When I was ten, my family took a road trip from Chicago to San Francisco and back. One memorable highlight was our stay at Yosemite National Park. I was amazed then, and still am today, at the incredible beauty of America’s national parks, and the leaders who had the foresight to preserve them for the public to enjoy for decades to come.
Since then, I’ve visited several other parks, including Hot Springs, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks–each breathtakingly gorgeous in its own way. But topping my to-visit list currently is Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park.
In 1901, renowned naturalist John Muir wrote of this park, “Of all the fire-mountains which, like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest.” It seems fitting, then, that author Karen Barnett chose Mount Rainier as the setting for her historical novel, The Road to Paradise, the first in the new Vintage National Parks series.
The Road to Paradise (published by Waterbrook) takes the reader on a journey to Mount Rainier National Park through the eyes of Margie Lane, a naive young socialite who is drawn to the park by her love of nature as well as her wish to escape an undesirable situation at home. The year is 1927, but unlike in the cities, the only things “roaring” in the park are bears and mountain lions. New to park life, Margie at first butts heads with the reclusive park ranger assigned to help her get her bearings. But soon they find themselves working together to stop an unscrupulous businessman from ruining the park for his own profit. The Road to Paradise offers plenty of romance and intrigue against the rugged, untamed beauty of the mountain wilderness.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Road to Paradise, especially the details of what it was like for a woman to work there during my very favorite era, the 1920s. Come join Karen Barnett and me in our imaginary park lodge as we settle into comfortable chairs near the great stone fireplace and have a chat.
Jennifer Lamont Leo: Tell us a bit about the story behind The Road to Paradise. You used to be a forest ranger, right? Tell us a little about that. Is that where you got your inspiration?
Karen Barnett: That’s definitely what inspired the Vintage National Parks novels. I worked as a park ranger at both Mount Rainier National Park and at Oregon’s Silver Falls State Park. I started working in parks while I was still in college and graduate school and had some of the best summers of my life doing so. There’s nothing like living in a national park all summer, spending time with people who are enjoying the beautiful outdoors, and then having the park all to yourself after they head home. I still remember grabbing my breakfast and sitting outside the park housing at Mount Rainier watching the sunrise turning the peak purple and pink. The joke is always that rangers are paid in sunrises and sunsets. It’s actually pretty true.
I’d been working for Oregon State Parks for a couple of years when we decided to start our family. I stepped away from park work to become a stay-at-home mom and to follow a new dream—writing. It took over a decade to get my writing career off the ground, though, so I don’t encourage aspiring writers to quit their day job.
JLL: “Forest ranger” sounds like a dream job to many of us desk-bound types. Do you ever wish you still had that job?
KB: I do–often. I miss working in beautiful places and opening people’s eyes to the intricacies of the natural world. I sometimes have to remind myself that it was also a draining job. When you put on the big hat, you’re a public commodity and always have to be ready to represent the park’s public image or enforce park regulations. You also are expected to work weekends, evenings, summers, and holidays. Whenever the rest of the world is out playing, you’re on the job. And park housing wasn’t always about the sunrises–think cramped quarters that you share with rodents and large insects. So there are definitely good and bad aspects of the job. But I still miss it.
JLL: Have conditions changed much for National Park employees since the 1920s? If so, how? What things remain similar?
KB: In preparation for writing The Road to Paradise, I spent time in the archives at Mount Rainier reading through the Chief Ranger’s monthly reports for 1927 to get a feeling for what my hero would be doing on a daily basis. I was surprised to find him doing some very basic work like repairing phone wires, refinishing wood floors, patrolling trails, and such. Today that position is much more administrative. In fact, I’d say the NPS as a whole has become more streamlined and specialized. Rangers are hired for specific types of jobs. I was part of the interpretive staff—the naturalists who run the campfire programs, offer guided hikes, answer questions at the visitor centers, and get to work with cute little junior rangers. Other rangers serve as park police, climbing rangers, natural resource stewards, fee collectors, trail crew, maintenance, etc.
Also, as shown in The Road to Paradise, 1920s-era park service was a man’s world. There were a few isolated cases of women rangers scattered around the country, but the staff was overwhelmingly male. Parks still struggle with cases of discrimination and sexual harassment (there have been some very public cases in the past ten years), but I wasn’t aware of any in the parks where I worked. [If you’d like to know more about the history of women in the parks, head over to my website and sign up for my email newsletter. You’ll receive a link to a free download of my “Women in the National Parks” e-booklet.]
JLL: The Vintage National Parks series follows your earlier series set in San Francisco. As the old song goes, does your “heart belong” in the West? Do you find the region a particularly rich source of story ideas?
KB: I’ve spent most of my life in the west, so it’s a comfortable place for me to set novels. I’m familiar with the lay of the land, the climate, the smells, and sounds. That frees up some of my research time to focus on the history rather than the basics of the setting. But with that said, I’m not opposed to writing farther afield in the future. I have a simmering story idea that centers around a hot spring resort in Georgia, and if I end up writing more books about National Parks (after these three), I’d love to explore parks located in other regions of the country.
JLL: Do you share any personality traits in common with your main character, Margie? Is she based on anyone you know?
KB: I originally based Margie on my own experiences in the National Park Service. When I first started working as a ranger, I had a huge amount of enthusiasm and book knowledge, but no practical outdoors skills. As I wrote Margie’s character, however, she took on a voice all her own. She’s poetic, artistic, and whimsical—much more so than me. One reader compared her to Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne Shirley character, and I can definitely see that.
JLL: What inspires you to write historical fiction?
KB: I write historical fiction because I have a secret desire to travel through time. I’m not a genius inventor, so this is my way of accomplishing that dream.
JLL: How did you choose the time period(s) you write in?
KB: Both my debut novel (Mistaken) and the Golden Gate Chronicles were inspired by historical events, so the time periods were pretty set. With The Road to Paradise, I was looking to tell the story of women breaking into this male-dominated profession and the 1920s just felt like the right time for that to me. The 1920s and 30s were a period of massive change for our nation and also a golden age for our national parks. People were beginning to embrace the idea of family vacations and traveling for the purpose of recreation. Prior to that, most US travel was done for economic or family reasons.
JLL: What are some ways you “refill the well” of your creativity?
KB: That’s a great question and is something I’ve honestly struggled with in the past year. I used to say that watching TV and movies in my downtime inspired me (I’m a Netflix junkie), but I discovered recently that it had begun to actually sap my desire to write. So in recent months, I’ve started reading a lot more—coming back to my “first love” if you will. Seeing what some of my favorite authors are doing in their novels inspires me to get back to the computer and improve my own craft.
I also enjoy photography. My dad is a retired photographer, and he taught me a lot about viewing the world through a camera lens. I find that my favorite photos are the ones that tell a story, or at least hint at one.
JLL: What aspects of novel-writing do you enjoy most? Least?
KB: I love the research most of all. I get all giddy when I find a great book or webpage that will provide fodder for my writing. I also love to travel and immerse myself in the setting. Sometimes it’s tough for me to put the research aside and get on to the task of writing.
Least? The self doubt. Whenever I’m about two thirds of the way through the first draft of a manuscript, all the negative voices start chanting in my head:
You’ll never finish this.
Who would read this garbage?
Everyone’s going to realize you’re not really talented.
Why did you ever start this?
It makes me shudder just thinking about it. I don’t think the voices really abate until after the novel is published and the first reviews begin to roll in, but by then I’m on to another project. This writing business is not for the faint-hearted.
JLL: Are you a “plotter” or a “pantster”?
KB: I’m a pantster. I do write a loose synopsis so I know the general framework of the plot, but I leave myself lots of wiggle room. I like when the characters surprise me. Those moments always take me off-guard, but it’s also a lot of fun. I do have to say that being a pantster is also terrifying. The blinking cursor is NOT my friend.
JLL: What are you working on now?
KB: I’m currently writing the third book in the Vintage National Parks series. It is set in Yellowstone in 1934 and will feature a woman who has grown up in Yellowstone, a hero who has never been off the streets of Brooklyn, and one of FDR’s New Deal programs, the Civilian Conservation Corps. I’m still in the early stages of writing this one, and already the characters are flying off the page. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.
JLL: The Road to Paradise is part of a series, right? Tell us a little about the other books in the series.
KB: I guess I just told you about book three, didn’t I? Haha! The second book of the series is undergoing edits at my publishing house and will release this June. Where the Fire Falls is set in 1929 Yosemite. Olivia Rutherford has rocketed onto the watercolor art scene and mastered an avant-garde reputation to distract wealthy buyers from her family’s shameful past. When she is hired by a popular travel magazine to illustrate Yosemite and its one-of-a-kind Firefall, she hopes the lucrative contract will lift her and her sisters from poverty. Trail guide Clark Johnson knows a lot about running from your past, but he also knows that God sometimes uses Yosemite to show people who they really are—or rather, who He wants them to be.
Look for The Road to Paradise and other books by Karen Barnett at your favorite bookseller. To enter to win a free e-book of The Road to Paradise, simply leave a comment below. I’ll pick a winner at random on Wednesday, December 6, 2017.
Big news, Sparklers! The brand-new Sparkling Vintage Ladies’ Reading Circle has opened its virtual doors on Facebook! We’ll be discussing historical fiction, mostly from (or set in) the early 20th century, starting in November with MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS by Agatha Christie.
Our goal is to read and discuss one book per month. If you’re a lady who enjoys reading historical fiction, come join us here, and be sure to invite any friends who might be interested!
White gloves optional.
Today I’m delighted to welcome Elaine Marie Cooper to A Sparkling Vintage Life. Elaine’s newest novel, Saratoga Letters, set in New York during the Revolutionary War period, releases this week from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.
Saratoga Letters tells the story of the Battle of Saratoga, the first great victory of the American Continental Army, through the eyes of Abigail, a patriotic woman forced by her Loyalist uncle to nurse wounded British soldiers. Two centuries later, the anniversary of the battle draws together Abby, an American, and a descendant of a British soldier, and adventure ensues. Bestselling author Laura Frantz says of the story, “Poignant and suspenseful by turns and graced with an uncommon spiritual depth, this novel is historical fiction that truly grabs your heartand feeds your soul. My favorite Elaine Cooper story to date!”
Jennifer Lamont Leo: Welcome, Elaine! When will Saratoga Letters be published?
Elaine Marie Cooper: It releases October 4 and I am so excited! (JLL: That’s tomorrow, folks! Get your Amazon-clicking finger ready…)
JLL: The story is set in Saratoga, New York, in 1777. What has intrigued you about this time and place in history?
EMC: Several things. First, since I grew up in Massachusetts, I have long been enamored with the history of the beginnings of our country. But I was particularly drawn to Saratoga because my own ancestor fought in the battle there in 1777—as a British Redcoat! I had long wanted to visit the site because of that. When I was there, my writer’s muse became intrigued by the possibility of a multigenerational suspense story. This was a first for me and I’m very excited about this story!
JLL: What sparked your imagination for this particular story?
EMC: Believe it or not, it was a lost key to a motel room! Crazy, I know! All the “what-ifs” began to play in my mind and, before you know it, a plot birthed in my writer’s muse. 🙂
JLL: Tell us a bit about your research process for Saratoga Letters. Do you have any favorite resources that you turn to for research?
EMC: My very favorite sources for research are historians. I love picking the brains of those who share my love for history. They never ask why I need a minor detail about something—they just understand. Saratoga Letters took on a whole new challenge however because I was researching two completely separate centuries. It was a huge challenge to get details about 1977 because there was no internet then and many of the real-life details were often hidden in old newspaper stories or files in a historical archive. The great part about this was meeting so many helpful contacts in the Saratoga area. I’m so grateful for their help!
JLL: What do you most hope readers will take away from Saratoga Letters?
EMC: I think the key thought that readers of this book may take away is a truth about good vs. evil.
JLL: Are there any particular triumphs or challenges you’re facing in your
writing life these days?
EMC: My biggest challenge this past year has been my health. I had a total knee replacement a year ago that became infected. The resulting surgeries and course of serious antibiotics really challenged me! I’m so relieved to say that this seems to be behind me now and I am back to writing again.
JLL: How do you stay spiritually grounded during the writing and publishing process?
EMC: If I don’t start my day reading the Bible and praying, I might as well not bother to write that day! I feel so strongly that the message in my words must glorify God and I pray that it always will.
JLL: Are there any particular authors and/or books that have inspired your writing journey?
EMC: Laura Frantz!! She is my historical fiction hero! I cannot tell you what a joy it is to have her endorse Saratoga Letters!
JLL: What’s on your music playlist?
EMC: The soundtrack to “Son of God.”
JLL: Any movies (old or new) that you’d recommend?
EMC: One of my favorite historical movies is Last of the Mohicans. It’s definitely not for children, but it is an amazing look at early America during the French and Indian War. I also love the 1939 movie Drums Along the Mohawk. The Patriot with Mel Gibson, the AMC TV series Turn, and the PBS series Poldark are among my favorite historicals, as well.
JLL: What’s the next book project coming up for you?
EMC: I currently have two children’s books with my agent. It is a series of books that features siblings of children with special needs. I also will be researching a sequel to the 1777 portion of Saratoga Letters. I am VERY excited about that!
JLL: Is there anything you’d like readers to know about you that I haven’t asked? If so, tell us!
EMC: I honestly never imagined that I would become a writer of historical fiction. I spent years working as a nurse, and the fact that I now immerse myself in little-known historical tidbits is quite amusing to me! But I am so grateful to the Lord for allowing me this opportunity to write stories that I love and, I pray, that my readers will love as well.
JLL: Thanks, Elaine!
EMC: Thank you so much, Jenny, for having me as your guest!
Snap up your copy of Saratoga Letters!
Award winning author Elaine Marie Cooper is the author of Saratoga Letters, Fields of the Fatherless, Bethany’s Calendar and the historical trilogy called the Deer Run Saga. Her passions are her family, her faith in Christ, and the history of the American Revolution. She grew up in Massachusetts, the setting for many of her historical novels.
Her upcoming release is Legacy of Deer Run (CrossRiver Media, Dec, 2016)
Cooper has been writing since she penned her first short story at age eleven. She began researching for her first novel in 2007. Her writing has also appeared in Fighting Fear, Winning the War at Home by Edie Melson and the romance anthology, I Choose You. She has also written articles for Prayer Connect Magazine, Splickety Prime Magazine, Better Homes & Gardens, and Life: Beautiful Magazine. She began her professional writing career as a newspaper freelancer.
I had the delight of reading A Reluctant Melody by Sandra Ardoin, an engaging historical novel set in 1890s North Carolina. It’s the story of Kit Barnes, a recovering alcoholic seeking a place where he can establish a mission to help others who are driven to drink, and widow Joanna Cranston Stewart, who happens to own the perfect place for such a mission. She also also happens to be someone from Kit’s past–the past he is trying so very hard to overcome. Meanwhile, Joanna is coping with some dark secrets of her own. Toss in a blackmailer and you have a powerful story that won’t let you go.
Recently Sandra kindly let me grill her about the book. Enjoy our conversation!
Jennifer Lamont Leo: Sandra, tell us about your inspiration to write A Reluctant Melody. How did the story come about?
Sandra Ardoin: For my 2014 Christmas novella The Yuletide Angel, I needed an internal conflict for my hero, so I gave Hugh an estranged, alcoholic, ne’er-do-well brother named Kit, who had betrayed him by seducing the woman Hugh had intended to marry. Years later, Kit shows up on Hugh’s doorstep, sober and spiritually redeemed. Does Hugh trust and forgive him or not?
I love it when an author takes a minor character who interests me (the reader) and develops a new story “starring” that character. And I’m always writing a secondary character who intrigues me (the writer). As I wrote the scenes with Kit, I wanted to know more about him and reunite him with Joanna, the woman he’d seduced, so I proposed a story to Ann Tatlock, my editor at Heritage Beacon Fiction. A Reluctant Melody released last January.
JLL: A Reluctant Melody deals with the thorny topic of alcoholism, along with the brighter side of recovery. In your research, did you discover any differences in attitudes toward alcohol and its treatment in the book’s time period (1890s) versus today?
SA: These days, we consider alcoholism a disease and alcoholics can seek physical and psychiatric help to break the drinking cycle. In Kit’s day, there were no rehab centers or Alcoholics Anonymous. (The latter didn’t come along until the 1930s.) Many doctors believed in weaning a patient off alcohol through the use of other drugs like opiates. Kit didn’t believe in compounding the problem by exchanging one drug for another. He was a little ahead of his time. 🙂 I wanted his mission to encompass the shelter efforts of the era’s Salvation Army with Christian encouragement, a bit of a holistic approach when it came to healthy eating and exercise, and the encouragement of AA.
JLL: Why did you choose to set the story in North Carolina in the 1890s? Any particular reason?
SA: I set The Yuletide Angel in northern Virginia and the backstory in Philadelphia, but didn’t want my heroine, Joanna, near either of those places. It added a little more conflict to transplant her in the South through marriage. I also wanted a town that wasn’t city-sized, but not too small. After some research, I created a growing fictional town that was a cross between the NC town I live in and Dillworth, a community that is now part of Charlotte. I loved the idea of adding a horse-drawn trolley and a recreational park with a small lake—both things Dillworth had in the 1890s.
JLL: I loved the theme of music threaded throughout the book. Joanna seeks solace in playing the piano. Are you a musician, too?
SA: I’m afraid the closest I come to being a musician is singing along with some of my favorite country music performers on the radio. Believe me, no one would pay to hear me sing to them! 🙂
JLL: Can we look forward to a sequel?
SA: I was asked this question recently by a reader. Right now, I have no plans for another book in this line. That doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it, though. As I wrote, I considered doing something with Ben Greer or Darcy Baird. I think they’d both like to experience a happy-ever-after.
JLL: Tell us about your writing journey. Was it your life’s plan to become a novelist?
SA: I’ve had a long and uphill writing journey. I say “uphill” not referring to difficulty seeking publication, but in length of project. (Think of an upside-down pyramid. :)) I began with small projects—greeting cards and posters–and was first published in 1986. In 1992, while my child napped, I tried my hand at short stories (mostly children’s) for denominational publications. The more I wrote, the more I was published. Off and on, I tried to write a novel, but always believed God was saying it was not my time … until 2008. My first completed novel is buried somewhere in a virtual file and will stay that way unless He prompts me to rewrite it. Then came a handful of other unpublished, yet completed, novels. My first published book was The Yuletide Angel for Heritage Beacon Fiction. In turn, it spawned my first novel A Reluctant Melody.
JLL: What other projects (writing and otherwise) are currently on your horizon?
SA: Frankly, the past several years have been pretty hectic with work, so I’m taking a little time to breathe, although that doesn’t mean I’m not writing.
This summer I completed a pitch contest for Love Inspired Historical, making it to the final round—submission of a full manuscript. Unfortunately, publication didn’t work out, but it was a wonderful educational experience in learning to write for them. I’ll be submitting there again in the future.
I’ve written in the historical genre for eight years, my favorite time period being the second half of the 1800s. However, I’m also a lifelong fan of reading contemporary romantic suspense, so I’m brainstorming a series in that genre while also wanting to keep my hand in the past.
JLL: Where can readers connect with you on the Internet?
Find me at www.sandraardoin.com and on the Seriously Write blog. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, and Pinterest. I love connecting with readers, so please become a member of my reader community by signing up for my newsletter. You’ll receive quarterly updates and other tidbits about my writing.
JLL: If there’s anything you’d like to tell readers, please do!
SA: I just want to say I’m so thankful God gave me an outlet for getting those crazy people out of my head :), as well as an opportunity to minister in a fun way that suits this introvert’s shy personality. If God uses one of my stories to touch or change a person, it’s all good.
JLL: Thanks, Sandra. I appreciate your taking the time to chat with me! Blessings on your writing journey.
SA: Thanks so much for letting me share, Jennifer!
Look for A Reluctant Melody at your favorite bookseller.
My debut novel, You’re the Cream in My Coffee, is scheduled to be published exactly three months from today!
Tick … tick … tick …
For updates on the book and all sorts of other newsy tidbits (like exclusive giveaways and other goodies), sign up to get my newsletter at right. It’s free, it’s fun, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Thank you so much to everyone who entered! I hope you will continue to visit this blog, where we talk about Sparkling Vintage Fiction…among other things. 🙂
The other day I wrote about a fun “Forties Frolic” event set at a USO during World War II. This event focused on the positive aspects of life on the homefront during the war: the determined efforts to support the men in uniform, the camaraderie of a community pulling together during difficult times, and even the cheerful Big Band music that lifted the spirits and soothed the heart.
But despite these nostalgic aspects, the reality is that war is hell, and even on the homefront there was a darker side. One of the more shameful blots on U.S. history is the internment of Japanese-Americans in internment camps for the duration of the war.
Pacific Northwest author Jan Cline has just released a novel whose story revolves around one such internment camp in Wyoming. Emancipated Heart follows one family through the trials of life behind barbed wire. “Considering the current events in our country, this book will remind us how easily history repeats itself, and how God calls us to act humanely in all situations,” Jan explains. “The topic of internment is not well taught in history books. Emancipated Heart will inform and educate, all while providing an entertaining, enjoyable read for anyone, especially history lovers.”
I asked Jan to tell us about Emancipated Heart and the writing life, and she graciously agreed. Better still, she’s going to send a copy of Emancipated Heart to a lucky winner! Simply post a comment below or e-mail me privately at jenny (at) jenniferlamontleo.com to be entered in a Rafflecopter drawing for a copy of Emancipated Heart. I’ll hold the drawing on Tuesday, April 12, 2016, and will notify the winner.
Let’s give a warm Sparkling Vintage welcome to Jan Cline!
Jennifer Lamont Leo: First, the basics. Where did you grow up? Where do you live now? Husband, kids, pets…?
Jan Cline: I grew up in central California and moved to Washington State in Jr. High. Been here ever since with my hubby of 43 years. We have 3 children and 8 grandchildren – most live nearby but some are across the U.S. We have a Yorkie named Cooper who rules the house and pretty much runs our life!
JLL: Tell us about your writing journey and how you got started as an author.
I’ve been writing since childhood, and started writing devotionals as an adult and some other non-fiction pieces for magazines and other publications. I always thought I would forever be a non-fiction writer. But a friend dared me to write fiction and I gave it a try. After completing my first “novel” I was hooked. Of course it was terrible, but it got me started on the road to learning how to write fiction.
JLL: How did you get inspired to write Emancipated Heart?
JC: I was researching for another story I planned to write and happened on information about the Japanese American’s plight during WWII. I was fascinated and knew I had to write about it.
JLL: Tell us about your research process for Emancipated Heart.
JC: I LOVE to research and I did extensive reading on the topic, and found several documentaries with personal interviews. I decided to visit the Heart Mountain Internment Camp in Wyoming to see for myself what it might have been like. They have a wonderful interpretive center there and it captured my imagination. I visited Japantown and Chinatown in the Seattle area and read and viewed everything I could get my hands on. Most Japanese who were interned are not willing to talk too much about their experience, so I didn’t have the opportunity to speak personally with many who were interned. I returned to Heart Mountain when the manuscript was done and was even more moved – Heart Mt. is what I modeled my story after.
JLL: Did writing Emancipated Heart reflect your own life and/or faith journey in any way? If so, discuss.
JC: I think the theme of freedom is one we can all relate to – especially as it concerns the message of Christianity. And I think we have all been treated unfairly at some time. I remember as a young girl being looked down upon for being poor, and that’s just a very small experience with prejudice. I discovered the Japanese American people of that time were far more dignified that I would have been under those circumstances. I was encouraged in my own faith, just by the mere perseverance of these people.
JLL: What 2 or 3 people have had the greatest influence on your writing thus far, and why?
JC: I have been coached by Susan May Warren, who always encouraged me in my writing. She has been an inspiration to me. My friends in the business like James L. Rubart, Mick Silva, Tracie Peterson, and others, have been faithful to encourage and inspire me by their creative and spiritual walks. I have been blessed that way.
JLL: Are there any particular challenges you’re facing in your writing life?
JC: I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis about 8 years ago, and I find it difficult to keep up with life and writing sometimes. The challenges of chronic pain is something I have to deal with daily, but writing is a good escape, when I’m able. Being disciplined is always an issue for me, so I’m trying hard to do better now.
JLL: How do you stay spiritually grounded?
JC: Writing and being accountable to the message God has asked me to share is a way for me to stay dependent on Him. I know that without Him I would write only for self-glory, and I would surely fail.
JLL: What reading material is next to your favorite reading spot?
JC: I am a slow reader, so I don’t get as much read in a year as I would like. Some of my favorite authors are Charles Martin, James L. Rubart, Susan May Warren, and Lynn Austen. I also enjoy reading non-fiction – especially by Ravi Zacharis and other great spiritual leaders.
JLL: What’s on your music playlist?
JC: I love listening to movie soundtracks. I have several different playlists to listen to depending on what I’m writing.
JLL: Are there any can’t-miss TV series, blogs, podcasts, vlogs, etc., that you’d recommend?
JC: For podcasts, I recommend Author Media and Write from the Deep. Blogs – I have a million I love, but the key ones I’m following right now are Jane Friedman, Chip MacGregor, My Book Therapy. TV series? Anything Alaska!
JLL: What do you do for fun?
We own a cabin up at Twin Lakes, Idaho, and we spend a lot of time there. Also love to golf, spend time with grandchildren, and I’m a craft addict for sure. We love to travel, and have been to many wonderful places around the world.
JLL: What’s the next project coming up next from Jan Cline, Author?
JC: I’m working on what I hope will be a series of women’s fiction set in the depression days up through WWII. I also peck away at a Christmas novella I hope to have out this Christmas season. I will keep doing all the promo and marketing for Emancipated Heart as well. I’d love for readers to pick up a copy and also help spread the word, AND write Amazon reviews for all the books they read!
JLL: Where can readers learn more about you and your books?
JC: Visit my website, jancline.net, sign up for my newsletter/blog, and receive a free download of a booklet I wrote titled “What to Do While You’re Waiting to Be Published.”
JLL: Thanks for chatting with us today, Jan.
JC: Thanks so much, Jenny, for this opportunity to share with your readers. It’s been a treat!
Jan Cline is an author and speaker from the Pacific Northwest. She has been involved with the writing/publishing community for several years, and was the founder and director of the Inland NW Christian Writers conference for 5 years. She teaches at writer’s conferences and speaks for women’s groups in the Northwest.
Jan enjoys golf, attending her grandchildren’s sports activities, and loves to bake – proud to be called the queen of cheesecakes by her friends and family. She also indulges heavily in crafts such as quilting, painting, and scrapbooking. When she needs a break from a hectic life, she and her husband of 40+ years escape to their cabin on a northern Idaho lake.
While engrossed in Allison Pittman’s latest novel, On Shifting Sand, I continually found myself heading to the kitchen for a tall, cool glass of water to slake my thirst. Yes, it’s been a dry, hot summer here in Idaho, I told myself, but what gives? Then I realized that the cause of my thirst was Allison’s vivid, you-are-there descriptions of daily life in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
“We feel thirst everywhere,” she writes in protagonist Nola’s viewpoint, “–our parched throats, of course, and the corners of our mouths. It seems, sometimes, that we are drying up from within. Our lungs rasp with every breath, our bones threaten to snap themselves to powder. There is not enough water to drink, to wash, to bathe. We are never quenched. we are never clean.”
Gaaack! Pass the pitcher!
Of course, I’d heard about the Dust Bowl (or Dirty Thirties, as they’re sometimes called). I’d read Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath along with millions of other American high-schoolers over the years. But On Shifting Sand gave me my first glimpse in up-close detail what it was like to live through it, day by day. My ancestors experienced the Great Depression in other contexts, but not the dust storms that plagued the Great Plains. No wonder so many “Okies” packed up and left–for most of them, there was literally no other alternative. The storms took away their homes, their livelihoods, and even people they loved.
As I read On Shifting Sand, the descriptions of storms kept me riveted, almost as if the weather was a character unto itself.
This was important, because I found it hard, if not impossible, to warm up to Nola, a pastor’s wife in a small Oklahoma town. While I sympathized with the near-impossibility of keeping a clean and healthy home in the constant dust storms, and to feed her children on practically no income, her constant complaining and chronic dissatisfaction with her lot in life wore on my nerves. When a drifter comes to town and she makes terrible choices to try to make herself feel better . . . well, at that point, many good Christian readers may have closed the book.
And that’s too bad. Because Nola’s story has much to teach us about ourselves.
You see, when we’re not vigilant–and sometimes even when we are–sin comes upon us like those dust storms. It seeps into every crack and crevice of our lives, no matter how hard we try to keep it out, to scrub it away. Only the Living Water, Jesus Christ, has the power to wash it away, quench our thirst and make us clean again.
That, I believe, is the point of the story. Nola grew up in a home without love, and went looking for love in all the wrong places, as the old song goes. To escape an unhappy home life, she made a hasty marriage. (The title hearkens to Jesus’s parable about the foolish man who built his house on sand,
“and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”) Now she’s restless, unhappy, and critical toward her husband, her two children, and the people of her town. When the handsome drifter–an old friend of her husband–comes to her home, her poor choices make everything infinitely worse. (In keeping with Christian publishing standards, we aren’t offered graphic details of what happens–needless to say, the picture’s clear enough.)
Ultimately, On Shifting Sand is a story of repentance, forgiveness, and redemption. You may have to slog through some dust and dirt to get there, but it’s worth it.
Disclosure: I’ve been given a review copy of this book by the publisher. This generosity, while appreciated, has not biased my review. I also post some of my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
Be honest now–who among us did not, at one time or another, dream of being Cinderella? I know I did–to suddenly be transformed from an awkward adolescent with quirky hair, bad skin, and a full metal jacket of braces, not to mention oddball interests like classical music and old books, into a smooth-haired beauty who was kind and gracious to boot, seemed like the ultimate transformation. All without any particular effort on my part, of course.
In Julie Lessman’s new novel, Surprised by Love (#3 in the Heart of San Francisco series), set in early-20th-century San Francisco, Megan McClare has always been a shy, awkward child, mocked by classmates, until she returns home from a year spent in Paris. Who is this beautiful butterfly who has shed her ugly cocoon? With her sights set on a professional career, Megan begins working at the district attorney’s office with none other than Devin Caldwell, the meanest of the mean boys from her past–and the secret object of her affections. (*Sigh*–isn’t that always the way?) How is she supposed to work alongside him every day with all these conflicting feelings tumbling around within her?
As she’s done her whole life, Megan tries to lean on her dear friend Bram Hughes–but what’s this? Bram is no longer the good buddy he’s always been–now he’d like to be her beau. But–but–Oh, dear, what a pickle!
I have only a couple small quibbles with this book. One is the stereotypical emphasis on fixing physical flaws–I know that’s a central element of the plot, but some of the things Megan had “fixed”–her freckles for example–are not universal signs of ugliness. I, for one, find freckles absolutely charming. And how much better to be able to see, with the help of thick lenses, than to do without? Also, once in a while, the believability factor is stretched to its limit. A lot can happen in a year–but a complete transformation in which close friends and family claim to not recognize you? Seems a bit of a leap.
Nonetheless, fans of Julie Lessman’s highly entertaining brand of romantic inspirational fiction, as well as ugly-duckling transformation stories, will fall in love with Surprised by Love.It might help to read the first two books in the series (Love at Any Cost and Dare to Love Again) to get the lay of the land before reading this third book.
Disclosure: I’ve been given a review copy of this book by the publisher. This generosity, while appreciated, has not biased my review. I also post some of my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.