When Ellen Gable told me she had written a new book, I had an instant reaction: “YES, I’D LOVE TO READ IT” followed immediately by “OH MY GOODNESS, BUT WHEN?”

(Yes, it was an all-caps reaction. Welcome to my inner brain.)

So, two weeks ago, when I was on a plane flying across the country, with nary a book but my Kindle, I was forced to begin reading A Subtle Grace.


Lucky for Lisa, I quit reading it so that we could give our talks and do all the socializing and squeeing that Sarah-in-California entailed. UNlucky for me, I had a pile of OTHER reading that had to be done before I could get back to A Subtle Grace.

YOU, dear reader, are lucky I’m here now and not off finishing the last 12% of the book. I’d tell you where I am, but it would spoil it, to some extent.

You can download it RIGHT NOW on Amazon Kindle, and it will be available in print on April 6. (We have some copies to give away at CatholicMom.com in the coming weeks, too, so stay tuned over there, too.) UPDATE: The hard copy is available EARLY. As in NOW. YAY!

Here’s the synopsis:

In this sequel to In Name Only (Full Quiver Publishing, 2009), A Subtle Grace continues the story of the wealthy and unconventional O’Donovan Family as they approach the dawn of a new century.

At 19, Kathleen (oldest daughter) is unmarried with no prospects.  Fearing the lonely fate of an old maid, her impatience leads to an infatuation with the first man who shows interest. The suave, handsome son of the local police chief seems a perfect match.  But will her impulsive manner prevent her from recognizing her true beloved?

A disturbing turn of events brings a dark shadow that threatens the life-long happiness she desires.Dr. Luke Peterson (the family’s new physician) also makes quite an impression on Kathleen. His affection for her leads him to startling revelations: about Kathleen, about his practice and, most importantly, about himself.

Will (oldest son) believes God may be calling him to a religious vocation. Eventually, he discovers the hidden circumstances of his humble beginnings compelling him to embark on a pilgrimage to Rome.

Although A Subtle Grace is the sequel to In Name Only, each book can be read independently of the other.

Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Ellen about writing and A Subtle Grace and…well, you’ll see. Be sure to stick around until the end, where Ellen has kindly agreed to let me share an excerpt.

SR: Ellen, you’ve been writing for TEN YEARS. I’ve read all of your books and I can see a progression in your writing. What do you think you’ve gained and improved in your writing career?

Thanks so much, Sarah!  I’ve definitely gained an awareness for good, solid writing.  And you’re right that there has been a progression in my writing. When I began writing novels many years ago, I was more focused on sharing information about Natural Family Planning than on writing well.  I eventually realized that creating a compelling, well-written story first and foremost will always be more effective in evangelizing; good writing also has expanded my target audience.

SR: Have you ever been burned out as a writer? What keeps you going? Where do you find your inspiration and ideas?

There have been times when I felt like I may never write another novel, especially with this book, A Subtle Grace. I had written the outline and had started writing the rough draft about four years ago.  For some reason, I just couldn’t finish it.  Other projects kept me busy, but I just didn’t feel like I had a good enough grasp of the story and characters to continue.  It sat “on the shelf” that entire time with me sporadically trying to work on it. I didn’t feel inspired at all to write it.  It wasn’t until late 2012 that I created character studies (long, detailed stories and summaries about each character) and revised the plot. Within a few months, I finally had a working draft and was able to finish it in about a year and a half.

What keeps me going as a writer is my Catholic faith.  I enjoy writing stories about Catholics who struggle to live their faith well.  I find inspiration and ideas from my life and from the experiences and lives of the people I know. I also come up with my greatest ideas when I’m walking outside or exercising on the elliptical.

SR: I know you’re an avid reader. Do you find that reading a lot of books helps your writing and inspires you? What other tactics and strategies do you use to keep the fires burnin?

I do find that reading a lot improves my writing, especially when I’m reading solid, compelling, well-written novels. One piece of advice that I always give to newbie writers is: if you want to write good fiction, you must read good fiction. Although I like Catholic and Christian fiction, I also enjoy novels that are edgy and believable.

One strategy I use that helps me when I’m writing historical fiction is to study antique photos of the time period for inspiration (if there are any).  During my research for A Subtle Grace, I found many wonderful and clear photos from the late 19th century.  These photographs help with research and setting because the detail is so clear, it’s like taking a step back in time.

With regard to the Catholicity of my novels, I am inspired by reading the stories of the saints.  A Subtle Grace truly came together as a cohesive story when I dedicated the novel to St. Agnes, virgin and martyr.  I had never heard the story of this saint.  One day early last year, I discovered a website with all kinds of interesting information about her life and martyrdom.

To keep the fires burning?  Well, I’ve learned that I can’t write a story that isn’t ready to be written.  I need to feel compelled to write the story before I can actually write it.  Also, when I’m writing the early stages of a draft, I listen to Loreena McKennitt’s beautiful, Celtic songs.  Loreena’s music inspires me, especially when I’m writing historical fiction.  (I actually had the wonderful opportunity to share that with Loreena last year when I went backstage to meet her after her concert at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.)

SR: What are the best three books you’ve read recently? (I can’t resist asking.)

Treason by Dena Hunt is the best Catholic novel I’ve read in many years.  Dena’s second novel, The Lion’s Heart, is also a compelling read (but is currently out of print).   Another author I enjoy is Krisi Keley, whose prose and stories rival any of the great literary masters.  Her recent novel, Vingede, is an outstanding read.

* * *

And now, get ready for a taste of the book! 🙂

cover-ASubtleGrace-GableExcerpt from A Subtle Grace, copyright 2013 Ellen Gable Hrkach, used with permission

I just witnessed another human being coming into the world.

Kathleen’s head sunk deeply into her feather pillow as she stared upward. Her oil lamp, as always, was dimly lit and projected a small yellow circle onto the ceiling. Kathleen had always despised the blackness that surrounded her at night. Keeping the lamp aglow meant that she never had to endure the black night. She wasn’t sure why, but she felt safer when there was light, even a flicker.

She tossed back and forth as sleep eluded her. How could she possibly rest — or sleep — after what she had just experienced? And would she see other births at nursing school?

While she looked forward to college, she wished that her non-marital state hadn’t necessitated her making a decision to attend post-secondary school. She would have been happy to be married at this age, but thus far, no eligible bachelor — at least one with whom Kathleen approved — had shown serious interest.

The clock downstairs struck quarter past three. Her brothers hadn’t wakened during the night – Mama had kept fairly quiet during the birthing – but in the morning, they would all be excited to discover they had a new sibling.

For the moment, Kathleen thought of her own vocation, of which she was certain was marriage and motherhood. At 19, her “coming out” reception early last year was a tremendous success. Two of her friends from high school, Margaret and Anne, had already married. Kathleen was beginning to think she might become a spinster or, heaven forbid, an “old maid.” Therefore, it was essential to meet her future husband immediately. Of course, after seeing firsthand what her mother just went through, Kathleen questioned whether she would have the high endurance for pain her mother obviously possessed.

Turning up the lamp, she got out of bed and sat at her desk. She reached deep inside the top drawer for her journal.

At the front, she kept the tintype portrait of her mother and her “real” father, Papa’s brother, Liam, at his wedding to her mother. Mama had given her the photo when she was 12, explaining that her first husband had died and that she had married his brother. Over the years, she had learned that Liam was a fine, godly man who had died in a carriage accident before Kathleen was born. Staring at his face, she concluded that he was a handsome man with light hair, which Kathleen obviously had inherited from him. When she was a toddler, her blonde hair was so light, it was almost white. Now, of course, her hair was a darker blonde.

She pulled out a small holy card with a picture of St. Agnes holding a lamb.

St. Agnes, where is my sweetheart? Please send him to me soon!

St. Agnes, patron and martyr, had become Kathleen’s favorite saint a few years previous. In the fourth century, Agnes’ virginity was preserved despite the young girl being stripped naked and taken to a brothel to be violated by a group of men after she turned down one man’s proposal of marriage. The saint was saved when most of the men could not go through with the heinous act. The man who wanted to forcibly marry her was struck blind. She was eventually martyred.

Kathleen paged through the earlier entries until she came to January 20th of last year, on the eve of St. Agnes’ Feast Day, where she wrote down a prayer/poem to St. Agnes.

January 20th, 1895
Now good St. Agnes, play thy part,
And send to me my own sweetheart,
And show me such a happy bliss,
This night of him to have a kiss.

On that January day a year and a half ago, she had recited the prayer, then had finally drifted to sleep. Indeed, she had dreamt of a man.

His face was blurry like an Impressionist painting, except with less detail. The man leaned in to kiss her, a soft kiss that gently brushed her lips. Immediately, Kathleen knew that this was her beloved. She couldn’t explain how, but she knew that this man’s heart was pure and true and good. All of a sudden, he vanished. In his place was a blue and green hummingbird hovering above her. How would she recognize her sweetheart if she could only see his heart?

Excerpt from A Subtle Grace, copyright 2013 Ellen Gable Hrkach, used with permission