Sarah M. Eden
Did you always want to be a writer? Or was there a particular instance that put you on the path to a writing career?
I am one of those odd writers who never dreamed of being one. For me, this journey began on a dare. I have long been a fan of historical romance. I was the obnoxious patron at the library who was constantly requesting books through the interlibrary loan because I’d gone through the entire collection at my local branch. But, I’m unusual compared to the vast majority of romance readers in that I prefer to read books with less “steamy” content, something that is extremely difficult to find. I also tend to grow quickly impatient with poor writing, unengaging plot lines, poorly drafted characters, etc. I often began a romance but didn’t finish it for one (or all) of those reasons.
One day I was visiting my mom and really got going on a long and wordy complaint about how hard it was to find the kind of romances that I preferred. My mom’s response wasn’t one of deep and abiding empathy, though I’m sure she understood my frustration. Instead, she said, “Well, why don’t you go write your own?” In my mind I thought, “I will. Watch me.” So I spent the next year and a bit learning what I could about the process of writing and how to be a better writer, then dove into writing my own romance.
From that point on, I was hooked.
What was the publishing process like for you? Are you agented or did you go directly to a publisher?
I am agented, though not all of my traditionally published books have been sold via an agent. I started out as a self-published author, but felt that I wanted to pursue publication through the traditional channels. After a few years, I found a good home for some of my books and those have been published directly through a publisher. My most recent title, Longing for Home, was sold by my agent. I am also part of the Timeless Romance Anthologies, which are indie published. I am what is often called a “hybrid author.” My publishing endeavors fall under more than one category: traditional, agented traditional, and indie.
You’re currently in the middle of your multi-state “Proper Romance Tour.” Do you enjoy being on the road and promoting your work?
Yes and no. I do love getting out and meeting readers and talking about books with other people who really enjoy reading. I find when I’ve been out doing promotion, it’s easier to stay focused on my current projects—I really get in my author zone. And as a mom, getting a break from the day-to-day of family life and running a home is really nice. But, I truly am a homebody at heart. I like being at home, with my familiar routine, my own bed, the food I’m used to. Most of all, though, I find I really miss my family when I’m away.
Why are you so drawn to historical romance novels? Have you ever considered writing in another genre?
I don’t know that I could ever write anything that wasn’t a romance. For me, no matter the genre, every movie I watch, every TV program, every book I read, it is the relationships that pull me in more than anything. I always want someone to fall in love, and stay in love. I crave that happy ending. For that reason, I don’t think I could ever write a story that wasn’t a romance.
Many historical writers are drawn to historical fiction because history can feel very exotic. It is very different from the world we live in now. And while, to an extent, I get that feeling from it as well, the real draw for me has always been how much the same it is. Cultures change. Societal norms morph. World views and ideals are shaped by different times and places. But at the heart of everything that has ever happened throughout history are people who, when we really get down to it, are very much like you and me. They had dreams and hopes. They fell in love. They had their hearts broken. They had families and friends and neighbors. They wanted and worked for so many of the things that we do now. That is what pulls me in to history. Looking at how much has changed and still finding the glimmer of familiarity that is there and seeing ourselves and our own struggles reflected in their lives.
With a bachelor’s degree in research, do you often find yourself doing research long before plotting out a story? Or do you usually write first, research later?
Absolutely. For me, writing in an historical era means doing a great deal of pre-writing research. An author needs to have a feel for a time period, to know the events, world view, societal expectations, recent history, cultural influence, etc. of that era in order to even begin crafting a story. I studied the Regency era of English history for a decade before I ever wrote about it. When I first had the idea to set a story in the nineteenth-century American West amongst a group of Irish immigrants, I spent a year and a half studying the time period, the Irish immigrants of that time and place, and the culture of the American West as well as Famine-era Ireland. Only after that did I begin working on the story itself.
Of course, during the writing process more things pop up that need to be researched. It really is an ongoing process. But being a researcher at heart, I love that part of the journey. I often have to set a time limit for myself, a point at which I am required to step away from devouring history and get back to the task of writing.
Where do you generally draw your storyline and character inspiration from?
Where don’t I draw it from? Writers find story and character ideas everywhere. I have a notebook of story ideas that I am constantly adding to. Some of these ideas seem to come out of nowhere. Sometimes I’ll be watching the news and will hear something that sparks an idea. Sometimes the thought comes from an overheard conversation. (Writers are constantly eavesdropping—it’s an occupational hazard.) A great many of my ideas come from history. When I’m studying an era and read about a battle or an epidemic or a court case or law, I find myself wondering what it would have been like to live through that, to see it, to experience it. Every moment in history, whether quietly unnoticed or enormously significant, impacted someone’s life, and that someone had a story. And theirs is the story I want to tell.
Tell us about writing Longing for Home. Had you been thinking up that particular storyline for a while?
I first had the idea for Longing for Home almost ten years ago, and the idea simply sat in the back of my mind, waiting. The story is a complex one that I didn’t feel I had the skills to write a decade ago. I have a proud Irish heritage and, in writing this book so filled with Irish characters, wanted to do justice to that people and culture, and in my own small way honor my Irish ancestors and the struggles they passed through. About four years ago, the story began really nagging me, insisting the time was right. So I dove into the process, immersing myself in Irish culture—I listened exclusively to Irish radio via the internet, spent months reading nineteenth-century Irish literature, reading Irish newspapers and magazines, studying Irish music archives—as well as studying the experiences of Irish immigrants in the United States at the time the story is set. The characters began to take shape, their lives and histories becoming more clear. I could see in them my own ancestors and the influence that cultural inheritance has had in my life. This will always be a tender story for me because so much of my heart went into telling it.
You’ve recently been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. How does struggling daily with chronic pain affect your mental game of writing?
This sounds really cliché, but it has changed everything. My hands are so stricken by the RA that I cannot usually physically type, and even when I can it is slow and arduous and painful. I have begun using a dictation program, which is helpful, but also very frustrating. I have found the process of speaking out loud the words as opposed to allowing them to simply flow through my hands, is far more different than I expected. I can’t sit for very long, but neither can I stand. The pain is constant and often overwhelming.
But the physical challenges pale in comparison to the mental and emotional impact of chronic illness. Being newly diagnosed and still in the earliest stages of the disease when the symptoms are not well controlled and so much is uncertain, I am often mentally exhausted. Everything I do in every aspect of my life takes more effort, more time, and causes increased pain. To take my now diminished energy and time and spend it on writing is more of a sacrifice than it once was. As a result, I find myself thinking more deeply about what I am writing and, more importantly, why I am writing. It has added a depth of commitment to my efforts that wasn’t there before.
How do you feel the gospel influences your work?
While I don’t write stories that are religious, I think the themes that touch my work are certainly influenced by the morals and teachings of the gospel. My stories often involve journeys of forgiveness and redemption, characters who long to be better people than they currently are, individuals struggling to do the right thing when they don’t always know what that is, and the consequences of choices.
As an active member of the Church, how do you strike a balance between your writing career, home life, and church responsibilities?
That is a balance that has to constantly be evaluated and adjusted. At times when my family life needs more attention, my writing has to take more of a back seat. When I have had church responsibilities that required more of my time, the same thing had to occur. When I am under a writing deadline or the time requirements for my writing are greater, my family has been wonderful about stepping up and helping with home responsibilities, cooking meals or doing extra chores. Balance really is the key to making it all work, there has to be give and take and a willingness to make changes as necessary.
How do you see your writing helping to build the kingdom?
Romances, by their nature, are hopeful. Even when the characters pass through very difficult things, the ending is a happy and hopeful one. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of hope in a world that sorely needs it. I would like to think that in giving readers a story that is uplifting and enjoyable and hopeful I am helping to spread the strengthening power of hope and happiness to a world so often without it.
What upcoming projects can we expect from you?
I have three novel releases slated for next year, as well as a handful of short story anthologies. The full-length books are ones I had finished before my RA diagnosis, so after this year I’m not sure when or how frequently I’ll have new novels out. I have slowed down considerably but am still continuing to write and have every intention of releasing new books as I am able. ❧