Who or what inspired A Bittersweet Garden?
I have truly loved The Quiet Man for decades (my wife has graciously watched it 26 times with me, 27 coming up for St. Patrick’s Day!). When we finally got to Ireland and Cong in 2015, it was a dream come true for me. Everywhere we went in Ireland, it was as if I could hear the ghosts whispering. This story just grew from that experience.
Who or what inspired you to start writing?
I was one of those kids who would lock myself up in my bedroom and spend entire weekends writing stories. I continued writing until I got into physical therapy school, and then stopped for several years. When I took creative writing back up in the mid-90s, it was ten years before I was able to get that first novel published… just in time for the recession and the mass closure of bookstores. Perfect timing!
Who is your favorite character from your books and why?
Oh gosh, that is so hard. All the characters become a favorite (even the not-so-likeable ones) while I’m immersed in their lives, but if I had to choose overall, I would probably pick my two girl characters: Connemara from Miserere and Caymin from The Dragonmage Saga. I loved their spunk, their integrity, and their determination to do what’s right.
How do you approach writing a new storyline?
It partially depends on where the story comes from. I keep a book of story ideas and, so far, one or another has always bubbled to the surface to turn into my next book. I let it percolate in my head for a while, jotting down thoughts as they come to me. Every book has an “Ideas” document or an actual physical file, where I keep maps, research articles, lists of names, etc. I refer to it frequently while writing. I just found a page with all of my handwritten notes with Irish translations of terms for the Dragonmage trilogy.
Where do your inspirations for characters and their lives come from?
It varies. Miserere was totally inspired by an abandoned farmhouse we looked at when I was about nine. We didn’t move in, but I always remembered that house and wondered what kind of stories it could tell. Neither Present Timehad two inspirations: another house, an old mansion, and an inscription in an old book.My own experiences in religious life inspired In This Small Spot. Turning for Home was inspired by a note someone slipped to me when I was traveling years ago. Inspiration comes from many sources!
Where is your favorite place to write?
I bring my laptop to work with me every day, and take advantage of my breaks to get bits of writing in during the week, but weekend mornings—when my wife and the dogs are all still sleeping—that’s my favorite time! I’m very much a morning writer. My brain is shot creatively by afternoon.
What is your writing process?
I used to write my first drafts longhand, but I don’t tend to do that any longer. I still keep a notebook where I can jot down scenes and ideas as they come to me. I am one of those writers who finds it a struggle to get the first draft completed, and then I love editing, rewriting, polishing that draft!
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
When you’re writing your first book, it’s like a secret—just you and the characters. All of your gratification comes from the act of writing. I think that can’t help but change a bit after you publish. I still think I could only write what I love, what I would want to read, rather than write for a market as some are advised to do. But some of the gratification becomes more external, things like sales/royalty figures, reviews, etc. Some authors have said they’re going back to writing fan fiction purely for the love of it, so they don’t focus on those external factors. As to my actual process, I am much more confident now with how to spool out character traits and plot points, and I don’t panic when I realize I need to delete entire scenes because they’re just not working.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
The best money I have spent isn’t necessarily related to writing, but to publishing. Hiring an incredible cover artist and a professional formatter who are both willing to work with me to make my books as beautiful as (I think) the words are is one of the best moves I’ve made. I love it when readers comment on those details because I agonize over them!
What is something memorable you have heard from your readers/fans?
Gosh, there have been so many. I’m very fortunate that so many of my books have resonated with readers on a deep level. A reader who’d received a recent diagnosis of cancer told me she found a lot of comfort and strength from Looking Through Windows and In This Small Spot. A couple of readers—single, closeted women living captive lives as dutiful daughters in conservative families—wrote to tell me how much Cast Me Gently meant to them. Year of the Monsoon has connected both with women who gave babies up for adoption and women who were adopted (as I was). In This Small Spot has also touched many women who were in religious life, and they’ve taken the time to write and share their experiences.
What book that you have read has most influenced your life?
The book that influenced my life more than any was In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden. It influenced my own exploration of a vocation and religious life, and Ms. Godden sort of became my writing mentor. I wrote to her when I was sixteen, and she very kindly wrote back. I treasure that letter.
Do you have any new books coming out? If so, what are they about?
I’m working now on a book set in 1983 in central New York. I don’t have a working title yet, but it’s flowing nicely, so I expect it to be out before the end of the year if all continues on pace.
How do you take your coffee?
Ha, I am a straight-up coffee drinker! No sugar, no cream, no flavors. Just good, strong, and black.