We have a very special treat today—I am hosting one of the final sneak peeks into Lori Benton’s newest historical novel, The Wood’s Edge, before its release on April 21st!
The beauty and power of Lori’s writing, as well as our shared heart for Native American history, made me a devoted fan of her first two books, Burning Sky and The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn. But when I had the privilege of reading this one pre-release…well, here’s what I wrote about it on GoodReads:
|I’m not sure I’ve ever wished before that I could give a book more than five stars, but I do with The Wood’s Edge. Few historical novels have touched me as deeply as this one–and I’ve read a lot! 🙂 I’ve come to expect from Lori Benton a beautifully crafted story that sweeps me away to the 18th century frontier, but this story of two families caught between cultures and histories yet inextricably bound together by human failing, heartache, and love…well, it completely blew me away, shaking me for the whole rest of the day after I finished it. Not only beautiful but powerful, with resonance of redemption and reconciliation that moved me to tears several times and left me deeply moved and, I hope, changed for the better.|
In case that doesn’t whet your appetite, here is an exclusive “sneak peek” into this story of frontier forts and Revolution and twins switched at birth, of man’s sin and God’s greater grace, when young Anna and Two Hawks are beginning to sense their friendship turning to something more…
(Just click the image to enlarge.)
Doesn’t she write captivatingly? And now without further ado, I will turn the floor over to Lori! Don’t forget to comment at the end for a chance to WIN a copy of this beautiful novel.
- Thank you so much for being here, Lori! So, what helped birth the unique story of The Wood’s Edge in your writer’s heart and mind?
After I’d written my previous two published novels, Burning Sky and The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, I was looking for a setting and historical situation through which to weave another story. Around that time I read an article about twins born to a multiracial couple—much to their parents’ surprise one twin was brown-skinned, the other fair, a startling contrast. That snagged my attention. I began asking myself the ‘what if’ questions that authors do. What if twins like these were born in the 18th century? What if they were separated and one raised never knowing he had a different heritage than his skin proclaimed? That was the seed from which The Wood’s Edge grew.
- The themes of redemption and healing and forgiveness are so strong in this story, yet I know you set out mainly to tell a good story, not to preach a message–and I think that’s part of what makes your books so powerful. Were you surprised by any of the turns the characters and story took spiritually? (I know that has happened to me…always reminds me God is bigger than I am. 🙂 )
I’m always surprised by the journey a novel takes me on. I usually have the plot worked out in broad strokes (beginning, middle, end, some points in between) before I begin to write, but emotional and spiritual journeys get refined along the way and that leaves plenty of room for surprising developments. Both Stone Thrower and Reginald, the fathers in this story, developed in surprising ways. It took a lot of prayer and waiting for revelation about these characters on a day by day basis as I wrote. I might have had a general idea of what needed to happen next, but I wouldn’t always know exactly how each character would react to something until I wrote it, or what their deeper motivation might be for the choices I knew they’d make. That’s the joy I find in being somewhere between a plotter and a seat-of-the-pants writer.
- What is something you hope readers take away from this story in terms of our nation’s history and the interaction—and often clash—between the native and immigrant cultures of America?
One of the reasons I write the stories I do and incorporate that history, interaction and clash is to create a memorial. A reminder. A marker. If that marker was a stone and had words etched into it they might say: THIS HAPPENED. LET’S NOT FORGET IT.
I hope readers of The Wood’s Edge take a deeper look at a period of our history—US history and that of the sovereign nations of the Iroquois—that perhaps they were never taught in school, or perhaps view it from another angle. The human beings on each side of that conflict (and there were more than two sides) were equally precious in God’s sight, equally complex of soul, equally in need of grace, and not immune to suffering.
- I love that about your books. I was also fascinated by your portrayal of the real historical missionaries Samuel and Jerusha Kirkland. What drew you to include them in the story? What lessons—positive or negative—do you think we can learn today from some of the early missionaries to Native Americans?
In writing about the Oneida Nation during the 1760s and 70s, it would have been unrealistic not to include a missionary. There were quite a few living among the people at the time. For narrative simplicity I decided to focus on just one. I chose Samuel Kirkland because his long-term relationship with the Oneidas was a factor in the choice they made to support the Americans during the Revolutionary War, a choice that set them in opposition to most of the rest of the Six Nations of the Iroquois. I was also intrigued that his wife, Jerusha, eventually joined him there and ministered with him, and thought her presence would introduce both conflict and consolation for the character of Good Voice, who comes to know her.
Besides the fact that these missionaries were there and I didn’t want to ignore that, introducing them layered yet another conflict into the story—between those Oneidas who had embraced faith in Christ and those who held to traditional beliefs. While the missionaries who ventured to live among the Oneidas had sincere hearts for the people, many (if not all) thought that believing in Jesus as Savior meant not only a spiritual rebirth needed to occur, but also an outward change in the form of cultural assimilation. This is an issue I tried to gently address through the characters of Good Voice and Two Hawks.
If there is a lesson to be learned it’s that there are elements in opposition to God’s word rooted in every culture, including the culture that was attempting to make converts of the Iroquois during the 1700s. Conversely, every nation’s traditional customs—their music, dress, expression, sensibilities, and insights—are as appropriate and acceptable in the worship of God as the next nation’s. Our witness for Christ is more effective when we can be accepting of customs that may be different from ours yet don’t conflict with scripture.
- Beautifully put, Lori…that was one of the aspects of The Wood’s Edge that especially moved me. So what was the most exciting bit of historical research you happened upon for this story (that won’t give away any spoilers)?
Beyond the astonishing contribution the Oneidas made to an American victory during the Revolutionary War (something explored more in the upcoming sequel A Flight of Arrows), there were two things I was delighted about. Both have to do with Oneida culture. The first is the deeper meaning of the book’s title. The wood’s edge isn’t just a setting in the novel, it’s also a ceremony used in Oneida culture that has deep thematic meaning in this story. But being minded of spoilers, I’ll have to let readers discover that in its pages.
The second is the importance of dreams in Iroquois culture, a belief that they signify a person’s deepest longings and should be made to come true in a tangible way, if possible. This is something I learned while researching my earlier novel, Burning Sky, and incorporated into that story as well. In The Wood’s Edge I was able to more fully explore this fascinating part of Iroquois culture so different from my own perceptions.
Thank you so much, Lori! So fascinating and eye-opening…it’s always a joy and blessing to host you here. 🙂
Now, readers! If you would like to enter to win a copy of The Wood’s Edge (and I bet you want to after this interview!), please just POST A COMMENT answering one of these questions: If you have read any of Lori’s books before, who has been your favorite character so far? If you haven’t yet read her books, why would you especially like to win The Wood’s Edge?
Note: Giveaway will close at 11:59 Sunday evening, PST. Winner will be announced on Monday, April 13!