Please give a warm welcome to this morning’s special guest, Tommie Conrad. Tommie is here to chat about Heart Trouble.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.
[Tommie Conrad] I’ve always found me hard to categorize. I alternately refer to myself as an author, cowboy, dreamer, librarian, therapist, optimist, stargazer, loner, and introvert, and I will easily toss off labels when I find they no longer fit.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Heart Trouble?
[Tommie Conrad] Heart Trouble is a very simply love story about two people who find themselves at a crossroads in their lives. Brandt and Marissa are separately trying to figure out what is the next step in their lives, how they’re going to occupy the next few years, when fate decides to intervene. Brandt has his family’s ranch to think about, but isn’t sure if that precludes a personal life, while Marissa’s overarching goal is to attend graduate school. Add into the mix an unexpected love story, family strife, and several young people who are at varying stages of maturity and you have the ingredients for both happiness and conflict as Brandt and Marissa pursue their goals together.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?
[Tommie Conrad] I had just completed a family saga that spanned four books and took one year to complete. While I have a great attachment to those characters as well as the settings that spawned them, I decided I wanted to simplify for my next project and narrow my focus. I had a very rural upbringing, and that informs much of my writing. The planting of vegetables and the picking of blackberries and mushrooms are activities with which I’m very familiar, and thus they made their way into Heart Trouble. I tend to focus on farms or ranches, and small towns and rural settings when I sit down to write a novel. The characters are driving the stories rather than the hustle and bustle of everyday life, making the best decisions they can in a world where life isn’t always filled with a plethora of choices. I have also previously written characters that have a wealth of family support, while others have difficult pasts or have been orphaned. For Heart Trouble I elected to write about two only-children, a pair of characters who had to form their own attachments because Mother Nature hadn’t gifted them with siblings. Brandt plays straight man to his best friend, Rawlings, who has his own unhappy past to contend with. For Marissa, finding her high school friend Rowan in town is a blessing in disguise. Certain elements are informed by my own status as an only child—Brandt’s relationship with his parents is similar in some ways to how I interact with my parents, albeit with a heavy dose of dramatic tension added. Marissa’s struggles with education and joblessness are reflective of my own three-year quest to be admitted to graduate school and the long-term unemployment that followed that. The rest of it is just a product of my mind—the towns referred to are fictional, as are the settings. And as much as the characters may contain traits of myself, they are much better looking than anyone I know in real life!
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Marissa?
[Tommie Conrad] Intelligent, determined, empathetic
[Manga Maniac Cafe] If Brandt had a theme song, what would it be?
[Tommie Conrad] “Cowboys Like Us” by George Strait. For all of Brandt’s foibles and flaws—and, yes, sometimes lack of maturity—he knows how incredibly lucky he is to live the life he loves.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name one thing Marissa is never without.
[Tommie Conrad] A picture of her mother. Prior to meeting Brandt, her mother was the only constant in Marissa’s life, and the single-greatest influence upon her.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things will you never find in Brandt’s bathroom?
[Tommie Conrad] 1. Any type of body spray—for Brandt it’s cologne or nothing
2. An electric razor—too modern for a guy who’s used to the simple life
3. Anything from Bath and Body Works—self-explanatory
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is Marissa’s greatest regret?
[Tommie Conrad] Prior to the beginning of the book, I would say never knowing her father. By the story’s end, however, she has no more regrets.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?
[Tommie Conrad] Tough question. My parents never dissuaded me from using my imagination or being creative, and I certainly don’t have an internal filter that reigns in my creative process. I also try to think in terms of the natural world and how it should be described in narrative form; description of settings is an area that, for me, is still a work in progress.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?
[Tommie Conrad] Great music—I rarely, if ever, write without some kind of soundtrack in my ears. Music helps to set the scene for me, and put me in the proper frame of mind.
Limited interruptions. I like to write as many pages as I can while the ideas are fresh in my mind. When that isn’t feasible, I do the best I can. Other times I purposefully hold off on writing until the ideas have fully crystallized in my mind. I’m no good at making outlines.
A title! I know that sounds superficial but it is very difficult for me to begin a project without having the title in place. The opposite is true for writing an essay or blog, however—I usually decide on a title at the end.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?
[Tommie Conrad] “Lethal” by Sandra Brown. Her books are always incredible, but that one was a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat thriller with twists and turns aplenty as it reached the final chapters. I also found “The Light Between Oceans” by M.L. Stedman to be a really harrowing, descriptive tale of two people trying but usually failing to do the right thing, simply by pursuing what they feel is best for themselves and their marriage.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?
[Tommie Conrad] “The Boxcar Children” by Gertrude Chandler Warner. I think the fact that it was a series intrigued me and made me want to read more. And, yeah, it’s a children’s book, but my lifelong love of reading pretty much began there.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
[Tommie Conrad] Reading, of course. While I sometimes have to do academic research in the course of writing a novel, I have found a few story ideas just by perusing magazines. I love to travel, which also has benefits for the creative process. Drawing and painting are two more lifelong hobbies that, unfortunately, have been pushed by the wayside due to my writing, though I did paint the cover for my first novel. I’ve also spent a lot of time in the garden this year, something else that made its way into Heart Trouble.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you share a little about your next project?
[Tommie Conrad] I just completed and am now working on the first edit of a romantic thriller, something I’d never tried before. I tried to balance out the love story with the suspense, but I’m pretty sure the love story won out.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?
[Tommie Conrad] I have a plethora of ways readers can connect with me, and I am amenable to comments and feedback. I try to maintain a regular blog at http://tommieconrad.blogspot.com/ and they can follow me on Twitter at @tommieconrad84. I’m also on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/tommieconrad) and have author pages on both Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Tommie-Conrad/e/B009KNDQMW and Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6571946.Tommie_Conrad , the latter of which I am still learning to use. And if they want to follow me on Pinterest http://pinterest.com/conradcorner/ or connect with me on LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/pub/tommie-conrad/72/b12/30a that is also fine.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!
About the book:
Brandt Conner is living the good life. Sure, work on his family’s ranch is hard and keeps him busy from sunup to sundown, but at least he’s got his best friend to help. There are only two sore spots in his life: lack of a loving, romantic relationship and a brittle connection with his father.
Marissa Sloan has no relationship with her father; she doesn’t even remember the man. But her dreams and plans haven’t worked out, and she finds herself working at a feed store to make ends meet. When Marissa meets Brandt, sparks fly and they are forced to grow up in a hurry.
Brandt isn’t rich but he wants for nothing in the material sense, and Marissa must ignore the negative view some have of Brandt’s ways, his romantic past and his free-wheeling reputation. In Marissa, Brandt finds his other half—but if Marissa pursues her dreams of higher education, she’ll have to leave after just one summer together.
Will Brandt let her go? Or can he become the man he was meant to be?
About the author:
Becoming an author was more about challenging myself and seeing if I could actually write a full-length novel than about anything else. I hold a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in Library and Information Science, both from the University of Kentucky, but thus far writing is the only career that’s taken off for me. Heart Trouble is the first novel I’ve written that was done specifically to fit into the mold of popular romantic fiction. The other novels I just kind of self-published and hoped for the best.