Readers, some time ago I sent Christian fiction author Stephanie Grace Whitson an email asking her if she would be willing to answer a few interview questions for my blog, and she generously agreed. Stephanie’s fiction titles have been finalists for the Christy Award (among other honors) and you can find out more about them on her website: www.stephaniewhitson.com. Her most recent book is Messenger by Moonlight (2016). This is my first interview with a published author, and while my questions may be lacking, her answers are lovely, thoughtful, and warm. Please enjoy reading through our Q&A session below!
Your life as a novelist began in the 1990’s when you, your husband, and four kids all moved to an acreage in southeast Nebraska. You mention on your website being pretty sure you provided comic relief for the neighbors because of your lack of understanding about country living. Do any humorous stories or blunders stick out in your mind?
I am from southern Illinois where my parents (born in 1913 and 1915) grew up in poverty, both taking advantage of the free food available via edible berries and greens that grew in the wild. I have very fond memories of picking dandelion greens and pokeweed for salads and roaming the countryside for wild gooseberries, blackberries, etc. in season.
Once we moved to our Nebraska acreage, I followed suit, making wild plum butter, sprinkling mulberries on breakfast cereal, etc. But the climate in Nebraska is different from that of southern Illinois, so there were wild fruits I wasn’t familiar with. One day I knocked on a neighbor’s door with a branch laden with wild fruit. Mrs. Boyce had been a farm wife all her life and she knew everything from “the old days” of hard scrabble life during the depression. Our conversation went like this:
Me: “Will I kill my family if I make jelly with these?”
Mrs. Boyce: “Well, honey, what do you think that is?”
Mrs. Boyce nodded. “Yes, but they aren’t ripe. You wait until July when they’re almost black and then you pick some and we’ll make jelly together.”
Mrs. Boyce loved my four kids as if they were her own grandchildren. With her, they made pie and weeded flower gardens. (My eldest daughter came home once and said in wonder, “Mom … did you know you can make macaroni and cheese without the box?) My sons tinkered in the barn with Mr. Boyce, and what one learned from repairing old tractors and machinery got him his first job at a quick-change oil place in town. The time we spent with Mr. and Mrs. Boyce are among my greatest memories of country living.
I was touched by the tribute you wrote to your father and shared on your blog (find it here). Perhaps because I am blessed enough to be able to resonate with having a Godly father who spoils me. Like you did, many snowy mornings have found me walking a freshly shoveled path to my already brushed-off car! If it’s not too personal a question, do you feel as if your father has influenced your writing or inspired any of your characters?
Thank you for taking time to read that. I’m sure my godly father indirectly inspired many of the exemplary men in my novels, especially the good fathers (Belle’s father in Belle of the Wild West comes to mind). While I haven’t consciously replicated Daddy, glimmers of his patience and kindness certainly appear in my heroes.
Anyone just getting started reading your books or exploring your website will quickly discover your affection for history and quilts! Do you have a favorite quilt (or two?) in your personal collection, and can you tell me about it?
That “favorite” question is a tough one. Different ones are favorites for different reasons.
My Bible Sampler is a favorite because a friend and I designed quilts together when our children were young to represent their favorite Bible stories. We ended up creating a pattern and that birthed a home- based business that took us to many wonderful places over the few years of the business’s life—and our friendship survived LOL. The technique in this quilt is not exemplary by anyone’s standards, but I still love the memories and the tribute to God’s Word that’s implied by the various symbols and blocks. My personal relationship with Jesus drives my writing life, and this quilt is the best expression of that. For example, the fan block represents the pages of the “wordless book” we made in Bible School when I was a child. Each color represents something different about the Gospel message: black for sin, red for the blood of Jesus, white for forgiveness, etc. The vine is a symbol for Jesus, who (as Jesse King in Walks the Fire says) “has wrapped Himself around everything that’s ever happened to me and made it all beautiful, in His time.”
Continuing with the subject of favorites, which book of your own is most special to you? Or is that like choosing your favorite child?
It is something like choosing a favorite child … that’s very insightful of you. Walks the Fire is special because it was the first. A Garden in Paris is special because of the personal story behind the inspiration for it and the memory of the writer (now deceased) who insisted I must write it. Sixteen Brides is special because from a craft standpoint it was a very difficult book to write and I learned a great deal as I beat my head against the wall (almost literally) trying to make it work. The Shadow on the Quilt is special because it is the only one of my books that has won an award, and the award it won (Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice for Best Inspirational Romance of 2012) is not the result of a book contest writers enter into competition. This honor came from book reviewers, and they can be a difficult audience. Having a reviewer champion something I wrote was a unique honor. And I’d better stop listing titles!
Seeing all the research you do, the history in what you write, I am reminded again of just how remarkable God is in His timelessness. A thousand years in His sight are like yesterday passing by (Psalm 90:4), and yet He intimately knew/sees every single person who has ever lived. Wrapping up this interview, is there a Bible verse you’ve been meditating on or memorizing lately and would like to share?
Long ago Ephesians 3:20-21 resonated with me in a significant way. Because I grew up learning/memorizing the King James Version of the Bible, I’ll share it in that beautiful syntax: “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”
As I look back over my life, it’s apparent to me that God has consistently done “exceeding abundantly above” all that I have ever asked of Him and all that I ever thought He would do. He has done things I would never have imagined—things I’d never have asked Him to do. I was never going to marry. I’ve been blessed with two good men (my first husband died of cancer in the twenty-eighth year of our marriage) and over four decades of happiness. I was never going to have children. God gave me four to raise and another as a beloved “step” (and now a dozen grandchildren). I never planned a career as a novelist, but God gave me one anyway. Such joy! Just pondering the “showers of blessings” that have rained on me over the six-plus decades of my life inspires praise and leaves me speechless. “Exceeding abundantly above all that I asked or thought.”
What a fitting verse to end with. How comforting to trust in Him who is able to do “exceeding abundantly above.” Thank you, Stephanie Grace Whitson, for your time and generosity. To my followers, thank you for returning and reading!