Christian fiction author, Allison Pittman, is the author of more than a dozen critically acclaimed novels and a four-time Christy finalist—twice for her Sister Wife Series, once for All for a Story from her take on the Roaring Twenties and most recently for the critically acclaimed The Seamstress which takes a cameo character from the Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities and flourishes her to life amidst the French Revolution.
Allison has just released book number nine in the Doors to the Past Series. The book, Laura’s Shadow, features De Smet, South Dakota—a town made famous in the writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Pittman, delivers a fascinating dual-timeline story of family, hope, and the legacies we leave behind. Let’s see what she has to share about her new book, Laura’s Shadow.
FF: What inspired the story in your book?
I have always been a devoted reader of Laura Ingalls Wilder—both of books written by her, and books written about her, her family, and the surrounding history. She has been a constant presence in my mind since the first days when I could read independently. For me, that has been a wonderful, career-shaping, literary experience. But then, I thought, what if her constant presence wasn’t such a positive experience?
FF: What can you tell us about the main characters in your book?
In the historical story, we meet Mariah, the student known as Martha in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s These Happy Golden Years. She is a fierce woman, who has known nothing but poverty as she and her brother scrapped a life together after being orphaned soon after her brief stint in Laura’s school. She also lives with a slow-burning love for Cap Garland—also a character both in the Wilder novel and in real life. It is that love for Cap that sparks a life-long resentment for the power that a young Laura Ingalls held over their small De Smet world.
The contemporary heroine is Trixie Gowan, the great-granddaughter of Maria, who grew up as the fourth generation in a household of strong women. She is a modern girl living in her Minneapolis bachelorette apartment with a resentful cat. She works as an ad-builder for a small, local shopper newspaper, but is sitting on the cusp of a promising career as a cartoonist. First, though, she is called to the side of her ailing great-grandmother, GG Mariah, and is drawn into a long-hidden family secret.
FF: Which character surprised you the most?
When I first started my character sketch of Trixie, I hadn’t planned for her to be a cartoonist. But then, while writing in a coffee shop one morning, it just happened. She, Trixie, has created a character named Lost Laura—a young woman somehow zapped from the prairie into modern (1970’s) America, where she is bewildered by modern American ways. I always had the idea that Mariah (104 years old in the contemporary story line) would represent that aspect of our rapidly changing society, but creating Lost Laura on behalf of Trixie became a treat, and that little character takes on a huge space in providing not only historical commentary, but some of the softer aspects of navigating a changing world.
FF: Why do you think storytelling is such a powerful way to share truth?
In a well-told story, a reader can disappear into the narrative, step into the shoes of a character, and vicariously experience adventure or grace or romance or…whatever the story offers. One of my favorite reviews was for my second novel, Speak Through the Wind, wherein the reviewer said she could identify with my main character Kassandra. Not because she (the reviewer) had experienced the same life circumstances, but because she understood what it meant to feel far away from God, hidden from His mercy and His power to lift and heal. In story, we can show God’s constancy, and the Truth of that constancy lives in our own, real lives.
FF: What can you tell us about your next book?
Well, as of now, the only thing I can really say about the next book is that it was sparked in its entirety by a bit of information I learned while researching this book. It is just as inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder, but more about what she didn’t write about than what she did.
FF: What kind of research did you do for this book?
For this book, I went to De Smet, South Dakota to spend a day among all things Laura Ingalls Wilder. I stood in a replica of her first school house and felt the claustrophobic smallness of the room—literally fewer than 10 steps wall to wall. I listened to wind blowing through the grass and visited Cap Garland’s grave on an afternoon when the air was full of smoke from Canadian fires and the only sound was wind rustling through the neighboring cornfield. I drove through older neighborhoods in Minneapolis and picked out Trixie’s house. I found the Gowan house, too, nestled in a copse of trees. And I listened to a lot of 70’s rock and roll, which is the best!
FF: What do you want readers to take away after reading your book?
I want them to take away the fact that, historically, women have always needed to make hard choices and compromise their ideal life in order to survive. The path to marriage and motherhood can be a beautiful one, but it can also be rocky, strewn with dissatisfaction, sacrifice, and hurt. Sometimes we have to be defiant in our joy; other times we have to set aside dreams. Contentment comes when we match our hearts to the moment and seek contentment in the boundaries God has placed around us.
FF: What are the biggest challenges for you as an author writing in your specific genre?
Honestly? The biggest challenge is still to find a toe-hold on a bookshelf in the midst of so many great authors writing so many great books. This is my 25th novel, and for a bunch of readers (I hope bunches and bunches of them!) this will be the first of mine they’ve ever read. Don’t get me wrong, I love my readers and I am so thankful for their loyal support book after book after book, but it will always be a challenge to find a way to make a new reader click on this book cover or pick it off a shelf.
FF: What authors or books have inspired you as an author?
Well, obviously Laura Ingalls Wilder, because she was a master at taking the facts of history and finding the heart of the story within them. She turned her entire growing-up life into a series of stories strung together, unafraid to flinch away from ugliness and hardship.
I’m also a devoted fan of Tracy Chevalier who has this amazing ability to bring history to life on a street-level basis. Meaning, seemingly small stories about ordinary people who, historically, have no reason to be remembered, but she somehow sears them into your consciousness as much as any great literary or historical hero.
And, I think Wuthering Heights is the world’s perfect novel. Ghosts, yes. Evil, yes. But in the end a beautiful story of God’s grace and renewal.
FF: How has your faith impacted the way you tell stories?
I am an imperfect person rescued from death by a Perfect Savior. God’s Word is full of people like me—weak, cowardly, deceitful, incapable… but His patience and protection are flawless. I have to believe the scripture that says “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) My characters are part of that all. But God sees us all through eyes of compassion and a willingness to save and restore us to Him. That’s what I want, too, for my characters. I let them stumble without judgment, and I refuse to gloat when they find light.
Doors to the Past Series #9
Genres: Historical Romance
Release Date: July 30, 2022
Family Secrets Spill One Conversation at a Time
Visit historic American landmarks through the Doors to the Past Series. History and today collide in stories full of mystery, intrigue, faith, and romance.
De Smet, South Dakota—1890
Young women growing up in De Smet live by two rules: don’t go out in a snowstorm and don’t give your heart to Cap Garland. Young Mariah Patterson only managed to obey one. Orphaned and having devoted her youth to scrapping out a life with her brother Charles, Mariah finds herself with no option but to marry the devoted but dull Merrill Gowan. Throwing caution to the wind, she seizes an opportunity to lay her feelings at Cap’s feet, even though she knows Cap sees the world through the torch he carries for Laura Ingalls. Mariah is certain her love for Cap will be strong enough to break both bonds, and she’s willing to risk everything to prove it.
De Smet, South Dakota—1974
Trixie Gowan is the fourth generation of living Gowan women residing in the sprawling farmhouse on the outskirts of De Smet. Well, former resident. She’s recently acquired her own bachelor girl apartment in Minneapolis, where she works writing ads for a neighborhood paper. She might live and work in the city, but her co-workers still call her Prairie Girl. Thus the inspiration for her comic strip “Lost Laura”, in which a bespectacled girl in a calico dress tries to make her way in the city. The name is a quiet rebellion having grown up in a household where she’d been forbidden to mention the name, Laura. But when her great-grandmother Mariah’s declining health brings Trixie home for a visit, two things might just keep her there: the bedside manner of Dr. Campbell Carter and the family secret that seems to be spilling from GG’s lips one conversation at a time.
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