Long and Short Reviews is pleased to welcome Alison Henderson, whose latest book A Man Like That is available. It is a sequel to Harvest of Dreams.
Alison told me that she wasn't one of those writers who always knew she wanted to write. She was an avid reader, however, and when she found herself at home with a newborn after ten years in an office, she decided to try to write the type of stories she enjoyed reading.
"I started my first manuscript twenty-two years ago and completed three books before life intervened (as it will), and I returned to work full time," she said. "For the next several years, I kept polishing my manuscripts, entering contests, and submitting. Finally, when the time was right, I sold my first book, Harvest of Dreams, which was published in October of 2010, followed by A Man Like That in June of 2011."
She normally starts with a premise, which then determines the characters who drive the plot.
"For example, Harvest of Dreams begins with a young woman alone, in labor, on Christmas Eve. A handsome stranger arrives to help her, and the plot develops from there," she explained. "A Man Like That follows two of the secondary characters from Harvest of Dreams on a soul-searching journey. I started with the premise that the hero has left the heroine waiting at the altar and then let the two of them battle it out until they’ve learned enough about themselves and each other to find lasting happiness."
Alison is currently finishing up her first novella about a female paleontologist in 1879 Wyoming who discovers an unconscious stranger with a letter and a locket containing what appears to be her photograph.
"The shorter length has been a challenge," she admitted, "but I’m happy with the way it’s coming together."
"How do you come up with the titles to your books?" I wondered.
"Oh, titles, titles, titles. Sometimes they’re so easy, so perfect, and sometimes they stay just out of reach until it’s almost too late. Harvest of Dreams was easy. The heroine lives on a farm with an apple orchard, and I wanted a title that would suggest the fulfillment of her happily-ever-after. The title of A Man Like That was given to me by the heroine’s mother. She’s the oh-so-proper wife of the town judge and not a bit pleased by her daughter taking up with an ex-outlaw. How can she be expected to accept 'a man like that'?"
Alison has written four books: three historical and a contemporary. She confessed that the first book she wrote was a learning experience.
"I learned I could organize and write a 100,000 word novel. I also learned I’m capable of including every cliché in the romance genre if I’m not careful. That book, thankfully, will never see the light of day," she assured me. "The second and third books have been published, and I’m currently shopping the fourth, a snappy contemporary about an all-female bodyguard agency. As for a favorite, it’s impossible to say. I get so deeply involved in the creative process that each book is my favorite while I’m writing it."
The hardest part about writing for Alison is finding the time and discipline to do it. She doesn't work well with distractions around, so she needs long quiet blocks of time—not easy to find with a full time job and, she said, "a husband who claims to enjoy my company from time to time."
I asked her how she fits her writing in.
"I come home from work, exercise, fix dinner, and try to fit in at least two hours of writing each evening. On weekends, I try to write for two or three hours in the afternoon. I’d love to be one of those super-writers who gets up at three or four o’clock each morning and writes before work, too, but my brain isn’t wired to function at that hour."
Alison grew up in suburban Kansas City and has always loved the history of the area.
"The numerous ante-bellum and Civil War-era buildings that still exist in the city and surrounding small towns piqued my imagination and inspired the settings for my first two books," she told me. "Kansas and Missouri were 'border states' during the war, with numerous battles and skirmishes fought between both the regular armies and bands of guerilla fighters, and in the chaos following the war several outlaw bands roamed the area. Morgan Bingham, the hero of A Man Like That, was a product of those lawless times."
Her books are categorized as Western historical because they are set west of the Mississippi River and after the Civil War, but they are not typical cowboy stories. Instead of the challenges for the frontier, her books deal with the aftermath of war.
"In A Man Like That, Morgan returns to his family homestead in the Ozark Mountains scarred in body and spirit by the war and his time as a member of the Jesse James Gang," she said. "It’s up to the heroine to teach him to forgive (especially himself) and ultimately heal."
"Are you a plotter or a pantser?" I wondered.
"I’m almost embarrassed to admit I’m a plotter because it sounds so much less creative, but I’m incapable of writing a whole book by simply letting it flow. Writing the outline is one of my favorite parts of the process because that’s when the plot ideas come fast and furious and I just take notes. I used to do much more detailed chapter-by-chapter outlines, but I still start with a 5-page (more or less) narrative of the basic story. I print it off and scribble additional ideas in the margins as they come to me. I’m comfortable making changes as the writing progresses, but at least I know basically what’s going to happen next. I also think working this way is one reason I’ve never had writer’s block."
She admitted that she has procrastinated, though, and gotten stuck occasionally. When she decided to start writing, she bought a copy of Phyllis Whitney's Guide to Fiction Writing.
"She recommended developing a notebook with separate sections for research, characters, plot, setting, etc. That way, whenever you get bogged down with the actual writing, you can go back and work on sections of the notebook until you’re ready to move ahead," Alison said. "It keeps your mind focused on your story and your characters while the problem percolates in your subconscious."
Alison told me that she has several "favorite" authors, but Lavyrle Spencer is the author who introduced her to the joys of romance fiction and inspired her to write.
"She infuses every story with deep and timeless emotions that resonate with the reader," she said. "Jayne Ann Krentz is another 'automatic buy' for me. I love every book she’s written, in every subgenre and under every pseudonym. She advises writers to discover, and then be true to, their 'core story', and her core story obviously works for me."
Finally, I asked, "What was the scariest moment of your life?"
"My husband is a maniacal highway driver in bad weather. His preferred approach is to drive as fast as he can to get away from the trouble as quickly as possible. This proclivity led to the most prolonged white-knuckle moment (at least an hour) of my life.
"The first winter after we moved to Minnesota, we were driving to Kansas City with our three-year-old daughter to see the grandparents for Christmas. Now, there is a reason Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper went down in Clear Lake, Iowa. Northern Iowa in the winter is a veritable hellmouth. The highway was shrouded in a heavy ice fog with visibility reduced to thirty feet. Cars had spun off into the ditches on both sides of the road, and the Highway Patrol was struggling to pull them out one at a time. What was my husband’s response to this perilous situation? Drive straight ahead like a bat out of hell, swerving around any slower traffic even though you couldn’t see another car until it suddenly appeared a few feet in front of you. Again. And again. And again.
"Think Edvard Munch’s painting, The Scream. The image says it all.
"Providence was watching out for us and we made it unscathed, but it still scares me just thinking about it. Of course, my husband never understood why I was so worried. He was confident he had everything under control. Men are such masters of self-deception."
About the Author:
Although she has traveled the world from Japan to Tunisia, Alison has never strayed far from her Midwestern roots. She and her husband are empty-nesters living in Minnesota, and their daughter is a graduate student in Chicago.
Find Alison online at:
Group blog: www.rosesofprose.blogspot.com
Jessamine Randall, fearless crusader and champion of the downtrodden, is not a woman to be left waiting at the altar. When her fiancé disappears hours before the wedding, she hatches a plan to track him down and bring him back where he belongs.
Morgan Bingham knows he’s no good. Never has been. Never will be. A former outlaw is no fit husband for the daughter of the town judge, despite her misguided notions. Besides, after ten long years away from home, it’s time to return to the hills and face his demons.
Ill-prepared, but armed with unshakeable certainty, Jessy follows Morgan to his family’s cabin deep in the Ozark Mountains where she’s sucked into a whirlpool of deep secrets and old hatreds. While she fights to bring light and hope into their dark lives, her greatest challenge is Morgan himself. Can she ever convince him he’s worthy of love?