“I do my best writing in the morning,” Conrad said.
Conrad, whose maiden name is Zimmerman, said she stumbled into the field of communications. After the James Buchanan High School graduate earned an undergraduate degree from Penn State University with a double major in political science and Russian in 1983, she worked for several communications-related companies.
Conrad, 50, worked for The Herald-Mail for 11 years, starting as an editorial assistant in 1987, then as a graphic artist, design editor and copy editor.
The next chapter was as managing editor of in-house magazines at several different companies.
She and her husband, Marcus, moved to Florida and it was there that Conrad switched gears and earned a master’s degree in mental health counseling in 2006.
“I’d always thought about being a therapist. Pretty much every job I’ve ever had, people would come in my office and talk, unload,” Conrad said.
She said she had benefited from counseling herself and knew how valuable it was.
When the couple moved back to Hagerstown in 2009, she became licensed in Maryland as a licensed clinical professional counselor. She has a full-time practice and volunteers at the Community Free Clinic.
The one constant for more than a decade has been Conrad’s writing. She worked on the rough draft for her first novel, which started out as the final project for a creative writing class in high school, off and on for 10 to 15 years, finishing it in 2008 while living in Florida.
It is about a Union Civil War soldier who falls in love with a Native American woman. Conrad said it was her involvement in several writers groups in Florida that provided the “invaluable feedback” she needed.
“Writing is such a solitary process. It took me a long time before I let anyone read it. Getting it out there is a slow process,” said Conrad, who admitted that her husband didn’t know she was writing a book for several years.
She finds being a therapist complements her writing. “I think like a therapist (when writing) and delve deeper than the surface stuff. It helps me with character development and characterization,” Conrad said.
Once the rough draft of “Shaman” was fine-tuned to Conrad’s satisfaction, she submitted it to the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition and was selected as a finalist. It was recognized as the winner of the historical romance category, then as grand prize winner of the 2010 Maryland Writers’ Association (MWA) Novel Competition.
Conrad said she knew of the category win when she and Marcus attended a MWA dinner in April 2010, and was surprised when she was announced as the grand prize winner.
“I was beside myself, really thrilled. I never expected that,” Conrad said.
Conrad is doing the marketing for the self-published book, which she said is time-consuming. A book launch party in mid-February gave her confidence the book might sell, she said.
Now she’s working on the sequel to “Shaman.”
“Shaman” can be purchased through Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, and signed copies are available at Turn the Page Bookstore in Boonsboro. More information can be found at www.shamannovel.com.