Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Interview with Author Lori Benton - Day 1

Lori Benton was born in Virginia and raised in Maryland, east of the Appalachian Mountains. Her novels transport readers to the 18th century, where she brings to life Colonial and early Federal American history, creating a melting pot of characters drawn from both sides of a turbulent frontier, brought together in the bonds of God's transforming grace. When she isn’t writing, reading, or researching 18th century history, Lori enjoys exploring the Oregon mountains with her husband, Brian.

Welcome, Lori Benton! It is such a pleasure to have you join us at Novel PASTimes. We’re glad to have this chance to learn more about you and your recent release.

Tell us a little bit about the story line for your novel, Burning Sky.

Thank you so much for inviting me. I’m a long time visitor to this blog so this is an honor.

Burning Sky is a story about the Revolutionary War, though no battles are depicted in its pages. But war trails its aftermath of loss through the lives of those who survive it, and this is a story about such loss—loss of loved ones, of home, of ability, and identity. It’s also a story of healing, of mending broken hearts and broken lives. It’s the story of wounded people learning to trust a loving God, to understand His nature in the midst of tragedy and pain. It’s a story of faith, hope, and love, spanning generations, races, and cultures, set amidst the war-ravaged New York frontier of 1784.

Introduce us briefly to the main characters.

In the pages of Burning Sky you’ll meet Willa Obenchain, captured by Mohawks at fourteen and renamed Burning Sky. Stripped in large measure of both identities, still a product of both, she’s come home twelve years later to Shiloh, NY, to find the land and people she once knew irrevocably altered by the war just past, and largely unwelcoming of the person she’s become. That’s all right with Willa. Afraid to risk loving again, she wants only to be left alone to mourn her losses. But God has other plans for Willa—plans for healing and restoration, and He’s placed a wounded Scottish botanist, Neil MacGregor, in her path to begin the process.

Neil MacGregor is a man well acquainted with injury, one of which has left him mentally impaired. Yet God hasn’t taken away his burning passion to explore the northern mountain wilderness, discover new plant species, and create a botanical field guide for the American Philosophical Society, which has commissioned his expedition. Then he takes a fall in the wilderness and wakes up in the care of a woman dressed like an Indian and calling herself Willa. At first Neil’s aim is to recover and resume his wilderness sojourn as quickly as he can. But as he gradually becomes involved in Willa’s struggle to survive, bearing witness to the grief driving her toward an unhealthy solitude, he finds his own heart putting down unexpected roots.

It was so interesting reading about the aftermath of the American Revolution. What prompted you to write about this period of time?

I knew I didn’t want to write a war story, not one with battles and campaigns. But I’ve been interested in the late 18th century time period for many years, particularly in what was going on west of the populated seaboard settings, in the sparsely settled periphery—the mountain frontier—where cultures inevitably collided in friendship, trade, and war. What captured my imagination were those individuals who were drawn across those frontiers and not only survived the encounter, but thrived, in some cases learning to straddle that shifting line between two worlds.

The Mohawk Valley of New York—before, during, and after the Revolutionary War—is a setting rife with such encounters. I couldn’t resist telling a story populated with characters like those men and women of European, African, and Native American ethnicity who survived profound losses, made wrenching choices, and saw their families and communities fractured by violence and upheaval, leaving them to redefine their identities as nations, neighbors, kin, and individuals. I wanted to write a story of one community’s early recovery, a slice of life across as many of those cultural, political and economic lines as I could manage to include.

It’s a story that isn’t close to being fully tapped, and I hope to write more stories set in the Mohawk Valley and frontier New York.

Your ancestry spans back to the very early days of Colonial America. Has your family history influenced your writing and, if so, in what way?

Only in small ways, because I know few stories of my distant ancestors, little beyond their names, in fact. But in Burning Sky one aspect of the story was taken directly from my maternal family history, not too many generations back. It was my great-grandmother who used to hide the novels my great-aunt Leona liked to read, believing them a waste of time. I gave this conflict to Willa Obenchain and her grandmother. Though seemingly a small conflict, it turned out to be a significant aspect to Willa’s back story, and the catalyst for the course her life takes up to the very last page. (Wouldn't Great Aunt Leona be tickled to know that her great niece writes novels? I love it!)

If you had to choose one character from Burning Sky as your favorite, which one would you pick and why?

If I had to (because you know it’s really impossible, right?) (YES!) I’d choose Neil MacGregor, the wounded Scottish botanist Willa finds in the first chapter. Neil is a survivor. He’s suffered a debilitating injury that might easily have caused him to give up his life’s passion, his dreams. It’s an injury that renders everyday life more challenging, much less the professional commission he’s taken on as a botanist. Yet he’s pressed on, found ways to compensate, and discovered that with God’s strength and grace he is capable of more than he’d ever have known had that injury not occurred. I find that inspiring, and hope readers do as well.

I was so impressed with the diversity of characters and cultures in Burning Sky. Was it difficult doing the research for this novel?

Not difficult so much as time-consuming and demanding. It was very important to me to portray these diverse characters as honestly and truthfully as I could. I was persistent, and tried at every turn not to take some aspect of culture or character for granted as accurate, but to seek out as many resources as I could find (books, websites, individuals) to either support or correct that assumption. The initial writing of the story took 18 months, and I researched all that while. Once the manuscript was contracted I went back to researching again, digging deeper, triple checking cultural and historical facts, and was still researching up until the last minute, when the manuscript went to copy edits.  

Tell us about your writing journey: When did you begin and how did you know you were called to be a writer?

To read the rest of Lori Benton's interview, come back tomorrow. It is delightful!

Readers get a chance to win this awesome novel that Lori is writing about in this interview. To be entered in a drawing to win Burning Sky, please leave a comment with your e-mail address (don't forget!) and answer our guest author's question. Here is Lori's question:

What time period would you like to see written about more in the Christian fiction market? And if you’d like to expound, what interests you most about that time period?

This drawing is open to US addresses only.

Hope to "see" you tomorrow. :)


Carrie Turansky said...

Hi Friends at Novel PASTimes! It was fun to read more about Lori and her novel. I received an ARC copy from WaterBrook, and I loved this story. It is an amazing debut novel, and I am already looking forward to Lori's next book! I shared this link with my friends. : )

Elaine Marie Cooper said...

Hi Carrie! I read it as well and fell in love with Lori's characters! Some lucky winner will get to enjoy it as well. :) Thanks so much for stopping by and for sharing the link.

Susan Craft said...

I too received an ARC and fell in love with this book, so much that I talk about it to everyone I know who likes to read. Although I have my own copy of Burning Sky, I'd love to win a copy to give to a friend. Lovely interview, Elaine and Lori.

karenk said...

Loved this posting/interview...thanks for sharing. I enjoy the late 1800 time period.

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Lori Benton said...

Thanks so much for your support, ladies! Looking forward to signing that book for the winner. :)

Sylvia said...

Lori, I was so happy when I heard that you got this book contract. I'm really looking forward to reading your work. Saw the cover for your next novel and think it's lovely!

I would like more books set in the 1760's and early 1770's. That pre-Revolutionary War era.

Some people think there are too many Regency books out there, but I would love to see more CBA ones. That is more CBA ones without abductions, villains, or triangles. Just a nice drawing room romance with lots of setting detail, romance, whit family and friends.

Cindy Thomson said...

Welcome, Lori, and congrats! Thanks for sticking with us all this time. This sounds so intriguing. One novel in my drawer is set in this time period and I'd like to get back to it one day. There are many stories to be told!

Carla Olson Gade said...

Great to see Lori here at Novel Pastimes! I love hearing about Lori's writing journey and Burning Sky!

Janet Grunst said...

I just love to hear Lori talking about her book. I was delighted to tell others about it to a number of folks at the recent ACFW conference.

windycindy said...

I especially enjoy reading about the Baroque Period!
Thanks, Cindi

bonton said...

I love stories set during the Revolutionary War! I have wanted to read this book since the first interview I read. I have an added interest because of the fact that an ancestor of mine was thought to have been captured by Indians.

Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy!


Gwendolyn Gage said...

Oh, I'm dying to get my hands on "Burning Sky". I love the American Revolutionary period. Bless you Lori!


garfsgirl said...

I'd love to read more about the European medieval period. Religion seemed to be a big part of that era but I'd like to read about it from a Christian view, not just a "religious" one.


Anonymous said...

Hello Elaine and Lori Thanks for a great review. Lori, would love to read some of the stories written when you were growing up. Bet they were good too. I love reading different generational stories. Love the Pioneer stories with all of their struggles including Indians. I don't blame the Indians for fighting for a land that had been their's for a long time. And, hate that the wrote people wouldn't keep the promises made to them. I would love books made in the late 1920's and early 1930's. That was years my parents and grandparents would have been having their struggles. Please put my name in for the drawing. Thanks!
MAXIE mac262(at)me(dot)com