchols because I write from my yellow (IKEA) wingback chair (I'm sitting in it even now!). My sister came up with that silly version of the word "Chronicles" as a joke, and here we are. But I'm always thinking about what I'm noticing in the world around me as I'm driving my mini-van around town. I'm mentally editing before I ever sit down at the computer. Once I sit down, because of extremely limited time, I only write the thought that have outshone the others—the things I've felt most deeply and with the most honest conviction.
Who is your most influential mentor?
My husband Jim—bless him—listens to everything that enters my brain about everything. He is constantly making me better in loads of ways because he sharpens me through really good listening and responding. We both have strong personalities, so we love to debate ideas just for fun. I love him more all the time, which I didn't think was possible the day we got married. When someone mentally sharpens you with the protective buffer of deep love, that's the best mentoring you can get.
Do you have a creative ritual?
Because of my lack of time, not really. It is usually sit down and type it out. But the best stuff I've written has been when I've gotten away for a day or two to Oxford, MS, which is a place that has creativity in the air, I think. I go by myself, listen to the playlists I want to listen to all the way down, eat Thai takeout on Friday night. Then, I sleep late on Saturday morning, get a latte and sausage/biscuit at Bottletree. Then I write until my eyes hurt and drive home.
Do you set specific assignments for yourself?
I journal a LOT and always have. I have filled at least 50 journals over the course of my lifetime (and have never gone back to read a single word...cringe!). But when I start writing for publication a lot, I sometimes don't journal as much. As I've gotten older, my journals are mostly prayers or letters to God. For me, that's where all of my writing begins. So sometimes, I can feel the need to rightly orient myself again, and I go back to that quiet, private place of journaling or writing for the audience of God alone. If I forget that, all the rest needs to go too.
What do you love about being a creative in Memphis?
Like Oxford, Memphis has a creative vibe in the air, but actually, it's really different from the Oxford vibe. Because my family traces our roots in Memphis as far back as we have records, I LOVE my own familial history here. My great-great grandmother lived one block behind where I do now. The house she bought in the early 1900's as a new house now houses a young family. As a child, my grandmother used to walk her pet duck to school on a leash right past my current house. My other grandmother went to high school with Elvis. My grandfather was a mechanic who worked on his pink Cadillac. When the creative vibe in a specific place can be woven together with your own family, something powerful happens. Anytime place and story and personal history overlap, magic is sure to follow.
What's next? Any new books on the horizon?
I am loving writing for multiple publications right now including Style Blueprint, Storyboard Memphis, The Gospel Coalition, and several I'm not at liberty to reveal yet. As a former first grade teacher, I'm absolutely LOVING doing virtual author talks with schools in and out of Memphis! That is the best for me: teacher and author all in one...that's my best life! I'm also working and praying towards a book contract to write a series about Josephine and her puppy. My agent, Ann Swindell, is speaking with publishing houses right now and I am excited to see what comes out of that!
You can purchase your copy of Josephine and the Quarantine from Candace's website https://www.candaceechols.com/shop