I had the pleasure of meeting today’s blog guest, in person, last week at the Florida Christian Writer’s Conference. She’s one of my online critique partners. It was such a delight to spend time with her and hug her neck. Welcome, Jennifer. Could you tell my readers a little about your writing journey?
How far back do you want me to go? LOL I truly believe that I had the writing bug from the time I was a toddler on. There are pictures of me, still in diapers, scribbling on a pad of paper with the most thoughtful look on my face. By the age of twelve, I really realized I wanted to write when “playing pretend” with my friends was no longer cool. I loved to make up stories and act them out, and once I realized I could make up those stories and write them down instead, then the writing bug really hit me. I wrote all through high school, majored in writing in college, but then my writing life hiccupped when I jumped into adulthood. I married, worked various jobs, had a child…and generally lost track of my writing for a while. It was when my first husband and I separated/divorced, and I became a single mom that I threw myself into my writing again to escape the stress at the end of each day. I published a few things during a 5-year span between 1999-2004, but due to circumstances from my lack of money to promote my work to the publishers folding, none of my projects met with any success.
That pattern of work-by-day/write-by-night went on until I took a job teaching school for several years starting in 2006. That was another one of those hiccups in my writing life. I was far too exhausted to write during those three years, but God had made it abundantly clear to me that, for that season, I was to be a teacher. When the teaching season ended, a lot had changed for me. I’d married my real-life hero Dave in 2007, and our financial situation was such that we no longer needed my income to stay afloat. So, my sweetheart gave me the opportunity to stay home and chase my dream. Starting in 2009, I wrote a novel (still unpublished), found an agent, and plotted out and began writing other projects. During this time, I attended writing conferences and entered writing contests. In 2013, I had the great pleasure of winning my category in five contests! My agent was shopping my completed western novel. Surely I was on my way! And I was…but the journey looked far different than I thought it would.
In late 2013 or early 2014, a call for submissions came across my path for a few different novella collections with Barbour Publishing, so I put in a couple of ideas. To my great surprise, both proposals were accepted—one just a few days before my birthday in June 2014, and the second a month later. Both collections came out in 2015. I still hadn’t gotten any serious interest on my novel. So, I whipped out my first two novellas and went back to work on other (novel-length) projects. Since my first two novella contracts came in, I’ve had at least one novella contract per year, and in between times, I’ve worked on a bunch of other projects. There have been a lot of rejections of those longer projects, but I’ve been bolstered by the smaller successes with the Barbour novella collections. And finally, in March of 2018, I received a contract for my first full-length project! It took nearly a decade from the time I was able to come home and write full time to finally see a novel with my name on the cover out in print. It wasn’t an easy road, nor was it a fast road—but it was all worth it!
All those projects made you the stellar writer you are today.
Tell us about your latest published project.
Today is the official release day for Sand Creek Serenade—my first full-length novel. It is a historical romance set in 1864 Colorado Territory. My heroine, Sadie Hoppner, is a female doctor who practices medicine at Fort Lyon. The hero, Five Kills, is a half-Cheyenne brave who, along with the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, has camped beside the fort while awaiting word of a peace treaty promised to them by the Army and Colorado Governor. But not everything is as it appears, and Sadie and Five Kills’ new friendship and burgeoning love is put to the test when the ultimate act of betrayal is committed against the Native tribes.
What kind of research was needed for Sand Creek Serenade?
This particular story required a lot of research in several different areas. The most obvious is to know the history of the Sand Creek Massacre—the historic events before, during and immediately after the tragedy. I found a couple of great resources that dealt specifically with that—particularly two books. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, and Ned Wynkoop and the Lonely Road from Sand Creek by Louis Kraft. Both were hugely helpful in learning the ins and outs of this historical event.
The second area I needed to research was life among the Cheyenne. What they ate, how they dressed. Details of their camps, their tents, and so forth. Again, I found some wonderful resource books. The main one I used was The Mystic Warriors of the Plains by Thomas E. Mails. This book was invaluable for knowing the fine details of Cheyenne and Arapaho culture.
And the third area where I had to do a lot of research was in the medical details that Sadie might have used. I have any number of great books on my bookshelves on Civil War era medicine, but so much of what I needed to know for this story was when a particular procedure came into practice. For that, I used the internet, learning of the origins of the procedures. Then, when it came to depicting my woman doctor doing a particular procedure, I watched YouTube videos to get a feel for how things would be done. (Thank goodness I’m not the squeamish sort!) LOL
Seeing it all written out like this, it sounds like a LOT of work, but the truth is, I loved delving into these areas as I was writing!
I had no idea there were Youtube videos of medical procedures. Ewwww.
On to something less squeamish, I hope. What inspired you to write your book?
I was supposed to be plotting a novella for a collection with the theme of “women doing male-dominated jobs.” Thus, my heroine was a doctor at a time in history when very few women practiced medicine in any formal setting. But I needed some kind of an event that would allow her a big platform to use her medical skills. It was late one evening when I stumbled on a brief mention of the Sand Creek Massacre and thought it would make the perfect setting. Immediately, the hero, Five Kills, began to take shape in my mind. But in the days after that, I dug further into the research of the Sand Creek Massacre and realized just how much history there was to cover. It was not the topic for a novella! And I wondered if it was even a good topic for a novel. But the story called to me, and after praying through the idea, I knew it must be written. So—Sand Creek Serenade was born.
When did you realize your calling to create words on paper to share with the world?
As I said above, I think I was called to write from the womb! LOL I have always loved stories and books, and I’ve long been fascinated with paper pads and writing utensils. I have memories of sneaking out of my bed late at night when I was four or five years old and “writing books” about earthworms and other creatures. (The “books” were not so much stories and pictures with some scribbly lines underneath—but I was young and hadn’t learned to write yet!). But it was that 7th grade year when the writing bug really grabbed hold of me. I had a friend named Holly who I’d often spend time with after school. We’d spend the night at each other’s homes, and we were always together at school. During one overnight stay at Holly’s house, she showed me a spiral notebook and announced that she was writing a book. My competitive streak came out then, and I thought to myself that if she could write one, so could I! And so, I began writing down those wonderful imagined worlds and characters. When I showed my English teacher what I was working on sometime later, I got such praise and encouragement to keep going! Thankfully, that encouragement egged me to keep on in my pursuit, and by the time I reached high school, I’d been so bitten by the writing bug that I couldn’t wait to share my words and stories with people.
Jennifer, do you have a favorite verse that resonates with you?
Luke 1:45—Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.
This verse, originally spoken by the angel to Mary when he told her she would bear the Son of God, always speaks so strongly to me about keeping faith in the things God says. There have been times that God has promised me things—but then the promise tarries, and my faith begins to wane some. That’s when I go back to Luke 1:45 and refresh my faith. God never goes back on a promise. It’s my job to hold fast to faith and wait it out.
What an inspirational thought for all writers. Thanks, Jen.
Now on to one of my favorite questions. If you could go back in time and give one piece of advice for your younger self about writing what would that be?
I think I would tell myself just to be prepared for the wait. The writing industry moves about as fast as a hibernating snail—or it seems so when you’re waiting to hear their answers on a submission. LOL If I could, I’d tell my younger self not to expect anything to happen quickly, but to keep the faith that I would eventually realize my dream of seeing stories I’d written get published. Don’t let the hiccups in my writing life worry me but put on a smile and know that writing is my true calling, and I’ll always return to it, even if a particular season takes me away from it. These are the mindsets a career as a writer requires, and I wish I’d understood that aspect earlier, so I could’ve handled it with more grace at times.
Who is your best support system to keep you focused on your writing?
Oh, goodness. There are many! But to name the closest ones—my wonderful husband, Dave, who gave me the best opportunity to be a full-time writer and to chase my dream. A friend, Shannon, who I’ve known since my son was just a toddler, and who reads almost everything I write, usually when I’m bleary-eyed from a late-night writing session and mired in self-doubt. She is always full of great encouragement and fantastic constructive criticism. And my critique group, a set of gals who have read at least some of every published story I’ve put out so far (and a bunch of unpublished ones too) and helped me hone and shape the stories into something other people would want to read! I couldn’t do what I do without these handfuls of people. I love them all!
I’d like to ask, what is your favorite genre to read for fun?
Give me a Louis L’Amour western, and I’m a happy girl!
I am not surprised. LOL
Where is your favorite place to write?
One of the things my husband did to bless me when I finally got to come home and write was to help me turn one of our bedrooms into my personal writing space. I’ve got a small desk and office chair for my writing stints, two large bookcases with my myriad of research books close at hand, and a futon for when I want to get more comfortable for reading, researching, or even editing.
I am so jealous. Sounds wonderful. Thank you for joining me today. I am so excited about your novel and it’s next up on my to-read list. Readers grab a copy of her newest release Sand Creek Serenade the link is below the bio of my awesome friend.
Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has finaled and won in numerous writing competitions, and been on the ECPA best-seller list numerous times. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, college-aged son, and four fur children.
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If yoou have any questions for Jennifer post them in the comments.