I am so excited to introduce to ABM a new author with a great debut novel. Lael Neill now lives in Central Texas but her roots are in the Northwest. Her book, STONE DREAMING WOMAN, from Wild Rose Press, has already received high praise on the Amazon.com reader review. It is available as an ebook now and will be out in hard copy in March. I asked Lael to tell ABM readers about her book and how a Texas gal wound up writing about Mounties and medicine women of the early Twentieth Century. This is how our visit went.
FC: Your story STONE DREAMING WOMAN is set in the period just before WWI in Canada. What inspired you to use that time and setting? Do you have a strong personal interest that suggested the story?
LN: The very first romance that ever caught hold of my imagination and my heart was MRS. MIKE, by Benedict and Nancy Mars Freedman. I fell in love with the hero, so I wove a story of my own about a Royal Northwest Mounted Police officer and a woman whose background was about as far removed from his as I could imagine.
I grew up in Tacoma, Washington, only about an hour and a half from the British Columbia border. I am very familiar with western Canada, and I originally imagined setting the story there. However, the Mounted Police did not have jurisdiction over British Columbia until much later, so I was faced with a choice. I either had to move the timeline up or I had to reset the story in a different area. Moving the timeline would have reduced the impact of the basic theme of the story (gender bias), so changing the setting seemed the more logical course to take.
The period before WWI was a real watershed concerning the role of women in society. They had fought for and won the right to vote, and were crusading for reproductive rights and gender equality. The resistance at that time was much greater than during or after the war. In Jenny’s case, the lack of physicians stateside and the demands of the Spanish Flu epidemic created a vacuum that would have sucked her into a medical practice somewhere out of people’s sheer need and desperation, hence the necessity of setting the story before the war heated up.
FC: Your heroine Jennifer is a medical doctor in a time when few women, certainly not women with social stature, dared enter the medical profession. And your story shows a lot of medical knowledge. Do you have a medical background? Or did you build the character based on research? The details in your story are impressive.
LN: I do not have a medical background, but my education included detailed a five semester hour honors course in human anatomy. It both fascinated me and provided enough basic grounding that I could expand my knowledge and understanding on my own. I also have a trick memory for trivia. If it’s something I’ll absolutely never have any possible use for, I’ll remember it. For instance, the little bony bumps we sit on are called ischial tuberosities.
I did have to conduct a boatload of research for the story, though. Most of it had to do with the state of medical practices and knowledge of the time and if, how, and when things like surgical gloves and stethoscopes changed over the years. I also had to research firearms of the period and, of course, fashions, though I had some expert help in that regard.
FC: What led you to set the story in Canada? Surely that made heavy demands on you as an author. The setting is a major feature of the book and contributes to the conflicts the characters face. You weave it seamlessly into prose. Did you know when you started the story that the place would influence the story so much?
LN: The story had to be set in Canada because you don’t find Mounties anywhere else. And yes, I did know that the setting would influence the story. Local color is one of the best ways to achieve realism. Until I moved to Texas I was an outdoors girl, which included fishing, camping, hiking, scuba diving, target shooting, and skiing, so describing the woods, the mountains, the rivers, the salt water, and the seasons comes very naturally.
FC: I’ve heard it said that one good story opens the door to many more. Will there be more stories with this location and time? Maybe centering on characters we meet in STONE DREAMING WOMAN?
LN: I ’m working on a sequel right now involving Jenny’s younger cousin Elizabeth. Without giving away too much, the hero is Sergeant Paul Weller, the best friend and sidekick of Jenny’s love interest in STONE DREAMING WOMAN. Elizabeth and Paul are coming through as a well defined characters in their own right and their story is clamoring to be told. At this point the working title is SAND ISLAND DIARIES.
FC: Your first book is a vintage romance. Do you write about other times and places? Can you give us a hint where we might find you next? What audience will you be writing for?
LN: I have a story all but finished, but since I did it as a point of view exercise, it needs a complete rewrite before it goes anywhere. It takes place in and around New Orleans during the period between the Louisiana Purchase and the War of 1812, the sunset of the age of Caribbean piracy. The heroine is the daughter of a British naval officer and an aristocratic lady from New Orleans. Marianne has the temerity to fall in love with her father’s worst enemy, a privateer sailing under Letters of Marque from France. The target audience for MAGNIFICENT PIRATE is, of course, the same audience who will enjoy STONE DREAMING WOMAN and SAND ISLAND DIARIES.
Even though I am exploring the world of romance writing now, I have always had an abiding love of fantasy. A huge and very different “swords and sorcery” trilogy lurks in my computer, hopefully to find a publisher someday. In it, two powerful and very different men on opposite sides of a rebellion forge an unlikely friendship to bring peace to their war-torn country.
FC: What book/books first inspired you to tell stories? What story elements did they have in common? All romances? Adventure? Strong and unconventional heroines? Do you remember the first story you created?
LN: The book that first inspired me to tell stories came my way when I was eight years old. Those of us “of a certain age” remember the WEEKLY READER and JUNIOR SCHOLASTIC magazines we purchased through our schools. I had never found it easy to go to sleep, so when I read one of the letters to the editor from a little girl who said when she could not sleep she told herself a fairy tale, I decided to try her tactic. After going through CINDERELLA and SNOW WHITE ad nauseam, I thought, “Well, how boring is this? Why don’t I tell myself MY OWN stories?” Thus a writer was born.
I played with writing until I started high school, and when I had a little maturity under my belt the bug bit seriously. Then at Central Washington University I had the rare privilege of studying creative writing under Dr. Harold L. Anschutz, a totally brilliant professor who loved his subject and loved his students. He was also my faculty advisor, so after worshiping at his feet for four years, writing was so deeply ingrained in me I knew, like Lady MacBeth, I would never be able to wash it from my hands or out of my soul.
I became deeply involved in skiing and alpine racing then, so naturally my main characters were skiers. The stories were both romances and adventures, with brave heroes and strong heroines who knew their own minds and were not afraid to go for broke. Some of those characters from way back when have survived and cropped up in a Vietnam-era romance I have tentatively called GOING PRO. It concerns a sheltered young man who retires from the Austrian Olympic team, comes to the United States to manage a ski school, and encounters American culture. It is a very long and very complex story that may or may not see the light of day. Writing is like that.
FC: Will you give us a short scene from STONE DREAMING WOMAN? Something to whet our appetites.
They finished their food, and he helped her clear the table. She discovered they made as good a team doing something as mundane as picking up dishes as they did saving a life. She rinsed the bean pot and the bowls, then put all the dishes in the pot and covered them with water. Then she dried her hands on the flour sack towel and anointed them with her favorite Honey Almond Cream.
“There. That’s good enough. We’ll do them with the breakfast dishes in the morning,” she said. He had moved behind her to return the butter to the cooler, and when she turned she bumped into him.
“Sergeant! Excuse me!” A toucher, she laid her palms above the breast pockets of his tunic by way of apology. Impulsively he covered her hands with his.
“Miss Weston, I can’t thank you enough for what you did today, for being kind enough to come to North Village with me, and for saving Jimmy’s life. He’d have been in dire trouble without you, Miss Weston…” He paused awkwardly, stumbling over her name. “No, I… Doctor Weston? I’m not certain how I should address you now. After today, ‘Miss Weston’ sounds so frivolous…”
“ ‘Jenny’ will do quite nicely, Sergeant.”
His gaze leveled on her, and he gave her a deeply searching look that was all grey eyes and hugely long lashes. “I have a first name too, you know,” he said softly.
“Touché. Shane.” She smiled and felt her cheeks flush. “Then have a good night.”
“You too.” Her hands lay trapped against his Red Serge. She turned them beneath his and held them palm to palm for a moment.
“Until tomorrow, then…Shane,” she said awkwardly.
“I look forward to it.” Then he reluctantly let her hands go, drawing a deep, nervous breath.
“Jenny? May I call on you, then? With Richard’s permission, of course.”
“It would be my honor entirely.” His hands went slowly to the points of her shoulders, and he drew her to him. She closed her eyes and tipped her head back. All her senses were full of him, from his warmth to the masculine scent of soap, sunshine, and the wool of his Red Serge. She let her hands travel to his muscular shoulders, and as he gathered her into his arms, her left hand slipped over the standing collar of his tunic to the slightly long hair at the nape of his neck. It felt soft, satiny, and much finer than her own. Then his lips met hers, gently and tenderly, the stimulating touch of warm velvet. As she flowed up against him, the night turned to fireworks.
The kiss was exactly what she would have expected from Shane: undemanding, powerful, and thoroughly exciting. Then he held her close and pressed his cheek against her hair and she let her arms encircle his back. He was a big armful for her. His lips traveled across her cheek and he nuzzled into her hair.
“Oh, Jenny,” he whispered, sending a shiver from her heels to the top of her head. Then they kissed again. This time his red-clad arms engulfed her and she was lost in the incredible power that was Shane Adair. She went weak all over and plastered herself against his chest. She wanted to blurt out that she loved him madly, but that was a frightening idea. She laid her hand against his cheek and backed up a few inches. His face held high color and he was breathing hard through flushed, slightly parted lips.
“Do I owe you an apology now?” he whispered. Her arms tightened about him. Then she raised her head just enough to look up into his eyes.
“No. That was just as much my idea as yours. Don’t apologize to me unless it was just a one-time impulse and you intend never to repeat yourself.
He proved to her that he was up to her one-line stingers. “Chèrie, I’ll kiss you goodnight every night for the next eighty years if you’ll have it,” he said softly.
“In eighty years I’ll be a hundred and five! Who in their right mind would want to kiss a hundred-and-five-year-old woman?” The grey eyes tilted again.
“A totally smitten one-hundred-eight-year-old man,” he whispered, holding her hands against his chest. She laughed softly.
“I swear, one of your ancestors had to have kissed the Blarney Stone!”
“Just wait eighty years and you’ll know that I’ve never meant anything more.”
“I’ll check again tomorrow, thank you.”
“Tomorrow, gladly.” He raised her hands to his lips.
“Then good night, Shane.”
“Good night, Jenny.” He leaned down and bestowed a chaste peck on her forehead.
“I don’t think I’ll sleep at all, after this,” he sighed.
“I’ll see you in the morning.” She backed away from him, letting her hands run softly through his. Then she was gone, leaving behind an aura of Honey Almond Cream.
I had the fun of reading STONE DREAMING WOMAN while it was still in draft form and know first hand what a great tale it is. I’m really looking forward to the sequel and keep urging Lael to write fast so I can see how it all comes out. Thanks for sharing your time and your ideas with us, Lael. Come back soon and keep us informed about your projects.
DON’T CALL ME DARLIN
BLACK RAIN RISING
ELOPEMENT FOR ONE’
HALF PAST MOURNING
CRY AGAINST THE WIND (forthcoming)