Bio: Connie Almony is trained as a mental health therapist and likes to mix a little fun with the serious stuff of life. She was a 2012 semi-finalist in the Genesis Contest for Women’s Fiction and was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Winter 2012 WOW Flash Fiction Contest. Her newest release, At the Edge of a Dark Forest, is a modern-day retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” about a war-vet, amputee struggling with PTSD.
Welcome, Connie. I love modern-day retelling of fairy tales, and “Beauty and the Beast” is one of my favorite fairy tales. Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters.
I think I leave a piece of me in everyone I write, even the villains. In At the Edge of a Dark Forest, I made Carly afraid of horses. She inherited this from me. Don’t get me wrong, I believe they are beautiful, majestic, and extraordinary creatures. However, they are also unwieldy, hard to talk to, and BIG. If you don’t know their language and you are riding one, they may run your leg into a tree or take off in a gallop with you whether your little feet stay in the stirrups or not. And yes, I am speaking from experience. So Carly has this little hang up. Good thing she has Joe, Sam, and of course Cole, to help her through it.
When I was in junior high school, I had a horse throw me the very first time I rode one. And one foot didn’t release. At least, this horse was trained well enough that it stopped immediately and didn’t drag me down the gravel road. My father made me get back in saddle and ride it back to the barn. I was horrified. What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
For me, quirky is a life-style so, really, it’s hard to choose. I even teach my children quirky. My daughter thinks we live in a musical and answers me in song—that is when she’s not talking in leprechaun language. My son is a non-verbal autistic boy who knows how to make us laugh (intentionally) with the few words he can say. My husband enjoys a good belly laugh more than anything and if he can give us reason for it, he’ll do his best. If laughter is good medicine, this family will live a very long time. Yes, quirky is good!
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I can’t say there really was a “when.” I’ve always loved a good story and on occasion would try my hand at writing one. I’d often find myself narrating a TV show in my head, wondering how an author might describe a scene without the benefit of images. I should have known then … but alas, I did not. While working on my master’s degree in counseling I had a professor who handed me a graded report and told me how much she enjoyed reading it, but due to lack of research, I received a C+. Well, at least the writing engaged her!
A few years ago it all came together. My elementary-aged daughter had been writing “chapter books” ever since she learned how to sound out words. I was amazed how she could break a larger story into smaller segments, to keep the reader interested. I’d been reading books about two of my favorite Classic authors, Jane Austin and Georgette Heyer, and discovered they’d start to write a novel and didn’t even know the outcome when they began. That was the roadblock that kept me from actually putting pen to page. If I didn’t have all the answers to the questions in the tale, I didn’t think I should even try. I have since discovered that sometimes writing is the best way to find those answers. So after brainstorming with my daughter on a school project, writing a Cinderella story set in
Greece, I finally decided to get
serious about writing myself. You could say my daughter is my greatest inspiration.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
Through the years I’ve read all kinds of books from military thrillers, through classic literature, a little horror, and also Amish. What I require more than a particular subject is a story that draws me in to the point I feel I am there, experiencing the events as if I were the character him/herself. I love writing that uses lots of sensory information, and seem to crave “feel” the most. I think it’s because my primary perceptual style is kinesthetic. I want to feel the wind in my hair, the thump of footsteps, the burn of the tears in my eyes. When I read that from an author, I’m hooked into the story no matter what it’s about. I care for the characters, because I’m present with them.
I also seem to need at least a hint of romance in books these days. I sometimes joke it’s the mid-life crisis, but I think I’ve always been this way. However, I tend to prefer romances where the characters come to know each other at deeper levels than just the outward attraction, and find they respect and admire that person, which then leads to love. That’s the kind of romance I write as well, and certainly a main theme in my modern-day retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.”
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
This is a great question. I’m sure it helps that I work at a Christian counseling office with people who not only embody great faith, but also have knowledge of mental health issues. We counsel each other and pray together when needed. I am very blessed by this.
One thing that has helped me over the past few years I learned from one of my colleagues. She’d come in to the office very tired one morning and explained how she couldn’t sleep, so she stayed up and praised her Creator all night long. Even tired, she espoused a Joy I wanted to inhale from her experience. I’m one of those people who whenever I’m in a hurry and hit all the red lights in town I assume God is teaching me patience—again. I’ve decided, since my colleague’s disclosure that morning, I would view these moments differently. Instead of complaining about the need of another Fatherly lesson, I would use those times to be with God, praising, petitioning, chatting, and laughing with Him. Whenever I remember to do this in the small moments here and there, I feel my muscles uncoil, my heart calm, and my spirits lighten. I think it’s a glimpse of what heaven will be like. It has changed my outlook dramatically.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
I use whatever comes to mind at the time, which is not the best method, believe me. In fact, I have a habit of giving most of my characters names that start with the same letter or sound. I get stuck that way. You’ll notice, in At the Edge of a Dark Forest, my two main characters are Cole and Carly :o). Gratefully, my mind found other letters for the supporting cast. However, I often like to have multi-cultural characters in my books, because the area where I live is very diverse. For these characters, I might use a baby-name website to find names with origins in certain countries.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Oh, that’s a hard one. There are lots of little things in life that I’ve seen the fruits of, and have felt God’s words in my heart saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” but I can’t really pull out one big one. If I had to pick, it would be the actually completion of my first manuscript. After many years of not having an opportunity to be creative, that manuscript pulled something from the deepest part of me and reminded me that I was meant to be creative … and I completed it too! That was the scariest part.
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
I used to love wild cats as a kid. They were sleek and mysterious, and I was … not :o). My grandfather owned a pet puma (named Kitty) and babysat his friend’s cheetah on occasion, so maybe my love of wild cats came from him. However, today I’d like to be a yellow lab. They are strong, friendly, loyal, and lovable.
What is your favorite food?
Did I mention I’m gluten free? Probably not. I used to be a breadaholic, but since I eliminated gluten from my diet, I no longer crave it so much. Now, my addiction runs to the chocolate variety. Especially since scientists have discovered all those lovely antioxidants in it. At least that’s what I tell myself when I NEED a Heath bar.
I love Heath bars. What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
As I mentioned above, my greatest roadblock was the feeling that I needed to know all the answers before I began the work. I read a biography on Georgette Heyer that contained actual letters from her to her editors. In them she’d outlined scenes from books I’d read. In those outlines she’d often have statements like, “I don’t know how I’m going to get him to do that,” or “I don’t know what will occur to make this happen,” and I realized I didn’t need to know all the details to begin. This was a mighty weight lifted off of me, because I’ve discovered beginning the story helps me come to know the characters better, which in turn gives me better answers to these questions than anything I could have drummed up before I’d met them.
Tell us about the featured book.
Cole Harrison, an
war veteran, wears his disfigurement like a barrier to those who might love
him, shielding them from the ugliness inside. He agrees to try and potentially
invest in a prototype prosthetic with the goal of saving a hopeless man’s
dreams. Carly Rose contracts to live with Cole and train him to use his new
limbs, only to discover the darkness that wars against the man he could become.
the Edge of a Dark Forest is a modern-day retelling of “Beauty and the
Beast.” Only it is not her love that will make him whole.
Please give us the first page of the book.
Cole hobbled up the snow-covered path, his metal crutch doing the work of his missing left leg. He turned to climb the wooded hill to his favorite perch for one last look. Knowing it would take five times as long as it did when he was a kid—having two arms and two legs back then—he scrambled up the frozen incline, using his right arm stump and dragging the crutch along beside him. He’d been a Marine. He’d do this or die.
In fact, he was counting on the latter.
Cole could never take his own life. Somehow, the thought of his remaining manor staff finding his body didn’t set well with him. Most of them had been on the payroll since before he was born and were more family than his own parents had been. No, he wouldn’t leave his remains for them. But maybe he could challenge God—or at least the elements—enough to where one or the other would finally do the deed.
Was that what drove him to this climb during a blizzard in freezing temps? He’d told Mrs. Rivera, the housekeeper, he needed to go camping—a necessary means of transitioning from war to civilian life. Regardless of the fact he’d been transitioning for years now and hadn’t bothered to pack any gear.
She knew not to stop him. Not that she couldn’t, given his current condition. But had she done that, it would have left him feeling more impotent than he did now. He suspected she knelt by her Baby Jesus statue, at this very moment, rolling beads through her fingers as she mouthed the Hail Mary over and over again.
Lotta good that would do.
Cole’s moments “transitioning” only doubled in frequency rather than dwindled. He’d started back when he still wore a prosthetic arm and leg, but after months subjecting them to the cold and rain, night and day, they rubbed against his skin, chafing and burning, making him feel more caged than free. He’d finally chucked them over a precipice one morning, vowing never to wear any fake parts again.
How can readers find you on the Internet?You
Thank you, Connie, for sharing your life and new book with us today.
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At the Edge of a Dark Forest: A modern-day retelling of Beauty and the Beast (Fairwilde Reflections) - Kindle
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