“You have to read this story,” a respected author commented on social media. Then another said the same. Then another, and another, until the ‘I-must-get-this-book’ urge sent me straight to Amazon.
Burning Sky was everything I’d heard of it, and then some. Lori’s debut earned the 2014 Christy Award for First Novel, Historical, and Book of the Year. Lori’s second novel, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, was just as powerful, super-gluing her name to my must-read author list.
Lori’s third novel, The Wood’s Edge, was another exquisite novel rich with historical detail, lyrical prose, and the deep and wide weaving of story and spiritual truth.
Lori Benton was raised east of the Appalachian Mountains, surrounded by early American history going back three hundred years. Her novels transport readers to the eighteenth century, where she brings to life the Colonial and early Federal periods of American history. When she isn’t writing, reading, or researching, Lori enjoys exploring the Oregon wilderness with her husband. She is the author of Burning Sky, recipient of three Christy Awards, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, and The Wood’s Edge.
My Review of The Wood’s Edge:
“At the wood’s edge cultures collide. Can two families survive the impact?”
These powerful words adorn the back of Lori Benton’s third historical, The Wood’s Edge, foreshadowing a historically detailed, emotionally-rich family saga that swept me up and wouldn’t let go.
Sigh. Such depth, such pain, such beauty, all in one book.
The Wood’s Edge is a tender love story on multiple relationship levels: Mother and son. Husband and wife. Father and daughter. Father and son. Friend and foe. Indian and British colonist. The author mines the depths of the human experience, twining it perfectly with the spiritual themes of faith, forgiveness, and mercy.
Lori’s tale of two families bound together by one man’s desperate, haunting choice is rich with well-drawn characters and heart-wrenching events, all tied carefully together. She’s truly masterful at weaving scenes both emotion-packed and bursting with plot-pushing storytelling.
Her prose is simply lovely. You must read it to understand.
And the characters!
Two-Hawks, Anna, Reginald, Lydia, William, Good Voice, Stone Thrower…they’re fictional, right? They’re not real…or are they? Having finished the book late last night/early this morning, I’m just not sure now.
Lori Benton has written another unforgettable book. I can’t recommend it highly enough, unless I climbed up on a really tall ladder and shouted with a megaphone. Read and savor this story, and together we’ll bide our time until 2016 and A Flight of Arrows is released (sequel to this story).
K: Lori, welcome to my blog home. I’m honored to have you here. Let’s start this interview off write, I mean, right: what’s your favorite dessert? Any go-to writing snacks to fuel that poetic prose?
L: Thank you so much, and for that wonderful review of The Wood’s Edge! And… oh my. Dessert! I’m such a baker, always in search of the perfect chocolate cake recipe. Since I’m trying to eat gluten free these days (or gluten light) I can no longer indulge in the results of my baking like I used to. I do have a signature cake—huckleberry lemon pound cake, made with huckleberries we pick here in the Oregon mountains every August (when the bears don’t get them first!). I have a group of friends who each get a cake for their birthday and since we all meet together and devour that cake, I allow myself a slice then. The rest of the cake goes home with the birthday girl. During the writing day I try to snack on healthy things like roasted almonds and dried fruit. How boring!
K: Do you have a book, or books, from childhood that inspired your love of words and story?
L: Do I ever. It’s called The Wolf, by Michael Fox. It came into my life via my school library the year after I’d written my first story, so this would have been fourth grade. It’s a fictionalized account, beautifully illustrated by Charles Frace, about a year in the life of a wolf pack. That book launched two lifelong loves for me and cemented a third. 1. A fascination (bordering on obsession during childhood) with wolves. 2. A passion for wildlife art. 3. My second childhood writing project attempting my own version of a “year in the life of a wolf pack” story. While writing that story I devoured every book I could find about wolves, which I guess is a fourth lifelong love The Wolf inspired—research!
K: How do stories spark in your imagination? From reading history, or does a particular character appear and refuse to go away until his/her story is told?
L: I’ve had it happen both of those ways. After years of researching 18th century North American history, ideas for stories are constantly leaping off the pages, so when a character or an interesting situation does pop up out of nowhere, I don’t usually have to go looking far to find the corner of 18th century history where he, she, or it will best fit. Every novel I’ve written has come to me in a slightly different way and it’s often hard to trace the steps of its forming back to the original seed. Sometimes I don’t know it is a story seed until so much time has passed I’ve forgotten where that original idea came from. But with The Wood’s Edge I do remember that it started with an article I read about twins born to a multi-racial couple. One twin was brown-skinned, the other fair and blue-eyed. And I started to wonder… what if… and here we are.
K: You write historicals based in a specific time frame—Colonial and early Federal periods in American history. Reading your stories, I enjoy learning the vivid details of our country’s birth pains and the dangerous dance between British and American colonists and Native Americans. Has the research you’ve done through the years changed the way you view our country’s past?
L: The research has certainly broadened my vision and corrected many assumptions, if not outright misperceptions. It has stirred my admiration on the deepest levels and it has filled me with regret and sadness. It has surprised me and intrigued me and even brought me to tears a time or two, when I’ve discovered a sister or brother in Christ and learned of their great love of God and devotion to those to whom they ministered. Sometimes those who ministered were European colonists. Sometimes they were Native Americans. The longer I research and write these novels, the larger grow the cloud of witnesses I’m eager to meet one day after this race is run.
K: Your favorite part of the writing process? Least favorite?
L: The hardest part for me is writing the first draft. Especially the first half of the first draft. I’m feeling my way, trying to figure out these characters (I find no matter how much I plan and plot I only truly know them by putting them on the page and letting them talk and act), their desires and what’s driving them, and what they are going to do to pursue those things. Once that groundwork is laid I can proceed with more speed and confidence, but until then this is the part of the writing process most fraught with insecurity and angst. I talk myself off the cliff almost daily, sure that I’ve lost it as a writer and should give it up and go find something else to fill my days. All this is punctuated by moments of brief euphoria when I finish a scene or a chapter and I know (or strongly suspect!) I’m still on the right track. But the longing to be through this part of the process is intense.
My favorite part is when that first draft is done and I pour over it and over it and over it again, finding nuance of character and theme, polishing dialogue, exploring things that hadn’t occurred to me during the first draft when I was laboring just to get it out of my head. My soul sings over this part of the process.
K: I read that you love solitude. I so get that because I’m similar. Which of your characters would you say you’re most like? How about least like?
L: I love solitude because I am revived and refreshed there, and it’s in solitude I write and find inspiration usually. One of my characters, Willa Obenchain in Burning Sky, sought solitude out of unhealthy motives—the risks and vulnerability loving others carries with it. Neil MacGregor, on the other hand, sought the solitude of the wilderness in order to pursue his calling as a naturalist. Yet Neil wasn’t afraid to connect with those God placed in his path. I see myself in both of these characters. On my best days I’m like Neil, seeking solitude not out of fear, but for refreshment and productivity.
As for least like, it’s a coin toss between Lydia and Good Voice in The Wood’s Edge. Lydia’s calling as a healer/midwife is one that requires constant contact with people. That’s where she thrives, where her strengths lie. Good Voice is formed of a village culture. Her wellbeing and identity are linked to the presence of an extended clan to whom she is intimately connected, different from the more solitary 21st century life I lead. While I admire aspects of that culture and even wish ours could be more like it, I don’t believe I could be a writer without the solitude I presently enjoy.
K: Speaking of characters! The Wood’s Edge contains a fascinating cast of characters: Good Voice, Two Hawks, Reginald, Heledd, Lydia, Anna, and Stone Thrower. They all became so real to me. I didn’t want to say goodbye (and was very glad to learn this story is first in a series). When you finish a story and send it to your editor, does it feel like you’re saying goodbye? Do you miss characters from the stories you’ve written?
L: I know I’m going to see them again in a few months’ time, so it’s not too difficult to put them out of mind for a little while. Especially because there are a new set of characters that I have to turn my attention to, a new book to write. But it’s also fun to see them again, to become re-immersed in their world for another 4-6 weeks as I work on content edits. Then they’ll come back to me again a few weeks later for line edits. Then again for copy edits, and a final time for proofreading. Then a few months later it’s time to promote the book and I get to talk about them yet again. So good-bye (like finished) is a relative term with a book.
K: Your pre-published writing story is a saga in and of itself. You battled cancer (and won, praise God), dealt with mind-numbing chemo, and spent long years learning and perfecting your craft. Your strong faith shows in the words you put to page. I’d love to hear how God brought you through those valleys and how it’s affected your writing.
L: After my year of chemo and radiation (1999) was over, it took nearly five more years for the chemo fog to lift. I wasn’t able to write the type of books I wanted to write during that time, which led to seasons of disappointment and even despair, when I quite trying altogether. I finally had to leave it in God’s hands, whether or not I would ever write again, much less see a book of mine published, as had been my dream during the early-mid 1990s.
Then in 2004 I had this idea for a story set in the late 18th century, and felt the first stirrings of what would become a passion for that era. I decided to try one more time. It took me four years to write that story (one that’s still not contracted) because I’d learned my lesson during those foggy years about pushing myself to the point of frustration. Instead, I did whatever it took to experience joy in the writing process, so that I’d want to come back to it the next day. Not dread it. After that book I wrote another one that ended up being called Burning Sky. I’ve been writing steadily ever since.
What did I learn through that long season of not writing? That God has a plan for every aspect of my life and his own timing for the unfolding of that plan. If a dream or desire is from God (I prayed many times that if my writing again was not part of his best for me that he would take the desire away, but he never did), I have to do my part as he enables me, one day at a time, knock on the doors as they come and let him worry about which one opens. To trust that a door is closed for a reason. My season of waiting gave me time to experience the reality of Christ’s love and peace, and for my faith to grow in ways it never would have had I sailed right through my early thirties and into a publishing career.
The character that stands as a testament of much of what I learned during those years is Neil MacGregor in Burning Sky. Any reader can discover much of what I learned through his story.
~ Quick Questions ~
Any pets? We have a dog (an Aussie/Rott cross, we think) called Dargo. We rescued him when he was two.
Favorite holiday? I’m that weird one who likes regular days better than holidays. Maybe because I feel anxious when I’m not writing.
A color we’ll never see you wear? I used to say pink, but I have a few pink shirts now. But in general pink is my least favorite color. Too girlie for this tomboy.
Night owl or mourning dove? I tend to head for bed between 8-8:30pm. Up at 4:30am. You can imagine how well this works with most evening out activities!
A book you’ll never part with? To Say Nothing of the Dog, or How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump at Last, by Connie Willis (the audio version read by Steven Crossley). I love this story/performance and usually listen to it once a year. It’s guaranteed to make me laugh.
Favorite way to spend a lazy day? Reading of course!
Lori, thank you so much for answering my questions and sharing about yourself, writing, and your stories. God has blessed you with a beautiful gift of storytelling, and I look forward to reading A Flight of Arrows in 2016.
To learn more about Lori, click HERE.
Lori has graciously offered a copy of The Wood’s Edge to one commenter on my blog or on the Facebook post of this interview. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents from May 1-8th. I’ll draw a name Friday, May 8th, announce it on the blog, and email the winner. Please be sure to leave your name and email address in your comment so I can contact you if your name is drawn.
**Thank you for stopping by and reading!**