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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Joan Hochstetler, A Historical Author after My Own Heart!


Joan's vision for putting real history into novels

I suspect most of us know the old adage that goes something like: “Those who refuse to learn from history will be condemned to repeat it.” There’s a lot of truth in that. We’ve all experienced it in our personal lives, and we see it in the public life of our nation too.

A few years ago I read an article about the historical amnesia among Americans today, particularly among our schoolchildren. The results of history tests taken as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that most children in this country are shockingly ignorant about even basic information about our nation’s history. That concerns me tremendously. If our citizens lose touch with the great ideals and principles that form the foundation of who we are as a nation, that’s going to have serious consequences for our future. Many of us are already seeing some of those consequences impacting our country today.

History matters. God calls us to remember all the ways He has blessed us in the past. When we look back, we can see His hand of guidance through trials and gather hope, confidence, trust, and faith that God will continue to guide and bless us. History teaches us that we are part of the stream of life, part of the legacy of faith that runs through our own families and our nation from the beginning, part of something bigger than ourselves. It enriches our lives, gives them meaning and purpose, and equips us to be responsible citizens, parents, teachers, and disciples.

I believe there’s a serious need for non-traditional methods of teaching to bring history alive for students. So few students come out of the educational system with any understanding of or interest in history because too often it isn’t taught in a way that engages them and they end up thinking it’s boring. One bright spot is that many history teachers have begun to recommend historical fiction to their students. There are excellent reasons to do that. Well-written, accurate historical fiction allows readers to identify with the story’s characters and experience a world that is outwardly very different from their own—in other words, to really “get” history on an intimate level.

That’s why I write historical fiction. I believe it to be perhaps the most effective tool in teaching history. In this series I’m dropping my fictional characters right in the middle of the crucial events of our nation’s founding. They participate in those events and interact with the real historical people who were involved in them. That gives me the opportunity to include many of the recorded words and actions of the real people as well as details from history such as storms and other natural events that affected the outcomes of some of the battles. What results is a narrative that is as dynamic and thrilling as the real events because it carefully follows the historical record.

My goal is to enable my readers to live in the period I’m writing about so the sacrifices that were made to provide our legacy of freedom become real to them. My fear is that if we don’t learn our history and value the lessons it teaches us, we’ll lose everything our Founders gave their last full measure of devotion to gain. I hope and pray that the blood spilled to bequeath this precious heritage to us will not have been sacrificed in vain.

Inspiration for the series
The series really started as a stand-alone book—Daughter of Liberty. Back in the early 1980s, I watched a TV movie that was set during the French Revolution, The Scarlet Pimpernel, starring Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour. It totally enthralled me. I was so engaged by the storyline and the characters that I knew I had to write a similar story. Obviously I needed a different revolution, so what more natural than to set my story during the American Revolution? I quickly decided my heroine would be a woman instead of a man, and then, of course, she would have to have a love interest who would be at odds with her dangerous role. I dove headlong into the history of the era, and everything just grew from there.

In writing Daughter of Liberty—with no intention of writing a series—surprising details kept creeping into the story. I had no idea what purpose they served, and some of them seemed irrelevant. But for some reason I couldn’t force myself to take them out. Carleton’s acquaintance with the Shawnee was one of them. Then when the proposal kept getting rejections, I started to think that maybe it would be easier to sell as a series, and so it turned out. And suddenly all the connections for Native Son came together out of those details that had puzzled me. Isn’t that just like God to always go ahead of us?

By then, all the research I was doing had hooked me, and the series grew to include 2 more books. But I quickly realized that was unrealistic if I was going to do justice to this story. So now the series includes a total of 7 books! The upcoming volumes are Crucible of War, Valley of the Shadow, Refiner’s Fire, and Forge of Freedom. I’m going to be an old woman by the time I finish them all, but I’m very much looking forward to writing each volume! This project is not only educating me, but it’s also quite a blast to write!

In addition to the series, I have also published one contemporary novel, One Holy Night (2008), which is a retelling of the Christmas story set in modern times. And I have several other projects in various stages of development, most of them historicals. I’m determined to get them all completed and published someday!

I am a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Christian Authors Network, Middle Tennessee Christian Writers, and Historical Novels Society. My husband and I live near Nashville, Tennessee, and whenever I have any spare time—which is rare these days—I enjoy traveling, gardening, redecorating the house, doing crafts, spending time with my children and grandchildren, and reading.

Louise here: If you would like to win a copy of Joan's exciting new novel, Wind of the Spirit, leave a comment AND your email address so I can contact you if you win.

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Blogger Jaime said...

Hey - great blog today!! It's nice learning about authors I'm not familiar with but have such great concepts.

March 18, 2009 10:24 AM  
Blogger Mary said...

Great interview. We never know what is going to inspire us and best laid plans can be changed when God is prevelant in our lives. Love that it turned into a series and it's one that I'd love to read. Awesome!


March 18, 2009 10:50 AM  
Blogger Christine said...

Great interview Joan. I hadn't thought of our call to historical writing until you mentioned it. But, yes, what an opportunity--and an obligation--to keep history before the next generation. So important.

March 18, 2009 12:17 PM  
Blogger Shirley Kiger Connolly said...

I, too, think it is important to know your history and keep it accurate in your writing. Thanks for an interesting interview.
God bless

March 18, 2009 1:15 PM  
Blogger J. M. Hochstetler said...

You ladies really encourage me! I'm so glad to see that there are others who see the value of remembering our history, like Louise and I do! All of us tend to get so caught up in our everyday lives that we forget others have gone before us, and we can learn a lot from their experiences.

Thank you so much for joining in the dialog!

March 18, 2009 1:47 PM  
Blogger Janna said...

I've read one of J.M.'s books and would really love to read this one!


March 18, 2009 1:55 PM  
Blogger Esther said...

Joan, I too love the Scarlet Pimpernel story and never tire of watching it. I have a new set of grandchildren I'm itching to show it to (no, they're not new to me, but they haven't seen it, while the ones in Chicago have). What an ingenious idea to build a similar story for OUR revolution! I love knowing you personally now--you are as special as your stories.

March 18, 2009 3:21 PM  
Blogger bigguysmama said...

I LOVED the "Scarlet Pimpernel" when I was a kid!! Still love it, though I haven't seen it for years. I d enjoy history and hope my boys become lovers of it and will learn from it.

Please enter me to win the book.

Mimi B

mnjesusfreak at gmail dot com

March 18, 2009 3:45 PM  
Blogger Kristi said...

I love historical fiction and would love to read this one. Please enter me in the drawing.

kherbrand at comcast dot net

March 18, 2009 5:46 PM  
Blogger J. M. Hochstetler said...

Good to see you here, ladies! Esther, The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of my all time favorites. What a story! For those of you who have never seen it, the DVD is probably available on Amazon. It is worth checking out.

It's amazing what will spark a story idea when you're a writer--or plot points in a story you're working on. It's all grist for the mill, and it tends to make your family members nervous. lol!

March 18, 2009 6:41 PM  
Blogger Martha A. said...

I love the Scarlet Pimpernel too! The old one with Leslie Howard was my favorite!
I would love to win your book!

March 18, 2009 8:50 PM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

I would love to win a copy of this book. It sounds great!! My email address is shryackmom[@]charter[.]net

March 18, 2009 10:50 PM  
Blogger Vickie McDonough said...


I'm still waiting for the couple from Daughter of Liberty and Native Son to reunite. :) I'm hoping that happens in your new book. I'd love to win a copy of it.


March 18, 2009 11:37 PM  
Blogger J. M. Hochstetler said...

Martha, the version with Leslie Howard is good too, but I just fall for Anthony Andrews. Oooo la la! And Jane Seymour makes such a great heroine. The chemistry between them is fabulous!

Cheryl, great to see you here!

Vickie, don't want to give a spoiler here, but you aren't going to be disappointed. LOL!

March 20, 2009 8:26 AM  
Blogger Miralee Ferrell said...

As a fledgling historical writer myself (with only one in print to date) I loved Joan's comments on the importance of history and how she plans her books around important historical events. This book sounds like one I'd love to own and read. Thank you for this opportunity!

Miralee Ferrell

March 20, 2009 6:39 PM  
Blogger Shawn said...

As a teacher, historian, Christian, and aspiring author, I love this blog. It is nice to see a focus on history and love in an appropriate Christian venue.

June 2, 2009 9:38 PM  

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