Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Connie Stevens about her new book, HEART OF HONOR. Connie and I met through American Christian Fiction Writers and bonded while chatting about Georgia, my home state.
Something I read on Connie’s website really touched me. She says, “God never wastes a circumstance. Whether we are walking through heartache or disappointment, or exhilarating joy, God uses every moment of each experience to teach us, to deepen our faith or increase our trust, or simply to demonstrate the great lengths to which He will go to prove His love.” Connie takes this point of view (which I totally agree with) and weaves together stories of great inspiration.
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Now let’s learn a little bit more about Connie.
I asked Connie to tell us a little about her writing background.
Connie: I wrote in high school, but shied away from pursuing it as a career when I was told it was nearly impossible to be published. I dabbled in it off and on, but about twenty-five years later I began writing more seriously. I attended numerous seminars and conferences, took courses and worked on honing my craft. I entered several contests and won first, second, and third places in a few. Finally, in 2009, I was offered my first contract, and my debut novel was released in January 2011.
Me: Connie, your determination sounds just like mine! Where do you get your ideas?
Connie: I tend to have a vivid imagination, so it doesn’t take much to spark an idea. One of my favorite things is to browse through an antique store and imagine people using the items I find there. One time I was sitting in an airport and overheard a conversation that quickly turned into a story in my head.
Me: Were you inspired by someone/something to write the genres you’re writing in?
Connie: My favorite genre to read is historical women’s fiction—primarily 19th century America, so that is what I write. Like many writers of historical fiction, I devoured all the Janette Oke books.
Me: What is your writing process?
Connie: Before I was published I had to include a chapter by chapter synopsis in any proposal I sent out. Writing that synopsis—while excruciating while I wrote it—helped me structure the story and made the writing of the scenes flow smoother. So now I write a chapter by chapter synopsis for myself, even though it’s not required by my publisher. I also set up a timeline calendar, goal-motivation-conflict charts, and characterization sketches. In addition, I go through my files of antique photographs for pictures of my main characters. I construct a story board, and include a banner with the theme of the story, and a writing schedule. This description may sound like I am a “plotter”, but I’m really more of a seat-of-the-pants writer. My characters tend to take over the story as I’m going along.
Me: I do the same thing! I love to collect photographs and I write out a chapter-by-chapter synopsis to keep my story flowing. Do you write full-time now?
Connie: More or less. When I’m working under a deadline, it’s not unusual for me to put in some 12-14 hour days. Once the book is completed and turned in, I usually take time to spend with friends and family.
Me: Tell me a little bit about your latest book.
Connie: HEART OF HONOR is releasing in February with Heartsong Presents division of Barbour Publishing. It traces the journey of two people—Abigail Locke is the daughter of an army colonel, and the other, Nathaniel Danfield, is a dishonorably discharged lieutenant. Abby has four treasures, the only items she has by which to remember her mother. She grieves when they are lost. Nathaniel was falsely accused and wrongly convicted in a military court martial, and he is determined to clear his name. When these two people are thrown together on a perilous journey, Abby must reconsider her preconceived opinions about Nathaniel, and Nathaniel desires to find a way to get Abby’s treasures back for her. This story is set in the mountains of north Georgia in 1838, around the time of the Trail of Tears.
Me: This story sounds so exciting and I, of course, love it because my ancestors were from North Georgia! How long did it take you to complete?
Connie: I was able to take a bit more time with this story since I wasn’t under a tight deadline. From starting the preliminary preparations, doing the research, and then the actual writing of the story, it took about five months.
Me: I enjoy the research almost as much as the writing. Can you describe your research into your subject?
Connie: I took a research trip to the New Echota Historical Site near Calhoun, Georgia to glean all I could into the Cherokee angle of the story. National historic sites employ very knowledgeable people who are usually more than happy to let me pick their brains.
Then I traveled through the north Georgia mountains, following as closely as possible the route I wanted my characters to take. I took numerous notes and photos of the area around Suches, Georgia, which is where I placed my fictional setting. Of course I did online research and obtained several books to get historical facts right, but nothing beats being there—walking through a meadow or down a dusty road where I envision my characters. Listen to the way the wind blows through the trees, take note of the vegetation—are there any distinctive smells from the wildflowers or trees? Do a slow 360 degree turn. What do you see? How does the terrain affect what you can see and how far you can see? Listen to the locals speak. Is there an accent or speech pattern prevalent in the area? What expressions are used?
Me: I love your approach! What is your heroine’s inner motivation?
Connie: Abby wants to be her own independent person instead of doing what is expected of her. She also struggles with her faith. She equates giving God control of her life with the way her earthly father has tried to control her life. When she is put in the position of being needed, she finds her niche and she blooms.
Me: Are any of your characters based on real-life friends or acquaintances?
Connie: The last time someone asked me this question, I said, “Good heavens, no. I’m afraid they would recognize themselves and write me out of their will.” All kidding aside, the character of Abby is loosely based on one of my sisters—stubborn, fiercely independent, wanting to find what God wants her to do. A secondary character—a Cherokee woman named Wren, is based on my pastor’s wife. She is very unselfish, has a servant’s heart and shares her knowledge, and she has a unique sense of humor. But she has also known great heartache.
Me: Do you ever incorporate yourself into your characters?
Connie: Not in the sense that I write my personality into a character. Nobody would want to read about a character that boring!! But I have used a few of my life experiences and given those backgrounds or emotions to my characters.
Me: I highly doubt you are boring. What is the message in your story?
Connie: I hope readers will find renewed hope, diligence, and perseverance for tackling the hard things in their lives.
Me: What will your future projects entail?
Connie: The follow-up book to HEART OF HONOR is HARVEST OF HOPE (due to release in May). It is set twenty-two years later, still in the north Georgia mountains. Colton Danfield is the son of Abby and Nathaniel from the first book. He has inherited a small farm and is struggling to scratch out a living with a crop and a herd of sheep. He meets Auralie Covington, who comes from a wealthy family. Their backgrounds are vastly different, but they soon learn they share similar convictions. This story is set in 1860, when the country is on the brink of war. The third book in this series, HARBINGER OF HEALING (due to release in September), is set in 1870, six years after the war, and involves two people—a once-wealthy Southern land owner who lost everything in the war, and a young woman from the North who is writing a series of magazine articles on the Reconstruction. But she has two other missions in addition to researching her articles. She is searching for the missing son of her friend, a former slave, and she wants to learn what became of her father, a Union officer who never came home from the war.
Me: It sounds like you have many exciting things ahead for your readers. I want to thank you for taking the time answer my questions.
If you want to know more about Connie, you can find her here:
Her first series with Heartsong Presents is available in print. Book one of that series is LEAVE ME NEVER, which was her debut novel. It will be available in e-book form in February. Her latest release, HEART OF HONOR, is available in print from Heartsong Presents.
CONGRATULATIONS TO CARA AND VICKI FOR WINNING THE BOOKS!