Find a Christian store

Interview with Mary Ellis

Strong Faith, Strong Story

Forgiveness. It’s a clear instruction in the Bible for all believers on how we are to conduct our relationships, yet every one of us struggle with this in some way. Our featured author, MARY ELLIS, tackled a portion of this concept in her latest book. Sunset in Old Savannah deals with the topic of infidelity in marriage and a wife’s ability to forgive. This can be a touchy subject for many, but the good news is God is in the business of forgiveness, even when we are the ones who make the mistakes and need to be forgiven.

Life isn’t meant to be a solemn existence, though, so Mary also covers a wide variety of other topics, and she loves to infuse humor into her scenes. This usually happens through the conversations between her lead or major characters. As Mary puts it, “No one should be serious all the time…not in real life and not in novels.” When a little pick-me-up is needed in a novel, humorous banter can bring it alive and change the entire pace of the story. This can be accomplished by planning where the humor will appear, or by injecting it when the reader could use a break from the intensity of a serious subject.

Mary begins with a chapter by chapter outline of the major plot points of each story, but then she often veers well off-course when those pesky characters take the story in a different direction. She feels most comfortable when she has both a skeletal outline providing her with a general idea of where the story is going, but also the freedom to improvise as the need arises. This is what the writing industry calls an “intuitive” or “seat-of-the-pants” writer. The other is a plotter, and that one pretty much explains itself.

This method is obviously working for Mary, as she’s contracted twenty-one books so far since she began this career in publishing. Of course, she also attributes this success to her beloved agent, the late Mary Sue Seymour, with whom she first obtained representation. Without Ms. Seymour, Mary never would have gotten her foot in the door, let alone obtained contracts for her twenty-plus books.

Those books have crossed several genres too, which is again evidence of an excellent relationship between author and agent, and an agent who is guiding the author’s career well. Mary decided to write where her passion lied at that time in her life. Now, she spends a lot of her time traveling. Since her stories are set in towns or cities far from her home, she must spend time in those settings—a minimum of three research trips. Her first visit (usually four or five days) involves getting a feel for the story in that setting. She tries to determine what intriguing event(s) could happen there that would take advantage of that particular destination.

“I believe that’s why my books are described as ‘highly atmospheric,’” says Mary. “For example, while my husband and I were dining at Two Sisters in the French Quarter, we overheard a married couple arguing. And I thought: What if I were a newspaper reporter who overhears a couple plotting a murder as the only solution to their predicament? Voila! A story is born.”

From that point forward, Mary is taking copious notes on her trips. This applies whether she is writing a stand-alone novel or a series, but even more so for a series. No matter what the genre, if you’re writing a series, detailed notes are critical. Otherwise, you find yourself asking, “What was the pastor’s name in book one,” or “does his mother have silver hair or blond?”

No matter how many novels Mary writes, she will always remain teachable. She will always take notes to help her remember. She will always keep striving to become a better author. The same applies to new writers trying to get started in the world of publishing. It’s critical to keep a stiff upper lip and continue improving. “Every author suffers his/her fair share of rejections before they break through. But don’t give up hope.”

When she was nominated for a Carol Award for the first Christian novel she ever wrote, she considered it the greatest moment of her career thus far. She didn’t win, but it re-energized her writing and put a spring in her step that still lasts today. That honor has yet to be repeated, but she continues to enter each year, hoping she’ll again be nominated or even win.

Like striving to become a better author, Mary also strives to improve her walk with Christ. When asked how her faith and spiritual life affect her storytelling, she replied with, “As my faith grows stronger, my storytelling gets better. Faith and Christian fiction go hand in hand.” She wants to spend more time in prayer each morning before she starts her day. Each time she remembers to do this, she finds her writing goes much smoother that day.

When writing goes smoothly, Mary can complete her daily goal and get back to doing what she loves when she’s not writing—working in her yard and walking her dog. She’d also love a lap pool off her deck, but the abundance of overhanging trees make that wish a bit impractical. Too many leaves and debris that would be constantly plugging up the filters.

Nevertheless, that peaceful little respite where she lives allows Mary and her husband to live a simpler way of life. They often take weekend trips to purchase produce and research her best-selling books. She so enjoys writing mysteries and romantic suspense, she is certain she’ll stay with this genre until she hangs up writing and heads for the rocking chair on her porch. Until then, expect to see more novels full of grounded settings, suspenseful plots, and characters exemplifying a strong faith at their core.


Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood. Today, she has honed those skills to become an award-winning author and speaker who lives with her husband and author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Colorado. They have a daughter and son, and a Retriever-mix named Roxie. She has sold 20 books so far, three of which have won annual reader’s choice awards. She is represented by Tamela Murray of the Steve Laube Agency.

For more great interviews, visit our Author Interview Archives.

ACFW Members, click here to apply for an author interview!

Developed by Camna, LLC

This is a service provided by ACFW, but does not in any way endorse any publisher, author, or work herein.