Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Interview with Mary Connealy!

Wacky, witty & wonderful...

are only three of the many, many words I could use to describe Mary Connealy's debut novel, Petticoat Ranch! Fun, unique, hilarious, and inspiring are other words that still fail to do the novel justice. Mary has constructed a fantastic story that seems to breach all genres - who would have thought a suspenseful historical with a strong romance thread and a hilarious chick-lit voice would have been this great?

This is one book that everyone can - and will! - read and enjoy. A widow on the frontier, more daughters than she - or her new husband - can count, a dangerous surprise, and one stubborn cowboy make this story one you won't be able to put down! I dare you to branch out today and pick up a copy of this fabulous book! You'll giggle, you'll sniffle, you'll constantly look over your shoulder...but most of all, you WON'T regret it!

Betsy: Welcome, Mary! We're glad to have you here today. Tell us, what inspired the idea for "Petticoat Ranch?"

Mary: I think of Petticoat Ranch as my husband’s story. My husband, Ivan, is from a family of seven sons. Now we have four daughters. Sometimes, watching Ivan react to the girls, doing the very normal things the girls do, is hilarious. They just shock him. One time, during an extensive discussion of control top panty hose, Ivan shook his head and said, “This is a conversation we never had at home.”

I used his well intentioned efforts to figure out women as the background for Clay, my hero in Petticoat Ranch. At least Ivan had a mother, girl cousins and classmates. Then we dated and married, then added the daughters one at a time.

Clay came from an all male world, first in the Rocky Mountains, then in the war. He was dropped into his all-girl family with absolutely no preparation. Believing it is his Christian duty to protect and care for these women, he marries Sophie about four hours after he regains consciousness in her care.

And then the shocks start coming. The giggling, the hair pulling, the tears. He handles it all as badly as possible all while being charmed and drawn to his wife and daughters. The man is wildly conflicted and the comedy of his confusion just floods the entire book.

Betsy: Without giving too much plot away, can you tell us your favorite scene in the novel? Or the scene you had the most fun writing?

Mary: I love scenes that are complex, with lots of characters, all talking at the same time, movement, comedy. I love reworking them, tweaking, making it very visual to the reader. My favorite is if I can write it so the characters are misunderstanding each other, reading something awful into some innocent statement, making sure the READER gets what’s happening while the characters are completely befuddled.

Children in a scene are perfect for that. Their blunt honesty just sings with comic potential!

One of my favorite scenes in Petticoat Ranch is a ride home from church with Clay and Sophie up front, the kids in the back, Clay is mad at Sophie for doing something that is Man’s Work. Then … well, the kids are worried that Clay’s mad and doesn’t love them and they’re interrupting and Clay gets madder because he’s insulted that they’d think he doesn’t love him. He says “That’s a stupid thing to say,” and Sophie gets angry at him for calling them stupid and he says…

Well, it just goes on and on…

It makes me laugh even now when I read it!

I really tried to balance the historical mindset against Sophie’s self-sufficiency. She completely accepts…intellectually…that a woman is supposed to be submissive to her husband. But reality just keeps intruding as she handles everything herself over and over without even considering Clay.

Betsy: What are you currently reading?

Mary: It’s Heartsong week at my house. I just finished Gail Sattler’s Love by the Yard. Heartsongs are really sweet and I enjoy them but once in a while one really kind of glows in the dark, you know? Gail’s is like that. No shocking twists or edgy topics…well, not much, but the characters are just beautifully realized and the humor and seriousness and conflict are just top notch.

Betsy: What is one piece of advice you'd like to share with aspiring authors today?

Mary: First, last and always, my advice is: To be a writer…you’ve got to write. That’s it.
Write. Write and keep writing. Everyday if you can. You really do get better with practice.

Secondarily, contests, conferences, critique groups, these things connect you to other writers, editors, agents, and they challenge you and teach you.

Another thing I believe in is; Read. Read until you know what you love. Read what you want to write. Read a Mary Higgins Clark book and figure out how she makes that breakneck roller coaster ride work.

Read Karen Kingsbury and figure out how in the world she makes you cry every time! You want to write a plane crash? Go read a plane crash. You want to rush into a burning building in your novel, you read a few scenes in other books. What words do they use, what does it smell like, how are Heat and Pain and Terror brought to life.

I read and read and read. Honestly, if it books were beer, my family would hold an intervention.
Write, connect, read. That’s my advice. It sound simple because it’s short but it’s hard to write everyday, hard to get to conferences and get a packet together for a contest, hard to find time to read…well, not for me, all that time saved by not dusting or weeding my flower beds gives me a lot of freedom to read. =)

Betsy: Did you sell "Petticoat Ranch" after it was already written, or before?

Mary: Petticoat Ranch was written as were two sequels. I wrote for ten years before I finally got a contract. I’ve got twenty books (and counting) on my computer at home. When Rebecca Germany offered me a contract for Petticoat Ranch she asked when I could have it done.

My response? “Tomorrow!”

Betsy: What is the most frustrating process of having a book published?

Mary: You know, Betsy, I love every part of publishing a book. I love getting that story down the first time and typing The End. Man, do I love that moment.

I’ve just recently sold a three book Heartsong series. Two are done. I wrote those books originally at about 75,000 word length. Then I figured out about targeting a market. I rewrote them at 60,000 to pitch to Steeple Hill, rewrote them at 45,000 to pitch to Heartsong. When Heartsong began doing their ‘States’ books, I rewrote them and set them in Nebraska. Plus they were originally stand-alone books so I rewrote them to be a series. When I say I’ve got twenty books on my computer, I’m not counting this series, now set in South Dakota, being on there four times per books. I’ve done with with several older works.

I think every time I’ve revisited them they’ve gotten stronger, too, as my skill has grown as a writer.

Working with Barbour has been just wonderful. Every part of the book that they’ve touched has strengthened it and been better than anything I’ve imagined. I love the cover, that was all Barbour. I love the publicity campaign they and Glass Roads Public Relations have created. The editing was always right on, and yet the book never quit being completely mine. When it was all done I really marveled at how completely Petticoat Ranch was exactly the book I’d written. I honestly expected them to FIX IT for heaven’s sake! But nope. It’s all mine, only shiny and nice, with about ten thousand less commas.

I’ve been surprised how much I’ve enjoyed marketing. Things like answering your questions here are fun. Public appearances are way, WAY outside my comfort zone. To survive that, I’ve developed this tidy little denial thing. I just don’t think about it. I write my speech, try to make it both entertaining and SHORT. I dress up, curl my hair, drive three hours, and all the while, I refuse to think about getting up in front of people. It’s working pretty well. Never underestimate the ability of a human being to lie to herself.

Betsy: What is a typical day in the life of Mary Connealy? Do you work/have a large family, etc. How much writing time do you get to have on a regular daily basis? Any tips for balancing writing with the rest of life's duties?

Mary: I’m married to Ivan Connealy, a Nebraska farmer. We have four daughters that are so terrific and smart and beautiful and successful and good in their hearts, Ivan and I just look at them and marvel. I wish I could send you a picture but they just hate that. Maybe I will anyway.

The baby just graduated from high school this year. And yes, I began having children at age eight. It made all the medical textbooks.

I’ve got a full time job as a GED Instructor. I…well, it’s a strange job with a lot of frustrations but I believe it was a gift from God. I got the job in a very strange way. It was handed to me at a time when my husband was trying to slow down on the farm, he was a dairy farmer the first twenty-eight years of our married life and he was brutally tired of two a.m. milkings. He just had to quit and boom, here comes this job out of the blue. So when I get frustrated with the job, I remember God gave it to me and try to be wise enough to appreciate the blessing.

I write because I love it, Betsy. It’s almost compulsive I suppose. I just entertain the heck out of myself while I’m typing which is pretty strange, huh?

I’m an insomniac. I live on about six hours of sleep on a good night, four is very common, and I write and read late at night. Thank God for writing or I’d have gone nuts years ago. (That’s assuming I haven’t, this could be more of that Denial thing.)

My only real problem with writing is typing that first word everyday. It’s starting. Because of this I have this Rule of Thumb I call a Fast 300. I didn’t make it up, I read it somewhere, in case there is Idea Plagiarism involved. I check the word count of whatever I’m working on, then force myself to type three hundred words. Well, most writers would tell you that three hundred words is a snap. Child’s play. Barely a page. But it gets me started without this huge vision of a WHOLE BOOK to write. And getting started is the hard part. Once I start I usually write a thousand words and it’s not uncommon for me to write two or three thousand words a day. But that first sentence, especially when I’ve finished a scene and don’t know exactly where I want to go next, is the hardest.

Betsy: Any future books in the works you can tell us about? What will readers see next from Mary Connealy?

Mary: Barbour has been really good to me, Betsy. I’ve now got a go-ahead on nine books.
Golden Days is out. It’s a Heartsong, so it’s not in the bookstores yet, the book club gets it first, but you can buy it through my website http://www.maryconnealy.com/

You’ll have to pay shipping but the book is so discounted that it really ends up just being the regular full price.

Golden Days Blurb:
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.

Golden Days is coming in April from Heartsong Presents, a division of Barbour Publishing.

The next book is coming next summer, a sequel to Petticoat Ranch called Calico Canyon.

Calico Canyon—Book #2 in Petticoat Ranch Series
Prissy Miss Calhoun, the school marm from Petticoat Ranch and Daniel Reeves with his four unruly boys star in Calico Canyon. She expels his boys from school. He gets her fired. A completely innocent compromising situation sees them married the next day. Five little boys are horrified. Daniel is a trapped rat and Grace is stuck in her worst nightmare.
She’d walk out on them all…with their fond farewell, except her past caught up with her in town, which is why she hid in Daniel’s wagon and ended up spending the night with him and the boys.

Coming Summer 2008 from Barbour Publishing

Next is book #1 of a cozy mystery series I’m writing for Heartsong Presents Mysteries.

'Of Mice...and Murder'

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 who’s helping her trap her mice and solve the crime is pretty interesting, too.

After that are two more in the cozy mystery series, Pride and Pestilence and The Miceman Cometh, then a three book Heartsong series set in contemporary South Dakota.

Betsy: Wow, you ARE busy! =) So tell us, what has been the BEST part about being published so far?

Mary: This is hard. I feel like it’s such a blessing, a miracle really, that God allowed this to happen. If you really knew me, Betsy, you’d know that I am just the most regular person. Having this happen in my life is stunning. Sometimes I just ask my husband, “Can you believe this?”

Last night I said that and his response was along the lines of, “Well, I had a feeling you’d amount to something.” So, after I buried his body in the woods….


My family has been such a fantastic cheerleading squad, my four daughters and Ivan are so proud of me… maybe surprised to death, too. LOL.

The amazing, kind words on my website guestbook from people I’ve never heard of saying they liked the book, or that it made them laugh out loud, just mean the world to me.
The friends I’ve made with other writers, online mainly but at conferences too, are such a fun part of my life.

I tell Ivan, “I’ve got a picture of Christy’s baby.” (Christy Barritt, a critique partner) and he’ll say, “She’s the kid, right?” (That makes Christy laugh, she’s fully grown up, but she’s just barely older than my oldest daughter, who is also fully grown up, but to me, a kid)

So, I’ve got these friends some of whom I’ve never met, that are about the best friends I have. I remember the first conference I went to, I never EVER travel without my husband…okay admit it…I never travel at all. But never alone. It’s not some vow Ivan and I took as newly weds, it’s just the way it worked out. The first night I ever spent away from him was when our first child was born.

So, think about it. I wanted to go to the ACFW conference in Denver, I was a double finalist in the Noble Theme contest and Christy and my other critique partners were encouraging me to go. So, I said to Ivan, “Honey, I’ve like to fly to Denver and spend a few days in a hotel with someone I met on the Internet.”

You know, he was a pretty good sport to say yes.

But the best part is; I believe for His own reasons, God gave me this. Like He gave me the job teaching GED. I try to honor that gift. I try to write works that are worthy of his generosity. I pray that somehow I touch hearts for God, but if I do, even that comes from Him. This is an opportunity for a ministry I never imagined.

My books aren’t exactly the usual Christian fiction, but with Christian fiction expanding in all directions, who can say what ‘usual’ is anymore. I feel like I was writing for years for a line of fiction that hadn’t been invented yet. God let me learn and be ready, then He opened the doors and let me in.

And that blessing and miracle is the BEST part of writing.

Betsy: Thanks for visiting and sharing with us today, Mary! We appreciate you and can't wait to check out more of your work!

Visit Mary at her website here!


Mary Connealy said...

Hi, Betsy. Thanks so much for doing this interview. I noticed -- and this is all my fault because I checked what I sent you, that in the blurb about Calico Canyon Daniel has four children in one sentence and five in the next.
No, a child was not killed in the writing of that book. LOL
Just a computer keyboard under my mangling fingers.

Betsy Ann said...

LOL Mary! Oh no, that wasn't a typo, you're just using that as a hook to draw us in, aren't ya? :::wink::: (Pssst...I'm trying to cover for ya!!)

lori Chally said...

Mary never ceases to make me laugh. :)
Calico canyon looks hilarious! I can't wait for it to come out. Thanks for the interview, you two!

Sally Bradley said...

Calico Canyon sounds great! Can't wait for that to come out.

Erica Vetsch said...

fun interview! Mary's such a gem.

Mary Connealy said...

Thanks, Sally. I wish Calico Canyon was coming sooner. You'd think I'd have learned patience by now. I've learned to be patient I suppose, I've just never learned to like it.
Erica! How's it going? I haven't talked to you in a while.
Who's all going to ACFW Conference in Dallas in September?
I get to go this year, and it's ONE WEEK before my daughter's wedding. I hope that doesn't blow up in my face.
"I'm supposed to do WHAT? the Saturday before your wedding?"

Janell said...

Nice interview, Betsy & Mary. I've known Mary since Kindergarten - what I could tell you... :)

Mary Connealy said...

Janell is the one who inspired me to write a book when she wrote a book by interviewing all the World War II vets in her town.
It was a great, touching, beautifully done book. Every town in American should have someone going around and gathering stories like Janell did.
It's a great piece of history saved that is slowly being lost as those veterans die.

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