Tell us about yourself and your books.:
I'm a grammar nerd who still loves diagramming sentences, and I currently live in Pennsylvania with my husband Richard, the Pied Piper of stray cats. I tend to give our rescues unusual names, like ZebNebula, Sprite, Finn McCool & Potiphar.
I write historical fiction that features a family of Irish immigrants who settled in the Arizona Territory in the late 1800s. My debut novel, WHISPERS IN THE CANYON, is the first book in the Donovan Family Saga. In a nutshell, it's the story of a young woman whose survival depends on the man who shot her brother. Here's a little more detail:
Shunned by the village for her outlaw brother's deeds, Jesse Travers is not sorry to hear he's been killed while robbing a bank. Strangely enough it’s Adam Donovan, the man who shot him, who brings her the news.
Traumatized by years of abuse, Jesse doubts she can trust any man—especially this Irish immigrant with his volatile temper and gunfighter’s reputation. But now she’s alone, and he’s offered to help put her bankrupt ranch back on solid footing. A profound love for her canyon home is stronger than her trepidation, and she accepts his assistance.
As they work together to improve her ranch, Jesse begins to see that Adam’s true nature is far removed from his reputation. She feels the first stirrings of love―an emotion she's never known before. Then, as if to tell her she is unworthy of happiness, her past rises up with a vengeance and she is left with a terrible choice: retreat to a life of solitude and shame, or trust her heart and reveal her tragic secret, in the hope that Adam is the man she believes him to be.
While the story deals with abuse, there is no graphic violence, and the subject is treated with respect and empathy for the victims and/or survivors, and no sympathy or excuses for the transgressor.
That being said, WHISPERS IN THE CANYON is essentially a story about healing, and there is most definitely an HEA (and no, not the kind that says, “See, he loves her—so now she’s okay.”) The novel explores the effects of abuse and murder not only for the victims, but for those have to deal with it, and those who try to help them. The plot is somewhat dark, but the overriding theme is the resilience of the human spirit.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
In spite of advice to the contrary, I edit as I go along. And while a significant number of writers outline their stories in advance of starting on the manuscript, I always outline my stories after I've finished them. This allows me to detect any plot holes or dangling threads. The plot holes must be filled, and the danglers fleshed out or eliminated.
This method also lets my characters talk to me, and sometimes change the direction the story's going in. For instance, in order to complete my protagonist’s journey in WHISPERS IN THE CANYON, I realized about two-thirds of the way through that one of the other characters would have to die. I didn’t plan that from the start, and it still breaks my heart. In fact, that death had an impact on the second book in the series (the one I’m finalizing now), and it drastically changed the plan I had created for it. Hopefully, it will be a change for the better.
What authors have influenced you?
I chose the Old West as a setting because I was tired of kids' books by the age of 10, and I asked the librarian to recommend something, and she recommended The Virginian by Owen Wister. Slam! Bam!! hooked on Westerns as a literary form. As a result, I read through my father’s entire collection of Zane Grey novels by the end of that summer, and still have and read those wonderful books. (If you think all there is to Zane Grey is shoot-em-ups, let me recommend The Vanishing American, The Shepherd of Guadalupe, or Riders of the Purple Sage. Read one and experience the depth of characterization—I bet you get hooked, too!)
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Don’t get confused by all the “rules” other authors propound—things like “no adverbs” or “only use said & asked in dialogue”. These are style choices every author must make for themselves. The only universal rules are grammar rules and it really helps to get a good handle on them. Then you can break them deliberately to add emphasis to your writing.
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
Any word is a good word if it fits the needs of the sentence.
What are you reading now?
The Glassblowers by Daphne DuMaurier, an epic about the French Revolution, and re-reading The Mysterious Rider by Zane Grey
What’s your biggest weakness?
I'm so impatient. I want everything to happen NOW.
What is your favorite book of all time?
It's really hard to choose just one. THE VIRGINIAN was my first favorite book, followed closely by the Zane Grey novels. A little later, I fell in love with WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Bronte. But I also just re-read ETHAN FROME by Edith Wharton, and it hit me just as hard as it did the first time. LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL by Thomas Wolfe is one I go back to from time to time as well. I find his style fascinating.
What has inspired you and your writing style?
The inspiration for this series struck me when I read an article about a memorial sculpture being installed in County Cork that celebrated the aid the Choctaw Tribe in America gave to the Irish during the Irish Famine (An Gorta Mor). My mother has a smidgen of native blood, so the article caught my eye.
My father’s family were Irish immigrants, and I realized that they had lived through that famine. I did some research and learned that it was a totally avoidable disaster, which cut Ireland’s population by at least a third while food was being exported to England at astronomical rates.
I felt compelled to tell the stories of the survivors—the ones who somehow held body and soul together and found a way to prosper.
As far as style goes, I've probably been influenced most by Norah Roberts and her Irish sagas, as well as the In Death series she writes as J. D. Robb (not that I come close to her mastery of POV). I've also found the late Dick Francis, another mystery writer, incredibly deft at characterization and description.
What are you working on now?
I'm working on the sequel to WHISPERS IN THE CANYON, and hope to have it published before the end of summer. THE WOODSMAN'S ROSE features the same cast of characters, but the central romance involves another member of the family.
What is your method for promoting your work?
Right now I'm trying everything: blogging, giving interviews, reviewing other authors' works, creating a newsletter. It's like that age-old question: How do you tell when spaghetti's done? Answer: Throw it against the wall and see if it sticks.
Seriously though, I'm putting my foot into every marketing puddle I can find. I think my own website does a fairly decent job, and I try to stay active on Goodreads & in my professional groups, the Historical Novel Society, Western Fictioneers, and Savvy Author.
I'm running a discount promotion for the first time next month (June 2-8, 2020), and I hope to have a better handle on the answer to this question afterwards.
What’s next for you as a writer?
That's an easy question: continuing the Donovan Family Saga & (hopefully) gaining some effective marketing skills.
How well do you work under pressure?
I'm an Own Voices writer, dealing with chronic pain. Too much pressure creates problems for me, so I have to be careful to pace myself. But when I hit my stride, I'm practically unbeatable.
How do you decide what tone to use with a particular piece of writing?
Since all my stories are related, at least until now, they're all on the dramatic side. But the novels also have generous helpings of traditional song lyrics, both Irish and American. And, coming from a large Irish-American family myself, I've taken the liberty to inject splashes of humor demonstrating how such a clan interacts.
(Family, if any of you are reading this, don’t worry. No names will be named.)
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