Today I’m interviewing Sandra Merville Hart. Her debut novel, “A Stranger On My Land is just out, and if you leave a comment after the interview, you’ll be entered in a drawing for a free copy of her wonderful book. I loved it!
Hello, Sandy! Glad to host you on The Diamond Mine! “A Stranger On My Land” is your debut novel. How long have you been writing fiction?
I wanted to be a writer in elementary school and actually wrote my first novel, a mystery, in the sixth grade. I received no encouragement. I rightly took this to mean that my story was not a good one. What I didn’t know was that most first attempts aren’t very promising. I let my dream go.
It returned to me about ten years ago. After spending time taking correspondence classes and a couple of college writing classes, I began writing in earnest.
I noticed your historical references after the ending, and found them very interesting. How did you come upon the idea for placing your novel in this specific point of time during the Civil War?
My dad lived on another mountain in Tennesseein his childhood. The mountains of Tennesseehave always had a strong pull on me.
The BattleAbove the Clouds, fought on Lookout Mountain, fascinates me. The mountain is so tall that fog shrouded the middle section during the battle. Folks in the valley watched soldiers from both sides climb beyond the fog as fighting continued. It must have been quite a sight.
My research showed that many who lived on the mountain hid in caves with the armies of both sides of the conflict in the area. This sparked my idea.
Has the Civil War held a special fascination for you? As Americans, we all have our own views of this nation-changing conflict, but I’d like to know what significance it has for you.
I can’t remember what first captivated me about the Civil War. It may have reading Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell while in high school. I believe it was the longest book I had read up to that point. (And one of the few of that length I’ve read, now that I come to think of it.)
My fascination grew as an adult when visiting historical sites. My interest always perked up when finding a connection with the Civil War.
Even after I let my dream of becoming an author slip from my fingers, I still wanted to write a book set during the Civil War. It was one of the first ideas I pursued at writers conferences only to be told at that time no one wanted them.
I’m glad that changed.
So am I! Did you have an outline, or did you just write as inspiration hit?
When I first started writing, I outlined my chapters before beginning my books. I don’t do that anymore. Now, when I begin a novel I know the ending, but how the characters will get there isn’t clear. I pray that God will give me His story and the book takes off in surprising directions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought after typing a scene, “I didn’t know that was coming.”
It’s like I’ve relinquished control of how the characters will react. I like this way of writing much better.
I agree! It’s pretty exciting to have your characters surprise you! I’m curious, aside from what you share in the epilogue concerning actual historical people, were any of your main characters based on you or people in your life?
Signs of Carrie’s feisty spirit flash throughout the story. When I think of feisty women, my grandmother definitely comes to mind. If you ever watched the TV series, Beverly Hillbillies, you have a good idea of what my grandmother was like.
So my grandmother probably influenced this side of Carrie’s character.
This is your debut novel, but I know in my case, my debut novel is not my actual first novel. Is this one your first, or do you have others?
I’ve written about a dozen books so far. If I’m not mistaken, I’m writing my thirteenth novel right now.
Wow! That’s great. I’d like to know more about your writing journey. What first inspired you to write down a story?
My love of reading began in the third grade when my teacher took us to the library weekly. I didn’t know what to start with, and the librarian suggested biographies. I loved learning about people in history. Now that I think about it, that’s probably where my love of history originated.
Soon after this, I told my mom that I wanted to be a writer. Lack of encouragement was a major stumbling block for me because I lacked confidence.
Well, I hope you have confidence now. You’re definitely a writer! What is your writing process like?
I begin each writing day by reading a chapter in the Bible. It seems to ground me for the day. Then I open up my current WIP, update the word count from the previous day’s writing, and let my imagination go.
Sounds like fun to me! What do you want your readers to experience through your writing?
I really want them to go on a journey back in time with me, when times were both simpler and more difficult in their own way.
What are you working on now?
I had an idea for a romantic suspense novel. It’s a contemporary novel but still has a historical element!
My next novel will be another Civil War romance. This one will be set in Gettysburg. I can’t wait to write this one!
Be sure to let me know when you finish it. I’ll look forward to reading it!
Thanks for hosting me today, Nancy. I’ve enjoyed our conversation!
I have too, and I hope your book does well. I certainly loved reading it!
Here’s a short blurb from Sandy’s book, “A Stranger On My Land.”
Carrie and her little brother, Jay, find a wounded soldier on their land after a battle which later became known as “The Battle Above the Clouds.” Adam, a Union soldier, has been shot twice in the arm. Though Carrie is reluctant to take Adam to their cave where her family hides their livestock from both armies, she cannot turn her back on him.
But her Aunt Lavinia, bitter over what Yankees have done to their land, urges Carrie to allow Adam to die. Carrie refuses, but cannot remove the bullets. Adam’s friendship with Jay softens her heart toward him. It’s not long until his gratitude and teasing manner spark a friendship between the young couple. Even though Carrie’s father fights for the Confederacy in far-off Virginia, her feelings for the handsome young soldier begin to blossom into love.
When Adam’s condition worsens, Carrie knows a Union surgeon is needed to save his life. How can she accomplish this and keep her family’s hiding place a secret?
Don’t forget to leave a comment for Sandy, and be entered in the book giveaway drawing!