As I relay in the article, as writers we should invest in our craft, to become better equipped not only to write, but to understand the complexities of this art form. There are as many methods, genres and avenues to choose from as there are individual writers. We can learn a new genre, research a new topic or gain insights into another writing style. It is a lifelong learning journey.
To gain new knowledge we can access workshops, writing coaches, buy (or borrow – a library is a great resource) relevant books and discuss methods and outlets for our writing within a writing group.
What new aspect of writing have you learnt recently?
There are several memes that state an author’s browsing history should be ignored and/or immediately deleted. We can find ourselves researching the strangest subjects, all of which are perfectly innocence. (One would hope anyway!) I think the most alarming subject for anyone to find on my history would be wanting to know under what conditions a body can dry out and become mummified. Yep, I researched that! This relates to a novel yet to be finalized, The Giving Thief and I will not be giving any hints as to why.
When I wrote The Rython Kingdom and Rython Legacy, I required medical procedures and medicines from the English medieval period. There were several ‘cures’ I think would have given the poor patient an impossible decision whether to suffer the illness or the cure! Most of the ‘research’ for these novellas was personal experience of medieval castles during visits to such sites in England, and history lessons when I lived there.
Another backburner manuscript is Willow Tree Tears, which resulted in my gaining knowledge of barrel racing. I had never been to a rodeo at the time of initially writing the book, so did some internet research. However, I was fortunate to connect with a couple of barrel racing champions, who were very helpful in their advice. It has made the narrative a lot better.
The Twesome Loop is a reincarnation romance incorporating my interest in that specific subject. My interest began during my nursing days, when a couple of incidents led me down the path to find literature on the topic.
In Life in Slake Patch, I needed to find a natural element that could hinder pregnancy, either temporarily or permanently. Surprisingly, I found one,
When I was writing The Commodore’s Gift, I needed to immerse myself in the steampunk genre, and found a plethora of mechanical devices. I also needed to know the most crucial areas to incapacitate a person with a blade!
As author’s we can get immersed in the research, but it is also a great learning tool that we, in turn pass onto our readers. We need to be careful to know our subject because an expert will pick up on any irregularities or misinformation. As the saying goes, we learn something new every day.
What is the ‘strangest’ thing you have researched?
I spent Family Day, which was a holiday Monday here in Alberta, reading and revising book two of my detective trilogy, The Tainted Search. This is a process all writer’s go through when creating any story. We become immersed in our characters narrative and sometimes a new direction will entail back tracking to correct previous timelines or actions. This story has developed with three characters becoming embroiled in an event I had not planned upon. This is what makes writing, for me anyway, so exciting and enjoyable. My characters take over, redirect and demand the direction of their ‘lives’.
Review: I was humbled and delighted with this review. The Rython Kingdom Link: Scribble’s Worth Book Reviews
This past weekend weekend was mostly reading for me, it is nice to lose yourself in story. I completed two books, both within the crime genre and helping me with plot research. The first was a collection of detective stories written by famous authors in the genre. The author’s skill at keeping a readers attention in such concise stories is good research. Some stories were better than others as the short story format was elusive.
The other novel I read was Pop Goes the Weasel by M.J. Arlidge. This is the second book I have read of his and it gripped me just as hard as the first.
My reviews for both books are on my Goodreads profile. As I was ahead of the 2022 reading challenge I adjusted my total to 24 books for the year.
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.
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.
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”.
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!
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!
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
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!
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.”
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.
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.”
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.