I had the delight of reading A Reluctant Melody by Sandra Ardoin, an engaging historical novel set in 1890s North Carolina. It’s the story of Kit Barnes, a recovering alcoholic seeking a place where he can establish a mission to help others who are driven to drink, and widow Joanna Cranston Stewart, who happens to own the perfect place for such a mission. She also also happens to be someone from Kit’s past–the past he is trying so very hard to overcome. Meanwhile, Joanna is coping with some dark secrets of her own. Toss in a blackmailer and you have a powerful story that won’t let you go.
Recently Sandra kindly let me grill her about the book. Enjoy our conversation!
Jennifer Lamont Leo: Sandra, tell us about your inspiration to write A Reluctant Melody. How did the story come about?
Sandra Ardoin: For my 2014 Christmas novella The Yuletide Angel, I needed an internal conflict for my hero, so I gave Hugh an estranged, alcoholic, ne’er-do-well brother named Kit, who had betrayed him by seducing the woman Hugh had intended to marry. Years later, Kit shows up on Hugh’s doorstep, sober and spiritually redeemed. Does Hugh trust and forgive him or not?
I love it when an author takes a minor character who interests me (the reader) and develops a new story “starring” that character. And I’m always writing a secondary character who intrigues me (the writer). As I wrote the scenes with Kit, I wanted to know more about him and reunite him with Joanna, the woman he’d seduced, so I proposed a story to Ann Tatlock, my editor at Heritage Beacon Fiction. A Reluctant Melody released last January.
JLL: A Reluctant Melody deals with the thorny topic of alcoholism, along with the brighter side of recovery. In your research, did you discover any differences in attitudes toward alcohol and its treatment in the book’s time period (1890s) versus today?
SA: These days, we consider alcoholism a disease and alcoholics can seek physical and psychiatric help to break the drinking cycle. In Kit’s day, there were no rehab centers or Alcoholics Anonymous. (The latter didn’t come along until the 1930s.) Many doctors believed in weaning a patient off alcohol through the use of other drugs like opiates. Kit didn’t believe in compounding the problem by exchanging one drug for another. He was a little ahead of his time. 🙂 I wanted his mission to encompass the shelter efforts of the era’s Salvation Army with Christian encouragement, a bit of a holistic approach when it came to healthy eating and exercise, and the encouragement of AA.
JLL: Why did you choose to set the story in North Carolina in the 1890s? Any particular reason?
SA: I set The Yuletide Angel in northern Virginia and the backstory in Philadelphia, but didn’t want my heroine, Joanna, near either of those places. It added a little more conflict to transplant her in the South through marriage. I also wanted a town that wasn’t city-sized, but not too small. After some research, I created a growing fictional town that was a cross between the NC town I live in and Dillworth, a community that is now part of Charlotte. I loved the idea of adding a horse-drawn trolley and a recreational park with a small lake—both things Dillworth had in the 1890s.
JLL: I loved the theme of music threaded throughout the book. Joanna seeks solace in playing the piano. Are you a musician, too?
SA: I’m afraid the closest I come to being a musician is singing along with some of my favorite country music performers on the radio. Believe me, no one would pay to hear me sing to them! 🙂
JLL: Can we look forward to a sequel?
SA: I was asked this question recently by a reader. Right now, I have no plans for another book in this line. That doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it, though. As I wrote, I considered doing something with Ben Greer or Darcy Baird. I think they’d both like to experience a happy-ever-after.
JLL: Tell us about your writing journey. Was it your life’s plan to become a novelist?
SA: I’ve had a long and uphill writing journey. I say “uphill” not referring to difficulty seeking publication, but in length of project. (Think of an upside-down pyramid. :)) I began with small projects—greeting cards and posters–and was first published in 1986. In 1992, while my child napped, I tried my hand at short stories (mostly children’s) for denominational publications. The more I wrote, the more I was published. Off and on, I tried to write a novel, but always believed God was saying it was not my time … until 2008. My first completed novel is buried somewhere in a virtual file and will stay that way unless He prompts me to rewrite it. Then came a handful of other unpublished, yet completed, novels. My first published book was The Yuletide Angel for Heritage Beacon Fiction. In turn, it spawned my first novel A Reluctant Melody.
JLL: What other projects (writing and otherwise) are currently on your horizon?
SA: Frankly, the past several years have been pretty hectic with work, so I’m taking a little time to breathe, although that doesn’t mean I’m not writing.
This summer I completed a pitch contest for Love Inspired Historical, making it to the final round—submission of a full manuscript. Unfortunately, publication didn’t work out, but it was a wonderful educational experience in learning to write for them. I’ll be submitting there again in the future.
I’ve written in the historical genre for eight years, my favorite time period being the second half of the 1800s. However, I’m also a lifelong fan of reading contemporary romantic suspense, so I’m brainstorming a series in that genre while also wanting to keep my hand in the past.
JLL: Where can readers connect with you on the Internet?
Find me at www.sandraardoin.com and on the Seriously Write blog. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, and Pinterest. I love connecting with readers, so please become a member of my reader community by signing up for my newsletter. You’ll receive quarterly updates and other tidbits about my writing.
JLL: If there’s anything you’d like to tell readers, please do!
SA: I just want to say I’m so thankful God gave me an outlet for getting those crazy people out of my head :), as well as an opportunity to minister in a fun way that suits this introvert’s shy personality. If God uses one of my stories to touch or change a person, it’s all good.
JLL: Thanks, Sandra. I appreciate your taking the time to chat with me! Blessings on your writing journey.
SA: Thanks so much for letting me share, Jennifer!
Look for A Reluctant Melody at your favorite bookseller.