It is my pleasure to once again host Lori Benton here on Writing to Inspire. Her stories have made quite an impression upon my heart, and it is my hope that you’ll give them a chance and see for yourself what all the hype is about. I’m pretty sure you’ll be glad you did.
*This article first appeared on Mary Vee’s website. Re-posted here with permission from Lori Benton.
When Dreams Are Put On Hold
by Lori Benton
My debut novel, Burning Sky, released in 2013. More than once during an interview that year I was asked, “Did your own battle and survivorship with cancer influence your novel?” My answer is very much so! In fact, what I learned during the year I went through cancer treatment offered me much by way of inspiration when it came to writing Burning Sky and every novel I’ve written since.
A theme I explore frequently in my novels centers around identity. In Burning Sky, more specifically, it was the challenge of redefining oneself after a significant loss. Many of the story’s characters are on that difficult journey but one of them, Neil MacGregor—the Scottish botanist aided by the heroine, Willa Obenchain—has a journey that mirrors my own, though I didn’t initially intend for that to happen.
I created Neil MacGregor as the hero of a story different in genre and setting from the one he now inhabits. While the losses that early version of Neil suffered are similar to what they are in Burning Sky—due to a debilitating brain injury—the way in which he dealt with them was vastly different.
I’ll explain, but first a little background on my own journey. In 1999, halfway through writing that early, still unfinished story, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Chemotherapy and radiation eradicated the cancer and the side effects I experienced were relatively mild, except for one. It’s called chemo fog and I was blind-sided by it. Anything resembling concentration was beyond me; my memory for plot threads and character arcs—important things in a novel writer’s life—was almost nonexistent; I couldn’t retain anything I read by way of research for more than a few days and found myself looking up the same facts and material over and over again. After a year or two of frustrated starts and stops, I reached the dispiriting conclusion that I was no longer able to write the type of novels I’d created before my diagnosis. A vital part of my identity was lost. For all I knew, lost forever.
But God was doing a work in me, a long-term work of submission and trust, of giving my heart’s desire to write completely into His hands. There came a day when I ceased even to try to write, even though the desire to write never died. I continued to pray and wait. It would be nearly five years before the fog lifted enough for me to feel ready to once again tackle the mountain climb that is novel-writing. One of the characters waiting for me at the foot of that mountain was Neil MacGregor, ready to try again if I was. I knew I had to find this character a story to inhabit, but the setting I had in mind to write about now was as different as it could be from that early story I’d never finished.
So I set him down on the New York frontier in 1784, and he adjusted remarkably well. In fact, I discovered that somewhere in that mysterious alchemy of story-weaving that Neil had grown in the face of his losses in the same way I had. God hadn’t taken away his heart’s desire to be a botanist despite a serious handicap that would seem to stand in his way, even as He didn’t take away my passion to write when the ability to do so was absent. Yet this new incarnation of Neil MacGregor, alive in the pages of Burning Sky, had reached a place of surrender and trust I never could have imagined for him before my own journey of surrender took place. Neil is acutely aware of the challenges that stand between him and his goals, yet he knows that if God has called him to be a botanist, with all that demanded of a man in the eighteenth century, then He will go before him and make a way. Similarly, I knew that if God had called me to be a published writer—or a writer at all—He would go before me day by day and enable me, and open the right doors. If not, then that would be for the best.
On a personal note, I’ve been cancer free going on 17 years now. I’m beyond thankful to be writing again and for the opportunity to share my stories with readers. I’m also thankful to God for the chance to breathe life into a character like Neil MacGregor, inspired from such a challenging, uncertain, yet profound season in my life.
My new release, A Flight of Arrows (Book #2 of The Pathfinders series and sequel to The Wood’s Edge), is set in the same fictional world as my debut novel, Burning Sky. Readers of Burning Sky will enjoy getting a peek into the lives of a few familiar characters from that book.
About A Flight of Arrows:
Hearts are divided.
Loyalties will be tested.
The fates of two families hang in the balance.
Twenty years past, in 1757, a young Redcoat named Reginald Aubrey stole a new-born boy–the lighter-skinned of Oneida twins–during the devastating fall of Fort William Henry and raised him as his own.
No one connected to Reginald escaped unscathed from this crime. Not his adopted daughter Anna. Not Stone Thrower, the Native American father determined to get his son back. Not Two Hawks, William’s twin brother separated since birth, living in the shadow of his absence and hoping to build a future with Anna. Nor Lydia, who longs for Reginald to be free from his self-imposed emotional prison and embrace God’s forgiveness–and her love.
Now William, whose identity has been shattered after discovering the truth of his birth, hides in the ranks of an increasingly aggressive British army. The Redcoats prepare to attack frontier New York, and the Continentals, aided by Oneida warriors, including Two Hawks, rally to defend it. As the Revolutionary War penetrates the Mohawk Valley, two families separated by culture but united by love and faith must find a way to reclaim the son marching toward them in the ranks of their enemies.
*See Andrea’s review of A Flight of Arrows here.
About Lori Benton:
Lori Benton’s novels transport readers to the eighteenth century, where she brings to life the Colonial and early Federal periods of our nation’s history. She is the multiple award-winning author of numerous books including Burning Sky, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, and The Wood’s Edge (Book 1 in The Pathfinders series). Lori makes her home in Oregon.
You may find more information about Lori and her books on her website.
Friends, what lessons have you learned through your most difficult trials?
Which verses do you cling to in tough times?
Are there any books which seem to mirror the lessons God’s been teaching you?
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8 thoughts on “Be My Guest: Lori Benton”
Beautiful post. 🙂 Just, wow. Thank you for sharing, Lori
Speechless? I get it. That was my first reaction when I read the article, before posting it.Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, Meghan!
Lori, thank you for sharing your heart with my friends here at Writing to Inspire. Your journey sounds incredible and overwhelming and beautiful. What a testimony!
What a powerful story, Lori. It pricked tears to my eyes. Andrea – thanks for re-blogging and giving a fresh look at this great post!
Lori, I feel like divine intervention led me to your first book and to you and I'm so happy that you shared your story. I found Burning Sky while visiting my library online and out of the millions of books that could have grabbed my attention, it was yours. I devoured it and now, hearing about your chemo fog, you have given me food for thought. I suffer from Fibromyalgia and Fibro fog is quite similar and has given me some fearful moments in the past 20 years…perhaps God is leading me as well. Thank you for your beautiful books and for your healing message. God Bless you!
Joanne, thanks for stopping by today! And congratulations on your upcoming book release. Love the cover. 🙂
Diane, thank you for visiting Writing to Inspire today, and for sharing about your struggle with Fibromyalgia. I pray you have fewer and fewer fearful moments in the years to come. Come back soon!
Thank you for sharing your story Diane. God works all things together for good for those who love Him and desire to see His purpose worked out in our lives, even those hard things. Even if we can't always see it. I do believe this.