Please welcome Linda Brooks Davis to the blog today. Linda is the author of The Calling of Ella McFarland, winner of the 2014 Jerry B. Jenkins Operation First Novel. Here’s what she has to say about the writing life:
By The Book — Many authors say they have always been a writer — making up stories as a child. When did you first become a writer?
Linda Brooks Davis — Although I was a voracious reader as a child and made up imaginary lives for my dolls, I was not encouraged early on to tell or write stories. As essays became part of our 1950s and 1960s curriculum, I discovered how I feared red marks. Feeling vulnerable discouraged me. But in my first year of college as I wrote letters home to my mother, father, and little brother, I discovered the process of putting my experiences, thoughts, and emotions down on paper was hugely fulfilling. I loved imagining the enjoyment of my loved ones as they stepped into my college experience vicariously and I experienced their joy, which is what happens when I write today.
BTB — Was there a special someone, such as a teacher, parent, or other person, who encouraged you to pursue writing?
Linda — The summer after my first year in college, a quirky English professor pulled me aside and asked if I’d ever considered creative writing as a career. Horrors, no! I couldn’t imagine putting myself “out there” for everyone to see. Over the years I continued to find fulfillment in letter writing for friends and family, but that English professor’s question rather haunted me. Could I actually write for publication? Surely not. As life happened — Army spouse, mother, teacher, etc. — my writing pen hid in a drawer but I never forgot about it.
BTB — Your novel, The Calling of Ella McFarland, contains a strong Christian message. Do you have a particular motivation to write books that contain faith threads?
Linda — My ancestors were salt-of-the-earth folks who overcame hardships and grief through their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the World. I, myself, have done the same. So sharing such nuggets of truth in stories comes as naturally as breathing . . . or praying. I cannot keep such a treasure to myself.
BTB — What does a typical writing day look like? Are you structured or informal in your writing schedule?
Linda — In previous years, I would have said morning is my best time of the day for writing, but sleep doesn’t always come as easily as it once did. So I have learned to structure my day around how the night before went. I tend to become so engrossed in writing that the rest of my life suffers, so I am learning to devote a specific number of hours to writing and the rest of the day to my own life and loves.
BTB — The Calling of Ella McFarland is an historical romance. Why did you choose this genre? What challenges did you have in creating the “flavor” of the time and place?
Linda — I describe my novel as a romantic historical that inspires. It doesn’t meet the strict criteria for a romance, and yet its romantic thread is extremely strong. I chose the historical genre because I’ve always been enthralled with the lives my ancestors lived and wanted to write a story that would honor them. The love story flowed naturally from my grandparents’ love story. Besides, what’s life without love?
Creating the “flavor” of the time and place involved a great deal of research. I recalled some details from family stories, but it took hours and hours of research to create a historically accurate story world. Even the smallest details must not be overlooked. Extreme care must be given to fashion, home life, education, language, transportation, meals, the arts, medicine, farming, businesses, government, politics . . . . The list goes on and on, but it fascinates me.
BTB — Can you tell my readers what inspired this novel and its characters?
Linda — I remember sitting as a young child on my grandmother’s lap for her stories about life in Indian Territory prior to Oklahoma statehood and the hardships and grief of burying five daughters and two husbands in Oklahoma and Texas. And my mother’s stories about fatherlessness and the deprivations of the Great Depression in Texas. As I grew to adulthood, well cared-for and loved, I often asked myself how I might have fared in such times. As I’ve experienced heartbreak and grief in my 7 decades of life, I’ve often marveled at the way my ancestors overcame hardship and grief through grit and faith. When my triplet grandchildren survived their highly at-risk journey to life outside the womb and were born at 28 weeks, and as they struggled for each breath, I vowed I would leave them a legacy of faith in writing. And what better legacy of faith than their own ancestors? When my daughter announced she would name her little girl Ella after my grandmother Ella, I began to imagine what my 3rd-grade-educated grandmother’s life might have looked like if the kaleidoscope of her world had shifted a single degree one direction or the other . . . . And the character Ella McFarland was born.
BTB — The Calling of Ella McFarland is set in the Oklahoma Territory in 1905. What kinds of research did you do for this novel?
Linda — Actually, only the first scene of the novel is set in Oklahoma Territory. The rest of the novel is set in Indian Territory. The two territories merged and became the state of Oklahoma in 1907. I began with my ancestors’ stories about their lives in Indian Territory. I traveled to Oklahoma where I visited the area in which they lived, got a feel for the landscape and climate, visited a girls’ school from “back in the day”, researched Oklahoma history in a community library, and devoted hours to online research at Oklahoma historical sites. I especially was drawn to first-hand accounts of settlers who lived in the Twin Territories.
BTB — Women’s education and suffrage are two topics covered in this novel. Did you learn anything surprising while doing your research?
Linda — I was surprised to learn how little attention was given to White children’s education in the Territories. Those who settled with approved permits, as well as those who crossed into the territories illegally, were not afforded an educational system and were able to provide only basic literacy in country schools they managed to fund themselves. Until compulsory education became the law of the land with the passage of the Oklahoma Constitution and statehood, their children learned to read and write and do a few “figures” but little else. The children of the Indian Territory Native Americans — the Five Civilized Tribes: the Chickasaw, Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole — were better provided for via parochial schools for girls and boys where they learned academics as well as vocational trades. I was also surprised to learn that many women opposed woman suffrage. Suffragettes had an especially difficult time getting the vote because they had to win over the wives, sisters, daughters, and mothers of over 50% of the men. They were a brave and determined bunch.
BTB — What do you want your readers to take away with them after finishing your novel?
Linda — Each of us possesses more strength than we realize, more need than we admit, and more potential than we ever dreamed. Women represent these truths in unique and varied ways. The generations who walked the way of the world before us have much to teach us. Their stories deserve to be remembered, and we who have followed them would do well to take note. Foremost in the cataloging of their jewels of wisdom is their faith in God. Such faith can strengthen, enliven, inform, direct, heal, and give hope and purpose to our lives.
BTB — Readers always want to know what is next from an author. Can you share any projects you are working on? Will there be a sequel to The Calling of Ella McFarland?
Linda — I’m currently working on 2nd and 3rd novels as sequels. They will focus on two female characters lifted from Ella’s story, but Ella will be a key character in both stories.
BTB — What would you like to share about your personal life?
Linda — I’m a Texas farm girl, reared in the southernmost tip of the state — the Rio Grande Valley, an area that in my parents’ early days was known as the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Their families heard the Valley’s call and settled there as farmers in the early decades of the 20th Century. I was born in the 1940s, graduated from high school in 1964 and from college in 1968, and spent 18 years as an Army spouse before settling back in Texas as a single mother of two wonderful children, a son and daughter who now are both veterinarians. I retired after 40 years as a teacher and administrator of special needs programs and my husband and I have enjoyed doting on six grandchildren as retirees for 8 years.
My eternal love is Jesus Christ. My life’s love is my husband Al. My life’s devotion has been my children. My joy lies in my grandchildren. My fulfillment comes through writing faith. I am blessed.
Thanks, Linda, for sharing your heart with my readers!
Linda Brooks Davis is the 2014 Jerry Jenkins Operation First Novel 1st place winner. Her debut historical novel, The Calling of Ella McFarland, was released on December 1, 2015. Now working on her second novel, Linda pens stories inspired by her ancestors’ lives of faith and grit, tales that testify to the hope and healing found in Jesus.