Writing is my life. Life is my hobby. ~Emma Lai

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Interview with Elaine Cantrell, author of Purple Heart

Emma: Today, I am featuring an interview with author Elaine Cantrell on her novella Purple Heart currently available through The Wild Rose Press.

Welcome Elaine! First, let me say that I loved this story. I think it spans genres. It is a love story at heart, but it deals with many current social issues and is written in such a way that even young adults (13+) could read it.

Elaine: Thanks so much for having me, Emma. It’s an honor to be here. Thanks for liking Purple Heart too! Most of my work is suitable for young people but hopefully appealing to adults as well. I’m a teacher so I try not to write things that I wouldn’t want my students to see.

Emma: I don’t think most people realize that romances can be used to treat important social issues of the day. The blurb for Purple Heart certainly didn’t meet my expectations. Were you afraid that the blurb would turn some people away from the story?

Jenna West has no idea what she might have done to her new tenant Mike Hightower. He's surly and hateful every single time they meet, and he looks at her as though he despises her.

He does despise her. She's from the Middle East, and people like her killed his friend Ramirez when the army sent them to Iraq.

Will the power of love work its magic to soften Mike's bitter hatred, or will he ignore his growing attraction for his pretty landlady?

Elaine: No, I wasn’t worried about the blurb. After posting the prologue all over the place I guessed that most people probably wouldn’t flinch over the blurb. After all, a battle scene isn’t a really typical prologue for most romance novels. In retrospect, though, I probably should have toned it down a bit for people who hadn’t read the prologue.

Emma: I’ll admit that I found the blurb quite daunting. At first, I couldn’t figure out how you turn hate into love, but I’m always up for a challenge and by the end of the Prologue I could see the potential for the story, and by the end of Chapter 1, well I was hooked. (I’ve already admitted to Elaine that I woke up two hours early just to finish reading the story.)

So, I’ve read some of the other reviews for Purple Heart, and I know that your nephew’s experience in Iraq gave you the idea for the story. After all, Mike Hightower is a ex-soldier who served in Iraq, but what made you pick Lebanese for Jenna’s character, and why did you make her a Christian?

(Courtesy of Wikipedia, I now know that it is estimated Christians make up to 40% of the population of Lebanon, but I had no idea before I looked it up. It’s the largest percentage of Christian population in the Middle East.)

Elaine: I made Jenna Lebanese because we studied Lebanon in school, and I admired the country. Its capital used to be called the Paris of the Middle East, but religious warfare turned it into a war zone. As far as making her a Christian goes, that’s the religion I know about, and I’m not sure my hero would have ever accepted her if she wasn’t a Christian. When he first meets Jenna he makes a comment about how he saw women like her every day in the Middle East, but they were usually throwing rocks and screaming obscenities.

Emma: The simplicity of the story has been commented on. I find that it actually helps the reader deal with the complexity of issues presented in the book. Whether we admit it or not, we all have prejudices, even if it’s as simple as picking red bell peppers over green. I think the presentation helps readers deal with the origins of their own prejudices without making the issue confrontational. Was this your intention?

Elaine: Yes, it certainly was. Confronting prejudice head on is fine and sometimes necessary, but it’s much more effective for a person to come to the realization that they’ve been wrong all on their own. Not too many people enjoy hearing others preach at them. I don’t for one.

Emma: Okay, one last tough question. I don’t want to give away too much, but Jenna is separated from her six-year old daughter Jo. How did you capture the complexity of emotions related to that?

Elaine: Simple. I pretended it was me. I imagined that knock on the door and some stranger with a piece of paper telling me he’d come for my child. I don’t think I could bear it. You read all types of horror stories about children in foster care, and the idea that my own child might be frightened or abused… It truly makes my blood run cold.

Emma: I loved your reference to Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women? Is it a favorite of yours? Do you relate to Jo the most?

Elaine: Oh, yes, I loved Little Women. I read it a long time ago and still periodically take it out for another look. I loved Jo, but I think I’m probably more like Meg. I’m not as independent as Jo was. Unhappily, I do have a temper very much like Jo’s, and like her I’ve had to struggle long and hard to learn to control it.

Emma: I won’t keep you much longer. I know you teach during the days and write the rest of the time. If you’re like me you probably have a dozen projects started. Are there any in particular you want to discuss?

Elaine: Right now I’m in revision mode. The name of the book I’m working on is Turnaround Farm. I submitted it to a publisher, but they didn’t take it. The editor did offer some suggestions about the book, so I’m following her advice. Then I plan to resubmit. I’m also preparing a submission for a fantasy/sci-fi novel called Out Of Place. It’s the first fantasy I’ve ever written, and I had such a good time doing it. I’ve never read much fantasy and had no idea how much fun it would be to create a world that’s unfettered by our own reality.

Emma: Thank you for your time, Elaine, and good luck on your future books!

Elaine: Thanks again for having me Emma. I’ve enjoyed talking about Purple Heart.


Helen Hardt said...

Hello Emma and Elaine -- I'm very intrigued! I have to say the blurb doesn't turn me off at all. The more conflict, the better the story. It sounds amazing, and I can't wait to read it. And I think every mother can relate to the absolute fear of being separated from her child. I know I can. Kudos, Elaine, for using that to build character.


Emma Lai said...

There's never a dull moment in this book.

Silver James said...

G'morning, Elaine and Emma. As a former military wife (hubby's retired from service), I find the premise of PURPLE HEART intriguing. Good luck on this book and with the up-coming fantasy! I love fantasy and world building. It keeps my Muse happily playing in her sand box. *g*

Mary Ricksen said...

I love new ideas and new premises in any story. This one captivates me.

Emma Lai said...

Thanks for stopping by Silver and Mary. I was so intrigued by the premise that I had to read it, and I'm so glad that I did!

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Emma and Elaine,
Nice interview. The war in Iraq is certainly an interesting background Elaine, but there would be very few people who were not touched by the war in some way. Here in Australia we are too, but in a much smaller way. I am a TWRP author also, and my first published book with them was Holly and the Millionaire, and that has an Iraq war background too. Only mine is about a girl who loses her husband in Iraq.
We must be kindred spirits, or is it that great minds think alike?????.

All the best

Emma Lai said...

Silly me! I forgot to post a link to Elaine's blog. You can find her at http://www.elainepcantrell.blogspot.com/

Skhye said...

Well, romances are all about dealing with conflict between the hero and heroine, watching them overcome their issues and growing together, individually and romantically. I'd say we couldn't even begin to quantify the number of issues dealt with in romance. This sounds like a fabulous story. I'm curious how much the fantasy novel is coming along... Take this story idea, change the cultures, and you've got a fantasy!

SarahAnn said...

Lovely interview. I feel that I really got a view into Elaine's thought process with this book. I normally avoid fiction dealing with the Iraq war as the facts cast such a heavy shadow over it. But I'm really intrigued by what you've done with "Purple Heart." Think I'll give it a try!

Elaine Cantrell said...

I'd like to thank everyone who stopped by. It's gratifying to write something that intrigues people.

Christina Phillips said...

Wonderful interview, Emma and Elaine. The blurb is very intriguing - so much conflict. It certainly didn't put me off!

Margay said...

Elaine, wonderful interview. This sounds like a book everyone should read, starting with the teenage set so you can use it to open a dialogue on the dangers of prejudice.

Elaine Cantrell said...

The teenagers I know are certainly prejudiced. Wish my school would buy a copy for all my student! Not likely I'm afraid. School budgets are in terrible shape in SC.