Today I have the great honor of hosting Schuyler McConkey, the author of War of Loyalties for an interview!
If you’ve read much on my blog you know how much I love War of Loyalties and how many memories I have made with her during its formative years. But if you are new here, here’s the cover and description to whet your appetite:
April, 1917. A ring of German spies threatens the coastal town of Folkestone, England. Newly-recruited agent Ben Dorroll must uncover which British citizens are traitors to their country. When his first attempt at espionage falls prey to a trap laid by German sympathizers, the security of the British Secret Service is threatened. Feeling lost in a strange country and aching for a steady place to call home, he wants to resign and go back to his American medical work. But when he learns that his family identity holds the key to capturing the spy ring, Ben has no choice but to unite with the mysterious Jaeryn Graham so that the truth can be discovered.
In the aftermath of the Irish Rebellion, Jaeryn Graham’s British colleagues look warily on his Irish background. Always up for a challenge, he thinks his new mission in the Secret Service should be an opportunity to prove his prowess. But after encountering death and alienating two agents, he finds the road to victory isn’t as easy as he thought. Unless he can win the loyalties of his newest assistant, Ben Dorroll, his secret ambitions and his perfect success record will be destroyed.
And now, for the interview! Don’t forget to check out the giveaway below; it ends tonight!
Greetings, Schuyler! I am so excited to finally host you here on The Herosinger!
Aww, this is the best moment ever!! Thank you so much for hosting me, Emily!
First question. You ready?
You and I have had many talks about the impact of books on culture and readers. Can you share a little of your personal vision and why you decided to become an author?
Wow, that’s such a good question. To be honest, I feel like a lot of my vision as a writer is still forming. At first my vision was simply to write a good story and fill what I felt like was a gap in the market—I thought it seemed unfair that big, twisty books should be regulated to the 19th century, and I wanted to imitate my favorite authors from that time period.
I think I decided to become an author because I gut-level loved this story so much, and the characters inside it. I wanted to see them come to print, and it was worth the blood, sweat, and tears to make it happen. It really was a heart-project.
And now it’s starting to morph into other books that have captured my heart as well.
That’s fascinating. I think part of being an author is changing and constantly being shaped by the books we read. Here’s a question now about your own book: Why is Ben your protagonist? What does he bring to the book that makes him the right one to tell the story through?
I love this question, because I love him!
He grew out of a childhood love that I had for one of my favorite characters–someone who was hardworking, invested in family, and didn’t have a lot but made the most of it. I think actually he’s the perfect protagonist because of how normal he is. His whole aim in life has been to make ends meet, and the only dreams he’s ever had have already come true. But then he’s thrust into this world he doesn’t like, full of quirky, unique people. His normalcy nicely highlights their uniqueness. He’s plunged into this whole new world of espionage, one that they’re used to, and he brings fresh questions to why they do the things they do, and what makes it right.
But I think he shines in his own right, too. He’s forced outside his comfort zone, to care about things he’s never cared about before, and to realize that his perspective has been a limited one up to this point. He embodies integrity and home, which counteracts the shifting identities and morals of men more experienced than him.
Along similar lines, what is Ben’s greatest flaw and greatest strength? And would he answer differently?
His greatest flaw is that his perspective is limited and somewhat legalistic—he easily loves people he understands and agrees with, but he doesn’t like to let people into his life who are different than him.
But I think his greatest strength is when he loves someone, his sole desire is to take care of the people he loves in the very best way possible. His love is steadfast and self-effacing and ready to sacrifice.
Haha! I don’t think he’d like to answer for himself at all, but if I he did, I think he’d say is greatest flaw is to cherish resentment and his greatest strength is the ability to put in a hard day’s work.
What is your favorite thing about each of your main characters?
I love this question.
Jaeryn: He’s like a shooting star, full of passion and charisma and Ireland.
Terry: At least at the beginning of the book, he’s an absolute teddy bear of kindness and fun.
Charlotte: She’s what I like to think of as a warrior wife—someone who, while never called to fight physical battles, will emotionally throw on her armor and watch over the people she loves.
And just to throw in Ben again: I love that he’s quiet, with a great capacity to love and be loved.
Lovely descriptions of all of them! Back to the theme of favorites, what is your favorite memory from writing or revising War of Loyalties?
Oh, definitely that second draft year we spent together. It was so fun to hear speculations and cheer and cry and get all of the Council’s lovely feedback on the story. That really made the book what it is today, because it departed significantly from the first draft. Having that one chapter per week immersive experience was something I’ll never forget.
It was definitely an experience I and the Council will never forget. We had so much time to speculate, and I think our feedback was that much better because of all the time we spent thinking about it.
Next one. Describe War of Loyalties to us in five separate words.
Spy. Home. Friendship. Bittersweet. Epic.
Ooh, those are good ones! I can definitely vouch for their accuracy, too! *wipes away tears*
Here’s a fun one: What’s the craziest thing you’ve done in the name of writing or researching for this book?
Oh, wow, that’s a great question! Perhaps researching things like sucking chest wounds and drug overdoses (that last came up with nasty results; I don’t recommend researching it).
Eww. The uglier side of the research business for sure! On the subject of difficult things, you seem to have a lot of hard ethics in your themes (espionage, deliberate killing in war time, and so on). What made you decide to tackle these themes, and how does this play a role in your goals as an author?
Wow, that’s such a good question. I actually started out War of Loyalties as an ambitious sixteen-year-old, thinking I was going to write a novel that talked about what’s right and wrong for espionage. Some time later, I realized I was in over my head. It’s such a big topic, and I knew nothing about it.
I think one of the best things I did, at the suggestion of a friend, was to read a spy manual from WW2. While War of Loyalties was already in a later draft at that point, the spy manual showed me that real men are trained to do these things, and this is what they have to do.
I think what brought in one of the more dramatic scenes towards the first half of the book was the knowledge you can’t write a big book that has only quiet events. You have to put in the flashier side of spying to maintain the pace of the story. But I tried to handle it with compassion, while not glossing over the fact that it existed and is a normal part of espionage.
I will say, espionage is a tough subject to tackle or incorporate, and I think you’ve done quite a good job at striking the balance.
Thank you so much! That’s so reassuring to hear!
What was the most helpful piece of writing advice you received during the process?
My most recent piece of helpful advice was from my editor, who marked places I was telling instead of showing. Sometimes I had no idea it was telling, and when I took a good, hard look at it and rewrote the scenes, they came alive in a vivid, active way that I love way more than before he marked them. I had to kill a few darling lines, but they were worth it.
That’s the beauty of editing, isn’t it? And it’s totally worth the price of a few lines.
What do you hope your readers come away with after reading War of Loyalties?
I hope they have more book friends to love in the characters. I hope it inspires them to see how beautiful stories and characters can be. And I hope it touches their hearts with laughter and tears and they walk away enriched because of it. As a Christian artist, I want to create beautiful things that show a kaleidoscope of emotion, so if the reader can experience that emotion with me, I am blessed!
Beautiful. If your first readers are any indication, I think you have accomplished that.
Can you give us a little teaser for the future? What can we look forward to from you in the coming months/years?
I’d love to! My next project is War of Honor. I want to delve into good men in espionage that are both German and British and pit them against each other for an epic conflict.
I’m also taking a look at modern fiction, outlining a novel set in London which explores the Syrian refugee crisis.
Eeep! So much to look forward to!! So we come to our last question of the day, and it’s a little bit of an odd one: Which three characters would you want at your side if you were stranded on an island, and why?
Starlin King, Ann Meikle, and Fenton?
No. Not them.
How about Ben and Jaeryn and Pearlie (because Pearlie’s a good cook).
Excellent choices! Just enough sense and ingenuity to keep you alive (and hopefully get you off the island!).
It has been simply wonderful talking to you today.
Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us all, and I look forward to seeing the reception this book will get—and, of course, your future books!
Thank you so much for hosting me on your blog, Emily! It’s amazing to be at this moment! Thanks so much for supporting the book all these years.
First Prize Winner:
-Paperback copy of War of Loyalties
-“Jaeryn’s Vow” 8×10 poster
-Custom War of Loyalties mug
Second Prize Winner:
-Ebook of War of Loyalties
-Real vintage Folkestone postcard (this is a postcard that has actually been posted in 1917.)
Third Prize Winner: (open to international winners)
-Ebook of War of Loyalties