Hoff’s stories, although set in the past, are always relevant to the present. Whether her characters move about in small country towns or metropolitan areas, reside in Amish settlements or in coal company houses, she creates communities where people can form relationships, raise families, pursue their faith, and experience the mountains and valleys of life.
The following is a March 2013 interview with BJ.
My name is BJ Hoff, and I’m a bookaholic. Books are my passion and my weakness. If I’m not writing one, I’m usually reading three. The only thing that can draw my attention away from books is music. I’m not a writer who can work with music flowing in the background. That’s because the music will grab my concentration and distract me from my work-in-progress, so even though there’s almost always music playing in my house, it’s never playing in my office—at least not when I’m working.
I’m married to the finest and kindest man I’ve ever known. We have two lovely daughters and three lively grandsons, all of whom think it’s grand fun to sneak my chocolates and pretend to take me seriously.
I am blessed.
I was a music teacher and a church music director before I began to write, and music still plays a significant role in most of my books, either in the prose itself or through the characters. I probably became a novelist because I’ve always loved to read. I was an only child and a sickly one, so reading books and making up my own stories were my entertainment, sometimes my only entertainment. Many years ago I sold the first novel I wrote. I haven’t stopped writing since. Incidentally, I never did publish that first novel. I decided it wasn’t good enough, so I withdrew it.
What do you think is significant about Christian fiction?
Fiction in itself is significant because it questions presumed truth, reflects truth, and has the power to frame truth in such a way that it can be understood and experienced and lived. Christian fiction accomplishes all that and at the same time can attract the reader to God and faith and morality. The power of story should never be underestimated.
Each reader is different. Readers will view and enter and live in a story in different ways, so I don’t want to generalize the question. Naturally, though, I hope my readers will become a part of the novel’s world and live with the story people. It pleases me no end when I learn that one of my stories has made a reader remember and think about that story long after the reading is finished.
What responses to your novels have affected you the most and why?
I really don’t know how to answer this. I’ve been writing fiction for a long time, and I’ve received so many letters and emails from such a variety of readers with all manner of responses and reactions to my stories that I can’t begin to encapsulate my own feelings about those responses. But if I should try to summarize a reply, most likely it would have to do with those messages that indicate a life has been changed, or something in the story has posed a question that needed to be asked, or evoked a better understanding of how God can make a difference, or attracted a reader to a life of faith when that life previously seemed barren.
Definitely, over the years it has created more dependence on Him. Long ago I learned to trust Him with every aspect of the writing, from the discovery of those characters who people my stories, then through the publishing process itself and the final outreach of the books.
It’s also built a perseverance that I might not have developed otherwise. I’ve had to learn to keep writing through some really difficult trials and struggles. Many times I’ve thought I couldn’t make it to the end of a book, given some particularly difficult life circumstances. And yet I learned that He would carry me if I “kept on keeping on.”
Humility has also been a part of this experience. On my own, not one book ever would have been written. What I do is pure gift, and I’m continually grateful for what He’s given and allowed.
Thanks for that “great novels,” Ellie! I don’t really set goals. If I think about it, I can see that I’ve never been a goal-oriented person. I don’t make “New Year’s resolutions,” and I don’t make word-count or page-count goals for my stories, nor do I set markers to achieve this or that by a certain time or season. I tend to take each day as it comes, I suppose, which probably makes me sound unambitious—and perhaps I am. I’m more inclined, though, to believe that that facet of my character is related to the “Man plans, God laughs,” saying. Any plans I might make would clearly be inferior to those God might have for me, so I simply try to follow in the direction He seems to be leading.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Read. Spend time with the family. I have a great family—they’re funny and interesting and “colorful.” Music is also a special part of any rare, spare time I can manage.
My most recent work (The Riverhaven Years) is a trilogy of historical novels--Rachel’s Secret, Where Grace Abides, and River of Mercy. It’s set in a small Amish community near the Ohio River in the 1850s and begins with a wounded Irish American riverboat captain (Jeremiah Gant) who bursts into the settlement one night, bleeding and nearly unconscious. The unwelcome auslander (outsider) needs a safe place to recuperate before continuing his role as an Underground Railroad conductor. Neither he nor the young widow Rachel Brenneman is prepared for the forbidden love that develops between them, a love that threatens a man’s mission, a woman’s heart, and a way of life for an entire people.
Rachel's Secret (The Riverhaven Years #1)
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Where Grace Abides (The Riverhaven Years #2)
[Purchase: Amazon.com | Amazon Kindle]
River of Mercy (The Riverhaven Years #3)
[Purchase: Amazon.com | Amazon Kindle]
Now, Ellie—you probably already know that I’m not one to talk much about my works in progress. But I can tell you the next project is, as always, historical, and will bring back some of my characters who seem to be among my readers’ favorites: Jonathan and Maggie Stuart from my Mountain Song Legacy series. When some new Amish families build a settlement just outside the small Kentucky mining town of Skingle Creek, the bridge that connects the two communities becomes more than just a landmark physically separating the new Amish settlement. It also poses the question in the minds of many as to whether it will serve as a symbol of invitation—or division.
Another newcomer to the community is the mining company doctor, Frank Kelly, whose primary reason for relocating is to search for his own healing and a measure of peace after the tragic loss of his wife. I doubt that it will come as a surprise to those who have read my other books to find this new project also has its share of Irish American characters—Frank Kelly being only one of them.
When Strangers Meet is a story of love, friendship, and faith—the story of a people from two starkly different cultures who endeavor to tear down the walls of suspicion and resentment that could easily divide them, and instead replace those walls with a common faith in God that will ultimately unite them.
What would you like to say to your fans in New Zealand, and others worldwide?
I receive a surprising amount of email from readers in New Zealand, which delights me. To you—and to my many readers in all countries—a deep and sincere thank you! You make what I do a genuine gift and a blessing. I wish I could meet every one of you in person to tell you how much your encouragement and interest and prayers have meant to me through the years. Truly, “I do thank my God every time I remember you!”
Do you have any parting words?
How about an old Irish blessing?
May God give you …
For every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends,
A faithful friend to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song,
And an answer for each prayer.
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