Monday, July 14, 2014

Lori Benton, author of The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn



Author Bio:
Lori Benton, author of Burning Sky, a two time Christy Award winner and 2014 Christy Book of the Year Award recipient, was raised east of the Appalachian Mountains, surrounded by early American and family history going back three hundred years. Her novels transport readers to the 18th century, where she brings to life the Colonial and early Federal periods of American history. When she isn’t writing, Lori enjoys exploring beautiful Oregon with her husband. The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn is her second novel.

Title: The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn
Author: Lori Benton
ISBN: 978-0-307-73149-4
Page count: 387
Genre: Historical
Price: 14.99

Tell us about your book:
The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, set in 1787, is a story about identity, and what happens when that particular rug is pulled out from under a person. That’s something that’s already happened to Jesse Bird, the hero in the story, who doesn’t remember his parents, or where he comes from. It’s something that happens to the heroine, Tamsen Littlejohn, when she discovers the family history she thought she knew isn’t half the story. When these two are thrown together in a moment of crises, and flee across the Blue Ridge Mountains in search of safety, they’re on a path of discovering their true identities. Along the way, Tamsen learns from Jesse that she has more say in the matter of who she is, and who she will become, than she once thought. 

And historically, as the backdrop of the story, we have a backcountry settlement of people in conflict over their collective identity—are they still part of North Carolina, or the newly proclaimed State of Franklin? Depends on who you ask, and you better be careful if you do ask. 

But none of these issues of identity will be resolved without Tamsen and Jesse facing great sacrifice, danger, and risk. 

How long did it take to write the book?
The first draft took nine months to research and write, but of course the editing process happened after that. First my own editing, which took another three or four months. After the book was contracted, my editor at WaterBrook took me through another round of edits, which lasted a few more months. All told, the time it took to create this book was well over a year.

What inspired you to write the book?
Inspiration for The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn came straight out of the pages of history. While researching material for an earlier novel set in 18th century North Carolina, I came across the mention of the “Lost” State of Franklin—an attempt of the Overmountain citizens of western North Carolina to break away and form a separate state. Had they succeeded (and they nearly did) Franklin would have been the fourteenth state admitted into the Union, instead of Vermont. 

This first post-Revolutionary War attempt at independent statehood spanned a relatively short period, 1784—1789. But what a tumultuous period it was, marked by courthouse raids, fisticuffs, siege, and battle. For a little over four years the people of the Tennessee Valley region lived under the jurisdiction of two governments vying for the same territory, the allegiance of the same settlers. How, I wondered, could such a situation result in anything but chaos—and a setting that begged for a story to be woven through it? 

Talk about the writing process. Did you have a writing routine? Did you do any research, and if so, what did that involve?
I treat writing like a full time job. I sit down to write at 9am most days but Sundays, and write until lunch time. Then I return and write for as long as I can in the afternoon, until it’s time for dinner. There are times when life pulls me away in the afternoon, other times when I’m under deadline and need to work “overtime.”

As a historical fiction writer, research is a way of life. I’m never not researching whatever novel I’m presently writing or editing, always with a stack of books I’m working through. In addition, I’ve traveled over the western North Carolina/eastern Tennessee setting of The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn more than once. While doing so isn’t absolutely necessary, in my opinion (considering many of the places I write about have changed a lot in 250 years)—if one is committed to making up for it with extensive reading of the works of those who are familiar with the landscape—I would rather visit the setting of my stories whenever possible.

What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?
Several things. A new or deeper appreciation for the post-Revolutionary struggles faced by the people of the 18th century American frontier, Native and settler. An awareness of God’s leading in our lives. Lastly, as always, I hope readers are transported to another time and place, and experience a connection to the characters that will make them feel like friends.

Excerpt from book:
Chapter One

Western North Carolina
September 1787

To Jesse Bird’s reckoning, any man charged with driving forty head of Overmountain cattle to market best have three things in his possession—a primed rifle, a steady horse, and a heap of staying power.
Jesse had the first two, one balanced across his thighs; the other tired, fly bitten, and dusty between them. As for staying power…with miles to go before he’d be shed of those forty beeves, he was making a studied effort to let patience have its perfect work in him.
Looking back across their brown and brindled ranks, he spotted Cade and the packhorses rounding a bend in the river trace, where sunlight still speared the hazy air in moted streaks of gold. Riding behind the drove at the mercy of its dust, Cade had a kerchief tied across his mouth and nose, hat pulled low to shield his eyes. Though Jesse hadn’t ridden rear guard since midday, the choke of that same dust gritted his throat. Grime coated the foot drovers too, spread out through the summer-fattened herd, armed with rifles and staves, eyes darting glances at the crowding wooded slopes.
Grasshoppers whirred beside the trace, leaping clear of trampling hooves that crackled the weeds. The sun hung to westward, its warmth fading, leaving rivulets of sweat drying on Jesse’s neck, sticking his shirt where the straps of bullet bag and knapsack crossed. He was thinking they’d reach their next camp a nip ahead of dark, with time to pen the cattle before swimming the dust off his hide, when something with the force of a slung stone clipped his hat brim. Thinking a deer fly had marked him for a meal, he reached for the hat, meaning to swat the pest.
The hat was gone clean off his head. It dangled from a nearby tulip poplar, pinned by a feathered arrow.
Jesse gave a whoop, then was out of the saddle and ducking behind a clump of rhododendron, putting his horse crosswise between himself and the beeves. From across the river came a spotty rain of arrows, pinging off rocks, thunking into trees along the bank. The drovers ducked behind the cattle on the hill-slope side of the trace, rifles shouldered.
Jesse’s mind raced. Was it Creeks or Chickamaugas? Either held an everlasting grudge against the Overmountain settlers. Hang it all, it could be Shawnees. With a wordless prayer that it wasn’t, Jesse aimed his rifle at a tawny flash across the river and fired. Powder smoke plumed out white from the barrel. On the tail edge of the report, he heard Cade’s war whoop. An answering ululation came shrill and defiant from across the water, raising the hairs on Jesse’s arms.
The cattle milled and bunched, kicking up a dust blind. One took an arrow in the flank and went down in the middle of the trace, bawling in pain but thwarting the bulk of the herd’s bolting.
Rifle shot cracked. Powder smoke hung on both sides of the river now, sharp and sulfurous. For the moment they had the water for a buffer. The attacking warriors wouldn’t risk exposing themselves to cross unless sure of taking them down. Surprise was a weapon spent.
A brindled cow broke from the jostling herd. It plunged down the riverbank and crumpled in the shallows, shot through the neck. The front of the herd not blocked by the downed cow pressed up against the hillside and then shifted in Jesse’s direction, threatening to stampede off down the trace. More broke for the river. Busy reloading, there was little Jesse could do but pray his horse stood its ground.
A musket ball ripped through rhody leaves near his head. Back down the trace Cade’s rifle fired. A warrior across the river fell through brush, lay thrashing, and was dragged back into cover. Another such loss and the warriors would likely break and run. If they could hold them off a few more seconds…
New voices shattered a lull in the firing. Tremolo cries like the warble of crazed turkey cocks sounded up the slope behind them.
Fear jarred through Jesse. Faster than thought, he yanked free his belt axe and whirled to throw it—and almost too late recognized the two Cherokee warriors. He shouted to the drovers to stop them firing on the blue-shirted figures leaping down the rocky slope, dodging frightened cattle. The Cherokees took cover on the bank, both with rifles, and commenced to putting them to use.
Jesse blazed a grin of welcome at the younger of the two now at his side, rammed patch and ball to powder, and fired across the river.
A final arrow sailed over the cattle’s backs. Then stillness fell, with smoke and dust drifting high on the river breeze.

Where can we go to buy your book?
The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn is available most places where books are sold. You’ll find my books online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Christianbook.com, Powell’s, etc., or your local bookstore may have it in stock. If not, they can order it.

Any other links or info you'd like to share?
Readers can learn more about my books, and read the first two chapters of The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, at loribenton.blogspot.com