Mary Connealy writes “romantic comedies with cowboys” and is celebrated for her fun, zany, action-packed style. She has sold more than half a million books. She is the author of the popular series Brothers In Arms, Brides Of Hope Mountain, High Sierra Sweethearts, Kincaid Brides, Trouble In Texas, Lassoed In Texas, Sophie’s Daughters, and many other books.
In this interview, Mary shares some of her insights into the plot and characters in her new novel, A Model of Devotion.
FF: Please provide a brief summary of your new novel, A Model of Devotion.
Jilly Stiles is the sister that is resisting marriage, focusing instead on building her railroad and making her father’s dream come true. She finds that, even with the rights to run her family’s lumber dynasty secured by her two sisters marrying and inheriting their shares, she’s still in danger from a powerful man who wants to possess her. Marriage to Nick Ryder may be her only path to safety, and even as a married woman, that might not discourage the manipulative, obsessive tyrant who is willing to destroy anything that stands in his way.
FF: A Model of Devotion, like many of your previous novels, is set in the American West. What about the American West first captured your imagination?
I live in the Midwest. My husband is a Nebraskan cattleman. I think I bring a lot of authenticity to that world when I write it. I’ve written other things in my life, but this Western style is the most fun for me, so I keep on writing it!
FF: Can you tell us a little more about what and who were the inspirations behind this book?
The foundational inspiration was a flume. A flume is a massive water trough that carries logs down a mountain with a stream of water carrying them along. I drove past one in Colorado. It struck me as a way to get down a mountain fast—and not just for logs but for people. I kept building on that idea. Why would anyone take such a risk? What are they running from? The story built on itself until it became something I was excited about and eager to write. But it all started with a flume.
FF: What did you enjoy most about creating a determined and independent protagonist like Jilly Stiles? What did you find the most challenging, if anything?
Jilly is one of the strongest characters I’ve ever written, one of the smartest and most determined and organized. But under all that strength, she’s scared. That fear is enhanced by her photographic memory. She has to face that fear to find love, and it doesn’t happen easily.
The challenge was to write her strength and hard work but also include her fear. Those two elements of her character weren’t a natural fit, but they made her the complex heroine I love to write.
FF: Without giving away any spoilers, what makes Jilly Stiles and Nick Ryder such a compelling duo?
Nick has to learn to take orders from a woman. Jilly has to back up once in a while and let Nick take charge. It causes more than one clash, but it also results in mutual respect. Nick thinks to himself once that it’s strange to take orders from a woman, but Jilly was so much smarter and more organized than him that he was glad to do it.
FF: What role does humor play in your stories? Do you believe humor is a requirement for crafting a memorable story?
It seems to be a requirement for me. Most of the humor in my books just rolls along, coming out in sass and conflict. I read other authors’ books that are sweet and sentimental or edgy and exciting, without much humor, and I love then. But I can’t seem to control the humor from coming out in mine.
FF: Did you learn or explore anything new as a writer while working on A Model of Devotion? What continues to motivate your writing?
The research for this book was intense. I’ve never set a book in California before. It doesn’t seem like a true Western setting, but of course they have cowboys and ranches in California. I loved researching logging, trains, and the age of invention that runs through all the books. It was fun and inspiring.
As for motivation for writing, it’s not like I have to force myself. It’s more like I can’t seem to stop. I need motivation to get away from my computer and talk to people who aren’t imaginary friends.
FF: What lessons do you hope readers will gain from reading A Model of Devotion?
This series is set in the Industrial Revolution. There were patents coming from all directions in all areas of life. Jilly—building her bridge, surveying land, and blowing holes in mountains with dynamite—was right in the middle of new discoveries every day. I hope people who think we’re in such a modern age can look back and see how technology was unfolding even one hundred fifty years ago.
And I hope readers will see that even if they’re strong, smart, and hardworking, they still need God. It’s hard, I think, for someone who is cruising along with things going well to let God into their life. Jilly and her very smart sisters have to learn to let God take the weight off their shoulders.
A Model of Devotion
The Lumber Baron’s Daughters Series #3
Genres: Historical Romance, Western Romances
Release Date: October 11, 2022
She’s finally claimed her independence…how far will she go to keep it?
A brilliant engineer, Jilly Stiles has been educated since childhood to help run her father’s lumber dynasty. With the company safe from her stepfather after the marriages of her two sisters, Jilly can now focus on her dream of building a mountaintop railroad—and never marry.
Nick Ryder came into Jilly’s life when he saved her mother from her no-good stepfather, and he’s prepared to protect Jilly from anything that threatens to harm her—as long as he keeps his heart from getting involved.
But when a cruel and powerful man goes to dangerous lengths to make Jilly his own, she must make a decision between her safety and her hard-won independence.
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