Mary Connealy will tell you that what she writes is unique.
“I write historical, inspirational, western, romantic comedy/suspense. That’s the most unique thing I’ve ever heard of. I invented my own genre,” said Connealy, who lives near Decatur.
Her invention, along with years of work, appears to have served her well. The area author has 28 books in print with contracts which will increase that number to 36.
Connealy’s most recent book, “Fired Up,” is the second in the “Trouble In Texas” series published by Bethany House. The next series book, “Stuck Together,” is set to come out in June, continuing the best-selling author’s signature style of “romantic comedy with cowboys.”
The book series is yet another mile marker on the long trail Connelly has ridden toward publication. Connealy’s journey began years ago. A Lyons High School graduate, Connealy then earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Wayne State College in 1976. She married her high school sweetheart, Ivan; they have four daughters.
As a stay-at-home mom, Connealy began writing books when the couple’s youngest daughter went to kindergarten. By the time 10 years had passed, she had 20 completed books on her computer before one was published.
“That is either incredible dedication and hard work or obsessive compulsive disorder,” she said, laughing a bit. “I spent that whole time seriously pursuing publication.”
At one point, she began entering writers’ contests. She did well in them. In 2004, “Petticoat Ranch,” won a contest. The book was about a mountain man who’d never been around women until he wed a widow with four daughters.
“It’s a romantic comedy of him trying to figure out what in the world he’s gotten himself into,” she said.
Barbour Publishing bought that book which came out in 2007. It sold well, she said, and the company would end up buying about 10 of her already written books.
Her first book with Bethany House came out in 2012. She signed a six-book contract with the company. “Fired Up,” the fifth of those books, came out in September.
In this book, a twice-widowed woman, determined to support herself and her two children, opens a diner.
There’s just one problem: She really can’t cook.
The local doctor is a real life-saver, but someone appears ready to shorten his days on earth — permanently. In the meantime, his business is booming due to the widow’s lack of culinary skills and he hopes to win her heart.
Connealy points to the light-hearted nature of her novels.
“Some people who write Christian fiction really write beautiful, powerful works of life-changing fiction,” she said. “I think of my books as good, clean fun. … They’re not particularly preachy … There’s a faith thread in them, but it’s not the dominant thing — but it’s there.”
Connealy notes how difficult it has been to publish the types of book she writes.
As a woman with “pretty conservative Christian beliefs” and a mother of four daughters, she couldn’t see sending out books with profanity and graphic sex even as books kept getting racier. So she continued writing sweet, simple romances.
Then, in the early to mid-1990s, she discovered Christian fiction.
“It was like I’d been writing for years for a line of fiction that hadn’t been invented yet — and then this whole world opened up to me … and my books were right for this line of books that I didn’t know existed,” she said.
One of the best moments as a writer occurred when she got her first contract. It happened when a contract was set to be awarded to an unpublished author during an American Christian Fiction Writers’ conference.
She remembers going up to get the contract in front of 350 aspiring and published authors at the event.
“It is one of the sweetest moments of my life,” she said. “I still get chills when I talk about it. I worked so long and so hard for that.”
When it comes to the themes of her work, Connealy has much from which to draw. Her maternal grandparents had their own unique love story. Grandpa’s first wife died during childbirth.
Before her death, she made him promise to marry her college roommate, who lived in Seattle, and to have that woman raise their child. Connealy's grandfather and his prospective bride had very different lives, however.
He was a farmer with an eighth grade education. His prospective bride was a concert level pianist with a master’s degree.
They had never met.
Even so, he wrote letters to her and rode a train to Seattle. They married and he brought her to Nebraska.
“They got along fine and had four kids,” Connealy said. “My mom is a product of that marriage.”
Connealy would base an inspirational eBook story called, “The Sweetest Gift,” on that family account. Connealy said she fictionalized the account, had the story take place in an earlier time period and incorporated cowboys and a twist on O Henry’s “Gift of the Magi.”
“But the foundations of the story are true,” she said.
She draws inspiration from other places. While doing research for a current book, she’ll gain ideas for the next one.
A longtime fan of Louis L’Amour novels and John Wayne movies, she weaves her interest in the cowboys into her work. Similar inspiration comes from her own life.
“My husband is a cattle man,” she said, adding, “I can bring a lot of authenticity to the cattle and rural life that is part of my books.”
The focus of her books is entertainment.
“I write a book with the goal of having the reader have the best time that they can possibly have reading a book,” she said. “I just want them to have fun. I’m trying to entertain people. If they learn some great and powerful lesson, I’m sure it’s accidental.”