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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Meet Sarah McNeal



 A very interesting, talented lady is visiting today. I wish I had her talent with musical instruments. Wow. Sarah was so gracious to invite me to visit a blog she manages (The Romance Room), I had to return the favor. And I'm so glad I did because I got to know her better. Let's find out about Sarah McNeal.

Sarah McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery, Victory Tales Press, Prairie Rose Publications and Painted Pony Books, an imprint of Prairie Rose Publications.
 
She welcomes you to visit her at

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I loved telling stories even as a little kid, but I first began to attempt writing them when I was 9. I submitted my first story to Seventeen Magazine when I was 13. It was rejected, but I had the fever, so I couldn’t give up.

How long does it take you to write a book?

Wow, this really varies. When I’m on fire and my outline is clear and solid, I can write the first draft in 3 months. If I run into a problem or struggle through an issue, it can take up to 6 months.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?

Schedule? I don’t really have one of those. I tried having “office hours” so I could get some structure, but I would just sit and stare at the computer screen. Since I usually write in longhand .first, yep, I know that’s archaic. I usually like to write after I’ve checked my emails and had my coffee in the morning, then I go out on the deck and start writing. If my attention begins to lag, I take a break to work in the garden or do housework. In the winter, I have to go to the spare room where it’s quiet and hand write a scene.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?

Like many writers, I read like a mad woman, but I also love music and take the time to practice on one of my instruments or go out and work in the yard. I love digging around in the earth. There’s such peace in that. My spirit becomes uplifted.

What’s your favorite movie?

It’s hard to decide on just one movie, but my all-time favorite is Tombstone with Kirt Russel,Val Kimer and Sam Elliot. What I truly love about it is the friendship between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and Wyatt’s devotion to his brothers. He never wavered from his dedication to them.

What does your family think of your writing?

LOL My family takes my writing for granted. They seldom ever ask me what I’m writing or read my books. The only member of my family who is interested in my work, is my great-niece. She also loves to play the violin and other musical instruments with me. She’s my heart.

Have you ever stayed up all night to finish reading a book? If yes, tell more.

Absolutely! I read Wuthering Heights in one day. I got started and was so hooked into Heathcliff and Cathy’s stormy relationship that I just could not put it down. When I get into a book with deep, complicated characters and uncertain outcomes, I will read until I get to the end.

How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

8 novels and 10 short stories, 6 of which appeared in anthologies.
Of course, like most authors, everything I write is dear to my heart, but THE VIOLIN is very special to me. I wrote it about my Uncle John who died long before I was born. He was only 21 when he died. My father told me all the stories about his exceptional brother, how he traveled around the U.S. and Canada on a motorcycle with a New York opera company, played the violin and had just graduated with a degree in engineering when he drown while fly fishing with his friends. I wanted him to have the life he so deserved. Almost everything I wrote in THE VIOLIN was true except that John didn’t die or find the love of his life. I inherited his violin.

What do you think makes a good story?

Characters with depth, determination and grit who can laugh at their frailties. And I like a story premise that is not predictable, but takes the reader on an exciting journey of the heart.

What is the best part of writing for you?

I love to come up with an interesting story with surprises in it. In my mind I piece together all these elements like a jigsaw puzzle and bring in the best characters I can imagine. It’s like taking daydreaming to a whole new level.

What do you enjoy most about life?

Everything. I feel lucky to be on Earth. I love to spend time with my family and friends even though I’m a bit of a recluse. I have such a fondness for all creatures. Even though I would not want to come upon some of them I in real life, like snakes and lions, I believe all creatures have a right to be here and a purpose—except parasites and mosquitoes. One of my favorite things to do is take my dog, Lily, outside and sit on the deck and enjoy nature.

Where do you start when writing? Research, plotting, outline, or...?

I’m a plotter. I usually start with the theme in the form of a blurb. Once I know who my main characters are, what they want and what the obstacles are, I plot the story in the form of a synopsis. I dislike writing a synopsis when I finish, so I write one in the beginning and use it like an outline. I’m a plotter. Now I know what I need to research to give the story a realistic feel. I love research, so I have to be careful not to get lost in it. Even though I have an outline, I find I need to tweak it sometimes and, sometimes I have an epiphany and change the plot a little when that happens.

What did you learn from writing your first book?

Not to head-hop.
I had some bad examples from stories that I read and emulated those authors in the beginning. I also had a propensity to throw in too much backstory in the beginning. Nothing slows a story down like backstory in huge chunks. I’ve learned so many things along the way from classes and other authors. Every time I write a story, I learn something new.

How many hours a day to you spend writing?
I don’t have set hours for writing. Sometimes I get email out of the way first. Some days I have to dedicate myself to promotion. It really surprised me in the beginning to learn how much promotion an author has to do. When the spirit is with me, I can write for hours, but on other days, I have to force myself to get something down even when I’m not feeling it. An author once said, “You can’t edit a blank piece of paper.” So, even if it’s not my best work, I can go back later and bring it up to par.

If you could give the younger version of yourself advice what would it be?

Believe with all my heart in myself. Several times in my attempts to become published, I allowed others to dissuade and discourage me. I wouldn’t want any aspiring author to ever feel that discouragement.

Are your stories driven by plot or character?

Although I am a plotter, I have to admit that there have been times when a character took over the pages. One example of that is in Harmonica Joe’s Reluctant Bride. Banjo, the streetwise, tough talking kid, took over and I had to corral him until I could get his story written in a sequel, For Love of Banjo. I had never intended to write a series when I wrote Harmonica Joe’s story. It was supposed to be a one time deal, but with the entrance of Banjo, a whole saga of a family in a fictional town in Wyoming started. I loved allowing Lola to predict future events now again since she came from the present back in time to 1910 in the first book. Her uncanny knowledge of the future would lighten the mood when things became intense.

How do you balance a life outside of writing with deadlines and writing muses?

Sometimes I do get lost in my work and forget to emerge into real life. Sometimes my family has had to mention my absences and bring me back to the real world. I know that I sometimes bore my friends and family with writer’s talk and I wish I had a close friend who lived next door to talk to and brainstorm with. I have to admit that balance between writing and real life doesn’t come easy for me.

What are some jobs you've done that would end up in a book?

I worked as a nurse all my life, but I don’t like to write about it in my stories. Stories provide an escape from the intensity of critical care nursing. I have, however, used stories of patients in my writing. There are so many heart-rending stories from those patients, some I’ve yet to write.

If I was a first time reader of your books, which one would you recommend I start with and why?

THE VIOLIN. Even though it’s an earlier work, it is my most inspired story. It’s an almost true story about my family and I put into it all the love I have. When a reader finishes this book, they will know the essence of who I am.

What do you hope readers take with them after reading your work?
More than anything, I want them to feel uplifted. Life is worth living. No matter how bad things get, there is always a way to find happiness.

What two authors would we find you reading when taking a break from your own writing?

I read a wide variety of authors so it’s hard to choose just 2.  I think that’s why I love to read anthologies. I have found some new-to-me authors that I love through anthologies. Two of them are Lisa Kleypas and Linda Lael Miller.

Tell us about your latest book.

UNEXPECTED BLESSINGS is my contribution in a new summer anthology, LASSOING A BRIDE from Prairie Rose Publications. It is a collection of western, historical romances by several talented western writers.


A broken dream…a cancelled wedding…and an unexpected blessing

When Juliet Wilding’s dreams are crushed, she cancels her wedding plans to Harry O’Connor. But Harry is not about to give up on the only woman he has ever loved.  What neither of them expects is the event that will forever change both their lives.

Excerpt:

rptub“When will the new owners be moving in?” She asked the question without making eye contact.
“On the twenty-first of June.”
She slowly turned to look up into his face. “Why that’s when our wedding day was supposed to take place.”
“That’s when our wedding day will take place, Juliet. And this house is my wedding gift to you. Actually, it’s a wedding gift from your family, too. They helped me renovate it…with you in mind.” He lifted his hands to encompass the whole house. “All of this, it’s all for you, darlin’. It doesn’t have much furniture yet, but—”
She extended her arm and kept him away with her hand on his chest. “No, Harry, this can’t be our house.”
“I assure you it can…it is.”
A tear slipped from her eye and made a path down her cheek.
What the hell? Had he been wrong to buy the house? “If you don’t like it, I can change it. I’ll do whatever you want. I just want you to be happy.”
“It’s not the house. It’s not you; it’s me. I can’t marry you. I refuse to ruin your dreams or your life.” She wrestled out of his arms when he attempted to embrace and reassure her.
The earth was churning under his feet and his heart clenched so painfully he wasn’t sure he could get his breath. “I know you love me, Juliet. You’re my dream. You’re my life and my future.”

Table of Contents:

“The Prettiest Little Horse Thief” by Gail L. Jenner
“Unexpected Blessings” by Sarah J. McNeal
“No Less Than Forever” by Tracy Garrett
“The Bank Robber's Lament” by Sara Barnard
“The Bride and the Badge” by Livia J. Washburn

BUY LINKS:



 
I will be giving away an e-book of Lassoing A Bride to a person who comments today. Be sure to include your email addy in your comment so I can contact you if you win and award you your book.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I'm so glad you visited today, Sarah. Best wishes on Lassoing a Bride

25 comments:

  1. I just want to say thank you so much for having me as your guest, Diane. I really appreciate your generous offer.

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  2. Good morning, Sarah--you know how much I loved Unexpected Blessings. That one really got to me emotionally--which is what we want our stories to do.
    We share one thing--my family ignores my writing and my books. My husband, though, is my biggest fan, so he makes up for all the rest.
    Congratulations on the anthology--it's doing great.

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    1. Celia, I really have to thank you for all the support you give me. Writing can be a very lonesome job. It's good to have others who can tell me where you went wrong or right and to guide and support all my efforts. I consider you a friend even though we've never met in person. Thank you so much for coming here to comment.

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  3. Diane, what a wonderful interview! You certainly know how to wiggle behind the "author" and get her to tell us who she really is. :-)

    SARAH! We've only really gotten to "know" one another during the past year, but I feel like I've known you all my life. You are such a positive person; so supportive of everyone around you. Your friendship is a blessing to those who have the privilege of calling you friend.

    "Unexpected Blessings" is itself an unexpected blessing. I'm so glad the Wilding family held you hostage until you agreed to adopt them all and set their stories free.

    HUGS, sweetie!!!!

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    1. What kind words, Kathleen. You really know how to lift a person's spirits. I appreciate every word in your comment. Thanks so much for helping me spread the word. I actually tweeted. Yeah, Me--on Twitter--tweeting. LOL
      Diane really did a super job of asking just the right questions. I had to really think about some of those questions before I could answer them.
      Thank you so much for commenting.

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  4. Great interview! Always fun to learn about the person behind the stories they write.

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    1. And Linda, some day I'm going to find out more about you, too. I've been checking out your posts when I see them--looking for secrets. LOL
      It's so good to have you come by and comment on my interview. I really appreciate it.

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  5. Hi Sarah! So nice to 'meet' you, from one Tombstone fan to another. I absolutely love the relationship between Wyatt and Doc. And the "I'm you're huckleberry" moment has always stuck with me!

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    1. Hey Alyssa, I'm so happy you came over to comment. It's good to have another Tombstone fan on board. Lordy, I practically memorized that whole movie. I like the scene when Doc was dying of consumption and Wyatt's final words to him were, "Thanks for always being there." It meant everything in such a few words. My nephew likes the same quote as you. What a great movie about a great life. *sigh*
      Thank you so much for dropping by.

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  6. Sarah, I wish I could be that neighbor next door. My family and friends are about to run screaming. I live in a small town, far from any other writers.
    The good news is, your interview has inspired my muse and I'm ready to get back to work.
    I look forward to reading your books. Especially THE VIOLIN.
    Diane, thank you for introducing another great writer. This interview was fantastic.
    sandy4lee@yahoo.com

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    1. Sandra, I am happy to oblige in getting your muse off his rump. Writing is tough and lonely, but when readers tell you how much they like your work, it's all worth while. It is so wonderful talk to other writers about the process and brainstorm with them. It just gets the creative juices flowing.
      Thank you so much for your sweet comments.

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  7. Hi Sarah,
    A wonderful interview! I have a dog named Lily (chocolate Lab), she often lays under my desk as I write. Perhaps dogs named Lily are the secret to our creativity. 'Tombstone' was also a favorite of mine. I was very impressed by Val Kilmer's portrayal of Doc Holliday. Your book, The Violin, sounds wonderful. I sometimes wonder if some stories aren't channeled to us--perhaps from your uncle, for the life he could have had. And you were the only one who could've told his story. Someday, I'd love to hear you play the bagpipes! I have my copy of LAB but haven't had a chance to read it yet. I look forward to immersing myself soon! Take care.

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    1. Kristy, yes it must be the Lily dogs that drive our creativity. LOL My pets are like my two daughters. I like how Lily follows me around the house, just quietly being my buddy.
      Whenever my dad talked about his brother, John, I could tell how much he loved him, idealized him and missed him. Both his brothers died young. Neither of them had children. I thought it was so sad for Pop. My sister annoys me like crazy, but when I need her, she's right there. My dad didn't have that. I wish Pop could have lived long enough to read The Violin and see the life I created for his brother.
      I had to laugh when you said you'd like to hear me play the bagpipes. When I was learning to play them, I lived in an apartment. The couple above me were used to my violin scratching, but when I blew my pipes, I heard the lady's husband say, "What the hell is that noise?" LOL
      I'm so happy to hear you have LAB. I hope you like those stories (and mine, of course.)
      Thank you so much for coming by today and leaving such a lovely comment.

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  8. Hi, Sarah! I so enjoyed your story in LAB--you've created an interesting family in the Wildings.
    "Believe with all your heart in yourself" -- great advice!

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  9. Thank you, Tracy. How kind of you to come and leave such an uplifting comment.

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  10. Sarah, you know how much I always enjoy your stories. These Wildings of yours have just grabbed a place in so many hearts and become real people to so many of us! Keep writing! LOL So glad you contributed to Lassoing a Bride with Unexpected Blessings. I always love reading interviews you do because I feel like I get to know you better each time. I think if we met face to face, we would be talking way into the night...LOL
    Hugs,
    Cheryl

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  11. Thanks to your great edits, Cheryl, the Wildings have come to life on the page. I like reading interviews from other authors. There's always something surprising to learn. Wouldn't it be great fun to yak it up in person? Thank you so much for all your encouragement and sage advice. I know you must be exhausted from all you do...and I appreciate every bit of your hard work. You've lined up a great team. Thanks so much for taking the time to come and comment.

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  12. Sarah,

    I enjoyed reading your interview. I'm really enjoying and treasuring getting to know my sister Prairie Roses. Every time you mention playing the bagpipes, I just sigh and turn a tiny bit green with envy. ;-)

    I've read all the stories in the three 'Lassoing' anthologies. Your story, Unexpected Blessings, was my first exposure to your Wildings. I'm hooked. ;-)

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  13. Hello there, Kaye. Ya know, some day when you have the chance, you might want to read Harmonica Joe's Reluctant Bride. It's the book that started the whole Wilding clan. It's a time travel western and gives the reader some insight into Lola's character and why she comes up with odd dialogue sometimes. It was intended as a one time thing and my first western. But I fell in love with Banjo, the streetwise kid raised in the streets and felt he deserved his own story. Everything just grew after that. I'm glad it did because I have come to really enjoy writing westerns and, especially in my fictional town of Hazard.
    Bagpipes are the hardest instrument to play of any I've attempted. The one instrument I would love to play is a piano. I'd love to be one of those people at a party who can sit at the piano and play anything anyone requests. Those people are the life of a party. This is so weird, but I can play with my left hand, and I can play with my right hand, but I cannot, for the life of me, play both at the same time. I envy pianists. Sam Wilding is a pianist. Funny, I've never written a story with a piper in it.
    Thank you for taking the time to come over and comment on my blog. I really appreciate it, Kaye.

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  14. The winner of Lassoing A Bride anthology is.........Sandra Dailey! Congratulations, Sandra. I'll contact you ASAP. Thank you so much for commenting on my interview.

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  15. Hi Sarah, this was an insightful interview. Thank you for allowing me to see inside your heart. I can empathize with a couple of things you said. I have trouble balancing my writing with "real" life, and I also wish I had a next-door neighbor whose passion was writing. Someone I could share my passion with. Good luck and my God bless everything you put your hand to.

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  16. Laurean, how kind of you to take some time to come over and comment. I think many authors feel the same about wishing they had someone they could chat with over coffee about all things literary. We burn so much with our passion, that we want to express it and get some feedback--but there's no one close to commune with. It's such a predicament, isn't it? Sometimes a friend will ask me about writing and I'll catch myself blabbing on and on and wishing so hard they could understand what it's like and how I feel--and then, I realize I'm boring the crap out of them. LOL Maybe that's one of the reasons we like to read each other's blogs, just so we can commune with a kindred spirit.
    Thank you so much for coming. I wish you tremendous success and all that is good on the earth.

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  17. Yay! I'm totally with you. No set hours, plotting first, stories with heart and characters you cheer. It can be so hard to keep that the focus when you're actually drafting, but that's what it all boils down to, eh?

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  18. Thank you so much for coming, Crystal. I spent most of my life on a schedule as an RN. 4:30 am is a tough hour to get out of bed and zip off to the hospital. Since I retired, my time is my own. I love writing, so it's not really work. It can be hard to stay focused. I'm glad I'm a plotter, but unfortunately, I can be a procrastinator, too. I like to lollie-gag. When I have a story I really want to tell, nothing can stop me from telling it.
    I appreciate the time you spent coming over here to comment. All the best to your corner of the universe, Crystal...

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