Bestselling author Janette Oke is celebrated for her significant contribution to the Christian book industry. Her novels have sold more than 30 million copies, and she is the recipient of the ECPA President’s Award, the CBA Life Impact Award, the Gold Medallion, and the Christy Award. Janette and her husband, Edward, live in Alberta, Canada. Laurel Oke Logan, daughter of Edward and Janette Oke, is the author of several books, including Janette Oke: A Heart for the Prairie, Dana’s Valley, and the Return to the Canadian West Series, cowritten with her mom. Laurel has six children and seven grandchildren and lives in Illinois.
In this interview, Janette and Laurel talk with us about their latest novel, Unfailing Love.
FF: Please provide a brief summary of your new novel, Unfailing Love.
Janette: Lillian Walsh and Grace Bennett have struggled to create a healthy and loving home for orphaned children in Father’s house. But just as Father is returning from Wales, two of their charges disappear. The sisters are launched into a desperate search for the missing children and for answers while managing their own family situation.
For his part, Ben Waldin is looking for the missing children as well as the money that they’ve stolen from him. He discovers that his own family for whom he’d been searching have settled in a town not far from Brookfield. Ben is torn between his loyalties to them and to the sisters he’s come to admire.
FF: Without giving away spoilers, what do readers have to look forward to in this book? Are there any threads that run throughout the series that will be wrapped up?
Janette: Readers who have followed these characters through their various ups and downs in previous books will finally get answers as to the ultimate outcome of each individual. Specifically, readers have expressed a deep fondness for the character of Lemuel, and his heartbreaking story continues in this book with his characteristic determination and quiet resolve to do the right thing no matter what.
Additionally, other threads that come into play in this novel are Ben’s search for a family to call his own, Lillian’s coming to terms with her father’s decisions, and the future of the orphanage.
FF: What compelled you two to write this companion series together?
Laurel: After the wonderful success of the television series When Calls the Heart on the Hallmark Channel, a spin-off show was created in 2014 titled When Hope Calls. Because we’d already written companion books for the first show, film producer Brad Krevoy contacted my mom about writing a trilogy for this new show as well. They had already invented the main characters: Lillian Walsh and her sister, Grace Bennett.
So, we began with the character sketches they provided and the photographs of their two actresses, Morgan Kohan and Jocelyn Hudon. We tried to keep the girls consistent with the show even while exploring new twists of plot and adding our own setting and cast of characters.
Janette: The theme of adoption is also near and dear to our Oke family. Two of our ancestors came to Canada as Home Children, and several of our family members joined us through adoption, including two of Laurel’s children. As part of this process, Laurel did research into the history of adoption in Canada, discovering many interesting facts about the Home Children who were sent from England during this era.
FF: What have you learned from your experiences writing as a mother-daughter team?
Laurel: Dana’s Valley was the first novel that we wrote together; however, we also worked very closely when mom’s publisher, Bethany House, requested that I write her biography in 1992. This first project, more than any of the others that followed, taught me a great deal about my mom. I’d heard many of the family stories, but this was the narrative of Mom’s life strung together in sequence. It was a fascinating and eye-opening adventure.
We also discovered that our writing styles are quite compatible—sometimes it’s difficult to recall which scenes were originally written by which of us. However, our writing habits and procedures are very different. I like to refer to Mom as a literary “beast,” often writing first drafts in a week. I did not receive this gene. I need to pace myself and work a section at a time.
Janette: I need total concentration that can’t be achieved without first caring for and completing other things so that I can focus only on the current writing project. That’s why I’ve often gone away from home to do the first draft. Over the years, I’ve written in hotels, a camper, a quiet farmhouse, and a condo in the Rockies. By that point, I’ve done a great deal of planning and outlining for the book, lived with the characters in my mind for some time, and then I’m ready to put pen to paper.
FF: Janette, what advice did you have for Laurel as you began your career as an author?
Janette: I felt very strongly that my life pursuits, particularly in creative arts that connected with readers, should be given over to God. I worked hard at writing, of course, but the outcome was not my responsibility then. God would do whatever He chose to with the results. And He has certainly exceeded any of my expectations or dreams.
FF: Laurel, you have now written more than seven novels. Why did you choose to follow in your mother’s footsteps and pursue a career in writing?
Laurel: To be honest, I’ve enjoyed writing novels, as it fits around the other things I’ve chosen to do with my life. I raised six kids and homeschooled for twenty-one years in total. I’ve always done plenty of writing for church, homeschool, and other things in my life, but traditional publishing might not have been on my radar.
However, watching Mom’s career has made the idea very accessible and natural to me. (Not to mention that it gave me a pen name that certainly helped!) I love that writing is something I can pursue in tandem and that it leaves me time to babysit my sweet grandkids or spend time with my family. I’m grateful that it’s worked out for me in the measure that it has. Writing together with my mom has been a true blessing.
FF: What lessons do you hope readers gain from reading Unfailing Love?
Laurel: We knew we wanted this last book to really explore the idea of love—real love verses selfish love. And, of course, so often real love involves sacrifice of self. So, we gave our characters difficult relationships and let them each work through what it means to love in a genuine, self-sacrificing way.
Janette: I have always preferred to write about love that was motivated by commitment, that grows by truly knowing someone—even if that comes slowly or unexpectedly. I’d like to encourage women to look for the kind of guy who is committed and who would care for them. As Christian authors, we help to define true love for younger women, though I don’t like to think of my books strictly as romance novels. I think they’re better described as family fiction—where love is about being in a family. Over the years, I think that kind of narrative has been well received by readers.
FF: What are you both working on next?
Laurel: I have been working on a very different sort of novel for quite some time that I hope to publish soon, as well as a small group study about how to write down and share your own life story.
Janette: I am not currently working on any new projects. But that’s not to say that the literary candle in my heart and mind doesn’t still glow with new characters and stories that I could tell. Who knows what that might spark?
When Hope Calls Series #3
Janette Oke & Laurel Oke Logan
Genres: Historical Romance
Release Date: June 7, 2022
Heartwarming Conclusion to the Companion Series to Hallmark Channel’s When Hope Calls
Lillian Walsh and Grace Bennett have learned so much already about caring for children in distress. It hasn’t been easy, but it becomes even more difficult when they suddenly discover that three children have run away. Concerned for the trio’s safety, the sisters will do all they can to find the children.
But the runaways are not the only thing putting the future of the children’s home in question. Lillian is faced with choosing between her dreams with fiancé Walter and her commitment to her sister. Steady Ben Waldin is keen to find where his family settled in Canada and to give little Janie a place to permanently call home. And the sisters receive a pair of surprise visitors that leaves them and their family uncertain.
As all of the people invested in the children’s home seek to determine their paths forward, they begin to realize that sometimes loving well means making difficult choices.
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