When Magi Nams finally decided to make the jump into writing fiction back in 2011, she knew the perfect place to set her Prairie-themed romance novel.
After all, this Nova Scotia resident and her husband spent several years living near the slopes of Turtle Mountain, south of Boissevain, in the mid-1980s, an experience that never left the back of Nams’ mind in the following decades.
"I kept a journal and I kept nature observation notebooks while I was there," she told the Sun on Nov. 30. "So I went back to those and pulled out details from my time there and things that I saw in the natural world so I could bring them into the story."
After eight years of piecing these details together, Nams finally published her debut novel "Braver Than You Know" on Nov. 5 under her pen name Katie Ardea.
The novel’s plot follows wildlife photographer Kimberley Colter and cattle rancher Lincoln Steele, who find a common bond through the emotional trauma they suffered in the past.
While the story and characters are fictional, Nams said she took plenty of inspiration from her own experiences living in Turtle Mountain and the people she got to know along the way.
"I think, in part, some of my characters sort of reflect some of the people that we met," she said. "They’re not based on any particular person, but they reflect the atmosphere of where we lived."
Being a non-fiction author for many years, specializing in science and nature writing, Nams admitted it was a challenge to make the switch to a form of literature that champions raw, potent emotion.
"This was a steep learning curve for me, especially since some of my non-fiction writing had more of a detached feel to it," she said. "But I had to put that away, because the readers don’t want to feel detached from the characters."
Thankfully, Nams said she got a lot of great pointers after joining the Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada, whose members provided plenty of tips and feedback on what makes a compelling love story.
Throughout that lengthy writing and editing process, the rookie author strove to construct a multi-layered story that didn’t rely on central romance alone to draw readers in.
Outside of establishing an authentic setting, she also tried to spice up the proceedings by including lots of conflict, twists and strong secondary characters to help bring the story to life.
In fact, Nams is so happy with how this novel turned out that she’s already in the middle of planning a "Prairie Hearts" book series set in the world she’s created for Turtle Mountain.
While she’s mostly in the planning stages right now for these sequels, Nams said these upcoming adventures will follow secondary characters from "Braver Than You Know" so that she can flesh out their backstory.
"It won’t be a continuation of the two main characters in this novel, but they will appear in a smaller role as secondary characters in the other books," she said.
Now that she’s at the end of a massive eight-year journey, Nams hopes other prospective writers follow her example and carve out their own space in the modern book market.
"I don’t try to write like any other romance writer," she said. "I write what I would like to read … so my advice to any aspiring fiction writer is to find your voice and once you know your voice then use it."
"Braver Than You Know" is available in print from Amazon and as an e-book from Amazon, Kobo, Apple and Barnes & Noble.