Launch: M.N. Stroh’s Man of Sorrows
INTERVIEW BY REBEKAH SIMMERS
Fueled by her love for storytelling and history, M.N. Stroh writes edgy Christian historical fiction to inspire the downtrodden and outcasts through adventure-laden escapes that lead them back to their first love. Her debut series, Tale of the Clans, launches this year. Rebekah Simmers interviews her on the first novel in the series, Man of Sorrows, the first of four releasing this year.
What is your educational / occupational background and how does that affect your writing?
After graduation I spent two years at a mission-based Bible college studying theology and church history. Then over 20 years studying Irish history and fiction while learning about the publishing industry from various sources. My husband and I worked in youth ministry for six years and have lived and worked on the family cattle ranch during all that time. Each facet has shaped my writing and added a certain authenticity and depth to it over the years.
What attracted you to writing historical fiction?
History in all forms enamored me as long as I can remember, though, I carry a particular affinity for the Middle Ages. Since my love of story has existed for just as long, it seemed only right to marry the two.
Tell us about your publication journey.
Although I felt drawn to write professionally since my teens, I didn’t pursue writing fiction until 2001 after marrying and returning to my second year in Bible college. Most are amused to learn I began by writing a fantasy novel. Through studies and circumstances, I felt God was calling me to convert the story to historical fiction, so I did, completing the project by the end of 2002. I took it to my first writers’ conference in 2003 where my eyes were opened to the industry and just how much farther I needed to go in both skill and understanding to make publication a reality. So by the end of that conference, I vowed to let my novel grow with me as a writer until it became something worth selling.
That road proved a long one since many life circumstances took me out of commission and prolonged the journey. I suffered with hyperemesis gravidarum through all three of my pregnancies in 2003, 2005, and 2009. I attended my second writers’ conference in 2006 and joined my first writers’ group in 2007. By that time I discovered that my novel really needed to grow into a series. So I began developing that piecemeal. By 2008, I hired my first freelance editor to help me with my first novel. Again, circumstances interfered and delayed that process. So while waiting to resume edits, I began work on another novel. Of course, once I became ill carrying my third child, I had to set that project aside also. By 2010 I was a full-time homeschooling mom, so my writing took a backseat until 2013 when I created my first website and began blogging. I also wrote nonfiction articles for an online lifestyle magazine, Her View from Home.
By 2015, I felt the need to return to fiction and joined the Jerry Jenkins Guild in 2016. There I met with a fellow group of writers who are now part of my mastermind group. In 2017, I began working for Serious Writer as the Director of Communications for Writers Chat and the Director of the Serious Writer Book Club. I also began submissions at that time. I acquired my first agent in 2018 and my contract with Olivia Kimbrell Press followed in 2019. Now, the first four books of my Tale of the Clan series are slated to release this year, starting with Man of Sorrows.
Was there a specific historical event that the book centers around? What drew you to this story and made you want to share it?
The series focuses on historical events encircling the life of Ireland’s high king, Brian Boru. It’s set primarily during the 10th century. I didn’t want to tell the story of Brian himself. Instead, I wanted to tell the story from the standpoint of fictional characters representing each of the major clans who shaped the events of the day and played a part in Brian’s story. It’s really an adventure story with a style reminiscent of both the Old Icelandic sagas and Irish hero tales.
Where did the inspiration for the novel / the story come from?
Initially, Man of Sorrows began as a prequel story I wrote in 2008, to give myself a better understanding of several of my characters. In research, I read an account of an Irish nun who left her holy orders to marry a man, then was later pressured by the church to break her vows and return to life as a nun because her marriage was considered adulterous to God. I thought it would be fun to play off that story with a little role reversal and a twist of my own.
What is the theme of the book and how was this woven through the story?
Man of Sorrows has several themes running throughout, but redemption and holding fast to your faith despite opposition are the strongest. Readers see the depth of these through Mara, the shepherdess, whose strong convictions press her to reach out to Marcan, a monk, despite being seemingly disadvantaged in every respect throughout her mission.
Is there a connection between where you live / the life you live and where you ended up setting your novels? Or what was the inspiration for the setting and time period?
We live on the grass plains in northeastern Wyoming, so it’s a landscape vastly different from Ireland, let alone the Ireland of the Viking era. But I suppose, our life in agriculture, particularly with cattle, does give us a small sense of the rugged lifestyle that ancient Irish cattle lords experienced. If modern conventions are removed, some of the basic hardships are not dissimilar. My dad grew up on a buffalo ranch and his family raised sheep on the side. I was also raised on horses and have worked with various animals including dogs and sheep, so I have a bit of working knowledge in those areas.
Is there a specific landscape within the story that means a lot to you? Why?
The landscape of Lough Derg and the Shannon River inspired me a great deal. In Irish culture there’s a spiritual and physical connection to the land. In Irish monasticism, that spiritual connection gave them a greater understanding of the Creator. Lough Derg and the Shannon were also major waterways for travel during the Viking era and played a pivotal part, not only in conflicts between the native Irish and their Scandinavian counterparts, but in the development of trade as well as the integration and melding of Irish and Scandinavian cultures.
Where do you find the majority of your research materials? What research book have you pulled off your shelf most often?
Mostly through books and translations of the scant original sources from the era. Because of the time period, not many original sources remain. Much of the written records came from oral traditions carried down through the centuries and written down after the events. As a result, even these are vague and piecemeal in content. Many are even regarded as mere propaganda by historians. Because of the differing dating methods of the period, discerning Irish annals presents a challenge all its own, though I’ve often found those to be the most valuable resources.
My main sources were the works of the late professor, Donnchadh O’Corrain, who wrote extensively about the Dal Cais and Ireland throughout the Middle Ages.
Share something with us that you learned while writing this book.
The practice of transhumance in Ireland. Ireland was an agrarian society, so herds and flocks were moved to higher pasturage during the summer, away from the main communities where they originated, then later returned by fall to shelter their livestock at home through winter. This was significant because it meant that part of the family or their workers, literally separated from their permanent homes to move to temporary residences with the livestock to guard over them. The rest of the family maintained the primary residence until they returned.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Show yourself grace. There are a lot of rules and expectations in our chosen field. These tend to put pressure on us to hold to rather lofty standards. If you chase after each one, you’ll burn out. Understand that writing is a process of discovery as well as learning. You will constantly grow and change as a writer. Invest in the journey: it matters more than the end result.
What was the best investment you ever made in your writing?
Connection. I could spend a lifetime studying books on craft and taking courses to improve as a writer, but the connections I’ve made with other writers and professionals in the industry are what have made all the difference.
What was the last great book that you read?
I’m going to go with Hood by Stephen R. Lawhead.
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