SPECIAL NOTE: Mary has generously offered to give away an autographed copy of her July release, MONTANA ROSE, this month.
Check out my CONTEST page for details.
WG: Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us about yourself.
I'm a Nebraska ranch wife, with four adult daughters and one perfect granddaughter.
I teach GED by day and am a writer by night.
I like to think even Wonder Woman can't make a transformation like that.
WG: Let’s talk about your own personal road to publication:
Is there some individual, group or event that you can point to as the catalyst/impetus that set you on the road to becoming a writer? Explain.
MC: I think I took as long and hard a road as possible. I seem to do everything the hard way. It took me two years into my writing journey to even hear of RWA. I had no idea there were writer's organizations. About seven years in I heard of a group called ACFW and joined, American Christian Fiction Writers. The classes I took, the connections I made, the critique group I joined and the contest I won were the final pieces of the puzzle that led me to publication. I love that organization.
WG: Tell us about your journey.
MC: I started writing the year my youngest daughter went to kindergarten. My first book, Petticoat Ranch, released in February, the year she graduated from high school. When I got my first contract I had twenty finished full length romance novels on my computer. That is either a monument to hard work and determination or a towering tribute to failure and OCD. You decide.
WG: How many books did you complete before you sold your first? Have all/any of them sold since?
MC: I've sold seven of those books now and have contracts for eighteen. My agent knows about the rest of them books though and I'm hoping she'll find a home for them, but they're not western romance, and that's what I'm writing these days.
WG: What changed most about your life as a direct result of selling that first book?
MC: I think the big change is marketing, publicity. Very strange to go out and try to sell a book on blogs and in newspaper interviews and at book signings. Nerve racking, really. I'm doing my best to hold up my end of this bargain but I'm so much happier just sitting in my darkened corner, chewing on dried bread crusts and making stuff up on the computer. I suppose one persons novelist is another person's troubled loner.
WG: What aspect of life as a ‘published author’ surprised you the most - either in a good or bad way?
MC: Again I'll say marketing. People keep wanting me to give SPEECHES. Are they MAD??? Giving a speech and writing a book are, to me the POLAR OPPOSITE skills. Why would one person excel at both, it's not really rational to expect it.
WG: What about your writing process:
Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?
MC: I write 1000 words, five days a week. I sometimes (often) do more but almost never do less. I'm really disciplined about it. A 100,000 word book piles up pretty fast.
WG: Do you have a ‘mood setter’, something (music, ritual, environment, etc) you use to get you going when you sit down to write?
MC: No, nothing. I can write in chaos, I have a very unfortunate ability to tune out the whole world, get pulled away, whatever and go right back to writing. I just entertains the heck out of myself.
WG: Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start or do you just dive in?
MC: I can do it and have had to for proposals but mostly I'm real seat of the pants. I do a lot of daydreaming about the books, figure out an inciting incident to explode the beginning and then just start writing. And if I get to slow spots and sagging middles, I just have someone start shooting.
WG: Do you normally start with storyline or with character or with some combination of the two?
MC: I think of myself as a story teller first and foremost. I usually have a story I want to tell and the characters are secondary, though I love characters and find the process of fleshing out a character really fun. But that usually happens as I write and I very often 'discover' my character, have an 'aha' moment, and then have to go back and weave the newly discovered person in. But I consider that part of the process and it doesn't bother me. I love making a character three dimensional.
WG: Do you find certain themes or character archetypes making recurring appearances in your stories
MC: I actually have a real bend toward alpha females. Really strong women. Ridiculously strong women, honestly. In Montana Rose I deliberately forced myself to try a different type of heroine because I could tell I was repeating myself and I was scared, sort of, to do someone I considered weak and spineless. So Cassie was a writing exercise and in the end I just adored her. It was really good for me, as a writer, to take a chance on a female who didn't long to solve all her problems by laying a man's skull open with the butt of her Winchester.
WG: What do you see as your own personal strengths as a writer?
MC: I think the love of it. I seriously write mostly to entertain myself. The fact that someone is willing to pay me for that, and other 'someones' are willing to buy the books amazes me. Writing is an odd passtime really and anyone who isn't a writer but can't discipline themselves to stay in that chair, they shouldn't feel bad about that. It's not all that normal to want to sit alone and have both sides of a conversation yourself.
WG: Are there any obstacles/conflicts, specific to your particular lifestyle, that get in the way of your writing? If so, how do you try and overcome them?
MC: No, I have no life. Writing fits into that spectacularly.
WG: Do you have a favorite sub-genre as a writer? as a reader?
MC: I love romantic suspense with comedy, both as a reader and a writer. I'm not so much committed to westerns, though I love doing them, as I am to the comedy and suspense. I always say if they're sassing each other and falling in love while they're running for their lives, then I'm happy.
WG: Is there a genre you haven't been published in yet that you'd like to try your hand at someday?
MC: I've written in nearly every genre, in amongst those twenty books. Always romance, but contemporary, thrillers, cop dramas, sweet. The westerns are just what finally hit, and I do love a cowboy. I've wanted to try my hand at a regency because I love reading them but it seems really complex to me, all the manners and clothes, and not nearly so familiar as westerns, so I've stayed away. But maybe someday.
WG: Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?
MC: Write. That's fundamental. Whatever you learn, whoever you meet, any classes you take, any contests you enter, you're going to learn from all of those, but if you don't sit your backside down at the computer and use what you're learned, practice the new skills, write, write, write, then you can't ever really get better. Write.
WG: Rejections, less than stellar reviews and notes from unhappy readers are all part of this business. What is your own method for dealing with these and moving on?
MC: You know, I usually trumpet the worst reviews the loudest.
I'm really fond of listening to some poor, sweet novelist bemoan a wretched review then counter by saying,
"Come to me when someone has posted on Barnesandnoble.com, 'I have never been so disgusted with a book.'
It was about a 1000 word review which, if I was her editor I'd have her in revisions to find other words for 'disgusting' she really over used it.
You can laugh or cry. So I choose to laugh. Well, maybe I crawl under my computer desk and suck my thumb for a little while, three or four days, max. But my husband has learned he can lure me out by waving a twinkie just out of my reach, so I don't stay under long. Other than that, bad reviews and unahppy readers and rejections don't bother me at ALL.
WG: Is there some piece of advice you received or bit of ‘conventional wisdom’ that you wish you had ignored?
MC: No, I never took advice much. I was too much alone writing.
I could have stood some advice. I will tell you a great piece of advice I ignored for about five years.
A judge in a contest for unpublished authors gave me really decent but not winning scores and she said, "I like your voice, I liked the tone,
I like the characters and your writing style but your book really doesn't start until page nineteen."
I had no idea what she meant. I went to that manuscript and tried to fix it, tried to start on page nineteen but I just lost too much. I ended up setting the whole book aside to deal with later. Five years later. Then, having learned a whole lot more in the interim I opened up that document and started reading. Five of the first six pages were an backstory dump. I just didn't know enough to recognize that or fix it when she'd first told me. Now I give that advice a lot, too often, in contest critiques. "Here, right here, on page twelve, your story starts." I hope eventually the writer will be able to understand that.
By the way, that book, is The Husband Tree and it's releasing January, 2010 and it starts right out of the box, I promise.
WG: What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about being a writer? What aspect do you struggle with the most?
MC: I'd say the people I've met, both other writers and some of the nicest readers in the world. Someone just told me that they knew a child who's mother was in prison and she took one of my books to that lady, thinking the comedy would lift her spirits. That lady forwarded me an email from the prisoner who talked about how great it was to laugh when she was going through something as tough as prison. It was wonderful to think I might in some small way give some joy to that woman.
WG: When you’re not writing, what do you do for fun? What is your favorite self-indulgence?
MC: My family boats on the Missouri River and I love that. But lately I'm doing my best to be on babysitting detail. Poor grandma, left alone at home while everyone else plays. I LOVE IT.
WG: What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?
MC: Favorite movie is While You Were Sleeping, romantic comedy with Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman. Every moment of that movie is worth watching and again.
WG: I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share.
MC: Here's one I really love. I have it up on my blog. "If you don't need God to pull off what you are planning, you are not dreaming big enough." Michael Hyatt
WG: Please tell us about your current project. Left pregnant and widowed in the unforgiving west, Cassie is forced into an unwanted marriage to rancher Red Dawson.
MC: MONTANA ROSE is book one of a series called Montana Marriages. This is my weak heroine, and by the end, trust me, she's not so weak anymore.. Here’s the blurb:
Left pregnant and widowed in the unforgiving west, Cassie is forced into an unwanted marriage to rancher Red Dawson.
No decent man could turn away from Cassie and leave her to the rough men in Divide, Montana.
Red Dawson can't turn his back on the spoiled, snooty, beautiful woman.
Now he's got himself a wife he's sure God never intended.
And when he informs her there'll be no more silk dresses and she has to do some work around the ranch he's surprised she immediately tries to help with everything.
Too bad she's a walking disaster. His ranch may not survive her efforts to pitch in.
Now, instead of a spoiled wife he's got himself an overly obedient and badly incompetent one, and poor Red is so charmed by her he can't bear to scold. He's not much for bossing people around, anyway.
While Red tries to survive Cassie's help and Cassie tries to use her own mind instead of meekly obeying for the first time in her life, an obsessed man plots to make Cassie his own, something he can't do as long as Red lives.
Montana Rose was actually inspired by Janette Oke's beautiful classic novel Love Comes Softly. Of course, I'm not Janette Oke and my novel has taken an alarming turn to romantic comedy, suspense and chaos. I think of it as Love Comes...Hardly.
WG: Tell us about your upcoming plans.
MC: I've got a Christmas romance releasing in September called COWBOY CHRISTMAS.
I love Christmas romances so I'm thrilled with this.
It's not part of the Montana Marriages series, the next one of that series, THE HUSBAND TREE, comes out in January.
Here's a bit about Cowboy Christmas.
Elijah Walker 's lost his father at the hands of a deceitful woman. The one thing he can't abide is lies.
Citified Annette Talbot is on the run from something and once she's home she's determined to stand and face danger. Hopefully, she can stand behind her tough Wyoming rancher father. It's easier to be brave with her pa's gun drawn.
Her father fails her but Elijah can't ignore a damsel in distress. But it doesn't take Elijah long to find out Annette is lying about something. Because he's powerfully drawn to the little liar, he turns his back on her, feeling contempt for her, and for himself. Which leaves Annette her first perfect chance to stand up and face trouble bravely. And that gets her into terrible trouble. Annette nearly dies trying to escape that trouble.
Walker can't help protecting her, especially since God pretty much dropped Annette straight into his unwilling arms. But helping her isn't the same as trusting her, and that he will never do. As Annette and Walker fight their attraction and danger draws near, Christmas approaches. The bickering twosome will get one special chance to heal old heartbreaks and follow their own star.
WG: And before we close, tell us how your readers can get in touch with you.
MC: My website is brilliantly named: www.maryconnealy.com . I once had someone say to me, "Couldn't you have come up with a more fun creative name for your website than that?" I replied, "I'm not trying to make it HARD to find me."
My personal blog, which I mainly use to direct people to my other blogs, is: www.mconnealy.blogspot.com. I would have had it be maryconnealy.blogspot.com but I created that blog then I couldn't remember my password, nor does the blog seem to exist anywhere. but when I later went back and tried to have that as my blog...guess what? It was taken. Most likely by ME!
Of course beloved Petticoats and Pistols, where Winnie and I have way to much fun. www.petticoatsandpistols.com.
And my blog on writing skills, with fifteen other novelists, Seekerville. www.seekerville.blogspot.com.
WG: Thanks so much for spending time with me and my readers this month. It was fun ‘chatting’ with you, as always!