Well, it’s been a week for interviews this week 🙂 but I do so love a good chat, don’t you? Today, I’m very excited to be chatting with Sondra Kraak. Sondra’s doing a special promotion and blog tour for book two in her Love that Counts series. From 19-26 May, the eBook of Two Ways Home will be on sale for just $0.99, and the blog tour starts right here, right now! At the end of the post, I will have details on the other sites you can visit for interviews, games, and spotlights over the next five days. Lots of fun to be had!
But first: Sondra is treating us to cinnamon rolls and hazelnut flavoured coffee (because calories are null and void here at Fiction Aficionado, along with any dietary restrictions you may normally have 😁)
While you settle in, here’s a little bit about Sondra and Two Ways Home:
~ About the Author ~
A native of Washington State, Sondra Kraak grew up playing in the rain, hammering out Chopin at the piano, and running up and down the basketball court. Now settled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, she enjoys spending time with her husband and children, blogging about spiritual truths, and writing historical romance set in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She delights in sharing stories that not only entertain, but nourish the soul. Her debut novel, One Plus One Equals Trouble, was an ACFW Genesis semi-finalist (2015) and the winner of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference Unpublished Women’s Fiction Award (2015). Sondra has since published three novels.
~ About the Book ~
Mary Smith was never one to back down from a challenge. Her father’s health may be failing, but their dairy farm was her mother’s dream, and Mary will do whatever it takes to keep her father from selling it—even if it means sneaking off to the next town to earn money by playing the piano in a questionable establishment. No one seems to understand why home is so important to her, least of all her childhood nemesis who’s just wandered back into town.
When injured Texas Ranger Luke Thomas is forced to return to Pine Creek, Washington, he’s hailed as a hero and thrust into the town’s first race for sheriff. But no one knows the secret he carried to Texas, nor the secret he’s brought home. Setting his perfect aim on returning south, he refuses to get tied down by the town’s admiration, his brother’s disapproval, or the spirited, hardworking dairy girl who’s less annoying than he remembers.
But strange things are happening at the Smith dairy and in Pine Creek, and Luke’s instincts tell him Mary is in far more trouble than she realizes. One thing is certain: “home” is about to get more complicated for them both.
Full of wit and romantic tension, this Christian historical love story sets forth the true meaning of coming home.
~ Interview ~
KATIE: Welcome to Fiction Aficionado, Sondra! Let’s begin by taking a little ‘flight of fancy’. Finish these sentences for me:
If I could visit any place in the world, I would visit…
SONDRA: Since we’re dreaming, I’d like to climb Denali with my husband (he’s this Alaska-crazed mountain man).
Gotta keep the Alaska-crazed mountain man happy!
If I could assign one household task to the fairies forever, it would be…
Meal planning and grocery shopping. I don’t mind cooking once I have the stuff. It’s putting the creative energy into thinking of meals that wears me out.
Oh, yes! Some weeks I’m full of inspiration, and then others . . . well, what’s the number for the pizza place again? 😊
If I was a musical instrument, I would be an…
Oboe, which can be beautiful if played right, or grating if not. I’m kind of moody like that.
Haha! Love your honesty.
When I was a child, I wanted to be a…
Marine biologist, forest ranger, interior decorator, photographer…changed weekly. Now, in my pretend life, I’m a Christmas tree farmer. Don’t ask me why.
That’s very diverse! It’s good to keep your options open. 😉
My ideal place to read would be…
By myself, in a cabin, when it’s raining (Pacific Northwest girl here).
There is something about the sound of quiet rain when you’re indoors. Possibly with a little log fire to keep you warm…
Okay, let’s get down to business. You write historical romances. What is it about this genre that appeals to you?
Strange you should ask because I feel like somewhat of a misfit. When I dreamed of being an author as a youth, I naturally thought of writing historical romance because that’s all I read. I didn’t enjoy reading until sixth grade when someone gave me the first book in Lois Walfred Johnson’s Adventures of the Northwoods. Suddenly reading was fun. When I came back to reading fiction after college, seminary, and having a baby, I read some historical but wanted a change. I reached for Dee Henderson’s O’Malley series. Now, while I still have my favourite historical authors, I read mostly contemporary. However, when I started writing six or seven years ago, I didn’t even think about genre but went straight to historical romance. I grew up in a history loving family, liked Anne of Green Gables and Laura Ingalls, travelled around the Western US and saw Oregon Trail monuments, old forts. I just like wondering what life was like in a different time. Of course, it’s glamorized in fiction. I don’t think I could have survived back then.
I read a lot more contemporary than I used to. I actually remember being really weirded-out the first time I read about a character using their blackberry! It just seemed so odd! But my first love was historical romance, too. 🙂
Both books in the Love that Counts series are set in Washington in the 1890s. Why this particular time and place?
I’m so excited you asked this. I grew up in a suburb of Seattle, Tukwila, which is native for land of the hazelnut, so I already knew Washington state history. At the time I started writing, I didn’t think Washington was well represented in historical romance. Lots of Montana, Texas, Colorado. The setting for the Love that Counts series is based on a little town, Plain, just over the Cascade mountains in central Washington. My family camped at Lake Wenatchee, several miles away, frequently and visited Leavenworth, a cute Bavarian tourist town near Plain. There was an old red schoolhouse, called the Winton schoolhouse, that we used to like to drive by. That was the inspiration for One Plus One Equals Trouble.
Here are some pictures.
Oh, thanks for the pictures! I love that schoolhouse. ❤️
What kind of research have you done for this series? Have you learned anything that surprised you? Amused you? Struck you as odd?
I did a lot of general research before I started writing the series, but for Two Ways Home, I had to learn about dairy farming. Ironically, some of the terms I used, my editor suggested I take out because the general public might not understand them. Like “freshen” for when a cow gives birth. That’s the tension in historical writing. Readers aren’t reading for a history lesson, so authors have to be careful not to put in history for the sake of history. But to be accurate, I needed to understand dairy farming. I also read a bunch about Texas Rangers, but since Luke wasn’t actively in that position, a lot of that research didn’t make it in.
It is a tricky balance, isn’t it? And I can only imagine how different dairy farming would have been in the late 1800s.
Tell us a little bit about the main characters, Mary Smith and Luke Thomas.
Well, you’ll see some character spotlights next week on the blog tour, but here’s a teaser.
Mary says what she’s thinking, whether or not it’s appropriate. She’s witty, wild, and unconventional. But she also loves people and the heritage of her home. The thought of her father selling the dairy sends her into a do-anything-to-save-the-dairy frenzy. She can’t understand why Luke would run off to Texas and leave his home behind.
Luke left home—and its painful memories—to pursue a career with the Texas Rangers. Because of circumstances he can’t control (no spoilers here), he comes back. He can match Mary’s wit comment for comment. With a natural protective instinct and a strong sense of right and wrong, Luke’s the perfect candidate for sheriff. Except he refuses to run for the position, not planning on sticking around town. I love Luke’s hidden tenderness even though it’s buried beneath shame. He truly cares for the people of Pine Creek, even though he thinks they hate him.
I can’t wait to meet them!
Let’s talk writing process for a moment. Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Sort of a mix, but probably more a panster. I do some initial brainstorming, starting with characters and their motivations. I jot down scene ideas and a general sense of where I want the story to go. Then I jump in. I’m constantly brainstorming dialogue and “heart” moments, those shifts of the spirit where the character grows.
So, what sort of things do you do to get to know your characters?
Write. Filling out those character inventories seems like a waste of time. It doesn’t really matter what my character’s favourite food is unless that ties in to her personal growth or the plot. What matters is the wounds of her past and how that affects her motivations and choices. My characters morph as I write them, especially as I write dialogue.
You have actually written a letter to Luke (you can read it by clicking here and then scrolling down the page a little) because he was being rather stubborn during the writing process. What do you do with a stubborn character? How do you crack that shell and get him or her to cooperate with you?
I wish I knew the answer because I have more stubborn characters in Three Words and a Kiss (in process now). For a story to be good, characters can’t be just two-dimensional people on paper. They have minds, bodies, spirits, hearts, and like real people, should be complex with their motivations. I have to wrestle with how a character would naturally react. I can’t just plot out a story and force the character to run away, reject a suitor, etc. One choice leads to another choice, which is why I believe it’s important to write organically (panster) and not over-plot.
I love hearing of the way writers have wrestled with their characters and been surprised by them. Those are usually the most realistic characters!
What was the most enjoyable part of writing this story?
Mary and Luke have great chemistry, and unfortunately at times, can be mean-spirited to each other as a way of hiding behind fears and wounds. I love to write banter, and there’s lots of it in this story. Mary’s a fun heroine because she’s bold and jumps in to situations without thinking of the ramifications.
Can I share an excerpt? This is about two-thirds into the story, from Mary’s perspective:
“Does your family know?” she asked.
“Why? So Paul can tell me that I got what I deserved for leaving?” His tone turned sour.
“What did you get, Luke?”
He rose from the bed and paced away. “I got all I wanted and more.”
“Then you don’t want much, do you?”
His chest shook with soft laughter. “Your goading has no end, but you’re wrong. To stay here would have been to not want much. Going to Texas was wanting more than I had a right to want.”
His short hair was mussed about his temple. She wanted to reach out and smooth it down. That would go over well.
“How does a person have a right, or not have a right, to want something?” She shrugged. “I wanted to study the piano, so I left. But I wanted to come back more than I wanted to study in Portland. So I did. Who grants me the right to want to keep Mama’s dairy? I simply want it. Even if keeping the dairy turns out to be wrong, my desire to do so isn’t.”
He walked around her to the window. An eastern glow crept into the sky. “There’s wanting, and then there’s . . . wanting.”
Much clearer. Thank you, philosophical Luke.
“If I’d stayed here and wanted something simple, like marriage and family and ranching, then I could have had those things and been satisfied. But I wasn’t made to want the simple.” He faced her. “I want integrity and truthfulness and righteousness. I went to Texas because I wanted the hard things.”
She refused to be intimidated by the smoldering of his eyes. “You might love those things, but that’s not why you went to Texas. After all, integrity and truthfulness and righteousness can be sought anywhere.”
He advanced toward her, hands on his hips, and the nearer he got, the more his presence took over the room.
“Those scars on your arm tell me the truth.” Scars she yearned to see again. “You ran away.”
His jaw tightened, and she itched to flick it. Why not? She tweaked his chin with her index finger.
He reached and snagged her wrist quick as he might draw his guns. “I don’t run from things.”
His eyes cuffed her with intensity even though his grasp around her wrist, held up between them, remained gentle. She had the urge to brush her lips on his knuckles. And why not?
Many reasons. This was Luke, who, regardless of motivation, had wanted Texas and had gone after it. Like she was doing with the dairy. One didn’t flirt with someone who had no intention of staying. Her eyes fluttered closed, breaking from the image of his strong hand around her wrist. But she could still feel the gentle pressure. Feel his fingers faintly circling. Feel . . .
Warm breath fanned her wrist, a moment’s warning, before his lips moved across the tender flesh where her pulse betrayed her rising desire.
She forced her eyes open. He mumbled something intangible, and not letting go of her wrist, rotated his head and aimed his mouth toward hers. The touch of his lips to hers was so light she had a hard time imagining this was a man who harnessed criminals, roughed up resisters, defended the innocent. But then, he pressed his mouth to hers with more certainty, and she could suddenly imagine all sorts of things.
Dizziness made her balance unsteady as he trailed his lips up until they played along the ridge of her cheek bone. A rush of pleasure stole her breath. Stole her sanity.
“Luke,” she whispered. “You can come home.”
He jerked back, dropping her wrist. “My home is Texas.”
Because Texas didn’t require him to invest, put down roots. And Pine Creek did. Texas had people who needed Luke the hero. Luke the helper. Luke the justice-worker. Not plain, heart-on-his-sleeve Luke. That Luke had died with his father.
Whew! You can share excerpts like that any time!
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today, Sondra. If you’ll excuse me now, I might just go look for my fan… 😊
My pleasure! Thanks for having me!
If you’re interested in following this blog tour for other interviews, character spotlights, and more, here’s the schedule:
Katie at Fiction Aficionado (interview, excerpt), Saturday, May 20
Kathleen Denly (game), Monday, May 22
Trisha at Joy of Reading (interview), Monday, May 22
Beth Erin at Faithfully Bookish (setting spotlight), Tuesday, May 23
Jessica at A Baker’s Perspective (spotlight on heroine), Wednesday, May 24
Sydney at Singing Librarian (interview, spotlight on hero), Thursday, May 25