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Interview with Emily Conrad

Emily Conrad’s prayer is that her work strikes that balance between restful escape and life-giving truth. She is an author who is not afraid to write about difficult subjects (even with romance), and she will put you face to face with characters that are flawed and in need of redemption. In her third novel in of the Rhythms of Redemption Series, To Begin Again, we are taken on a journey that explores how far someone might fall in search of fame and fortune.

Welcome to the Fiction Finder Blog, Emily! Why don’t we start by hearing what or who inspired you to first write fiction?
Thank you so much for having me here today! I’m so excited to chat with you.

I don’t remember what initially interested me in writing, but I know my mom did some writing, and my dad told some pretty imaginative bedtime stories, so I was raised in the right environment for it. I read a lot and wrote some short stories. In middle school, my love of writing took off when my eighth grade English teacher set up a short story unit that introduced me to writing in a whole new way. Stories have been a passion ever since.

What drew you to writing romance stories that balance escape and life-giving truth?
I consider myself a sensitive person who likes to think deeply. I’ve experienced pain—as we all have—and fiction is a way for me to process. I don’t usually write about the exact situation I’ve encountered, but I do gravitate toward characters who ask similar questions to my own. Things like:

How could a good God allow this?
How good is grace?
Is my faith good enough?
What is my true identity?
When is a dream no longer worth the cost?

But stories that ask big questions and look at hard situations can also be heavy.

Seeking a bright spot in the middle of a period of writing disillusionment, I picked up an old idea of mine that featured a rock star. At first, I felt a little sheepish admitting I was working on a rock star romance. I’d tied up a bunch of my identity as a writer in penning serious, thoughtful novels. But, as I mentioned, I was also disillusioned and looking for an escape myself. The rock star series—now called The Rhythms of Redemption Romances—allowed me to have some fun while also tackling plenty of meaty topics.

In your most recent series, The Rhythms of Redemption, we meet the band members of Awestruck. I’m so curious about what inspired your choice to highlight the members of a famous boy band and explore their needs for connection and redemption within love stories?
Haha, the guys might take offense at being called a boy band rather than a rock band, but let’s go with it and see if I get a call from their manager, Tim.

As I was developing the first book in the series, To Bring You Back, I was struggling with King David. He was a man after God’s own heart, yet he was also an adulterer and a murderer. How could all of this exist in one man? How could he have prayed in Psalm 51 that he’d sinned against God and God only when Bathsheba and Uriah were so affected by his choices?

I decided that Gannon, a famous musician, might make a decent modern parallel to King David, who was also a musician and famous. I plotted the story with some loose inspiration from the accounts of David and Bathsheba’s relationship. To Bring You Back isn’t a modern retelling—I’ve changed too much to call it that—but I did use it to explore questions about guilt, grace, restoration, and redemption that stemmed from studying David’s life.

As I went on in the series, I used other people from David’s life to provide loose inspiration for other characters and situations. (For example, their manager, Tim, is my nod to the biblical Joab.)

In this most recent story, we meet Michaela, a fresh pop star, desperate to maintain her 30 seconds of fame, and Philip, a young widower whose faith has died along with his recently deceased wife. Were these two characters inspired by any experiences close to home?
As with the other books in the series, I borrowed a couple dashes of inspiration from the Bible. Elements of Michaela’s goals and motivations are teased out from my understanding of Michal.

On the surface, I don’t have much in common with an ancient royal or with famous contemporary musicians, but underneath, we’re all human. Though the circumstances in my life differ, I can relate with Michaela’s longing for love and security and Philip’s struggle with God after experiencing a hardship. Wresting with the questions that came out of their situations helped me in my own (far tamer) life, and I hope readers will have the same experience with them.

To Begin Again is part of this amazing interconnected faith-filled rock star romance series. How did you plan out a series with overlapping characters and a plot that occurs along a shifting timeline?
With planning! I wrote the first book in the series to be a stand-alone, but when I finished the book, I didn’t want to move on from the characters.

I went to ACFW in 2018 and pitched the first book, To Bring You Back, to agents and publishers. In order to send the requested book proposals with information about what the rest of the series might entail, I needed to know what the other books in the series would be about. So, on the long car ride home, my local writing friends Jerusha Agen and Kelsey Anderson helped me brainstorm the basic ideas that have served the rest of the series.

I use a different spreadsheet to track each novel’s scenes, characters, and timeline. I also have a master spreadsheet that shows the entire timeline for all the important events mention/featured in the series. Because the timeline for the last two books overlap and include a lot of major events, that timeline has been a necessity!

We know stories can often be compared to our children, but if you had to choose a favorite story within the series, which would you choose and why?
As the book that led me to fall in love with the series, To Bring You Back has a special place for me. However, I think there’s something special about each one. I’m just finishing up the final touches on the last book in the series, To Believe In You, which will release in October 2022. I think it’s a fitting end to the series, and I’m excited to share it with readers.

You have had the opportunity to publish both through the traditional route and now as an independent author. Can you share a little about that decision and the pros and cons of both options for new writers?
Publishing decisions are so personal. I used to dream of landing a well-known agent, garnering interest from one of the big Christian publishers, and signing a three- or four-book deal. I wanted the security and credibility of a traditional contract, and I loved the idea of having a team collaborating with me to produce the best product possible. I did not want to have to do everything myself as an indie. So, I worked toward that dream contract for years.

I signed with my first literary agent in 2010. At the time, I was writing YA.

In 2018, a small press published my debut, Justice. By that time, I had a new agent and was no longer writing for teens. A lot changed in the middle—and even more changed after.

My own experience and the experiences of friends showed me that any publishing path has pros and cons. This is a tough and uncertain business, whether you indie publish, go with a small press, or land a well-known agent and a fancy book deal.

I did attempt to go the traditional route with To Bring You Back, but when I received rejections from my top choices for an agent and from a publisher I’d submitted it to, I decided to take what I’d learned over the years and move forward with independent publishing in 2021.

It's not as hard or as lonely as I was afraid it would be. I have a team of people, from professionals to volunteers, who help me ensure my books are the best they can be. To Bring You Back launched in August of 2021, and the fourth book, To Believe In You, will release in October 2022. You could say, in a way, that God did grant my desire for a four-book deal—just not the way I expected. Still, I think every step along the way was necessary, and I’m so grateful to have this opportunity to share these stories!

As a reader traveling to your website, one of the first things I noticed was how well branded this entire series was around your tagline of faith-filled rock star romance. Did you have anyone help you with this branding and website design? What would be one of your most helpful tips to offer with branding?
My tagline and brand have developed based on classes I took at the ACFW conference and the Author Media course Book Launch Blueprint.

I wanted to show what was unique about my writing to attract the right readers—readers who would enjoy my stories. I brainstormed about my goals and about the elements my stories tend to include and went from there.

For “faith-filled rock star romance,” my thought process was that, while my faith is important to me, rock stars generally don’t have the best track record for Christ-like behavior. Then again, the idea of a rock star brings with it some stereotypes—things like addiction, fame, travel, money—that I do deal with in the series. Mentioning both in the Rhythms of Redemption tagline is my attempt to set the right expectations for readers who are considering my books.

I also have an overall brand tagline of, “Escape into meaningful romance.” I’ve always aspired to write meaningful fiction, but I like to add some elements that are more of an escape, such as small-town settings or rich characters.

Both taglines include the word “romance” because genre alone can tell some readers whether or not they’d like a story.

To write a tag line, consider what your goals are in your writing. Brainstorm words that suggest how you want to stand out and what you want to be known for. What makes your work unique? What unifying themes keep popping up in your stories? If you’re stuck, ask people who’ve read your work. Play around with the list and come up with some ideas, and run those by some readers and other writers. They might come up with a variation you never would’ve thought of!

As for other branding elements like fonts and color choices, check out the websites and book covers of authors you admire. Look for similarities and find ways to carry those over into your designs.

As a romance writer, what I saw on other popular books in my genre led me to ask my cover designer for pastel colors and a script font for my title. The covers are a big part of my website, and I tried to use similar fonts in the text I added around them.

You are also someone who rocks it with marketing and cross-promotions. How did you learn the ropes for promoting your work as an author?
I’m still learning! ACFW and the friends I’ve made there have been so helpful. I’m also part of some author groups on Facebook that have been a wealth of information. My advice is to get involved in whatever online author group you have access to and start asking questions. I’ve found the writing community so helpful in providing links to different groups and resources, depending on where I am in the journey.

What message do you hope readers take away from To Begin Again?
That God is pursuing us and working in our lives, even when we’re unaware of it—or even when we’re skeptical of His love.

To Begin Again itself is an example of God working when I wasn’t aware of what He was doing. I knew what I wanted for Philip and Michaela, but I didn’t have an exact plan for how all the barriers between them and God would come down. I came to the heroine’s epiphany scene and, lo and behold, something the hero did that I hadn’t planned to use as part of her breakthrough fell perfectly into place. Because he had done what he did, she found a reason to believe. God was setting it up, even when I didn’t plan it. He’s always working like that!
As a teen, Tara Ross first discovered how hope-filled prose can change the entire trajectory of a person's life. Case in point: her life. She now has the joy of sharing this truth with youth every day - as a Speech-Language Pathologist, youth ministry worker and YA author. Her debut novel and blog, were created to ignite sparks of faith for Generation Z. You can follow Tara on instagram (tara.k.ross) or twitter (tara_k_ross) for more book reviews, tattoo-worthy quotes, and updates on her publishing journey.

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