Monday, May 12, 2014

The First Promotional Step: The In-House Phone Interview

The following is a transcript of a phone interview I did to help my editor present my new book, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, to those at WaterBrook Multnomah who needed to know this information early on in the production process, but hadn't read the closely guarded, yet-to-be-edited, manuscript.

I thought it would be a fun thing to share with readers, letting you see one of the early steps a writer (a WaterBrook Press writer, anyway), goes through when it comes to promotion. In this case, nearly a year before the book's release.

Thanks to Amy H. for granting permission!

From May 2013...

Lori, the setting of The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn is a very different location than your first novel, Burning Sky. What drew you away from writing about northern New York to the southern Appalachian area?

Actually it was New York that drew me away from the southern region. About ten years ago now, I began my 18th century research focusing on North Carolina. It’s a state I’ve visited many times since childhood, and have explored it from the Outer Banks to the Blue Ridge. But as much as I’ve enjoyed visiting the state over the years, it was mainly through my own fiction reading that I was inspired to learn more about North Carolina’s past.

During those early years of research I came across a period in the state’s history, in the 1780s, just after the Revolutionary War, in which the western part of the state—what’s now eastern Tennessee—tried to break away from the rest of North Carolina and form what would have been the fourteenth state—the State of Franklin. I’d never heard of this, so my interest was hooked. But I was busy writing other books at the time. So I did what I do with these intriguing historical bits I turn up in my reading that can’t be used right away: I started a file and called it something like “The Franklin Book.”

Starting such a file pretty much guarantees that the setting, or event, or whatever nugget it’s built on, will keep nudging me from time to time. This State of Franklin file was obviously no exception. Gradually a story and a cast of characters began to cluster around it. That’s how The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn took shape.

Tell us a little bit about the “ lost state of Franklin” and the role it plays in your book.

I think it’s accurate to say the State of Franklin came about in large part due to geography. Several of the river valleys west of the Blue Ridge were settled well before the Revolutionary War. But those frontier settlements were a long way removed from the political centers of eastern North Carolina. With hundreds of miles between them—many of them rugged and sometimes impassable mountain miles—the settlers on the frontier became frustrated with the lack of response to their needs from the North Carolina government.

In 1784, one group of these frontier citizens declared their region independent of North Carolina. They formed the State of Franklin and elected a governor—John Sevier—but they never drew enough support from outside the region for their efforts to succeed. Though it was put to a vote, the United States Congress failed to recognize Franklin. In fact, the region itself was divided, with the folk who clung to their identity as North Carolinians at odds with their neighbors who called themselves Franklinites. For some four and a half years the people of the Tennessee Valley were under the jurisdiction of two governments at the same time, two court systems vying for the same territory.
Understandably, this led to confusion. For instance, if a couple wanted to be married, it was a good idea to do so twice, once before a North Carolina judge, once before a Franklin judge—to be certain of being legal in the end.

The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn opens in late summer of 1787, well into this unsettled situation. I thought it a fitting setting for a story about a young woman, Tamsen Littlejohn, and a man named Jesse Bird—each from very different backgrounds—who find themselves thrown together in a moment of crises with two different paths to choose—much as confronted the people of the frontier valleys. Tamsen and Jesse both are faced with a choice of what kind of person they want to become, what sort of life they want to live, and what they’re willing to sacrifice to pursue that choice.

How is Tamsen Littlejohn a different kind of heroine than Willa Obenchain? What qualities do they share?

Compared to Willa, the heroine in Burning Sky, Tamsen has led a sheltered life. Though not an altogether happy one. Like Willa she’s known loss and grief, and in a much more subtle way, captivity. But as the stepdaughter of a prosperous cloth merchant, Tamsen has been reared to appreciate fine things—especially clothes. This girl does loves clothes. She’s a few years younger than Willa, and has experienced less of life, yet at their core there are some similarities to their characters—Tamsen has her own brand of determination, and strength, and faith, but unlike Willa’s story, Tamsen’s story begins with the first real testing of these qualities, and unfolds as these qualities are tempered, and she discovers what she’s made of—and the kind of woman she wants to become.

What kind of hero is Jesse Bird?

Jesse is my favorite kind of hero—a frontiersman. On the surface he’s as open as the books he likes to read, but scratch that surface and he’s full of mystery—to himself as much as anyone else. He doesn’t know who his parents were, or what name they gave him, only that he was found orphaned as a tiny child by a band of Shawnee hunters, taken north and raised among them, for a time.

Now he lives with Cade, an overmountain man with a past as much a mystery as Jesse’s. Together they hunt, and guide, and grow a bit of corn, but their lives are more or less rootless… until Jesse meets Tamsen Littlejohn on the streets of Morganton, NC. When she turns to him for aid in a time of crises, he feels compelled to help her, even though it’s at great cost to himself, and to Cade, and to the simple, wandering life they’ve known.

What has your research of the Colonial and Federal periods revealed about the kind of faith those early Americans professed? How does it differ from the way we express Christianity today?

Of course the language we use has changed some. Styles of music and worship change with the culture. But speaking of culture—to judge from the original 18th century source materials I’ve read—like letters and journals from people of all walks of life—I’ve formed the impression that there was a broader general acceptance and respect for a person’s faith than we see in our culture today, as well as a broader belief that the God of the Bible exists. 
But some things haven’t changed. I’ve found evidence to suggest that were we able to time travel back to the Tennessee frontier of 1787 and visit some of the early churches springing up there at crossroads or villages, we’d likely recognize and relate to the people and their expression of faith.

I was raised in the Southern Baptist tradition, where emphasis is placed on personal conversion—an acknowledgement that I am a sinner, that sin has separated me from a righteous God, leading to repentance of that sin and acceptance of Jesus’ final sacrifice on the cross to atone for that sin. Through that atonement I’m justified—made as righteous in God’s sight as if I’d never sinned—and I receive the Holy Spirit to walk me through the rest of my days and teach me as we go.

In the pages of The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn readers are going to meet an early Baptist preacher, the Reverend Luther Teague, who holds these beliefs. He’s a man of deep faith and long experience who isn’t too bound up in the letter of the law to be able to hear the voice of the Spirit’s leading when he’s confronted by Tamsen and Jesse, and the unexpected—even questionable—tangle of hope and desperation into which they’ve landed themselves.

An interview of this sort was done for my debut novel, Burning Sky. That one I have access to in podcast form.

Or  Click Here to listen.

Did you know that promotion for a book can begin up to a year before its release? Do you have any questions about the production process a manuscript goes through to become a finished, on-the-shelf book? Ask away. I'm happy to answer. Or I'll give it my best shot. 


  1. Lori! This is wonderful! I loved hearing you explain your setting and your books.

    1. Thanks for reading, Zan. I wish I had a podcast for this one to share too, but I think they kept this one in-house. Of course, I've never been able to listen to the Burning Sky podcast, past where they introduce me. :) I just can't.

  2. Thank you for sharing this wonderful interview, Lori! I am fascinated by the writing and production process and love learning more!

    1. Then you are the reason I post this stuff. :) Thanks for chiming in!

      At heart I'm still a reader who is fascinated by the writing and production process too. I still spend time on other writers' blogs, soaking up how they do it, and what their experience is like.