Historical Romance author Lori Benton was born and raised east of the Appalachian Mountains, surrounded by early American and family history going back to the 1600s. Her novels transport readers to the 18th century, where she brings to life the Colonial and early Federal periods of American history, creating a melting pot of characters drawn from both sides of a turbulent and shifting frontier, brought together in the bonds of God’s transforming grace. Lori’s debut novel, Burning Sky, earned the 2014 Christy Award for First Novel, Historical, and Book of the Year. Lori’s new novel, Shiloh, is the second nook in her current Kindred Series.
FF: Mountain Laurel, the first book in the Kindred Series, gave us many unexpected turns. Can we expect the same from Shiloh?
Spoiler alert (for those who haven’t yet read Mountain Laurel)! Shiloh picks up a year after Mountain Laurel ended, with Ian building a life in North Carolina with Judith and their daughter, Mandy. Seona, Gabriel, and Lily have been living in Boston with Ian’s parents, taking steps toward independence while sheltered by the Camerons. But the past is unquiet, and change keeps rolling in. It isn’t long before Ian and Seona are again faced with difficult choices about their futures and the well-being of those they love. The road ahead for Ian, Seona, Lily, and other characters met in Mountain Laurel will continue to twist and turn as they contend with, and grow through, the far-reaching consequences of choices made at Mountain Laurel, and as each seeks a path that leads toward freedom, hope, and love.
FF: Did you know when you began writing about Ian Cameron that you would need two books to tell his story?
I absolutely did not know that. For one reason, Mountain Laurel is the only book I’ve written without a carefully plotted outline. I was recovering from chemo fog when I started writing Ian and Seona’s story. At that time, outlining an entire novel was beyond my capability. I’d barely written at all in five years, the mental fog had been so thick. I wrote scenes, or snippets of scenes, at random just to keep myself going (gradually stitching them together as a story arc emerged). So it was fairly deep into the novel before I began grappling with the notion of happily ever after, or not, for Ian and Seona. The nearer to it I came, the more I realized I’d be cheating both characters of vital growth by manipulating the plot into bringing them together by the end of Mountain Laurel. Having Seona turn on a dime from a slave with little agency to an independent woman who could make an informed choice about the path her future should take didn’t feel realistic. Nor did preventing Ian’s life being shaped by the consequences of his choices. Seona needed to experience life apart from slavery—and apart from Ian—before she could know what she wanted from that life. So I presented her with options, gave her space to grow into the woman who would choose the path she ultimately does in Shiloh.
FF: What have you enjoyed most about immersing yourself in this era of American history?
How much I still don’t know continues to be a joy. I started researching eighteenth-century American history in 2004, eighteenth-century British history earlier still. After nearly two decades of study, you would think I’d have stopped uncovering stories and events that reshape my suppositions about the way things were on one side of the Atlantic or the other during the 1700s. That isn’t the case. Fascinating tidbits keep turning up the deeper I plow this soil. For instance, only yesterday I learned that eighteenth-century drovers used collies to help move great herds of cattle across the Scottish Highlands to market—no great surprise, but did you know that when they reached their destination, the drovers often sent the dogs back home on their own? These collies would retrace their monthlong path, village after village, stopping at the same places they had overnighted with their drovers, getting fed along the way, until they turned up at home. I find such glimpses into eighteenth-century life endlessly inspiring.
FF: How has Ian changed since we first met him in Mountain Laurel? Where is he still struggling?
When we meet Ian again in Shiloh, it’s been just two years since he first rode up the wagon track to his uncle’s plantation in the opening pages of Mountain Laurel, yet he’s gained a maturity that could have taken decades to acquire in a less-heated crucible of circumstances. He’s a steadier man. He’s learned patience and the surrender of his will to God’s, even as giving himself wholeheartedly to the life he has in North Carolina, without Seona and their son, is still a daily act of submission. A daily battle with temptation. More often than not he is triumphing, but life has more tests to throw his way. There’s unfinished business between Ian and Seona, and he longs for his son.
FF: What empowers the characters in Shiloh to hold on to hope amid tragedy and struggle?
The hope these characters hold to isn’t the hope the world offers, frail and easily crumbled. It’s a hope that cannot be shaken. The hope found in the pages of Scripture, promised to us by a loving heavenly Father—that of a coming Kingdom where righteousness and justice will reign. Readers of Mountain Laurel will have already learned who in this cast of characters is a mainstay of that hope—the eldest of Mountain Laurel’s slaves, Malcolm. Through the changing circumstances that come rolling over him and others in the pages of Shiloh, Malcolm continues to turn the gazes of Ian, Seona, and others in the direction of that hope, while teaching them the necessity of owning that hope for themselves and living by it.
FF: In Shiloh, Seona and Lily are now freed from slavery and able to start a new life. Did you find any interesting accounts of the lives of freed slaves in your research?
I was intentional in finding them, wanting to understand what such women would be thinking and feeling during that desirable but soul-shaking transition. I drew primarily from two accounts. One is the stories of Sally Hemmings’s children, born enslaved at President Jefferson’s Monticello. Some left the plantation and passed as white, hiding their family history. Another is the account of President Washington’s slave Ona Judge, who escaped enslavement while in Philadelphia and was never recaptured, despite the Washingtons’ efforts.
FF: How do different characters in this series exhibit courage? What can we learn from them?
I certainly wasn’t gentle with the Kindred characters, plunging them into situations that required courage of one sort or another. There’s the courage of leadership, something Ian either resisted or abused in Mountain Laurel. In Shiloh he is offered a second chance at leading others and will be tested to see if he’s grown into a man who can embrace the challenge and the moral and physical courage leadership on the eighteenth-century frontier demands. Several characters wrestle with courage of the heart—Ian and Seona foremost but not exclusively. There’s more than one complicated romance brewing in this story! Other characters demonstrate the quiet courage to bear what cannot be changed with grace, refusing bitterness a foothold. As readers will discover, each character has something lasting and profound to teach us about walking in these different forms of courage.
FF: Ian and Seona get a second chance in this book—why is it so satisfying to read stories of second chances?
Which of us hasn’t wished for a do-over of something or other? A situation gone awry. A choice wrongly made. A conversation badly handled. A relationship gone off the rails. Second chances aren’t always granted us, but we want to believe we’d make the most of one if it was offered. Reading stories about those who, having learned from past mistakes, grab hold of a second chance and cling with all their might is a legitimate means of preparing ourselves for such a situation in our own lives. With the objectivity of an observer, we’re able to ask ourselves crucial questions. Would I have recognized that second chance when it presented? Would I have had the courage (grace, wisdom) to act on it? Would I have done so differently? Then we can file the fictional example for a future day when we might just need the lesson it taught.
FF: What does Shiloh have to tell us about family? Community?
As mentioned, I’ve spent nearly two decades reading and writing about life during the 1700s. That includes how life was lived by indigenous nations that Europeans encountered. Many of these nations had (still have) different notions about family and community than did Europeans of the eighteenth century and the majority of Americans today. Life was more communal; clan ties were strong. Most Eastern Woodlands indigenous nations were matrilineal (their clan identities derived from their mothers) and the siblings of one’s mother played significant roles in the lives of children, as important as their parents’. Adoption of children, sometimes adults, from other people groups wasn’t uncommon either. Black, white, from another native tribe, these adopted ones were treated no differently than a son or daughter, brother or sister, born of their blood. Family was broad and sprawling, including many more members than our nuclear family today, providing a network of support and obligation. On the other end of the spectrum is the solitary man or woman cut off from kin and relations for whatever reason. Both of these scenarios appeal to me as a writer, as does Psalm 68:6: “God sets the solitary in families; he brings out those who are bound with chains, but the rebellious dwell in a dry land.” It’s a theme I keep returning to in my novels, the creation of families that are blended of blood and choice (not to mention the rest of that fabulous verse!). I believe one of the reasons I return to it is that this blended family/community scenario finds a deep echo in my heart. I’m looking forward to a rather large and diverse family reunion around the throne of the Lamb, where all nations, tribes, and tongues will sing the praises of our God and King and our Savior, Jesus.
FF: What is your hope for readers of this novel?
Hope is a major theme woven into this story. As for my hopes, I’d be thrilled if readers feel that Shiloh presents them with a satisfying landing place for Ian and Seona and other characters they’ve come to know across the pages of the Kindred Series (I’m betting it will!). And that readers’ hearts are gripped and encouraged by that ultimate hope—for the Kingdom that is coming to us, with all that God has promised his children in the pages of Scripture. No more partings or misunderstandings, broken relationships or shattered dreams. No more suffering or injustice. That and so much more.
Kindred Series #2
Genres: Historical Romance
Release Date: October 5, 2021
A year has passed since Ian Cameron reluctantly sent his uncle’s former slave Seona and their son, Gabriel, north to his kin in Boston. Determined to fully release them, Ian strives to make a life at Mountain Laurel, his inherited plantation, along with Judith, the wife he’s vowed to love and cherish. But when tragedy leaves him alone with his daughter, Mandy, and his three remaining slaves, he decides to return north. An act of kindness on the journey provides Ian the chance to obtain land near the frontier settlement of Shiloh, New York. Perhaps even the hope for a new life with those he still holds dear.
In Boston, Seona has taken her first tentative steps as a free woman, while trying to banish Ian from her heart. The Cameron family thinks she and Gabriel should remain under their protection. Seona’s mother, Lily, thinks it’s time they strike out on their own. Then Ian arrives, offering a second chance Seona hadn’t dared imagine. But the wide-open frontier of Shiloh feels as boundless and terrifying as her newfound freedom―a place of new friends and new enemies, where deep bonds are renewed but old hurts stand ready to rear their heads. It will take every ounce of faith and courage Ian and Seona can muster to fight for their family and their future . . . together.
Buy Shiloh from the FF Store HERE!
Buy Shiloh from Amazon HERE!