If you have seen my “bookshelf” page, you are aware of a new novel being released on October 3. The novel is by one of my favorite authors, Lynn Austin, titled Where We Belong. I’ve had the privilege to read the first three chapters of this book, and let me tell you, I can’t wait to get the whole book in my hands.
I thought this would be a good opportunity for you to learn more about Lynn, so here you will find an interview where she answers questions posed by her launch team. I hope you enjoy the interview, and be sure to grab a copy of her new book here and share your thoughts!
1. Do the sisters represent anyone in your life?
No, but since I grew up with two sisters who are my best friends, I love to write stories about the close relationships between sisters. Like the Hawes sisters, my own sisters and I are very different, but we’ve enjoyed some great adventures together.
2. What inspired the writing of this book?
The inspiration for this novel came from the true story of the remarkable twin sisters, Agnes and Margaret Smith, born in Scotland in 1843. The account of how these brilliant, self-educated women discovered a copy of the gospels dating from AD 500 at the monastery on Mount Sinai is told in the fascinating book, The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels, by author Janet Soskice. While I borrowed some of the details of their lives, I moved my fictional sisters to Chicago, a city I’m more familiar with.
Agnes and Margaret Smith discovered the “hidden gospels” in a palimpsest—a book that has been over-written by a newer book, probably to conserve writing materials. Once the sisters scraped off the top layer, the biblical manuscript could be photographed, transcribed, and studied by scholars. The Smith sisters were also key figures in the discovery of the Cairo Genizah, a collection of some 300,000 ancient manuscript fragments found in a synagogue storeroom in Egypt. Proficient in several modern and ancient languages, Agnes and Margaret were well-respected scholars in an era when advanced degrees weren’t available to women. Because the sisters were women of deep faith, they fearlessly traveled the Sinai on a Bedouin camel caravan, hauling crates of chickens and turkeys (but without the amorous sheikh of my novel). I also borrowed the sisters’ favorite motto: “God knows when the end of our days will be. We have nothing to fear.” Their trust in God led them to accomplish extraordinary things and live a rich, adventure-filled life for God’s glory.
3. What is the writing process like for you, from idea conception to finish? How many hours did you spend writing this book? On average, how many hours did this take?
It takes me a year to write each book from start to finish. I begin with an idea, usually from a tidbit of history that fascinates me or maybe a true story that I hear about. I do all my own research, which involves a lot of reading and also travel, whenever possible. I love doing research because story ideas and characters will start forming during this phase. Once ideas start coming to me, I sit down and start writing, making up the plot as I go along. I seldom know how the novel will end when I begin. I work Monday-Friday from morning until I reach my quota of 3-5 pages. If I’m behind schedule, I’ll write evenings and Saturdays, too. I have no idea how many hours I spend altogether. Some days I can write 3 pages before noon. Other days, I can work all day and have only 1 new page to show for it. Each day I reread what I wrote the day before and edit and revise those pages before starting something new.
4. Did you do any traveling research for this book? (visiting specific locations the characters visit?)
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to do any new traveling for this book. I lived in the Chicago area for over twenty years, so I am very familiar with that city. And although I’ve traveled to Paris, the Middle East, Jerusalem, and other story locations in the past, I didn’t get a chance to go back to do more research this time. That’s frustrating, because I love to travel almost as much as Rebecca does.
5. What is the most adventurous thing you’ve done?
I can think of several! Traveling by public transportation through the Andes Mountains when we lived in South America. Driving in a 2-seat sports car from Connecticut to Anchorage, Alaska. Backpacking in the Grand Tetons, Adirondacks, and Appalachian Mountains. But my #1 favorite is probably working on an archaeological dig in Israel, uncovering the Biblical city of Timnah.
6. What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I enjoyed traveling in my imagination to the many places the sisters visited, and experiencing (in my imagination) the excitement they experienced, such as escaping from the Great Chicago Fire. When the sisters had an adventure, I did, too!
7. What do you hope readers will come away with after finishing this book?
I hope the sisters’ philosophy will really resonate with readers: that God has a unique purpose for each of us, which is why He created us to be so different! And I also hope readers will feel more courageous when they recall the sisters’ motto: “God knows when the end of our days will be. We have nothing to fear.”
8. If you had a day to spend doing whatever you could, what would that day look like?
I have an adorable granddaughter who is nearly two years old, but I don’t get to see her very often. If I had a free day, I would spend it reading stories to her, singing with her, playing her favorite games, and taking her for a bike ride or a walk in the woods or letting her play on the beach. It’s also a wonderful day for me when my husband and I get to spend it with all three of our kids and their spouses. Heaven!
9. What are your favorite Bible study tools?
Forty–one years ago I happened upon a Bible-reading schedule that takes you through the entire Bible in a year. I tried it, and have been doing it ever since. I’ve used different Bible translations and study guides over the years (such as the NIV Study Bible), and have varied my routine by reading the Bible in chronological order some years. I also have a nice collection of Jewish study guides and translations for the Old Testament books. And I always try to find non-fiction books that go into more depth for each Biblical book, such as Eugene Petersen’s book “Run With the Horses” when reading the prophet Jeremiah. I always read from a daily devotional along with my Bible reading, and I have a wonderful prayer book called “The Valley of Vision” that I use as a guide for my own prayers.
10. Who are your personal mentors and heroes and why?
A godly Christian writer named Alma Barkman took me under her wing when I first started to write years ago and taught me everything I needed to know to become a published author. I lived in Canada at the time, and the story of how God brought Alma to my door at this early stage of my career is miraculous! She was a wise and knowledgeable mentor, and truly a Godsend.
As for my hero, if I can only choose one, I would have to say King Hezekiah. I first read his story in the Bible when I was in high school and it stayed with me for years until I finally wrote my biblical fiction series about him. He was far from perfect (like me!) but he kept walking forward and trusting God in spite of many trials and difficulties. And in the end, his faith had matured to the point where he trusted God completely and wanted Him to be glorified, instead of himself. (He’s also an ancestor of Jesus!)
11. What were your favorite books and authors when you were young?
I wasn’t much of a reader when I was young. I was much too busy living in my imagination and going on adventures instead of sitting still and reading. I was like the little boy in the cartoon “Calvin and Hobbes,” where the imaginary world seems like a lot more fun than the real one. But my mother read aloud to my sisters and me, and two of my very favorites were “Charlotte’s Web” and “The Borrowers.”
12. Do you prefer writing Biblical or historical fiction?
I prefer historical fiction because I can make up the story as I go along. With Biblical fiction, the story plot and outline are already given in scripture, and I try very hard to stick closely to it.
13. Why did you become a writer?
Because I got tired of reading books that had no hope. Many of them were beautifully written, but the theme seemed to be “Life is hard and then you die.” I agree that life is hard, but God is good. I wanted to tell a story that included God because He gives us hope. So, I sat down one day and started writing the kind of book I wanted to read—and it turned out to be so much fun that I was hooked! When I write, I live in my imagination just like I did as a child. Readers started sending letters telling me how God used my stories in their lives, so I knew I had found my calling.
14. What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned throughout your writing career?
The biggest lesson I learned was that I needed to define what “success” meant. Was it things like big book signings, being #1 on the bestseller list, earning huge royalties? How would I know that I’ve become a “successful” writer? It took me years to figure out that I was using the wrong measuring sticks, and I understand now that “success” is obeying God and following His calling to be a writer. I can leave the results (or lack of results!) in His hands as long as I’m obedient to Him. I feel the greatest pleasure of all when a reader tells me how God has used my books to impact her life.
15. What is your greatest success and biggest failure as a writer?
I would say my greatest success was when a reader gave her life to Christ after reading my books. My girlfriend had a client who was not a Christian but who loved to read. My friend gave her my books, and over time and with my girlfriend’s encouragement and prayers, the woman came to faith.
My greatest failure was giving up writing after a publisher rejected my book early in my career. I returned to teaching—and it turned out to be the worst job in my life! I felt like Jonah in the belly of the whale until I finally figured out that I had headed in the wrong direction and needed to be answering God’s call to write.
16. How did you come to be a Christian and what does your faith mean to you?
I am VERY blessed to have been raised in a Christian home with Christian parents and grandparents who modeled a God-centered life for me. Even so, it’s true that “God doesn’t have any grandchildren.” I needed to put my faith in Christ and not rely on my parents’ faith. This happened while I was attending Hope College and I had an overwhelming experience of God’s presence in a chapel service one morning. I asked Christ into my heart and committed my life to serving Him. Today, my faith gives me the overwhelming assurance that the God who created the universe loves me and wants to have a close relationship with me. He has a plan and a purpose for my life, which He not only reveals to me, but also enables me to fulfil through His Holy Spirit. I can’t imagine how I would ever make sense of life without my faith.
17. Do you have a favorite Bible verse?
“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31
18. How do you feel about/deal with fans and fan mail?
I love hearing from readers, whether it’s on my website, Facebook or snail mail. Writing can be a very lonely job, sitting alone in an office all day. Letters from my readers are a huge encouragement to me and keep me going when I get discouraged.
19. Do you have a writing group to support you as you work?
I formed a writers’ critique group more than 20 years ago with two wonderful women I “happened” to meet at a Christian writer’s conference: Jane Rubietta and Cleo Lampos. We have been meeting together to encourage and critique each other ever since. When we first met, none of us was published. In the years since, the three of us have now published multiple books, articles, and publications.