Three Questions and a Cover — a short interview with one of my favorite authors, along with one of the author’s covers.
Lori Benton’s historical novels transport readers to the eighteenth century, where she brings to life the colonial and early federal periods of American history. Her books have received the Christy Award, 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. When she isn’t writing she’s likely to be found in wild places behind a camera.
What did you remove from the final draft of Mountain Laurel that readers might like to see?
The original opening of Mountain Laurel, as it turns out—the first few chapters. But that part of the story isn’t lost. Since it held together nicely as a short story unto itself, it’s available for readers on my website as bonus content and titled The Road to Mountain Laurel: a Prelude.
“Take a step back in time to a summer day before Mountain Laurel’s opening. A small step. Just a few weeks or so, back to the high and dripping heat of August 1793, in western Pennsylvania. There on a hillside at dusk meet Ian Cameron. He’s been a cabinetmaker in Boston, a frontier fur trader in Canada, and is about to take up tobacco-planting in North Carolina. If he makes it that far.”
In the course of your research, what did you learn about the Abolitionist Movement that was most inspiring?
Mountain Laurel is set in the antebellum South during the early 1790s, a time when the Abolitionist Movement didn’t exist in the forceful way it would decades later, in the form we’re most familiar with through the testimony of figures like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas. They would arise to do their deeds in the 1800s, but as I wrote Mountain Laurel the question uppermost in my mind was… where did it start? Someone, somewhere, had to be the first to aid an escaped slave along the road to freedom. Since the primary nature of such activity is secrecy, we will likely never know. My guess is that he, or she, was a Quaker. They were among the first to denounce the institution of slavery—and to act against it.
Thus in the pages of Mountain Laurel the Quaker character, Benjamin Eden, came to life as an aid and inspiration for character Thomas Ross as he attempts to do what no one he knows, black or white, as ever done: liberate those in bondage. After reading what little is known about how the network of safe houses, routes, guides, and those who provisioned them (what would in time become the Underground Railroad) began, I turned to another source of inspiration.
During the 18th century, a genre of literature known as the slave narrative began to be published, something I was thrilled to discover as I researched the grassroots beginnings of the Underground Railroad. Narratives like that of Olaudah Equiano, which I put into the hands of Thomas Ross as the inspiration needed to put feet to his convictions, continued to be published throughout the antebellum period, educating Americans and persuading them of slavery’s horrors and its immorality as a system. For a striking portrayal of Equiano’s bravery in publishing his narrative, I recommend the movie Amazing Grace (starring Ioan Gruffudd), which depicts the long battle British politician William Wilberforce waged with Parliament to abolish the slave trade during the late 18th and early 19th centuries and features Equiano’s character, story, and triumph.
What’s your elevator advice (no more than 30 seconds) for new and/or aspiring authors.
Focus on the writing craft before seeking publication. Finish your novel. Learn how to make it stronger. Study the stories you love—ask yourself what makes them work so well and apply what you learn to your writing. Read writing craft books/blogs. Listen to writing podcasts. Attend writing conferences (they’re happening online now). Then educate yourself about the publishing business. Agent and editor blogs are a great place to start. If you plan to self-publish, invest in professional editing. Endless resources are at your fingertips, a Google search away.