I had the privilege of interviewing author, Lori Benton. Last week, I shared a review for her most recent book Many Sparrows, you can find it here. So far, that is the only one of her books I have read. She is such a sweet lady, and I’m honored to feature her on the blog today. Today marks the one year publication anniversary of Many Sparrows, so I figured it would be the perfect time to chat with Lori on all things writing! I hope you enjoy! You can find a link to her website at the bottom of this post.
Hi Lori! Thank you so much for doing this, I’ve really been looking forward to it, and know others are as well. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Sometime during the third grade (1978). One day my best friend announced she’d written a story and showed it to me. I was already an avid reader, but I don’t know that it had ever occurred to me that I could write a story. Epiphany moment! I promptly gave it a try, and was hooked. Thanks to a grandma who saved it for decades, I have that first story now. It’s called Yellow Feather and the Wild Mustang and it’s written (and illustrated) on blue-lined notebook paper.
What is your favorite part of the book writing process?
It’s hard to pick a favorite because they all have their highs and lows. Two parts high on the list, are the story-weaving stage when I’m just getting to know the characters and discovering their world (it’s all so fresh and exciting), or the end of a productive day of writing at any point in the first draft process, when I know what I’ve written is good, no matter how exhausted I am.
Have you always enjoyed reading? If so, what were some of your favorite books or authors before you were a writer? If not, what made you change?
I’ve read for as long as I can remember. I was fascinated by wolves in the fourth grade, so I was reading books about them, fiction and nonfiction (and working on my first chapter book, a story about… you guessed it, wolves.). I’ve always enjoyed adventure and wilderness stories, so the Little House books were favorites, and anything about animals. Dog stories. Horse stories (Misty of Chincoteague! We used to take family vacations to those islands and see the wild ponies on the beach.). But I also enjoyed fantasy, like The Narnia Chronicles and Lord of the Rings. And anything to do with the ancient Celtic cultures of Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. It was Stephen Lawhead’s Arthurian books that nudged me toward writing as an adult, and Francine Rivers’s Mark of the Lion series that showed me what historical fiction written for the Christian market could be.
When doing your research for your books, do you ever go to the location in your story, or do you do your research mainly by reading about the places?
I’m not always able to do so, since I live on the West Coast now, but for Many Sparrows I did happily have that chance. I took a road trip with another author through Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, visiting the major settings in the story. But I lived the first half of my life east of the Blue Ridge and spent time exploring some of those states, especially Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. My memories of how those forests look and smell, what the heavy humid summer air feels like, and so much more, are still vivid. I miss lightning bugs and cardinals, two things we don’t have in Oregon.
In Many Sparrows, were any characters based off real people in your life, or were they all entirely fictional?
All my characters are fictional, unless they’re lifted from the historical record. A character in one of my books might resemble someone I’ve met before in some way, but that’s only because our imaginations are fed by our experiences, including the people we’ve met. I think it would be hard to intentionally base a character off someone I knew, because when it comes down to it, do I really know that person? Scripture tells us we see through a glass darkly. I think that applies to each other as well as to how we see God. I can never get inside another person’s head to understand their motivations for the things they do or say—not the way I can with a character I create. So even if I set out to base a character on a person I know I would probably get it wrong. That’s what makes writing real characters from real history a challenge, getting inside a soul I can’t create for myself! So I’ve tended to keep them on the periphery of my stories.
Do you foresee any continuation of Jeremiah and Clare’s story in upcoming books?
I don’t have plans to do so now, but you never know. I like to give characters the freedom to pop up in the pages of other books, either as minor characters or for a cameo. I’d love to give readers a glimpse of their lives a few years down the road, if that ever becomes appropriate. But readers interested in knowing more about two other characters in Many Sparrows, Wildcat and Wolf-Alone, should read my earlier novel The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn. They are main characters in that story.
When you wrote Many Sparrows, you developed Clare’s character so well. As I read the story, I related strongly to her doubts and questions when it came to her faith, as she struggled trusting God both in the beginning when Philip led them on their journey, and then throughout most of the story as she worked to get her son back from the Indians. Have you walked the same spiritual journey in your own life, as Clare walked in Many Sparrows? Trusting that God is good, even when our circumstances lead us to believe otherwise?
Many times! I’ll be turning fifty on my next birthday, which I think is time enough to have learned this is one of those life lessons a child of God needs to repeat. But here’s a big one from my life: there was a season in my writing journey, long before I was published, in which I had to lay down not just that hope of publication, but the writing itself, having gone through cancer and chemotherapy to come out the other side in remission, but no longer able to write due to chemo fog. I never stopped wanting to write, I simply couldn’t. I had to lay it down and trust that the Lord would restore the ability if and when He chose. That season of trusting lasted five years, before I was able to write again. The second book I wrote after that was Burning Sky, which became my debut published novel.
After talking to you, it is clear you have quite a bit of writing wisdom to offer. If you could give one piece of advice to a beginning author, what would it be?
Don’t be in a hurry. I thought I was ready to be published in my mid-20s. Looking back through that five year season of chemo fog and the decade of daily writing that followed before I was finally published in my 40s, I’m thankful all those early novels never made it into reader’s hands. I needed to grow even more than my writing did.
God may have a different reason for delaying to open the doors you long to see swing wide. If you study those characters in the Bible who received a promise or a vision from God (like Abraham or Joseph), and how long they had to wait for its fulfillment, you’ll see it was often a very long time. Take comfort in that and just keep honing your skills as a storyteller and wordsmith. Patience is a vital quality for a writer to learn, because the waiting doesn’t end even after an agent comes on board or a contract signed. The publishing world moves very slowly at times, no matter what stage you’re at.
Thank you so much, Lori. Looking forward to upcoming books!
*Pictures in this post are property of Lori Benton. Used with permission.