1010Church Libraries • Spring 2010 A A U U T T H H O O R R I I N N T T E E R R V V I I E E W W Bringing History to Life by Kara Hackett On the brink of a new novel, Lynn Austin has much to be proud of. Yet, after winning five Christy Awards (for excellence in Christian fiction)—more than any other author—for her historical fiction, she remains humble, attributing her greatest accomplishment to the upbringing of her three children. “This may sound cheesy, but I would just like to be remembered for doing my best to be a good mother and rearing my children to believe in Jesus Christ,” Austin said. “That is a rare thing today.” Becoming a Novelist Since her novelist debut in 1995, this self-taught author’s interest in the story of King Hezekiah has continued to resonate, calling forth her passion for a God who uses imperfect people for His perfect purpose. “The first book I wrote was Gods and Kings, which became a five-book series,” she said. “The books are biblical fiction, based on the life of the Old Testament king Hezekiah. He has always fascinated me. After I read his story I kept thinking, Why isn’t he as well known as Abraham or Isaiah? “I found Hezekiah’s life and journey of faith to be inspiring and decided to ‘bring him to life’ through fiction. He led an entire nation in a time of turmoil and remained faithful to God, but he wasn’t perfect. That is another rea- son I enjoyed Hezekiah’s story: I could relate to him. And that’s what I love about the Bible. You would think that if there were to be a holy book, all of the people in that book would be holy as well, right? But the men and women in the Bible made mistakes as we do, and God was able to use them anyway.” Using Her Creativity Although Austin writes from a Christian worldview, she has captivated fans of many faiths, bringing history to life with her vivid storytelling techniques. Before she began writing, her creativity and passion for the past distinguished her among her peers. “I was a very creative child,” she said. “I had a good imagination, and my parents encouraged my creativity; but I never considered writing. Even in high school I was never recognized for my writing. But I had a history teacher who asked me to stay after class one day because he liked a paper I had written. He wanted me to write history books; and, in a way, I ended up doing that by writing historical fiction.” Bringing History to Life Austin’s creative mind incites her obsession with history, specifically biblical and American history, allowing her to revisit the past and share her endeavors with others. Lynn Austin “When I read history books, I can picture it all in my mind like it’s a story,” she said. “History is much more than the facts you find in textbooks. It’s about the people of each time period and how they lived their lives. “After the God and Kings series, my next novel was Eve’s Daughters, which is loosely based on the lives of the women in my family. I was inspired by their strength and their faith, even though they went through some difficult times. As I began to research the historical background of the time periods of my mother’s, grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s lives, I found a wealth of information and ideas for more stories. The women in my family are all strong people, but their strength comes from their faith in God. All of the other historical fiction I’ve written seemed to grow out of this first book.” Writing accurate historical fiction requires extensive research. Austin’s latest novel, Though Waters Roar, spans the antislavery movement; Civil War; temperance movement; and, finally, women’s suffrage movement. “I began by reading several reference books on the women’s suffrage movement; and they all talked about the connections between that movement, the women’s Christian temperance movement, and the antislavery movement,” she said. “So I branched off from there and read books about all three movements.
There are also some good Internet sites from universities with women’s studies programs that I referenced. I had already done a lot of research about abolition and the Civil War for my three-book Refiner’s Fire series, so I was able to refer to all of my notes from those books.” Creating Characters Telling the stories that history books overlook, Austin purposefully places women center stage in nearly all of her historical novels; however, of all her leading ladies, she does not completely identify herself with any one. “All of my characters have a little bit of me in them, but I wouldn’t say that I am particularly similar to any of them. It sounds crazy sometimes. But once I start writing about them, they take on their own personalities; and I can’t control them anymore. Even when I do originally create them to be like me or someone I know, they end up becoming their own persons.” Allowing her characters to develop their own personalities, Austin writes about the issues of faith, hope, and love that women of every generation struggle with. Though Waters Roar is narrated by a brave heroine, Harriet Sherwood, as she awaits judgment for her efforts to achieve social justice. Telling the tales of three generations of women who preceded her, Harriet consoles herself in her jail cell; and in each recollection she finds evidence of “What “What I I tr try tr y to to show show in in my my novels novels is is that that life life may may be be hard, hard, but but God God is is always always sovereign.” sovereign.” A A U U T T H H O O R R I I N N T T E E R R V V I I E E W W God’s redemption. “The biggest thing is learning to love God and the person He created you to be,” Austin said. “As human beings, we all desire to be loved, but the trouble comes when we look for that love in the wrong places.” Like the men and women of the Bible, none of Austin’s characters are perfect. They each face a series of conflicts, both personal and generational, that test their strengths and tempt their weaknesses, ultimately revealing greater truths about the grand-scale struggles of their time. “Whenever I start writing, I begin with a few characters in mind,” Austin said. “Then I put those characters in certain situations and a time period and watch how it all plays out. By the time I begin writing, I usually have done enough research, so I know what events will take place in each character’s life. Then I see how the characters react to those events. “I never start a book with a message in mind because then my writing becomes too preachy. But once the plot starts coming together, I am able to find messages in what I have written. It’s strange, but usually the messages in my novels are similar to what I heard or experienced when I was writing them. Everything ties together.” Since the release of Though Waters Roar, Austin has been researching a different era of American history, putting together the pieces of a drama that will hit bookshelves this year. “My next novel, While We’re Far Apart, takes place during the 1940s in New York, and it is about World War II.” Getting Help From the Bible Through all of her literary and historical endeavors, Austin’s most poignant source of inspiration and motivation is her Bible. As the characters in her novels come to understand, life is full of adversity; but a life devoted to the Lord is strengthened in times of trial and restored by His steadfast love. Lynn Austin’s Novels All She Ever Wanted Chronicles of the Kings series (previously, God and Kings series) God and Kings Song of Redemption The Strength of His Hand Faith of My Fathers Among the Gods Eve’s Daughters Hidden Places* (also a Hallmark movie on DVD) A Proper Pursuit* Refiner’s Fire series Candle in the Darkness* Fire by Night* A Light to My Path Though Waters Roar Until We Reach Home* Wings of Refuge A Woman’s Place All from Bethany House. *Christy Award winners. “I think my greatest help through the trials in my life has come from reading God’s Word on a daily basis,” Austin said. “Most of the people in the Bible dealt with the same trials and hardships we encounter, yet God was faithful through them all. I have found that as I’ve faced difficulties, I would recall God’s faithfulness from Scripture stories, examples of how God expects me to respond. “I’ve learned that the more familiar I am with Scripture, the more I can find comfort and direction through life’s trials. What I try to show in my novels is that life may be hard, but God is always sovereign. He will help us through every difficulty and accomplish His purposes.” _____________________________________________________________________ Kara Hackett is a professional writing major at Taylor University and a reviewer for Church Libraries. Church Libraries • Spring 2010 11 11