Denise – what a great title. Please give us a thumb-nail sketch of this book.
Susanna Moore can’t get him out of her mind—Sam Hicks, the man who delivered the commission making her father colonel of Andrew Jackson’s Cherokee Regiment. But Susanna’s father wants a better match for her than the mixed-blood lieutenant—like the stuffy doctor who escorted her to Creek Territory. Then a suspected spy forces Moore to rely on Sam for military intelligence and Susanna’s protection, making it impossible for either to guard their heart.
What inspired you to write this story?
Bent Tree Bride was originally intended to be part of a Native Patriots Series that did not come to fruition. However, this story poured out of me in about six weeks, a record time for any of my novels, especially a historical! The hero, Sam, was a boy at the mission school for children of Cherokee chiefs in my Moravian marriage of convenience romance, The Witness Tree (Smitten, 2019). I realized the timing would be perfect for him to grow up and fight in The Cherokee Regiment during the War of 1812.
The Cherokee people wanted so badly to keep their land that many had adopted white culture by the early 1800s. When I learned that the Cherokee Regiment turned the tide of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend against the Red Stick Creeks, fighting alongside Andrew Jackson’s militia in an attempt to keep their homes, Sam, an educated, mixed-blood son of a chief, seemed the perfect hero to embody his people’s noble aspirations in this conflict.
With such specific historical context, did you face any particular challenge in writing the book?
We all know the formation of America involved many different cultures coming together, often not in a seamless or praiseworthy manner. So writing historicals set in our country always brings with it a double challenge: 1. To portray those ethnicities accurately and sensitively and 2. To portray all the characters through the barrier and filter of hundreds of years.
Was any one scene harder to write than the others?
Following the same thread of thought from my last question, I added another hurdle to those of ethnicity and history … a war. And a war means violence. I take very seriously any battles where men lost their lives fighting for their people groups. My goal is to honor their courage and sacrifice and to give the reader realistic accounts without magnifying disturbing details. I often cut short battle scenes, but there are individual fight scenes just as essential to the action and the formation of the main characters as the heart-stopping romance. So … if you’re someone who is disturbed by such, maybe try one of my light-hearted contemporary stories.
Considering your efforts to tell the tale of battles while preserving dignity, what was your favorite scene in this book?
A parallel to the last question … something that I can’t get out of my head. Charles Hicks was a real-life Cherokee chief who owned what was purported to be the largest library in the Southeast. Sam, my hero, is his fictional son. After the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Charles walked over the battlefield, preaching about Jesus to the wounded and dying. What a beautiful picture of the redemption of humanity! Charles’ preaching is actually mentioned in my Author’s Notes, but it’s the essence of this story at its deepest level.
What themes draw you over and over again in your writing?
I’d say, the healing power of God. We’ve all been through painful situations, and many of us carry insecurities or wounds from childhood. Our attempts to operate out of these without God’s complete healing leads to dysfunction. Because this is a reality of the world we live in, I don’t write perfect, bubbly characters—even in my warm-fuzzy romances. Sometimes I get knocked for that. But that’s okay. I’d rather show a character who learns how to bring that hurt or weakness to Christ and be transformed, positioning them for other blessings in life such as romance and reaching their personal goals.
Is there anything about writing that you wish non-writers understood?
I’m always surprised when I make new friends, and they think I’m famous. I may have over a dozen titles traditionally published, but I’m still a small fish in a big pond. With e-books and self-publishing, there are countless authors and books to choose from. So even when we appear to have “made it,” we’re still struggling to grow our readership, to get signed by a big publisher, to make ends meet. Most authors net under $5,000 a year. We’re definitely not celebrities, and we want you to know that YOU matter. Your reviews, your social media connections, your e-mails, your smiling face at a book signing. You are the reason we write and the only way we can continue to do what God has called us to do. So please don’t ever be afraid to approach us or feel that your feedback or encouragement doesn’t matter. YOU may be the reason an author doesn’t give up on the dream God gave them.
Such an important aspect, Denise, and one I suspect not many readers fully appreciate.
Do you have a “day job” or career that influences your writing?
I serve as managing editor for both historical imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. The training and experience I’ve received as an editor has definitely improved my writing, enabling me to plot better and write a cleaner first draft—not to mention the short and long synopses and back cover copy. I’ve especially learned how to get rid of the “fluff” words and scenes and go straight to what’s truly important to the story and character development. If it doesn’t serve a purpose, it doesn’t need to be in there! But that doesn’t mean no details. A measured amount of details are essential to setting and mood and tell us more about the characters. My authors will tell you, I’m frequently prompting them to add in tidbits about a character’s appearance, a room, or a landscape.
What are your hobbies, activities, or passions outside of writing?
For many years, I participated in living history and vintage dance, even leading a vintage dance group. This all sprang out of a desire to inspire my writing. Over time, weekend swim meets for my girls and then book events edged out re-enacting. But I still enjoy an occasional living history or visiting a historical festival or site, especially when I’m doing book research!
Time with my husband, college-aged daughters, parents, and friends—especially our small group from church—rank at the top of my list. You might find us visiting a boutique, coffee shop, or an antique store, or walking our cockapoo, Lucy, at the park.
It sounds like you have a full and entertaining life. Tell us a little about your next book project.
I was recently surprised to learn that the remains of a War of 1812 frontier fort was discovered very near where I grew up. I was even more surprised to learn that it was built during the exact same time I set Bent Tree Bride, 1813-14. While most of the action of BTB takes place in Creek Territory in what is modern-day Alabama, I’m researching for a potential story set here at home in Georgia during that same period. The dividing line where three cultures came together—Creeks, Cherokees, and white settlers—ran right through this area. How is that not fodder for a great frontier romance?