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Interview with Sarah Sundin

Sarah Sundin knows a thing or two about chemistry—between people as well as with compounds and formulas. While working as an on-call hospital pharmacist, Her Wings of Glory series (Revell) proved her ability to pen historical romances with a panache that won her the 2011 Writer of the Year Award from the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. Sarah again ignites the perfect chemistry in her new historical romance, With Every Letter, the first of the Wings of the Nightingale series.

Obvious question, Sarah: as a pharmacist, why do you choose to write historical romance rather than something contemporary or more directly related to your field of study?

My husband (also a pharmacist) wants me to write the world’s first pharmacy thriller. Um, no. We choose pharmacy because it’s quiet and safe, not the stuff of thrillers. I decided to write historicals because I find history intriguing and exciting. However, my background does come in handy. My scientific education helped me decipher the B-17 bomber pilot’s training manual for my first series (Wings of Glory), and my health care experience helps with my new series about World War II flight nurses. For the record, the second book in the Wings of the Nightingale series, On Distant Shores (Revell, June 2013) features an Army pharmacist as the hero. My husband is happy.

Without giving away any secrets, could you tell us what makes Mellie special—perhaps different from any other heroine—as your first Wings of the Nightingale series’ heroine?
Mellie was a fascinating heroine to write, with natural shyness exacerbated by an unconventional upbringing. Since her mother died when she was only two, her father raised her alone and took her with him on his botanical excursions throughout the Philippines and East Indies. She’s also one-quarter Filipino—unusual at that time in America. As a result, she straddles two cultures and has never really fit in. This makes it difficult for her to make friends. However, she’s a determined and adventurous young woman, dedicated to relieving suffering.

Your grandfather and great-uncle served in the military during WWII. What influence did they have on shaping the plot and characters in writing?
My grandfather served as a pharmacist’s mate (medic) in the Navy, and he loved to tell stories about his experiences. While his stories didn’t shape the plot or characters, they increased my appreciation for what men and women did to save lives during the war.

What is the key to your inspiration and how do you perform the research to support your concepts?
Love of the story and love of history work hand-in-hand for me. Something—a movie, a research tidbit, a “what-if” question—inspires the story. The story drives me to research. The research feeds the story. The story refines the research. It’s all kind of a deepening spiral.

Who has most influenced your writing style?
My earliest teachers at writing conferences had a huge influence on me. Lauraine Snelling taught the fiction track at my first major conference, and her teaching on story structure and character development stretched my writing to the “publishable” level. Brandilyn Collins’s teaching on character development and Davis Bunn’s outlook on point-of-view and story helped me write with more depth.

Do you have any tips for those writers who would delve into historical romance genre? Or, any tips for aspiring novelists?
Be persistent and teachable. Those twin qualities will take you far. Persistence helps you research until you get it right, to write and edit and rewrite and re-edit until you get it right, and to keep submitting in the face of rejection. But without a teachable spirit, persistence can be plain old pigheadedness. When you’re teachable, you can know when to stop researching and when to write, you can handle writing critique, and you’ll be the type of person editors and agents love working with.

Any parting thoughts?
Joining ACFW was the smartest decision I made as a writer—and I wish I’d joined several years earlier! The loop emails are like a mini-writers conference in my inbox each morning. My heart’s breaking that I couldn’t attend conference this year (it conflicted with my son’s dorm move-in weekend), because the ACFW conference is one of the highlights of my year.

Thanks for sharing with us, Sarah!

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