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Interview with Margaret Brownley

Flunking eighth grade English and writing for a TV soap, don’t exactly sound like a promising start for a Christian fiction author – but it’s Margaret Brownley’s story and she’s sticking to it. This New York Times Bestselling author has definitely done well for herself, penning over thirty novels and garnering numerous awards. But how did it all happen?

Margaret, was there a particular inspiration for your foray into Christian fiction? What was that progression like for you? And how has flunking English and writing for TV influenced your writing?
I started writing angst-driven contemporary novels for Harlequin. On the advice of my then agent I tried my hand at a historical novel. I soon discovered that my literary voice was better suited to writing about the past.

After publishing a dozen or so books, I went through a very dark period. My husband and I lost our oldest son and I couldn’t write for five years. God heals through strengths and so it’s not too surprising that I eventually began writing again. The result was a non-fiction book titled Grieving God's Way: the Lasting Path to Hope and Healing. After reading that book, a friend called and suggested I try my hand at writing inspirational fiction.

Jill Marie Landis, bestselling author of Heart of Stone, stated that: “Margaret Brownley brings the old west to life through her humor, drama and memorable characters. Lady Like Sarah is completely enjoyable from beginning to end.”

Your author tagline, “Love and Laughter in the Old West,” seems to fit in seamlessly with what Landis said about one of your novels. How did your tagline develop? Has writing a blend of humor and drama always been an essential key to your branding as an author?
Years ago, just before leaving for a writer conference, I sent a proposal for my first historical novel to my agent. She met me in the hotel lobby and told me she almost fell out of bed laughing. I thought she meant the book was awful or dumb, but she insisted that it was genuinely funny. I had no idea I could write humor until that moment.

A recent editor said I write serious themes with humor and that seems like an apt description. I’m convinced God gave us the ability to laugh to help us through tough times. I especially like writing romance because you can explore every possible theme known to mankind through the relationship of two people falling in love. My books contain love and laughter so the brand seemed like a natural.

Margaret, according to your website, you mention that you live in southern California with your husband. Are you from there originally? How has CA and its surrounding states affected the settings of your novels?
Actually, I lived on the East Coast before moving to California. From my office window I can see the mountains where many westerns were filmed. I’ve set books in old Santa Barbara and the gold country, so California has inspired some settings. But other states (Arizona, Kansas) show up quite regularly in my books, too. I'm currently writing a new series set in Two-Time Texas. I love the vastness and dramatic settings of the west. It suits my characters and challenges me as a writer.

If you could go back before publication, what advice would you give yourself? With this advice, what part of your journey do you think would have been easier?
The advice I would give myself is to enjoy the journey. In those early years I focused too much on trying to get published and not enough time on enjoying the learning process. Aspiring writers have the luxury of giving a book all the time and attention it needs. Once you’re published there are deadlines to meet and a hundred other things clamoring for attention.

How did the idea for the Undercover Ladies series develop? Did it stem from a location perhaps or a certain book idea that simply expanded?
This is the second book in my Undercover Ladies series (all books stand alone). This book combines two of my favorite literary elements: Pinkerton detectives (in this case a female one) and mail order brides.

The idea came to me after reading a biography of Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton Detective. Allan hired her in 1852. He thought she was applying for a secretary position but she straightened him out on that score. It didn't take long for him to discover that women could go where angels—and male detectives—feared to tread. After reading Kate’s story I just knew I had to write about female detectives.

Which authors have inspired you the most on your journey? Do they write about the Old West too?
There’re too many to name, but as a child I loved Louisa May Alcott. I’m currently writing a series about three sisters and I named them Meg, Amanda and Josie. So you see she still influences me.

As you know I flunked eighth grade English, but I also barely made it through history. I hated it; all those dates and battles. But then in my teens I read Gone with the Wind and that’s when I realized that history is about people and how they reacted to the events around them. I was hooked.

On your website’s Just For Fun page, you have some Sage Advice for Photographers listed from your book, “A Vision of Lucy.” And being a photographer myself I thought it was quite amusing, especially:
“Brides, take pity on your photographer. Matthew S. Brady and his helpers were able to record the entire War Between the States with little more than 1,100 photographs. Half that number would satisfy most brides.”

What do you hope your readers take away from not only your website but your novels? An escape, lesson learned, a good laugh, etc.?

My hope is that my stories touch readers’ hearts. If I succeed, then readers will likely enjoy a good laugh and maybe even shed a tear or two. They will also learn a little something about our glorious past.

I’m fascinated by the similarities between the 19th century and current times. The 1800s saw its share of bank failures, recessions, depressions and wars. Technology changed the way people lived back then just as it has today. The railroad made a big impact and so did electricity and telephone. The telegram has been called the Victorian Internet and for good reason.

People back then struggled with many of the same issues we face today. So in that sense I’m writing contemporary themes. No matter how tough times were, the human spirit not only survived but thrived. That’s what inspires me and I hope it inspires my readers.

Reflecting back, what do you see as the most significant milestone along your publication pathway? Debut published? Award? Named to bestseller list?
I’ve won many writing awards and been on bestseller lists, including the New York Times, but these had a very short shelf life and no real lasting impact. (Honestly, does anyone remember who won Oscars last year?) The best thing that happened to me was finding the right agent. Natasha Kern’s guidance and wisdom has been a blessing and had a greater impact on my career than anything else.

Since your novels are set in the Old West, where would you envision yourself if you lived back in that time? Who would you most like to be? Schoolmarm? Town’s first female deputy? Store owner? A farmer’s wife living miles out from town?
I’m writing a book right now about a female sheriff, so I tend to think that might be more my style than being a farmer’s wife.

Any parting words?
I just want to thank ACFW and all the wonderful writers who have helped me along the way. I also thank my readers. I couldn't do it without you!

Thanks for sharing with us, Margaret!

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