Today I’m celebrating the newest novel of my good friend Lori Benton with a day-before-the-release-date party, and one lucky winner is going to receive a copy of The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn! Below Lori shares how she developed the story. Please leave a comment on this post before midnight Friday, April 18, to be entered in the drawing!
Ideas are everywhere. In the movies we watch, the books we read, the conversations we have, the news we’re exposed to. Life abounds with story ideas. Like scattered seeds, they are constantly being planted in a writer’s mind. They can lie dormant for the longest time, forgotten by the writer herself, until suddenly they sprout, and a story idea springs from seemingly nowhere, its roots untraceable except by more digging than most writers have time to do. Rather, we delight in the unexpected tender shoot and do what we can to nourish it, hoping it will sink those mysterious roots deep, and grow.
And then sometimes we do remember exactly where a story idea came from. That’s the case for my new release, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn (WaterBrook Press, April 15, 2014). The first spark of inspiration for that story came straight out of the pages of history.
Why did they get the notion to do such a thing in the first place?
I think it’s accurate to say that the State of Franklin movement came about in large part due to geography. Several of the river valleys west of the Blue Ridge, known as the Tennessee country, had been settled well before the Revolutionary War. But those frontier settlements were a long way removed from the political centers of eastern North Carolina. With hundreds of miles between them, many of them sometimes impassable mountain miles, the settlers on the frontier became frustrated with the government’s lack of response to their needs.
In 1784, one group of these frontier citizens declared their region independent of North Carolina. They formed the State of Franklin and elected a governor—war hero John Sevier—but they never drew enough support from outside the region for their efforts to succeed. In fact, the region itself was divided, with the folk who clung to their identity as North Carolinians at odds with their neighbors who called themselves Franklinites.
This first post-Revolutionary War attempt at independent statehood spanned a brief but tumultuous period (1784—1789), and 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 opposing governments, each vying for the same territory, taxes, and allegiance of the people.
How, I wondered, could such a situation result in anything but chaos for those folk simply trying to wrest a living from their farms or places of trade? Hadn’t they just lived through a devastating war between two rival governments? What was an Overmountain man and his family to do to get a little peace? And then there were the Chickamauga Indians seeking to sweep the whole lot of them back east across the mountains—and honestly, who could blame them?
It was a setting that begged for a story to be woven through it.
I began a file to keep track of those tantalizing hints of conflict surrounding the failed statehood attempt. Over time, as I read more about North Carolina, the sparse contents of this file would nudge me, suggesting story possibilities. Gradually a cast of characters clustered around it, they began to speak to me, and The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn took shape.
The story opens late in the summer of 1787, well into this unsettled situation in the Overmountain region. I thought it a fitting setting for a story about a privileged but subjugated young woman, Tamsen Littlejohn, and a rootless, enigmatic Overmountain man called Jesse Bird, who find themselves thrown together in a moment of crisis with a bewildering set of paths to choose toward security and safety—much as confronted the people of the frontier valleys. Tamsen and Jesse are faced with a choice of what sort of person each wants to become, what sort of life they want to live, and must decide what they are willing to risk to pursue that choice. And might the real question be—are they meant risk their hearts and make these choices together?
I’m excited to share with readers this stirring romance set against an epic period of history often neglected in the classroom: the formation of the State of Franklin on the heels of the Revolutionary War, the turmoil it caused on the North Carolina frontier, and how near it came to being our fourteenth state.
Thank you for sharing these fascinating insights into your creative process, Lori!
Readers, if you haven’t yet read Lori’s debut novel, Burning Sky, you need to purchase a copy asap! Her writing is lovely, evocative, and gripping, and Burning Sky will stay in your heart long after you turn the last page.
And I’m confident that The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn is going to be every bit as captivating. Leave a comment on this post to enter the drawing, which will close at midnight on Friday, April 18. Please include your name and email addy in your response so I can contact you if you win. I'll announce the winner here on Saturday.