Long time no blog. And with a good excuse. I’ve been traveling a ton for work…I’ve been in like 13 states in the last 3 months. One great thing about long plane rides is lots of reading time. I just finished an excellent book called Daughter of the Cimarron. It was a very special read, because I know the author, Sam Hall. We met a decade ago when we were in the same critique group. I got to read the first chapter of a new story he started about an amazing woman during the Great Depression. How cool to read the whole thing in print all these years later. And to find out it is true! I loved this book and could not put it down, so I asked Sam if I could interview him for my blog. He said yes. Whoo hoo! Enjoy his story below.
First of all, tells us a little about your book.
Set in the Great Depression, Claire’s story begins when she is stranded in St. Louis on a traveling sales crew by her cheating husband, abetted by her own cowardice. A moment of outrage achieves what she’s long needed—and always feared. She can’t go home but she has to start over. The breakup of her marriage shatters her trust in a manageable God and ends her dream of a happy home with children.
Urbane and handsome Elmer, her irreligious boss, wins her affections until she learns there’s another woman. Heartsick and doubting if God ever forgives divorce, she flees to a possible refuge—home. Two men pursue her and she can’t decide which love is real. Her own mother doesn’t show up when Claire finally does decide and marries. The Depression forces the couple onto their own resources. Marooned far from family, they spiral into extreme want. With the Dust Bowl as the anvil, Claire’s in-laws become God’s hammer to make her into what she’s resisted … and desired.
This story, which is based on my mother’s life, portrays a woman’s quest for identity and it celebrates her determination and inner worth. It honors the dignity of people struggling to overcome. Beyond that, the characters question God’s reality while they try to survive the greatest economic and environmental disaster in memory.
Why is this story so special for you?
It’s the record of how I came to be. All three of us boys felt close, very close, to Mom. She wasn’t perfect, but she almost made us feel perfect. If nothing else, I want my readers to get that sense of affirmation that she gave us. Claire sought to discover who and what she was; then she had to accept what she found.
Author Sam Hall pictured below:
Why did you feel the burning need to write it?
A number of people who knew Claire well—close friends, Judge Lansden, a bank president, a teacher who later became a college president—spoke in respectful tones about what this relatively uneducated woman had overcome. (I’m now in the process of writing that part of the story as the sequel.) At that point—in the eighties—I decided to write an account of what my parents, and particularly, my mother, had done. That goal actually launched my writing career.
What is the rest of the story, meaning how long did Claire and Elmer live, when did you move to Oregon, and how many siblings did you have?
Some of that will come out in the sequel, which I hope to see in print soon. Claire was getting ready to go to a seniors’ dance (she loved dancing) when she suffered a stroke. She died nine months later, at the age of ninety-four. I moved from Oklahoma to Oregon in 1968 and Mom came out to visit me—and my wife, after I married—twenty-three times. When I took my family to Africa for the two years I worked there, she was the only one to take us up on our offer to come visit. Claire was what we from the country would call, “a goer.” We had so many fun times traveling together.
I have two younger brothers, Dick and Jerry. They and their families live in the small town where I finished high school.
When did you first discover you were a writer?
College freshman composition class. One of my classmates, whom I viewed as intellectual, said I got the only A in the section. I loved that class; it not only showed me that I could write, it exposed my vast need for improvement. Research was the tinder to light my fire, and learning to use the right word as opposed to the almost-right-word became a game.
What’s the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading?
The Book That Made Your World by Vishal Mangalwadi and Foxe’s Christian Martyrs of the World should be in every Christian’s library, in my view. Oswald Chambers, Andrew Murray and Brother Lawrence conveyed their experience with the Holy in ways that inspire me to this day. Tim Keller and Ravi Zacharias form much of my apologetic while the writings of C.S. Lewis are timeless; I trust Christina Hoff Sommers for social commentary; and Jon Krakauer and John Vaillant (The Tiger) write the kind of adventure stories I aspire to. Alexander McCall Smith and Thurber titillate my funny bone, and Walter Wangerin, Jr. is simply remarkable. Beryl Markham, Sanora Babb, and Eudora Welty wrote with a passion and attention to detail that will forever keep their books on my shelves. Bill Myers and Richard Russo, each in his own way, craft stories that never disappoint. Stephen King is seldom a comfortable companion for bedtime reading but he is deadly eloquent and never dull.
Why did you choose Ashberry Lane as your publisher?
Well, it’s not like I was on Mt. Olympus deciding who would get to publish my wonderful story. When my agent cast his net far and wide, I was sure I would get a contract. After at least a dozen rejections, I realized publication might take some time and that it might never happen. Eventually, my agent and I parted ways—amicably, I might add—and I continued revising, re-writing, and most important, I sought critique groups with writers better than me. Even when I couldn’t find writers with top skills, I realized that even comments from novice writers could be beneficial.
I’d heard that Ashberry Lane was a new press. I knew and respected Sherri and Christina, the principles, but doubted they’d be interested in historical fiction. However, when they set up their tent at an OCW one-day conference, I signed up for fifteen minutes of their time. They saw my story as the dramatic transformation of a woman—not as a tribute. Both sides saw possibilities and my quarter-hour time investment committed me—and them—to a hundred times that. They are simply great to work with. But lest anyone think they’re cream puffs, these gals are tough! Yes, they said my manuscript was mostly “clean,” but they still took hacksaws, cudgels, and a couple pounds of C-4 to it.
Any advice for new writers?
Begin with something small. When your articles and essays attract editors, then consider attacking something more ambitious. But first, we have to learn to write. Get into a critique group as demanding and with as experienced writers as will put up with you. Bring back the chapter or article they shredded four times, if you need to, until the group says you’ve made it sing.
You probably believe God has given you a special ability to write, and if you’re reading this, he probably has. So be a steward of that precious talent. It didn’t come ready-made for use, wrapped in ribbons and damask. It’s meant to be hammered and heated, examined and caressed. You’ll find that humility and patience, faith and perseverance, are more essential than memorization of the Chicago Manual of Style.
Stay in the Word, regardless if you’re writing crossword puzzles (which requires real smarts) or thrillers. Develop a heart of gratitude. To whom much is given, much is demanded. Help others, as you have been and will be helped.
As we realize God has entrusted stories and compositions of hope and blessing to be borne by our clumsy hands, we can do nothing less than give Jesus all the glory. And give thanks for his patience and love.
Here is a link to purchase Sam’s book, Daughter of the Cimarron. I loved it, and recommend it for others. http://www.amazon.com/Daughter-Cimarron-Samuel-Hall/dp/1941720080