Bestselling, Christy Hall of Fame, and Carol Award and INSPY Award–winning author, Cathy Gohlke, writes novels steeped with inspirational lessons, speaking of world and life events through the lens of history. Her stories reveal how people break the chains that bind them and triumph over adversity through faith. When not traveling to historic sites for research, she and her husband, Dan, divide their time between northern Virginia and the Jersey Shore, enjoying time with their grown children and grandchildren.
In this interview, Cathy talks with us about her latest book, Ladies of the Lake.
FF: Where did the inspiration for this book come from?
When I first read of the Halifax Explosion (December 6, 1917) I was astonished that I’d never heard of it, considering that before the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in WWII, this was the biggest manmade explosion that had ever occurred.
Reading of the devastation, of lives lost and those forever changed by burns, crippling, and blindness in the Halifax Explosion, I was reminded of all my mother endured as a small child after being badly burned, how she overcame that tragedy, and yet how those injuries affected her throughout her lifetime. It was fascinating to me that with so many disappearing in the explosion, some took the opportunity to reinvent themselves and change their identity. I asked, why would a person do that? What would make a person choose to leave everything and everyone behind and forge a new life?
The growing disregard for others and increased bullying that I witness through social media and in our society greatly concerns me. I wanted to show through story that such things—to which we may turn a blind eye—can go beyond rudeness and can have serious and lasting consequences that we may never intend or imagine. It is our responsibility to temper our words and actions and to stand against bullying for the sake of others.
I was inspired by Joseph’s handling of those who wronged him in the Bible, how he reacted when faced with the opportunity either to retaliate or to forgive and embrace. I wanted to see how that could play out through fictional characters.
Lastly, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of young people growing up in boarding schools, so I looked for a girls’ boarding school in New England, knowing that I wanted to set the main part of the story in the US. That’s when I discovered Miss Porter’s School and its long and interesting history. I could well imagine four girls growing up as close friends in such a setting and together facing numerous challenges—many, like challenges we face today.
FF: Ladies of the Lake focuses on four friends. Were any of them inspired by real relationships in your own life?
I am blessed with a precious natural sister who was my very first friend and has been my lifelong confidante, as well as dear, longtime, women friends, each a true sister of my heart. Those relationships have taught me the importance of sharing faith, truth from our hearts, trust and integrity; of championing one another’s successes; of comforting through trials and sorrow; and of refusing to allow jealousy, envy, or competition to worm their way between us. Close relationships can be challenged when years, courses and stages of life, or miles come between. Love is not fragile, but it does require nurturing.
Staying connected through letters or emails, cards, phone calls, and visits requires diligence and commitment. The value, the joy, and the strengthening of those relationships for ourselves and as an example to the next generation are worth every investment.
FF: Which of the four young women in this novel was your favorite to write?
Addie. I understood her shyness, her desire to fit in with the other girls, her feelings of shame and vulnerability as a young person, and her eagerness to grow into her desired gifts of teaching and writing. I understood her desire for friendship, her sacrificial loyalty to those she embraced as family, as well as her desire to disappear when returning to the world she’d known became conflicted and too hard, and when duty called her in a new direction. I appreciated Addie’s/Rosaline’s sacrifice, her determination to raise her niece as her daughter, and her great love and desire to protect her. I was inspired by her courage in overcoming her fear to return to the school years later for her daughter’s sake, even though she knew it would cost her everything to confess her secrets, to remember and confront all those she’d left behind, especially the man she’d always loved. I loved writing Addie’s character arc, her growth into the woman she was meant to become.
FF: Why are female friendships so important?
Women need the friendship, mentoring, companionship, and sisterhood of other women. Such bonds are precious and can prove life-sustaining through hard times. Who, besides your sister or best friend—your sister of the heart—will tell you the unvarnished truth, even when it hurts, will rejoice with you over the smallest victory, will stand with you through embarrassing or hard times when all others desert, and is ready to take your phone call even in the dead of night?
Women are unique in countless ways and understand one another’s hearts through similar life experiences. Being able to share life journeys, without explaining every detail—knowing the other woman understands—is a great gift.
FF: How did research play a role in your writing process?
Shortly before the pandemic, my husband, Dan, and I embarked on an anniversary trip to Nova Scotia, originally planned to fulfill my longtime desire to see Prince Edward Island and all things Lucy Maud Montgomery and to fulfill his desire see the Maritimes. Before going, I read The Great Halifax Explosion, by John U. Bacon, and knew immediately the event described was the background for my story—that, and Prince Edward Island, beloved birthplace and favorite girlhood haunt of Lucy Maud Montgomery.
We spent our first day in Halifax exploring the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, where I saw graphic images and testimonies of the explosion and its aftermath. The gift shop featured several excellent research books, which I gladly purchased. I spent another day at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, gaining a better understanding of travel, especially for women of the period traveling alone. The Halifax Public Gardens were breathtaking, and I smiled when I saw just where the proposal could take place. So many sites in Halifax, from the famous Halifax Explosion Memorial Bell Tower that stopped at the moment of explosion, to Fairview Lawn Cemetery, where unidentified victims of the explosion—as well as those drawn from the water after Titanic sank—are buried, breathed more of the story into my brain.
We spent time on Prince Edward Island, especially the Anne of Green Gables Museum, Montgomery’s beloved Silver Bush at Park Corner. At trip to Charlottetown and attending the Anne of Green Gables musical was a treat. A trip to Farmington, Connecticut, to snap photographs of Miss Porter’s School and the surrounding area rounded out my tours.
Beyond those wonderful explorations I read numerous research books and memoirs, as well as the published journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery and a history of Miss Porter’s School, and interviewed people for some unique family histories from the period. It was only difficult to stop the research and write the book!
FF: What will fans of Little Women and Anne of Green Gables especially enjoy about this story?
Fans of Little Women will enjoy the strong and diverse personalities of four girls growing up together, of their united force in facing the trials others present them, as well as the differences that come between them. They’ll recognize and appreciate the girls’ fierce bonds, the hard lessons each one learns, yet how those life experiences ultimately mature them, drawing them closer.
Fans of Anne of Green Gables will love the references to Prince Edward Island and the life and work of Lucy Maud Montgomery. They’ll love the anticipation and reaction of the release of each Anne or Pat of Silverbush book, as well as the correspondence and that beloved author’s mentoring of Addie, the main character, who claims a kinship with Montgomery and dreams of becoming a writer.
Fans of both books will appreciate the precarious and sometimes humorous escapades and scrapes in which the girls find themselves—sometimes as victims and sometimes as perpetrators. Readers will enjoy watching the girls grow into women, using their individual gifts for the good of all.
FF: How does faith play a role in this story?
There are similarities between the life and choices Joseph and his brothers in the Bible are faced with and the life and growing realizations of Addie and Dorothy in Ladies of the Lake. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. Ultimately, despite horrific experiences not of his own making, he forged a new life with a new name in a new country. Addie, through sudden tragedy, chose to make herself over by claiming a new name and forging a new life in a new country. Like Joseph, when the time came that she was faced with confronting or receiving those she’d never expected to see again—she learned to forgive, and ultimately to reconcile, reclaim, and provide for those she believed had hurt her.
Surrendering personal hurt and pride to the Lord, as well as seeking, accepting, and offering His forgiveness to others and to ourselves, are all major faith themes in Ladies of the Lake.
FF: What do you hope readers will take away from Ladies of the Lake?
Sometimes our closest family is found in our dearest friends. I hope readers will embrace the great worth of their friendships among women, how we need one another, how, as the Bible says, “iron sharpens iron” and “two are better than one.” I hope readers will recognize the beauty, the strength, and also the potential fragility of those relationships if they are not nurtured and maintained.
The story speaks of the importance of trust, kindness, compassion, and the transformation of repentance when we are wrong and ask forgiveness, and the joy and freedom when we offer forgiveness. I hope that if readers find themselves in fractured relationships this story will inspire a path toward that first step in seeking and accepting or offering forgiveness that will ultimately bring reconciliation and restoration.
The story addresses bullying and its consequences, the cruelty of gossip and prejudice, and how easy it is to misunderstand and/or misrepresent what we hear or imagine. It shows that sometimes doing nothing is the same as doing wrong. I hope it alerts us to recognize and stand against bullying, for ourselves and for those who need a voice but have none.
I hope it reminds us all that politics and war should never be allowed to override relationships, especially among those who, whether blood relations or not, are family in Christ.
Ladies of the Lake
Genres: Historical Romance
Release Date: July 11, 2023
After two young women’s deep bond is torn apart, what will it take to bring them together again? In The Ladies of the Lake, the beloved author of Saving Amelie and Night Bird Calling returns with a transformative new historical novel about the wonder and complexities of friendship, love, and belonging.
When she is forced to leave her beloved Prince Edward Island to attend Lakeside Ladies Academy after the death of her parents, the last thing Adelaide Rose MacNeill expects to find is three kindred spirits. The “Ladies of the Lake,” as the four girls call themselves, quickly bond like sisters, vowing that wherever life takes them, they will always be there for each other. But that is before: Before love and jealousy come between Adelaide and Dorothy, the closest of the friends. Before the dawn of World War I upends their world and casts baseless suspicion onto the German American man they both love. Before a terrible explosion in Halifax Harbor rips the sisterhood irrevocably apart.
Seventeen years later, Rosaline Murray receives an unsuspecting telephone call from Dorothy, now headmistress of Lakeside, inviting her to attend the graduation of a new generation of girls, including Rosaline’s beloved daughter. With that call, Rosaline is drawn into a past she’d determined to put behind her. To memories of a man she once loved…of a sisterhood she abandoned…and of the day she stopped being Adelaide MacNeill.
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