Faith & Family History: Why I Write Christian Historical Fiction
Family history and faith claim the heart of why I write Christian historical fiction.
First of all, as a child, I sat on my grandmother Ella’s lap for her stories about life in Indian Territory before Oklahoma became a state. And her hardships decades later. Also, my mother Goldie spoke of her life in Oklahoma and Texas during the first half of the 20th Century.
Similarly, my own memories developed in the 1940s and beyond. Family tales of grit and faith overcoming hardship and heartbreak mesmerized me. I often imagined story lines based on memories.
First, I was born the only daughter of a cotton farmer in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas in the 1940s. As a result, I experienced none of what other kids enjoyed—the neighborhood. Consequently, my first friends were the children of the kind, hard-working Mexican laborers on our farm. Then my circle expanded to include friends just down the unpaved road. Those farmers’ daughters constituted my neighborhood.
“Birth” as a Reader
Because school friends in town lived several miles away, I learned early on to love reading. As a preschooler, I enjoyed a book with audio accompaniment: Bozo Under the Sea. I wore out the book and record! Because Jack & Janet, Dick & Jane, and Tip & Sally fascinated me in first grade, come summertime, you could find me in the community library. The air conditioning created a crisp, welcoming atmosphere. As a result, I wanted to stay all day. I can still feel the air and get a whiff of the distinctive scent of book bindings.
Certainly, by fourth grade my appetite for reading was insatiable. With a dictionary at my side, I read Little Women and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In fifth grade, The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables. Similarly, in sixth grade I read Where the Red Fern Grows and The Red Badge of Courage. Likewise, by middle school, I was tackling Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol, The Adventures of Oliver Twist, and A Tale of Two Cities. And Gone with the Wind. Later on, To Kill a Mockingbird made an indelible imprint on my heart and conscience. I could go on, but you get the picture. As a result, I cared little about genre, setting, or plot. Above all, I treasured the characters and experienced their emotions, failures, and triumphs.
“Birth” as a Writer: Family History
Due to attending Abilene Christian University five hundred miles away from home, I delighted daily in writing letters. I told Mother and Daddy and my brother Dale every move I made, no doubt with editorial embellishments. Then a quirky English professor asked if I’d ever considered creative writing as a career. In a word—No—but his discovering my secret longing intrigued me. You see, baring my soul in print—a reality I knew writing would entail—was more than I could consider.
Then, I wrote down family history. Mother’s clan migrated in 1923 from Oklahoma to the southernmost tip of Texas in a train of seven covered wagons, a novelty on the roads even then. So I set down for posterity my family’s recollections of their caravan journey. It turned out to be no more than a cataloging of who traveled in which wagons, where they stopped and for what purpose, and the spectacle they presented along the way. As a result, it ignited a desire to write historical fiction based in family history. I had a well spring from which to draw.
“Growing Up” as a Writer
Later, life took me elsewhere in Texas and Alabama and Germany, with fun-filled forays into Great Britain, South America, Europe, and Scandinavia. I was an Army spouse rearing children and living life. Therefore, my writing pen sat in a drawer. Years later, when my daughter struggled with an at-risk triplet pregnancy and her three 2 ½ pound babies fought for survival, a desire to release the storehouse of words I’d long bottled up tugged at my heart. I vowed I would devote the rest of my life to them. And I would leave them a legacy of faith in writing.
Nine years later, my story won the prestigious Jerry B. Jenkins Operation First Novel award. Thereafter, Mountainview Books released The Calling of Ella McFarland in December 2015. In August 2016 it won another prestigious award: American Christian Fiction Writers’ Carol Award.
Consequently, I’m certain these successes came from my faithful God who affirmed my vow: to leave a legacy of faith in writing. Rather than shy away from outright Christian faith, the presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a must in my stories.
Writing Well Spring: Family History
Certain ancestors and their experiences appear in my stories. First of all, there’s bit of my grandmother and a strong dash of my mother in one character. Then my father’s sterling qualities appear in another. In contrast, there’s a low-down family reprobate in another. Certainly, there’s cotton planting, hoeing, and harvest time. The glorious aroma of fresh-picked cotton and the nothing-in-the-world-like-it odor from the pig pen. Mother’s sewing machine whirring. The clink of a milk pail. A cow hollering to be milked. Likewise, summer’s sun on my face, the hearty South Texas wind in my hair, and the comfort of backing up to a wall heater on a cold winter morning. Eventually, all find their way into my stories.
Above all—my family’s history, my own life, and the kaleidoscope of lives in my stories—Jesus appears as the golden thread linking the past to the present and beyond. Because Jesus turns an ordinary morning into a hint of the “Sweet By & By,” He adds the delicate aroma of the Rose of Sharon to the sultry stillness before a summer storm. Most importantly, He wraps the bitterness of grief and failure in the richness of His incomparable grace.
My Purpose as a Writer
Therefore, tales that reach beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary because of Jesus are the stories I write by His grace.