Monday, February 2, 2015

Interview with Mary Pursselley

Mary Ruth Pursselley
Mary, welcome once again to Homeschooled Authors. What have you been up to since your last visit?
Thanks, Sarah! I’m glad to be back! Life has been amazing since my last visit. God has carried me through some tough times and challenges that seemed gigantic while I was facing them, but in retrospect I kind of have to laugh at how tiny they really were in His hands. He has given me the opportunity to work with a ministry here in the Ozarks as a museum tour guide and creation apologist, which I love, as creation apologetics is one of my deepest passions. He has allowed me to remain self-employed as a music teacher and freelance editor, which is a huge blessing and allows me plenty of flexibility and time to write. Best of all, through a mind-blowing chain of events, He has brought an amazing person into my life, someone who shares my passion for purposeful, God-honoring writing—someone who can look at all my writerly weirdness and love me anyway...because he’s just as weird as I am!
In short, my life is awesome and God has taught me so much over the last year, more than I could ever hope to put into words.

What draws you to writing fantasy?
I think fantasy—and really, any of the speculative genres—gives a writer the opportunity “mix and match” concepts and ideas that genres anchored in the real world don’t. For instance, in Song of the Wren-Falcon I have one culture that’s a little bit Gypsy and a little bit Native American; I have another culture that’s a bit Dwarvish and a bit Old English; I have another that’s a blend of Elvish, Greek, and Medieval European. All of those elements get to mingle and interact where they never would in the real world, and I as the writer get to experiment with the results by adding and mixing new elements and scenarios wherever I want. Basically, I think writing speculative genres like fantasy gives writers a lot more room to play with the “What if?” questions.

What inspired The Song of the Wren-Falcon?
The Song of the Wren-Falcon: The First Prophecy (The Adelfian Prophecies Vol. 1)Well...that’s kind of a difficult question. I have no idea! I was just putting clean dishes away one day, when all of a sudden I saw a scene playing out in my head (I can’t describe it because that would be a spoiler, but let’s just say it’s a very crucial moment in the story). There were two characters in the scene, so I pulled out my baby name book and started trying to name them. I came across the name “Ransom,” which I didn’t really like as a name itself, but it had an awesome meaning, “Son of the Shield,” which I thought would make a great title. After that, characters started showing up all over the place and the pieces of the story started falling into place almost faster than I could keep track of them. Son of the Shield was the title for a long time, but I named it that before I understood what the story was all about and by the end it didn’t really fit any more, so my publisher helped me choose a new one that fits much better.
The book has a harsh, gritty feel to it that really helped bring the story of a war torn nation to life. Was it difficult to write at times?
As far as technical difficulty goes, the hardest part was finding the right balance of distance. I’ve done a lot of research and listened to a lot of veterans talk about what combat and warfare are actually like, so I know how to make those aspects of a story completely realistic, but I didn’t want that for my readers. I wanted them to have a buffer of distance. At the same time, I didn’t want to treat warfare or its accompanying emotional and psychological effects lightly, and I didn’t want the readers to be so far removed from it that it seemed fake or “no big deal”. Trying to tread cautiously around the darker, more brutal aspects while still being realistic and honest presented quite a challenge.
On a more emotional level, yes, absolutely those elements of the story were difficult to write! There were days when I felt completely spent after writing or editing. There were times when I had to shut down the computer and go for a walk, listening to happy music, just to create my own buffer of distance between myself and the story. On plenty of occasions I was crying or angry or heartbroken or terrified right alongside the characters. Thankfully, every time someone reads the book and tells me about how it moved or touched them emotionally, it’s all worth it!

The characters refer to God as Shield. Does this name hold special significance to you?
Not as much in the sense of a specific or isolated experience that makes it more meaningful, but more in the unique perspective I have of the whole “shield” concept. Psalm 115:11 says that God is our help and our shield, and I’ve found that a lot of people have the idea that being shielded—or “protected,” to put it more in the terms of the story—somehow means you’re completely removed from any battle or conflict, that you never have to face any dangers. I don’t share that view. I work in apologetics ministry; the conflict between worldviews, the battle to defend what I believe, and the dangers of compromise are constant, and having God as my shield hasn’t removed me from any of that. In fact, He’s the one who sent me into it in the first place. What I have found, and what I have tried to portray in The Song of the Wren-Falcon, is that God being your shield doesn’t mean that He’s going to keep you off of the battlefield. (Why would you need a shield anyway, if you weren’t going into a battle?) It means He’ll be there to protect you in the midst of the battles He sends you into.

Is Orienne, anything like you?
Maybe a little—I would certainly like to be like her!—but I see her more as the personification of two of the primary principles my parents raised my siblings and me to follow. Namely: Fierce loyalty to your beliefs and to the people you love, and compassion towards anyone and everyone who needs your help. These are the two most fundamental traits of Orienne’s character. Mom and Dad drilled these into me from birth, and I know I share them to some degree, but Orienne still leaves me with plenty to aspire to.
I will say that in our desire to just have a peaceful, quiet life in a cozy little home with families of our own, Orienne and I are exactly alike. (And God has taught us both the same lessons about that!)

What writing project are you working on now?
Lately I’ve been experimenting with writing children’s steampunk literature. All of the children’s steampunk fiction I’ve read so far is extremely dark and just tends to have a dirty, “grungy” sort of feel to it, and I don’t like that, so I’m working on creating some that is more light and redemptive and fun. I’m working on some teen/YA steampunk as well, with co-authors H.A. Titus and Elyn W. Marshe.

But of course, my primary focus is writing the sequel to Song of the Wren-Falcon, and I hope to have it ready to present to my publisher later this year.


  1. Hi Mary!
    What is your favorite part about writing?

    1. Hi, Katie!
      Hmm...I think I'm going to have to choose an "everyday" favorite and a "special occasion" favorite.
      My everyday favorite is definitely the fact that as a writer, I always have places to go and adventures to live in my head.
      But my special occasion favorite is when a reader comes to me and tells me about how a certain scene or character in one of my stories touched them or made them laugh or helped them see something in a new way. It's pretty hard to top that.

  2. Song of the Wren Falcon sounds awesome! I'm definitely putting it on my to read list. When I'm starting a new story, names are super important to me in establishing who the character is, so I do my best writing once I figure out the perfect name. But I know some writers who can use a fill in name like Bob or MC until they figure it out.

    How important are names to you in writing? Can you get started without the perfect name or do you have to find just the right one to figure out who the character is?

    1. Thanks so much, Gillian!
      The perfect name is an absolute must for me when it comes to developing a new character. I can't write them properly without knowing what their name is and knowing that it's exactly the right name for them. Once in a while they'll outgrow their name by becoming more prominent in the story than I thought they would be (a character in Song of the Wren-Falcon started out as Robert, just because somebody had to be the one to open the door and say "They're here, sir," but then he wouldn't shut up or stop being heroic, so he went on to become Captain Ryker Verone), but when it comes to main characters I can't get a real start on the story without having the names nailed down.

  3. I can definitely relate to choosing a title and having it not fit at the end. Brainstorming titles is one of the ways I go about planning stories, and though the title doesn't always match the book at the end, it's a good starting point.

    Aside from maintaining emotional distance, as you referenced in this interview, what parts of writing do you find are the hardest?

    1. Ooh...good question. Ergh--now I have to think really hard! ; )
      One-on-one fight scenes.
      Creating truly dramatic conflict rather than merely dramatizing more-or-less minor problems.
      Getting my characters out of the problems I create for them.
      Describing characters' physical appearances in a way that seems natural.
      Resisting the temptation to take shortcuts, cheats, or cop-outs with world-building or plot construction.
      Honestly, writing has a lot of really hard aspects for me, but I think those are the ones that present the biggest struggles the most often.

  4. Mary, your book sounds fascinating! I can't wait to read it!
    I agree that trying to write about the aspects of warfare and combat is difficult without trivializing it or going too far the other direction. I'm anxious to see how you handled it in your book.

    1. Thanks, Claire. I certainly hope you approve of the results! :)

  5. Congrats, Mary! I'm still hoping to read this very soon! (: