Happy Easter! James and I worshipped last night at our church, and the family won't be here for another hour, so I decided to run this interview.
Mary Hawkins and I have been online friends for a long tim, her in Australia and me in Texas. I've read her books, and she's read mine. We've even been published by the same company. Along the way, we made a connection that has grown stronger over the years. I'm very happy to introduce you to her with her newest release.
Welcome, Mary. (Hi, Ray.) Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters.
I have to say I never deliberately put any of myself into my characters. Inevitably this seems to happen, especially when dealing with spiritual truths and the Christian life that I know personally and hold very dear because they have already been proven in my own walk with Christ. However, in Return to Baragula a little of my nursing experiences crept in to the extent that a friend who just finished reading it commented on the amount of medical “stuff.” Quite surprised me. Thankfully she also commented how much she enjoyed the whole book!
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
Mmm…quirky, and only the most? Actually that’s tough to choose and I’ve had to think hard. Some might say being close to sixty years old and going on that first of three mission and study teams to Africa or letting myself be persuaded to hold the tail of that crocodile in Ghana? But no…perhaps I should just go with the first thing that for some unknown reason sprang to mind after only a few moments. It was many years ago when I was a first year Bible College student. Our college was on the shores of a river that runs into Sydney Harbour. It was nighttime, we’d had the usual exhausting day of lectures and study. A few of us decided we needed some fresh air, and when someone supplied the fishing lines and raw meat, we threw our lines over the cement wall into the river. I was so excited to get that strong tug on the line. Thought it must be a huge fish. It was huge alright – a huge eel. As its twisting shape was reflected against the faint city lights this country girl’s immediate thought was snake. As it hurtled through the darkness and onto the grass, my scream made even the elderly principal race from his quarters some distance away to see who was being murdered. Took a long time to live that one down, even though a couple of students from Vanautu the next day enjoyed showing us how to cook and eat it! Yuck!
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I smile when people ask this and immediately blame my darling husband. Not until early in our marriage did I give him my diaries I started when I was fourteen. It was pretty nerve-racking waiting for his reactions to the ravings of those teenage years, the journey with Jesus through nursing training, Bible College, our own growing relationship. His comment? “You’re a writer. What are you going to do about it?” It blew me away. However, because I firmly believe the truth of the parable about the talents, I had to take that comment very seriously. I didn’t have a clue what I should write, where to even start. It sent me to prayer which led to the Famous Writers School correspondence course, articles, short stories and eventually novels.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
You’re asking this of a dedicated bookworm? I read anything and everything that captures my attention except anything with excessive violence, foul language and sexually explicit content. My favorite novels always need at least some touch of romance. Since being a member of writers’ groups like American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of Australia I find myself mainly choosing books written by authors I’ve “met” there or heard about over the years whether face to face or via the internet.
What other books have you written, whether published or not?
When I kept getting rejections for my first inspirational romance manuscript I wrote a story aimed at the Harlequin Mills & Boon market. That first attempt was rejected, but then from 1994 – 1998 had five HM&B medical romances released. I have often said that God must have been just waiting for me to listen to His leading. After 13 years of rejections, within weeks of my first medical romance being accepted I also had signed a contract with Heartsong Presents for that first book of my heart, Search for Tomorrow. Spent so much time over the years rewriting and rewriting that apprentice novel I couldn’t let other characters in it go. This led to the contemporary Heartsong Search series of three books plus a novella, Search for the Star, in the collection, Christmas Dreams. Barbour finally released them all in the one volume, Australia, in 2000. To my amazement and delight this became a Christian Booksellers Assoc bestseller.
My four Great Southland historical Heartsong novels were also released in one volume, Australian Outback. That first novel rejected by HM&B was rewritten and became my second Heartsong, Damaged Dreams. A spin-off from that, Delayed Dreams, is a rejected manuscript I’m going to work on again one day, while there is a third “ideas” folder tucked away about a third Dreams story. The only other unpublished manuscript is the second book in the Baragula series, Outback From Baragula. That still needs some revision and Ark House Press have indicated they would like to have that later this year and hopefully it will become my 18th title.
My 18th book release comes out in September. How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
It is perhaps a little too easy to simply answer by spending time alone with God through His Word and prayer on a day by day basis. That is true and most certainly the very basics needed for a Christian to cope. What I need to also mention is that over the years, as I’ve sought to find out what God wants me to do, I’ve discovered He also at times wants me to say “no” to something I may really like to do, even feel I could and should be doing. But of course, because we do live in this crazy world, through no fault of our own - nothing we have done or should not have done - the going can still get really, really tough. Because I have proved over and over the truth of Psalm 91:1 and Isaiah 40:31, I love my ornament of the eagle spreading her wings over her babies in their nest. It is a reminder that no matter what happens, only as I try to abide in Christ moment by moment can I know the reality of that “shadow of the Almighty,” that peace, contentment and strength He alone can give to make me “run and not be weary…walk and not faint.” It is sheer joy to then “soar like the eagle” with Him.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
Often with great difficulty! Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy writing series? I sometimes especially need to spend a lot of time on the main characters. I have a couple of Baby name books which I mainly use for the meaning and origins of Christian names and have also resorted to using the telephone directory when stumped for surnames. For my historicals I actually went to my two family association’s history records for names used in the nineteenth century.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
These questions keep getting harder, Lena!
I want to give my readers a chance to get to know the authors, not jut the books they write.
I have to honestly say I’ve never really thought about this before. From a very early age I was so blessed to be taught that all good and perfect things come from the Father above. Anything that may have been achieved in my life has simply been God by His Holy Spirit working in and through me. And He sure knows how hard He’s had to work at times as we’ve “co-labored” together!
Well, after typing the above I asked my husband what he could suggest. He mentioned a few I dismissed. Then he reminded me about persevering all those years with that writers’ course -which arrived just as I discovered I was pregnant with our third little one. Then despite all the interruptions to writing, hanging in there with that first novel manuscript through ministries of church planting, reviving a church about to close its doors, caring for three children until one day a crying, awestruck Mary held her first release ever, Search for Tomorrow, in her trembling hands. And that expected baby was then our beautiful 23 year old daughter. So perhaps I would have to say having my first novel published would have to rate pretty high!
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
Absolutely no idea! Someone else who knows me would have to try and answer that one.
What is your favorite food?
Chocolate, definitely chocolate.
Truly an author's food. What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
Enough self-discipline to sit on chair, put hands on keyboard and type chapter one – and start? Perhaps being a minister’s wife?
I love people, and have so enjoyed all that’s involved in the ministry, even the ups and downs -although not necessarily while traveling through the down times. But I am a person whose writing really thrives on routine, thrives on time to think, to dream. There were so many interruptions, unavoidable distractions – including moving house several times – especially to England for two years before moving again to our current home.
How to overcome? I still have to exercise huge amounts of self-discipline – and don’t always succeed. That first phone answering machine in the manse made a world of difference! Learning to say “no” helped tremendously. Having that first book published helped even more when church folk and the community realized I really was an A.U.T.H.O.R. Nowadays there are other delicious interruptions I have to combat – especially those gorgeous grandchildren!
My first great grand will be at my house shortly. What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
For a novelist? Educate yourself on the techniques of writing and story-telling. Know that as with any career you should always seek to keep on learning, honing your skills. Be prepared to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Include studying, keeping up to date with what is happening in the market you want to target. Joining a writers group like American Christian Fiction Writers is extremely helpful in all of that.
But while doing all the above, simply write. Nothing teaches quite as well as experience. Write what you really enjoy reading the most yourself. Finish the whole manuscript! I’ve met far too many writers who have heaps of novels started, perhaps have written three chapters only. You should look on that finished manuscript as your apprenticeship. Perhaps you may even be able to revise it adequately so one day it will be your first published novel.
Above all, if you are certain this is what God wants you to do, persevere!
This story has been brewing for some years. It is my first attempt at the longer Christian novel and been revised and revised and revised again. Over the years I have known so many fine Christian young people who have been seduced away from living life as God wants them to. I started off asking a few “what if” questions about a committed Christian teenager faced with the temptation of pre-marital sex with that gorgeous hero. If she yields what could be the consequences? What if her parents are missionaries away in New Guinea? What if the young man is not a believer? How might her small, rural town, home church members respond? Above all, how does she face up to the spiritual as well as physical consequences? How does all this impact that non-Christian young man? And so the story of Emily Parker and Matthew Davidson was born. The blurb on the front cover says “An Australian story of love, forgiveness and a past that threatens to destroy it all.”
Baragula is a fictitious rural town set in the Hunter Valley a few hours drive north-west of Sydney in New South Wales. For over twenty years we ministered at a church in Maitland, a city on the banks of the Hunter River to the east of this area. Of course, Maitland, Newcastle at the mouth of the river, as well as Sydney crop up in this planned three book Baragula series. This is the first book, and the second, Outback From Baragula, takes some folk you will meet in Baragula to a large cattle station in the west of the state.
A couple of things you should know:
While my publisher, Ark House Press, has Anchor in the US as their distributor, they have an agent still trying to get a representative for them in America, so you may have difficulties buying from your local shops. You can buy a copy from their website: http://www.arkhousepress.com/
Kingsway is their distributor in England.
If you live anywhere except Australasia and would like an autographed copy, you can buy via pay pal from my website, but please contact me for the cost first.
How can readers find you on the Internet?
Besides more about Return to Baragula, there you can read and see more about my life, writing career as well as what my husband, Ray, is currently writing. Naturally, simply couldn’t resist putting up some family photos. I even have photos from back in 1999 at the Romance Writers America National Convention in Chicago where I met my editor, Rebecca Germany, from Barbour as well as other great writers, especially at the Barbour author dinner. See if you can spot Tracie Petersen!
Thank you, Mary, for spending this time with us.
Readers, check out Mary's web site. Want a free copy? Leave a comment!