When she isn’t writing, reading, or researching 18th century history, Lori enjoys exploring the mountains with her husband – often scouring the brush for huckleberries, which overflow the freezer and find their way into her signature huckleberry lemon pound cake.
The following is a November 2013 interview with Lori.
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by Lori Benton
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I used to think I’d spend my life working as a wildlife artist.
Though born on the east coast of the United States, I now live in Oregon with my husband of 26 years. We’re surrounded by beautiful mountains, rivers, and lakes, and we never tire of exploring them whenever possible.
I’m still fascinated by wildlife, but my portrayal of it now comes in glimpses in the 18th century frontier stories I write.
What inspired you to become a novelist, and did you always want to write?
I was nine years old, and an avid reader, when my best friend announced that she’d written a story. She let me read it. It was a moment of revelation: anyone, whenever they felt like it, could write a story about whatever they wanted. My perception of “author” broadened from the narrow notion of entitled and (somehow) permissioned grownups to include a little girl, crazy about Native American stories and wolves, living in a Maryland suburb.
I promptly wrote and illustrated Yellow Feather and the Wild Mustang (and thanks to a grandmother who saved that story, dated 1978, I still have it). I never lost interest in storytelling from that day, and frequently entertained the notion of writing a novel. Though I wrote stories now and then, writing took a backseat to painting for a few years after high school and art college.
What do you think is significant about Christian fiction?
It’s said that experience is the best teacher, and I agree. However, the experience that teaches doesn’t have to be our own. We can learn from others, and that includes fictional characters—if their stories are presented with an undergirding of truth.
Christian fiction is significant in that it allows authors the freedom to present Biblical truths played out explicitly in the lives of characters who struggle to cling to faith in God in the face of the trials life throws at us all, and who triumph, or grow in faith and trust. Spiritual truths should be woven as seamlessly into a well-crafted story as any other element, like an emotional arc, or the history upon which a story is based. To entertain (story), inspire (faith & hope), and educate (history)—that’s the three-fold cord I mean to weave with each book.
I want readers to find themselves transported to the 18th century and immersed in the lives and hopes of my characters. I hope readers will care enough to follow them through a 400 page journey. I hope they come away entertained, encouraged, and touched. I hope my characters linger with them for a long time. And I hope, if they do, that readers will tell their friends about the story.
What has been the most surprising aspect to becoming a published novelist?
Because I wrote for twenty-two years before Burning Sky released back in August, and was active in the writing community for most of that time, I’ve known many published authors, and a few editors. Some are my close friends. I had a good idea of what life after publication would be like. It’s as busy as I was warned. It’s as emotionally challenging. It’s as fulfilling. What surprises me is that I’m capable of working a lot harder than I ever thought I was.
How has being a novelist impacted your relationship with Christ?
Absolutely it has drawn me closer to Him. It’s made me far more aware of my weaknesses. I want to provide readers something beyond entertainment, deeper than a history lesson brought to life. But I can’t provide spiritual meat if I don’t seek it myself. That’s something I love about this challenging career. It stretches an author in so many ways, but as I cling to the Lord in day to day conversation, I find that stretching is good for the spirit. There’s a Beth Moore quote my friend Laura Frantz shared with me recently that resonates with me. “You surrender yourself to living in the tension where you'll always be stretched and often be broken...You accept that far easier ways to live exist, but you were born for nothing less.”
I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, cancer of the lymphatic system, when I was 30 years old. I’ve been in remission for over a decade, but I’m still high risk for other cancers. My goal since then has been to maintain my health by good diet and exercise, so that I will be as strong as I can be if God allows me to face that mountain again one day. Beyond that, in every way I want to allow God to mold me into the woman He wants me to be. Wherever that takes me will be the best adventure. And I long to hear those words at the end. “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Spare time? Is that a thing? I still find it now and then, but there isn’t as much of it lying about as there once was. What there is I spend reading, or hiking in the mountains with my husband. Getting out of the house and into high mountain air (rain, shine, sometimes snow) is a needful part of the life cycle of this writer.
What can you tell us about your debut novel?
Burning Sky is a story about war, though no battles are depicted in its pages. But the Revolutionary War trails its aftermath of loss through the lives of those who survived it. This is a story about such loss—loss of loved ones, home, ability, identity. It’s also a story of healing. 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 and cultures, set amidst the war-ravaged New York frontier of 1784.
In its pages you’ll meet Willa Obenchain, captured by Mohawk Indians as a girl and renamed Burning Sky. Stripped of both identities, haunted by each, she’s come home to Shiloh, New York to find the land and people she once knew irrevocably altered and largely unwelcoming. Willa wants to be left alone to mourn her losses, but God has other plans—for healing and restoration—and He’s placed Scottish botanist Neil MacGregor in her path to begin the process.
Burning Sky has just been nominated by Romantic Times Book Reviews for the Reviewers Choice Award for best novel of 2013 in the Inspirational Romance category.
My next historical novel, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, releases from WaterBrook Multnomah April 15, 2004. Like Burning Sky, it’s set on the frontier shortly after the Revolutionary War, but this time the setting is western North Carolina.
“People have plans for Tamsen Littlejohn, but she sees only a cage. Guided by frontiersman, Jesse Bird, Tamsen will flee the arranged marriage she never wanted, cross a dangerous mountain wilderness, and risk peril and storm to discover God’s plan for her. But when the past catches up to Tamsen, will loving the man who risked everything for her prove the greatest risk of all?”
What would you like to say to your upcoming fans in New Zealand and around the world?
It’s wonderful to imagine my books making the journey to places I’d love to visit, like New Zealand (waving madly at Fiona Brown. I miss you!). I’m thrilled to make that connection with fans in New Zealand and around the word. I hope you’ll be blessed by my stories of early North American frontier history and the faith in an unchanging God that links us all, back and back through the generations, across every border.
Do you have any parting words?
Thank you, Ellie, for allowing me this chance to connect with your readers.
Thank you, readers, for taking a chance on a debut author with a devotion to the 18th century American frontier. I hope to tell many more stories of God’s grace bridging the cultures and peoples of that turbulent time.
All these questions have inspired me to ask one of my own: what historical time period and setting do you like to read about? [Answer Lori's question in the blog comments below]
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“I remember the borders of our land, though I have been gone from them nearly half the moons of my life. But who there will remember me? What I have seen, what I have done, it has changed me.
I am the place where two rivers meet, silted with upheaval and loss.
Yet memory of our land is a clear stream. I shall know it as a mother knows the faces of her children. It may be I will find me there.“
Abducted by Mohawk Indians at fourteen and renamed Burning Sky, Willa Obenchain is driven to return to her family’s New York frontier homestead after many years building a life with the People. At the boundary of her father’s property, Willa discovers a wounded Scotsman lying in her path. Feeling obliged to nurse his injuries, the two quickly find much has changed during her twelve-year absence—her childhood home is in disrepair, her missing parents are rumored to be Tories, and the young Richard Waring she once admired is now grown into a man twisted by the horrors of war and claiming ownership of the Obenchain land.
When her Mohawk brother arrives and questions her place in the white world, the cultural divide blurs Willa’s vision. Can she follow Tames-His-Horse back to the People now that she is no longer Burning Sky? And what about Neil MacGregor, the kind and loyal botanist who does not fit into in her plan for a solitary life, yet is now helping her revive her farm? In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, strong feelings against “savages” abound in the nearby village of Shiloh, leaving Willa’s safety unsure.
Willa is a woman caught between two worlds. As tensions rise, challenging her shielded heart, the woman called Burning Sky must find a new courage—the courage to again risk embracing the blessings the Almighty wants to bestow. Is she brave enough to love again?
Purchase Burning Sky
[Amazon.com | Amazon Kindle | The Book Depository]
Frontier dangers cannot hold a candle to the risks one woman takes by falling in love
In an act of brave defiance, Tamsen Littlejohn escapes the life her harsh stepfather has forced upon her. Forsaking security and an arranged marriage, she enlists frontiersman Jesse Bird to guide her to the Watauga settlement in western North Carolina. But shedding her old life doesn’t come without cost. As the two cross a vast mountain wilderness, Tamsen faces hardships that test the limits of her faith and endurance.
Convinced that Tamsen has been kidnapped, wealthy suitor Ambrose Kincaid follows after her, in company with her equally determined stepfather. With trouble in pursuit, Tamsen and Jesse find themselves thrust into the conflict of a divided community of Overmountain settlers. The State of Franklin has been declared, but many remain loyal to North Carolina. With one life left behind and chaos on the horizon, Tamsen struggles to adapt to a life for which she was never prepared. But could this challenging frontier life be what her soul has longed for, what God has been leading her toward? As pursuit draws ever nearer, will her faith see her through the greatest danger of all—loving a man who has risked everything for her?
Pre-Order The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn
[Amazon.com |Amazon Kindle | The Book Depository]
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by Lori Benton
One print copy to be won
Contest open to entrants in the USA only.
Contest runs from 15-28 November NZDT
Please comment about the interview, answer Lori's question "What historical time period and setting do you like to read about?", or leave a message for Lori when making a blog post comment. Simply commenting about entering the draw or wanting to win the books does not qualify for valid entry into the draw.
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