The place where two rivers meet

BurningSkyYou probably know by now I am a fierce devotee to historical fiction – it’s the perfect backdrop to explore timeless themes. So I am happy to welcome Lori Benton to the blog today to talk about her debut BURNING SKY, a novel of the American frontier. The best part is, I have a copy of her book to give away, so do please read to the end so that you can get in on that.

Before we start, here’s just a little teaser to get you primed for Lori’s wonderfully woven story:

“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?

SUSAN: I always ask my writer friends where the idea for their novel originated because I know sometimes the seed of a story can come from an unlikely place.  From where did the idea for Burning Sky spring?

LoriBentonLORI: Sometimes, this far removed from that moment, the original kernel or idea that inspired a story is buried under too many layers of plotting and research and day to day writing, but with Burning Sky I do retain the memory. There were two images that intruded upon me, rather out of the blue, that I consider catalysts for Willa Obenchain’s story. The first was of an old woman living in a ramshackle cabin in a clearing bounded by ridges, alone and isolated. I wondered who she was and why she seemed so sad. I knew her name was Willa.

The second image was of a young woman, taller than most women of her time and strong, striding across a mountain with a heavy basket on her back and a heavier burden in her soul. I sensed she was coming home after a long time away. I also knew these were the same woman and that the first image would be Willa’s fate… unless someone intervened. From that point the story grew as I began to ask the dozens of what ifs that come with story-weaving, and did my research into the time and place, once I’d decided exactly when that was.

SUSAN: I can tell from reading this book that your research was extensive. How did you approach the research component? Did you learn anything that surprised you?

LORI: Because I live on the west coast, I approach my initial research via books and websites, and friends and acquaintances I have who live back east. But I also have memories to tap. I spent the first half of my life on the east coast and have visited states from New York to Florida. I’m familiar with the eastern woodlands from the coast to the mountains, and still remember what a humid summer day feels like, or a dark rolling thunderstorm, or a twilight dancing with lightning bugs, though I don’t get to experience those things where I live now (thunderstorms are rare and always make me nostalgic). And there’s always Youtube and Google Earth, to help with visuals of a specific place.

The more I’ve learned about the 18th century New York frontier, before and after the Revolutionary War, the more intrigued I’ve become. I’d say my biggest surprise (confining such to the research that directly impacted the writing of Burning Sky) was how devastating the War was on the land and people of the Mohawk Valley and New York frontier, how far back east that frontier was pushed due to raids from the British and pro-British Indians, and how long it took for the largely abandoned farms and communities to recover. The landscape Willa Obenchain and Neil MacGregor enter at the start of the book was one of burned homesteads and straggling-back refugees, some of them as scarred by violence as their farms had been. It would be some years before the Mohawk Valley became again the thriving bread basket of the region that it formerly had been.

SUSAN: You describe a shade of blue in one of your descriptive sentences as the shade of ”trade beads,” which I thought was delicious! Do you spend a great deal of time looking for just the right way to describe something or does that come pretty easy to you?

LORI: When I write description, the most important thing to me is to take into account whose point of view I’m writing from. If Neil had been describing that shade of blue, instead of Willa, he would likely have picked a vivid flower to compare it to. But Willa is coming from a place where trade beads were common things. She no doubt sewed them onto clothing and other articles. It’s a description she wouldn’t have to reach far for. Knowing this required extensive research into her culture and setting, so that had to come first (though I continue researching right up through the editing phase of a manuscript). I strive to give each point-of-view character a distinctive narrative voice. Description (what each character uniquely notices and the language they use to describe it) is a huge part of that. The better I know my characters in the first draft, the easier those character-specific descriptions come, but often it’s in one of dozens of later passes over a scene that I finally hit upon the right phrase.

SUSAN: When you are asked to share what Burning Sky is about in a nutshell, how do you answer?

BSRTblurbLORI: Never the same way twice, it seems. But in a nutshell, Burning Sky is about finding the courage to trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God after experiencing devastating loss—enough to risk living and loving again.

SUSAN: What do you want readers to take away from this book when they are finished?

LORI: I want readers to hold these characters in their hearts for a very long time to come, because I love them so myself. I also hope with all my heart that readers feel strengthened in their faith in a God who has a plan for their eternal good, who entered this fallen world with all its grief and trouble to carry out that plan, in the form of His Son Jesus. Through Him we inherit blessings now, and even more eternally.

SUSAN: What did you take away from the writing of it?

LORI: A passion for telling more stories set on the 18th century New York frontier. I feel I’ve only touched the tip of this iceberg.

SUSAN: What’s next on the horizon for you?

LORI: Another novel releasing from WaterBrook Press, next spring (2014). The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn is set in western North Carolina (present day Tennessee) against the backdrop of that region’s bid for separate statehood in the mid-1780s. In brief: With a murdering stepfather and a spurned suitor in pursuit, Tamsen Littlejohn bargained for hardship, rough-living, even mortal danger in her Overmountain flight to freedom with young frontiersman Jesse Bird. But falling in love? That was never part of the plan.

Susan, here! Thanks for being my guest, Lori. And now for a giveaway! Just leave a comment here before Thursday, August 15 at midnight Pacific and you’re in the drawing. I will announce the winner a week from today so please stay tuned. It’s a great book, folks. (If you want to read the first two chapters, which are delicious, by the way, click right here:

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Author: Susan

This post has 31 Comments

  1. Marge Moulton on August 9, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    Oh my goodness! Now another book that I must get to read. I am loving and learning from historical fiction. What better way to learn about different parts of our country and world than by historical fiction. Thanks for the review that is whetting my appetite!

  2. Kim on August 9, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    This sounds like such an intriguing story! The next book out in spring 2014 (that’s such a long ways away!) really sparks my interest as well!

    Thanks for the great review/interview!

  3. Barb Greason on August 9, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    I would love the opportunity to read this book. I love historical fiction. But i have never read anything in this period of time.

  4. Jan Cason on August 9, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    I expect to get carried away in the pages as I indulge 😉
    Please enter me to win.

  5. Julianna Rowe on August 9, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    This sounds absolutely thrilling! I would love to read it. Historical books have a special place in my heart..Thank you!

  6. Ann Badder on August 9, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    Love a good book!

  7. Pamela on August 9, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    I want a copy! It’s Book Lover’s Day tomorrow.

  8. Susan on August 9, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    I love it that there’s a Book Lovers Day!! It just makes me want to dance. And I’m a pretty pathetic dancer…

  9. Patty H on August 9, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    Thanks for the interview ladies! I’ve been seeing this book around and have entered to win several places. Hopefully this will be the winning entry=)

  10. Dana McNeely on August 9, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    Put my name in the hat. I love historical fiction and Lori’s writing sample is lovely!

  11. Margaret Nelson on August 9, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    Sounds like a great read!

  12. Lori Benton on August 9, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    I love all your responses! Thanks for stopping in everyone. If you have any questions about the interview, I’m happy to answer. I’m editing another novel just now, but I’ll be popping in to check now and then.

    Marge, historical fiction is my favorite way to learn history too. Or at least to begin the journey.

  13. Heather Day Gilbert on August 9, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    Don’t sign me up because I already have the ARC and it is AMAZING. I was just thrilled to see two of my fave authors chatting today! Lori, you really did catch the spirit of the area (I lived in upstate NY for 6 years and my hubby’s family is there). I love going to the Mary Jemison statue/house at Letchworth State Park. And Susan, you know I’m a total fan of your writing, as well. I love stories and characters that stick with me, and both of you ladies write just that. Blessings to you both.

  14. Helen McGar on August 9, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    Sounds like a very good book. Thanks so much for the opportunity to possibly win it!

  15. Lori Benton on August 9, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    Heather, I’m so glad to know Burning Sky caught the spirit of upstate NY for you. Living so far away from my settings has made me super-concerned with nailing that sense of place, so I probably overcompensate with extra research and pestering my friends who do or have lived in the places I write about, when I lack that native familiarity. They say write what you know, but I like to turn that on its head and say know what you write. You can write about anything if you’re willing to take the time and attention necessary to learn to know the subject.

  16. Carol Kelley on August 9, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    Can’t wait to read this book. Thanks for the chance to win.

  17. Sheri on August 10, 2013 at 1:16 am

    This is one of the best interviews of a book I have ever read. . . thanks to both of you for sharing! I would love to win a copy of this book because I can’t wait to read it!

  18. Cherie Kasper on August 10, 2013 at 7:56 am

    I would really love to read this book, I have a family history of Native Americans from both my mother and father’s side.

  19. Clair on August 10, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    It sounds like a great book. I don’t have much on my waiting to be read list right now so it would be a welcome surprise. clairjuly at yahoo.com

  20. Britney Adams on August 11, 2013 at 5:42 am

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful interview and a sneak peek into Burning Sky. The first two chapters are beautifully written and so captivating. They certainly left me wanting to read more! I look forward to continuing this story!

  21. Sherry Stoll on August 11, 2013 at 11:25 am

    I would love to have a chance to read this book by this debut author. I love to read any Christian fiction but Historical fiction is my favorite.

  22. Lori Benton on August 15, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    Britney, so happy to hear those first chapters pulled you in and left you wanting to read more. Being a debut author, I thought it was a good idea to have a significant portion of the opening available for readers to sample. It can sometimes take a little nudge for me to try a new author, and I figured I wasn’t alone in that reading habit. 🙂

  23. Lori Benton on August 15, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Sheri, I’m glad you enjoyed the interview. I certainly enjoyed answering Susan’s great questions!

  24. Whitney on August 15, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Put my name in the hat. 🙂 Thanks!

  25. Bonnie on August 15, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Looking forward to reading this – thanks for the giveaway opportunity!

    bonnieroof60(at)yahoo(dot)com

  26. Donna Harmon on August 15, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Yet another book to add to my must read list. Would love to win a copy!

  27. Brenda Fawcett on August 15, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    Loved the book! Very real to life. Lived with Willa/Burning Sky and could feel her emotion with the words Lori wrote!

  28. Brenda Ayers on August 15, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    I would love to win this book. It sounds like a very interesting book. I guess if I don’t win, it will be another one I will have to add to my library…

  29. Sherry S. on August 16, 2013 at 12:01 am

    I would love to read this book. Thanks!

  30. Judith Cooper on August 16, 2013 at 6:16 am

    Please include my name in the drawing. It is true, one can learn so much from an excellent researched book. It makes the reader feel that they have been there. I look forward to enjoying this book, whether I win or not. Winning would be nice though.

  31. Susan on August 16, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    So glad all of you stopped by to say hello to Lori and get in on the drawing for a copy of Burning Sky. I am happy to say (thanks to random.org) that the winner is Pamela. Email me, Pamela, at susanlmeissner@gmail.com and send me your mailing address.

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