Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with JF Collen, author of Pioneer Passage (Journey of Cornelia Rose, Book 3).

FQ: I commend you for yet another fantastic read. It is clear you are an ardent lover of history. I’m curious if history is/was your catalyst to becoming a writer.

COLLEN: Yes! I love stories. Focusing on the stories of people in law school helped me remember the legal precedents. History is not dates and events to me so much as a compilation of thousands of people’s stories. So many stories recorded in diaries or wrapped around an event or embedded in a place need retelling. My favorite hobby is to go to a place and learn its history – listen to its stories. Some are so compelling they cry out for a new platform. And almost all of them bear repeating.

Many stories just demand that my characters relive them. So I weave them into my narrative.

FQ: In line with my previous question, is (or was) there ever a time in the Cornelia Rose Series when you wanted to ‘break away’ and write something completely off-topic?

COLLEN: Yes – Stories of all types, of all places and cultures captivate me. Many causes compel me to champion them. Many of these ‘off topic’ stories have already found their way into my blogs. But some ideas are hastily typed and saved on my laptop with the hopes that when the time is ripe I will find them and weave them into a new work.

FQ: Often when I read a terrific body of work, I find myself wondering if there is a lot of the blood of the writer that runs through the main character. In this case, how close is J.F. Collen’s personality and demeanor to that of Cornelia Entwhistle?

COLLEN: I certainly draw on my own likes and dislikes when shaping Cornelia Rose, but more than being an alter ego for me, Nellie pushes the envelope in ways I would not. I have bestowed a few traits on her that I wish I had myself.

FQ: I always enjoy your attention to the Lord and faith in your books. The nuances come from heart (vs. ‘the fear of God’). Without turning this into a political rant, do you find there is somewhat of a taboo of how far you can take your pen with writing with a reverence and belief in today’s climate? How do you temper your pen to strike such a great balance toward faith in all your work?

COLLEN: I do feel a taboo, almost a self-consciousness when writing some of the faithful utterances of the characters. I think people living in the 1850s would have seen and vocalized their love for God even more than I allow them to in my story. Many people then were more openly pious. ‘Old fashioned’ values like love and praise of God are seen by some today as fanatical or uninformed. However, history has also shown us the atrocities committed under the guise of religion. I believe recognition of our Source and gratitude for all that is good and for our many blessings should be expressed freely, regardless of religious institution affiliation. And I hope by writing of a time when people fervently believed their faith would see them through hard times readers will be feel inspired to pursue their own spirituality.

FQ: I must admit times have certainly changed from a woman having to ‘know her place’ from then to now. While neither of us were alive in the 1800’s, what part of that era in the relationship between man and woman would you like to see in today’s society if any?

COLLEN: The romantic in me always wants the heroine to be swept off her feet by a courtly yet macho man! For every movie I watch and book I read I wish a romantic, happy ending for the characters. The glamour of society permeates the action in my first book. While my books are all filled with the curious customs of 1850s courtship, unlike in a romance novel I try to view these relationships with this century’s eye, and not aggrandized or overly idealize them.

FQ: What is the most modern convenience you couldn’t possibly live without and why?

COLLEN: Flush toilets! Although hardly modern – almost all of the ancient civilizations, starting with the Mesopotamians and the Minoans, separately invented them well before the current era – they certainly were not prevalent in the 1850s. I don’t envy Nellie having to dig latrine trenches at every camp, and help her children find a spot along the trail!

The real modern convenience that




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I feel may be undervalued is – modern fabrics. The blends of fibers invented in the last few decades have quietly revolutionized clothing. Nellie wore fabrics that bunched and pilled. Clothes that bagged and sagged. Hey, I remember when jeans were only blue, and a new pair were so stiff and tight they were too uncomfortable to wear without a few washings. Now any pants can feel as forgiving as a pair of sweats.

FQ: You write with such intent in describing the beauty and varied landscapes across this great country of ours. If you had to choose your ‘favorite,’ where would that be and why?

COLLEN: While I love a majestic view from a mountaintop and the thrill of a river racing by, I have to confess my favorite place is the beach. Even my love of the vastness of the prairie is dwarfed by my fascination with the moods of the sea. I love the beach the most in the summer, sun warming the sand, water caressing and cooling feet, clouds scuttling by. But year round the beauty and majesty of the ocean hitting the sand holds me mesmerized.

FQ: One of my ‘go to’ questions I often ask fellow authors is: When you feel the flow of your pen dwindling, how do you get back on your inspirational train?

COLLEN: Traveling inspires me. Watching and listening to people tickles my imagination too. I love happening upon interesting places and observing people going about their lives. A walk down any Main Street can unstick my pen. Certainly a trip to New York City works wonders.

Reading new or undiscovered old stories pulls me into a different time and place and catapultes me into seeing how my characters would react in different situations.

FQ: In line with my question above - do you simply sit down and begin writing and the story writes itself? Do you outline? Do you write every day? What is your most inspired time in the day to write?

COLLEN: My writing habits seem to change with every book. Sometimes the story does write itself. But only after a lot of research. Most time times I find little tidbits I want to include when reading histories, observing people, or viewing landscapes. In writing this particular series, sometimes finding something old sparks a storyline, or a plot twist, like seeing the beautiful laundry tubs in a mansion in St. Paul Minnesota, or a pie cabinet in Museum Village in Monroe, NY.

I try to write every day. Which means I probably write about 5 days a week. I never outlined, until just the other day I took the table of contents for the next book in the Journey of Cornelia Rose Series and started jotting notes about things I wanted to include in each chapter that was already drafted and placing new chapters & material in the chapter lineup. Weird! But it seemed like the right thing to do. Usually I make notes, either on my laptop, or if that is not handy, little scraps of paper – and then after I have a draft I find all the scraps and make sure I didn’t forget to include any of the material. The scraps have all kinds of things – words I found that a particular character should use, historical events I want to include, clothing I want someone to wear, plot twists, names I love and habits for characters.

FQ: When you meet someone for the first time and there is an instant connection, do you find yourself beginning to write this person in your head as a future character in one of your books? If so, how often has this occurred (and who made the cut and into one of your books)?

COLLEN: Yes. Sometimes it is just something someone says, that I know one of my characters will want to say. Sometimes it is a personality I’ll want to include, or a story someone told. Or a way that someone speaks, or a mannerism. My favorite thing to find is a name. I met a man named Nigel Goodnuf. Come on! His name has to be made into a character.

I try to not steal the whole persona of anyone I know! I fashion many of my characters with a sprinkling of traits from several people.

FQ: Once again, I commend you for another wonderful read. Thank you for your time. I always look forward to reading your books and wonder if you have embarked on your next writing journey. If so, are you able to share a little nugget?

COLLEN: I have two more books coming in this series. I have the fourth book well on its way. I am almost ready for the editing process. Which often time lasts almost as long as it takes me to write the book in the first place and then takes on a life of its own! And the fifth book is mapped out.

In my travels I have amassed a lot of primary sources for a WWII book. That might be next. Or, I can turn to the pilot script I wrote for an office sitcom, or the new children’s book I drafted on the back of an ad for a surfboard!