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.
Welcome to The Engrafted Word, Lori! It’s wonderful to have you here!
Savanna: Congratulations on your upcoming release, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn. What a beautiful cover! Can you tell us what first sparked the idea for this novel?
The first spark of inspiration for The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn came straight out of the pages of history. While researching an earlier novel set in 18th century North Carolina, I came across mention of the State of Franklin—an attempt of the citizens west of the mountains to form a separate state. Had they succeeded, Franklin would have been the fourteenth state admitted into the Union.
This first post-Revolutionary War attempt at independent statehood spanned a brief but tumultuous period (1784—1789), marked by courthouse raids, fisticuffs, siege, and battle. For a little over four years the people of the Tennessee Valley region lived under the jurisdiction of two opposing governments. How, I wondered, could such a situation result in anything but chaos for those folk simply trying to live their lives? It was a setting that begged for a story to be woven through it.
Lori: Exploring what happens when a person from one culture encounters a person from another culture, whether there is conflict, loss, enrichment, compromise, or friendship. It’s the Middle Ground, where two worlds merge (wherever that happens to be found) that continues to hold my interest.
Another thing is all the history I learn along the way. You’ve probably heard the iceberg analogy. Only the tip of what I learn ends up in the novel, but it’s all fascinating.
Savanna: Which character in this story do you most relate to and why?
Lori: Since I created them all, I deeply relate to all the characters, even the unsavory ones. That’s part of the writer’s job—or should be. But with every novel there is usually a character I love spending time with the most. In this book I especially enjoyed writing scenes from Jesse Bird’s point of view and found him easy company. With Jesse, what you see is what you get. He’s straightforward, and I like that. I also like writing from a male point of view, perhaps because in the 18th century it was men doing most of the things I find interesting. The challenge is finding plausible situations in which my female characters can have believable adventures too!
Lori: I’m usually trying to cover so much ground on my visits back east for research that I can’t linger like I’d want to in any particular place. I have fond memories of waterfalls and settler’s cabins and Grandfather Mountain, and of traveling through the areas I write about, soaking up a sense of the place. But the places I’ve spent the most time are actually on the coast and in the Piedmont, where I visited as a child. I hope to share stories in the future set in those parts of North Carolina, too.
I did enjoy a visit to Blowing Rock, the high mountain town that inspired the setting of one of my favorite series, The Mitford Books by Jan Karon. And if you happen to find yourself in Boone, NC, do drop by The Cornerstone Bookstore ( http://www.cornerstoneboone.com/ ). You’ll be glad you did.
Savanna: On your website, you’ve also shared pieces from your journey, which included being diagnosed in 1999 with cancer. Can you share with us a passage of Scripture that both strengthened and encouraged you along the way?
Lori: One of my mainstays is Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
And of course Romans 8:28. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
He is good. No matter what. I trust that.
Can you tell us what is one of your most unforgettable moments from your writing career to date?
Lori: The first conversation I had with someone who’d read my book before I met her, hearing her talk about my characters—how surreal that felt. I wanted to ask how she could possibly know these people who’d lived in my head for years, know them by name. Then I remembered—she works at my publishing house so of course she’s read my book. It took seconds to process, but the impression of that moment remains vivid.
That’s only one of them. There are so many.
Savanna: What will you do to celebrate your new release next Tuesday? 😉 And do you have any upcoming projects you can share with us?
Lori: I’m the worst celebrator in the world, I think. I’ve come to realize that I don’t really know how to celebrate. So it’s good that I enjoy what I do, and find it reward enough, as I’ll probably just keep working right on through. The week The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn releases I’ll be answering reader emails, keeping tabs on interviews and giveaways, polishing up a new manuscript, and researching and writing yet another. I suppose I may have some extra chocolate.
And readers needn’t worry that I’m leaving the 18th century behind. There are many more stories to tell about this fascinating era. The State of Franklin isn’t the only part of our nation’s history that has too long been overlooked. I anticipate sharing news about upcoming novels later this year.
Savanna: Thank you so much for being with us today, Lori! How can readers connect with you further?
Readers can find me on…
My website: http://loribenton.blogspot.com/
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorLoriBenton#
Read the first two chapters of The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn for free here.
Lori has graciously offered one free signed copy of THE PURSUIT OF TAMSEN LITTLEJOHN to one lucky winner!
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