Author Margaret Brownley
Photo credit: Margaret Brownley
Thrills, mystery, suspense, romance: Margaret Brownley penned it all. Nothing wrong with this, except Margaret happened to be writing for the church newsletter. After making the church picnic read like a Grisham novel, her former pastor took her aside and said, "Maybe God's calling you to write fiction."
It turns out God was and Margaret did. She now has more than 20 novels to her credit. In addition, she's written many Christian articles and a non-fiction book. Still, it took a lot of prodding from God before Margaret tried her hand at writing inspirational fiction which led to her Rocky Creek series. "I love writing about characters at different stages of faith," she says of the new direction her writing career has taken, "and I'm here to stay." Happily married to her real-life hero, Margaret and her husband live in Southern California.
I recently asked Margaret to share the story behind the story. Below, she shares about her once-in-a-lifetime foray into the world of daytime television.
And now, it's time to Take 5 with Margaret Brownley.
Q: Have you always wanted to be a writer?
A: I came out of the womb demanding pen and pencil. I spent my allowances on notebooks and wrote my first “novel” in fifth grade. However, none of my teachers were impressed. I flunked 8th grade English. Truly! To this day, I can’t diagram a sentence. Predicates? Nouns? Who cares? Give me a sentence and I’ll fix it, but don’t ask me to diagram it.
Q: How do you come up with your story ideas?
A: It’s different for every book. It can be something someone says or an item in the newspaper. Years ago I read an article in the National Enquirer about an Avon lady in the Amazon. She sold cosmetics to the natives who preferred buying their war paint than making it. From that article sprang my book Touch of Lace. A Lady Like Sarah was inspired by Pearl Hart who robbed a stagecoach to pay her mother’s medical bills (Health care was highway robbery even in the 1800s). My next book A Suitor for Jenny (September 2010) was inspired by an organization that really existed: The Society for the Protection and Preservation of Male Independence. What fun the heroine has breaking through that society!
Q: How does your faith impact your writing?
A: It affects the moral integrity of my characters and the kinds of stories I choose to tell. In A Lady Like Sarah you’ll meet a lady outlaw and a preacher. Both are in a crisis of faith and are in dire need of a miracle. I don’t think I could have written this book without having gone through a similar crisis of faith in my own life.
Q: How do you deal with writer’s block?
A: I believe that writer’s block is the subconscious telling you that you made a wrong turn somewhere in your story. Something’s not right. This is a clue to go back and find that wrong turn and fix it. When I was teaching creative writing, I noticed that a number of my students bogged down around page 50. That’s when I discovered a little trick that seems to work 9 out of 10 times: Simply change the protagonist’s name. By page 50, you start to know your characters and it’s possible that the name you chose in the beginning no longer fits. Perhaps you gave your heroine a feminine name that doesn’t do her justice. Or your hero’s name no longer fits his character or background. Try changing the names. You’ll know if you’re on the right track if your story starts to flow again.
Q: How long does it take to complete a novel? How many drafts do you go through?
A: It takes me six months to write a historical novel. If I spend any longer on it, I tend to overwrite. I have no idea how many drafts I go through—as many as necessary.
Q: Do you plot out your story ahead of time, or do you think it up as you go?
A: I’m what they call a pantser. I don’t outline or plan a book in advance. For this reason, I probably write more drafts than the writer who carefully plots out the book in advance. All I need is an opening line and I’m off and running. For A Lady Like Sarah, that opening line was "Vultures signaled trouble ahead." I had no idea what the hero preacher Justin Wells would find on that hot dusty trail until he found it.
Q: Do you treat yourself to something special when a project is completed?
A: This reminds me of the early days of my writing career: I sold an article for $5 and my husband took me out to dinner to celebrate. A short time later, I sold another article, this time for $7, and again, my husband took me out to celebrate. By the third sell my husband announced that we couldn’t afford any more success. Now, when I finish a project, I generally clean my office, cook my family a nice dinner (to make up for all the poor meals they had while I was on deadline), and let my friends know that I’m back in circulation.
Q: What’s your favorite part of the writing business? What’s your least favorite?
A: My favorite part is when I’ve completed the first draft. That’s when I can really concentrate on developing characters and working in all those historical details that readers love. My least favorite part of writing is the business end.
Q: After becoming a published author, what surprised you the most?
A: The thing that surprised me most is that after publishing more than 20 books, I’m still not rich.
Q: What’s the most important piece of advice you could give to a fledgling writer?
A: If you haven’t already seen it, rent the movie Julie and Julia and pretend it’s about writers instead of cooks. Julia Child enjoyed the process of cooking, even the failures. Julie didn’t enjoy the process, which led to constant meltdowns and relationship problems. The lesson here is that you have to love the process. If you’re just getting started, stay focused on learning the craft and discovering your inner writer. Don’t worry about the publishing end. That’s down the road. Celebrate every little success. Enjoy the ride. And write, write, write. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hour rule to success. Before I was published I put in my 10,000 hours by writing four books. At least two of them were pretty crappy but I learned.
Q: What do you think about writing contests? Have you participated in any? What’s the benefit to an unpublished writer?
A: Yes, yes, yes, do enter contests, but don’t enter to win—at least not in the beginning. Contests provide a deadline and this is good training. This forces you to mail the darn thing. Second, enter for the critiques. Judges are your first readers and as such, can offer valuable feedback.
Q: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
A: I’d still be telling stories. I’d probably be a painter, sculptor or even an actor.
Q: What event, writer, or book has most impacted your writing life?
A: The death of our oldest son made the most impact. I couldn’t write for more than a year. When I finally did start writing, I wrote a nonfiction grief book (Grieving God’s Way). I’m now writing inspirational, something I never thought I could do. Losing a loved one affects a writer on so many different levels.
Q: What does your family think about your crazy career?
A: I’m married to a left-brained man who thinks in black and white. I don’t think he’ll ever fully comprehend the creative mind. He does a lot of head shaking.
Scenario: You’re about to be dropped off on a deserted island. You can take along one survival item, one book, and one person (living or dead… but they’ll be alive on the island). What and who do you take?
A: For survival, I’d probably take along a box of chocolates. The book: How To Build a Boat. The person: Hugh Jackman (Oops, did I say that?).
Q: What’s the one far out sci-fi technology you’d most like to see become a household item?
A: A robot that cooks
A Lady Like Sarah by Margaret Brownley
Photo credit: Thomas Nelson Publishers
Margaret's newest book, coming to your favorite bookstore December 2009
She's an outlaw. He's a preacher. Both are in need of a miracle.
When Preacher Justin Wells promises an injured lawman to take his prisoner to Texas, Justin has no idea the trouble that lies ahead. The slightly-built prisoner turns out to be Sarah Prescott, sister of the notorious Prescott brothers--and she's determined to miss the hanging party waiting for her in Texas.
But escaping proves to be tougher than she thought. Justin doesn't own a gun and hasn't the foggiest idea how to survive the wilderness. How can she leave him alone with the injured marshal?
Nothing is more sacred to Justin than a promise made to a dying man, but he can't bring himself to turn the blue-eyed beauty over to the hangmen. She's tough as leather, but there's something about her that is pure and good.
Justin can't bear to lose her, but how can a simple preacher fight an entire town? And how can either one of them know that miracles come in many guises…including love?