Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gingham Bride by Jillian Hart ~ Book Review and Author Interview

Seventeen-year-old Fiona O’Rourke’s goal is to graduate from school and run away from her cold-hearted, worn-out mother and lazy good-for-nothing father to live in a world she controls where no one can hurt her. She’s so focused on her escape plan, she is unaware of the admiration of the young men in her town, and is convinced she’s unattractive and unlovable. Her unhappy world goes from bad to worse when a man she’s been betrothed to all her life but has never met suddenly shows up to jeopardize her dreams with the threat of forcing her into a loveless marriage to get the deed to her family’s land.

Poor but honorable Ian McPherson travels from Kentucky to Montana, not to marry Fiona as his grandmother promised the O'Rourkes, but to determine if their land is suitable to raise his small herd of thoroughbred mares, the only assets left after his family suffers the loss of their wealth. Dismayed by the run-down condition of the O’Rourke property, Ian has no intention of staying and marrying Fiona, especially when her father demands a huge sum of money for her that Ian doesn’t have. But her plight touches his heart, and when she is attacked by a ruthless acquaintance of her father’s, Ian is determined to protect her, even if it means sacrificing his own dreams to help her fulfill hers.

The theme of this tender, introspective story is unconditional love and the sacrifices it’s willing to endure. Ian, like Jesus, is motivated by doing God’s will and he is selfless in everything he does, even though it causes him pain. Fiona, like so many of us, protects her heart from the one who loves her and won’t accept him except on her narrow-minded terms. Both protagonists possess good and bad traits, and internal struggles make them achingly credible. I like the way the author adds another dimension to the characters and the plot through the use of weather conditions and animals. Family members and friends add great tension and conflict that Fiona and Ian must overcome as well. Best of all, it’s a beautiful testimony to the goodness and love of God.

Publisher: Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical (Harlequin)
Publication date: November 10, 2009
ISBN: 978-0373828234
Genre: American historical romance


MAP: According to your website bio, you were raised on a homestead raising cattle and riding the range. Are you still involved with any of those activities today?

JH: No. I wish I could return to the country again, but I live in a subdivision, which is perfectly nice but not the same as a sprawling farm. I am an animal lover, and the life style and being near to so many of God’s creatures is something I truly miss. I suppose that’s why I love to write about living in the country, because it’s sort of like being able to revisit that time in my life.

MAP: My next question ties into that. The setting in Gingham Bride sounds reminiscent of your early background. Did you build the story line from that or something else?

JH: When I created the fictional countryside of Angel Falls, where the story is set, I imagined the land north of Great Falls in Montana. I’ve always loved the dramatic beauty where the rolling hills meet the sweeping plains and are bordered by the majestic rise of the Rocky Mountains. On my research trips, I spend a lot of time pulled alongside the road where I spot farmland or the ruins of an original homestead and I let my imagination go. So when I imagined the setting for Fiona’s story, these are the images I drew on for the remote feel, the sweeping wind, the single road through the fields. I’m sure my background helps with the small things, the cat in the barn, the sound of animals stirring in their stalls, and the sweet smell of hay when I was hiding out in the hay loft, for example.

MAP: Mm. Makes me want to go out there and check it out myself. Next question: your hero is wonderful. How did you develop him?

JH: Thank you. That is so kind of you. I worked on developing Ian over a span of a few years. I started with the idea of a young man who was kind and good, who always tries to do the right thing. Over time I added layers--his disappointments and his failures and how they impacted him. I knew he was right for this story when I needed a hero for Fiona. I think he’s a good match for her, and I think he rises well to the challenges of this story. I loved seeing the man he proves to be. In life, I admire a good man of character, and so I enjoyed watching Fiona discover Ian’s strength of heart. He’s one of my favorite heroes.

MAP: He's mine too. I'm such a sucker for guys like him. (Sigh.) In an interview a couple years ago, you mentioned it took six years of hard work before you received “the call”. What were some of the highs and lows in your journey from pre-published to multi-published author?

JH: The lows: the many rejections. Worrying that I was never going to learn enough and improve enough to sell. Working even harder and still getting rejected. The highs: finishing my first full manuscript (which never sold, and I still have). The people I met along the way. The friendships I shared. The stories I got to write. And, of course “the call.” My journey from unpublished to published was a blessed time, one I look back at fondly. My advice is to enjoy this phase of your writing journey as much as you can. The experience, like so much of what matters in life, is priceless.

MAP: Now that you are published, what are you most confident about in your writing and why?

JH: I am confident of nothing. I wish I could be, but the truth is, I do the best I can, fear it isn’t good enough, and then see what my editor has to say about it. Perhaps if I am confident of anything, it is that I work very hard and give my absolute best to each book.

MAP: Mm. I can identify with your doubts. Conversely, what is your greatest challenge?

JH: The hardest thing about my writing is plotting. There isn’t going to be a lot of convoluted plot twists and constant action in my books. I work very hard to have the plots that I do. I am plot-challenged!

MAP: Maybe so, but your endearing characters make up for it. Many authors admit to receiving enough rejection notices to wallpaper a room with them. What’s your experience, and what did you overcome the negative impact?

JH: I received so many rejections before I sold. I was very optimistic when I first began submitting. Then my first rejection came—ouch. But it only took a small chunk out of my optimism. I was determined, you see. The trouble was every rejection took another chunk out of my optimism. I kept having less and less of it. Then a year before I sold, I received a rejection with a kind personal note explaining they could not accept the story because of the heroine’s pregnancy, but they didn’t want me to remove that on a rewrite because they thought it would destroy the emotional story, and they complimented my writing highly. Ironically, such a wonderful rejection was devastating, as it took the final chunk that was left of my optimism. I reached a numb place where the rejections no longer hurt. Maybe I could finally see them for what they were—like road signs along the way offering guidance. I sent the book out one more time, although a few weeks later I decided to quit trying to sell, that I had to accept this failure. Maybe this was not what the Lord intended for my life. Six months later, I received “the call”. No one was more shocked than I was. I have never regained my optimism, which has turned out to be useful, because learning to deal with rejection is even more important after a writer sells. So it’s turned out that my un-optimistic outlook has actually helped me. Who knew?

MAP: Wow and double ouch. After hearing that, I assume your writing has deepened your walk with the Lord (or vice versa)?

JH: My writing has deepened my walk with the Lord. I spend nearly every day writing about how God helps two people find true love. With every story and each time love triumphs, I feel as if I see a little bit more of the piece of my life God means for me.

MAP: Neat. If there were only one piece of advice you could give to a newbie-writer, what would it be?

JH: Actually, I have three pieces of advice, but I’ve packed them into one sentence: be honest in your writing, be humble as a writer, and be kind to everyone on your journey.

MAP: Beautiful, Jill, and thanks for sharing your heart with us. May God continue to bless you abundantly as you write for Him.

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