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. :)