Cathy Gohlke writes historical novels steeped with inspirational lessons. Her stories illustrate how people can break the chains that bind them and triumph over adversity through faith. Cathy is a four-time Christy and two-time Carol and INSPY Award–winning author.
When not traveling to historic sites for research, Cathy and her husband, Dan, divide their time between northern Virginia and the Jersey Shore, enjoying time with their grown children and grandchildren.
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You write historical fiction. How much research goes into your books?
Lots of research goes into my books—including travel to the places I write about, when possible. Touring museums; combing archives; reading diaries, newspapers, and maps from the time period; and interviewing people connected in any way to my story top my research endeavors. Reading books, both nonfiction and fiction, that relate to the time period or subject matter is helpful, as is Internet research.
I listen to music from the period, read popular books from the era, cook recipes to include in my stories, and make certain I understand the political and religious landscape. I love research and can get lost in it. The difficult part is calling a halt to that exploration in order to begin writing the story’s first draft. Once a draft is completed, I go back and research certain points for accuracy, clarity, or to flesh out scenes.
Despite the hard work, what has kept you going on your writing journey?
Love of story and characters keeps me reading and writing. Obedience to what I believe our Lord has called me to do at this time in life keeps me writing what I write. My passion is fueled by issues and questions the Lord presses on my heart—what grieves Him? What gives Him joy? I pray my writing honors our Lord and encourages readers in a closer walk with Him. Those are the things that keep me going.
Night Bird Calling (Tyndale House, 2021) releases today! Please tell us about it.
When Lilliana Swope’s beloved mother dies, Lilliana gathers her last ounce of courage and flees her abusive husband for the home of her only living relative in the foothills of No Creek, North Carolina. Though Hyacinth Belvidere hasn’t seen Lilliana since she was five, she offers her cherished great-niece a safe harbor. Their joyful reunion inspires plans to revive Aunt Hyacinth’s estate and open a public library where everyone is welcome, no matter the color of their skin.
Slowly Lilliana finds revival and friendship in No Creek—with precocious eleven-year-old Celia Percy, with kindhearted Reverend Jesse Willard, and with Ruby Lynne Wishon, a young woman whose secrets could destroy both them and the town. When the plans for the library also incite the wrath of the Klan, the dangers of Lilliana’s past and present threaten to topple her before she’s learned to stand.
With war brewing for the nation and for her newfound community, Lilliana must overcome a hard truth voiced by her young friend Celia: Wishing comes easy. Change don’t.
Here are a couple of reviews for the book:
“A sumptuous, textured ode to small-town relationships” (Foreword Reviews) in the tradition of classics like Cold Sassy Tree and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café.
“Gohlke (Secrets She Kept) delivers a gripping story about the trauma of domestic and church abuse set in 1941 Appalachia. . . . Gohlke creates a cast readers will love, and the strong themes of the bonds of family forged outside one’s kin resonate. The author’s fans will love this.” – Publishers Weekly
What led you to write this particular story?
Years ago I wrote short stories of quirky and lovable—or not so lovable—characters who lived in the fictitious foothills town of No Creek, North Carolina, in the 1930s and 40s. Those characters lived and breathed for me.
Unfortunately, there was no overarching thread to connect their stories. It was only when I dug into my own past and the stories of real-life people who’d lived in similar places in such a time that Lilliana’s story came to life.
Readers know that I often write about racial and domestic abuse—ongoing and relevant issues today, but I’d not written about church leadership abuse. That, too, is a very real, long-standing, and pressing problem in our world.
The horror is that as victims flee their cruel “spiritual” abusers, they too often lose hope and sometimes turn away from God. God is not the author of abuse nor does He condone it or protect oppressors, but in Him is life, love, faithfulness, hope, and salvation. Learning that miraculous truth is an inexpressible joy but a long and strenuous journey for victims of abuse.
It was the importance of that journey—the journey of a young woman fleeing domestic and church abuse and discovering that God truly loves her and has plans for a hope and future for her—that led me to write this story.
Those who “create” usually tap into a personal “toolbox” of elements to define their style. What two or three elements most define who you are as a storyteller?
1. I find that the Lord presses concerns, issues, needs on my heart that I believe grieve His heart. Often those issues appear repeatedly in the daily local, national, or world news. I look for a time and place in history that mirrors similar concerns and set my story there—stories about issues as current today as they were then.
2. Resisting oppression and breaking the chains that bind—those forced upon us and those we forge ourselves—and finding freedom in Christ is a common thread in my stories.
3. Often I include a real-life mentoring character or a mentoring book. Usually that means a classic work of literature with a Christian worldview or a writer whose work is so important that I believe a new generation will love them and be blessed by them as I have been.
A few fun questions . . .
If someone asked you to describe yourself with one word, what word would that be?
What Bible passage or story best describes your journey of faith?
Jeremiah 29:11-13. For so long I believed the Lord could not possibly love me, that the hard things that happened in my life must be punishments because I was simply bad at my core. But in my thirties I came to understand that in His abounding love and mercy, in His infinite grace through Jesus Christ, I was/am dearly loved, that He has every intention of blessing and not harming me, that He planned always to give me hope and a future. I learned to trust Him fully, without fear or reservation. Daily I learn more how to live in that grace.
If you knew you couldn’t fail, what new goal or dream would you pursue this year?
I would love to write so clearly the infinite, compelling love and mercy of God that readers would flock to Him through Jesus Christ.
Thanks, Cathy! It’s great to have you back at Divine Detour.
It’s great to be here! Thank you so much for having me!
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