As many of you may have surmised, writing is an isolating endeavor. Some writers need background music. Some can adjust to the noisy activity of a coffee house. I need total quiet. But we all have in common a desire for interaction with other writers for encouragement, information, and honest commentary on our work. I have been fortunate to find a niche in a local writers’ group that celebrates a ten year anniversary this month. Most of the writers are in a rotation to produce an article for the local newspaper, but two of us spend our writing time in different pursuits. You already know about me.
I want to introduce you to my critique partner, Jeannie, who writes as J.A. McPhail. Her first article as a member of our group was ten years ago. However, she brought years of writing experience with her from Kansas where she went from Managing Editor for a women’s newspaper, writing feature articles, to editor of three different library-related newsletters over a twelve-year period as Public Library Director.
Jeannie and her husband, Dennis, sang with the Messengers Quartet until they moved to North Carolina in 2002 to be close to their only child, Stacie, with whom they sang in a Southern Gospel trio. Dennis taught high school vocal music in Kansas but his first teaching love resulted in his 36 years of coaching. This is his ninth year at Challenger Early College High School in Hickory as varsity boys basketball and tennis coach. He successfully found his purpose, and Jeannie decided she prefers writing books to writing newspaper articles.
Her most recent book is Trinity Tales of Tresia: A Most Remarkable Hat available on Amazon, B&N, and on her publishers webpage www.rowepub.com, where you can also find her other two books. Dawn of Day is a “middle-grade historical novel based on the author’s mother’s childhood home in Wabaunsee County, KS,” highlighting a story about the Underground Railroad in that area. I Will Not Fear: A Chosen Life is a “testimony to the faithfulness of God. It is the fulfillment of a mother’s promise to her only child to share with others why and how this family chose, no matter what, to live a life of faith without fear.”
Jeannie graciously agreed to answer a few questions for me to share with my readers. First of all, where did this magical story in Trinity Tales of Tresia start and finish?
The main character, Winny, started as a drawing I created in Jr. High and ended with the Middle-grade fantasy novel. In between, her story was a picture book, then three picture books, and a much shorter chapter book version.
I know a story arc sometimes takes a long time to complete. From first thought to last sentence can take years. What has been your experience with Trinity Tales of Tresia?
Total time of actual writing from the first picture book until publication was 2002-2015. My other two books published along the way made me realize that I liked writing for an older audience. Books that both kids and adults would enjoy.
And where would you now position it on a library or bookstore shelf?
As a fantasy novel, my hope is to be alongside the Chronicles of Narnia, The Wizard of Oz, and A Wrinkle in Time.
Did your characters become real to you and tell their story or did you have to coax it from them?
Winny is her own person and has been part of me so long that she is like family. She has a lot of me in her and a little bit of my daughter, Stacie, but she definitely has her own personality. I had no idea when I started writing her 32-page picture book story that she had so much more to say and do. Now her story is 208 pages, A Most Remarkable Hat. This is the story I have always wanted to write, and the process has been so much fun. I love the fantasy element and spiritual undercurrents in Tresia and how those allow me to be creative with where the story goes. Many, if not most, of the ideas for plot and characters come directly from the Holy Spirit and the Bible. My imagination, also a God-given gift, takes over from there.
One reason your main character becomes memorable for me is her distinctive name. Did you choose the name Winifred, or did her personality claim it?
The cartoon character I created way-back-when was named Winny. I don’t remember how or why, but the Tresia tale needed Winny to have a formal name and “Winifred” fit the storyline.
The differences in your secondary characters greatly add to your tale. For example, Durrell, a Messenger, is drawn complete with Scottish brogue and tartan plaid. When Winnie’s friends join her adventure, Rita appears to be a prissy troublemaker and Vince seems an inquisitive boy more scientist than athlete. Both good contrasts to the tomboyish main character. Was anybody in your background an inspiration for any of these personalities?
My husband, Dennis, influenced the creation of Vince and the Scottish culture in all of my books. Remembering a fashion conscious grade-school classmate, I added Rita after the original longer version was done. My writers group loved the idea when I pitched it, and they pulled her out of me. One of my writing buddies refers to her addition as the “The Miracle of Rita,” and I agree. She added something that was lacking.
I am very pro-Israel and used many actual Hebrew names with help from a couple people who are learned Hebrew scholars. The variety of the Messenger characters comes from a belief that our angels are as different as we are and hand-picked for each of us.
Have you identified the most difficult bridges to cross when changing genres?
I don’t think I will ever go back to historical fiction because of the research. It was interesting but time-consuming. And memoir was just something I had to do because of the situation. I think it is a matter of what you want to write at the time and getting into the right mindset to do it. I may have a new adult or women’s fiction on the back burner, but I couldn’t have several works in progress in different genres going at the same time as many authors do. That bridge would collapse on my mind.
The cover of Trinity Tales of Tresia: A Most Remarkable Hat proclaims this is Book I! Are we to expect two more? With the same characters and Hai-Klues?
Yes, there will be two more books. Some characters will stay throughout the series but in different roles. I am working on Book II, and it begins six years after Book I ends, so new “Young Ones” will be introduced. And Book III will probably have the same time frame, but don’t hold me to that. Winny and Vince may get married and have kids! Or maybe there will be two more series of three “Trinity Tales” for a total of nine books. I’m not sure. Gehlay Rahzeen hasn’t revealed that mystery to me yet. I’ll have to put in some more Kingdom Corner time to find out.
Note to Readers: You will have to read the book to solve that last clue!
Jeannie, how did you find your publisher and illustrator?
A friend who has written many Kansas history books had just signed with Rowe Publishing for his next book and recommended me with Dawn of Day. Rowe accepts only a few titles a year and does everything with the actual print and online publication process as well as helping with marketing. For Tresia, they suggested Traci Osborn as illustrator, and I have been thrilled with how she took my characters and made them come alive with her drawing. I have been blessed to come in on the ground floor with Rowe and grateful that they have taken care of all three of my books and the next two in this series.
Thank you Jeannie for taking time to broaden our horizons outside the neighborhood.