Blog Tour: The Toymaker's Doll by E. G. Bella (Interview + Review)
Wow, have I got a jam-packed post for y'all today! In honor of the upcoming release of E. G. Bella's debut story, The Toymaker's Doll, I have not only a book spotlight but also a review of the story AND an interview with the author! This short story is SO SWEET and I know you're not gonna wanna miss the chance to read it, so without further ado...
About the Book
A limp. A scuff. A cowardly heart.
Jane is a doll struggling with all these things. She and her friend Isabel, a blind stuffed kitten, spend their days in the corner of their shelf, watching the other toys in the shop play – and wishing they could be like them.
Why did the Toymaker create them flawed? Surely it was an accident. One day, Jane sets off to find his workshop, eager to be fixed, and to bring him back for Isabel.
But the journey is hard and the road long. How can such a weak doll ever reach the Toymaker? And how will he respond if she does? What Jane learns will change her life forever.
When I first read The Toymaker’s Doll, a rush of memories came flooding back to me...of the first play I saw when I was close to five about toys that came to life; of watching the Toy Story movies; of a Christmas movie my grandparents gave me about a toy bear who’d been made differently than the others...and when I read it the second time, I got chills.
This allegorical story reads somewhat like an old children’s book, with a simple but poetic style and a classical cadence, but its message is ageless. E. G. Bella wove the answers to some of life’s hardest questions—why do bad things happen to good people? why are some people healed but not others? does God love me? do I have a purpose?—into this short story in a way that was memorable and inspiring. The depth of wisdom in the simple words is so beautiful! The scriptures she included—in the Toymaker’s dialogue and at the end of the book—are some of my favorites, and the note she left at the end was absolutely touching.
I have no doubt that everyone who reads this tiny tale will not only enjoy it but walk away impacted by the lovely message!
Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the author. All opinions expressed are my own.
Snag Your Copy
#1 What first inspired you to write?
Oh, so many things! I’ve always been a huge reader, and had my mom not enforced a library book limit, I’d have tried to bring the whole building home, haha. Stories have always meant a lot to me. But if I had to nail down exactly one thing that changed me from simply being a reader to being a writer as well, I’d say it was my dad.
When I was about five, I checked out a library book that my parents ended up deeming too dark for my age. And although I look back and agree, I was pretty bummed at the time. I didn’t understand why that particular story was being marketed to kids if the content wasn’t even suitable for them. While I was admittedly sulking in my bed that night, my dad came into the room with one of his ‘special’ blue notebooks from work. He gave it to me, and told me that I could write my own stories now. All my first real stories were in that notebook, and I haven’t stopped writing since. Thanks, Dad!
#2 What are some of the driving forces behind you and your writing now?
These days, my primary motivation to write comes from my belief that stories are powerful, and that God can use them to touch hearts in very special ways. It might sound dramatic, but lives truly can be changed in huge ways via story. I know mine has been. And it’s with that prayer that I write my stories now. I write a mixture of explicitly ‘Christian fiction’ and simply ‘clean fiction’, but no matter what the story, the process always involves lots of prayer and intentionally making sure that the themes and truth shine through. If even one person’s life is bettered by one of my stories (and sometimes that person is just me!), it’s worth all the work.
#3 Can you name any authors who have inspired your voices in different ways? How can you see their influence in your writing?
I always struggle to answer this question. Looking back, I see so many different bits and pieces of inspiration that I’ve gleaned from countless authors. But a few that always come to mind while I’m writing include Katherine Paterson (the depth and emotional resonance of her historical fictions always inspired me), Max Lucado (especially his knack for making biblical stories and themes come alive again), Maggie Stiefvater (her narrative voice is gorgeous!), and Nadine Brandes (her narrative voice is also amazing, and her plots are so intricate). I consistently see influence from each of them in my writing now.
#4 What are some of your most favorite books/genres—to read and to write?
Well, unfortunately, I can’t start talking about my favorite books or we’ll be here all day, haha. Besides the Bible of course, I don’t have a neat couple of favorites, it’s more like a master list of ones that I love for some reasons but not for others. Goodreads works very well for keeping track of them actually, so that’d be a good place to start if you’re really curious. (Which you can find here).
I like reading and writing in a lot of genres too, but some of my very favorites right now are medieval adventure, fantasy, historical fiction (particularly having to do with pirates) or biblical fiction, dystopian, and contemporary.
#5 What do you do when you aren’t writing?
Wish I was writing.
Other than that, haha, my time is largely taken up by two jobs, being a youth and worship leader with my church, and trying to be available for loved ones. When I have some time to myself and am not writing (fiction or blogging), I enjoy reading, playing the piano, singing, going for long walks or hikes, playing board/card games, tormenting family with awful jokes, and acting out random scenes from my stories.
#6 Looking back, what has changed for you as a writer—be it how you write or what you write about?
Probably the biggest way I’ve changed as a writer has to do with my perfectionism. For years I refused to let people read my stories, or felt nothing but stress if I did, because I knew they weren’t perfect. So I’d continue to make them wait until I finally got the story ‘just right’. And of course that never happens, so many of my stories have gone unread.
Recently though, God’s really been working on my heart and showing me that it’s okay not to be perfect. In fact, perfection is impossible as flawed humans. But that’s where He comes in. My role is to use my gifts in a way that can glorify Him, and He’ll take care of the rest. I’m slowly but surely learning to trust that I should simply do the best that I can in my stories - without stressing over whether they’re perfect - and then be at peace knowing He’s got the rest under control. He specializes in bringing beauty and meaning from imperfection, and if the story is meant to touch someone, He’ll bring it to them.
#7 Tell me about your debut story—The Toymaker’s Doll! What inspired it?
The Toymaker’s Doll is about a doll in a toy shop who’s struggling with the way the Toymaker created her and her friend. She doesn’t understand why he’d allow their flaws and weaknesses and she sets off to find him and ask him to fix them. On the way, she learns some valuable lessons, and ultimately discovers that the things we think are weaknesses can often be our greatest strengths, and that God can use even the most difficult things for good.
Though it started as a school assignment (with a suggested word count far below what I ended up with), this story really came from me asking God the same questions that the doll asked the Toymaker. I’d gone through some tough situations, including the recent loss of a dear friend, and was struggling to figure out how He could use all of my brokenness for any sort of good. I didn’t plot at all, I just started writing and let the story flow. Praise God, He met me there and offered a lot of healing through this little story. I pray others can be as encouraged by it as I was.
#8 What does your writing process typically look like?
It varies a lot depending on the stage of life I’m in. At the time that I write this, it’s 1 AM and the only chance I’ve gotten to write in a few days so I’m taking it. Some days, I will write for 4-6 hours, or even more on rare occasions. My ideal writing process would involve getting up with the sun, probably a cup of coffee, and then knocking out my word count goals before most people are even up. But usually my writing happens in as many little bursts throughout the day as I can nab. With my current schedule, I’m happy to get anything done!
#9 What are you currently working on?
Besides this blog tour/book launch, I’m still working to get my pirate novel, Cabin Girl, ready for publishing. It’s very close, but it still needs some final edits, a final paperback cover, formatting, and Amazon preparations. I have 4-5 other novels in various stages of work right now too, and I’m looking forward to getting into them again - hopefully soon!
#10 What do you want, most of all, for readers to take away from your books?
I'd really like for readers to finish my books having drawn closer to Christ during the story. Whether it's through a lesson taught, a theme displayed, an aspect of God's character revealed...I pray that none of my stories will ever be cheap or easily forgettable, but instead have a powerful - and preferably eternal - impact.
#11 Have you ever endured any discouragement as an author? If so, what inspired you to persevere?
Absolutely. Some of it larger, some smaller, but there have been many times when I've felt compelled to give up on writing. That my stories aren't worth telling, that my style isn't something anyone will want to read, that I don't have what it takes…
Several years ago, I entered one of my first novels to a contest, and was extremely (foolishly) hopeful to do well. I was excited that I'd finished the first draft quickly, that people liked my characters, and that the theme was strong. But it wasn't until the novel didn't even make it past the first ten pages in judging that I looked at it objectively and noticed all the plot holes, the sloppy prose, and the clichés. Boy, did I feel like giving up! And I did for a while, because I just felt too ashamed of that story and my writing. But after a few months, I realized that it was too dear to me to give up on, and resolved to polish it up - if even just for myself. So I rewrote it, with heavy research, lots of comments from readers, and a determination to get it right this time. And I'm so glad I did. It's one of my favorite books that I've written, and it ended up placing semifinalist in the same contest the next year. (That story is Cabin Girl).
Even if the only person you're writing for is yourself, don't give up! Maybe your story won't ever be the next bestseller, but the blessings and lessons you can gain simply by sticking with it are far better than the regrets you'll have from giving up.
#12 What are your greatest aspirations for your future, be it as a person or as a writer?
They say to dream big so I'll just say it, my greatest aspiration as a writer is to be able to write part-time and then supplement that with another part-time job outside the home. While the thought of writing full-time is also appealing, I wouldn't ever want the need for a good income to tempt me to compromise on the values I put into my stories (i.e. writing purely for market, even if it's not what I should write). So I want to be careful there.
Just as a person, I most want to follow Christ's path for my life and become more like Him. What the specifics will look like, I can hardly imagine, but I'm doing my best to just trust and anticipate the plan He has.
#13 What has being a writer taught you?
Well, one big thing that's carried into my daily life is remembering that everyone has a story. Characters have always been my favorite parts of stories, and I spend a lot of time making sure that they're realistic; that they have fears, dreams, personalities, backstories, beliefs, motivations, and a life outside of what's showcased in a particular story. Even the most minor character still has this whole life that we barely catch a glimpse of. And it's the same way in real life. We're each the main character of our own life, and there's so much depth behind each and every stranger you meet. We all have our stories, and I think it's important to remember that none of those stories are worth more than anyone else's. We should strive to be an ally in someone's else's story, not a villain.
#14 What led you to self-publishing?
A combination of a friend's experience, a collection of books and resources about it, the encouragement of an experienced author I was blessed to talk with (Allen Arnold, author of The Story of With), and realizing that self-publishing could actually be a serious thing and not just for authors who 'couldn't make it' traditionally. In fact, the more I learned about it, the more I saw that it would fit my current goals and place in my writing journey. Though managing all the different aspects can be overwhelming, I'm especially grateful to have the complete creative license to tell my stories how I feel called to tell them.
#15 What are your thoughts for other aspiring writers on writing and publishing?
I'd say the things that have helped me most in the process are to 1) Keep writing, 2) Keep learning, and 3) Keep reaching out to other authors and readers of your genre/s. You can read a million craft books and take a thousand courses, but until you actually diligently do the work of writing and putting it into practice, your knowledge won't ever result in good books (or any stories at all). And yes, read those books, take those courses, and ask those questions. There are so many moving parts to writing and publishing, and learning from knowledgeable sources will help the process go much smoother. Finally, I've been amazed at the supportive and welcoming community of story-lovers out there. Don't be afraid to join it. Having people encouraging you, helping you, and motivating you to keep going can make all the difference. Most of all, just don't be afraid to try. If you have a story to tell, tell it!