As I go deeper into the book blogger world, I’m pleasantly finding hidden story gems in indie (author-published) or small-time published books. They very often have the same quality of content as big-name publishers, sometimes limited to ebook form, with smaller-scale marketing.
One recent find I am privileged to talk about today is a novel called Rumors and Promises by Kathleen Rouser, published by Heritage Beacon Fiction. Kathleen has graciously taken the time to answer my interview questions listed below, after my thoughts on the novel. I can say from my own communications with her, she is very eager for readers to connect with the characters and recognize the poignant message of the story.
Sophie Biddle, an heiress on the run with a child in tow, considers herself abandoned by her family and God. Wary, self-reliant Sophie is caught off guard when meeting a kind, but meddling and handsome minister at the local mercantile.
In 1900, Reverend Ian McCormick is determined to start anew in Stone Creek, Michigan, believing he has failed God and his former flock. He works harder than ever to forget his mistake, hoping to prove himself a most pleasing servant to his new congregation and once again to God.
While Sophie seeks acceptance for the child and a measure of respect for herself, the rumors swirl about her sordid past. Should Ian show concern for Sophie plight, he could risk everything – including his position as pastor of Stone Creek.
Now the pair must choose to trust God and forgive those who slander and gossip, or run. Will the scandals of their pasts bind them together forever, or drive both deeper into despair?
This is very much a character-driven story of belonging and forgiveness. Sophie and Ian
are endearing and instantly relatable. Kathleen Rouser brings the reader on a journey into a realistic and quaint small town with all its charms and a few difficult personalities. The sense of community Ian wants to establish and Sophie desires to be a part of is not easily obtained by either, yet the message of hope and acceptance is steadfast through all the ups and downs these two characters face.
I enjoyed the way the secondary characters have prominent roles and vibrant personalities. Whether it was Ian’s sister, Maggie, or Sophie’s little one, Caira, the supporting cast helped to reveal another side of the main characters. They also were important to the story progression and enhanced the overall feel of community Sophie longed for.
Kathleen presented the story with a necessary delicate approach, handling topics of deception, abuse, and isolation with care. The themes of forgiveness and God’s grace were clearly communicated in a way that made my heart happy for the journey these characters took. Most important, to me, was the message of faith being useless without action — that we are to live out what we claim in our hearts and share the message of grace through our actions.
Thank you to the publisher for a complimentary review ecopy of this novel in exchange for my honest review.
What inspired you to write Rumors and Promises?
Sophie Biddle’s story in Rumors and Promises really began as an attempt to convey a story similar to the account of the woman at the well in Chapter Four of the Gospel of John. At the time editors weren’t interested in biblical fiction. But I was also constrained by the guidelines of Christian publishing. How could I have my protagonist be a woman of bad reputation while preserving her purity? The character of Sophia Bidershem, an heiress concealing her identity with a slightly different name and trying to pass off her toddler daughter as her sister, was born. The out-of-wedlock-pregnancy had not come about by her volition, but she loves her child anyway and does what she must to take care of her. She bears the brunt of the resulting shame.
Then I thought about who had the most to lose in becoming involved in the life of these runaway girls, just as the disciples became shocked Jesus would associate with the Samaritan woman. Pastor Ian McCormick would have much to lose if his reputation was besmirched by friendship with a “fallen woman.” Of course, that’s where the similarities end. Jesus is sinless while Ian is a flawed man trying to start over with a new congregation because of past failings.
What spiritual message or theme do you want to communicate to readers with Rumors & Promises?
The theme verse I had in mind when I wrote Rumors and Promises, which is included in the front matter of the book is this: I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.~ Exodus 20:2, KJV
My main characters, Sophie and Ian, are struggling with life-altering incidents from their pasts. For Sophie it’s the injustice and how she feels deserted by those she thought loved her. For Ian, he cannot forgive himself for past failure. Though no harm was intended, he thinks he let God and others down.
It is so easy to get stuck in the past. I struggle with it myself, but I hope people who read my book will realize that Christ (and what He accomplished for us on the cross and being raised from the dead) is much bigger than our past failures or the injustices done to us. He is there to guide and heal. When we can grasp hold of that truth we can truly be free and move forward in our lives.
What was most challenging about writing a story set in early 1900s rural Michigan?
Lots of fact checking, such as what kind of heating they’d likely use in a town like Stone Creek, lighting, clothing, etc. It’s trying to make sure an object or a phrase isn’t used before it actually appeared on the historic timeline that can be difficult.
Then when it came to researching homes for unwed mothers, I found a few facts about the Florence Crittenton Homes and that one had begun in Detroit at the turn of the century (1900). But it took some real digging before I was able to find two older books through interlibrary loan, which talked about the history of the homes and gave detail to how they were run. I thought finding details about a mission in the city of Detroit would be a little easier, but not so.
Which character was your favorite to write?
That’s hard to say. I had such a heart for Sophie and her struggles. However, I really enjoyed writing about Ian and his bantering with his sister, Maggie. I also rather enjoyed making Gertrude Wringer rather despicable. I’m not sure what that says about me, except that my inner mean girl must be coming out.
Just for fun: do you have any hobbies?
I like to read of course, making jewelry, knitting, walking, biking, and watching shows that make me laugh. I also like lunch out with my sister or friends and sipping a good latte.
If you could live in any other time period in history, which would it be and why?
This is another difficult question. There are so many periods of history I’d like to experience! The Regency period in England comes to mind. I love Jane Austen’s writings. I recently was privileged to visit the Jane Austen Museum in Bath, England. I love the style of clothing and the elegant manners of the time. However, I think it would have been a lot tougher to live then too.
What are you currently reading?
The Chamomile by Susan F. Craft.