What inspired you to first start writing fiction?
Looking back, I’ve always had a rather cinematic imagination that allowed stories to play out in my mind. However, I wrote strictly nonfiction until 2010, when I gave National Novel Writing Month a shot. That manuscript, after many years and much revision, became Rightfully Ours. Once I started writing, the stories flowed more easily, and I enjoyed the challenge of taking all of those words and making something meaningful out of them.
What inspired you to write a sequel to Stay With Me?
Initially, I was looking for something new to write, and the characters from Stay With Me were still active in my imagination. I knew there was more to Alan and Jamie’s story. Initially, I’d considered that Alan may have had a problem with pornography, something I ended up developing with different characters in All in Good Time.
Tell us about Come Back to Me in one sentence.
A separated couple and their mutual friend must master their selfishness and immaturity to find purpose and grace enough to start over.
Are Alan and Megan based on anyone you know or are they totally fictional characters?
Alan and Jamie were inspired by the experience my husband and I had with Catholic Engaged Encounter. In 1996, on the weekend retreat we attended in preparation for our own marriage, we were one of only three couples who weren’t already living together. Oddly enough for a church-sponsored event, the six of us were put on the defensive about it by the other couples and bonded pretty quickly. When we later got involved with Engaged Encounter as volunteers, most of the couples coming through the program were living together already too.
Statistically, couples that live together before marriage, especially those living together without plans to marry, are more likely to divorce. So the couples on those weekends, though they desired happy, long-lasting marriages, were putting themselves at a disadvantage. Alan and Jamie let me explore why couples in those situations are more likely to struggle.
Megan is entirely fictional although I’ve observed a family implode much like Megan’s did following the death of a child. Everything and every member of the family was turned on its head.
Do you have specific rituals when you write? A certain place or time? Music that you listen to? A special beverage?
I’ve always had to write whenever I could grab a few minutes either while babies were napping or kids were otherwise occupied. Lately I’ve been less inclined to write amidst constant distractions, so I’m grateful that I now have some quiet time to write—when I can discipline myself to do it. We’re pressed for space in our house, so my writing has always been done on my laptop at the dining room table, sometimes with a Spotify playlist to set the mood. Though I’m naturally a night owl, I prefer to write earlier in the day and read at night. I typically have a mug of hot tea next to the computer.
Of the now five novels you’ve written, which is your favorite and why?
Ornamental Graces is my favorite. Dan and Emily had a lot of obstacles to overcome, but their intentions were good, and though it took time for Dan to get to a place where he could be the man Emily needed, their love never really faltered, even when they tried to fight it. Though the book spans every season, I think the Christmas setting that bookends the story makes it that much sweeter.
What do you like to read? Who are some of your favorite authors?
I read a variety of genres, but I always come back to character-driven contemporary Catholic and Christian romance. I enjoy reading books by the many Catholic authors I consider friends, such as Theresa Linden, Leslea Wahl, and yourself. Elizabeth Byler Younts, Courtney Walsh, and Denise Hunter are a few of my favorite Christian authors. I also try to slip in some classics, though not enough. Willa Cather is one of my favorite classic authors.
Tell us more about yourself and your family. Are you working on any more novels?
My husband and I have four children ages 7-16. We try not to overextend ourselves with activities, but even so there is plenty to keep us busy with Scouts, 4-H, sports, musical instruments, and other extra-curricular activities. I’m chairperson of a national pro-life organization based in Pennsylvania, and now that the children are all in school, I’ve been able to volunteer more often at our school and parish and attend a Bible study. I should probably be spending more time cleaning house.
I have two novels in progress that I hope to complete in 2020. One, which I call Lost and Found, is a contemporary romance set in the New River Gorge of West Virginia involving an adventure guide/amateur Bigfoot hunter and a girl who’s defined her self-worth and others’ by their weight. The other is a second-chance contemporary romance between a man and woman whose paths cross time and time again in ways they are sometimes unaware. I’ve been calling that one The Light Between. After that, there’s a Young Adult novel I’ve been developing in my mind that I’ve yet to put on paper.
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Thanks so much for this interview, Ellen! I love talking about Come Back to Me and my characters.