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Interview with Carrie Fancett Pagels

Rekindled Love
How often do you think about your first love? Maybe you married him, or perhaps you never saw him again. In First Love Forever, an historical romance collection released April 1, 2018, several authors have created their own tales of first loves lost and found.

I recently chatted with Carrie Fancett Pagels who contributed the novella, His Anchor, to the collection. Her story is set in 1895 in Mackinac Island, Michigan. An interesting fact I learned: Mackinac Island and Mackinaw City are both pronounced with an “aw” ending.

Thoughts on research and those gritty historical details
Pagels and her family currently live in Coastal Virginia but she is originally a Yooper*. Her insider knowledge and love of Mackinac Island shines in her story, adding realism and depth to the setting and the characters. Although she had grown up in the area, she still conducted a certain amount of research.

Pagels describes herself as a “sort of” history geek versus the history geeks who are “full on” and dig down to every little historical detail.

“I try to be a stickler for historical detail, but I have to be careful not to go down a rabbit trail. I have been known to spend hours reading minutiae, then use maybe five lines in the whole book. You have to be careful about that.”

She said in historical romance, it’s the romance carries the story, and that “takes up a lot of word space.”

In His Anchor, she includes factual events such as the federal government turning over ownership of the Mackinac Island National Park to the state of Michigan in 1895 to become a state park. She added other delightful touches like her characters chewing Beeman’s gum.

Pagels cautions that historical details particular to an area may change over time. “When I read historic romances written by others, I like to find author's notes included so I know what’s fact and what’s fiction. There may be bridges or buildings in a story that aren’t actually there anymore.”

To increase her knowledge, Pagels made use of the libraries at Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island which contain a lot of memorabilia and hard-to-find items. She also consulted the website for Michigan’s state parks. One special event that was invaluable was a 4th of July exhibit from photographer Jim Dwyer with photos from the 1890s of young nurses training at Newberry State Hospital. These pictures sparked ideas for her story.

She purchased books from local stores that included photos of period clothing and hairstyles, although she wasn’t overly concerned about how she dressed her characters.

“I'm not real big on clothing and hairstyles because most of my heroines tend to be lower class, not people who are dressing in fancy clothes”

Psychology and Writing in Character
With 25 years of experience working as a psychologist, Pagels finds it helpful in crafting her characters to put herself in their shoes.

“You’ve heard of character acting? I write in character. That’s one of the reasons I like to go to a lot of museums and historical sites. I want to get the feeling the character is going to have.”

She gets into the mood to the degree that she said, “I almost deleted the scene in my story where two mean women are talking about my main character, Sadie. I didn't like working with them. They were so petty. If the petty people are irritating me, they're going to irritate the readers.”

Pagels uses the knowledge she has acquired to inspire other authors. “I teach on why backstory matters. I interview my characters before the story ever starts. There is a whole process I take my characters through. I have consulted with people who have writer's block and I interview their characters. I have worked with a number of published authors over the phone to help them through that.”

She was also charmed by the 2017 movie, “The Man Who Invented Christmas,” which depicted Charles Dickens’ own struggle with writer’s block in creating the classic tale, A Christmas Carol. In fact, Dickens had conversations with his infamous character Ebenezer Scrooge.

What readers will take away
Pagels doesn’t want to write just for pure entertainment.

“I find when I read stories that don’t have a Christian spiritual component to them, I walk away feeling pretty empty. It’s leaving out part of a person’s journey.”

In fact, her theme of “overcoming” is a thread that is woven through all her writings, including her blog, Overcoming With God.

She said of her main character in His Anchor, “Sadie is at her wit's end. She is following her own agenda. She has to turn to God and look at what he has planned, and he always has the best plan.”

Writing Has Rewards
“When I have gotten an award, I really do feel like it's been from God. My Heart Belongs on Mackinac Island is my legacy book. I took me years to do that book. I worked so hard. I gave it over to the Lord, and said, if it does anything at all it's going to have to be from you.”

She’s been blessed to see great reviews for that book, along with multiple successful book signings at the bookstores on Mackinac Island and in Mackinaw City.

Pagels explained in a broad sense how collections like First Love Forever can come about.

One primary way is for a publisher to handpick specific authors to come into a collection. Or, a publisher may work through an agent and ask for submissions. Another way is through the initiative of a “ringleader” author.

“A publisher might go to a multi-published author who is known for bringing other writers together. These things can happen very fast.”

Pagels has been a part of several successful collaborations. She enjoys working with authors who are “always going to deliver and are easy to work with.” She has gotten to know many of these writers by reviewing books for her blog, joining various groups, attending multiple conferences, and serving as ACFW’s Mid-Atlantic Zone director.

Pagels enjoys beadwork and creates earrings. She and her husband like to dance. Since she grew up close to the Canadian border, she is fond of British shows. She plays with her dog and loves to hang out with her son.

Books on the nightstand
“I love audiobooks. I’m listening to The Lacemaker by Laura Frantz. I also have The Backcountry Brides Collection on my Kindle, and a medieval novella from Debbie Lynne Costello that hasn't been released yet.”

Words of wisdom for new authors
“Complete your manuscript. Complete it in order—don’t jump around a lot. You can spend a lot of time editing parts, sending them here or there to critique groups. Have a synopsis and get in the habit of working in order.”

“Take all the classes you can, especially the free ones offered by ACFW. Connect with other authors. I've been to multiple conferences. They can be expensive, but they are really good place to connect and meet people in person.”

Her final piece of advice: “Blogging is also a good habit.”

*What’s a Yooper?
An affectionate name for residents of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. (UP’er). The word is even in the dictionary.

To quote Pagels: “When it comes to UP, Yoopers think of: little meat pies called pasties; white fish that is the best anywhere; Lake Superior and Tahquamenon Falls; iron ore mines; trees and snow; friendly people with a sense of community; a small-town feel; and pristine wildernesses.”


Teresa Haugh, a graduate of the University of Montevallo, is a recently retired public affairs specialist with the U.S. Forest Service. She and her husband enjoy life in Alaska, the Last Frontier. She takes pleasure in talking with other authors about their writing journeys, and is completing her first full-length novel.

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