we have Western Romance author Pema Donyo visiting. Welcome Pema. I know everyone has their
own writing process…how they come up with ideas, how they name their
characters, how they choose the setting. Can you describe your writing process?
Pema: Ideas are definitely
the most crucial part about that process and also the part writers have the least
control over. Plots are inspired by all kinds of events – I watch a movie, I
read a text, I notice some world event occurring. Daily life is a constant source
of inspiration. Thankfully, I haven’t found a shortage of ideas to write about
I develop the book idea, I write the manuscript during school breaks. I’m still
in college, so the bulk of my writing happens over winter and summer break. It usually
takes me a month to finish the first draft, and then I’ll spend the next few weeks
always happens while I’m still revising is that random conversations will pop
into my head or random events will happen to me that will inspire me to include
a certain scene or strand of dialogue in my story. I have so many e-mail drafts
that I’ve opened just to type, “Include this random part in the story…” and
then I’ll describe it so I can flesh the passage out later. Inspiration occurs
at all aspects of the writing process!
are you working on now?
Pema: I’m taking a break from
historical romance and writing a New Adult contemporary. It’s a modern,
Southern-California-college spin on Pride
and Prejudice. As a college student, I can relate to so many of the scenes
and so much of the dialogue.
read so many New Adult/Young Adult books which are written well, yet at the
same time are completely removed from a teen’s voice. I’m a huge advocate for
more young writers to pursue publication. No one knows our generation better
than we do – we’re currently living it! I started writing this NA contemporary
to present a more realistic look at what college life is like.
did you get the idea for One Last Letter?
Pema: A huge component of One
Last Letter are the anonymous
love letters cowboy Jesse leaves for plantation owner Evelyn. He finds it
easier to express his feelings through pen and paper than in person. I actually
got the idea from noticing so many people basing their relationships largely
around text messaging. Texting is more or less the 21st century
equivalent of letters; it’s a great way to communicate with other people and
also been pretty fascinated by the Western genre recently. I watched the
Hallmark Channel’s adaptations of Janette Oke’s Love Comes Softly series and loved the movies. The Western setting
adds an immediate sense of danger to the story. Living out there in the 1800’s
was as dangerous as it was rewarding. A different kind of community emerged
from the West – hard-working, honest, and innovative. I wanted to capture this
backdrop through writing.
are your favorite traits of Evelyn and Jesse?
Pema: Evelyn Lancaster has
two defining traits – her need to rationalize everything and her workaholic
nature. She’s intelligent and even spent a year in an East Coast female seminary.
But when she returns to Texas, she discovers her true career lies in helping to
run her father’s ranch. The ranch work comes before everything else in her life
– suitors, parties, dresses. She wants someone who’s as driven as she is, but
at the same time her over-analyzation of every situation creates conflict in
her love life. Her pragmatism was what caused her to turn away her childhood
sweetheart when he proposed marriage.
Greenwood spent his teenage years being Evelyn’s best friend and being the
ranch’s leading cowboy. He’s pretty silent most of the time; words don’t come
easy to him. That’s why he leaves unsigned love letters for Evelyn. While seven
years may have changed his friendships and cowboy status, he’s humble to the
end. When he works as a ranch hand for free and offers to invest in the
Lancaster’s ranch, he doesn’t tell any of the other cowboys he’s making the
investment to get the ranch out of financial trouble. However, this modesty
also results in him feeling inadequate about his social standing when he
returns from California with acquired wealth. New money isn’t accepted in the
town of Hamilton, Texas, and he’s aware that Evelyn’s blue-blooded upbringing
was the reason she turned him away all those years ago.
has been the best piece of advice you ever received for your writing career?
Pema: It’s from Meg Cabot,
and she said: “Write the story you would like to read. People will give you all
sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like,
no one else will like it either.” The passage is so true! I write the stories that
I would want to pick up and read. The moment I notice my work is taking a wrong
turn into something I would be disappointed in as a reader, I take a step back
and re-evaluate how I can still salvage the story.
think the biggest thing to keep in mind about writing is not only to never give
up, but also to write for the writing aspect. You don’t pursue creative writing
because you want to, you do it because you
need to. It’s because you can’t imagine a life where you’re not creating
new worlds; it’s because you long to flesh out stories and relationships and
express all the potential situations you want to read about.
Alexis: Pema, thank you so
much for visiting us here at Happily Ever After Thoughts. One Last Letter sounds
like a great read!
out this excerpt from One Last Letter
Evelyn Lancaster wanted to run away as fast as possible.
It was a mistake. It was one colossal, gargantuan
mistake. Worse than Athens ordering the death of Socrates. Worse than
Persephone being kidnapped by Hades. What did she think she was going to do? Seconds
ticked by as she found herself unable to say anything more. Her mouth felt dry.
What was she supposed to say?
He’d changed, more than she would have ever imagined
possible. The boyish frame was filled out, and extra years working on the ranch
had defined the muscles in his arms under his coarse brown shirt. He’d even
grown taller—past six feet, she guessed. His shoulders were broader, and his
cheekbones seemed more pronounced than before. His face carried even more of an
aristocratic air, but his body seemed undeniably more masculine.
Yet the expression was the same. Jesse Greenwood’s same
reticent, admiring expression hadn’t changed as he continued to stare at her
like she was hand-blown glass. His brown hair still flopped lightly in front of
his eyes, causing him to brush it away.
She winced. She hadn’t heard that nickname since she’d
left Hamilton, Texas, for the female seminary in Massachusetts. No one there
ever called her Eve. During classes she’d been “Miss Evelyn” and “Miss
She cleared her throat. She’d anticipated the awkwardness
but not the simple difficulty in forming words. “I returned home a few hours
ago. I thought I should stop by and say hello. Is Preston here? Are any of the
other ranch hands here?”
Jesse blinked. He didn’t respond for a few seconds. The
adoring expression morphed to one of disbelief. “Eve, did you get my letters?”
She bit her lip. “I did.” Evelyn resisted the urge to
embrace him. Doing so would only make it harder to answer his questions with a
lie. Instead, she stood rooted to the spot. She wouldn’t move a muscle; there
was too much she could regret. “They were nice letters. Thank you. But I burned
His eyes became cool steel, all traces of admiration in
his eyes melting away. “Burned them? But you . . .” His jaw was set. “Eve, why
didn’t you write me back?”
“I was busy.” She tore her eyes away from Jesse’s searing
gaze and tried to look behind his shoulder. The sinking feeling in her chest
was surely no more than an echo of the past. She needed to leave before all
rationality left her. “Just let all the other ranch hands know I stopped by.”
“Stop. Eve, I said stop.” Strong hands grabbed both of
her shoulders, and she looked up in alarm toward his furrowed brow and confused
expression. His voice was so much deeper than she’d remembered. “That’s all?
You couldn’t once respond to me?”
She struggled to push against him, but he held her in
place. His tone was rough. It increased in volume, rising with each word that
tumbled out of his mouth.
“What about the promise I made to you? When you told me
that you wanted to marry—”
“Enough!” Evelyn yanked herself out of his hold and
glared. She breathed deeply, as if the extra air would give her the courage she
couldn’t truly conjure up. “I remember what you are referring to. I did receive
your letters. I thank you for them. But I did not respond to you because
whatever we had before I left for school . . .” She gulped. The polite tone of
indifference faded. “This has to end.”
Pema Donyo is a coffee-fueled college student by day and a
creative writer by night. She currently lives in sunny Southern California,
where people wear flip-flops instead of Stetsons and ride in cars instead of
carriages. As a rising sophomore at Claremont McKenna, she’s still working on
mastering that delicate balance between finishing homework, meeting publisher
deadlines, and… college. Black coffee, period dramas, faded book covers,
and peanut butter continue to be the driving forces in her life.