04 August 2013

Interview with Lori Benton---Hodgkins Lymphoma


Lori Benton

Lori Benton is the author of Burning Sky: A Novel of the American Frontier.

Lori, welcome to Overcoming With God.  We appreciate your willingness to share your testimony of overcoming with our readers. 
Thank you for having me. I love to tell this story.

Would you tell us about the most difficult thing in your life you have had to overcome, with God’s help? (transparency appreciated!)
I’d be happy to, but first a little background to tie this into Burning Sky: one of the major themes of the story is the journey of redefining who one is after a great loss. Many of the characters in Burning Sky are on that journey but one of them, Neil MacGregor—the Scottish botanist and physician aided by my main character, Willa Obenchain—has a journey that in some respects mirrors my own.

Neil MacGregor is a character I first created years ago as the hero of a story different in genre, setting, and century from the one he now inhabits. While the losses the character suffered in that early manuscript are similar to what they are now—due to a debilitating injury—the way in which Neil dealt with them was vastly different. The reason for that, and why I never finished that original story, is very personal.

Halfway through writing it, in 1999, I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system. Months of chemotherapy and radiation eradicated the cancer, and I’ve been in remission for 14 years. My side effects were mild, except for one, and I didn’t even realize I was suffering from it until the treatment was over, my hair was growing back, and I was ready to get back to writing. It’s called chemo fog, and I was blind-sided by it. After months of frustrated attempts, I reached the dispiriting conclusion that I was no longer able to write the type of novels I’d been creating for nearly ten years before my diagnosis.

Some of the symptoms of chemo fog: anything resembling concentration was beyond me; my memory for things like plot threads and character arcs was almost nonexistent; I couldn’t retain anything I read by way of research (and my novels have always been heavily research-dependent). I couldn’t make any headway with the story.

A vital part of my identity was lost. For all I knew, it was 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—at least the types of books I wanted to write—as well as my healing, completely into His hands. For long stretches of time I ceased even to try to write. I read. I did other creative things that were less demanding. But the desire to write never died. I continued to pray, and to wait. It would be nearly five years before the fog lifted enough for me to feel ready to tackle the mountain climb that is novel-writing. And there, waiting for me at the base of the trail, was the character of Neil MacGregor. I knew I had to find him a story to inhabit. Eventually I set him down in 1784 on the New York frontier, and that’s when I discovered that somewhere in that mysterious alchemy of story-weaving that often goes on subconsciously, 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, even as He didn’t take away my passion to write during those foggy years when the ability to do so just wasn’t there. Even though Neil is well aware of the challenges that stand between him and his goals, he possesses a faith that’s been refined through loss, and a subsequent submission to God’s will.

Neil steps out to seize the desire God placed in his heart, even as I stepped out in faith back in 2004 and returned not only to writing, but gave myself an unofficial degree in 18th century history as well. I took baby steps at first, but month by month, year by year, God has enabled me to keep going, one word, one story, at a time.

Disability friendliness: Is this latest release available in audio format or do you have any other works available on audio?  Do your e-books have audio capability? Do you have any in large print? 
I’m a huge fan of audio books, so I hope one day Burning Sky will be available in audio, though my publisher, WaterBrook Press, has no current plans for that. But I’m happy to announce that Burning Sky will be available in large print format this fall from Thorndike Press.

In this latest work, do you have any topics useful for bibliotherapy, or therapeutic influence through reading about a disorder or situation?
There are two characters in Burning Sky with obvious disabilities. One of these is Neil MacGregor. Neil’s disability would have been diagnosed as Dyslexia today. As a physician, botanist, well-schooled and well-read for his day, being unable to read is a huge blow to him professionally as well as personally. But as the story of Burning Sky unfolds, Neil’s journey takes him farther down the path of trusting God to be strong in his weakness, unlike Willa Obenchain, who is attempting to isolate herself in fear of further loss, grief, or failure. But through Neil MacGregor, God is poised to demonstrate to Willa what true courage looks like.

Another character whose life would be vastly different had he been born in recent decades is a secondary character, Francis Waring. No doubt someone today would place him on the Autism Spectrum. Since this story is set in 1784, I simply presented Francis as truthfully as I could, and left it to the reader to diagnose him. And, I hope, cheer him on as he travels his own journey toward overcoming the limitations this challenge (and other characters) have placed on him.

Burning Sky also deals with the issues of grief, loss, and recovery—recovery after war trauma, after the death of loved ones, loss of home, loss of identity. Willa Obenchain describes herself at the start of the book as, “the place where two rivers meet, silted with upheaval and loss.” She’s lost two families, two lives, two homes, and at first isn’t even sure she has the strength or will to go on living. But God has plans for Willa, and knows exactly what’s needed to stir up the coals of her spirit, her determination, her compassion. Burning Sky is the journey of Willa’s learning to trust that though for the present there may be pain, God has her ultimate good at the center of His heart, will, and plans for her.


Lori’s mini bio:

Lori Benton was born and raised east of the Appalachian Mountains, surrounded by early American and family history going back to the 1600s. Her novels transport readers to the 18th century, where she brings to life the Colonial and early Federal periods of American history, creating a melting pot of characters drawn from both sides of a turbulent and shifting frontier, brought together in the bonds of God's transforming grace.

When she isn’t writing, reading, or researching 18th century history, Lori enjoys exploring the mountains with her husband – often scouring the brush for huckleberries, which overflow the freezer and find their way into her signature huckleberry lemon pound cake.




Thank you, Lori Benton, for agreeing to answer these questions.  Have a blessed day and keep on writing!!
My pleasure. Thank you for inviting me. I hope readers will be blessed by Burning Sky.

GIVEAWAY:  Paperback or ebook copy of the novel (ebook only for intenational winners.)  "Like" Lori's FB page and put LB on your comment!

42 comments:

  1. That's some amazing backstory. :-) Thank you for sharing!

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    1. My pleasure, Shannon. I'm just glad old Neil finally found a literary home. :)

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  2. That is a great story. I can not imagine being unable to write, especially through a time like that. Glad you are better.
    Rebekah Gyger liked LB

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    1. Thank you Rebekah! One thing it did is make me grateful for every day I get to write. There was a time I took that for granted.

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  3. LORI, welcome to OWG and thank you for sharing your testimony with us! Your book sounds great and I hope to find the time to read it soon. Bless you!

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    1. Thank you, Marian. Thanks so much for having me here. Not many interviewers (thus far) have asked about my cancer experience or how that related to writing so it's good to have the chance to talk about that. I can recall for years not understanding what was wrong with me. Then I finally met a writer who had been through that chemo fog as well. In fact, Burning Sky is dedicated in her memory.

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  4. LB I would love to win. angelachesni\ut246@gmail.com

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  5. I learned something new about Lori from this interview -- about her illness. What an amazing story. I have read Burning Sky and am recommending it to everyone I know. It's a quality novel in every way. I'm going to read it again soon.

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    1. Thank you so much, Susan! Blessings to you.

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  6. LORI, this interview really touched my heart. Simply to see where God brought you from and where you are today gives me so much hope -- and I'm not going through anything that is even close to what you battled through. It seems as though nothing will ever change but when God says it's enough it'll be enough. Your testimony should be a reminder to all that serve the Lord to NEVER give up. Thank you for being with us this week on OWG!

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    1. Thank you, Diana, for having me as a guest this week. Thank you for all you and the ladies here are doing to help get this book into the hands of readers. :)

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  7. LB I don't have Facebook, but I look forward to reading the novel sometime soon! I've found when a novel reflects the author's passions or a particularly moving experience, that passion really comes through in the writing to make it all the more authentic and heart-felt. Now I'm even more excited after hearing the back story!

    rdalquis(at)css(dot)edu

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    1. Thank you Rachael! Hope you enjoy Willa's story. :)

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  8. LB - Your story is amazing! It has seem to strengthen you. Your book sounds great. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Please enter me in the giveaway. Would love to win her book.
    Barbara Thompson
    barbmaci61@yahoo.com

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    1. My pleasure, Barbara! Thanks for stopping by, and hope you get a chance to read Burning Sky. :)

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  9. My what a story you have had in your own life Lori. So glad you'e been Cancer free for so long. Would be scary. Guess GOD has to get our attention sometimes in not so pleasing ways. But, so glad you learned to do what HE wanted and now being blessed. I have liked your FB page Lori. ( LB.) Welcome here. Hello OWG gals from your friend. Please put me in for the drawing. MAXIE mac262(at)me(dot)com

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    1. Maxie, 1999 had its scary moments, but I discovered something: God gives the grace we need to face what we have to face, when we need it. Right in that very moment, it's there, even if that feels like the very thinnest thread (though for me, at that time, it was a flood, and I give Him all the glory for that). So glad you stopped by to comment! Blessings.

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  10. Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us, Lori. Praise The Lord your cancer is in remission, and we pray it will stay that way. So glad The Lord has brought you back to writing. Would love to win this book!
    Betti. bettimace(at)gmail(dot)com

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  11. Lori, Your testimony is amazing!!! Thank you so much for sharing it with us. I lost my mom 12 yrs to Hodgkins Lymphoma. It's a beast of a cancer. I'm so glad the Lord saw fit to heal you through Chemotherapy and put you in remission. I feel like I can identify on so many levels just from reading this post. I have two sons, one has Dyslexia and one has Aspergers. I would love to read this book.

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    1. Oh wow, Anne. Blessings to you and your sons, and I hope if get the chance to read Burning Sky you are blessed by Neil's story, and Francis's, and Willa's of course. :) One of the things I tried to do with this story is to show as many different types of heroism as I could. Big and small.

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  12. Thank you for sharing. I was moved.

    LB

    marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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  13. Thanks for sharing your journey. So glad you were able to get back to writing!

    LB

    pattymh2000(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  14. Once again, a truly great post. Thank you, Lori, for sharing your testimony and for allowing the Lord to use your trials to refine your art into pure gold. Many blessings to you as you launch this beautiful book.

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    1. Kathy, great to see you here!!! Per random.org you are our first WINNER!!!

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  15. LB what a wonderful testimony. Thank you for sharing.
    Blessing to you
    Linda Finn

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  16. A huge thank you to Carrie for hosting me at OWG this week, and letting readers know about Burning Sky.

    And thank you all who stopped by to comment today. I'll be back to check for comments again.

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  17. i would love to win a copy of Burning Skys thanks for the chance
    jcisforme@aol.com

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  18. Lori,

    Thank you for sharing such a poignant testimony for your readers. God's miracle in your writing life serves as an inspiration to all of us who struggle to write what God wants us to write and to do it in spite of the overwhelming problems we encounter. Bless you for sharing this. Joy Ross Davis

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    1. Joy, I like talking about this subject of chemo fog and writing, one reason being I wish I'd known what was wrong with me those first couple of years, that it was normal, that it would pass in time. So if my story can encourage another author not to despair over it, but to prayerfully wait on the Lord for His timing and healing, then that's all to the good.

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  19. Oh, LORI ... WOW ... what a story!!! Which IMMEDIATELY puts Burning Sky on my "must read" list for sure. I've heard incredible things about it, but you sealed the deal today, so Carrie -- toss my name in the hat, okay?

    Hugs and God bless you in your writing journey, Lori.

    Hugs,
    Julie

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    1. Julie! Thank you so much. You just made my day. :)

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  20. Wow, thank you for sharing this with us!! I pray you continue to write!
    lattebooks at hotmail dot com
    LB

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    1. Lori has a lot of books she has written over the years while waiting for her chance to break into print. She has two more books that will be published in this series.

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  21. I would love to win a copy of your book for my church library. Thanks for giving me the chance to do so.
    LB
    Janet E.
    von1janet(at)gmail(dot)com

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  22. Thanks so much for sharing your encouraging testimony LORI! I understand that 'fog' as I get it at times with my health issues. I'm so happy to hear you're in remission and I'm glad your character hung around, and grew with you! :)

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  23. LB
    Lori, thank you or sharing about your experiences with chemo fog. I was diagnosed with Breast
    Cancer in 1994 and also experienced 'chemo fog'. I was not a writer at the time, (with the exception of a journal I kept during that time), however, I would get so frustrated, because I would forget what I was saying in the middle of my sentence! I am almost 19 years cancer free now, and have recently decided to delve into a bit of writing, even if I am never published, and in fact one of the things I would like to write, is to take my BC journal and turn it into "My BC story". I would like to also address in 'my story' helps and encouragement for those who are caregivers and friends for those going through cancer.

    After reading this interview, look forward even more, to reading your book.
    Vicki
    vmarney(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  24. I love reading about your testimony and the fact that you did not give up! I love historical fiction and Burning Sky sounds very interesting. I can't wait to read it.

    Sheri

    hspruitt {at} frontiernet [dot] net

    FB

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  25. What a testimony! Thank you for not giving up in your writing pursuit, Lori. I firmly believe that God has a lesson for someone in everything that happens to us, & uses those situations to inspire us & make us stronger.

    LB (I have liked Lori's FB page)

    bonnieroof60(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  26. I'm so glad you're cancer free! What an amazing story and I'm happy you're able to write again. LB shopgirl152nykiki(at)yahoo(dot)com

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