Monday, September 23, 2019

Originality by Design: An Incurable Romantic Anglophile ~ by Author Mary Ann Bernal

Originality by Design: An Incurable Romantic Anglophile ~ by Author Mary Ann Bernal

An Incurable Romantic Anglophile ~ by Author Mary Ann Bernal

I guess one would say my writing career began in the fourth grade where my teacher was impressed with an original poem of twenty-seven words, and yes, I still remember the verse. Her encouragement remained with me throughout high school when my abilities were recognized during extra credit presentations. Although my college degree is in business administration, I attended creative writing workshops throughout the ensuing years.

Required reading during tenth grade was “Ivanhoe” by Sir Walter Scott and “To Have and to Hold” by Mary Johnston. Why do I recall these particular novels? The aforementioned titles are the building blocks of my literary aspirations. 

Ivanhoe, the heroic knight who saves the Jewish maiden, Rebecca, and marries his love, the lady Rowena. This story is set during the reign of Richard the Lionheart in 12th century England. Thus began my love affair with the Middle Ages, specifically, Britannia.

In “To Have and to Hold”, English soldier, Ralph Percy, buys a wife, Jocelyn Leigh. Over the course of the story, husband and wife are separated, and Ralph Percy does go to the ends of the earth to be united with the woman he had come to love. Romantic, isn’t it? 

Blend the two tales and, behold, an incurable Romantic Anglophile finds the perfect genres to explore.

Hollywood also deserves some inspiration credit. During my formative years, period blockbusters such as “Ivanhoe” and “The Vikings” appeared on the big screen. And because these films made money, more followed from “Knights of the Round Table” to “Prince Valiant” and so on. You might recall Hal Foster created a Prince Valiant comic strip in 1937 (before my time) and continued through 1971 (Mr. Foster’s last). 

When did Erik the Viking become a spark? After seeing Kirk Douglas wield a sword, followed by King Alfred, and we must not forget Beowulf.

Of course, life has a way of interfering with literary aspirations, which kept Erik in the recesses of my mind until my son married. Erik now demanded to be heard. He was tired of being in the shadows, he wanted the recognition, he wanted his story told. 

Hold on – I needed to learn the craft because there are rules, aren’t there? Writing workshops were not enough. With the advent of the computer, more choices were open to me. I could enroll in an online course and participate when I had the time, even if it meant wearing my pajamas and drinking coffee at first light.

Success, I completed several courses, so now I could put paper in the typewriter – not really. No need for correcting tape or white-out and forget carbon paper! We had word processing software and all you had to do was backspace to delete a word, and there was Spellcheck! Wow. One drawback with Spellcheck – causes a person to not be overly concerned with possible misspellings – Spellcheck was on the ball, Spellcheck would pick up the slack if auto-correct didn’t fix the error immediately. 

Being an organized person and following established guidelines, I
created an outline, scribbling a few words next to each chapter heading including the characters controlling the story line, Erik and Gwyneth, the femme fatale, who arrived on the scene shortly after Erik dominated my thoughts. But I was not able to start writing yet. There were the supporting cast members to be named, there were locations to add, there were maps to draw and a glossary to list archaic words for historical fiction newbies.

Is it safe to assume the story starts now? Well, sort of: we do meet Erik and Gwyneth in the first chapter, and they do continue to dominate the early pages of the novel, but something unforeseen happens, and I wasn’t ready for the onslaught of the secondary and less important characters demanding, and I mean DEMANDING more “screen time”. 

What was happening here? Who were these fictional characters that had come out of nowhere as the story developed? Why should I have listened to them? It was getting out of hand and complicated because now, I had to have a map of Wessex updated frequently so I could remember which character was where at any given moment. Suddenly, I found myself fully immersed in an epic, voluminous
narrative, and my Erik the Viking novel had evolved into a trilogy. How could I, in good conscience not tie up loose ends when everyone deserved an ending, happy or not? We, the reader, want to know.

I did not wish to leave Wessex yet and decided to write a character spin-off, a coming of age story with “The Briton and Dane: Concordia”. This time I fought with the minor characters, refusing to let them “rain on Concordia’s parade.” They tried, but they failed. And I was proud of maintaining control. I was in charge, wasn’t I? Not my fictional characters.

Reflecting on Erik and Gwyneth’s role in the trilogy had me feeling guilty because the trilogy wasn’t really just their story, it was David and Helga, and Stephen and Elizabeth, and Rigr and Dalla – you get the drift. There was nothing else to do but try again with another novel, “The Briton and the Dane: Timeline.” Grant it, “The Briton and the Dane: Timeline” is a time travel romantic fantasy, and Gwyneth is transported back to England before William the Conqueror’s invasion in 1066. While they might not be the original Erik and Gwyneth in my mind’s eye, it is still their connection, a bond that transcends time. And I was successful! I finally wrote my Erik the Viking novel.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. I had to leave Wessex and move on to other projects. It was hard saying goodbye to these wonderful characters who took up a good portion of my life, but I would not change anything, because I had fun in Alfred the Great’s England.

Mary Ann Bernal
Mary Ann Bernal is an avid history buff who also enjoys science fiction. She is a passionate supporter of the U.S. military, having been involved with letter-writing campaigns and other military support programs since Operation Desert Storm. All of Mary Ann’s novels and short story collections are dedicated to fallen military heroes who gave their lives defending our freedom. A prolific writer originally hailing from New York, Mary Ann now resides in Elkhorn, Nebraska.  You can contact her at the following links:


Monday, September 2, 2019

Pam Lecky: A Conversation with Author Mary Ann Bernal


A Conversation with Author Mary Ann Bernal

Today in the Library we have Mary Ann Bernal who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into her life as an author.
You are very welcome, Mary Ann, please introduce yourself:
Thanks for inviting me, Pam. In addition to being an incurable romantic Anglophile history buff, I am also a Science Fiction nerd, dreaming of exploring strange new worlds the minute Captain Kirk commanded the Enterprise. Yes, I am an original Trekkie.
My grandchildren also keep me on my toes, but I am one of their staunchest supporters in all of their extracurricular activities, from sitting in the bleachers for sporting events to orchestra seating for dance competitions.
I am a passionate supporter of the U.S. military, having been involved with letter-writing campaigns and other military support programs since Operation Desert Storm. All of my novels and short story collections are dedicated to fallen military heroes who gave their lives defending our freedom.
Which genre do you write in and what draws you to it?
Since I had always wanted to write a story about a Viking prince, my genre of choice was historical fiction. After having written five novels in The Briton and the Dane series, I broadened my fan base to include contemporary short stories in the Scribbler Tales collection, and more recently, I have added a Space Opera, Planetary Wars: Rise of an Empire, to the mix.

My writing style varies because my interests are wide-ranging. I love history but I also love science fiction, so why not pen what I enjoy? It is always good to leave one’s comfort zone to conquer new challenges. Diversity is a good thing and one should not be limited in scope. My pendulum swings from the Ninth Century to futuristic worlds.
Are you an avid reader? Do you prefer books in your own genre or are you happy to explore others?
Yes. I love to read, but I do not limit myself to one specific category. It is better to broaden one’s perspective then remain stagnant in one area. To grow, one must experience new things. What better way to discover different mindsets then to read different genres? Of course, there will always be favorites, and in many instances, it will be hard to choose the top five.
What part of the writing process do you find most difficult? How do you overcome it?
Ah, writer’s block comes to mind. Is it such a thing? Perhaps, perhaps not. But I am sure most of us have stared at a blank computer screen while our minds wander. Yes, there is the outline. Yes, you know the story, yet you’re stuck.
My solution was to not call it a day after having finished a chapter or a section within a chapter. I will write a few lines for the next section or chapter before leaving the office. The next day when I pull up the file, there are sentences to either change or expand upon. Problem solved.
What was the best piece of writing advice you received when starting out?
Write about what you love because you enjoy it, not because you have to. Some authors will write for the current trend, such as vampire stories. If you don’t love your work, neither will your readers. It does not matter if you’re out of sync. Your work will be discovered. Never settle.
If a movie was made of one of your books, who would you like to play the lead roles?
The Briton and the Dane trilogy selected cast:
Lord Richard – Jeremy Irons; David – James Franco; Stephen – Clive Owen; Erik – Chris Egan; Rollo – Ioan Gruffudd
If truth be told, I have cast the entire lead roles on a spreadsheet since I always picture my characters in my mind’s eye whilst I write.
If you could live the life of a historical figure for one day, who would you choose and what would you get up to?
Eleanor of Aquitaine – she was one feisty wealthy and powerful woman in the Twelfth Century. She was married to Louis VII of France and King Henry II of England. While married to Louis, Eleanor participated in the Second Crusade, leading her Aquitainian soldiers, not of noble birth. It was said she was dressed as an Amazon (warrior women in Greek Mythology) and that point, I would love to prove. What was Eleanor wearing as she and her ladies-in-waiting headed towards the Holy Land? How many men were shamed by her courage?
You have been chosen as a member of the crew on the first one-way flight to Mars – you are allowed to bring 5 books with you. What would they be?
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, To Have and To Hold by Mary Johnston, The Andromeda Strain by Michael Creighton, and Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier. Can I throw in my Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis DVD collections? Tough choices.
Please tell us about your latest published work. 
My next project, in development, is a historical fiction novel set during the First Crusade.
Published works:
The Briton and the Dane collection is an action and adventure drama set in dark ages England when the Vikings terrorized the world. The Briton and the Dane: Timeline is a historical fiction fantasy time travel love story.
Planetary Wars Rise of an Empire is a science fiction/fantasy romantic adventure Space Opera.
Scribbler Tales is a compilation of short stories whose genres include the paranormal, action and adventure, mystery and thrillers, fantasy, romance, drama, and suspense. A single author contemporary fiction anthology.
If you would like to know more about Mary Ann and her work, please check our her links below: