Sophie Dawson Interview Published on: 26, Oct 2017

Where did you grow up? When did you move to Illinois? What are the best and worst parts of living on a farm?

I grew up in Burlington, Iowa which is a town in Southeast Iowa along the Mississippi River. I crossed the river to live in Illinois when I married my husband. We live on a family farm, growing corn and soybeans. We farm with our son, my husband’s brother, and his son. Some of the best parts of living on a farm are the little things. No neighbor’s lawn mowers. The quiet of an evening. Being able to go out in my nightgown to pick tomatoes in my garden because there isn’t any way someone can see me. LOL I’m not sure there is a worst part. Oh, I suppose having to plan so you have everything you need in your fridge or cupboard. It’s twenty minutes for me to get to a grocery store. I can’t just pop out and pick up some ingredient I don’t have. Another thing that’s frustrating is that those who aren’t familiar with farming don’t realize we are part of the twenty-first century. Some people still think we live in sod houses with goats on the roof. Technology is a big part of the way farming is done today. Computers and GPS are in most of the equipment.

What was it in 2011 that propelled you to finally start writing as a profession? What were some day jobs you held before this?

I’m a Christian author who writes with that mindset. My books are all Christian, at least in the moral aspects. No premarital sex. No descriptions of sex. I don’t want readers in my bedroom. My characters don’t want readers in theirs. In 2010 I had been the head of the media team at my church for many years. God was indicating to me that my ministry there was ending. He had something different in mind for me to do for Him. I quit at the end of the year. In the back of my mind writing was the message I was getting. I had prayed about it all fall and in February I said to God that if He wanted me to write He would have to give me the stories. Healing Love sprang immediately into my head plotted totally out. I’ve been what I call a professional volunteer. I worked professional hours for volunteer pay, mostly. I was a stay at home mom. For a number of years I was a professional quilter. I have a 15 foot quilting machine in my sewing studio, otherwise known as the basement. I was the Treasurer for International Machine Quilting Association for several years.

Could you tell us a little about the first book you ever published and why it is special to you?

Healing Love, the first book in the Cottonwood Series, was my first book. As I said before, it sprang plotted out in my head confirming that writing Christian novels was what God was wanting me to do. It’s special because of that and its writing led me to a brother in Christ who has become as close to me as a brother, George McVey. We were in a Christian writers forum and I put some of Healing Love up for critique and he told me one scene was the stupidest thing he’d ever read. At the time he didn’t understand about marriages of convenience and how they worked in historical romance. As I said we’ve become very close and have written a book together. Redeeming Love which is the 4 th book in my Cottonwood Series and the 4 th in his Redemption Series. We’ve even got characters we discovered were siblings; his Nugget Nate Ryder and my Aggie Cutler. Nate shows up in several of my books and Aggie is a character in some of his.

What are some differences between writing historical and contemporary romances?

With historical romances doing research into the technologies, medical advances, language, foods, how things were socially and culturally is a must. Some authors don’t. I try to be as accurate as possible. Sure I’ve missed some things, but it is something I work hard to get right. I’ve read books where the authors haven’t and if it’s way off I will quit reading the book. Contemporary novels are easier in that research of that sort isn’t as necessary. We are all familiar with today’s technologies and speech patterns. I try not to use too much popular slang as it will date a book really quickly. I want someone five years from now to read my book and not be pulled out of the story by a fad slang that was only used for a short time. Besides, I’m living in the sticks. I don’t have much access to fad culture.

When writing "Leah's Peace", what are some things that you edited out of the book? What was the inspiration between this heart-touching story?

I’m not an author who writes and then removes scenes very often. I pretty much know right away when something isn’t going to work. I will roughly plot out a book and then as the writing progresses the story will head in its own direction. I find if I go the way the story wants to go rather that try to force it, things work out. Leah’s Peace is one of my favorite books. Leah’s experiences in the Civil War left her scarred. They didn’t have the term PTSD in those days. Leah had been far too stubborn and, when her father hadn’t refused to allow her to go with him, she’d gotten in over her head and couldn’t get out. The message I wanted to give was that God is always with you. He will sustain and give you peace no matter what has occurred in the past. If we rest in Him, He can take those things that haunt us and heal them, giving us that peace that passes all understanding. The love and support given her by Eli helped her overcome the traumas that haunted her. That’s another message I wanted to give. Supporting those you love through their challenges.

How do you think your writing process has changed since writing your first book to now?

I know a lot more now than I did then. I keep much better notes on my characters. That’s especially important when you write series. You need to be consistent not only in the first book about the characters but in subsequent ones too. Also, the town needs to be mapped out and places added. I write with a lot of characters and children. The children need to grow as the years go by. That can lead to rereading a book to figure out how old a child is now and what color hair and eyes of any character is if you haven’t kept good notes. I’m also writing much shorter books now. It seems to be what readers want. It’s sometimes frustrating since I can’t add the subplots my earlier books had. But then the subplots can become books themselves.

When did you start writing the Cottonwood series and what is it about this series that you especially love? What is it about this series that makes it stand out from your other books?

I began Healing Love, Cottonwood #1 in February of 2011 and released it in late May of 2012. I learned a lot about writing and indie publishing. Made a lot of mistakes, too. One thing that stands out as I think back, is learning to listen to the characters. In an author’s mind, at least in those I’ve discussed it with, the characters are real people. In Healing Love the character of Maggie was supposed to be a mean girl. At least that’s the way I thought she was going to be. She absolutely refused. I mean refused big time. I finally listened and allowed her to act like she wanted. She became the lead female in Lord’s Love, Cottonwood #2. The third book in the series, Giving Love, deals with coping after devastating loss. Both Katie and Drew have lost their beloved spouses, Katie her infant son. The need of Drew’s newborn and Katie’s willingness to fulfill that need, giving love even when it hurts, honors God and led to them finding the new love God was giving them.

What made you choose Antigua as the setting for your book Rescued By Love as opposed to more generic holiday spots like Hawaii or somewhere in then Caribbean?

I chose Antigua (correctly pronounced An tee gah) because we own a week in a timeshare there and go on a fairly regular basis. The people are so very friendly. It’s a wonderful island that isn’t well known in the US. I wanted to give it a little free publicity. I also am familiar with it and its 365 white sand beaches. That made it easier for me to write descriptions. The marina and bay in the story are real and where our timeshare is located. Besides, what author wants their books to be generic?

How do you maintain the balance between faith and romance in all your books?

My stories are of regular people who are trying to live Biblically. They are flawed. Messed up like all of us are. They have pasts that impact how they view events and how they react to them. The main thing they have in common is that they are trying to seek and live how God would want them to live. They rely on their faith to help them through the tough challenges as they find love and maintain that love through the difficult times. They use the Bible as their standard for how they act. Or that’s their goal anyway. They fail some. Make mistakes. They are ‘real’ people after all. My stories often don’t have a ‘bad guy’. They have relationship problems, situational issues, being struck by life’s tsunamis. It’s how the characters deal with these in a Biblical way that makes the romance come alive. It grows the love between the couple. At least for me.

Who are some of your favourite christian fiction writers? Any non-christian favourites?

Francine Rivers is one of my favorite Christian authors. Her Mark of the Lion series is probably one of my all time favorites, especially Echo in the Darkness, #2 of the series. George McVey, of course. Lauraine Snelling. Cathy Marie Hake, I love her book Forevermore. There are many others, but those are the ones that come to mind first.
For non-Christian authors, I really like Michelle Diener’s Class 5 series. They are Science Fiction. So are the Project Enterprise series by Pauline Baird Jones. As I look at my kindle app library, most of the non-Christian books I really like are Sci-fi. Go figure, I write historical and contemporary and read Sci-fi. I do have a Sci-fi series partially written I may work on next year. I may publish it under a different pen name.

Of all your characters, who is your favourite and why?

I’m smiling as I think of this. For a female I think Norie Chase, of Chasing Norie, Stones Creek #2 is my favorite. She’s feisty, smart, talented, stubborn, loving, does needlework, and definitely shares one of my failings. She’s cluttery. For a male character, at the moment, my favorite right now is Keith Austin of Spots Before Marriage, Love’s Infestation #2. We meet him in the first book of the series, Mold and Marriage, where he starts out as pretty much a creep. At one point the main character, Mark, shoves him up against some lockers for what he says about Mark’s girlfriend, Kyria. By the end of the book Keith’s character demonstrates some growth. I liked that growth so much he became the main male in Spots Before Marriage. There’s an in-between story that tells of Keith’s coming to faith in Christ. There’s a free link in Mold and Marriage to where you can download the book. It’s called Keith’s Coming. In the past my favorite men have been Sterling from Healing Love, Eli from Leah’s Peace, McIlroy from Chloe’s Sanctuary. Turner from Mice and Marriage is pretty awesome too. Oh, I almost forgot Rigs of Java Priority. I want one of him. LOL. Katie from Giving Love, Chloe from Chloe’s Sanctuary, Whitney from Spots Before Marriage. Well, all my ladies I think are pretty sweet characters. My favorite non-romance character (he is already married when he first appears in the books) is Noah Preston. He’s the pastor who moves to Stones Creek. He’s also a gunsmith and the way he dresses makes him look like a gunslinger. Then, of course, there’s Nugget Nate Ryder, but he’s not really my character. He’s the creation of George McVey.

Do you have any other author friends? If so, how do you think they've helped you in your growth as a writer?

George McVey, of course. We support each other and bounce ideas back and forth. Critique each other’s work. Lynn Donovan, I met her through George. Samantha Fury. Zina Abbott, Barb Goss, Kristen Osbourne. The community of Christian and other sweet, clean romance authors is very supportive of each other, I’ve found. The attitude seems to be that by supporting each other we all benefit.

What are the biggest prejudices or difficulties you face as a Christian romance writer in the book industry? What are some advantages you receive?

My work has been called preachy by some. Many of my books will have a short sermon in them. All my books have a spiritual message, some more subtle than others. I’m not shy about expressing my faith and what message God wants me to emphasize in my books. Those who read them should sort of expect that. They are listed as Christian after all. I have some very loyal readers. They help promote my books on Facebook without asking anything in return. I do reward them some for their loyalty, but they do far more than I can ever repay.

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