Interview with Joanne Sundell, Author of Meggie's Remains
Joining us today is Joanne Sundell, the author of several historical romance novels. The latest, Meggie's Remains (Five Star Expressions), was released in July from Five Star-Gale. We’ll talk to Joanne about her writing and her unique new release.
Welcome to The Book connection, Joanne. It’s a pleasure to have you with us. Can you start us off by telling us a bit about yourself?
Born in a tiny hospital in rural Virginia, I cherish my country beginnings. Fond memories of toddling along after my older sisters along the Appalachian Trail, catching tadpoles in a nearby creek bed, chasing after lightening bugs, or falling asleep to the evening hum of katydids, remain with me still; despite the family move to more urban Arlington where I spent my formative school years, and then on to Richmond where I earned my nursing degree. I grew up reading romance, falling in love with heroes and heroines from Regency England to the American West, from London’s pubs to Colorado’s ski slopes, loving that moment when the hero and heroine meet and fall in love. That moment to me is the moment when Jane Eyre meets Edward Rochester, when Elizabeth Bennett meets Mr. Darcy—that’s the heart-stopping, passionate moment for me in romance. That moment is what led me to attempt traditional, old-fashioned, historical romance. I sold my first book, Matchmaker, Matchmaker, in 2005 to Five Star-Gale, Cengage Learning, for their Expressions Line, a combination of romance and women’s fiction. Subsequent sales include A…My Name’s Amelia, The Parlor House Daughter, Meggie’s Remains, and The Quaker and the Confederate series, Hearts Divided and Hearts Persuaded. My books have been reviewed nationally by Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, and Romantic Times. With my three children grown and off on their own adventures, I live part-time in Colorado and California along with my husband and our entourage` of felines and huskies. My writing groups include Romance Writers of America, Colorado Romance Writers, Los Angeles Romance Writers, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and Women Writing the West.
When did you publish your first novel and what was it about?
My first novel, Matchmaker, Matchmaker, was published in January of 2006. If I may, I’m posting the flap blurb of my novel here:
A Jewish girl of nine, Zoe-Esther Zundelevich gives in to fancy and secretly visits the village matchmaker before leaving Russia with her papa, Yitzhak, for refuge in Amerika. The matchmaker gives Zoe-Esther the name of her promised match, when she is of age. Zoe-Esther dreams of him, carrying her dreams across the ocean and into womanhood.
Times are hard but Zoe-Esther manages the impossible and becomes one of the few women to graduate from medical school in 1867 Philadelphia. Afraid for her papa’s life when he’s stricken with tuberculosis, she moves him to the Colorado Territory in search of a cure. All she holds dear, Zoe-Esther can never jeopardize her papa’s health and happiness. That is precisely what she faces when rugged, handsome Jake Whiskey comes into her life. She must not give in to her attraction to a rake, a gambler, a non-Jew! It would kill her papa, who wants her to marry “nice Daniel Stein.” But the name given Zoe-Esther long ago wasn’t Daniel. It wasn’t Jake either, no matter how much she might wish it.
It’s not easy to find work, shelter, or enough food in Golden City, where people don’t want a woman doctor and can’t say too much good about Jews either. Zoe-Esther has faced hard times before, but never with so much at stake. When she at last meets her match, can she risk losing the man who now has her heart? Can she sacrifice her own happiness for her papa’s?
In looking over your website, it seems like Colorado plays a role in all of your books and they are set I the mid to late 1880’s. Why do you favor this setting and time period?
I’ve always loved reading historical romance, and so it followed that when I attempted my own romance, it would be in the historical genre. I’ve ever been drawn to the Victorian Era, whether set in England or America. Add moving to the West, to the mountains of Colorado, in particular, and you have my own personal recipe for historical romance set in 19th century Colorado!
What do you find is the greatest challenge in writing historical romance?
Probably collecting the history and then organizing it in a way that I can easily follow, thoroughly understand, and then set credibly in my story.
Let’s talk about Meggie’s Remains. Can you tell us a little about your book?
Meggie’s Remains is a love story—a romantic suspense in which the heroine struggles with far more than meeting the man of her dreams. In fact, she’s scared to death when she does. Why? That’s the question I hope to answer in this novel. I hope to peel away the pretty layers in classic, romantic theme and character, and show the not-so-pretty events that can happen—the dark, complex, emotional path a heroine’s life can take, suddenly, without warning, and with no guarantee of survival.
Afraid of men, afraid for her sins, afraid for her sanity, and right now afraid for her life, Meggie McMurphy flees Boston once the fiendish terror so long stalking her in nightmares surfaces in the light of day. She escapes west to Denver, in the wild Colorado Territory, hoping to lose herself among the multitude of townsfolk. The year is 1874.
Twenty-five years old, alone, and near penniless, Meggie struggles to find honest work and to keep the dark secrets of her past just that: secret. Not so easily done when the handsome, formidable westerner Ethan Rourke stumbles upon her on a snowy Denver street. Why it’s as if he’d stepped right out of the pages of her beloved novel, Jane Eyre! Safe to encounter such a man on the page, it is certainly unsafe, even deadly, for her to encounter such a man in the flesh. Men belong . . . six feet under, six feet away . . . where to stay safe, the devil must stay!
Hired as a teacher, not in Denver, but in an isolated mountain town in rugged Ute country, Meggie is determined to make a home for herself in Hot Sulphur Springs. There she keeps up her masquerade as Rose Rochester, yearning for a normal life, for companionship and even love—all the while knowing it’s only a matter of time until the monstrous changeling from her nightmares will find her, killing any possibility of a life at all. ~
Where did you find the inspiration for this story?
Meggie’s Remains, my first completed manuscript and fourth sale, is near and dear to my heart. The title changed from Columbine Captive—for obvious reasons—to Day Dreams, Haunted Nights, but at the end of the day, became Meggie’s Remains. You might ask what this means, and well you should. Is Meggie dead, buried six feet under, never to take another breath, or is Meggie so shattered, it’s hard to take the next step in life? Number two is closer to the truth. My focus and interest rests solely in the nineteenth century, the Victorian Era. For the average romance heroine, life wasn’t easy. I can’t imagine the challenge to have lived and tried to love during such a restrictive, repressive time. When I first thought of writing romance, I thought of Jane Eyre and its classic romantic themes, wanting to pay tribute to this quintessential romance novel. What makes us root for Jane? Why do we care about her, and about Edward? How did the pair overcome impossible obstacles and find their happy ending?
Living in the West, in the Colorado Rockies, I realized the beauty all around me was a character befitting any romance novel. My first heroine would have to be a woman trying to make it in the rugged west. I decided to bring Jane Eyre to the American West and see what might happen if I took Jane’s situation and made it worse … and then worse . . . ever curious about how a nineteenth century heroine might have dealt with sexual trauma and upset. In Meggie’s Remains, Meggie’s life mirrors Jane’s in many respects, but the mirror shatters when Meggie’s life takes a turn away from romantic conflict, toward dangers that Jane Eyre never faced. Beyond the suspense, I wanted to capture the romance, the moment when passion ignites between heroine and hero. Such is the stuff of which romance novels are made!
How long did it take you to bring this book from the first draft to the final published product?
Meggie’s Remains, my first completed manuscript and fourth sale. I spent many years crafting and re-crafting my first manuscript; at last finishing it yet hesitant to submit. It’s common for our first manuscripts to be our worst and so I waited until I’d written several more books, and then sold three, before re-crafting Meggie’s Remains and then taking a more serious plunge into submission. Prior to that, I was represented briefly by the Carroll Grace Agency, who submitted Meggie’s Remains to various publishers under the title, Day Dreams, Haunted Nights. This is like a submission hiccup to me, since the agency folded almost at the same time they began submitting my manuscript. Long story short, the publishers that did take a look, politely answered, “Not for us at this time.”
All of those crafting and re-crafting exercises I mentioned earlier, in the writing of Meggie’s Remains, took place over eight years. I was working and busy doing many other things, with learning to write romance a hobby. A lot of my “writing” time was spent joining writing groups, joining critique groups, and entering contests. I wanted feedback and boy did I get it, heh heh! When I first sold, I turned my hobby into a more serious hobby, for sure! The process from sale to signed contract to release took about a year. That’s standard from what I understand.
According to one review, this book “takes a unique perspective on romance, suspense, and the paranormal.” How is this true and why do you think it worked so well?
The amazing Heather Graham made that comment. I imagine Ms. Graham was referencing Meggie’s struggle—walking that fine line between what is real and what is not—with the fiend from her nightmares now surfacing in the light of day, forcing Meggie to run for her life. I hope readers agree with your kind words that it “worked well.”
Who is your favorite character from the book? And is there a villain you had a fun time creating?
I would have to say my heroine, Meggie, is my favorite character, and she shares the stage with her heroine, Jane Eyre. These two heroines are bound by theme and character and … grit.
Ah … the villain! Yes, it was quite fun to create and then decimate the villain, Benjamin Howard! Let me correct here … Meggie has the opportunity to perhaps decimate the villain herself. You have to read the story and find out, heh heh.
The villain was tricky, I must admit. I envisioned him a snake-like, monstrous serpent beneath his handsome, charming, ever-so-smooth veneer. He had to morph from handsome to inhuman in front of Meggie and … the reader. This was the “tricky” part, absolutely.
Where can readers purchase a copy of Meggie’s Remains?
Meggie’s Remains can be purchased at amazon.com and on-line at any bookstore. Readers can also visit my website to order. My book will also be in library systems throughout the country, where purchased.
Can you tell our readers where they can find you online?
What is up next for you? Anything that Joanne Sundell fans will be thrilled to know?
Marketing is next up as I have a Civil War series out next year: The Quaker and the Confederate ~ Hearts Divided, 5/10 The Quaker and the Confederate ~ Hearts Persuaded, 9/10
I’d love it if readers will be “thrilled” with this series!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I appreciate very much this opportunity with you today. I’m in love in the romance novel—always have been—always will be. I can tell you that no one is more surprised than moi` that I’ve actually written and sold six historical novels!
Thanks for spending some time with us today, Joanne. I wish you continued success.
Thank you so very much,
Interviewer's note: Look for our review of Meggie's Remains, coming soon!