Friday, January 25, 2013

Fantasy, Critiques, and Homeschooling: An Interview with Author Mary Hall

Are any of you thinking that all I do is interview speculative fiction writers? It seems I end up doing those a lot. You may conclude I'm a die-hard sci-fi/fantasy/horror reader. Believe it or not, I'm more into mystery, with suspense right behind. But I see how God can use this style of fiction as a modern day parable.

This month, I'm interviewing Mary Hall, author of Amberly, the beginning of the Crestmere Series. I  got acquainted with Mary in ACFW's large critique group, and had the honor of reading parts of this story.

Jeff Reynolds: Congratulations on getting Amberly published. Can you give us a brief tease about the story, and how did you get inspired?

Mary Hall: 

 Snatched by coldblooded enemies as a declaration of war, Eleanor Williamston finds herself caught in a deadly snare, miles from home and lost in the wilderness. Her heart is drawn to the handsome guardsman who rescues her, but is torn when Captain Marsten challenges her political ideals. Just when she begins to make peace with her own desires, the captain reveals something that makes her choice even more difficult.

There’s something Ellie’s keeping from Marsten as well, which will threaten all he holds dear. Together they must journey through the spectacular and treacherous Aspian mountains, evading enemy pursuit and wrestling through the challenges of wilderness and budding love, only to run headlong into more trouble when they least expect it.

The story behind Amberly and the rest of the upcoming Crestmere Series has been brewing and taking shape in my mind for many years. Hours and hours spent enjoying stories with my daughters while homeschooling have given us appreciation for good story elements and structure, and now we all love to write!

JR: When writing, are you more structured (plotter) or blank pager (seat of the pants)?

MH: I’m chuckling, because I’ve been surprised to find I’m much more a blank pager than I thought I would be. After reworking dozens of scene-by-scene plot plans, I’ve learned to start with nothing more than a general story idea and just start typing. The story flows onto the page over the course of a few months, and I feel like I’m watching a movie!
Then I spend the next bunch of months revamping, revising, and polishing.

JR: I had the honor of critiquing parts of Amberly on the large ACFW Scribes group, and the rule is two crits for each submission. How has reading and critting various authors of different styles helped your writing? And how did their critiques help your writing?

MH: I love stories! Well-written stories, that is. And I’ve found I love helping others shape and perfect their tales as much as I love crafting my own. The beauty of critique groups is that each writer’s unique eye and style adds richness to the writings of the others. We need other writers to catch the errors we miss while typing late at night, to tell us when the picture in our mind hasn’t quite made it through the words into their mind, to share something new they’ve learned at a conference or through their latest perusal of the Chicago Manual of Style, or just to tell us when our sparkly, twisty plot turns either lost them at the crossroads or (horrors!) put them to sleep. I’ve had suspense writers help me ramp up the tension in my stories, and I’ve helped them improve the descriptions and romance in theirs. When I look back at some of the writing I did before joining critique groups, I just laugh! It’s amazing what a difference every critique makes.

JR: How do you work the faith element and a little politics as well into your story? Related -- with some fantasy in the story, is it kind of an allegory, or just a different world?

MH: Amberly is written in “a world that might have been,” in a setting similar to late eighteenth century England, but where a pair of twin Christian kings rule the land. Born in the forest so the firstborn would not be favored, the brothers learned early to trust only one another. Now they reign together, and the challenges they and their people face stir my imagination to ask hard questions about how God really desires His people to relate to one another and govern themselves. Amberly is not an allegory, but I believe our Lord gives us the gift of storytelling to stir our hearts with Biblical truth in ways that traditional teaching can’t. When I look at the parables Jesus used—or the story Nathan used to bring King David to his knees over his sin—I’m awed by the incredible power that stories have to move our spirits and change our hearts. My prayer is that everyone who reads any of my writing will be drawn into a deeper appreciation of God’s grace and a greater desire to live in joyful humility.

JR: What other writing have you done, and what are you currently working on?

MH: Other than professional writing, research and editing, I’ve done revision writing for Sonlight homeschool curriculum, written articles for Home Educating Family magazine (, and published a short story called Healer in Fables For Japan, an anthology of Japanese-style folktales to benefit tsunami victims (

Currently, I’m writing the sequel to Amberly, the second book of a planned series called Crestmere. Come visit my website and blog at to be swept away into a world of fun ideas, recipes, crafts—and conversation about our loving, magnificent God!

JR: What's it like marketing your book, and how do you balance promoting the published book while working on your next project?

MH: For the writing portion of my life, I’m pounding out the first draft of Book Two, working with my publisher to market Amberly, setting up speaking engagements and expanding my web presence, critiquing other writers’ works, continually studying the crafts of writing and speaking, and reading across a broad variety of genres to broaden my writing ability. I do this mainly while my youngest daughter is at kindergarten. The rest of my typical day is spent partly homeschooling her and my high school aged daughter, and doing all the other things a busy Christian mom does for her family, her church, and her community. I continually remind myself that our Lord gives us exactly as many hours as we need to do what He wants us to do, and I rely on His wisdom and strength to keep priorities in order and fulfill His will.

And from time to time I go out with my hubby or friends to laugh and eat chocolate!

JR: Thank you very much for your time.

MH: Thanks so much, Jeff, for your encouraging words and critiques, and for the opportunity to share what’s happening in the world of Amberly!


  1. How lovely to meet another homeschool writer! This book sounds delicious. Thanks for sharing it, Jeff.

  2. Thanks for your kind words, Karla! It's nice to meet you too. I'm convinced all the reading out loud I've done for my girls while homeschooling is what taught me how to write!

  3. Nice interview. It's always interesting to learn what other writers are doing with their skills while creating stories.