Rachel's Secret, Riverhaven Years Series #1Rachel's Secret, Riverhaven Years Series #1
B.J. Hoff
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When the wounded Irish American riverboat captain, Jeremiah Gant, bursts into the rural Amish setting of Riverhaven, he brings chaos and conflict to the community, especially for young widow, Rachel Brenneman. The unwelcome "outsider" needs a safe place to recuperate before continuing his secret role as an Underground Railroad conductor. Neither he nor Rachel is prepared for the forbidden love that threatens to endanger a man's mission, a woman's heart, and a way of life for an entire people.
     

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B.J. HoffB. J. Hoff’s bestselling historical novels continue to cross the boundaries of religion, language, and culture to capture a worldwide reading audience. Her books include such popular series as The Mountain Song Legacy, Song of Erin, The American Anthem, and An Emerald Ballad. Hoff’s stories, although set in the past, are always relevant to the present. Whether her characters move about in small country towns or metropolitan areas, reside in Amish settlements or in coal company houses, she creates communities where people can form relationships, raise families, pursue their faith, and experience the mountains and valleys of life. BJ and her husband make their home in Ohio. 
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Favorite Verse; 2 Corinthians 1:20 –“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.”  

 

 

 Our Interview with B.J. Hoff


 


How did you come up with the concept for the Riverhaven Years series?
 
I’ve always loved working with contrasts. The idea of people living in two entirely different cultures coming together and forming a relationship based on faith, trust, and love really appealed to me. Jeremiah Gant is a loner, an Irish-American riverboat captain, who comes from a hard world, even a dangerous one in his work with the Underground Railroad. In contrast, Rachel Brenneman grew up in a sheltered Amish community of caring, gentle people who keep to themselves and look after their own.
 
Another possibility that intrigued me was setting a story that takes place in an Amish community in an historical time frame. Many novels about the Amish are contemporary, but since I focus on historical fiction, I wanted to tell this story in a different era.

My editor encouraged me to develop the idea—and The Riverhaven series is the result.

Do you have Amish in your background?

No, but for years I’ve lived near two Amish communities—one the largest in the United States, and the other so nearby I can visit with the Plain People without traveling far—for example, on a week-to-week basis at our local farm markets.
 
The Amish culture has always interested me, and without realizing that I was doing “research,” I’d done a great deal of reading about their communities, in particular the Old Order Amish settlements. Of course, I had to do even more exploration into the customs and culture once I actually began developing the new series, but because I enjoy research, that wasn’t a problem.

 

How long did each book in the series take you to complete?
 
At this point, I’ve completed only the first title in the series, but usually my books take anywhere from nine months to a year to complete.

What is the symbolism for the title Rachel’s Secret?

The title of the first book in the Riverhaven series—Rachel’s Secret—refers to the dark, disturbing secret Rachel Brenneman has carried in her heart ever since the death of her husband.

How much research did Rachel’s Secret take?
 
A lot. But as I’ve already mentioned, I enjoy research—almost as much as the writing itself—so I’m happy doing as much as it takes.

Do you prefer to write historical fiction? 

Yes, I’ve concentrated entirely on historical novels for several years now. I’ve long been convinced that historical fiction is relevant to today’s readers. Throughout history, people have struggled with issues such as marital problems, abuse, rejection, homelessness, exile and immigration, abortion, and abandonment. Through my stories, I try to show God at work among us, changing and healing, saving and renewing.

For readers who are interested, on my web site  ( http://www.bjhoff.com ) there’s a page ( http://www.bjhoff.com/faq/why-historical-fiction/ )
that explains more about why I write historical fiction.

 

What are some of the challenges you face as an author?

Balance.  When I first began writing, God pressed me for a commitment to keep Him and my family always first, before the writing.  I soon discovered that time management and soul management aren’t the same thing.  The demands on a writer’s time and energy can often be overwhelming.  Time can quickly spiral out of control, and before you know it, years have passed.  I’ve always been grateful that God prompted me to make a commitment to Him and my family at the very beginning of my career, rather than later.  It’s not that I haven’t on occasion overstepped the line, but by His grace I’ve been able to sense when I need to retreat rather than charge ahead, when I need to step away from work and seek rest and renewal—and when I need to simply spend fun time with my loved ones and friends. 

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

The writing itself.  That’s the best part for me.  I also love hearing from my readers, doing research, and discovering new ideas.

What do you do to keep your writing fresh and improve on it each time you write a book?

I’m constantly studying the art and craft of writing, as well as my time frame and its culture.  I’m always reading and experimenting with some of the new thoughts and ideas I encounter.  I’ve learned that a writer never knows it all, never knows enough.  There’s always more to learn.

Are there any other new projects on the horizon?

 

Always! First, of course, I’ll be working on the manuscripts for Books Two and Three of The Riverhaven Years.  I have another series under contract, and other ideas on the not-so-far back burner waiting to be developed.

What advice would you give to a person trying to become a fiction writer?
 
If you’re a new writer just starting out on this incredible journey, face the fact now that it can be a one-step forward, two-steps backward adventure. Fortify yourself with plenty of prayer, patience, and perseverance—unless you’re the exception, you’ll eventually need a lion’s share of each. Be prepared to deal with the bitter as well as the sweet. But don’t let the frustrations and disappointments overshadow your joy in and your appreciation for the gift you’ve been given. And don’t forget that it is a gift. Nothing more, nothing less.
 
Learn as much as you can, write as often as you can, and read everything that you can. One of the most important vehicles, if not the most important, that will take you where you want to go as a writer is the reading of good books by good authors. Read and study. Read, read, read.
  
But keep in mind that, in the long run, writing is not about books or deadlines or sales or marketing or success. It’s not about getting somewhere; it’s about the way you get there. It’s about life and how you live it with the people God has given you to love, as you try to be faithful to Him and your gift along the way.

What message would you like your readers to take away from Rachel’s Secret?

As it happens, a reader asked me this very question not long ago. And I find it a difficult question to answer. You see, I try not to ascribe any kind of "takeaway value" to any of my novels. If readers remember anything about my stories, I hope it's the story itself--well, more to the point, the characters who tell that story. If there's a particular element of the story that makes it memorable, I believe that varies with individual readers.

 
Most of the time, the elements that make up a story evoke emotions or emotional "keepsakes" I could never have planned. For example, many readers have told me they "loved the love story" between one character and another, but others say they were especially taken with the "story of God's love." Some tell me they'll "always remember" the courage of a certain character, while others have been caught up by the strength God gave that same character.

 

It's such a subjective and individual thing, this aspect of fiction we sometimes call "takeaway value." I'm convinced that if I actually tried to implant it, it would fall flat to the point of being one of the least memorable parts of the story. So I suppose what I do is trust God to give each individual reader the special thought or memory He wants that reader to have. 

What is your greatest achievement?

My family. More accurately, they’re my greatest gift.

What do you do to get away from it all?

Actually—I read. That’s my getaway. I’m not referring to research reading or information reading or “required reading.” But the reading I manage to do simply because I want to.
 
Music is my other escape.

 

B.J. Hoff

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