Friday, April 30, 2010

A Chat with Jennifer Hudson Taylor

An interview with the author of Highland Blessings

1. What intrigued you about fifteenth century Scotland so that you chose it as the setting for Highland Blessings?

I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed history, but there is something romantically intriguing about the late Medieval period and the clan system of the highlands. I’m amazed at how the clans can fight among themselves, and yet, fiercely defend each other against the English and any outsiders.

2. How did you choose the setting?

The setting of the loch where Akira nearly drowns is from an area in a park where I used to practice running. I was on the Cross Country team in high school and ran several miles a day. The rest of the scenes were a combination of my research of Scotland and castles and my imagination.

3. Does the story line of this novel parallel a particular Biblical account?

No, if there is a biblical parallel, it was not a conscious decision on my part. I originally wrote Highland Blessings as a secular novel in 1998. I didn’t convert it to Christian fiction until 2006 after I discovered Kathleen Morgan’s novel, Embrace the Dawn. Once I realized there was such a thing as a Christian fiction Scottish Medieval, I was elated and determined to try and get mine published.

4. Which comes first, the plot, the place, or the people? Why?

The people. I can’t write a story unless I’ve created a character sketch of the main characters. I can create a plot around the characters, but I think it is the people that make the story. I think that is why I tend to love character driven novels like Jane Austen’s stories.

5. Which novel was the more difficult to research, Highland Blessings or Beloved Liberty, your book set in early nineteenth century South Carolina?

Beloved Liberty required the most research. The story idea is loosely based on my real family history from the actual genealogy research I conducted on my Hudson line. Then I had to research slavery laws for 1810. It takes place during the Regency period of England, but the setting is on a rural plantation in SC. Most of my southern plantation knowledge is either during the colonial period before 1800 or much later in the Victorian period between 1840-1865, so I had to do extensive research for 1810.

6. How did the research between the two differ? The writing?

The writing is very different as the two books contain different cultures, accents in the dialogue, and time periods. The vocabulary for Highland Blessings in 1473 is extremely limited compared to 1810, so in that regard Highland Blessings was harder to write. I had to keep looking up alternative words for those words that were not yet in existence. It was difficult to verify some of the clothing in 15th century Scotland. There are so few authentic references and most date from the late 16th century. For instance, the Scottish kilt as we know it today was not in existence until around 1725, nor wore the family clan tartan colors.

7. How do you develop your characters?

I develop a character sketch that includes physical traits and personality traits. Each character must have at least one spiritual flaw, and one personality flaw, if appropriate, even a physical flaw. In Highland Blessings, Akira MacKenzie is extremely tall for a woman, and she isn’t very fond of her auburn hair. In Beloved Liberty, Catherine Oakes has a mole on her cheek that she thinks is hideous, but the hero views it as a beauty mark. The last thing I establish is their background, their goals, and why they want to achieve them and how they will go about achieving those goals based on their personality and character.

8. How do you name your characters?

Names are very important. I use the Character Naming Sourcebook, and I sound out first and last names aloud. I run them by my husband. I even look up street names and small towns in the areas where the novel is set. I do this because lots of streets and towns are named after the local people and families in the area.

9. What is your writing regimen?

I don’t have a set schedule because I work another full-time job. I squeeze writing in between lunch hours, doctor visits, evenings, weekends, road trips while my husband drives, wherever and whenever I can. Sometimes I fear that my writing won’t be as good as others who have the opportunity to sit down and really concentrate and work on their novels throughout the day. Then I quit feeling sorry for myself and just deal with it.

10. What has surprised you most about the whole process, from inception of the idea to release of your debut novel?

When I first received the contract offer, the release date was a whole year and half away. I’m surprised at how fast that time passed.

11. What have you learned about God through this journey?

I’ve learned that God will help me in ways that I never imagined. He is with me the whole way and He inspires me through loved ones, inspirational verses, and dreams.

12. What advice do you have for unpubbed writers?

Never give up. Persevere and press through.

Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with us today. May God bless you with much writing success. We're really looking forward to your next novel.

Jennifer Hudson Taylor's Novel Debut: HIGHLAND BLESSINGS

Publisher: Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN

Release: May 2010
299 pages; includes discussion guide

Back Cover:

Scotland, 1473. Highland warrior Bryce MacPhearson kidnaps Akira MacKenzie on her wedding day to honor a promise he made to his dying father. When he forces Akira to wed him, hoping to end a half-century feud between their clans, she struggles to overcome her anger and resentment. Yet her strength in the Lord becomes a witness to Bryce. But there is a traitor in their midst. . .and murder is the ultimate weapon.

First Sentence:

Akira MacKenzie willed her knees not to fail her.

I confess to a penchant for tartan historical romances. As I open the cover and turn to the first page of the first chapter, the bagpipes of my imagination begin to play and the bodhrans to pulse in some ancient Gaelic rhythm. And so it was as I opened Highland Blessings, Jennifer Hudson Taylor’s debut novel, and settled in for a good read.
But Taylor gives no quarter for such complacency. While the pipes begin their drone, the bodhran takes over, beating faster and faster until it sounds like the pounding of horses hooves—Bryce MacPhearson’s destrier, to be exact.
Bryce is an uninvited guest who invades the wedding party of spirited Akira MacKenzie and swoops the lass on to the back of his horse, as an eagle might rapture a field mouse. It is not love that inspires Bryce’s kidnapping, however, but a promise forced upon him by his dying father, chieftain of the MacPhearson clan, to fulfill a covenant with Akira’s father, the MacKenzie clan chieftain. The two clans have been locked in a bloody feud for half a century, and the patriarchs hoped that a marriage between the ruling families would quell the fighting.

The journey to the MacPhearson castle is a difficult one for Akira. Bryce’s men show their respect for him and their disdain for her. Bryce himself makes it clear that she is merely a pawn, an unwelcome obligation. Once they arrive at the castle, Akira is treated no better. MacPhearsons consider her presence an intrusion and demonstrate their hatred and distrust at every turn. Seeking solace, she finds her way to the chapel, where she can be alone with God. Even as she prays to return home, she submits to God’s will—whatever that may be.

Bryce, being the middle son, is not the intended bridegroom. Akira is to wed the MacPhearson chieftan, Evan, the oldest son, but when Evan meets an untimely death, the responsibility falls to Bryce. Akira refuses to consent to the marriage, so Bryce exercises his right to marry by proxy. Akira awakens one morning to learn that she is now the lady of the manor. Despite the circumstances of the marriage, Akira pledges her allegiance first to God and then to Bryce as her husband.

Though murder, deception, and betrayal stalk the halls of the castle, and a traitor who is no respecter of clans threatens the hard-won, tenuous peace between the MacPhearsons and the MacKenzies, Akira’s courage builds a bridge between fear and faith and woos Bryce to want to know more about the God she serves. She is a Christ-like figure in that she is willing to sacrifice herself to avoid further bloodshed. At one point, she performs an incredible act of forgiveness when she pleas for the life of one who nearly ended hers.

This fast-paced story left me gasping for air on more than one occasion. Taylor’s authentic descriptions of the highlands and life in the fifteenth century reflect meticulous research.

I thank Jennifer Hudson Taylor and Abingdon Press for the opportunity to review Highland Blessings, and I eagerly await the sequel Highland Sanctuary, slated for release on October 1, 2011.

Monday, April 26, 2010

COMING MAY 1, Just As I Promised

Earlier this year, I received my first ARC (advanced reader copy) to read and review. It was Jennifer Hudson Taylor's debut novel Highland Blessings. Though the review and an interview with Taylor were completed at least two months ago,  when I asked Abingdon Press if I could go ahead and post both, they said to hold it until the release date of May 1. I confess ignorance in such matters, since this is a new experience, but I kept my word, forcing myself to hold off for that magic date. Now, I see reviews everywhere I look. Perhaps my mistake was in asking Abingdon.

Though I am a novice at reviewing ARCs, I am not new to writing reviews and conducting in-depth interviews, as I did both on a regular basis as a newspaper journalist. I cordially invite you to return to this blog on May 1 to read both my review and interview with Jennifer.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Leave Comments. I Can't.

Like most bloggers, I love it when y'all leave comments. I try to respond to you in a timely manner. Unfortunately, Blogger has decided that I should not be able to stay signed in to my account, nor should I be permitted to respond to your comments. Please continue to comment and know that I read and value every note. Thank you.

Write on!
Because of Christ,

Friday, April 2, 2010

At the Cross

A poem for Good Friday
I huddle at the foot of the Cross,
My arms stretched to encompass it around,
My head bowed,
My eyes pinched so tightly they hurt.
Silent sobs wrack my being.

The men are gone.
The Brotherhood, save one, has forsaken the Master.
Other women stand,
Lie prostrate nearby,
Each alone,
I hear their weeping off in the distance,
At the perimeter of my own sorrow.

Roman soldiers stand silent,
Trying to understand,
Yet bound merely to a duty.
Scribes, Pharisees, Sadduccees
Cluster together and mutter into their self-righteous beards,
Rehearsing their excuses.
Their mumbling blends, segues into the rumbling of a gathering storm.

Messiah, on the Cross, lifts His head to Heaven.
With one last lingering remnant of strength,
He pushes against the spike that holds His feet,
Pulls up on the nails that pierce His wrists,
Draws in a gurgling breath,
Licks His lips to moisten them, to make speech possible,
And cries out to the Father Whose Face is turned away.

"It is finished!"

A pronouncement that will echo throughout Eternity.

I look up as His weary, abused head
To His bosom,
Where so many children had rested their heads
And received His blessing.

A drop of His vermilion Blood
Rolls down one of the thorns
That comprises a crude crown.
In one interminable moment,
I watch it
I tip my face downward in shame,
Knowing my own unworthiness,
Yet yearning for His anointing.
That Sacred Drop
Splashes on my head and covers me over.

The Earth begins to tremble.

~Copyright 2007 by Sharon Kirk Clifton