Marlo Schalesky is the award-winning author of five books, including her latest novel VEIL OF FIRE, which explores the great Minnesota firestorm of 1894 and the mysterious figure who appeared in the hills afterward. She has also had over 500 articles published in various magazines, had her work included in compilations such as Dr. Dobson's Night Light Devotional for Couples, and is a regular columnist for Power for Living. Marlo recently earned her Masters degree in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary and is currently working on three contemporary novels for Multnomah-Waterbrook Publishers, a division of Random House. She lives in Salinas, California with her husband and four daughters.
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1. You've used the mystery behind the Minnesota Firestorm of 1894 as your motivating plot. What inspired you to write this story?
The idea for Veil of Fire was birthed at my favorite Mexican restaurant in the mission town of San Juan Bautista. There I was, sitting with my family, nibbling chips and salsa, when a wedding party came by. The bridesmaids were dressed in beautiful turn-of-the-century style gowns. As they passed, my mother-in-law began to tell me of the dresses that her great grandmother, who lived in Hinckley, used to sew for the rich ladies in Minneapolis and St. Paul. From there, came the story of the great Hinckley fire and the rebuilding that this woman, my husband’s great-great-grandmother, was a part of. And finally, I heard the tale of the mystery figure in the hills, a person burned beyond recognition. A person never identified, living as a hermit until one day he just disappeared.
At that moment, the first inklings of the story that would become Veil of Fire were born in my heart. Who was the hermit in the hills? What happened to him? And how would I solve the mystery if I could? As I pondered those questions, I knew that I had to write the hermit's story. Had to explore what it would be like to lose everything, even your identity. Had to hear the hermit's voice in my mind, and hear the story for myself.
So, the writing of the book became for me a process of discovery, as I hope it will be for my readers. I hope that as the mystery of the hermit drew me, so too it will draw others to this story of how fire can change you, take from you, and in the end, may just set you free.
2. How much of your own experiences influenced your characters? What aspects became traits that were theirs and theirs alone?
Even though I base no character on myself, they all reflect a little of me – my questions, my struggles, the issues that have shaped and molded me. In Veil of Fire, this is particularly true for the hermit in the hills. Just as the hermit questions God's love, believes "I am Esau, unchosen, unloved," so I too have struggled with those same feelings, doubts, and questions. I too have cried out to God, "Why don't you love me?" For the hermit, it was a question born out of fire, abuse, and disfigurement. For me, it was a question that came out of failure, infertility, and miscarriage. So, in many ways, the hermit's questions were my own, the answers mine, the external scars reflections of my internal ones, and in turn, I think, symbols of the scars of us all.
3. What themes exist in Veil of Fire that you hope the reader sees? Are there any themes that weren't overt but developed as the story progressed?
The basic theme grows out of the Greek word for truth: Alethia (uh-lay-thee-uh). Alethia, when broken down to its root, literally means "unhidden." So, at its heart, Veil of Fire reveals that we can only be healed when we live in the truth, and we can only live in the truth if we become unhidden, unveiled.
I've found somewhere, somehow, life burns us all. Failure, discouragement, pain, loss. We all face firestorms in life. And when we do, we realize that this life we live is not the one we once dreamed. The realities of life scar us. Doubts rise. Fear whispers that hope is gone. And what was once a simple faith can fail in the face of that fear.
In the midst of life's disillusionment, choices appear. Do we retreat? Hide our hurts far from probing eyes? Do we embrace bitterness and cynicism? Blame God? Shake our fist at heaven? Or do we use deceit to try to obtain our goals? Do we give up, give in, forget that we ever dared to dream?
Or is it possible to reach the high places of faith in the low valleys of life's reality? Can we still live a life of bold faith, of fierce hope, when fairy tales don't come true? How do we live this life that God has given us when it's not the life we dreamed?
These are the questions I wanted to explore in Veil of Fire. These are the questions which underlie each character's journey in the aftermath of the great fire of 1894.
So, for those burned by life, for those who carry scars that cannot be seen, for those who have retreated for fear of more pain, this story is for you, this journey from the hidden places of pain to a new hope in the unhidden truth of Christ's love.
4. What were your most difficult parts to write? Your favorite?
For me, the first few chapters are always the most difficult to write of any book. It's then that I'm getting used to the characters, and the pathways to get into their minds and hearts are not so established or well-worn. So, it's harder to get into their skins right away. It takes more time and effort to see the story through their eyes. Conversely, as the book progresses, seeing and writing the story from the character’s perspectives becomes easier and easier, faster and faster.
For Veil of Fire, I used multiple POV's. Scenes from the hermit's POV were done in first person present tense, while all the rest are in third person past tense. By far my favorite parts to write were the hermit's scenes. They just flowed from my heart to the page. So, whenever I got stuck, I just skipped ahead to a hermit scene and let the words come out.
5. When is your next book coming out and what is the story?
After Veil of Fire, I'm writing 3 contemporary novels for Waterbrook-Multnomah. All of them are "Love Stories with a Twist!"--a new type of story that I think will knock readers' socks off.
The first, Beyond the Night, releases in May 2008. With groovy 70's trivia and a whopper of an ending twist, this one was as fun to write as it will be to read. Here's a blurb about it:
They say love is blind. This time, they're right.
A poignant love story...
A shocking twist...
Come, experience a love that will not die.
Nicolas Sparks (The Notebook) meets M. Night Shymalan (The Sixth Sense) in this moving story of two people trying to find love in the dark. A woman going blind, a man who loves her but can't tell her so, a car crash, a hospital room, and an ending that has to be experienced to be believed. Watch for it next May!
That's it, Tiff. Thanks for this opportunity to "talk" to your blog readers. I very much appreciate it.
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And we loved having you here, Marlo. Readers, post your comments for Marlo to read and you'll be entered in a drawing for a FREE book. It won't be autographed this time, but it's still a free book. :) Check back here next week for the winner.