You may remember me mentioning Lori Benton and the depth and detail of her award-winning historical novels in the past–I’ve been blessed indeed by both her writing and her friendship. Lori’s novels always strike me deeply with both her sensitivity in handling intercultural history and relationships, and the redemptive power in her stories. Her upcoming release, Mountain Laurel, I know will be no different, and I’m honored she has come to share her heart and a bit of this story’s journey with us today. Also see note at the bottom for details of how to enter the book giveaway for a signed copy of Mountain Laurel!
UPDATE; The giveaway is now completed, and Lori has generously offered to give away three copies of Mountain Laurel instead of one! Our happy winners are Rachael, Patty, and Pam. Congratulations, ladies, and please check your emails for more details in order to receive your books!
In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)
Some journeys take longer than planned. A lot longer. Mountain Laurel will be my seventh published novel set during the 18th century, but it’s the first I wrote. I came to it largely ignorant of even the major events of the 1700s. Worldwide and my own country’s history. I couldn’t have told you the year the Revolutionary War ended or named a single battle from that war. Partly for that reason, it took nearly five years to research and write Mountain Laurel.
That early research consisted of reading hundreds of books on topics ranging from 18th century life (what people wore, ate, lived in, did for work and play), the history of Colonial North America in general (and North Carolina specifically), to more specialized topics like plantation economy, slave laws, the Underground Railroad, Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, the Dismal Swamp Canal, fur-trapping in Upper Canada, the Scottish Jacobite Rising, Scottish immigration to North Carolina, how to construct a dovetail joint, treat malaria, and fire a black powder rifle. I talked to an acquaintance who was stalked by a mountain lion, and to my own mother who picked the worms off tobacco plants when she was a girl. I watched every documentary on the 18th century I could find, spent hundreds of hours Googling obscure historical trivia, and took a memorable road trip through western North Carolina, visiting the story’s setting. I finished the novel, then took a couple more years to whittle down a very overwritten manuscript which, after reading it, convinced my agent to sign me as her client. Then for nearly a decade we could not sell this book.
We wondered why. We speculated. We set it aside. I went on to write Burning Sky (my debut novel with WaterBrook) and all the titles published since. But we held onto our passion for Mountain Laurel and I often thought about the sequel I wanted to write. Now and then I’d jot a few plot points, think about the characters, even wrote the opening chapters, until last year we decided to give Mountain Laurel one more chance to find a publishing home. Tyndale House Publishers made us
an offer. I’ve now held the finished book in my hands. It will release September 1, 2020.
For years I thought Mountain Laurel would be my debut novel. I passionately wanted it to be. Obviously God had other ideas. He chose it to be my seventh published novel, and for it to reach readers in 2020. Until this summer I presumed this was because I would need to write five more novels before I finally wrote my sixth, The King’s Mercy, which, while not a prequel, nicely sets up Mountain Laurel (two characters in The King’s Mercy visit the plantation, Mountain Laurel, many years prior to the eponymous book’s setting). I believe that was part of the delay in timing, but I’m convinced now there’s more to it. In all my novels you will find characters who have, willingly or not, crossed a line between cultures and changed because of this experience; they’ve gained a deeper empathy with humanity through relationships with individuals from a people group they once viewed as “other.” Mountain Laurel is no different. And my goodness, how aware these days we’re becoming of a need for such empathy in our own lives.
My heart as a storyteller has always been to work myself under the skin and into the soul of a life I haven’t lived, to feel the suffering of wounds I haven’t taken, to rejoice in triumphs I haven’t known. In other words, to stretch my human empathy as far as it will go across the pages of my novels. No matter if the character from whose point of view I’m telling the story is a Native American man, an African American child, or a white woman who sees the world through the lens of her 18th century upbringing, none of them is me. None of them think or speak like me. Yet in each instance I endeavor to see with their eyes, feel with their heart, and re-embrace the light and truth of the good news of Jesus dying on the cross in humanity’s place through their specific set of needs and hopes. To portray the truth that every wall that would divide us was torn down at the cross, the work of unity, as well as redemption, complete. We are new creations in Christ Jesus. In Him is our primary identity—while at the same time we are individuals. Each human being who answers His call to repentance and adoption into the family of God, reflects a facet of His nature that is singular and precious. It’s to our benefit to bend our empathy toward understanding and appreciating the heart of a brother or sister who looks different, speaks differently, or has had an upbringing unlike our own. The enrichment flows both ways and is eternal.
My awareness of this need expanded in the writing of Mountain Laurel. It’s expanding still. My prayer is that yours is, too, and that the journey you take when you read Mountain Laurel will be another small step toward that end. I stand back in wonder at the timing of this book releasing this of all years. Be assured that, as with all my novels, healing and hope are woven through the (sometimes) unflinching rawness of its pages. I invite you on a journey of transformation with the characters of Mountain Laurel.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NIV)
To enter the giveaway for a signed, print copy of Mountain Laurel, please comment below with your name, email address, and why you would like to win a copy of this book. U.S. addresses only please. The winner will be chosen by Tuesday, September 1, Mountain Laurel‘s release day.
Lori Benton was raised in Maryland, with southern Virginia and Appalachian frontier roots generations deep. Her historical novels transport readers to the eighteenth century, where she expertly brings to life the colonial and early federal periods of American history. Her books have received the Christy Award and the Inspy Award, and have been honored as finalists for the ECPA Book of the Year. Lori is most at home surrounded by mountains, currently those of the Pacific Northwest where, when she isn’t writing, she’s likely to be found in wild places behind a camera.