Margaret tells the story that she was writing for the church newsletter when after making the church picnic read like a Grisham novel, her pastor took her aside and said, "Maybe God's calling you to write fiction."
It turns out God was and Margaret did. She now has more than 20 novels to her credit. In addition, she's written many Christian articles and a non-fiction book. Still, it took a lot of prodding from God before Margaret tried her hand at writing inspirational fiction which led to her Rocky Creek series.
Ada Brownell's interview with Margaret Brownley
Have you always had a sense of humor or did it just pop out as you created your characters because they did and said hilarious things?
First, I want to thank you for letting me visit today. To answer your question, when I first started writing I wrote angst-driving contemporaries for Harlequin. I decided to try my hand at a historical and sent the proposal to my agent. When she told me that she practically rolled out of bed laughing I took it as criticism. I had no idea I could write serious themes with humor. My characters do tend to keep me awake at night by whispering funny things in my ear. If you can’t sleep you may as well laugh.
Could you share some of the things you do that other writers can practice to bring humor into their stories?It can never be forced. To be humorous a character has to have a unique perspective and be passionate about something. In “Dawn Comes Early” Aunt Bessie (fine Christian woman that she is) has a unique opinion of herself and her place in the world. She considers it her god-given duty to see that everyone is properly married. This is her passion. This gives her a great deal of grief—and readers a good laugh.
Another way to inject humor into a story is through the choice of language. Can you think of more mouth-pleasing words than hornswoggle, caboodle or skedaddle? And if they don’t tickle your fancy what about fiddlefooted, ranktankerous, rumbumptious or splendiferous? A latte may be the haute cuisine of coffee, but give me an Arbuckle’s any day.
Do some of your attempts fizzle?Interesting question. I’ve dropped scenes that don’t work so the answer has to be yes.
Is faith and humor an unlikely combination?Jesus had a sense of humor so I’ve never understood why people take religion so seriously. Why can’t we have fun with it? There would certainly be less strife in the world if we did.
In Dawn Comes Early one of the ranch hands prayers for rain. “God, the Father, thank you for your many blessings and don’t forgit to send rain. And if you ain’t sending it to us, don’t go sendin’ it to no other ranchers, neither.” Imperfect people make for imperfect prayers, but God still loves us and He may even find occasion to laugh.
To qualify for inspirational fiction some writers only make their characters Christian in name and they attend church. Do you make an integral part of their lives? At the same time, is it difficult to avoid preaching?
I strive to create a spiritual arc. No matter where we are in our faith there’s always room for growth, and so it is for my characters. They may have to learn forgiveness, trust or humility but the journey is never easy.As for preaching, a character in my book has this to say: “God says if you’re holdin’ a grudge you plumb better get over it or you’ll be a sad as a tick-fevered doggie.” Preachy? Or a worthy message delivered in a fun way? You be the judge.
Among your 28 books do you have a favorite character you’ve created? Why is he or she your favorite?My favorite character is always the one I’m working on.
How do you develop characters who are likable, despite their faults?One way is to give characters a worthy cause. We tend to like people who make us laugh and the same is true of characters. The ranch owner in Dawn Come Early is a tough old bird, but it’s her vulnerability that makes her likeable.
Are your villains bad to the bone, or do they have some good in there somewhere? Are some of them converted and changed before the end of the book, or since you write about the Old West, do you create a hero who will kill him off?
In Dawn Comes Early Cactus Joe is the bad guy. Making him “bad to the bone” would have been easy, but I didn’t want to do that. He plays an important role in the heroine’s life, and I wanted him to be an interesting and complex character. I had to dig deep into his psyche to find out what makes him tick. It turns out he’s an outlaw who can’t get any respect and respect is what he wants more than anything. “The way this town treats criminals,” he complains, “it don’t deserve none.” Bad to the bone? Hardly. But he is funny.
What is the biggest challenge in the genre of writing that you do?In my other life I was a teacher. At a teacher’s workshop I once attended the instructor asked the following life changing questions: At the end of your career which will you be able to say? That you taught for 35 years? Or that you taught one year 35 times?
I use that same philosophy in my writing career. I don’t want to write the same book 35 or 40 times. So the biggest challenge for me is to stay fresh.
I get to talk to myself and no one thinks I’m crazy. I also get to do the most amazing things through my characters.
What has been the most satisfying part of being a novelist?
Do you have a word of encouragement to writers?Enjoy the journey. Being published comes with its own challenges, so you really have to enjoy each step of the way or you won’t survive. Surround yourself with a support group and celebrate every success. Celebrate when you finish a chapter; enter a contest; pop a query in the mail; or sign up for a writing workshop. This is what kept me going during the five years it took me to sell my first book, and it will keep you going, too.
A word of encouragement to people seeking faith or a deeper walk with the Lord?Following the death of our son I had a crisis of faith. Out of this came a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God. I couldn’t have written the books I’m now writing without going through what I did. I’m living proof that God is working on us and through us during good times and bad. Or as that old cowhand Ruckus from Dawn Comes Early would say, “God ain’t finished with me yet and He ain’t finished with you, neither.”
Also visit Margaret on Facebook and Twitter\Margaret’s also excited to announce that her non-fiction book “Grieving God’s Way: The Path to Hope and Healing” will be published in July—not bad for someone who flunked 8th grade English. Just don’t ask her to diagram a sentence.