My husband and I have a country home in the beautiful rolling hills of southern Illinois. We enjoy the setting very much after living for many years farther north on the state’s plains. Part of the property is wooded, but the sunshine is plentiful near the house, allowing us to grow tons of vegetables, fruits, and flowers. We consider it a tremendous blessing to be able to live in such a quiet area where wildlife abounds—deer, turkey, coyotes, owls—but to have a Super Walmart only seven minutes away! It is the ideal location for a writer to work, and I thank God for it every day for it.
Sounds like my type of living! Lol. Do you travel? Has a place where you have traveled ever sparked a story idea?
I haven’t traveled much, in the sense that you mean. But fourteen years ago, my husband Bob and I did leave his six-generation Heal family farm—along with our hometown, our church, family, and friends—to move to our new home in Monroe County and begin new careers as teachers. It was quite an adjustment, but we love it here. As I began to learn about the county’s fascinating history I knew I would have to write a novel set there. Once Again tells about the earliest pioneers to settle in Monroe County.
Is there a story behind Once Again? What is unique about the setting? How does it enhance the story?
Waterloo, my new hometown, is considered by some to be the birthplace of the state. The earliest American settlers came from Virginia in the 1780s after the Revolutionary War and built a fort there on the high ground near the Kaskaskia Trail, an ancient buffalo path that French trappers had turned into a “road” more than a century before. But soon, some of the settlers eyed the even richer soil of what is known as the American Bottom, which runs for some miles beneath the beautiful limestone bluffs along the mighty Mississippi River.
The settlers had arrived during a time when there was relative peace between whites and Native Americans. But soon afterward, a confederation of tribes declared war on the intruders, and began raining death and destruction down upon them. To make matters worse, the U.S. government called the soldiers who had been guarding the Illinois Country back east due to lack of funds. The pioneers were left to defend themselves. They built and lived in fortified log cabins called blockhouse forts and carried their guns while they farmed the rich land. During the 10-year war, nearly 20 percent of them were killed. And many families suffered multiple losses, as did the James Garretson family I tell about in Once Again.
As I said, my husband and I had to adjust to leaving behind all we knew to move to Monroe County, but it was nothing compared to what the pioneers suffered coming to their new land!
Fascinating. I love history too. Did you have a specific theme in mind as you wrote [ONCE AGAIN]? Did a theme pop out as you finished the book? Did the theme change?
The overarching theme of the Rewinding Time Series is that our sovereign God works his good and perfect plans in our lives, and that if we could experience time from His perspective we would see that more clearly. Merrideth, the main character, is a Christian in name only, and throughout the series readers will see how God works in her life to bring her to true saving faith in Christ.
In Once Again Merrideth sees Christ’s parable about forgiving seven times seventy times lived out in the life of a young pioneer preacher who takes the Gospel to the very Indian tribe that scalped his brother. Merrideth can’t decide whether he’s a hero or a fool to risk his life, but she is definitely impressed. She wonders how she would ever be able to forgive those who have injured her.
In book 2, Only One Way Home, Merrideth learns another piece of the Gospel message when Matthias Frailey tells White Dove that it is not her Cherokee rituals or his own white religious customs that bring salvation. It is only Christ’s redeeming sacrifice on the cross.
How Sweet the Sound, coming this summer, will showcase the truth of Romans 3:23. “For ALL of sinned and fallen short…” Merrideth begins to understand that there’s no sense comparing one’s own sins to another person’s because you have both fallen short.
And so it will go until she finally accepts Christ.
So far I’ve only published the two series, both of which span several genres—Christian historical, sci-fi, contemporary and historical romance. I am really enjoying writing these, but once the Rewinding Time Series is complete, I want to try my hand at other genres. I have a half-finished contemporary Christian romance waiting for me to return to it. It is a modern retelling of the Old Testament story of Ruth and Boaz. I hope to write at least three novels in that same vein. And then I’d like to write a straight historical novel, the fictionalized story of one of my Scottish ancestors who as a political prisoner of Oliver Cromwell was sent to be a slave in the sugar fields of Barbados. I’m still hoping to visit Scotland one day to soak up the setting before I begin writing that story.
Lots of projects. I like that. How much research do you have to do for the genre in which you write?
I spend a great deal of time gathering information and reading up on the setting, people, and events I’ll be writing about. Even during the writing phase I often go back and reread the material or search for more to amplify my understanding. And then, nearly every day, I find myself stopping to look up some bit of information about the time period. I try very hard to get the details right. Once, I was in the middle of a dramatic scene in a log cabin when I realized that I didn’t know how the people cooked their food in that particular decade of the 19th century. I thank God for the Internet which makes finding out such information so quick and easy. I soon discovered that the people would not have been cooking over a primitive hearth as I had been imagining, but would have had a cast-iron cook stove. As I recall, I never ended up needing that to describe the scene, but I think it still helped me to visualize what was going on.
I really dislike reading historical fiction in which the author has not done her homework. (I’ve been known to throw books across the room in disgust.) I think Christian writers especially should strive for excellence since we are representatives of the King. Of course, I realize I can never get it all perfectly right. One can only spend so much time on the research before it is time to start actually writing. A reviewer recently pointed out that I had the name of the Chicago train station wrong in Time and Again. Sigh.
Groan. A horrible position to be in, especially one who writes historical. Still, we're humans and do our best. Or should. :) When is your next book due out and can you tell us about it?
I hope to have How Sweet the Sound, book 3 in the Rewinding Time Series, out by May of this year. This time Merrideth will take her amazing software to Cave-in-Rock, a tiny southern Illinois town on the banks of the Ohio River. The actual cave from which the town gets its name has quite a history of human habitation. Indians and French trappers found it a convenient place to stop while traveling the Ohio. Then when land-hungry easterners began coming down the river on their flatboats, bound for the frontier with everything they owned, river pirates found the cave an exceedingly convenient place for a hideout from which to relieve the pioneers of their earthly goods and many times their lives. Truly truth is stranger than fiction!
It is, Deborah! Thanks so much for joining us today, Deborah. Your books sound fascinating and filled with well-researched history facts.
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Deborah Heal, the author of the Time and Again, History Mystery Trilogy and the Rewinding Time Series, which have been described as "Back to the Future meets virtual reality with a dash of Seventh Heaven thrown in," was born not far from the Old Slave House featured in her novel Every Hill and Mountain and grew up just down the road from the settings of Time and Again and Unclaimed Legacy. Today she lives with her husband in Monroe County, Illinois, not far from where the pioneers of her novel Once Again struggled to survive amidst Indian attacks.
She enjoys reading, gardening, and learning about regional history. She has three grown children, five grandchildren, and two canine buddies Digger and Scout. She has a special connection to her latest novel Only One Way Home. Unlike the characters in it who were forced to walk the Trail of Tears, her great, great grandmother’s Cherokee family remained safely in North Carolina.
Deborah loves to interact with her readers, who may learn more about the history behind the books at her website www.deborahheal.com and her Facebook author page www.facebook.com/DeborahHeal.
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DEBORAH is giving away a copy of ONCE AGAIN. The giveaway is only available to U.S. addresses. To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address. You can enter the book giveaway twice--once on each spotlight post.