Gwen’s Honor by Sandra Wilkins (January 2013)
Gwen Sanders never imagined that her dream of writing a novel would disrupt her engagement and force her to choose an inconceivable path. Although engaged to Walter Manning for more than two years, she has lived away from him and worked as a society reporter for the Shawnee Globe. But an unexpected reconnection with the handsome Josh Flynn, her childhood sweetheart, leads to jealousy from Walter. Gwen insists that she loves Walter and would never be so dishonorable as to break off her engagement…Yet she can't brush off the feeling that her lack of enthusiasm and mounting pressure from wedding preparations are pointing her in a different direction—one that would shake her comfortable life to its foundation. Faced with an impossible decision, Gwen must choose between honor and love in this historical romance set in the Oklahoma Territory.
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Sandra Wilkins is an author whose passion for historical fiction has led her to write the kind of romantic novels that reflect the wholesome values found in Oklahoma at the turn of the last century. Gwen’s Honor is the third novel in The Heartland Romance Series from Montlake Romance. The entire series is set in Shawnee just before statehood came to Oklahoma. The first installment, Ada’s Heart, follows an actress, Ada Marsh, who quits her old way of life and befriends two other young women, Rose Dennis and Gwen Sanders. Rose’s Hope continues with their friendship while Rose decides whether to turn her hopes toward a grieving widower with an infant or to another more persistent suitor. Gwen’s Honor continues the journey as Gwen is forced to choose between society’s expectations and her true feelings.
Sandra says that her aim when she writes is to take her readers back to a simpler time while also showing them how life today still parallels that of the past. I am so pleased she has decided to join me on the Casting Couch today because I want to learn more about how she puts together stories that illustrate this.
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Welcome Sandra. I am intrigued by the sentiment behind your determination to write historical fiction. What prompted the idea for this book?
Gwen’s Honor is the third and final book in the Heartland Series. The others are Ada’s Heart and Rose’s Hope . These are the first two novels I wrote and had published. I came up with the idea for the series many years ago when I worked at an independent book store. I had two good friends I worked with, and thought strong friendships would be a good basis for a set of stories. The three of us were the inspiration for my three main characters—Ada, Rose and Gwen. But I must say that my characters soon became their own women. I love sweet historical romances, so I picked the setting in a real town I know well, Shawnee, Oklahoma, and placed the books in the few years before Oklahoma became a state.
That is so interesting. I love that you based the idea for the series on your own life experiences and set it in a familiar place. That must make it special for you. Did you work through the plot first and then cast the characters, or was it characters first?
It was definitely the characters first for me. I may not have every trait or flaw figured out when I begin, but I can see them in my mind’s eye. I normally create my characters first. I’ll have a few ideas for scenes when I start (and write them down so I don’t forget) and I'll know generally where I want the story to end. Then I try to connect scenes that I see in my head.
Can you give an example of this technique from a published story?
When I began to write Gwen’s Honor, I had a pivotal scene in mind toward the middle of the book where Josh, her childhood sweetheart, tells her about his feelings, but I had to figure out how to write around it so he didn’t look like a cad or she didn’t seem like a loose woman. It was important to me that she maintained her honor throughout the book.
It sounds as if you had a very clear idea of 'who' Gwen was right from the start. Which characters were the hardest for you to develop and why?
For me, it’s usually the secondary characters. I don’t always know how much they’re going to be involved with things so I have to figure them out as I go along. As far as individuals go, however, in this book it was Gwen’s fiancé, Walter Manning, who was the most difficult. As I wrote about him in all three stories, I tried to figure him out. I didn’t want him to appear too mean or unsympathetic, but I also didn’t want readers to feel too sorry for him either.
Mmm. Now you have me intrigued. It doesn't sound as if Walter Manning is the hero! How did you decide how Walter and the rest of your characters should look? Did pictures inspire you or did you just rely on an active imagination? Maybe you even based them on someone you know or someone you saw walking down the street. Do tell!
Besides the three main characters, others are usually just figments of my imagination, BUT when I wrote Gwen’s Honor I had a definite person in mind. I admire Josh Groban’s singing and even used the mood from some of his songs as inspiration for scenes, so when I needed a handsome, confident young man to come back into Gwen’s life, I just had to use Groban’s good looks and even his first name—Josh. Hope he doesn’t mind!
He wouldn't be good inspirational hero material if he did Sandra. How did you develop the character traits of everyone in the book? I know some people use Tarot or Astrology. Others produce detailed life histories. One writer I interviewed is so organized she even uses a Goal, Motivation and Conflict chart. What about you?
I’m not that organized for sure! I mainly just figure it out as I go along.
That's a bit like getting to know real people and gradually learning what they're like. What about their goals though? All characters have goals. Can you sum your characters’ goals in a word or two, or are they multi-layered? Did they keep to their original goals or did things change as you wrote the book? If they did, then please give some examples.
In Gwen’s Honor, Gwen knew she needed to return to her hometown where her fiancé was waiting, but she had the goal of writing her first novel. In the story we see how she accomplishes it, but then her life takes a turn that she never would have imagined for herself. I, of course, knew what was going to happen to her.
Motives drive a character so how did you discover your characters’ specific motives? Were they based on back-story or did they develop as you wrote the book, the same as their characters did?
That’s an interesting question. I don’t imagine I put that much thought into it, really. It’s a little of both for me. Gwen’s back-story had a huge role to play in her life though.
Given that you had already written about her in two previous books I can see how that would be the case. So, last but not least, do you like the characters in your book? Are they people you would want to spend time with and if so, which one is your favourite, and which one would you most like to meet and why? That might be the same person of course, but there again, it might not!
I do like my characters! Some are sweet, some are talented, some are funny. Gwen, Josh and her cousin, Luke, are my favorites. I’d love to have them over for some good old-fashioned cookin’ and listen to them joke around—after all they’re much funnier than I am!
You seem to know them so well in your mind that you can probably almost imagine what that would be like anyway Sandra. Thanks so much for sitting on the Casting Couch. It's been fun getting to know you and the characters in Gwen's Honor.
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Sandra Wilkins always wanted to be a writer. She wrote her first novel in high school, and tried to polish it and get it published for years. After several rejections she put that book aside and, instead, came up with the idea for The Heartland Romance Series. Which just goes to show that persistence pays off in the long run.
Nowadays she is a home schooling mother of two daughters who finds time to write in spare moments. She has now begun a new series set in historic Chandler, Oklahoma, and is enjoying inventing new characters and stories.
Gwen's Honor is available at http://www.amazon.com/Gwens-Honor-Heartland-Romance-ebook/dp/B008RBT4JM