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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

28 November 2006

Welcome, Cynthia Owens!

In Sunshine or in Shadow

by Cynthia Owens

Highland Press


A Gambler With a Thirst for Revenge

The stakes are high for one-time gambler Rory O'Brien as he returns to the village of Ballycashel after a lifetime in exile. Has he come back to destroy the village that haunts his past, or to atone for the sins of his father? But when he is drawn into the lives and loves of his newly-acquired tenants, his thirst for vengeance is quenched by an unexpected yearning for peace--and love. Can Rory overcome the ghosts of his past, or will old enemies destroy the new life he’s come to love?

A Valiant Survivor of Famine and Tyranny

Siobhán Desmond will do anything to keep the tattered remains of her family alive, even if it means working for the new landlord – a darkly handsome stranger with secrets in his eyes and pain in his smile. But as she watches her village return to life and begin to thrive under Rory’s care, she comes to understand his true nature and soon finds herself falling under his dangerously sensual spell.

As danger ignites all around them, Rory and Siobhán fight to right the wrongs of the past – and protect their newfound love.

A classic romance told in a sweetly old fashioned way.

-Coffee Time Romance

This was a truly enchanting tale of love lost and gained, revenge and a town saved. Bravo, Ms. Owens, for a wonderful read!

-Kenda Montgomery

IN SUNSHINE OR IN SHADOW is set in Victorian Ireland, and has a very Gothic feel to it. How did you become interested in this time period? What do you love about it?

I’ve always had a deep love fore Ireland: its rugged coastline, its beautiful green fields; its music and poetry, myths and legends. Perhaps I was a faery in another life, or maybe it’s the blood of a distant ancestor calling to me. And of course, there’s nothing more irresistible than a romantic Irish accent.

As I delved into the history of the country, I began to realize just how cruel the tenant/landlord system was, particularly during the Famine. A landlord could just toss a family off his land on the whim of grazing a few more cattle, and there was nothing they could do about it. And yet, through it all, the Irish remained stubbornly determined to hang on to what was most important: family and heritage. Even after they fled their homeland, they clung to their Irishness in the face of deep prejudice.

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

Nothing in particular comes to mind. I had to be careful, though, in naming certain groups of rebels. From the Young Irelanders to the Provisional wing of the Irish Republican Army, each group was active in its own time, and I had to beware of naming a group that was out of favor, or hadn’t been formed in 1850.

What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

All three and more! My heroine, Siobhán Desmond, came into my mind as a valiant survivor of the Famine, a widow struggling to keep the tattered remnants of her family together after devastating losses and betrayal. She’d been battered by circumstances, yet remained strong, as witnessed when, at the beginning of the book, she begs for food from the landlord, yet retains enough of her pride to refuse to bed the man.

My hero, Rory O’Brien, was also clear in my mind when I started writing IN SUNSHINE OR IN SHADOW. A gambler returning to Ireland, he is seeking both revenge and redemption. He certainly doesn’t expect to find love, friendship, or the first real home he’s ever known.

The village of Ballycashel became very real to me during the writing of the book, too. The spirit of the community in SUNSHINE is almost a character in itself, from the Ballycashel stables to Siobhán’s cottage, to the shores of Ballycashel lake. And I really love the secondary characters: Grannie Meg, the village matriarch; Tom and Nora Flynn, Siobhán’s best friends. And the two girls, Katie and Ashleen, became as real to me as my own daughter.

Did you have to do any major research for his book? Did you stumble across anything really intersting that you didn’t already know?

I feel like I’ve been researching historical Ireland all my life! But I did find some very interesting tidbits about Irish celebrations. Every Irish man, woman and child loves a ceilidh, right? There are a few of these big parties in SUNSHINE, as well as Saint Brigid’s Day (Feb. 1, the traditional day to start spring planting), and the Ballycashel harvest ceilidh. And each of these celebrations have their own traditions, from the “Bridie Boys” going from house to house asking for donations of food for “Poor Biddy,” to throwing butter and a horse harness into the nearest body of water to ensure good fortune and plenty of food for the coming year.

Any historical mea culpas to fess up?

None that I know of.

What/Who do you like to read?

For historical romance, you can’t beat a story by Mary Jo Putney and Teresa Medeiros. I love Mary Jo’s skillful way of working odd historical facts into her stories, as well as her “tortured heros.” And Teresa has a way of writing poignant yet humorous stories that keep me either laughing or on the verge of tears. I think it takes a very special talent to achieve that reaction from readers.

I also enjoyed Edward Rutherfurd’s Princes of Ireland/Rebels of Ireland. And any book – fiction or non-fiction, historical to present-day – about Ireland. I love Maeve Binchy’s stories about coming of age in 1950’s Ireland.

How did your writing carreer take off? Was it a Zero-to-Published kind of thing? Or did you have ten finsihed books under the bed before you sold?

SUNSHINE is my first book, so I’m not sure if my writing career has really “taken off”yet! But it’s not the first book I’ve written. I wrote another Irish book set against the 1916 Easter Rebellion (past-1900 – not a popular time period!). Then I wrote a story set in Victorian-era Montreal, with yet another Irish hero. A third manuscript followed, set against 17th-Century New France. Finally, I decided to write what was really the “book of my heart,” and IN SUNSHINE OR IN SHADOW was born.

After I finished SUNSHINE, I decided that for my New Year’s resolution, I would either submit to one publisher or one contest each month. Highland Press was the third publisher I submitted to, and the only one to request a full manuscript. Less than six months later, I got an e-mail offering me a contract. And I’ve been walking on air ever since!

Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

I think I’m a little bit of both, with a sprinkle of intuition thrown in. I usually start with a character – in this case, Rory O’Brien, a man with too many secrets and too much emotional baggage, who fled America and its memories to return to the place that held both his past and his deepest pain. As I asked him questions about himself, I slowly learned his back story, and how his tainted past would affect the woman he would come to love.

Enter Siobhán Desmond, a widow whose husband and adored younger brother were hanged by the local landlord. Their crime? Robbing a wagon of food that was being transported to England, when most of the villagers had lost their crop. How could Siobhán forget the sight of these two beloved bodies swinging from the Hanging Tree? How could she grow to love Rory, whose unholy connection to the landlord only a few people knew?

This story was so real to me, there were times I actually dreamed about it! One morning I awakened with a picture in my head so clear that I had to rush into my office and write it down. That picture became the pivotal scene in which Rory returns to the tiny cottage where he and his mother spent the first ten years of his life with his abusive stepfather.

I usually write the first draft, then clean it up once the storyline is complete, adding and/or deleting scenes as needed.

What are you planning to work on next?

Well, I have two sequels planned for SUNSHINE. The first, which is in its final draft, involves Siobhán’s headstrong daughter, Ashleen. Fresh from a year in America, she returns to Ireland with a beau, the dashing Cavan Callaghan, hero of the Irish Brigade, who is coming home to claim the family he’s never known. After that will come Katie’s story, which is now in the planning stages. Rory’s beautiful daughter decides it’s time to meet her mother’s family, so she travels to Baltimore, where she falls in love with a dashing young actor.

After that, I have a series of novels planned that will all be loosely connected. The heros met on a “coffin ship” bound from Ireland to America during the Famine (more Irish heros!). They grew up in New York together, and when the Civil War came along, all of them joined up to fight with the Irish Brigade. After the war, they come home to pick up the threads of their lives, and that’s when all the fun will begin!

12 Comments:

Blogger Susan Macatee said...

Wow, Cynthia! Your book sounds great.

It's right up my alley, since I'm writing in the Victorian era, too. And I love all things Irish.

6:58 AM  
Blogger Kristin-Marie said...

Fascinating! I'll look forward to reading it.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Y. said...

This book sounds really good.

12:07 PM  
Blogger NicoleMcCaffrey said...

Cynthia -- this sounds like a "must read" for me! I'm putting it on my Christmas wish list!

Nic

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Cynthia,

Welcome to HH, :) I enjoyed your blog very much and I have fallen in love with the description of your book so much, that I want to order it. Is it available now?

Isabel

1:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Cynthia,
I like the first 3 pages of your book because thats all ive read so far.
Megan

3:17 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Welcome, Cynthia!

Your books sounds like a great adventure, cinematic. Very cool.
Post-civil war is one of my favorite historical periods. I can see a great story unfolding with Irish heros in America.

Kathyrnn

4:13 PM  
Blogger Pam P. said...

Cynthia congrats on the release. Your book sounds very good and emotional, and I love reading historicals. I've been discovering several books at Highland Press that I want, glad you had success there and you got to write the book you wanted.

6:12 PM  
Blogger Pam P. said...

Cynthia, do you have a website or newsletter list yet? I'll come back this week to check, thanks.

6:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi everyone, and thanks very much for the kind words. Susan, I too have a love for all things Irish and all things Victorian.
Nic, I hope we both get our Christmas wish. The book will be available soon, definitely for Christmas.
Kathrynn, I'm already starting to fall in love with my Irish Brigade heros.
Pam, there's a lot of talent at Highland Press, and we're all very proud of them. I do have a website: http://pages.videotron.com/cowens/index.html

Feel free to come visit, and read an excerpt of IN SUNSHINE OR IN SHADOW.

Thanks again, everyone, and come back and visit with me on Thursday!

Cynthia

7:14 PM  
Anonymous dressagedame said...

Sounds exciting!

I can't wait to get my copy! I'm more of a Rita Mae Brown type but I'm sure some of the animal characters will be facinating too.

Like you I loved Princes of Ireland and many things Irish, your book will give me another reason to armchair travel to the Emerald Isle!

5:01 PM  
Blogger Pam P. said...

Thanks for the site link, Cynthia - have it bookmarked.

Happy Holidays!

2:02 AM  

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