At the beginning of this month, Author Lori Benton made this announcement:
So of course, we snapped up an interview with her right away! Without further ado, here’s Lori Benton!
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MWF: Your books take place in the late 18th century, a time when America was still trying to figure out who it was going to be. Why are you passionate about this time period/locale?
Lori: After I’d written a few novels, I noticed the themes I was being drawn to repeatedly were those of the Middle Ground—that place between cultures and races and lifeways, both literal and emotional. It’s a place I seem to like putting my characters. Once I discovered how rich with these types of situations the 18th century was, both in setting and figuratively—in the minds and hearts of people who experienced Indian capture, or had a biracial heritage, or were enslaved, or simply thrown down by circumstance into the midst of a people strange to them—it was natural for me to settle down and start spinning stories. Which might beg the question, why am I so passionate about the Middle Ground? I’m not sure I have an answer for that. There’s nothing I can point to in my heritage or upbringing to say, “This is what birthed it.” I think sometimes our passions and interests choose us.
MWF: Oh, I completely agree! I’m often surprised by the things that sit like burrs under my saddle until I get them down into a story! But speaking of Middle Ground, this last May, you wrote a remarkable post about your writing journey called, : Embrace the Wait. In this post, you shared about many things you learned on that journey through Middle Ground, if I may call it that; how to embrace the hours, months, even years of waiting. You wrote primarily about heart lessons…but what about writing lessons? Can you think of one or two writing lessons you had to learn the hard way?
Lori: Learning to write tight, or at least to edit my own writing so it seems I know how to do that. I’ve always written long, bloated first drafts. I’m getting better at it because I had help at one point. There was a writer I’d known for a few years on an on-line writers forum, Lauri Klobas, who finally took pity on me and volunteered in her spare time to read the 300,000 word manuscript I was struggling to edit, promising to take a ruthless red pen to it. Lauri was ruthless, in the kindest and most encouraging way possible. She opened my eyes to how densely overcrowded I’d made the story and helped me find the true core of it, and to stick to it. It took years and many passes, but eventually that manuscript—a much leaner version of it—was the one that finally interested an agent in offering to represent me. That’s my most impacting writing lesson to date. I’ll probably keep relearning it for the rest of my writing career. But at least now I know how to be ruthless with myself. Lauri Klobas was a gift.
Another impacting lesson came from literary agent Donald Maass, in his book The Fire in Fiction. If you don’t read anything else in that book, read Chapter 8, Tension All The Time. He talks about keeping the reader turning the page by infusing every single line of the story with micro tension. Tension over what’s going to happen in the very next sentence, not just chapters down the line, or how the story will end. It was a bit mind-blowing to me at first, but I’m trying to write by it. I hope I’ve whetted your appetite to check out that fabulous book, if you haven’t already.
MWF: The Fire in Fiction is NOT on my shelves, and yes, you’ve made me curious, especially since you’ve mastered this tension thing beautifully! I made sure to link the book to Amazon for our readers, too! Speaking of tension, your book covers such a broad scope of issues, all encased in the theme of Revolutionary America. But many of these issues are still relevant today. Is there one or two “real life” issues that you’d like readers to come away with? Are there themes that you hope will open eyes and change hearts?
Lori: That God is good, no matter what. His nature doesn’t change with the grief and troubles of this fallen world. In fact, it’s in the midst of those troubles where we are privileged to know Him in a deeper way, to know that peace that passes understanding. Or choose to trust Him, whether we feel that peace or not. God has our eternal good in mind. We are His portraits, and His canvas is much broader than the confines of this life, our present emotional and physical comfort. It stretches into eternity.
MWF: What a beautiful way to see His ways, Lori, and that He has eternity planned for us!
It’s pretty much a fact: Writers include bits and pieces of themselves and those around them in their stories. Is there a character, in particular, who is most like you, or most like someone you know, in Burning Sky, or in your latest manuscript, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn? (Is that the correct title?) Or are there specific traits that you infused into your characters because they’re yours, or because of someone you know? For instance, do you know someone with two differently colored eyes?
Lori: I won’t dispute that statement, because I think that happens at least unconsciously, but I don’t think about people I know and borrow from them, or try to put something of myself into characters. Every character I create is a part of me to some extent because I created them, but I’m far more likely to consciously snag a trait from a film, television or literary character I run across than from anyone in real life.
I’ve never met anyone with different colored eyes. I thought it was good symbolism for the two lives Willa was torn between, but I didn’t plan that ahead of time. I didn’t realize her eye color was anything unusual until Neil MacGregor looked at her in the cabin when the light fell just right, and was astonished by what he saw. So was I. Okay. So you have two different colored eyes. Let’s go with that. Though I outline my stories as much as I can before I begin writing, that’s the sort of surprise I leave room for. When it happens on the page I let it stay, give it room to deepen and develop. Sometimes it does, like with Willa’s eyes. Sometimes it doesn’t, and I go back and take it out. Joseph’s dreams were another sort of surprise in that way.
MWF: Lori, this is a rather ethereal question, but I think it ties in with the subject we’re on – how characters are created and evolve – but if there isn’t an easy answer, especially without spoilers…. Willa Obenchain is truly a haunting character. So much suffering has been heaped on her, yet I found myself wanting to be like her, to be able to see things through her eyes. But I loved the way you presented us with two noble heroes in Neil MacGregor and Tames-His-Horse; different as night and day on the outside, but on the inside, both had a solid faith and the desire to act honorably in every way, specifically toward the wounded Willa. This created a bitter-sweetness to this story – in the end, the happiness of one man can only mean the sacrifice of the other. So, tell us. What made you choose to go this route?
Lori: Because a thorough answer would mean a definite spoiler alert, this may be a bit skimpy…. I don’t remember a conscious or calculated decision to write the story that way. Sometimes story weaving and plotting happens in a daydreaming sort of way, often on the edge of sleep, as I allow a scene or several scenes to play out in my head, and the characters make their choices. Sometimes those choices break a writer’s heart, even when she senses that they are true. Sometimes research and historical fact dictate certain choices as well. That was definitely one contributing factor in Joseph’s character.
MWF: Oh, I like that answer, Lori. Especially this: “Sometimes those choices break a writer’s heart, even when she senses that they are true.” Okay. Speaking still of your male leads, you’ve made Neil MacGregor a naturalist and a wildlife/nature artist (you even wrote a “character inspiration” post for Neil MacGregor’s character: 18th Century Naturalist). From the back of your book, we see that you, too, worked as a wildlife artist for a while. On your website, you show us a few of your work samples ((Artwork) – wow! Is this a skill you intend to continue using? Do you see illustrating in your future?
Lori: Thank you for liking those old pieces. I’d love to have the time for it, even to pursue it as a hobby, but I write in most of my spare time as well as during the normal 9-5 work hours most people with a salaried job keep. When I’m not writing I’m reading for research, or taking care of promotional needs. It’s all very wonderful, and draining, and there isn’t enough time or energy for me to pursue anything else creative. I wish sometimes there were two of me, because I miss that creative outlet very much. I don’t rule out never going back to it, but I never pursued it long enough to reach the mastery I’d have liked to, and I’d be very rusty now.
MWF: I just think it’s cool to learn about the different creative gifts–and outlets–of the authors we interview. Art seems to crop up fairly often – but then, we’re painting word pictures, right? So painting for real would be a reasonable transition, I would think. Love it.
One last personal question. You’re a married author. Can you share with our readers some ways that you make your marriage priority, even when deadlines are looming and characters are racing around in your head, yammering at you to let them out?
Lori: On a tight deadline I don’t usually take a day off, sometimes for weeks. But I still cook dinner every evening for my husband and we spend some time together then. When the deadline crunch isn’t a factor we take one day a week, usually Sunday after church, to go out for a tromp in the mountains with our dog and day packs. We’re both introverts and that’s how we refuel, in the ease of each other’s undemanding company and creation, listening to music or an audio book in the car there and back, and having conversation. It’s what has passed for a date with us for 26 years. Longer, going back to our courtship.
MWF: Love that you make time at the end of every day to share a meal together. And your “woodland wonderland dates” sound truly inspiring and romantic! Thank you for giving us a peek into your own love life.
It’s been lovely getting to know you a little better, Lori. Thank you for joining us today at Married…With Fiction!
Lori: Thanks for having me as a guest!
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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.
You can find out more about Lori at her website: Lori Benton
Or drop by her Facebook page.
For a fantastic post on Lori’s gorgeous cover, follow this link: Burning Sky: The Making of a Cover
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So, Dear Readers, have you read Burning Sky? If you’re still debating, check out my review of this fantastic book (yes, I am shamelessly plugging my site, but it’s for an exceptional cause, especially if it means I’ll convince you to pick up Lori’s Burning Sky!).
Guess what! Lori is giving away a copy of Burning Sky to one very fortunate reader! Please be sure and leave your name and email address in non-spam format – example: MarriedWithFiction (at) gmail (dot) com – so that we can forward your information to Lori!
Drawing will be held August 29th, Thursday night at 10 p.m. Pacific time and announced on Friday’s post. Winner will be notified via email.
TWEETABLES in Green!