Cathy Gohlke is the two-time Christy Award-winning author of William Henry is a Fine Name and I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires, which also won the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Book of the Year Award and was listed by Library Journal as one of the Best Books of 2008.
Born on a farm in the North Carolina Piedmont, she was raised in a 200-year old farmhouse, which some believed to be a hiding place for runaway slaves. That story sparked the beginning of Cathy’s passion for history—and for the courageous people in every generation “who seek or help others gain freedom from prejudice, oppression, and cords that bind—those placed upon us by people and means beyond our control and those cords we forge ourselves.”
Cathy has worked as a school librarian, drama director, and director of children’s and education ministries. She and her husband make their home on the banks of the Laurel Run in Maryland.
What drew you into writing historical fiction?
The regularity with which history repeats itself astonishes and fascinates me. I frequently write about current needs and issues—like slavery—in historical settings. Historical fiction provides a safe distance from which the reader can gain perspective in a non-threatening way.
While growing up, my English grandmother taught me many of the “old ways”–like how to braid and sew a rag rug, dry tea leaves, root violets, make and steam a real English plum pudding from scratch with sauce—so many things. Sometimes I feel more at home in that world than I do in the world today!
How does your faith play into your work?
Faith is part and parcel of all I am and all I write. I learned, while writing my first book, that I can’t separate the two. God knit me together for a purpose—as He’s done all of us. Part of that purpose is played out through writing stories in which characters struggle to find their way to Him, or to greater intimacy with Him. I find that the hard things I’ve experienced in life are lessons to be shared through story—not necessarily the exact experience, but the emotion, insight, joy and sorrow. Our Father wastes nothing, and I’m delighted with that intimate partnership.
Here is the back cover copy:
New York City, 1910
Driven by a shameful past and perilous future, Maureen O’Reilly and her sister flee Ireland in search of safety, liberty and opportunity. But after surviving the rigors of Ellis Island, Maureen learns that their benefactor has died, and his family–refusing to own his Civil War debt–casts her out. Alone, impoverished, and in danger of deportation, Maureen connives to find employment in a prominent Manhattan department store, only to discover the elegant facade hides a dangerous secret.
Despite her family’s disapproval, Olivia Wakefield determines to honor her father’s debt but can’t find Maureen. Unexpected help comes from a local businessman, who Olivia dares hope will become more than an ally, even as she fears the secrets he’s hiding.
As women begin disappearing from the store, Olivia rallies influential ladies in her circle to help Maureen stand against injustice and fight for the lives of their growing band of sisters. But will they be too late, and in the midst of a world gone mad can either woman open her heart to divine leading or the love it might bring?
What inspired it?
Band of Sisters was born of a passion to end modern-day slavery, and most of all to ask, what can I do to help in a need so desperate?
I hear women say frequently that they know human trafficking is horrible, and that more and more we hear how widespread, how pervasive it is. But I also hear, “I want to help. I just don’t know what to do. It’s so huge. How can I—how can anyone make a difference?”
I pray that this book opens a platform for that discussion, that the actions of the characters provide a springboard for every reader to consider ways they can take action. There are things each of us can do. On my website—with the Band of Sisters page—readers will find lists of organizations and individuals that are already active in helping to rescue and restore victims, legal services, educational resources, as well as books, documentaries, and art and media forms that raise awareness and educate. It’s a place to begin.
Can you tell us about a recent “detour” in your life—or in one of your character’s lives—that taught you something?
Before I was contracted to write Band of Sisters I had planned to write a different book. I’d done extensive research, including travel to three foreign countries, had interviewed veterans, and was over-the-top excited about the story. My editor was interested, I wrote a synopsis, and everything seemed to be falling into place. Until I learned that another author had just been signed by another editor within the same house to write a book set in the same foreign country during the same time period with a similar main character. The story was different, but the strong similarities in historical setting made marketing a problem. I couldn’t write the story. I was crushed, and had to come up with another story in a short period of time. I grieved over the loss of that story. The characters were like real people to me, and I was emotionally invested in them and the plot.
But, as I prayed and researched Band of Sisters, I came to see that this was a story that needed telling now, was one I wanted to tell, and supported a cause that made me pound the table and weep. I want to write stories about things that give God joy, and stories that show what grieves Him. I can’t imagine anything being more grievous to the heart of our Father than human trafficking. And the call for abolitionists is desperate. The need for rescuing those enslaved is more important than any story I could ever write. It was an important lesson in priorities, humility, and God’s timing.
Just as true and important, the other author’s story must have been one that the Lord wanted published at this time, and therefore a much stronger story than the one I intended. Knowing He is at the helm, it must be an important and wonderful book. I can’t wait to read this new work and cheer it on. As Christian authors we’re all in this together, and His purposes are greater than any one story.
Now I’m researching a new book—a historical in which I’ll be able to use some of the research I did for the book that I didn’t get to write, as well as more that is new and fascinating. But this new book idea is stronger than my old one, and the message it conveys far more urgent. This, too, has been a powerful lesson to me in God’s timing—which is all seeing, all knowing, and so much better than mine.
I pray always that God will lay His purposes on my heart, give me a story to illumine that purpose, and joy in writing it. I shouldn’t be surprised when He does exactly that.
A few fun questions…
When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food and why?
When the words aren’t flowing or life is tough I love a steaming helping of mashed potatoes with red skins—a staple comfort food from childhood. It’s like going back to the warmth of my roots for solace.
When ready to celebrate I love Blackberry Crumble Pie with vanilla ice cream—my son’s birthday pie. When he was born, the blackberries in our woods had just ripened. My husband and daughter picked a bowl and brought them to the hospital where we all sat on the bed—our new son in my arms–and happily shared those luscious berries. Our family was complete. Even today, just thinking about that pie evokes a sense of contentment.
This website features musicians as well as writers. Do you have musical, as well as literary, talent?
Only in my imagination. I play a little (very little) piano. Still, it’s a pleasure.
If you were a song, what kind of song would you be?
A Creation Hymn of wonder and praise to our Heavenly Father with arms raised—maybe “How Great Thou Art.”
In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?
Hmm. Difficult question. Mostly I’m a composite—mostly the girl next door with a dose of the mysterious woman behind dark glasses. Unless I’m passionate about a cause—then I’m the strong female lead.
I’m a dog lover. Please tell us about your pets, if any, or your favorite pet as a child.
Reilly is my super lovable, bouncing off the wall three-year-old English Springer Spaniel (emphasis on “Springer”). Liver and white, with freckles on his nose, Mr. Personality has long dark ears, that look a bit like my hair. What they say about people looking like their dogs is true. But Reilly has much more energy, is a whiz at Frisbee, and loves to dive and swim in the Laurel Run.
Thank you, Cathy! It’s nice to have you as a guest at DivineDetour.
Thank you so much for having me, Kathy! It’s been a pleasure!
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