Stephenia H. McGee writes stories of faith, hope, and healing set in the Deep South. In her historical romance In His Eyes (By the Vine), Civil War veteran Major Westley Remington returns home on medical furlough to settle his father’s estate at Belmont Plantation, only to find his home is being run by a fiery and independent woman—one many believe to be his wife. In this interview, Stephenia talks about the time and place of her novel, her research to get the details right, and why writing this book was a journey for her…
What were your goals writing your historical novel In His Eyes?
My goal for novel was to explore the heart of who we truly are. Who are we in our own eyes? In the eyes of others? Who are we in God’s sight? In His Eyes features a young woman who must look at the labels she’s been given and strip away all the masks she tries to wear to discover a deeper truth.
What is it about this time and place that inspired you to set your story there?
The days following the Civil War were a very tumultuous time in our history as a nation. During this time of hardship, a lot of women had to discover their inner strength, rely on God and sharpen their faith, and fight for love and the things they held dear. All of these elements made fertile ground for my story.
Then, while sketching out the ideas for the plot, I knew I needed a house in the Mississippi Delta near the river. I found one very old picture of Belmont Plantation online, and not only was it beautiful, it stood exactly where I needed it to for the story.
When I clicked on the link, I discovered the house had recently been purchased, restored, and opened as a bed and breakfast. I dug around and found the owner’s name (who happens to have been born in the small town I now live in) and sent him an email. I told him who I am and asked him if he would be interested in discussing the possibility of featuring Belmont on one of my novels.
He sent back a reply later that day and—this is such a God thing—showed me a picture of one of my other books (The Whistle Walk) he was currently reading while on a business trip! He said he would love to see Belmont on my next book, and everything went from there.
What kind of research did you do to get the details right?
Thanks to the wonderful people at Belmont, I spent a few days in the house, slept in “Ella’s” room, and walked the halls to get a good feel for everything. One of the ladies that works at the house is a historian, and she took me all over the county, giving me the history of the area as well as the house. I also took a lot of pictures, which I referenced frequently while writing.
What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?
History. I’m always fascinated by the things I find in my research, and I wonder what life would have been like for those people at that time. What would it have been like to step into their hoop skirts and have to deal with the upheaval of our nation? I truly enjoy the research, and try to make the era come alive on the page.
What do you hope readers will come away with after reading In His Eyes?
I think we all struggle with feelings of inadequacy at times. Sometimes we forget who we are and whose we are, and it can lead to all manner of insecurities. In In His Eyes, Ella struggles with these things as well.
Writing this book was a journey for me, one where God gently led me to discover some important truths along with Ella. He encouraged me to never forget that no matter what else goes on in life—good or bad—my identity is always grounded in Him. It’s my hope there is a reader out there somewhere He has the same message for, and this story can help point them toward Him.
What are the best things readers can do to support their favorite authors?
I have to tell you, the very best part of my writing career is when I get a letter, email, or Facebook message from one of my readers telling me my story meant something to them. I always pray God has a use for these manifestations of my imagination, so when I get to see how He used my characters to speak life to someone I would have never otherwise met, it is a tremendous blessing.
A lot of times authors worry if their stories matter. I think readers taking a moment to express how much they enjoyed their favorite authors’ books is a fabulous way to support them.
Visit Stephenia H. McGee’s author page:
In His Eyes
Stephenia H. McGee
By the Vine