by April Gardner
Mary Connealy Interview
I can think of a way to legitimately leave my heroine hanging by her
fingernails on the edge of a cliff I am just having a great, great
-- Mary Connealy
Mary Connealy has three books in bookstores now or coming soon from Barbour Publishing. She is married to Ivan a farmer, and she is the mother of four beautiful daughters, Joslyn, Wendy, Shelly and Katy. You can find Mary on the internet like a middle-aged, female Where's Waldo at www.maryconnealy.com! Mary is a GED Instructor by day and an author by night. And so she can remember what she's doing, she likes to wear a little crown and a Wonder Woman cape while she types.
April: You write as if you know Texas intimately. Have you ever lived there, or is it weeks of research that gives your setting its feel of authenticity?
Mary: I don’t have much experience with Texas. My mother-in-law lives there in the winter and I’ve visited, but she’s not in the area I wrote about. I did a lot of research, mainly about landscape and plants and animals, such as what kind of grazing could I expect for cattle and what kind of food could Sophie forage for her and the girls when they’re living in hiding. I had a reference to huckleberry pie and I KNOW I found that somewhere. Then during edits, I was asked if I was sure there were berries in this very rugged, stark part of Texas and I could NOT find that huckleberry reference anywhere. I ended up making a scene out of “What are these berries, where did you find them?” Which was fun.
I also used Google Earth. Have you heard of that? It’s so cool. I could use satellite photos to get a real look at the landscape. I love that, but I end up playing with it too much. I found my daughter’s house in Omaha with it.
You live on a farm. That explains how you know so much about your character’s line of work. The country girl in each of us would like a peek into what you do for a living (besides writing). Can you tell us about it?
Well, I helped my husband pull a calf just last night. It’s a messy business but I love it. If I can be of help, it’s even better, mostly I just stay out of the way. My honest work is teaching GED. I do that full time and use my insomniac tendencies to do my writing at night.
Tell us how it is you came to have “Petticoat Ranch” published.
I got my first book contract for Golden Days which is from Heartsong Presents, at the 2005 ACFW Conference. A sweet, sweet moment. Petticoat Ranch sold in June of 2006 and released before Golden Days.
Last summer, in the middle of wedding madness for my daughter Shelly (the first of my girls to get married) I got the word that Barbour wanted Petticoat Ranch. I knew they were interested but of course it’s never settled until everybody’s signature is on that contract. About three days before the wedding, I got the contract, and it was for an amount very close to the cost of the wedding, Praise the LORD! Then, the week AFTER the wedding, I received a contract for Of Mice…and Murder a cozy mystery coming from Heartsong Presents Mysteries, a new line at Barbour. What a WEEK! A wedding and two book sales. I didn’t know which direction my head was going to spin next.
I loved how you ended most every scene with a taste of the heroine’s thoughts, then immediately started the next with the hero’s, which always directly contrasted hers. You really had me chuckling with the humorous reality of it. Was that angle planned or did it evolve as your characters took on a life of their own?
My goal there was to hook the chapter end in such a way that you just HAD to start the next chapter. By making the first words of the chapter a real payoff, a reader is going to make that jump, at a time they’d normally lay the book down, just to see what I’d do with it. And then, once they started the chapter they’d read on, right? It makes for a fast paced writing style that I love reading and enjoy writing.
I also thought it was a great way to really emphasize Sophie and Clay’s different ways of thinking. Writers talk about point of view a lot and the importance of keeping it to one point of view per scene to make sure every reader knows whose head you’re in. So I just turned that way up and made that POV jump almost another character in the book.
How did you become so intimately acquainted with what I imagine to be an accurate take on a man’s thought processes? Did you grow up with a passel of brothers or something?
This one is easy, April. My husband Ivan grew up with six brothers, no sisters. Now we have four daughters, no sons. Ivan has a tendency to just watch the girls with this weird mixture of fascination and horror. All their talk of clothes and boys and make-up. All the tears and giggling and chattering. He spends a lot of time saying, “We NEVER talked about things like this when I was growing up.”
Something I tried to do in Petticoat Ranch was show Clay’s cluelessness of women and his “avoidance” reflex at the same time he is drawn to the gifts of a woman--- the softness, the openness of their emotions. Their hugs and the comfortable home and good food. I suppose those things aren’t as true today now that men are completely in touch with their feelings and do as much cooking and cleaning as women (okay, if you want to take that as a joke, you can, but SOME men are like this, right?) But I wanted the combination of the fear and the lure to show in Clay.
This is your first book, and if the quality of your writing continues in this vein, I imagine there will be many more that bear the name of “Mary Connealy”. Two more are already scheduled for release this year. Can you tell us a little about them?
I have now been contracted for a sequel to Petticoat Ranch, due out next year, but let me take them in order.
Golden Days is releasing next month, that original contract from the ACFW conference. Golden Days is set in historical Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush. It is part of a three book series. Cathy Marie Hake wrote Golden Dawn. It comes out in the next set of Heartsongs, Golden Days is book two and Kathleen Y’Barbo is writing book three, Golden Dusk. I just love those titles. I got this contract absolutely because of Cathy Marie Hake. She asked me to come in on the series with her and Kathleen. Tracie and Jim Peterson, then the acquiring editors for Heartsong, let me in. God bless them all.
Golden Days summary:
After a mishap on a bustling Seattle street nearly kills her, Amy Simons is going home to Alaska.
Braden Rafferty, devastated by the loss of his wife and child, needs to get away from his home. His brother’s new life in Alaska lures him north in the midst of the Klondike Gold Rush.
Amy, frail from her recent injuries, reminds Braden too much of his fragile wife. Amy’s independence on the trip north is crushed when she has to accept Braden’s help getting home, and she vows that as soon as her strength returns, she won’t depend on anybody. But Amy finds out she has no home to go to, and Braden steps in and takes her to his brother’s.
After Amy has another near death experience, she begins to wonder if her accidents aren’t accidental at all.
My next release is Calico Canyon, a sequel to Petticoat Ranch, coming in Summer ’08. If you’ve read Petticoat Ranch, you’ll recognize the characters. Calico Canyon is the story of the prissy school marm Miss Grace Calhoune and that loud, crude father of five, Daniel Reeves. She gets his kids kicked out of school, he gets her fired. A completely innocent compromising situation sees them married the next day. His five sons are horrified. They HATE Miss Calhoune and have lived to torment her in school. Now, they’re stuck with each other. And the bad man who forced Grace to run and hide in Daniel’s wagon, which led to her disastrous marriage, is still out there waiting to make Grace sorry she crossed him. A suspenseful romantic comedy in the same vein as Petticoat Ranch.
My website lists Of Mice…and Murder as a Christmas ’07 release but that’s been changed to Christmas ’08, and I haven’t updated my website yet.
Of Mice…and Murder summary:
Being named in Great-grandma’s will was like hitting bankrupt on Wheel of Fortune. The whole family held their breath while the wheel ticked around and around, or rather while the lawyer opened the envelope. Then they all heaved a sigh of relief when the wheel stopped on Carrie’s name.
Carrie the heiress. Great. Clean up the house. Clean up the yard. Clean up Great-grandma’s rap sheet. Carrie hates mice and loves the big city. So why is she living in a huge mouse infested house in her dinky hometown? The dead guy in her pantry closet is the most interesting thing that's happened since she came home. Of course the carpenter whose helping her trap her mice and solve the crime is pretty interesting, too.
A cozy mystery coming soon from Heartsong Presents Mysteries, a division of Barbour Publishing.
Is there any one huge event or blessing that stands out in your mind regarding your writing career that you can attribute to God and God alone?
I believe that we don’t spend too much time praying for what we want. We pray for our children and other’s we love. We pray for forgiveness. We give thanks. But how much time do we really spend saying to God, “I want this. Please give me this, God.” Wow, just typing that feels wrong and selfish. But you know what? I think God wants to hear the desires of our hearts. I began praying really hard and steadily to be published a while back. Along with all my other prayers, I always included, “God, please let me get a book published.” I prayed often, many times a day, and didn’t let up. I believe God and God alone answered that prayer. Yes, write your book to the best of your ability. God’s not going to get you published without your participation. Learn and connect and study and hone your craft and write, write, write. But pray, too. Without ceasing if you can. Don’t let an hour go by that you don’t ask God to give you the desires of your heart.
You’re standing in line at Starbucks, what will you order? Please tell me you’re blessed with a Starbucks nearby.
Get this, April. I’ve never been to a Starbucks. Honest. I live a long way out in the country and I’m a farmer’s wife. A three dollar cup of coffee offends my sense of fiscal sanity. I look at the cup and think, “I could buy a whole pound of coffee for that amount.” Not that I’ve never had a fancy cup of coffee, I had a caramel tiramisu coffee once and loved it. I honestly think if we could just get Starbucks and Krispy Kreme all over the world, there would be no more suicide bombers. I mean, c’mon, who’s gonna kill themselves willingly if the Hot light is on at Krispy Kreme? No way, no volunteers. Give those people donuts and coffee instead of goat meat and we’ve got world peace, I’m not KIDDING.
There is a little non-Starbucks coffee shop in a mall about an hour away and I love those toppings, the cinnamon and chocolate. But I don’t get them very often. I’m more of a tea drinker.
Have you always wanted to write a novel or is this a recent dream that’s come true?
I don’t really know what other writers are like, but to me, a writer is more than what I do, it’s what I am. I just love writing. I mean seriously, like some people love to play cards or go bowling or watch television or whatever is entertainment for them—writing is my fun. I am never happier than when I’m making myself laugh or doing something really mean-hearted to my heroine. If I can think of a way to legitimately leave her hanging by her fingernails on the edge of a cliff I am just having a great, great time. I have always written since I was a child and, whether I’d gotten published or not, I think I always would have kept doing it. It’s who I am.
Which character of your book do you feel is your greatest creation?
That’s hard for me. I loved Clay. I wanted him to be clueless but not dumb or unkind. I said he was inspired by my husband so I didn’t want to do anything male bashing. I said inspired but of course I turned Clay up about 1000% from my husband, as far as having no experience with women.
I wanted to show the gifts of a woman in Sophie. Why she and Clay distrust each other but are also strongly drawn to each other. I loved making Sophie as strong as any woman imaginable, but she’s not perfect. She is mostly nice to him when she’s not nagging J, but she treats Clay with a kind of benign disrespect because her first husband was so useless. She just doesn’t expect anything better from Clay and she has to learn that he’s a different kind of man.
I see Sophie as being the way I wish I was, so fearless, so competent and saying out loud all the things I keep inside. I tried really hard to not descend into male bashing with Clay or make Sophie a shrew.
I felt like Adam was key to the story. I created him mainly because I wanted him to be furious and want revenge on the bad guys. I didn’t want Sophie or Clay to be so close to killing mad. I didn’t feel like that made them sympathetic figures. So I wanted them to be a little farther along on their healing from their anger at Judd Mason.
I loved Luther, too, and I had a lot of fun seeing how few words I could make Buff say. The girls were the most fun to write, so much of the comedy comes from them. So, I didn’t answer your question at all, did I?
What has been the hardest part about writing this book?
You know, I love writing. I love that first creation. I love putting The End on. I love revisions because to me that is just making the book sharper and more fun. I thought Barbour did such a great job with editing. Every suggestion they made improved the book and I learned so much from them. I’ve even loved promoting it and I didn’t think I would. I’m a lot more comfortable behind a computer then in front of a crowd, you know…those are two completely different skill sets. No reason one human being should be able to do both.
I suppose the hardest part of a book is always the fear factor. There’s a lot of fear in writing. Fear of rejection, fear of low sales, fear of never getting another contract. It’s draining. But I’m used to it. I got a lot of rejection before I finally got a book published.
Are you an organized writer, outlining and plotting, or do you write off the cuff?
I can do both. Petticoat Ranch was completely off the cuff. All I knew was I wanted to start with vigilantes tormenting Sophie, and I wanted happily ever after. Golden Days was really organized. I sold it on a proposal and I had to have a chapter by chapter outline of it before I submitted it. I think off the cuff is more natural to me, but I don’t mind plotting.
Is there anything you’d like to add that maybe I haven’t touched on, something you’d like the readers to know?
I believe that as Christians, we’re under assault all the time. Our values, our beliefs, from TV and movies and music, advertising, store windows, politicians, interest groups trying to wipe out every moral code then ignoring the disaster they leave in their wake in the form of fatherless children, disease, addiction, poverty. Everywhere we are just pushed and pushed and pushed. I find it laughable when I hear someone sue because they were forced to say, “Under God” in the pledge of allegiance, or listen to a prayer or see a cross in some painting. They’re offended. They feel judged or belittled. But go ahead and offend Christians all day every day and we don’t dare complain.
Because of this, I think Christians struggle with anger. That feeling of constantly being pushed and the ridiculous offensiveness of our culture give us a bunker mentality and that results in anger. But here’s the thing. Anger is a sin. When we are enraged about some new offense, Satan is winning. How impossible it is to respond to everyone with love. But that’s what God calls us to do. And yes, Jesus got angry and yes, there’s righteous anger, but mostly, I think we’re just sinning. We’re just letting the bad guys win when we rage against the crudity surrounding us. This anger doesn’t win converts to our faith. It doesn’t give us a closer walk with God. But we’ve managed to convince ourselves that we need to fight, and we do need to—but not with anger, with love.
That’s what I was trying to show in Petticoat Ranch. Completely justified anger hurt Sophie and Clay and Adam, while Judd Mason, the bad guy, just went on his way. He didn’t care about the destruction of his actions. The good guy’s anger didn’t touch him. They needed to let go of their anger to live fully. Of course Judd had anger, too, by refusing to let go of his completely unjustified anger, he destroyed himself.
So look at your life. Do you spend a lot of time being angry at the assault your faith is under? You need to let that go and love. God’s greatest commandment. No excuses. And I know it’s not easy and I don’t succeed myself far too often. But it’s what we should strive for.
God bless you to anyone who managed to keep reading for this long, oh, well, God bless you all, even if you quit :) and thanks for letting me be part of TitleTrakk.com, April.April W Gardner writes adult and middle grade historical fiction. Her first novel, Wounded Spirits, releases with Vintage Romance Publishing in November of this year. She is a member of ACFW and reviews for Title Trakk, At Home With Christian Fiction, and FIRST Wild Card Blog Tours. A military spouse, April has performed the art of homemaking all over the world. Currently, she lives in Georgia with her darling Hubby. A homeschool mom, she fills her mornings talking fractions and phonics with her two sweet kiddos. In her free time, April enjoys reading, gardening, and DIY. In no particular order, she dreams of owning a horse, visiting all the national parks, and speaking Italian. Visit April's Website or her blog, A Writer's Journey. You can also get to know April on Facebook and Twitter.