Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Interview with Marlo Schalesky
Marlo Schalesky is the author of five books and over 500 articles. She has a B.S. in Chemistry from Stanford University and an M.A. in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. She received the 2001 Writer of the Year Award at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference and is a regular columnist for Power for Living. She lives in Salinas, California with her husband and four daughters.
Where did you birth the idea for this book? When? How did it come about?
People often ask where I get my ideas for my books. My answer? You never know! For Veil of Fire, the idea was birthed at my favorite Mexican restaurant in the mission town of San Juan Bautista. There I was, sitting with my family, nibbling chips and salsa, when a wedding party came by. The bridesmaids were dressed in beautiful turn-of-the-century style gowns. As they passed, my mother-in-law began to tell me of the dresses that her great grandmother, who lived in Hinckley, used to sew for the rich ladies in Minneapolis and St. Paul. From there, came the story of the great Hinckley fire and the rebuilding that this woman, my husband’s great-great-grandmother, was a part of. And finally, I heard the tale of the mystery figure in the hills, a person burned beyond recognition. A person never identified, living as a hermit until one day he just disappeared.
At that moment, the first inklings of the story that would become Veil of Fire were born in my heart. Who was the hermit in the hills? What happened to him? And how would I solve the mystery if I could? As I pondered those questions, I knew that I had to write the hermit’s story. Had to explore what it would be like to lose everything, even your identity. Had to hear the hermit’s voice in my mind, and hear the story for myself.
So, the writing of the book became for me a process of discovery, as I hope it will be for my readers. I hope that as the mystery of the hermit drew me, so too it will draw others to this story of how fire can change you, take from you, and in the end, may just set you free.
Can you explain the research process, since this is such a historical novel?
The research for Veil of Fire was particularly fascinating not only because of its link to my personal family history, but also because of the incredible first-person accounts of the fire that were written by people who were actually there. These stories are compiled into a book written entirely by survivors who recount their personal experience of living through the firestorm that swept through their town. I read about a man whose hat lifted from his head and exploded above him as he ran through wind and fire. I read about another whose horse raced beside the Eastern Minnesota train as fire billowed around him. The horse swerved into the smoke, and the man was never seen again. I read about a boy racing down the tracks, falling, and surviving as the fire roared over him. I read about fire on the surface of the Grindstone River, darkness broken only by bursts of flame, the St. Paul and Duluth engine backing up to Skunk Lake through blinding heat and smoke. I read about a train trestle disintegrating into flame moments after a train passed, about Jane Tew praying on that train, and the brakemen who saved them all.
Those eyewitness accounts, as well as information gathered about the fire from other sources, created the realistic feel of the fire and its aftermath in Veil of Fire. Plus, you can be sure that if something seems almost beyond belief in Veil of Fire, it will be drawn from an actual account that came directly from the research, so amazing were the real stories of the fire on that day!
Today, a number of books about the fire, as well as artifacts, photos, and other articles can be seen at the Hinckley Fire Museum in Hinckley.
What takeaway points do you hope your readers pull from this book?
Once, when we were children, we believed in miracles. The impossible was only a prayer away. Fairy tales were real, and dreams were free. Where did we lose the ability to trust? When did we stop daring to believe? What happened to us?
Life happened. Failure, discouragement, pain, loss. Somewhere, somehow, life burns us all. And we realize that this life we live is not the one we once dreamed. The realities of life scar us. Doubts rise. Fear whispers that hope is gone. And what was once a simple faith can fail in the face of that fear.
In the midst of life’s disillusionment, choices appear. Do we retreat? Hide our hurts far from probing eyes? Do we embrace bitterness and cynicism? Do we use deceit to try to obtain our goals? Do we give up, give in, forget that we ever dared to dream?
Or is it possible to reach the high places of faith in the low valleys of life’s reality? Can we still live a life of bold faith, of fierce hope, when fairy tales don’t come true? How do we live this life that God has given us when it’s not the life we dreamed?
These are the questions I wanted to explore in Veil of Fire. These are the questions which underlie each character’s journey in the aftermath of the great fire of 1894.
So, for those burned by life, for those who carry scars that cannot be seen, for those who have retreated for fear of more pain, this story is for you, this journey from the hidden places of pain to a new hope in the unhidden truth of Christ’s love.
We'll be back tomorrow with more from author Marlo Schalesky. In the mean time, please leave a comment to enter Saturday's drawing for her newest book, Veil of Fire!