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Interview with Author Lori Benton (Plus Give-away!)

Tue, 2017-09-12 05:34 -- Jocelyn Green

It's my great pleasure to have author Lori Benton here today! Lori was raised east of the Appalachian Mountains, surrounded by early American history going back three hundred years. Her novels transport readers to the eighteenth century, where she brings to life the Colonial and early Federal periods of American history. When she isn’t writing, reading, or researching, Lori enjoys exploring and photographing the Oregon wilderness with her husband. She is the author of Burning Sky, recipient of three Christy Awards, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn; Christy nominee The Wood's EdgeA Flight of Arrows; and Many Sparrows.

*Please note: Since Lori hails from Oregon, this is a great reminder to us to keep praying for the fires in the Northwest to be contained, and for all the communities affected, from residents to wildlife to first responders. Thank you!

Before we get to her interview, here is the blurb for her new release, Many Sparrows:

When settler Clare Inglesby is widowed on a mountain crossing and her young son, Jacob, captured by Shawnees, she'll do everything in her power to get him back, including cross the Ohio River and march straight into the presence of her enemies deep in Indian country. Frontiersman and adopted Shawnee, Jeremiah Ring, promises to guide Clare through the wilderness and help her recover Jacob. Once they reach the Shawnees and discover Jeremiah's own Shawnee sister, Rain Crow, has taken custody of Jacob--renaming him Many Sparrows--keeping his promise becomes far more complicated, the consequences more wrenching, than Jeremiah could have foreseen.

I had the privilege of reading an early copy, and here's my take on the novel: 

Stunning. Many Sparrows is everything I want in a book: settings that spring to life, characters I love, rich historical context, heart-wrenching drama, timeless spiritual insights, and prose that reads like poetry. Lori Benton handles the conflicted eighteenth-century with sensitivity in this tender tale of hope and fear, faith and doubt, of loss and new life. Truly, an inspired masterpiece sure to stir the soul.

(Psst! You can read the first two chapters here!)

My chat with Lori is below.

Give us a glimpse into your research process. Is there any aspect of it which may surprise your readers? 

LORI: I think readers would likely find my research more mundane than surprising. It consists mainly of pouring through stacks of books, taking notes, and creating a historical timeline when necessary. For Many Sparrows that timeline was crucial. It ended up being about 30 pages long, single-spaced, but it kept me from a lot of hair-pulling and rewriting/replotting as I worked to weave my characters’ stories in and out of dozens of historical events that occurred in the summer and autumn of 1774.

That makes a lot of sense, and I operate the same way. A 30-page timeline, though? You have me beat, there! :) I love seeing the photographs you take and share on Facebook! Do you have any of the part of the country where Many Sparrows is set?

LORI: I don’t often get to visit the settings of my novels while I’m writing, because I live 3000 miles away in Oregon! But for Many Sparrows I did. I journeyed back east and, together with novelist J. M. Hochstetler, traveled around Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, visiting sites we both wanted to research for our historical novels in progress.  

Below is a photo of the area of Ohio where Cornstalk’s town and that of his sister, Nonhelema, once stood.

The next photo shows a bend in Scippo Creek that ran between Cornstalk’s Town and Nonhelema’s Town.

The photo below captures wildflowers growing along Yellow Creek, where it empties into the Ohio River.

One of the surprises I encountered was our visit to the Point Pleasant battle memorial, on the point of land where the Kanawha River joins the Ohio, in West Virginia. There’s a walkway along the Ohio there bordered by a spectacular mural of the history of that area, including the battle that took place in October of 1774, and scenes depicting Shawnee life and culture. Below are some samples of this sprawling mural.

Those photos are fantastic, and I'm delighted you made the trip with J.M Hochstetler! She is another favorite author of mine. If you were to make Many Sparrows into a movie, who would you cast to play the hero and heroine, and why?

LORI: As early as possible in the writing process I like to find a model or actor who resembles my main characters. The choice is important. Something about the actor or model bleeds into who that character becomes on the page for me. I know this because I once switched actors midway through the writing process, when I found someone who looked more like the character than my original choice. Soon after, the character took on new layers and depths. I’m still amazed that happened. Maybe it’s like what an actor brings to their role on stage. The character they play is still the character on the page, but it’s also a blend of who the actor is. Just like an author pours herself out on the page, so too an actor brings something of herself to each role she plays. Apparently she does so even when she has no idea she’s been cast in a role in my story!

For Clare Inglesby I chose Katheryn Winnick. In the roles I’ve seen her play, Katheryn embodies Clare’s strong-willed toughness, as well as the vulnerability that toughness hides. For Jeremiah Ring I’d cast Noah Wylie, as he looked in the series Falling Skies. Bearded! It wasn’t until I mentally cast him in the role that I nailed down my best description of him, given to the reader by Clare as they sit by a trail-side fire, early in their acquaintance.

That is fascinating! I loved checking out your Pinterest board for the novel. The visuals are wonderful! I remember when you were in the writing process of Many Sparrows, you called this book your problem child. Can you explain why that was, and how you disciplined this problem child manuscript into shape?

LORI: Oh boy, this book was so much harder to write than I expected it would be. For the longest time I simply couldn’t connect to my main character, Clare. I couldn’t get to the heart of what made her tick. I kept halting the writing process to mull her over, brainstorm ideas, trying anything I could to figure her out.

Two things helped. As I mentioned above, she’s the characters I “recast” midway through the writing process. When I did, I began to get a better sense of why she was struggling so in her issues of trust and surrender.

The second thing that helped me understand Clare was giving her nemesis, Rain Crow, more attention. When I stopped the writing process to really delve into this Shawnee woman’s back story, and figure out what her motivations and needs were, certain aspects of Clare’s deepest longings came into sharper focus.

Writing is a mysterious process and no two books have come together for me in exactly the same way. Sometimes you have to keep trying this and that until you find what works. In that way they are like children!

Other than that, this book got written on the wings of many prayers, my own and others. I know the Lord stepped in and helped, as He always does. I couldn’t write a novel without Him. My inadequacies are a bottomless well. But so is His grace, mercy, and help in time of need.

I think most of us authors feel exactly the same way, that we are inadequate, but God is faithful to pour into our lack. What are you reading right now? 

LORI: Finding time to read anything not work related is a challenge, but I usually have a book or two going. More if I can find them on audio. Right now I’m reading the latest installment of the Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith. I recently read The Maggie Bright, a novel of Dunkirk by Tracy Groot (loved it, then went and saw the movie, Dunkirk and knew what was going on). Tracy Groot is one of my favorite authors.

I'm a big fan of Tracy Groot, too! Thank you so much for being here, Lori! 

Many Sparrows is available now at your local bookstore, ChristianBook, Baker Book House, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. Visit Lori Benton at her Web site here.

The Give-Away

*UPDATE: The give-away is now closed. Congratulations to Diane Bell for winning, and thank you to all who entered!

Lori is generously offering to one lucky commenter (U.S. only), a signed copy of Many Sparrows and the special gift she created to go with this book,  a companion photo book with quotes. It’s a hardback book she created with landscape photos interspersed with quotes from Many Sparrows.

To enter, please leave a comment for Lori below, telling her one thing you enjoyed learning from this interview. I'll choose a winner at random on September 20, and notify the winner via email. The winner has three days to respond before I select a different winner.


Submitted by Mary Lynch on
I loved all of the pictures in the interview and on pinterest. It really makes things come alive when you see where things really happened. I love going to see all things colonial and civil war battlefields and they always draw me in....and it is amazing to stand where these amazing people stood. Burning Sky is my next book to read and i can't wait.

Submitted by Jocelyn Green on
Hi Mary, I so agree! Lori's photos and Pinterest board are so captivating.

Submitted by Kailey Bechtel on
I really liked the pictures. I also liked the actor and actress that you picked for your characters

Submitted by Jocelyn Green on
Hi Kailey, Lori is excellent at casting her roles, isn't she? Thanks for stopping by!

Submitted by Diane Bell on
I enjoyed learning how Lori picks a celebrity and adapts their image to her characters. That is so cool! I have read this book and loved it. It is magnificent! And the fact that I live in the area where most of it takes place is a plus as well. I was born on the Ohio River...well, not on the river bank, but the river flows behind the house I was born in. I can nearly throw a rock and hit the Little Scioto River. All of these locations and bodies of water in the book are familiar to me and I enjoyed reading about them so much. I have read all of Lori's other books and look forward to another from her as well.

Submitted by Jocelyn Green on
That is so neat, Diane! I bet Many Sparrows was an extra special read for you, then.

Submitted by Lori Benton on
Diane, I'm glad you found those settings true to life and recognizable! Living so far away from the places I write about causes me to try extra hard.

Submitted by Joan Arning on
I'm surprised that you don't usually visit the settings of your books. I'd like to see those murals!

Submitted by Jocelyn Green on
Hi Joan, it's amazing how well Lori captures her settings even when she can't physically visit them, isn't it? That takes a lot of research and talent. And I would love to see those murals, too!

Submitted by Lori Benton on
Living 3000 miles away does present unique challenges! But I spent half my life on the east coast so have many memories to draw from.

Submitted by Melissa on
Lori is one of my very favorite authors. I loved reading about her 30 page timeline! Her books are so well written and beautiful that you can tell she approaches it with that type of accuracy.

Submitted by Jocelyn Green on
Melissa, I absolutely agree with you! Her historical integrity really sets her apart. I enjoy the precision in how she portrays her events!

Submitted by Angie Carroll on
I loved seeing all of the pictures that she took. They were beautiful!

Submitted by Susan Wilson on
I enjoyed learning about the mural at the Point Pleasant battle memorial in West Virginia! Since I live nearby I just might have to go and visit the site! My artistic husband is very interested in murals these days :) I also liked learning of your in depth research and the timeline that you create to keep you on track while putting the story together.

Submitted by Jocelyn Green on
Susan, I hope you and your husband get a chance to go and see the murals for yourselves! That would be wonderful.

Submitted by Lori Benton on
Hi Susan. It's well worth going to see. I showed you only a tiny portion here. It's very well done!

Submitted by Paula Shreckhise on
I was interested in the mural. It sounds fascinating as does your book! Thanks

Submitted by Beverly Duell-Moore on
Great interview, Lori! Joan Hochstetler is a personal friend of ours. So, when she and Lori were in the area they went out of their so we could meet Lori! What a delightful time we had! Wish it could have lasted longer but they had to get back on the road. there were some other places the wanted to see.

Submitted by Jocelyn Green on
Hi Beverly, that must have been such a special experience! I'm thrilled you were able to meet her.

Submitted by Phyllis Kemp on
I so enjoyed learning you and J M Hochstetler are friends, since her books are also on my favorites list as are your own. I am excited to read another new novel of yours. I would really enjoy winning!

Submitted by Jocelyn Green on
Hi Phyllis! You have excellent taste in authors/books. One really can't go wrong with Benton or Hochstetler. :)

Submitted by Lori Benton on
Hi Phyllis! Yep, she and I have been friends ever since I wrote to her about her characters in the American Patriot series, before I was published I think. I was reading the second book in the series I think and one day was doing housework and found myself praying for her characters! I had to write and tell her that, and we've been friends ever since. Now and then we get the chance to meet up and do a road trip together. Love her books!

Submitted by Sue Noll on
I grew up near Point Pleasant, on the Ohio side. I am excited to read this book to find out what you included in it!

Submitted by Jocelyn Green on
Wow, Sue! I'm excited for you to read this book, too. I'm sure you'll have extra reasons to love it.

Submitted by Lori Smanski on
wow this is a great post. Incredible how much research can go into one book. I personally love research, so I can sort of identify with what you do. thanks for taking the time to do it right.

Submitted by Jocelyn Green on
Hi Lori, yes it really is incredible how much research goes into one book. :) So gratifying for us readers when the author does her homework, too! Thanks Lori Benton!

Submitted by Pam Kellogg on
I enjoyed seeing the mural. That's a beautiful piece. I've read all of Lori's prior books and absolutely loved them. Many Sparrows is on my "must read" list.

Submitted by Jocelyn Green on
Hi Pam, you will enjoy seeing a few characters from Lori's previous books appear in Many Sparrows! Happy reading!

Submitted by Lori Benton on
Hi Pam! What Jocelyn said... you might want to re-read The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn (before or after Many Sparrows). Just sayin. :)

Submitted by Candice Valdez on
Oh! I love seeing the places where the book is set. It makes the book more alive for me and then I always desire to go there myself!

Submitted by Jocelyn Green on
I am the same way, Candice! BTW, if you haven't already done so, be sure to sign up for my e-newsletter in the footer of this Web page. When you do, you'll get a free Christian historical fiction travel guide! ;)

Submitted by Lori Benton on
Hi Candice! Same here. Can't tell you how often a book's setting has sent me straight to Google to learn more.

Submitted by Brittaney B on
I liked learning that one of my favorite authors is a fan of one of my other favorite authors.

Submitted by Michelle Griep on
The most surprising thing I learned is that the awesomely talented Lori Benton had a hard time writing this book? Really? You mean she is mortal after all?!

Submitted by Jocelyn Green on
It's a sort of comfort, isn't it? At least it is to me. :) Thanks for being here, Michelle!


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