My guest for Author Talk is Ramona K. Cecil. It's an honor to interview my good friend about her writing and to introduce her latest book to you readers. Ramona and I are part of a small, eclectic group of southern Indiana writers called The Writerly Sisters. Throughout the writing of this newest venture, our group have had opportunity to watch the adventure of this book unfold. Knowing a lot of the story does not diminish my eagerness to read novel. I am working really hard to keep from revealing any of the story. It's her baby, I I'll let her tell you about it.
SKC: Ramona, thank you so much for granting me this interview. Before we launch into a discussion of the book, tell a little bit about your writer’s journey.
Ramona: I’ve written creatively virtually all my life. I began composing poetry at about age four. As a school child, I entered some of my poetry in contests with marginal success. In the mid 1980s, I began selling Christian verses to Dickson, Inc., a leading publisher of Christian gift items. Over the next ten years they published about ninety of my verses on an array of items.
It was about that same time that I began work on my first novel, Larkspur. I finished the story, but life and raising two daughters put the project on the back burner. In 1999 when my husband and I became empty nesters, I turned by attention back to my neglected novel. I joined a national Christian Writers’ group, American Christian Fiction Writers. There I joined a critique group and took online writing workshops by published authors. I also attended their annual writers conference, where I networked with other writers, learned the publishing ropes, and pitched my book to editors. The first year I attended, 2003, I pitched Larkspur to Barbour Publishing and they requested a submission. They ultimately rejected it, but told me what was wrong with it, and I went about fixing the problem—not enough conflict.
I shelved Larkspur and wrote two more novels, Sweet Forever and Everlasting Promise, careful to build in plenty of conflict. Through the ACFW online email loop, I learned about a contest for inspirational novels sponsored by a small publishing house. I entered the reworked Larkspur hoping to get more feedback from judges. It ultimately won first place and, with that, publication in 2006. Two years later Barbour Publishing accepted Sweet Forever, Everlasting Promise, and another story, Charity’s Heart. Since then, I’ve sold them three more novels and five novellas. I remain a freelance writer and The Time for Healing was accepted by another publisher, Pelican Book Group, for their Christian romance imprint, White Rose Publishing.
SKC: You persevered! Congratulations on those successes. I've read all of those books mentioned, and, Ramona, I love your writing. Describe your niche in the realm of Christian fiction?
Ramona: I write historical romance, often set in Indiana.
SKC: I love historical romance. What about that genre appeals to you?
Ramona: I’ve always loved history, especially Indiana history. Some of my favorite novels growing up were by the Hoosier author Gene Stratton Porter. Her book Laddie was my favorite.
I’ve always loved how historical novels brought history alive for me. I now strive to do that for my readers. Connor Prairie, the living history museum near Fishers, Indiana, inspired my first book, Larkspur and, with a couple exceptions, my subsequent stories have had Indiana settings.
SKC: We have a lot in common, my friend. I also love Gene Stratton Porter's books, especially those set around the Limberlost area of northern Indiana. I used to live near her Rome City home, on the shore of Sylvan Lake.
Now, Ramona, please tell us about your newest novel.
Ramona: The Time for Healing is a full length historical romance, due to be released August 7, 2020. It's available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes & Noble [links below].
SKC: What inspired the idea for The Time for Healing.
Ramona: The Time for Healing was inspired by the Pigeon Roost Massacre, a tragic event that happened in 1812 in southern Indiana. There, on a serene September afternoon, the unsuspecting frontier settlement of Pigeon Roost was set upon by a contingent of hostile Shawnee warriors. Twenty-three settlers were killed and it was said that two children were taken captive.
The story was told, though also refuted, that many years later one of these children—a little girl—was found by her missionary uncle, living among the Shawnee along the Kankakee River. Whether or not the account is true, when I first heard this compelling story, my writer’s brain immediately went to, I wonder what might have happened if. . .
I had to write this story!
According to the account, the girl—a grown woman when discovered by her kin—was married to an Indian chief and had children of her own. It was said she came back to Indiana to visit her blood relatives, but returned to her husband and children along the Kankakee River.
I wondered what might have happened if the girl was eighteen years old and single when found by her uncle. Now my romance writer’s imagination had reached a full gallop. Maybe the uncle was traveling with a young apprentice minister. The budding story began to blossom. I sat down at my computer and let the story come to me, unfolding like the petals of a flower. I imagined the emotions of the Pigeon Roost survivors, still raw after twelve years. I imagined the girl with suppressed memories of the horrific event clinging to her adoptive Shawnee culture like a security blanket as she shies away from painful memories. I could imagine that all affected needed healing. Healing. What if the girl was practicing to become a healer—a Shawnee medicine woman? Another petal of the flower opened up. Little by little the flower finally reached full bloom. The result became The Time for Healing. I hope my readers enjoy Ginny Red Fawn’s and Jeremiah’s story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
SKC: How would you describe The Time for Healing? Scintillate us! [a wink and a smile]
Ramona: Ginny Red Fawn McLain, a Shawnee medicine woman, is thrust back into the world of her birth family twelve years after her abduction. While she eschews the Christianity preached by her birth uncle who found her, Ginny's heart refuses to shun his friend and fellow Christian minister, Jeremiah Dunbar. Jeremiah is immediately smitten with his friend's long-lost niece. But unless Ginny Red Fawn joins Christ's fold—something she adamantly resists—any future with the woman he loves is impossible.
SKC: Alright, Ramona. You've already hooked me. One thing I love about well-written historical fiction is that I learn a lot. By well-written historical fiction, I mean that the writer writes well and that he or she does the homework--spends time researching the time period, events, customs, location, and anything else that influences the story. Not only are you an excellent writer, able to develop fascinating, realistic characters, a strong sense of place, and an engaging story arc, but you do the research, which often finds you walking the sites of the story so you can accurately describe it. I respect that.
Ramona: Thanks! Yes, when possible I do visit the sites of my stories. When I wrote Sweet Forever, set in Madison, Indiana in 1845, I remember saying I wanted to put my characters so completely in Madison of 1845 that my readers would want to search the cemeteries there for my characters’ grave stones. For The Time for Healing, I visited the site of the Pigeon Roost Massacre and Underwood, Indiana, less than a mile down the road from the site. I could imagine the painted Shawnee warriors erupting from the pine copse whooping and brandishing their tomahawks. Then I immersed myself in the historical accounts of the event. I decided to set my story in 1824, twelve years after the massacre, have my fictional Ginny McLain taken at the age of six and found at the age of eighteen by her missionary uncle and apprentice minister, Jeremiah Dunbar. I had to discover where the Shawnee had moved to in 1824. With the help of the Missouri State Library’s history department, I found them in southern Missouri along that state’s White River. For info on the Shawnee culture I used several resources including a web site on that culture maintained by the Shawnee tribe and the book Kohkumthena’s Grandchildren:The Shawnee by Dark Rain Thom, Shawnee medicine woman and wife of author James Alexander Thom. Much of my research about Shawnee medicine came from the book American Indian Medicine by Virgil J. Vogel.
SKC: Closely related to setting of time and place are the actors, and you’re a master at character development. How do you create such real people with whom the reader can relate and care about, love, or love to hate—each with his or her own set of foibles, idiosyncrasies, and eccentricities?
Ramona: I suppose you have to be something of a psychoanalyst. I like to try to get inside the minds of my characters. You have to make your characters real by giving them back stories. Ginny Red Fawn’s back story is, of course, the massacre. How would she have dealt with the violent deaths of her parents and baby brother? I decided she would probably have repressed those memories and feelings—what is now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She might also suffer from “survivor guilt.” I decided that to flee the frightening memories she would have likely embraced her adopted Shawnee culture to the full.
Jeremiah Dunbar also has a back story. Jeremiah was a twelve-year-old minor character from my earlier book Hearts Heritage set in 1812 in a fictional frontier settlement called Deux Fleuves inspired by Vallonia, Indiana. Jeremiah’s back story from that book included being besieged in a settler fort by hostile Shawnee. I imagined he might well, as an adult, still harbor hard feelings toward the Shawnee. As you write you have to continually ask yourself “Would he have actually thought that? Or “Is that something she would realistically say or do?”
SKC: How many stories do you typically have playing around in the back forty of your mind at a time?
Ramona: It depends, but at the moment I have three stories—two novels and a novella that I’m itching to write.
SKC: Thinking about The Time for Healing, what do you hope your readers take away from the novel?
Ramona: My hope is that my readers will come away with renewed faith that God has a plan for each of us, and if we continue to seek His will, we’ll find it. I’d like for my readers to tell others that The Time for Healing is both a compelling romance story and a powerful testimonial of God’s healing love.
SKC: One can't ask for a better, life-changing take-away than that.
You said you have three more stories right now playing around in your imagination, begging to be told. How do you decide which one to develop next?
Ramona: When I join a novella collection, that story becomes the focused project. With novels, it’s whichever story grabs me and won’t let go. When a story idea comes to me I generally write a synopsis and let that sit on my computer for a bit. At the moment I have several synopses on my computer.
SKC: Any hints as to what’s next?
Ramona: I’m working on a full-length historical romance novel titled The Bridge at Bramble Ford. The story is inspired by the history of my town—Seymour, Indiana. It’s fun because since it’s fiction and Bramble Ford is a fictional place, I can mix things up with historical and modern Seymour. For example, the street names and locations are the same in Bramble Ford as in Seymour. Local residents would recognize the modern location of the newspaper office in Seymour. The fictional outlaw gang mentioned in my story resembles the infamous Reno Gang from Seymour’s history. They story is two-thirds written and I hope to have it finished and find it a publishing home by next year.
SKC: Ah, yes! That one's been playing around in the back forty of your mind for some time, as I recall. And I can hardly wait for it! You amaze me, Ramona.
What have I failed to ask that you want address now?
Ramona: The only thing I can think to add is a writing idiosyncrasy. I feel a need to give every story idea a title before I can begin writing. The title might change later, but I have to come up with a title before I can begin writing a story. Nuts, I know, but there it is. LOL!
SKC: I don't think that's nuts at all. Perhaps because I'm the same way. For me, it tends to give focus to the story, much as a thesis statement does for an essay.
Ramona: Once in an interview, the interviewer asked the quirkiest question I was ever asked: “If you were an inanimate object, what would you be?”
SKC: And you answered...?
Ramona: A 1951 Chevy sedan. We’re both 1951 models, short and squat with rounded fenders. We’re not very fast or flashy, but we’re both dependable and will eventually get there.
SKC: Good answer! And again I thank you so much for answering my questions. God bless you, as you continue to reflect Him in your writing. May He grant you continued success.
Ramona K. Cecil's A Time for Healing is available for pre-order through Amazon at: Amazon.com
Also at: Barnes & Noble