Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Story Keeper

The Story Keeper
Lisa Wingate
(Tyndale House Publishers)
ISBN: 978-1414386898
August 2014/448 pages/$14.99

When successful New York editor Jen Gibbs discovers a decaying slush-pile manuscript on her desk, she has no idea that the story of Sarra, a young mixed-race woman trapped in Appalachia at the turn of the twentieth century, will both take her on a journey and change her forever. Happy with her life in the city, and at the top of her career with a new job at Vida House Publishing, Jen has left her Appalachian past and twisted family ties far behind. But the search for the rest of the manuscript, and Jen’s suspicions about the identity of its unnamed author, will draw her into a mystery that leads back to the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains . . . and quite possibly through the doors she thought she had closed forever.

Read an excerpt


Lisa Wingate is a magazine columnist, speaker, and the author of nineteen mainstream novels, including the national bestseller, Tending Roses, now in its eighteenth printing. She is a seven-time ACFW Carol award nominee, a Christy Award nominee, and a two-time Carol Award winner. Her novel Blue Moon Bay was a Booklist Top Ten of 2012 pick. Recently, the group Americans for More Civility, a kindness watchdog organization, selected Lisa along with Bill Ford, Camille Cosby, and six others, as recipients of the National Civies Award, which celebrates public figures who work to promote greater kindness and civility in American life. When not dreaming up stories, Lisa spends time on the road as a motivational speaker. Via internet, she shares with readers as far away as India, where her book, Tending Roses, has been used to promote women's literacy, and as close to home as Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the county library system has used Tending Roses to help volunteers teach adults to read.

Lisa lives on a ranch in Texas, where she spoils the livestock, raises boys, and teaches Sunday school to high school seniors. She was inspired to become a writer by a first grade teacher who said she expected to see Lisa's name in a magazine one day. More information about Lisa's novels can be found at www.Lisawingate.com. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

In her trademark style, Lisa Wingate has written another tender novel that will touch your heart. Compelling characters give a glimpse into a lesser-known segment of Appalachian culture and history. Wingate skillfully alternates between the modern-day tale and the historical account which Jen endeavors to publish if she ever finds the author. Jen's own background and personal issues will resonate with anyone who wrestles with a difficult past and how to balance love, forgiveness, and boundaries. Nuggets of truth, which speak to the reader's heart, are scattered throughout the book. I especially loved this quote:
It's so easy to make assumptions, passing by other people's homes at a distance. To be so certain that the goings-on inside mirror the exteriors--that glittering facades and squeaky-clean windows equate to perfect families, yet the reality is that containers often tell nothing of the contents.

Hardship finds its way into every life. It's just much easier to see our own than other people's. (p. 162)
Grab your copy today of the The Story Keeper, a keeper indeed!

Q&A with Lisa Wingate

The Story Keeper tells such a powerful tale. What would you like readers to learn from this book?

The Story Keeper is in many ways an examination of identity. It’s about the masks we wear, where they come from, and whether we can leave behind the masks and become authentic. So often, in rejecting the roles our childhood experiences may have forced upon us, we only put on other masks. In the story, Jen believes she has left behind the girl who was raised in poverty in Appalachia and forced to comply with the brutal and cultish faith of the tiny Church Of The Brethren Saints. But in reality, even hundreds of miles away in New York city working her dream job as an editor, Jen’s in hiding from her past and all the painful questions of her childhood.

When she discovers the partial manuscript of The Story Keeper on her desk, she comes face-to-face with the tale of a young girl living a similar life over 100 years ago. That discovery breaches the mask. What Jen really finds in that manuscript isn’t the story of a 16-year-old Melungeon girl trapped in Appalachia at the turn of the century; it’s her own story. That’s why Jen is compelled to go back to the Blue Ridge Mountains in search of the rest of the story. She’s looking for her own truth, for the self she abandoned due to the wounds of her childhood.

That’s what stories can do for us. They can break us open in ways we could never have imagined. I hope that people take away two things away from The Story Keeper. First, on a basic level, I hope that the historical thread in the novel is a reminder of the value of stories and their truly life-changing potential. Our stories shouldn’t go untold. They shouldn’t be lost.

On a deeper level, I hope Jen’s experience resonates with readers who have in some way surrendered to the wounds of a painful childhood. Life behind the mask amounts to slow suffocation. It’s another form of allowing other people to dictate who you are and what you believe. Letting go is a risk, but on the other side of that process lays light, freedom and the glory hour Jen finally senses in the end of the book. I hope that’s what people take away from The Story Keeper. Our lives have purpose, but to fulfill that purpose we must first claim ourselves.

How did your experience as a published author help you to write a character who works in the publishing industry? That must have been a fun aspect of Jen Gibbs’ story to create.

For me, writing about New York publishing from an insider’s point of view was the most fun part of the novel! Over the years, I’ve written for publishers based in New York and several other cities. Every house is different, but there are certainly commonalities in any kind of publishing. It’s an interesting world – a mix of glamour and achingly hard work, of mundane tasks and the Eureka of discovering occasional gold nuggets.

While I had fun dreaming up the uniquely powerful, yet family-owned publishing company that is Vida House in the novel, I’ll admit it was also a little intimidating to write about the secret inner workings of editors’ lives, all the while knowing that when I was finished, I’d have to turn the manuscript over to… gulp… an editor!

Fortunately, the manuscript passed the agent-and-editor test. Not only that, but friends in publishing loved the idea of tripping over a mysteriously wonderful submission that’s been languishing on a slush pile for 20 years. A fascinating manuscript written by a mysterious author who lives somewhere in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains is the ultimate literary gold nugget.

The Appalachian setting is a character of its own in the book. Why did you set the book there?

Appalachia is a place where the air fairly whispers with stories. So much of the world has grown too fast paced these days, too busy for sitting and listening, too preoccupied with the future to devote effort to retelling the past. But in Appalachian culture, there’s still a reverence for it. There are still storytellers who can entertain a crowd at a ramshackle cafĂ©, on a back porch or at the kitchen table over coffee. That tradition of the passing down of stories is part of The Story Keeper.

Appalachia is filled with mist and mystery. It lends mood to a story. The mountains are dotted with isolated communities where people can live differently, undisturbed by outsiders. It’s also the place where mysterious “little races” like the Melungeons lived historically, and in some cases still do. I knew that the historical tale of Sarra would have to do with her Melungeon blood and the myths, legends and prejudices that sort of heritage would bring. Even today, the heritage of “blue-eyed Indians” discovered in the Appalachians by the first English and French explorers remains a mystery. What were the origins of their Caucasian blood? Were they descendants of shipwrecked sailors? Journeying Norsemen or Turks? The progeny of the Lost Colonists who vanished from Roanoke Island without a trace, decades before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock? The mystery fascinated me, and it pulled the story from me, and yes, the place became a character in itself in the book.

Your latest release tells a story within a story. Was this a challenge to write?

It’s always a challenge to balance dual time frames and a story within a story. It falls in the category of double-the-work and double-the-risk, but also double-the-fascination and double-the-reward. There’s twice as much research, but in doubling the research, you also discover twice as many interesting historical facts, unanswered questions, and nearly-forgotten bits of history. Those things weave new threads into the story loom. For me, the biggest challenge was balancing the two stories, ensuring that both would be fully satisfying, and that the historical story would serve a purpose in modern-day characters’ lives.

What’s on your nightstand?

Endorsement books, usually! One of the best things about being an author is having the chance to read and discover new books before they travel out into the world. Aside from early read copies, there’s usually some research material on my nightstand for other books I’m planning. Also on the stack is a journal given to me by a reader, where I write down quotes and story ideas I don’t want to forget.

Right now, I’m spending time with several nonfiction books about the Melungeons, the mystery of the Lost Colonists on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and Appalachia during the depression years, as I create the third novel in the Carolina chronicles, which ties together a historical mystery interwoven in The Prayer Box, The Story Keeper, and this third book.

How did you write 20 books in 12 years with kids at home?

I’ve always loved to write, but I didn’t get serious about freelance writing and selling until after I’d graduated college, married, and started a family. I wrote and sold various smaller projects in between naps, diapers, and playgroups. And when the boys were older, during soccer practices, in carpool lines, while helping with homework, and in all sorts of other situations.

People often ask me if I need quiet in order to write. With boys in the house, if I’d waited for quiet, the writing would never have happened. I learned to lose myself in a story amid the noise of life and I loved it that way.

I asked myself what makes a story last, what really makes a story worth telling and worth reading? I wanted to write books that meant something, that explore the human soul.

One day, I came across a notebook in which I’d written some of my grandmother’s stories. I’d never known quite what to do with those stories, but I knew they were significant in my life. When I rediscovered the notebook, I had the idea of combining my grandmother’s real stories with a fictional family who is like and unlike my own family. That little germ of an idea became my first women’s fiction novel, Tending Roses.

Now that the boys are grown and the house is quiet, I’m redefining the writing routine again. Just as in books, life is a series of scenes and sequels, beginnings and endings, and new discoveries.

* * * * *

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book free from Tyndale House and JKS Communications. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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