Friday, July 11, 2014

Interview Friday with Author Lori Benton

Lori Benton, author of the acclaimed Burning Sky, was raised east of the Appalachian Mountains, surrounded by early American and family history going back three hundred years. Her novels transport readers to the 18th century, where she brings to life the Colonial and early Federal periods of American history. When she isn’t writing, Lori enjoys exploring beautiful Oregon with her husband.

VS: What do you do to help balance your writing life with your family life?

Lori: Finding balance isn’t as much of an issue for me as it can be for writers who have an additional day job apart from writing, or who have children. My hat is off to writers who manage to produce books as well as additional income, and raise children too. I know what writing a book a year demands, and don’t believe I could do it if I had to work it in around a career or raising a family, both of which are full time jobs in my opinion.

VS: How long have you been writing?

Lori: Since 1978, when I was nine years old. How long have I been writing with the goal of being published? Since 1991.

VS: What inspired you to write your book?

Lori: Inspiration for The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn came straight out of the pages of history. While researching material for an earlier novel set in 18th century North Carolina, I came across mention of the “Lost” State of Franklin—an attempt of the citizens of western North Carolina to break away and form a separate state. Had they succeeded (and they nearly did) Franklin would have been the fourteenth state admitted into the Union, instead of Vermont.

This first post-Revolutionary War attempt at independent statehood spanned a relatively short (1784—1789) but tumultuous period 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 governments vying for the same territory, the allegiance (and taxes) of the same settlers. How, I wondered, could such a situation result in anything but chaos—and a setting that begged for a story to be woven through it?

VS: What is a typical writing day like for you?

Lori: I get to the computer by 8:30am, check email, social media, read blogs, and more or less goof off until around 9am, when I get to work. I write until lunchtime. After lunch and either exercise or running errands, I come back to the computer and write until my brain is mush for the day. That might be anywhere from 3pm to 5pm. I’ll leave the files open though, in case I get a second wind, but that rarely happens.

VS: Is your family supportive of your writing?

Lori: My husband is supportive in every way. He’s worked hard for decades so I could focus on writing.

VS: If this isn’t your first publication, what was the first thing you ever had published?

Lori: My debut novel, Burning Sky, was published by WaterBrook Press in August 2013.

VS: Can you share with us a little about your current book(s)?

Lori: The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn (WaterBrook Press, April 2014), set in 1787, is a story about identity, and what happens when that particular rug is pulled out from under a person. That’s already happened to Jesse Bird, the hero in the story, who doesn’t remember his parents or where he comes from. It happens to the heroine, Tamsen Littlejohn, when she discovers the family history she thought she knew isn’t even half the story. Jesse and Tamsen are thrown together in a moment of crises, and flee
across the Blue Ridge Mountains in search of safety. Along the way, Tamsen learns she has more say in the matter of who she is, and who she will become, than she once thought.

As the historical backdrop of the story, there’s a backcountry settlement of people in conflict over their collective identity—are they still part of North Carolina, or the newly proclaimed State of Franklin? Depends on who you ask, and you better be careful if you do ask.

But none of these issues of identity will be resolved without Tamsen and Jesse facing great sacrifice, danger, and risk.

VS: What did you find to be the most challenging part of writing your book(s)?

Lori: Finding my way into an authentic mindset of men and women who lived in the 18th century and allowing them to see the world from the beliefs of that time and place continues to be a challenge. It becomes even more of a challenge when these characters belong to a culture even more distant from my own than a separation of 250 years, such as African or Native American.

VS: Do you have any other works in progress? Can you share a little about them?

Lori: My next two books, The Wood’s Edge (coming 2015 from WaterBrook Press) and its sequel (2016), are well underway. These books will take readers back to a setting similar to my debut novel, the 18th century Mohawk Valley of New York. The series begins in 1757 with the fall of Fort William Henry, and continues into the Revolutionary War, exploring the conflicts experienced by the Six Nations of the Iroquois during this time, with a special focus on the Oneida Nation, which broke with most of the Iroquois League and sided with the Americans during the war. It’s also the story of two families, one white, one Oneida, irrevocably linked by war, betrayal, grief, hatred, guilt, forgiveness, and love.

VS: What do you think are the basic ingredients of a good book?

Lori: Relatable and fully realized characters who want something. Conflict—there have to be obstacles standing between those characters and their wants. Action—the characters have to take active steps to get what they want. Character, goal, conflict. Story flows from that.

VS: What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?

Lori: I’m going to say that empathy is required. A writer has to be able to view a situation from multiple viewpoints, and find a point of connection to, or sympathy for, even viewpoints that are opposite of her own, in order to create believable characters who hold them.

Character creation is a mysterious process. I wish I could break it down into steps, or a teachable formula, but it’s far too organic in my case. I usually start with a situation, a point of conflict, perhaps an inciting incident for the opening of a story, and I think about it until I see a face, and a figure, moving and speaking within context of this conflict or inciting incident, and I watch them, and listen to what they say, and gradually get a feel for what sort of person they are. It’s a lot of daydreaming, and it could go on for days or weeks until something feels right and solid. Then I start getting it down into words. Then I daydream some more. Eventually they no longer feel like creations, but real people.

VS: Have you received any awards for your writing?

Lori: Burning Sky, my debut novel, was honored in June by receiving two Christy Awards (for First Novel and Historical) for Excellence in Christian Fiction. Burning Sky also received the Christy 2014 Book of the Year Award.

VS: Where can the readers of The Writing Mama find out more about and your writing?

Lori: At my website,, readers will find links to the first two chapters of Burning Sky and The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, as well as links to connect with me on Facebook and Pinterest. There’s also behind-the-scenes content for my books.


  1. I enjoyed reading the interview and learning about Lori and her books.

  2. Enjoyable post! I like your discussion about character development. Thanks, Lori.