Lori Benton, author of the acclaimed Burning Sky, was raised east of the Appalachian Mountains, surrounded by early American and family history going back three hundred years. Her novels transport readers to the 18th century, where she brings to life the Colonial and early Federal periods of American history, creating a melting pot of characters drawn from both sides of a turbulent and shifting frontier, brought together in the bonds of God's transforming grace. When she isn’t writing, Lori enjoys exploring beautiful Oregon with her husband.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
I remember well the moment. It was 1978, I was nine years old, and my best friend announced that she’d written a story. Although an avid reader by then, it hadn’t occurred to me, I suppose, that I could also write a story. It was too wonderful a notion not to try it. So I did. I dabbled with writing off and on until I my early twenties. In 1991 I decided to try writing a full length novel and, if I finished it and thought it good, I’d figure out how to attempt to get it published. By the time I finished that novel I knew I wanted to keep on being what I’d become in the process, a writer.
Where did the inspiration for The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn come from?
Straight from the pages of history. I’d written two previous novels set during the late 18th century. In the course of researching one of those novels I came across the mention of the State of Franklin, which almost became the fourteenth state added to the Union in the late 1780s. That stopped me in my tracks. I’d never heard of the State of Franklin, but as I delved into the incredible conflict that occurred just after the Revolutionary War, west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in what was then western North Carolina and today eastern Tennessee, I couldn’t resist setting a story against this historical backdrop.
What made you choose to write a novel?
I’d written a few chapter books before my early twenties, in emulation of books I enjoyed reading at various ages, but as I became an adult, I wanted to do for readers what so many writers of full length novels had done for me, transport them to another place and time and make them see and hear and smell and feel that other world through the senses of a character I created. It was a joy I’d experienced so many times, and a challenge to discover whether I could make it happen myself.
What is the main message or theme that you hope readers of this book come away from it with?
That love—God’s love and the type of sacrificial love we are sometimes able to show each other—can endure whatever tests life throws at it.
Who is your favorite author?
Always a hard question to answer. I like many authors for different reasons. Several writers whose books I return to repeatedly are Ellis Peters, James Alexander Thom, Diana Gabaldon, Jan Karon, and Connie Willis.
Do you have a writing routine? A special pen, a certain type of music, time limits?
I’m most productive if I write at the same time each day. For me that’s 9am to 12pm. I usually put in another few hours after lunch. But those morning hours are the ones when I don’t answer the phone, and turn off email, to focus on the writing. I also need it quiet when I write, and wear earplugs in a house I share only with the dog during the day. But I find certain movie soundtracks like Last of the Mohicans to be inspiring when I’m not actually writing.
Do you enjoy edits/rewrites, or not?
Yes and no. Writing a first draft is the hardest part of this job for me, but once the words are down, no matter how clunky, then I can have fun going deeper into the scene, or the character’s emotions, or the setting (usually all three). Polishing prose, toward the end stages of editing, is a joy.
Editing that comes to me from my in-house editor is tougher, at least the first go-around. It often includes a lot of first draft rewriting with a very tight deadline attached. But in the end, it’s always proved worth the work.
Please tell us a little bit about your journey to publication:
It was long and winding. I began writing with the goal of being published in December 1991. There was no internet or email in my life. I didn’t own a computer. Those things came eventually, as did the rejection letters for the first several novels I wrote. Aside from a few contest placements, my writing received nothing but rejections until I signed with my literary agent, Wendy Lawton, in 2010. My first contract offer came in December 2011, from WaterBrook Multnomah, a publisher I had dreamed of working with. It was a twenty year apprenticeship. My debut novel Burning Sky (a three-time Christy Award winner) released in 2013. The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn released this past April 2014.
What is the hardest part of being a writer?
At the stage I’m at, learning to juggle working on multiple projects at various stages. There’s the one I’m promoting, the one I’m editing, the one I’m researching and writing, and the one that needs to be brainstormed and plotted next. For most of those twenty apprenticeship years I focused on one novel until it was finished, before thinking much about the next. That’s a luxury that vanishes swiftly once a publishing contract is signed.
If you are enjoying that luxury now… really enjoy it!
Are there any common themes that you feel are particularly important to write about?
I’m glad different themes choose different writers, and we’re all passionate about our own themes (and no doubt think them most important!). I say “choose the writer” because I think sometimes themes do that. For instance, I’m drawn to themes of the middle ground where people from different cultures or walks of life meet—in the case of my novels that happens most often on the 18th century frontier. I love a good adventure story, with physical peril thrown in, but I’m just as fascinated by what happens emotionally, how it changes a person, what risks they are willing to take, what frightens them, what draws and intrigues them, how they adapt or don’t, by crossing that middle ground line. I don’t know where that passion comes from.
Another theme that seems to crop up in my writing has to do with conflicts between fathers and sons. I’m obviously not a father or a son. I had a good relationship with my father. Where does that abiding interest come from? It’s a mystery.
When you're not writing, what are your other hobbies/passions?
I like to get out of the house one day a week and into the mountains with my husband and our dog—where we pick huckleberries, have had run-ins with bears, found a matching pair of shed elk antlers, and once (O frabjous day!) were looked at for a few startling seconds by southern Oregon’s first resident wolf in decades, who goes by the name of OR7. Most of the time it’s a lot less exciting, just a bunch of tall trees, rolling views, climbing trails, rushing streams, and clear air to breathe. It’s a mental and physical rest and recharge so I can spend the next six days inside at the computer, creating other worlds with words.
I also enjoy baking, cooking, and, of course, I read a great deal. I’m also an artist, but these days I have no extra time to pursue the wildlife painting I used to dabble in.
Are you working on any new projects?
I am. I recently signed a two-book contract with my publisher, WaterBrook Multnomah (Random House). I’ll be returning to an 18th century setting similar to my debut novel: the Mohawk Valley of New York. In these books I plan to tell the story of the Oneida Nation’s struggles and choices leading up to and during the Revolutionary War. I will tell it through the eyes of two families, one white, the other Oneida, whose lives become irrevocably intertwined through tragedy, deceit, betrayal, friendship, love, and redemption.
The title of the first novel is The Wood’s Edge. It will release sometime in 2015.
Quick Fire round:
Coke or Pepsi? Coke.
Chocolate or Vanilla? Chocolate
Rainy winter days or blazing hot summer days? Rainy winter days.
Hard Copy or e-book? Hard copy. I don’t own an e-reader.
Favorite book? This answer changes nearly every time I’m asked, but I always answer it anyway. The Red Heart by James Alexander Thom.
Last book you read? Written In My Own Heart’s Blood, by Diana Gabaldon.What's your favorite comfort food? Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and peas, with gravy over all.
Lori Benton's Books:
The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn
WaterBrook Press (Random House)
April 15 2014
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?
READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS
WaterBrook Press (Random House)
August 6, 2013
New York frontier, 1784 ~ 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 and she feels obliged to nurse his injuries. The two quickly find much has changed during Willa’s 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 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 once 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?