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Proper Romance author Sarah Eden on how creating characters helps her understand God

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Author Sarah Eden shines in the world of proper romance novels, a genre that allows readers to enjoy romance at its best and at its cleanest. With a bachelor’s degree in research and a passion for history, Sarah weaves intricate and accurate details into her captivating books. We recently asked her about her life and her latest book, Wyoming Wild.

Emily Abel: To start things off, what is one thing on your bucket list?

Sarah Eden: One thing I have wanted to do for decades is live for a year in Ireland. It’s my heart’s homeland, I like to say. I’d love to live there—explore the museums and the countryside and Irish literature.

EA: Oh, that’s a great idea. Ireland seems like an amazing place to be. So what inspired you to begin writing?

SE: I actually started writing on a dare, which is a very strange way to decide to become a writer. I had been complaining to my mother that I couldn’t find the type of books I was really looking for. So she challenged me to write the book I wanted to read. I took up the challenge and discovered I enjoyed it. And 70 books later, I guess it’s what I’m doing with my life!

EA: That first book you wrote on the dare was The Kiss of a Stranger, which became a USA Today bestseller. How much revision did the book go through from when you first wrote it?

SE: It went through the standard editing process; there was a lot of tightening up the writing, just improving the actual craft, because I was pretty new. But the story itself, and the characters all remained very, very close to what I initially wrote.

EA: That is pretty inspiring. If you were speaking to someone who may not have read a proper romance novel, why might you suggest they give it a try?

SE: One of the incredible things about the proper romance genre is that there's a huge variety in the stories that are offered. You have everything from the very traditional romances that you would expect, and then there’s mystery, there’s suspense. We have books that are steampunk, so they have a very much a fantasy aspect to them. There’s such a variety that I feel like almost any reader could find something in that line that they would enjoy.

EA: My 16-year-old sister and her friends are big fans of your books. How do you hope young readers, especially young women, are influenced by your novels?

SE: I try very, very hard to write characters that are real, in that they have strengths, and they have weaknesses. They have things that they’re working on; they have ways they’d like to be better. Too often in the romance genre as a whole there can be this difficulty of books that feature characters that feel almost too good to be true—they come across as perfect. And I think in a lot of ways, it can be very discouraging, especially for young people who are still learning who they are and sorting out who they want to be.

I want them to recognize that part of the journey is growing and improving and learning and becoming the person that you want to be. I hope they walk away from it feeling hopeful about the future, feeling excited about what's coming, but also recognizing that having strengths and having weaknesses is part of being human. And when we're striving to be better, that's enough. We don't have to be perfect where we are.

EA: I love that. So I want to talk about Wyoming Wild, which was released at the beginning of March. What excites you most about this book?

I got to lean really heavily into the Western novel. There’s riding the range, and there’s sheriffs, and US marshals, and dastardly villains. And it was really, really fun! I didn't grow up in Wyoming, but I grew up in the West, so these are the kinds of stories I was surrounded by all the time. My mother was always a big fan of Zane Grey, and my grandfather loves westerns movies and old television programs. So I was always really fascinated by that genre of story. While there have been elements of Western novels in other books I've written, this is the first one that I think I would truly, truly describe as a Western.

EA: Exciting! Were there any challenges that you encountered, really diving into this western style?

SE: One thing that was tough is that there is a lot to do with horses in this book. I didn’t grow up around horses, but fortunately, I have a very good friend who did. So I spent a lot of time talking with her about how to hitch a wagon, how to saddle a horse, and what you have to do to prepare for a journey on horseback. So my biggest challenge was my own ignorance. But fortunately, I’m not afraid to ask questions.

EA: In addition to learning about horses, what other research did you do for this book?

SE: I spent lots of time reading primary sources from the era. I read a lot of newspaper articles; I read letters that people wrote back and forth to get a feel for a time and a place. Because I’ve set this in an actual area of the world at a specific time, I researched where the territorial prison was, I researched how the US Marshals program was structured in that area, how long it took to travel from one place to the next, and how extensive the railroad system was. So a lot of the research for this book was logistics, which isn’t always the case. But because there’s a lot of movement in this story, I had to figure out how to get people from place to place. So that was fun, but it is challenging. It’s a good thing I like research, because there's a lot of it!

EA: Do you have a favorite part of the process of book writing? From the research to writing to the editing?

SE: I could probably say every part of it has aspects that I enjoy and aspects that aren't my favorite. I do love to do the research; I literally have to set timers to tell myself to get back to writing because I get down that research rabbit hole. I just I love it; it’s so fascinating. I love the writing part of it because you’re creating this world in this story. I’ve come to love the editing process because it fine tunes what I’ve written; it makes the words shine on a page, which is always a wonderful experience. So there are aspects of each that I like. Each are also challenging. But overall, I enjoy the creation process.

EA: I know you are passionate about creating strong characters. What do you feel like it takes to truly come to know your characters for both for their strengths and their flaws. And how has that shaped the way you understand humanity?

SE: I am what in the writing world we call a plotter. I plan out most everything ahead of time. And I almost always start with a character. I have hundreds of questions that I asked about that character, everything from what they look like, to what is their goal in life? What’s their greatest fear? What is their strength? Where do they have a weakness, what are they struggling with? Because I feel like once I have a pretty complete picture of who that character is, I have a better idea of where they’re going in life and what their obstacles are going to be. But I also feel like by the time I’ve done that, and really come to know them as a whole and complete person, I have a lot more compassion for them. I find myself more likely to be cheering for them, wanting to see them succeed, because again, I see the whole of who they are.

I’ve had many moments as I’ve been working on characters where I’ve had a bolt of the profound—where I realize that so often when we’re interacting with other people, we maybe struggle to feel compassion for them because we don't see the whole of who they are.

That’s helped me better understand how even in our flaws, even in our struggles, and even when we get things terribly, terribly wrong, how it is that God has so much love and compassion for us. I think in large part it's because He does see the whole of who we are. He knows us so well that He is also cheering for us and longs for us to make that journey that we're on and to be happy.

It’s easy for us to think, ‘How could God love me when He knows my weaknesses and the mistakes?’ But as I’ve done the work of creating characters, it started to become more clear: You almost love them even more because you know what they’re struggling with. And I think that plays a part in divine love. He knows what we're struggling with, and He loves us all the more for the efforts we make in our struggles. When I first started writing, I didn't expect to see these gospel parallels, but the longer I'm at it, the more profound the experience becomes.

EA: Fascinating. What advice do you have for writers for reaching that point of connections with your characters?

SE: My advice tends to be to ask the questions that will help you know who your character is at the core of themselves. Because that guides what they do, it guides the choices they make and guides the journey they're on. And you ask them at the point when it makes sense for you. Some authors like to discover it as they go, some like me like to plan it out ahead of time. Others once they're done, will ask a few questions just to make sure they have consistency and got everything that they wanted to.

EA: You are going to have a busy year of book releases. And writing is a ton of work, so congratulations. What have you learned about the eternal principle of hard work both as a writer and in other areas of your life, such as your role as a mother?

SE: In 2023, I’ll have eight releases, so it’s going to be an exceptionally busy year. An interesting thing about writing is that by the time a book releases, it’s been years since you started it, years since you finished it, years since you turned it in. So it’s one of those undertakings where the fruits of your labor don’t come for quite a while, they’re delayed. So it’s that delayed gratification, which I think has been actually a very helpful thing, both for me and for my children to see as they’ve grown. We don’t always get the payoff of hard work immediately, but it does come. And when you’re willing to stick to something and keep working at it, eventually you do reap the rewards of that. Whether it is a sense of accomplishment, or an actual tangible thing that we can present.

And because writing is such a long process, it requires consistency, which I think has also been a good lesson for me and I hope it's something my children have picked up on as well. You just have to show up day after day and do your work and stick to things.

But I’ve also been learning the concept of rest. It’s easy to be all consumed by something that you’re pursuing and forgetting that rest is important as well, giving yourself a chance to recover to have a break, to reorient yourself. Writing can be an all-consuming task, because the stories are in our heads all the time. But having a day of rest worked into your schedule? I've come to really appreciate the concept of that over time as well.

EA: I love your point about consistency. Because it'd be nice if you could sit down and write the novel in like one day, but that's not going to work. Did you have anything else to add about how you try and instill that principle of work in your family?

SE: My kids have seen me write their whole life; I first started writing when my youngest was a baby. They’ve seen that consistency of showing up every day, and putting the time in, and putting the work in. And while early on, there wasn’t a whole lot that was truly visible that came of that, as things have built and as there have been more books released and more things completed, I think it’s helped them recognize that we were all growing in this process. The work we do early on builds as we go. So even when you feel like ‘maybe what I’m doing right now isn't paying the dividends, but I wish it were,’ remember that it’s all cumulative, it’s not just accomplishing what you’re working on, but becoming the person that you want to be. It’s the work of a lifetime. So I very much hope that my kids have recognized that the value of the work we do every day, whether it’s actual physical labor or the job where we’re employed, or just the work of becoming a better person. It’s that consistency, day after day of showing up and doing your best.

EA: You’re inspiring me. What I do today matters!

SE: It does! And it doesn't have to be earth shattering. It’s just that everyday effort of being a little better and doing your best. It’s like the hymn “Lead, Kindly Light.” We would love to see the entire path, but as we grow in faith, we learn to recognize that even just being able to take one step is enough because we have faith that in the end, we'll be who we want to be, where we long to be.

EA: I have one final question for you that is based on what President Nelson taught in during the October 2022 general conference. What does it means to you to overcome the world and find rest in Jesus Christ?

SE: We live in a world that is so full of noise. And I don’t mean necessarily literal noise, but so many voices, so many causes, so many pulls in various directions. I’ve come to really deeply appreciate the concept of rest in Christ, that when we are communing with Him, when we’re leaning on Him for direction and for guidance, He helps to quiet the noise of the world. Then we have the peace and reassurance to take our next step and continue down the path.

EA: I love that because you’re right: even with all the good voices, you could feel like you’re never doing enough or being good enough, because there’s just so many ways to be pulled. Anything else on your mind before we wrap up?

SE: I don’t always get to talk about the gospel in interviews as a writer, so it’s been great to be able to do that. I always try to be a witness and to imbue gospel principles because it’s such a part of who I am. But to be able to openly and unabashedly talk about gospel principles—I love it.

EA: That makes me wonder—have you ever considered writing historical fiction books with a Latter-day Saint tie? Something similar to Gerald Lund’s The Work and the Glory?

That hasn’t been the type of story that’s kind of come to me, but I haven’t eliminated the possibility. One fun thing about writing books that aren’t specifically Latter-day Saint, is that you get to bring some of those aspects of the gospel and aspects of faith to people outside of our faith because they aren’t intimidated by a book that feels more general. And yet as they're reading it, you're like, ‘Oh, now you get to learn about the concept of hope, and you get to learn about the concept of redemption,’ because it’s in there, even if they don’t realize it is. So, sneaky missionary work, I guess!

Wyoming Wild

US Marshal John “Hawk” Hawking is one of the most respected lawmen in the West, so when a telegram arrives from the small town of Sand Creek warning him of a death threat against him, he immediately begins an investigation.

Posing as a farmer, Hawk heads to Sand Creek, a town ruled by a violent and corrupt sheriff. Only one person is trying to stop him—Liesl, the sheriff’s own daughter. When she meets the self-assured and attractive new farmer, John, she hopes he might help her in the fight for justice.

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