Sweeter Than Birdsong, Saddler's Legacy Series #2Sweeter Than Birdsong, Saddler's Legacy Series #2
Rosslyn Elliott
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When Ben casts lovely Kate Winter to sing in his latest show, they find they share a love for music and ideas. But Kate's mother wants her daughter to marry a rich man. Ben has given his life to God, not to the pursuit of wealth.

Kate Winter will be the first female graduate of Otterbein College, and every young man in town courts her. But Kate's dark family secrets leave her unspeakably shy. When Kate joins the Hanbys in their dangerous work on the Underground Railroad, she finds her courage and her voice. Can Ben and Kate find a way to be together in spite of the obstacle of Kate's family?
     


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Rosslyn Elliott

Rosslyn Elliott grew up in a military family and relocated so often that she attended nine schools before her high school graduation. With the help of excellent teachers, she qualified to attend Yale University, where she earned a BA in English and Theater. She worked in business and as a schoolteacher before returning to study at Emory University, where she earned a Ph.D. in English in 2006. Her study of American literature and history inspired her to pursue her lifelong dream of writing fiction. She lives in the Southwest, where she homeschools her daughter and teaches in children’s ministry.

Favorite Verse: John 1:5 (English Standard Version) - The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

 


 

 Our Interview with Rosslyn Elliott


 

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a homeschooling mom who lives in the sunny Southwest with my husband and daughter. My daughter and I spend a lot of time with our equestrian vaulting team, which involves young people doing gymnastics, tricks, and dance moves on horseback. I am definitely the one holding the horse, not standing on the horse’s back! But we both love horses, and I enjoy spending time with my daughter in a great outdoor setting. After working as a schoolteacher in my mid-twenties, I studied for seven years and finished a Ph.D. in American literature in 2006. Finishing that long academic dissertation gave me the confidence I needed to finally pursue my dream of writing novels.

What is your favorite Bible verse (translation please)?  Why?

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. –John 1:5 (English Standard Version)

This verse sustains me—it gives me strength and courage. No matter how painful and difficult life may seem to us at times through our limited human vision, we can trust that the darkness will never overcome the light. I try to reflect that truth in my fiction.

Sweeter Than Birdsong is an interesting title; is there a special meaning behind the title?

Sweeter than Birdsong, like the other two titles in the series, came from hymn lyrics. My editor suggested I find titles that sounded like scriptural poetry for my novels. I loved that idea, so I went hunting through old hymn books. I came up with seven sets of titles—both my editor and my agent picked the same set. When I went back to find the hymn source of those titles, I found to my amazement that these lyrics were by Harriet Beecher Stowe. This was an overwhelming moment of grace for me as a writer, because Ben Hanby, the hero of Sweeter than Birdsong, wrote a famous Civil War era song that was nicknamed “the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of song.” Like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Ben Hanby’s song influenced the nation against slavery. For all of us to ‘accidentally’ pick lyrics by Harriet Beecher Stowe as titles for these novels was like a pat on the back from heaven.

What inspired the concept for the Saddler's Legacy Series?

After I finished my doctoral dissertation, I had decided to try my hand at writing my first historical novel. I was living in Westerville, Ohio at the time, so I decided to go visit a small local house museum so I could research all the kitchen artifacts and farm tools. Before the tour, a guide took me into an outbuilding and showed me a video about the Hanby family, who had lived in that house. By the time I stood up thirty minutes later, I knew that I had just been given an amazing true story that needed to be told. The Hanbys lived romantic, action-filled lives marked by courage, and most importantly, they served others out of faith and love.

Is any part of Sweeter Than Birdsong factual?

Many of the people in the novel are real historical figures, including Ben Hanby and his family as well as Kate Winter, a brilliant young woman who was one of the first women to graduate from college in the USA. The novel also includes an African-American hero named John Parker who bought himself out of slavery and then helped others run to freedom on the Underground Railroad. Many aspects of Ben and Kate’s courtship in the novel are true. Kate’s mother wanted her to marry a wealthy man, and so she vigorously opposed Ben as a potential suitor for Kate. All of the Hanby family are based on their real-life selves, including Ben’s pesky younger brother who causes some serious problems for our main characters. Finally, the novel gives us a look at college life in the mid-19th century because Ben and Kate both attended Otterbein College, which still educates students in Westerville. There’s a historical afterword in the back of the novel that goes into more detail about fact vs. fiction, but I always caution friends not to read it first, unless they want to read some spoilers about the plot!

 

How long did Sweeter Than Birdsong take you to complete?
 
This novel had an unusual history because it was my very first novel. I wrote it in about a year in 2007/2008, and my agent signed me after reading it. However, the contract for this series began with my second novel, Fairer than Morning, a novel about Ben Hanby’s father Will and a young woman named Ann Miller. By the time I got around to rewriting Sweeter than Birdsong, I had grown so much as a writer than I found this novel needed a very extensive rewrite. Two rewrites, in fact. So altogether, I probably spent almost two years writing and rewriting this novel, which is unusual. My typical writing time for a novel is closer to a year.

Do you have a favorite character in Sweeter Than Birdsong? Why?

Though it’s a tough decision, I’ll have to choose Kate Winter because of her personal transformation from shy, anxious young woman into a person of great courage. I love it when ordinary people overcome their fears and discover true spiritual strength, and that’s what happens to Kate in this novel.

How much research did Sweeter Than Birdsong take?

All of my novels take a lot of research because I like to include vivid, detailed settings that allow the reader to walk through the same world the characters are experiencing. This is more risky than writing less-developed historical settings because more detail means more potential to make mistakes. But that’s a risk I’m willing to take—I do my best to research every detail, and I have friends and editors who also try to question inconsistencies or timelines. For example, in Fairer than Morning, I had to switch matches in one scene to flint, steel, and tinder, because matches were invented the year after the story takes place
.
What was the most interesting tidbit that you learned while writing Sweeter Than Birdsong?

My favorite research moment was finding a color sketch of a parlor in Philadelphia from the same year as my novel, in a house on the same street where some of my characters were staying as houseguests. That thrilled my history-loving heart.

How many books will be in the Saddlers Legacy series?

Fairer than Morning was the first, Sweeter than Birdsong is the second, and Lovelier than Daylight is the third and final novel about the Hanby family.

What are some of the challenges you face as an author?
 
My biggest challenge is making sure that I always place my family first. Because I feel so strongly about that, there are times when life can get stressful, when I haven’t yet made my wordcount for that week because I was meeting a family need instead. But it’s worth it. My second challenge is being so critical of my own work that it can be hard to keep writing, which is something almost every writer understands.

What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?

Feeling that my novels have been uplifting and encouraging to readers, and knowing that I have helped in a small way to preserve some of our real American history.

What writing clubs or organizations do you belong to?

I belong to American Christian Fiction Writers, a fantastic organization for writers of faith. ACFW provided me with the information that allowed me to sign with my agent.

What were your favorite books as a child?

When I was younger, I loved the Chronicles of Narnia, and later I added the Lord of the Rings trilogy. These fantasies that reinforce a Christian worldview captured my imagination and taught me what it means to stand up for good and resist evil.

 

What is your writing style?   (Do you outline?  Write “by-the-seat-of-your-pants?   Or somewhere in between?)

I am an outliner, all the way. An outline is my shield against the fear that I can’t finish. However, I tend to write sketchy chapter outlines, not complete ones, and then I allow myself some flexibility as I write.

Do your characters begin to take on a life of their own as you write?

Oh yes! That’s the sign that it’s going the way it should. One of my favorite scenes in Sweeter than Birdsong happened in the final rewrite. It came out as a funny scene because that’s how Kate would have lived it, based on who she had become during the writing of the novel. And it was something I hadn’t planned at all.

What other new projects do you have on the horizon?
 
Right now I’m knee-deep in the first draft of Lovelier than Daylight, the third novel in the series. I have a couple of other American historical novel ideas bubbling around, one colonial and one Gilded Age, but I have to get through this one first. I’m a linear novelist and one at a time is enough for me.

Who was the person who influenced you the most with your writing?

My twin sister. It’s impossible to overstate the influence of growing up with another person your age who is also gifted in language arts. We helped one another grow up (and survive, at times). The love and the bond we share has been one of the major formative influences of my life.

What message would you like your readers to take from Sweeter Than Birdsong?

Dream big. Pray big. And trust that your gifts have a purpose. When I was talking to my editor about what Ben Hanby most wanted in the world, we considered whether his “character goal” was too big. But there are some fictionalized true stories (such as the story of William Wilberforce in the film Amazing Grace) in which you see someone accomplish something stunning, something huge, through faith and a refusal to give up. This is one of those true stories.

What is your greatest achievement?

Being a good mom. Not perfect, but really hard-working!

What is your goal or mission as a writer?

My mission is to spread stories of hope and redemption by writing fiction that isn’t afraid to confront darkness and the kind of complexity we see in real life. We can’t find the deepest encouragement from fiction unless the problems our characters face are as serious as those we see in the real world. So I want to show the reality of spiritual challenges, and then the tremendous power of faith and love to overcome those challenges.

What do you do to get away from it all?

I go to the horse stables, work in the sun for a few hours, and get dirty and smelly. There’s a certain freedom in dust-caked skin—though I do try to shower promptly. 

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you so much for having me, and thank you to all readers who have supported me with notes and emails. I value you more than I can say. Please stop by and say hello at my blog on my website www.rosslynelliott.com, or come find me on Facebook!

 


 

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