From nun to novelist: An interview with Linda Anne Smith

Sandra Hutchison interviews the debut author of the indie-published TERRIFYING FREEDOM, a novel about a woman whose past as a nun is holding her back from new possibilities in her life. It’s a rewarding read for anyone fascinated by the anguish that can result when sincere faith collides with the inevitable human frailties of religious organizations.

A quick note — next month’s post will catch you up on my writing, rather than offering yet another author interview, much as I enjoy them. (Just in case you’re getting impatient!)

Linda, your author bio suggests that there are a fair number of commonalities between you and your heroine. Am I right about that, and if so, can you explain your decision to fictionalize this story rather than, say, write a memoir?

Yes, I do have extensive experience in religious life—30 years, in fact.

TERRIFYING FREEDOM, while drawing from this experience, is not autobiographical. However, the context of the story is based on fact, so the central part of the novel could be considered historical fiction.

So why not write a memoir? And pass up on the opportunity to spin a tale? From the start I wanted to write fiction. I felt impelled to give life to Rebecca, who, when the beliefs on which she founded her life begin to crumble, must navigate through the murky, rough waters of uncertainty.

I believe fiction gives me a broader range to explore and expand the characters and the reality in which they live. I am able to draw not only from my own experience but from what I’ve learned from others. For example, the central part of the novel is situated in Appalachia. Throughout my life I’ve been drawn to Appalachia: its people, its history and its beauty. The research I did for the novel deepened my own understanding of the Appalachian people. Initially Appalachia was a location for the story, but as the novel evolved it became a character. Fiction can open horizons. I love it.

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The novel interested me with its serious attitude towards economic justice and education. The heroine clearly takes teaching very seriously, and the quietly rebellious sisters do good work in Appalachia despite serious institutional barriers. Did you experience a similar path?

I work with at-risk and special needs children. Over the years I have seen how essential it is to provide early intervention for these children and their families. As a society we need to bolster our educational programs with lower class sizes and teacher aides; we need to provide vibrant and relevant after-school and preschool programs as well as outreach to parents. When we as a society demonize addiction, poverty, etc., rather than examine the roots and provide adequate support, we limit many people from living out their potential as persons and from engaging in an empathetic and productive manner in society.

While the purpose of TERRIFYING FREEDOM is to tell the story of Rebecca, I am thrilled when readers are made more aware of the issues that Rebecca and her community grapple with. I love reading novels where my perception of reality is challenged and I set off researching for more information and a deeper sensitivity of the issue or event discussed. Through his novels, Charles Dickens revealed the underbelly of English society that shocked and evoked change. I believe stories can be powerful conveyors of insight and empathy.

Your novel also features a slow-building romance with a sympathetic human resources manager. This is not one of your typical romantic hero’s jobs! What inspired that?

As the song goes, “Love is in the air, everywhere I look around!” I can also say that throughout my life I’ve been blessed by relationships that began as chance encounters: our lives just intersected at the right time and place. These persons believed in me and because of their honesty and compassion my life took turns that may not have happened otherwise. I’ll always be grateful to them.

Tell us how you came to write and publish TERRIFYING FREEDOM. Did anything about it surprise you? Do you have any advice for others?

As mentioned above, I felt a burning drive to write this story. Having said this, not everything was clear from the beginning and I had many moments of self-doubt. As I approached the end of Part One, I considered wrapping the novel up quickly. But after consideration, I decided to plunge into Part Two and am glad I did. In all, it took six years to write.

When it was completed, I embarked on the route of traditional publishing. But the more I trekked down this path, the more my eyes were opened. Several conglomerates control most of the publishing in the US and Canada. To get even the slightest consideration (not to mention an offer), one must first have an agent. So I hunted and send out queries to many agents who I thought might be interested in my genre. If an agent expressed interest, then I had to give a few months for that agent to read the manuscript and decide whether to take on the book or not. This process takes months and the manuscript hasn’t even begun to be seen by a publisher.

So while pursuing the traditional route, I began to research self-publishing through Ingram Spark and Createspace. I discovered that while I would have to put out for the editing, interior design and cover, I also would also have more control over the final product. And from what I’d read, even if a person is traditionally published, the author remains the primary marketer of their book (unless they are a celebrity).

At one point, a smaller publishing house expressed interest in TERRIFYING FREEDOM  and I sent off my manuscript to its reviewer. When I did not hear back after a number of months, I decided to self-publish with both Ingram Spark and Createspace. I was well into to this process when I heard that the reviewer had been quite ill and had since recovered. She liked the novel and gave me some great editing tips. By then, however, I decided to continue with self-publishing rather than wait any longer.

To authors-in-the-making, I would say concentrate above all on writing and completing your book. Be ready to edit, then edit, and edit some more. The best book I read on writing was ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT, by Stephen King. This book transcends genres as King offers examples from a wide range of authors. He is honest, practical and encouraging. I recommend this book to anyone who asks me about being an author.

I would happily second that recommendation!

Also, if you decide to self-publish, I would suggest investing in a professional editor and cover designer. Read current blogs on the self-publishing (this industry is constantly evolving) and move forward step by step. I would have been overwhelmed if I focused on the entire process. Lastly, be willing to promote your book. If someone expresses interest via social media, keep in touch with the person. I met you, Sandra, through a comment you made on a blog. Through our communication, you gave me a marketing tip and have now given me this wonderful opportunity to promote Terrifying Freedom.

My first novel, which features an errant priest and explores different approaches to faith, was at least partly inspired by thoughtful novels with religious themes by Tim Farrington, Gail Godwin, Anne Tyler, and John Irving, among others. Were you inspired to write yours by any particular works, fiction or nonfiction?

I love reading, both fiction and nonfiction, and I’m sure that various authors have influenced my writing without me being aware of it. I love Jane Austen for her insights into the society of her time and her keen perception of others. She has written enduring novels with the stuff of day-to-day living.

Books have opened me to worlds and experiences I had no idea existed. The books I love give me at least one character I deeply care about, increase my awareness of a particular a reality, give me another angle to view history, and/or break through stereotypes.

What’s next for you as an author?

I am currently writing a sequel that tells Andrew’s story (that sympathetic human resource manager!).

Linda Anne Smith lives near Calgary, Alberta, enjoying the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. For 30 years, she was a member of a community of religious sisters. She currently volunteers in an organization that is dedicated to assisting and advocating for traumatized and neglected children and their families and works in a school assisting children with special needs. Learn more about her and her work at, or follow Linda on social media at Facebook or Twitter.


In the Midwestern offices of Secure Star Insurance, Rebecca, efficient and distant, seeks only to survive another day. Sally, earnest and devout, views the workplace as a fertile mission field. Into the agency comes a new employee, Gladys, gregarious, unorthodox and twice divorced. When an intuitive HR manager arrives, veneers begin to crack.

Back track four years. Rebecca’s mysterious past is explored in a convent replete with younger members and garnering the support of an increasing number of bishops and conservative Catholics. When an older nun has a heart attack, Rebecca is abruptly sent to a backwater mission in Appalachia. Distanced from the enclave of the mother house and embedded in social realities of the missionary outpost, Rebecca is thrust into uncharted waters.

You can purchase TERRIFYING FREEDOM at…


Barnes and Noble

Canada—Chapters, Indigo/Kobo







How Steve Vernon leverages Kindle Scout and his sense of humor

Sandra Hutchison interviews the ever-entertaining multi-genre author Steve Vernon about his experiences with Kindle Scout, the challenges of publishing across genres, his reviewing habits, and more.

Steve, you used Kindle Scout to successfully win a contract for your book KELPIE DREAMS, but I know that wasn’t your first try. What are your tips for those who want to try that?

First, write the very best book you can write. Try to make it marketable. Kindle Scout is simply a thirty day pitch to the world’s largest digital publisher – Amazon. Kindle Press (which is the publishing arm that actually publishes winning Kindle Scout novels) wants a book that is going to sell. So, if you have decided that you want to write something that is intense and personal and complex and damn near unreadable – DON’T BOTHER TRYING TO PITCH IT TO KINDLE SCOUT!

Or, maybe you should.


Well, really for me the very best way to think of Kindle Scout is like this. Kindle Scout is the a thirty-day extension to your book launch. Think of it as a pre-pre-order.

It works this way: You enter your book into Kindle Scout. You then have a thirty-day window to try to draw as much attention, in the form of nominations and views, to your book. If it’s selected, you get a $1500 advance and a chance to sell a whole lot more copies. The readers who nominated your book receive free copies – which can lead to a sudden boost in reviews.

BUT – if you AREN’T selected for Kindle Press publishing, you still have a note that you write ahead of time to your readers that can be used to notify them when you actually release your book. If you release it as a KU release you have the ability to set a free giveaway on your first few days of release and thus you have the ability to give away a whole lot more copies, boost your ranking and (hopefully) boost your initial flow of reviews.

I could talk a whole lot more about Kindle Scout – but let me just sum it all up by saying YES, I would do it again. The experience has been a good one for me and it continues to be good.

You’ve been publishing a long time, including some early traditional deals. At various times you’ve gone all-in with Kindle Select and recently I noticed you mention that you were planning to go wide again. A lot of self-published authors have spoken of a more challenging market lately. What are your thoughts about the indie publishing terrain right now?

The indie publishing terrain is getting tougher by the minute. The obstacles are rising up before us indie authors like a gigantic mountain range, but there is STILL gold in them thar hills. Sure, it has gotten tougher. But the opportunities for an indie author are still out there, better than ever. You just have to work a little harder, is all.

Most of your books are horror, but you also have some Christian humor and your Kindle Scout winner, KELPIE DREAMS, is a romance. Do you have any useful insights to offer as a cross-genre author?

As a cross-genre author I would say this.


I have undermined my effectiveness as a salable author every time I release something that is a little off of my usual stomping grounds – but the simple truth is, I have to do it. We can’t always do what is smart and/or profitable. I get bored writing the same darned thing.

You came to my attention with what I still consider the single most entertaining review of one of my books. Your blog is usually funny, too. Is it safe to say broad humor is consistent across all your work? Do you have any particular recommendations for marketing humor?

Good humor is necessary for any genre. Nobody wants to read about somebody crying all day long. Even Romeo and Juliet had a giggle or two. Even Mercutio, when facing death, remarked “Look for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man.”

Can you dig it?

That said, I tend to giggle a little more in my prose than the average writer.

How do you see the relationship between your work as a reviewer and your work as an author? Advantages? Dangers?

A writer has ALWAYS got to be careful what they say in print. I haven’t ever had a review blow up in my face, mostly because I rarely review something that stinks. If I can’t say anything nice about it – like, “It was a good book. It had pages and words and everything,” then I don’t say anything at all.

You’re also a Canadian. Can you speak to that experience as an indie author? Do you face special challenges because of it? Any special opportunities?

We Canadians are natural-born storytellers. I make a fair bit every year as an oral tradition storyteller. The one thing I do regret is that living here in the Maritimes leaves me without any sort of horror conventions. We do have a couple of science fiction conventions, but no horror conventions at all in Nova Scotia.

What inspired KELPIE DREAMS

It sprang from a single moment in which I looked out from the window of our gold Toyota Echo and saw a woman standing on the shoreline of a quiet cove, knee-deep in the water. She was just gazing out into the distance, like she could see something out there that was calling for her.

By the time I got home I could not shake that vision. I kept wondering what kind of person would do this sort of thing. I thought about every wild and untamable woman I had ever met and talked to and heard about and I tried to capture these memories and sew them up into the woman who became known as Lady Macbeth.

That’s the protagonist in KELPIE DREAMS. She has a bone to pick with the world and she isn’t afraid to let that out. I had always wanted to try to write this sort of novel. In a lot of ways I believe that I succeeded. There are an awful lot of things about this book that I wish I had done better, but all in all I am very proud of it and I am very pleased and grateful that the folks at Kindle Scout saw fit to accept this novel for their line of books.

What’s your number one hope for what your readers will get out of reading KELPIE DREAMS?

Oh, there’s nothing deep or meaningful in this answer, I’m afraid. My number one hope for what a reader will get out it is nothing more than a bit of fun. When it comes right down to it, there are always going to be books out there that move and shake you deep down in your very being. I can think of two or three books that hit me hard and left me thinking for years to come – but primarily I read for the simple need to escape the day-to-day humdrum of existence. It is why I read on the bus to my day job. I work as a cubicle dust monkey for the Canadian Federal Government, and believe you me, I dearly need me a little honest escape. So I read books that make me giggle. I read books with a lot of gun play and a few explosions and heroes saving damsels and single-handedly defeating rampaging hordes of bad guys and politicians.

Tell us about how it came to be written and published.

KELPIE DREAMS was my second attempt at a Kindle Scout campaign. I wrote that book like all of those scenes in all of those old action movies, where the hero gets ready to go and kick the bad guy’s butt. When he loads his six shooters and strings his bow or sharpens his sword. When he does a billion one-armed push-ups and runs to the top of the library stairs and yells “Yo, Adrian!” I wrote the novel focusing on how I wanted it to win Kindle Scout. Every word and every line, I kept thinking to myself, I want this book to win.

I could talk all about the power of creative visualization if you wanted me to. I don’t know if that works or not. But what I can say for certain is that I wrote KELPIE DREAMS and I wanted it to win and, son of a gun, it won.

Learn more about KELPIE DREAMS

Meet Lady Macbeth – a high school librarian, ex-assassin, and part-time kelpie, whose mother wanted to name her Hemorrhoid at birth. Now she has to take on a Sea Hag – eight legs of Godzilla-ugly poured into a bucket full of meanness – with the help of a one-woman army named Rhonda, a 200-year-old sea captain, and a hunky lighthouse keeper who won’t admit that he’s dead as well. KELPIE DREAMS is a funny, action-packed, shoot-em-up paranormal romance novel for folks who HATE to read romance novels. It can ONLY be found in e-book format on Amazon. It is also available in paperback as well. You might also want to try a taste with its short sequels KELPIE CHRISTMAS (which is perma-free) and KELPIE SNOW.

STEVE VERNON has been writing fiction for the last forty years or so. He has released seven regionally-published books, as well as fifty independently-published releases and a dozen or so small-press releases. He says, “If you want to picture me, just think of that old dude at the campfire spinning out ghost stories and weird adventures and the grand epic saga of how Thud the Second stepped out of his cave with nothing more than a rock in his fist and slew the saber tooth tiger.” Or, as Bookgasm put it, “If Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch had a three-way sex romp in a hot tub, and then a team of scientists came in and filtered out the water and mixed the leftover DNA into a test tube, the resulting genetic experiment would most likely grow up into Steve Vernon.”

You can learn more about (and from) Steve at…

His Amazon Author Page: