Cups, Cakes & Conversation: Writing Redemption & for a Rapid Release

Join me as I brew a cup of coffee and pull up a comfy chair for…

A Writerly Chat with our friend, M. N. Stroh

My own focus in writing is historical fiction and romance, but I enjoy reading across several genres. I also enjoy friendships with writers all across the world, who are following their own dreams, and I’m happy to share their stories with you.

Today I’m thrilled to welcome my friend and fellow author, M. N. Stroh. Fueled by her love for storytelling and history, M.N. Stroh writes edgy Christian Historical Fiction, to inspire the downtrodden and outcasts through adventure-laden escapes that lead them back to their First Love.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with M.N. Stroh, as we are both part of the Admin Group for the Historical Novel Society’s Author Interviews Team. We’ll spend the first half of our time discussing MAN OF SORROWS, releasing September 13, 2022, and in the second half dive into M.N.’s writing process, including the “in’s and out’s” of preparing her series for a “rapid release” timeline.

Welcome, M. N. – so glad that you could join us!

Thank you for having me!

MAN OF SORROWS, a Christian Historical Fiction / Medieval Christian Romance novel, is the first to release in your TALE OF THE CLANS series. We’ll begin with your novel’s premise:

Would God command a devout monk to wed a shepherdess?

Ireland 940 AD
Others think young shepherdess Mara fey. No one else in her Clan hears the voices or sees mysterious visitors. But she knows the messengers come from God. Mara commits to keep silent about them until one proclaims she will marry a man meant to bring Scriptural truth to their Clan.
Distraught by her hardships, Mara seeks aid from her childhood friend, Marcan mac Art, a scribe at Cill Dálua’s monastic community who spends his days laboring to create illuminated manuscripts. Yet, in their time of prayer together, the angelic being’s promise unfolds, revealing Marcan as her intended. Now she must somehow sway Marcan, a devout monk, that God predestined them to wed.
Through penance and devotion, Marcan hopes to blot out the burdens of the past and attain righteousness. Mara’s misguided beliefs cast new stumbling blocks in his path. He seeks escape by denying the vices of the flesh. Yet every attempt drives him further from those he loves—and from God. Will the endless trials drown his faith or render illumination?

What is the theme of the book and how was this woven through the story?

Man of Sorrows has several themes running throughout, but redemption and holding fast to your faith despite opposition are the strongest. Readers see the depth of these through Mara, the shepherdess, whose strong convictions press her to reach out to Marcan, a monk, despite being seemingly disadvantaged in every respect throughout her mission.

Where did the inspiration for your TALE OF THE CLANS series come from?

The series focuses on historical events encircling the life of Ireland’s high king, Brian Boru. It’s set primarily during the 10th century. I didn’t want to tell the story of Brian himself. Instead, I wanted to tell the story from the standpoint of fictional characters representing each of the major clans who shaped the events of the day and played a part in Brian’s story. It’s really an adventure story with a style reminiscent of both the Old Icelandic sagas and Irish hero tales.

Initially, Man of Sorrows began as a prequel story I wrote in 2008, to give myself a better understanding of several of the characters I created in my series. In research I read of an account where an Irish nun left her holy orders to marry a man, then was later pressured by the church to break her vows and return to life as a nun because her marriage was considered adulterous to God. I thought it would be fun to play off that story with a little role reversal and a twist of my own.

Do you have a favorite part in MAN OF SORROWS? A favorite scene or line?

Honestly, I can’t share my favorite scene because it would be a major spoiler to the story. But one of my favorite lines in that scene comes from Mara when she is striving to convince Marcan that he’s not truly serving God by his efforts. She rails at him saying, “You’re a hypocrite. And if the god you serve tells you to destroy your body but spare your precious tonsure, then he is a hypocrite too!” It raises the question in the reader’s mind, are you truly serving God, or are you serving man in place of God?

What do you hope the reader will gain / take away from your story?

Ultimately, I want them to experience and adventure-laden escape that gives them hope and a different perspective on God and themselves.

Looking at your covers, I get a sense of a wild, open, and rugged space. Is there a connection between where you live / the life you live and where you ended up setting your novels? Or what was the inspiration for the setting and time period?

We live on the grass plains in northeastern Wyoming, so it’s a landscape vastly different from Ireland, let alone the Ireland of the Viking era. But I suppose, our life in agriculture, particularly with cattle, does give us a small sense of the rugged lifestyle that ancient Irish cattle lords experienced. Removing modern conventions, then certainly some of the basic hardships. I was also raised on horses and have worked with various animals including dogs and sheep, so I have a bit of working knowledge in those areas also. My dad actually grew up on a buffalo ranch and his family raised sheep on the side.

What is your educational / occupational background and how does that affect your writing?

I graduated high school then spent two years at a mission based Bible college studying theology and church history. After that I spent over 20 years studying Irish history and fiction while learning about the publishing industry from various sources. My husband and I were involved in youth ministry for six years and have lived and worked on the family cattle ranch during all that time. Each facet has shaped my writing and, I think, added a certain authenticity and depth to it over the years. Currently I serve as Director of Communications for Serious Writer Inc. affiliate, Writers Chat, director of Serious Writer Book Club, and a member of ACFW and Historical Novel Society’s Interviews Admin Team.

MAN OF SORROWS is the first of four novels you are releasing in the span of a few months. I would love to know how you feel about having a “rapid release schedule” vs having your novels further spaced out. This is something that my writing group has discussed, so I’d love to hear more about your experience and writing process.

Let’s start with your average writing day. What does it look like? Do you write every day?

I struggle with ADD, so my writing is about as sporadic as I am. No two days are ever the same. While I do write almost every day, the length of time and the type of writing I do varies. I always strive to set time aside in my day specifically for writing, because I believe as a professional it’s important to set that time aside and honor it as much as possible.

How did you develop your story? How did you organize and track your novel and your series? Do you use a vision board?

I am what some people in the industry would call a “Plantser”. Basically, a hybrid plotter and “Pantser” (seat of the pants writer). Some things I prefer to plot out in depth while other aspects of the writing process are better served by letting the creative muse dictate my steps. So I create extensive character sketches and story timelines. I also categorize my research digitally by searchable subjects for ease of reference. But when it comes to writing the actual novel, I’m a bit sporadic. Sometimes I write chronologically, and other times I’m all over the place. Oftentimes I write what I’ve coined as Summary Paragraphs, to give me an idea of what I want to happen in a scene and serve as a placeholder until I return to flesh it out. Other times I will envision a scene in its entirety and write it out completely.

You mentioned to me that you prefer character-driven stories. Is your series based on real life characters? If not, where did the inspiration for the characters come from?

Historical characters feature in my novels, but primarily play either secondary roles or make cameo appearances. The focal characters of the story are entirely fictitious. Since my casts tend to be large, the inspiration for them is broad. I’ve developed extensive character sketches for each and even have storyboards on Pinterest showcasing the inspiration for characters and more. I plan to unveil these as each novel in my series releases. I feel it’s essential to explore every aspect of my characters in order to lend them depth and make them relatable to readers.

Did you work on the novels simultaneously? Do you think that made it easier for focus and keeping things straight?

Honestly, I would’ve preferred to have my books spaced out more. Rapid release is the only way my publisher launches books, so it was a major adjustment to jump right into the mindset of a rapid release process. When my agent sent me the contract for my books, I only had two books finished: Rise of Betrayal and Lord of Vengeance. I was in the midst of writing Stone of Division. After I signed the contract I had to simultaneously finish Stone of Division while working on edits for Rise of Betrayal. Once I finished Stone of Division and turned it in, we began edits on Lord of Vengeance, and I began retooling Man of Sorrows, which was, as you might recall, the novel I called Ecclesiastic, that I wrote in 2008. There were certain advantages and disadvantages to working all those novels so closely together. It did help keep the chronology of the story forefront in my mind. But I also felt very rushed, as I am not a fast writer or editor. I struggled with this sense of paranoia that the quality of my novels would suffer because I was so hard-pressed to turn them out in such a short timeframe.

Did you think it was easier to find an agent / contract with having more than one book ready?

Finding an agent was just as difficult with multiple books as it was with one, just because I was still an unknown author and had no pre-published backlist. So I was only submitting one novel: Rise of Betrayal, while letting agents know in my proposal that it was the first of a series I had in the works. Now, many in the industry will tell you that letting professionals know you have more book ideas in you is a good thing because that helps bolster your sellability. Already having them done, even more so. That I wouldn’t deny and would in fact encourage writers to try and have more books under their belt prior to submission. Just know that it’s not a necessity. If you do have multiple books in a series completed, remember only to pitch the first one, listing it as book 1 in your proposed series. Agents and editors don’t want you to pitch multiple books all at once. If they accept your query, you can include a section in your book proposal to list potential books in the series with very short summaries of each.

What advice would you give to someone preparing multiple books at one time or preparing to do a “rapid release”?

As for advice in preparing for rapid release, if you intend to do a rapid release, really assess your long-term abilities. You’re setting yourself up for a commitment there, at least for the duration of the series, if not the expectations of your potential readers. How fast can you turn out books? If dishing out a book in six months or less sounds stressful to you, then rapid release may not be your cup of tea. You also must be a person who can organize yourself well and commit to a rigid schedule, planning things out as far in advance as possible, because once things get started, you’ll barely have time to breathe, let alone promote and write your books.

I would also highly encourage anyone going this route to invest in programs and resources that facilitate ease of content creation or outsource some of your work. Managing writing, website, social media, graphics content, and marketing can overwhelm anyone really fast. Automated tools and assistance go a long way in cutting down on the stress and helping everything flow.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Show yourself grace. There are a lot of rules and expectations in our chosen field. These tend to put pressure on us to hold to rather lofty standards. If you chase after each one, you’ll burn out. Understand that writing is a process of discovery as well as learning. You will constantly grow and change as a writer. The journey matters more than the end result. Invest in the journey.

What was the best investment you ever made in your writing?

Connection. I could spend a lifetime studying books on the craft and taking courses to improve as a writer. But the connections I’ve made with other writers and professionals in the industry are what have made all the difference.

Before you go, please share with us – what’s your favorite drink and type of dessert to celebrate your writing?

Ooh! Favorite drinks and desserts are tough ones. I have several. DR. PEPPER is probably my all-time favorite drink, though mochas and honeyed black tea come close also. In the dessert arena, I tend to gravitate toward chocolate. So chocolate cream pies or some sort of decadent chocolate and cream cake dessert. Have you ever had OLIVE GARDEN’S CHOCOLATE LASAGNA? Almost to die for! So good!

Thank you for joining us, M.N. Stroh!

All my best,

Rebekah

If you’d like to read more about M.N. Stroh’s writing and series, visit her website here.

For further information on the Historical Novel Society, their conferences, editorial reviews, author interviews, and more, visit their website here.

One Comment on “Cups, Cakes & Conversation: Writing Redemption & for a Rapid Release

  1. Melissa, I loved reading this interview and getting another peek behind the scenes! I loved that line that Mara said to Marcan too! She is a fiercely amazing character.

    Liked by 1 person

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