Thursday, February 23, 2012

Interview With Author Naomi Dathan

As you may already know, Vyrso is offering a lovely give-away for 3 eBooks, right here at Homestead Revival. So today, I'm very excited to welcome Naomi Dathan, author of Whither Thou Goest I Will Go, a homesteading book that is sure to please anyone who ever liked Laura Ingalls Wilder and couldn't get enough! (That would be me!) Let's not waste time, shall we?

Hi Naomi! So glad to have you here. I'm sure everyone would like to know where you got your idea for Whither Thou Goest I Will Go? Why a book in the 1800's about homesteading?

My infatuation with pioneer days began when my teacher Mrs. Mayhew read Little House on The Prairie to our third grade class.  I love history, so I always intended to put myself somewhere in the past in my writing.  But Whither Thou Goest, I Will Go began to take shape in my mind after I read David Laskin’s The Children’s Blizzard.  Something about that brilliantly written history captivated me.  After several times through my dog-eared copy of the book, Jem started to whisper her story in my ear.

Have you always had an interest in homesteading? Do you consider yourself a homesteader in any way? Any pets, a garden, etc.?

I have and do.  Some of my earliest memories are of my grandmother bent over her huge garden and my mother’s canned strawberry preserves lined up on the kitchen counter.  Even in her teens, my sister sewed clothes and breathtakingly beautiful quilts.  I think I always had the expectation that I would be at least a hobby farmer. I even used to check out library books on gardening and keeping livestock. I still feel a yearning when I drive past long acres of green fields, white rail fences and peaceful horses and cows. 

But here I am in a small city, living on a lot that is measured in feet not acres, in an area of town not zoned for chickens.  Still, I have a homesteading heart. My “back forty” is actually about forty square feet of yard behind the garage, but I’ve tucked a revolving clothes pole and a compost pile back there. In summers, I run the length of my fence with my “crops” – tomatoes, peppers, green beans, and squash. And, now that I’ve watched one too many videos about factory farmed chickens, I’ve decided that I will probably disobey zoning laws so I can have guilt-free eggs. I’m mostly vegetarian, so at least my neighbors will be spared having a black Angus steer peering accusingly over the fence at them during their cookouts.

Good for you! I love that you are making the most of your current homestead! Speaking of which, your description of Jem and Seth's sod house was anything but glamorous! What kind of research did you have to do to write a book so rich in homesteading details?

I adore doing research – sometimes more than the actual writing --  so I happily absorbed myself into old journals, historical websites and books.   After a while I felt like I was living more in Nebraska in 1888 than in my real life.  I’m so glad you found it rich in detail, because I felt like I went through culture shock when I finally re-emerged into present-day Ohio.

Your main character, Jem, starts out as a very pampered young lady, but deep down inside she’s a really strong woman. Did you have someone in mind when you created her?

Myself, I’m afraid.  Yes, I can be that bratty.  And when I’m not, I usually want to be.  Her spiritual journey is very much mine, as my husband’s disability and chronic illness forced me to become a dramatically better person than anyone would have guessed I could become.  

On the one hand, I thank God with all my heart for everything that happened to me.   As hard as it was, it was necessary in order for me to become the me I am right now.  I wouldn’t want to give that up.  On the other hand, I like to remind God that now that I’ve reached this stage of maturity, strength and wisdom . . . there’s no need for any more hard times.  I'm satisfied with the work He's done, and I hope he doesn't intend to refine me anymore in the near future!

Let's talk about Seth a minute... I was really surprised that Jem’s husband started out like “the perfect spouse,” wise and of strong character, but through various trials his own weaknesses were exposed. What were your thoughts (or message to readers) when you wrote his responses to adversity?

In my younger days I read maybe thousands of romance novels.  I know the deal:  the woman is in distress, being held captive or in imminent peril of losing her home/farm/child/life.  The man, commonly referred to as the hero, sweeps in, solves her problems, changes her life, protects her.  By the end of the story, she knows that he will never fail her, will be with her until the day she dies, and intuitively understands her emotional and physical needs. 

Fast forward to real marriage, where I acquired one of my very first pieces of actual wisdom:

The hero who rides up on the white steed and provides for all your needs?  That’s God.

The guy you marry?  That’s another human, just like you.  He will cry, lose his temper, be weak at the wrong moment and sometimes fail you.

So I guess that’s my message:  that marriage, real marriage, is a union of two fallible humans.  If you have an idealized expectation of marriage, you will be disappointed.

The danger of romance novels (and the fairy tales they’re based on) is that we, as women, are constantly being tempted with the idea that someone else is responsible for our lives and happiness.   Jem certainly thought that at the beginning of the book.  But, like most of us, she was force to accept that she had accidentally married a human instead of a hero.   Seth, whether at his best or his worst, was one of many factors impacting Jem’s life, but ultimately she was responsible for who she was and how her life played out. That is true for all of us.

Well said, Naomi! And thank you for writing your book that way! I know that every woman ever married will be able to relate to that and those that are yet to be married, need to understand this before they enter a marriage!

The title of the book tells us that Jem must learn to follow her "human" husband, which is basically saying she had to learn to submit even when she didn't want to... something that women have struggled with since the time of Eve! Would you agree? And have you struggled with submission at any time in your life?

Awesome.  You’re not afraid to ask the tough questions, are you?

About five years into my marriage, I was listening to a Christian radio station at work and I heard a discussion of wifely submission.  This was the first I’d ever heard of it.  I wasn’t a Christian growing up and had studied feminist literature in college, so it took some processing.

Finally, I broached the topic with my husband, explained the idea to him, and announced, in true submissive-wife fashion, that this was how things were going to work in our marriage from now on.

I will say two things about it:
(1)     It worked for us.  My husband was very respectful of the concept, and only exerted the husband authority when he felt genuinely led by God.  He never, not once, resorted to petty abuse of authority.  We communicated very well, so we were careful to define when we were invoking the authority thing and when we were just being argumentative, grouchy or intentionally annoying.  When he did invoke it, I went with it.  And even if I hated it at the time, I was always glad later.  God's fingerprints were all over it. 

My husband had frequent, life-threatening infections, which meant he wasn't always able to take the leadership role.  There was often a point when either he or I would have to transfer the authority from him to me, and I became the decision-maker.  We communicated, and it was never an issue for either of us. 

(2)    If I ever remarry, I’m not going to do it again. I’m 45, almost 46, years old.  I kept a dying man alive for many years in spite of all odds and medical predictions while running a house, caring for my children and writing three books.  I wrote another book the month after he died, and I’m writing the sequel to Whither now, while still running my house, paying my bills and caring for two children who are nearly paralyzed with grief.   I know who I am, what God created me to do, and what I need to do next.   I feel completely qualified to run my life.  The only submission I intend to exhibit is the Christian submission that is expected of all followers of Christ, be they male or female.

I’m aware that between these two conflicting statements, I’ve probably managed to draw the indignation of virtually all of your readers.  I can only say, this is my most honest answer at this moment. 

I do appreciate your honesty, Naomi! In truth, if we are submissive to Christ in ALL THINGS, I think submission to our husbands would be a non-issue, right? Lord, make that true of me!!

I understand that you started writing while caring for your terminally ill husband. How did writing help you through that period of your life?

I don’t know if I can explain how it helped me.  It was just necessary. 

To be strictly accurate, I started writing when I was twelve.  Whither was my third book (to be written, not sold), and I’ve been keeping journals since I could write.  If I could find all the stray scraps of journals, notebooks and files (some on floppy disks), I’d have an exhaustive and incredibly boring record of every emotion I’ve experienced since I was about nine.  There is no need to impose that kind of legacy on my heirs though, so hopefully I’ll be able to resist the impulse.

As my husband’s illness progressed, my anguish made its way relentlessly into my fiction.  Although I didn’t plan it this way, all of my books have recurring medical motifs.  You can almost track the progression of my husband’s illness through the stories. 

In Whither, there is a moment when Jem awakens from sitting by Seth’s bedside after his illness, and she is convinced, absolutely sure, that Seth has died.  That is the truest moment in the book for me.  How often did I check my husband’s breathing during the long nights?  How often did I feel the cool of his skin outside the blanket and think he was gone?   

Why was it critical to write that scene?  I don’t know, but I know that every time I go back to it, I feel how essential it was.  How essential it is.
Jem grows quite a lot in her faith and trust, as well as her understanding of God as she endures her first year homesteading in Nebraska. How did your faith and trust in God grow during your own trial? And was there a particular scripture passage that spoke to you during that time?

Jem did better than I did.  Her year-long growth spurt took me closer to fifteen years.   My head is even harder than hers, I’m afraid.  But I did learn.  I learned that God loves me . . . and that I don’t understand an awful lot of what He does. 

So, yeah.  It took me fifteen years to learn that.  Imagine what kind of incredible theology I’ll be able to expound on after another fifteen years of trauma!

But those thoughts, as tiny as they are, define me.  He loves me.  I’m a hot mess of selfishness, rebelliousness, irritability and distractibility.  But He loves me.  He wants to hear from me, craves for me to reach for him the way I craved for my babies to reach for me.

So, in the worst of times, and even in the better times (when it’s sometimes harder to remember to seek God), I cling to Philippians 4:6-7:  “Do not worry about anything, but in everything , by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Thank you, Naomi! What a pleasure! We don't often get to hear from an author and gain insite into his or her personal life story. I think we just assume they dream up books in the middle of the night! But without a doubt, I can certainly see your heart woven through each chapter of Whither now that I've gotten to know you a bit. Which makes me even more excited to read the next book!!

And Homestead Revival readers, you might also enjoy the bonus content on Naomi's site including a discussion of Seth's failings ("Seth . . . Oh, Seth.  You disappoint.") and the popular quiz, "Are you a Born Homesteader?".  You'll also find an excerpt of Whither on her site if you would like to check out her eBook for free.

Don't forget Vyrso is hosting a give-away for three copies of her eBook right now on Homestead Revival. Just click HERE to enter! The drawing ends Saturday, so don't wait too long!


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