Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Author Interview: Lori Benton and BURNING SKY

(Be sure to comment to be included in a book give away of BURNING SKY. [U.S. residents only])

 Lori Benton is another of my Books and Writers Forum buddies where we have shared critiques and words of encouragement for the last couple of years. Lori blogs at Frontier Faith & Fiction where she shares not only her writing life, but also her faith. Lori’s attention to detail and research show up in her writing and shares her resources with anyone who may be interested in reading further into the historical setting of her work. BURNING SKY is a hefty historical full of lyrical language and intriguing characters and their realistic struggles. To see what everyone is saying about this book check out this list HERE. BURNING SKY is a RT Book Review Top Pick for August.

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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?

 ZM: Lori, I’ve already ordered my mother a copy of BURNING SKY and told tons of other people about you wonderful book. Mother’s review was short and succinct—“WOW!” She’s already put in an order for all your books as they are published. ; )

 The characters are my favorite part. Willa and Neil are so real and so clear. What is your method for getting your characters so rich, nuanced, and deep?

 Lori: Thank you, Zan Marie, for your wonderful support of Burning Sky.

 As for those characters, I don’t have a method—or not one I can break down into a list of steps. But with every novel I write I spend a lot of time thinking about the characters, their backstory, what their goals are and how they will be tested, how they will grow and change, before I begin writing. It’s as if I’m mentally circling them, observing, listening, questioning, and furiously jotting down what they reveal about themselves. It might come in waves, or trickles, scattered over weeks or months, but spending as much time at that as I can before I begin writing makes for less floundering around and trying to nail that stuff down later, when thousands of words have been expended and need to be heavily revised.

 Still, no matter how much planning I do there’s nothing better than putting characters into a scene, letting them confront a challenge or setback, seeing their personalities emerge. Once I start the first draft it’s still an organic process, part intentional construction as I apply what I learned during that mental circling, and maintaining the flexibility to explore surprises when they happen on the page. It doesn’t all get done in the first draft. I continue refining those characters through many passes over every scene, right up to the three main edits that take place once the book passes into my publisher’s hands.

 ZM: That’s a lot of work, but your characters show it with their depth. When did you first encounter Willa and Neil? What drew you to their story?

 Lori: I can’t recall exactly when I first met Willa Obenchain. I’d say it was sometime around 2008, because I was definitely writing her story by 2009. Stories rarely start for me in the same way twice. With Burning Sky, I had a couple of out-of-the-blue visions of Willa, and after asking the bazillion what if and why questions we writers do (that mental circling mentioned above), I knew I had a character with a story to tell.

Neil MacGregor came along years ago, as a hero in a contemporary story with many of the same challenges as the Neil in Burning Sky. For various reasons I never finished that story. When I finally knew it was the historical genre I wanted to pursue, I couldn’t forget the character of Neil MacGregor. Thankfully he made the time leap into the 18th century with surprising ease, and I like who he became there.

What drew me to their story? It’s easier to answer what drew me to them. The story came a bit later. I’m drawn to characters who are caught in the Middle Ground, whether that’s a place on the map historically, a frontier between peoples, or an emotional place between two cultures or races or life ways. I’m not usually drawn to story first (or plot). Usually it’s character, but they’re so intertwined it’s hard to separate the two. That first flash of inspiration contains the kernels of both.

 ZM: I love your Pinterest Board for BURNING SKY! How did you get interested in using Pinterest in this way?

 Lori: Among writers in the Inspirational genre (which I write) creating Pinterest boards for novels is a popular thing for an author to do. Once I discovered this, I realized there was a place for Pinterest in my life. Until then I didn’t get the appeal. Now I create boards for clothing of the time periods I write about too, which have come in handy when the cover designer needs a visual of an outfit I’ve described in the story. Pinterest novel boards are a fun way to engage readers in our story worlds.

 ZM: Lori, your personal story is wonderful. Please share a bit about your journey to publication.

 Lori: It was long. It was winding. It taught me patience. I began writing with the notion of being published in 1991. By 1999 I’d written several novels in different genres, all of which were ultimate rejected for publication. Then I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Months later, in remission, I tried to pick up the writing again and found I was suffering what’s known as chemo fog. Long story short, I wasn’t mentally up to snuff for about five years. I stopped trying to write altogether several times. I managed to write a children’s chapter book in that time (yet another genre!) but it too was rejected across the board.

In 2004 I began researching 18th century American history. I began another novel, thinking I’d give it one more try. I finished that book, but it took years, and a very long time to edit into shape.

I attended a writers conference at Mount Hermon, in California (not my first conference by far), and met my agent there for the first time. But my manuscript was too long for her to consider at that time. I went home and back to trimming. A few months later a group of this agents authors who blog together held a contest. From submitted first chapters they would choose six finalists who they would then pass along to their agent. She would pick the winner. I figure I had nothing to lose, and this way might finally get my writing in front of this agent. I was chosen as one of the six, and out of those the agent picked mine as the winner, which meant I was able to submit the whole (drastically tightened) novel to her. She offered to represent me.

 We’ve yet to find a home for that first novel, but about a year and a half later later she sold the next two I wrote, Burning Sky being the first.

 ZM: Many craft books stress that writers must read and read a lot. Who is your favorite author, or what is your favorite genre? What draws you to a book you read for enjoyment?

Lori: I wish I had more time for reading for enjoyment. These days it’s usually the ten to fifteen minutes before I fall asleep each night, except for audio books, and I’m far less picky about genre with those. I’ll take what’s available from my library, just so I’m reading something.

James Alexander Thom is one of my favorite historical authors. His books are long, and mostly set in the 18th century (The Red Heart, Panther in the Sky, Warrior Woman, Long Knife). I’ve loved Ellis Peters/Edith Pargeter, who wrote the Brother Cadfael mysteries and many more. Susanna Kearsley is another favorite (The Winter Sea, The Shadowy Horses, The Firebird).
 I prefer to read historicals, though now and then I’ll read a contemporary novel if I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. This past year I’ve been zipping through YA Distopian series on audio (and liking most of them). Like I said, I’ll take what’s available in audio, or I might never have ventured into that genre.
 ZM: What is your next book about and when can we expect to get to read it?
 Lori: My next book, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, is set in western North Carolina (present day Tennessee), 1787-1788, during a time of upheaval in that region following the Revolutionary War. It’s available for pre-order at some online booksellers, but releases April 15, 2014.
Lori Benton was born and raised east of the Appalachian Mountains, surrounded by early American and family history going back to the 1600s. 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, 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.
 Remember, if you comment and leave your email address during the next week, you’ll be in the drawing for a copy of Lori’s wonderful BURNING SKY! (Sorry, U.S. residents only.)


  1. Great interview. Sounds like a long hard struggle but I'm so glad you kept going. Burning Sky was an amazing book!

    BTW don't put me in the drawing as I already have a copy.

    1. I love BURNING SKY. I've already talked a cousin-in-law into buying it with the interview. :-)

    2. Thank you! Yes, it was a long road with some steep spots, but I wouldn't change a step of it now. Easy roads don't help us grow.* So glad you enjoyed Burning Sky. :)

      *a truth of which I will remind myself at the next steep stretch!

    3. I've pushed the book on a few friends and relatives too. They were actually quite sad that it was your first book because they wanted more now. I told them there were more coming.

  2. I've read many great reviews of this novel! I would love to win a copy!

    The huckleberry lemon pound cake sounds wonderful=)


  3. This novel sounds fantastic! Enjoyed the interview. Please enter me in the giveaway!

    Barbara Thompson

  4. Great interview, Zan Marie! I'm so happy Lori's book is doing well :)

    1. She's written a great book. I'm thrilled it's doing well, too.

  5. Thanks for hosting me, Zan Marie. Hope you get a lot of entries for that copy of the book.

  6. By the way, anyone else read James Alexander Thom, or Susanna Kearsley? They are vastly different writers, yet I highly recommend them both.

    1. You've mentioned them a lot. I'll have to check them out. ;)

  7. Inspiring interview. It makes me realize we're all fighting are own battles to publication. What a great idea to create a Pinterest page for your book! I'm going to check it out.

    1. Welcome to the Shade, Jenn. I'm glad you liked Lori's interview. She's an inspiration.

  8. I love the sound of this book. Great interview. I'm adding it to my TBR list.

  9. I'm excited to read "Burning Sky"! The American Revolutionary period is a favorite. Add in Native American and Scotsman love interests? I'm in.


    1. Gwen, you'll love it! And you're in the pot for the book. :-)

  10. Thanks for a fabulous interview. Lori's book sounds wonderful. The publisher must think so, the cover is stunning. I'm definitely hooked already.

    1. It is wonderful, Joylene! Thanks for coming by the Shade. ;-)

    2. My cover designer, Kristopher Orr, made me a very, very happy debut author. :)

  11. Great interview, ladies!

    Love the name Willa, Lori. I've only ever seen it before in Bernice Thurman Hunter's Booky books.

    And oooh, you've got Ioan Gruffudd on your Pinterest board!
    He's all over my Story Inspirations board too :-)


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