Why do you write about the 19th century?
I write about struggling people who happen to live just after the US Civil War. It started with a house and an excerpt from a diary. Historical fiction is fantasy, a place where you fill in the magical blanks between the big stories of the period and the people who lived it. It’s time travel. I’ve always felt a strong kinship with my 19th century ancestors. I have no interest in writing about cell phone conversations, yet it many ways the late 19th century is much like our own. Corruption, selfishness, love and death never go away.
Why do your male characters take such a beating?
I’ll be honest. I like men with scars. I like the rough and tumble nature of men. I love their quests and the way their thoughts work out through action. This very often shows up in actual scars.
I think of the state of medicine in the late 19th century and the absence of plastic surgery and imagine all the cuts and scrapes mended in our modern world that wouldn’t have been back then. I imagine a lot more people with artificial limbs and messier faces.
Why are your characters so flawed?
When I was young I pointed to other people’s flaws. As I grow older I’m aware of a lot more of my own. The joy of writing for me is seeing the beauty in people through their failings and weaknesses. As I peel back the layers of each character they grow into real people in need of great care and compassion. I have wonderful hopes for each of them even as I know some won’t ever change. I celebrate the men and women who seek and find redemption and mourn for the characters who live out their days striving for hollow rewards.
Are any of the characters autobiographical?
All of my characters are autobiographical in one way or another. Katherine, Thankful and Lucy seem to be who I was, who I am and who I want to be. But I could be fooling myself on this.
John Weldon, Buck and William I relate to in different ways. William as a son, John as a dear friend and Buck as the part of me that’s been wounded and the part that questions God, the purpose of love and the usefulness of forgiveness. Buck is a striver and perfectionist and so a very close picture of a part of myself.
Who is your favorite character to write about?
Fred Crenshaw is the most fun because he’s so unapologetically bad. Make no mistake, as his creator, I know there’s more to him than his self-serving actions and insincere words but writing about someone so confident and unfiltered is very freeing.
How does your faith inform your writing?
When I began my first novel I had no faith. The story I planned to tell was a bleak and cynical one, but fairly early on I realized that my cynicism was a false front. I wanted to love my characters. At the same time I was gathering Bible quotes to sprinkle in my novel since 19th century Americans were strongly influenced by their Christianity. The Apostle Paul’s letters caught my attention. They spoke to me and turned my world upside down.
I’d put my trust in flawed people but realized placing my trust in God was a better thing. This gave me far more compassion for the people I was writing about—and far more hope.
What advice would you give aspiring authors?
Once I let a stranger on the NYC subway hold my baby son. My gut said not to, but I did it anyway. Don’t do this with your first writings. Even well-meaning people can destroy a fledgling writer’s confidence (sometimes for years). Don’t be in such a hurry. Let your story and your love for it grow strong so when you do finally share it you’re willing and able to really defend it while at the same time able to accept other people’s opinions. Always remember it’s your story.
How do you find time to write?
Once I embraced my passion for writing and let go of my perfectionist fears there hasn’t been anything to hold me back. I write wherever I can and whenever I can. I rise early or stay up late. I write in the car and out in the fields with my goats. I also have a very supportive family who likes me better after I’ve written each day (I’m not a nice person when I don’t write for a few days).
The hardest part of being a writer is beginning.
What do you do when not writing?
My husband and I run a small hobby farm. We raise sheep, dairy goats, chickens and stray ducks. The animals keep us very busy. Farming is like writing. The seeds you plant and the animals you care for repay you in many surprising ways. The goats keep me from being a hermit!
Is there hope for humanity?
Humanity is hopeless without a savior. I lived the vagabond life of chakras and self-help books but until I found Jesus Christ life seemed pointless. The Bible is God’s love letter to humanity. What I failed to realize for so long was that the story wasn’t about rules and regulations. It really wasn’t about punishment as much as it’s about our complete inability to be God or to find things on earth to use as gods.
The commandments illustrate how hard it is for us to keep even a single one. They show us why we need a savior. Don’t be afraid to open the big book and explore it. No one has to know, and you may find you’re surprised you’ve avoided it for so long.