Today we welcome Donna L.H. Smith to my blog. Donna, it was nice to have you stop by.
Tell us about the book – a brief blurb:
An unusual ultimatum. A young woman’s bold journey. Two handsome men. An amazing God. That’s Meghan’s Choice.
Meghan Gallagher complies with her father’s demand that she work on her own for a year by choosing to tutor eight children in a wild Kansas railroad town in 1871. But she had no idea just how wild it was until she was rescued by a dance hall girl on her first day and hit by a stray bullet in the center of town. In short order, she meets a dark, handsome cowboy and a wholesome attractive doctor who both vie for her heart. As things heat up around town, Meghan’s love life catches fire as well. And—how close a relationship with God does Meghan want? Will she draw near?
Meghan’s Choice was named a semi-finalist in the 2014 Operation First Novel by Jerry B. Jenkins and an honorable mention for the Golden Leaf Award in 2015.
Are any experiences in Meghan’s Choice based on personal experiences? Did you draw upon any stories or movies for inspiration for the novel?
I wrote an experience with Meghan that closely resembles what happened to me. The cowboy asks her: “Have you ever had an experience with God?” Meghan’s story is a bit like mine. She grew up in church. I was raised in church. Her beliefs were in her mind, because she’d been taught that way. Me, too. Until I had a young man ask me in 1970 that question about an experience with God. I fumbled for an answer. I had Meghan reply what I said.
Also, the premise of the story is based on true events that happened in my hometown in Kansas. When I asked God for a “novel idea,” a phrase came to mind that I knew had something to do with the establishment of my hometown of Newton, Kansas. A series of gunfights occurred there in August of 1871 that killed and wounded more people than at the OK Corral. It was called “The Gunfight at Hyde Park.” I had to Google it to remember the details of an old obscure history lesson from my hometown.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in Meghan’s Choice?
No, because I got it just the way I wanted it before it was published. I love the story, the characters, the dynamite plot twist a mentor of mine gave me for late in the story. I had a blast with it.
I will say though, that the story, like most, underwent a lot of changes before it’s final form, which is the published book. The changes improved it greatly.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part? The learning process of how to write a novel. But I had great teachers who are successful, bestselling authors. After my first draft, I cut a lot out myself. Then, a mentor showed me a lot more of what needed to be cut. But most of all, she showed me how to make Meghan likeable. I’m glad I learned that extremely important lesson. Because if readers don’t like your main character, they won’t want to read their story. I had to humble myself. I had to learn to take criticism in order to improve the characters and the story. But thankfully, I did learn.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Well, so much…the perseverance it takes to see a project through from concept to publication. It was five and a half years. I had a lot of rejections with it, but I tried to learn from each one. The Operation First Novel critique told me to expand the “public” stakes in the story. So, I did.
I think the published version is the best. I’ve entered it into three contests this year, and so far, it’s made the finals of two. I haven’t heard from the third contest yet. And I haven’t heard the final results from one of the two others yet. But they’re prestigious contests, and I’m tremendously honored and blessed to have made the finals. That’s the best this story has ever done!
Did you have to travel much for research for Meghan’s Choice?
I didn’t have to travel because I grew up there. I fictionalized my hometown of Newton, Kansas—renaming it New Boston. Because I was familiar with the town, all I needed to do was consult historical records, research the Santa Fe Railroad, and other things pertaining to life and society in 1871. I did all that from the comfort of my home by researching on the Internet.
If a series: What was it like coming back to certain characters, for the second novel in the series? Do you foresee any more stories for this family of characters?
It is a series. It’s called the Known by Heart Series. Meghan’s Choice is the first. “Rose’s Redemption” (which is due out later this year), is the second, and a story called “Hannah’s Hope” will be the third, hopefully released in 2019.
I enjoyed making Rose Rhodes (Rosalie O’Roarke) from Meghan’s Choice the main point-of-view character in the second book. She’s a former dance hall girl who changes her appearance to change her life. But God wants her to give him her heart and change from the inside out. I so enjoyed writing it. It’s a tough story to tell in a lot of ways, but what an amazing story it is. And delving into the doctor’s life further as to why he might have made a pretty stupid mistake in Book 1. (If you read Meghan’s Choice, you’ll know what stupid thing he did)
There’s also a true villain in Book 2, and I introduce the main character of Book 3, a young woman named Hannah.
More stories could be told. We’ll have to wait and see how things go with these three.
Who was your favorite character in Meghan’s Choice?
I have three point-of-view characters in Meghan’s Choice. Even though it’s a romance where there are usually only two. But I wanted to inject an element of mystery for most of the book. Which man was she going to end up with?
I have to say that I loved the cowboy, Duncan Wilcox. I so enjoyed putting in his character arc and watching him change from a man who drops subjects in his sentences, to trusting enough to share his internal pain.
Another favorite character is Jackson, the ex-slave. He starts out as a porter, and by Book 2, he’s station manager. His story too, is based on a real ex-slave named Jackson, who came north on the Underground Railroad.
However, I love all my characters. Meghan changes a lot, from being an impetuous, immature woman trying to overcome her prejudices, to a caring young woman ready for marriage—in much less time than her father dictates. I was happy to show that.
Was there anything in Meghan’s Choice that you did not enjoy writing about?
I enjoyed writing the whole story. Parts of any story that are close to home or deal with a difficult issue might be harder, but I’ve found writing about tough things to be healing, comforting, and enlightening. So, although there are some not-so-pleasant things in the story, I still enjoyed writing about them…hoping that healing will come to readers.
My favorite scene takes place at a small lake outside New Boston, where Meghan experiences God’s presence for the first time. That was so much fun to write!
Donna L.H. Smith is a Kansas prairie girl transplanted to Lancaster County, PA. She is a graduate of Christian Writer’s Guild Craftsman program and holds a B.S. in Telecommunications (broadcasting) from (Oral Roberts University) and a M.A. in Mass Communication from WSU (Wichita State University). She’s been married to a wonderful man named Kirby for thirty years. No children, but a dog and her Mom over an eleven-year period. She’s been a freelance journalist, and a radio reporter. She blogs, speaks at workshops and retreats, and although she is at an age where many begin slowing down, she wouldn’t think of it. Recently, she took on the role of Managing Editor of Almost an Author.com, a Top 101 Best Websites for Writers by Writer’s Digest and serves as ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) Mid-Atlantic Zone Director. She is also a member of AWSA’s Protégé program (Advanced Writers & Speaker’s Association).
FACEBOOK: Donna L.H. Smith––Stories Are My Passion