Widely known for her inspirational Amish fiction, such as the Families of Honor novels, Shelley Gray has branched out with A TEXAN’S PROMISE, a Western set in the late 1800s that marks the start of The Heart of a Hero series. In this interview, Gray, a native Texan, discusses this shift in genres, muses about her main characters, defines what a true “hero” is to her, and explains how writing books has enabled her to further explore her faith.
Question: Your readers know you as a writer of Amish fiction. What led you to write a western set in the late 1800s?
Shelley Gray: I live near an Amish community, so writing Amish fiction made sense. However, I have to say that writing historical westerns makes me very happy. I first wrote A TEXAN’S PROMISE for myself. I had hopes that it would sell, and that other people might like it, but I mainly wrote it for fun, as kind of my treat for staying on deadline with my other books. In addition, my father was a big fan of Louis L’Amour novels, and we used to watch old black and white westerns together. When I wrote A TEXAN’S PROMISE, it made me feel closer to him --- he passed away years ago.
Q: Did you have any trepidation about writing A TEXAN’S PROMISE because of your reputation as an Amish fiction novelist?
SG: I have to say I didn't have any trepidation at all. I enjoy writing and making up stories, I always have. I love writing about the Amish, but I am not Amish. I like imagining all kinds of novels. For me, writing A TEXAN’S PROMISE was a wonderful chance to write about the old west, and create a setting filled with heartache and bad guys and horses and romance. I can honestly say that every moment I spent writing A TEXAN’S PROMISE was joyful for me.
Q: Where did the characters of Clayton Proffitt and Vanessa Grant come from?
SG: For Clayton, I wanted a hero who was larger than life. For me, he was everything a hero should be, strong and dependable and stalwart and oh, so handsome. He was so honorable that I had to work hard to make him have some flaws! For Vanessa, I knew I wanted a heroine who discovers that she's stronger than she ever imagined. And, well, I had to make sure she was worthy of Clayton! I started the book not from an outline like I usually do, but from a scene in my head. That scene was the first chapter of A TEXAN’S PROMISE.
Q: What type of research did you do for A TEXAN’S PROMISE?
SG: Well, I'm from Texas, and lived for ten years in Colorado, so a lot of the setting and scenery came from either living in the area, or visiting those parts. The rest of the research came from a large variety of books about the Old West, and an old book I found, which was a memoir written by a Texas Ranger.
Q: A TEXAN’S PROMISE is the first in The Heart of a Hero series. How do you define a hero?
SG: For me, a hero is a person who will reach outside what is comfortable to do what is right. I don't think being a hero is easy --- after all, poor Clayton had to be willing to leave his home and his job in the middle of the night, all because it was best for Vanessa. Never once does he regret his decision. That's heroic to me! I've truly loved writing about three men who do their best to overcome odds to be hero-worthy in this series.
Q: What role does your faith play while writing?
SG: I start each novel with a Bible verse that I refer to while I'm writing. However, I truly feel that God is with me when I write. I write fast, and sometimes I just don't know how the characters manage to say the things they do. It just happens! That's when I know I haven't been writing alone. In addition, many of my characters struggle with their faith, or have questions. In a couple of cases, their questions are mine. I feel that each of us is on her own faith journey. Writing books enables me to have an outlet to explore my faith. I feel very honored and blessed to have the opportunity to write for the inspirational market.
© Copyright 2011 by Shelley Shepard Gray. Reprinted with permission by Avon Inspire.