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Creative Edge Author Interview – Sophie Mays is the pen name of author, Stephanie LaVigne

October 14, 2021
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  • What spurred you into writing stories in the first place?

I was always a big reader, which was red flag number one. Aside from reading though, I had always been writerly, I just didn’t know it would eventually manifest into fiction novels. I am one of those people with an overactive brain, plus I am a talker. So those two things combined are very conducive to be being a writer.

  • Can you tell us about the very first story you wrote?

When I think of my very first stories, I think back to things I wrote when I was in grade school and high school. I had an amazing honors English teacher in high school who was always challenging us in our creative writing. I wrote a lot of bad poems and decent short stories during that time. Then I wrote a lot of plays and screenplays in my twenties. However, my first proper novel was a quirky mystery book written when I went home for the holidays one year. I did a self-imposed NaNoWriMo, which meant sitting down on my parent’s back porch every day for a month and forcing out 50,000 words without going back to edit or second guess anything. I still haven’t published that book, but I think one day I will. Every few years I pull it out and work on it, then realize that I have other books that need to get done so it gets re-shelved for another day.

  • Why did you pick contemporary romance fiction as your genre?

It was originally because my mother-in-law was an avid romance reader. She tends to read a lot of authors like Debbie Macomber, so I set out to write books that she would enjoy. We’ve always had a lot of fun talking about plots and story ideas, and she has always been my go-to person when deciding on romance book covers. Along the way, I realized how much I enjoyed showing that even though life can have its ups and downs, “happily ever afters” are still possible.

  • Why you decide to write series rather than stand-a-lone novels?

Well, a lot of it has to do with the business end. It simply makes more sense to write in a series than unrelated stand-alones. Though I usually write standalone books within my series, meaning you don’t have to read them in order. However, as a reader myself, I am a total glutton for a series. I get roped in so easily, and once I get to know the characters or the town, I want to spend time there. I think a lot of other people feel the same way, so there is something natural about writing a series.

  • What in particular interests you about this genre?

I really like the reminder that ordinary people can have extraordinary lives, they can find love that lights them up, and can navigate through all the quirks and sometimes disasters of every day life. In spite of all the hurdles that life throws at us, we persevere, and eventually we prevail. I love that in the romance genre we strive to show the goodness in the world. We all need our hearts warmed a little more often, to laugh a lot more often, and to be shown that there are good and beautiful things for us out there in this big, old world.

  • What influences your choice of a location for each series?

I think I get my travel obsession catered to when I choose story locations. So far I have picked a lot of coastal locations, in addition to a number of locations that hold great appeal to me. Even though I usually create a fictional town, I try to set my books in places that I want to visit, or that I have spent time in and loved.

  • When writing a series – what comes first the characters, the location or an overall concept?

It is usually a combination. I usually start with a general story idea, which gives me the vague notion of the main character. Then I spent too much time thinking about the location and picking the perfect spot. Once I have the general premise of the location, then I go back in and really start fine-tuning the characters. Which in turn, changes the story in some ways. It’s a never-ending cycle!

  • Can you tell us a little about the Serenity Falls collection? Where did the idea of five siblings come from?

The first book in the series was actually part of a multi-author collaboration. Some other sweet romance writer friends and I wanted to do a Christmas collection together, however we were a slightly diverse group. Some wrote regency romance, some wrote mail order bride romance, and two of us wrote contemporary romance. So we did a lot of messages back-and-forth and several phone calls until we figured out a way to weave the story lines together where the first stories were set in Regency era England, and then those families came across to America. Then characters from that generation became mail order brides who made their way out west. Finally, the last books were there great-great-grandchildren of the mail order brides (I may be missing an extra great in there, but I can’t remember off the top of my head.) When it came time to come up with the story for my book, I knew that I wanted to write something on a ranch and I love the Rocky Mountains, plus I wanted the option to continue writing in the world if I was inspired to do so later on. That led to my creating my main character, Hannah Wyatt. I gave her a really sweet family with two loving parents and four other siblings, which became the Serenity Falls series. It’s ended up making for a really fun and lovable series with lots of unique love stories.

  • Who is your favorite author and why?

It’s terrible, but I don’t have favorites in general, and I definitely don’t have favorite authors. But for the sake of answering the question, I really love this author named A.J. Jacobs because I find his books hysterical. He has a book called The Know-It-All that I literally cried laughing while reading. It’s about the time he decided to read the Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z. As you can imagine, this isn’t necessarily a book that would be universally considered high humor, but as a word person, I loved it. I’ve also always enjoyed Carl Hiaasen books. He was one of my first authors that inspired me to want to write novels. Plus, there are a ton of amazing female mystery authors that I’ve read and loved. I also read a lot of non-fiction reference books about any number of subjects that I’m interested in.

  1. How do you juggle life and writing?

Haha, poorly! Just kidding. Though, also not kidding. It is incredibly difficult to balance work and life, and I think that goes for almost everyone, not only authors. There is so much that goes into the business end of being a full-time writer. I am constantly doing my best to triage everything in my day-to-day life. I try to stay organized, but even that comes in bursts. Most days, I have about five hours to work before I leave to get my kids. It is somehow the shortest five hours known to man.

  1. Does traveling prompt your story ideas?

I haven’t done much traveling lately, but yes, traveling is always inspiring to me! Even when I’m not physically traveling, a lot of my story work is me tapping into locations I’ve spent time in, or places that I want to go. One of the great things about being a writer is that I get the excuse of looking up cool places that I want to visit for story “research”.

  1. Where can readers find you and your books?

You can sign up for my newsletter at www.SophieMays.com to keep up with me, and hear about my new releases and deals. Plus, I am on all the usual social platforms, like Amazon, Instagram, Facebook, Bookbub, and Goodreads. I’d love if you come and follow me so I can say hello to you wherever you like to hangout online!

  1. What are you currently writing?

I am working on the spin-off series to Serenity Falls, which follows their Wyatt cousins in the Riverside Ranch series. I am also working on two Romantic Comedy series which I am super excited about!

  1. Do you have a message for your readers?

If you’ve read my books before, thank you! You have made it possible for me to take this improbable dream and make it into my everyday life. For anyone out there reading this who has something in their heart that they wish they were brave enough to do or try, my encouragement is for you to take in a big breath and take the first step toward whatever that goal or intimidating thing is. It is never not worth trying. And I completely, boldly, lovingly support you and believe in you!

The Serenity Falls Complete Series: Sweet Romance at Wyatt Ranch

BIO:

From her home in Florida, she offsets sandy toes and ocean views with trips to her favorite
regions in quaint New England, cozy coastal Maine, the majestic Rocky Mountains, the dramatic
Pacific Northwest, the glimmering Caribbean, and the ever-charming South. Sometimes she does
this in real life, but she can always steal away to somewhere beautiful in her books.

When she’s not writing, she’s wrangling kids, spending time with her husband, doing laundry,
baking cookies, planning dream trips, or attempting to fine-tune her questionable gardening
skills. More information can be found at SophieMays.com

• Five unique siblings, five unexpected life changes •
Set against a gorgeous small-town mountain backdrop in Colorado, we follow five siblings as they each return home to help start a new family business.

From cowboys to unexpected newcomers, from weddings to high-stakes adventures, you will fall in love with this cozy small town in the Rocky Mountains and become friends with the Wyatt family. Meet Emma, Hannah, Anna-Jane, Carson, and Jake! Five very different personalities, each deserving of their own happily ever after…

Read all the books in the Serenity Falls series together! This Collection includes:

🤍 Wishes from the Heart (Hannah & Rafferty’s Story) 🤍 Art of the Heart (Anna-Jane & Cody’s Story) 🤍 Baking from the Heart (Emma & Gavin’s Story) 🤍 Call of the Wild Heart (Carson & Bella’s Story) 🤍 Detours of the Heart (Jake & Mackenzie’s Story)
Brisk mountain air and romance abound at the Wyatt Ranch! From bestselling author Sophie Mays comes this delightfully heartwarming sweet ranch romance series.

Whether you are falling in love alongside a baker, an artist, an ex-Navy Seal, or a world traveler – there’s something for everyone in Serenity Falls.

If you love uplifting, feel-good romance stories with irresistible characters, prepare to get roped into Sophie Mays’ Serenity Falls series!

Bibliophile’s Collective Tuesday – Road Trip Thoughts

October 12, 2021
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Apologies for my tardiness, as it was Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, I enjoyed a weekend away and just relaxed. This is not a bad thing, we all need to decompress regularly. Hence, I did not draft a blog post for today – so I am late.

The trip was to Lloydminster, which is unique in the fact that it spans the Alberta and Saskatchewan border. This may seem unusual, but when you add in the fact that Saskatchewan has an extra sales tax, you can imagine how residents and commercial businesses have to juggle what is paid where! We discovered a wonderful park with the city and enjoyed a leisurely walk with the dogs.

A super chance encounter happened on the way home, when we spied a herd of small ponies. They were curious and met us at the fence. This is why we travel the back roads

I wrote this poem to reflect my road trip experiences.

ROAD TRIP THOUGHTS

Road trips are a joy, incorporating

New places explored

Frequent wildlife encounters

Cherished memories to share

***

Increased expectation and excitement

A check list of essentials made

Local sights and attractions investigated

Reservations confirmed and paid

***

Double checked suitcase contents

Cooler bag filled with bottled water

Snacks bought to dispense

Extra footwear, jackets and sunglasses

***

Early morning start, packing the trunk

A double check before we drive away

Puppies walked, fed, then harnessed in

Breakfast our first stop along the way

***

Routes taken – off highway & gravel

Multiple stops for photo opportunities

This is the only way to travel

Wildlife and scenery abound

***

Arrival at our lodgings, truck unpacked

Dogs walked, fed then settled

Organizing of our spaces, preferences known

Comfortable companionship not meddled

***

Evening meal eaten, then to relax

Tomorrow’s adventure discussed

Reading and writing commence

Time is not rushed

***

An easy morning routine

New adventures and sights shown

Snacks gathered and packed

Our destination known

Do you have road trip memories you would like to share?

Wordsmith’s Collective Thursday – Creating Plot Twists

September 16, 2021
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When we write a story, as the author, we are within the narrative – it’s characters, setting, backstory and genre format. We can become too close to the action and reveal our plot too early or make it too obvious. Here are a few tips to help entice your reader and keep them guessing, because if you can foresee a plot twist so can the reader. We have to think up options and/or steer the event in another direction to avoid being obvious. 

  1. One way is to use subtle misdirection, such as:
  • Red herrings – false clues or misleading information to steer readers in the wrong direction.
  • Dead ends – not writing the obvious outcome your readers thought was coming.
  • Misguided attention – Bury hints or clues where the reader is redirected to another scene, or dialogue and misses a cleverly dropped hint.

2. Foreshadowing is an excellent vehicle for adding subtle hints for a twist to come. These can be as part of a characters actions, or non-action, a secondary character’s dialogue or even disguising a plot twist within a plot twist. The twist, however, must be believable and necessary and also makes sense within the narrative.

3. Use a subplot that misdirects your reader.

  • It can feed into the plot line, or not – that is your choice.
  • Interact or intertwine your subplot in an unexpected or unusual way.
  • You can make the subplot more important to the overall story, than initially appears.
  • It can also distract from the main plot.
  • Depending on your genre you can use the ‘no-one is safe’ mentality to add tension and ‘what if’s’.

Other misdirection techniques include:

  1. Killing off an important character.
  2. A character discovers a plot twist organically.
  3. Elevate a minor character.
  4. Your big reveal instigates a twist ending.

Remember to keep up the momentum after the big reveal so that the reader will continue reading to find out the ultimate conclusion of your narrative. If you are struggling there are plot twist generators on the internet, you can use them or manufacture your own from the ideas.

How have you kept a reader guessing? Care to share?

Which book plot twist surprised you the most?

Here is a list of the more famous literary plot twists.

Bibliophile’s Collective Tuesday – Podcast Interviews Galore (a little over exaggeration possibly) and Book & Movie Reviews

September 14, 2021
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Last week, I was rather popular with two podcast interviews. The first with A Hot Take on Thursday with Jenna Greene and Miranda Oh and then another with Alive After Reading with Tim Niederriter You can find the links here:

A Hot Take

Talking story locations and travel, current and past projects and everything in-between with lots of laughs thrown in.

Alive After Reading

Apologies for the barking dogs halfway through! An interesting chat covering writing inspirations, genre writing, incorporating personal interests into your writing and more.

I just finished My Ghosts by Mary Swan and loved the adeptly written internal dialogue of the characters.

Review: I enjoyed the inner character perspective of this narrative, it was written well with an excellent sense of place and time.

What are you reading? Can you share your last book review?

Movies I have recently watched include:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8079248/ Yesterday – not only is the music superb obviously, it’s The Beatles after all, but the fact it was a new idea/plot.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1661275/ Because it’s another British movie, there are scenes of England and you don’t expect the twists!

Can you recommend a movie? Why did you like it?

Creative Edge Author Interview – Donna Conrad

September 9, 2021
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  • Were your core beliefs the reason you began writing historical fiction?

In a way, yes. I was an English and History major in college and had a hard time finding information about influential women. I was appalled that even noble and royal women were rarely named while historians wrote tomes about the deeds and misdeeds of their brothers, husbands, and fathers. I initially felt compelled to give voice to women who had been marginalized, let alone completely overlooked. When I came across the African proverb, “Until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter,” I knew I must write novels about significant women based on strong historical evidence which had been supressed.

  • Did you grow up in an atmosphere of individual empowerment or did life experiences propel you in that direction?

My childhood was anything but empowering. I was terrified of my psychotic, authoritarian father, and ashamed of my mother, who did not stand up for herself, but instead fell headfirst into a bottle of whiskey to cope with her life. And yet, I always knew my mother and sister loved me unconditionally, something that sustained me through the trauma that was both my youth and the Sixties in general.

Despite her own demons, my mother managed to raise my sister and me to be strong, independent women. I learned from her example and vowed early on to never subjugate myself to another’s will, whether that of a person, a government, or a religion. When I met my husband, I realized he valued my independence. He encouraged me to be empowered and a freethinker. We’ve been married for 44 years and are still equal partners striving to become more self-aware. My husband tells people, “No one yells at Donna … twice.”

Book Cover, Cold Creek Press
  •  Where did the link to Celtic Tradition come from?

My mother was Irish and never felt quite at home with Christian dogma. She raised me in the “old ways,” which she learned from her grandmother. We celebrated the Celtic Wheel of the Year. As I child I loved the freedom to run in the fields and lay under a tree as my form of worship. I was taught that all things have a lifeforce, whether that be rock, tree, river, ocean, animal, or human. The earth-based spirituality practiced by the Celts felt natural and liberating. I gave Christianity a try in my early teens but found the basis of original sin constricting and repressive. As I grew older, I embraced my mother’s tradition and researched the “old ways” through books, retreats, and eventually leading my own quarter day celebrations.

  • Do you feel women’s wisdom is supressed in modern culture?

There is a resurgence of respect for women’s wisdom in many parts of the world. If we look back 200 years, or even 100 years, women who expressed wisdom were shunned, if not murdered. Even in fairy tales, the wise old woman, the woman who knows herbs and healing and speaks with the forest animals, is always a haggard, old, evil witch, that preys on children and the unwary; someone to be scorned. With women in the forefront, late 19th and early 20th century occult spirituality led by Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society and Annie Horniman’s Order of the Golden Dawn, women began to openly reclaim their personal power.

With the “women’s rights” movement of the early 1970s, and courageous leaders like Gloria Steinem, women began to publicly claim their inner wisdom and outer proficiency.

What we see from a historical perspective, is that anytime women advance in society it is through their own leadership and determination. The #MeToo movement is a great example of women joining together to bring about change. I’m speaking in broad terms of empowerment, but respect for women in all aspects of their lives, including women’s wisdom, cannot be separated from women’s empowerment.

While most of the world still suppresses women’s wisdom, there are pockets of light where women are honored. The Maiden, Mother, Crone aspects of women are certainly making gains, even though the perceived roles of women as Temptress, Whore, Witch, persist.

  • How did growing up in the 1960s affect your personality?

The Sixties were remarkable. Young people felt anything and everything was possible if we wanted it badly enough. The sixties stereotypical “free-love” culture received most of the press, but it was the larger desire to embrace “free-thinking” that motivated my generation. Definitely me. Conforming, following rules, becoming our parents with their warped sense of patriarchal rule, was anathema. My generation believed that if we united, we could affect change—and we united as had rarely been seen. My mother always encouraged me to think for myself. She encouraged me to question authority, even hers, and when given an answer, question that too!

As I grew older, went to college, started teaching high school English, I found that I could carry my values from the Sixties with me into the “adult” world, use them to help others find their own uniqueness, their own authenticity. The Sixties concepts of freedom of thought, freedom of action, freedom to live as one wanted, were tempered by another guiding star from my mother: Do no harm.

I continue to question authority, laws, regulations, first impressions, and the nature of people who enter and leave my life. I value unique qualities in people and depend on my inner sense to form, and break, my own opinions.

  • You wear many hats – memoirist, fiction author, journalist, activist, and teacher. Do these roles contribute to your writing?

Everything a writer does, or doesn’t do, influences what they write. I’ve found that even the agonizing writer’s-block is there for a reason: To shine a spotlight on what is blocked or hiding in one’s life at that moment. The many hats I’ve worn lend me varied perspectives about people’s actions and motivations.

I started writing the first book in my historical fiction series, The Last Magdalene, before I wrote House of the Moon: Surviving the Sixties. I realized my fascination with women marginalized throughout history was partially because I too had been marginalized and silenced; that my generation arose to claim our voice, to make certain we were not ignored. Writing my memoir was both traumatic and liberating. When I found I was able to write an unvarnished version of my teen years, it became imperative that I do the same for other women. I went back to square one and wrote The Last Magdalene from a deeper level of comprehension.

I find that the common thread in everything I do is to be authentic and to allow myself to change perspectives as I learn more about “life, the universe, and everything”—to quote one of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams.

  • From where do you gather your research? (Library, archives, internet etc.)

I use every means available but find physical books and research papers especially gratifying. I also like to travel to locations in order soak up the ambiance, feel the sun or rain, hear the sounds, touch the stones, eat the food, and immerse myself in the history of any given place. I even went back to my childhood home in Covina, California and walked around my high school while writing House of the Moon.

My research for The Last Magdalene includes studying with a Hebraic scholar, Shana Laxx, from Haifa University, to better understand women’s place and participation in ancient Judea. The primary written sources for my series, The Magdalene Chronicles, are from my personal library and include works by several Roman and Egyptian historians, Josephus, Elaine Pagels, and multiple translations of both the Torah and New Testament. I find reading various renditions of history to be illuminating, and helps me to see differences in various editions, and more importantly what one translator left out, or added.

I do refer to the internet but am skeptical about fast and easy searches. I end up going down the rabbit hole for hours on end trying to source information, and often end up back in my personal library, or emailing university professors who are always helpful and eager to aid in my research.

  • What surprising things did you learn from writing your books?

How much I don’t know!

I’m also continually surprised at how interconnected people are, even when there are no physical ties that bind. But above all other surprises, the reach of the written word is what continues. Books have been a major source of inspiration throughout my life. Maya Angelou, Alan Ginsberg, Hunter Thompson, Marion Zimmer-Bradley, Sharon Kay Penman, and so many other authors and poets have shaped my perspectives, given me both hope and despair. When someone contacts me to say my writing has impacted their lives, I’m hugely surprised and gratified.

  • Where can readers find you and your books?

My website is www.donnaconrad.com.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Dconrad999

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/donnadconrad/  

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DonnaDConrad999

Or send me an email at donna@donnaconrad.com.

I also teach at various conferences. The next workshop on the agenda is Real vs. Reality, a hands-on workshop to help writers take facts and turn them into dynamic prose. https://www.pnwa.org/page/ConferenceRegistation

I am also represented by Creative Edge: http://www.creative-edge.services

  • What message do you want to give your readers?

Every person can make a difference, but it takes courage and authenticity. Don’t doubt your abilities or your insights. To quote Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself. Everybody else is already taken.”

Bio

Donna Conrad is an award-winning author, journalist, activist, and teacher. Her core values revolve around the concept of individual empowerment, a sustaining ideal running through the books she writes. Her writing interests are varied and include articles for fine-art periodicals, memoir/narrative non-fiction, as well as historical, flash, and paranormal fiction. She teaches all of the above at writers’ conferences.

Her first published book “House of the Moon: Surviving the Sixties,” has received rave reviews.

Donna’s life is as varied as her writing. She embraces change as an exciting adventure. She has studied writing with the likes of Alan Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Jack Whyte. She has also been mentored by Donald Maass, whom she worked with privately on her upcoming four-book historical fiction series, “The Magdalene Chronicles.” Book One, The Last Magdalene, is scheduled for publication April 2022.

She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their five cats. When she’s not writing, you can find Donna cruising the back roads in her black-on-black Miata MX-5, Maya – named for one of her favorite poets, Maya Angelou.

Her memoir, House of the Moon; Surviving the Sixties has received critical acclaim. The first of her four-book historical fiction series, The Last Magdalene, is scheduled for publication April 2022.

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