I had the distinct pleasure of meeting today's author in the bookstore where I worked at the time and introducing her to ACFW. Now, she's won a Christy Award for her debut novel and is seeing her 2nd book released. It's exciting to share in the successes of friends.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
CATHY GOHLKE'S first novel, "William Henry is a Fine Name," won the Christy Award. She has worked as a school librarian, drama director for adults and young people, and as a director of children's and education ministries. Cathy lives with her husband in Elkton, Maryland.
I HAVE SEEN HIM IN THE WATCHFIRES
by Cathy Gohlke
Published by Moody Publishers
ABOUT THE BOOK
As Civil War rends his family and the nation, seventeen-year-old Robert vows to rescue his estranged mother and the girl he loves from behind enemy lines. Unwittingly entangled in a prison escape, left for dead and charged as a spy, Robert must forge his anger and shame into a renewed determination to rescue his family. Confronted by an enemy and a war he no longer understands, Robert finds that the rescue, and its results, may not be up to him.
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1. What gave you the inspiration for this story?
This is a stand-alone sequel to my first novel, William Henry is a Fine Name (which took place in 1859 and dealt with thirteen-year-old Robert's involvement in the Underground Railroad). So, it was natural to ask what became of those characters, of that family, so torn and divided on the issue of slavery, once the Civil War (1861-1865) began.
I've always wondered where God is in the midst of war—a question as relevant today as it was in 1861, and that, along with questions of "who is my neighbor and who is my enemy" are issues with which Robert struggles.
I've also long known a story handed down in my step-mother's family: an aristocratic Confederate lady met and challenged the dreaded Union General Sherman as he burned his way through South Carolina. This ancestor was a feisty lady, and although my story is not the same as the actual occurrence, I certainly received inspiration there.
2. How much of your own experiences influenced your characters? What aspects became traits that are theirs and theirs alone?
Like Robert, I've struggled with questions regarding war and politics—which side is God on? Does He take sides? Am I seeing the big picture—the picture that God sees? What does He know that I don't know and what does God grieve over? How do I respond when the law of the land acts outside of God's law? And most importantly, am I on God's side? Like Robert, I have had to learn to surrender my plans and determinations to the Lord, knowing that He knows—everything—far better than I, and peace exists only when I let His will prevail.
I think I had more in common with Robert in my younger years than I do now. When the story begins Robert sees everything in absolute terms—no shades of gray: He believes that the Union is completely right and that God is fighting on its behalf. He becomes disillusioned when he visits Fort Delaware and finds that Union soldiers are men and boys, with all the faults and failings, the good and bad of regular men. He is astonished when he finds both cruelty and compassion among Confederate soldiers and civilians. Robert struggles with separating the idea of war and the issues fought about with the people living through the chaos and carnage. This is an "education" that continues for Robert throughout the war—on both sides, north and south.
3. If one of your characters were an ice cream flavor, what he/she be and why?
Maybe lime sherbet—with a bite—that goes down smoothly at last. Robert is a natural, but young and naïve—a little like the green of lime sherbet—but he has some sharp edges that surprise. In the end he is renewed, somewhat mellowed, and the palate is refreshed.
4. What themes exist in I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires that you hope the reader sees? Are there any themes that weren't overt but developed as the story progressed?
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."--It is what Jesus did for us, and it happens a number of times in different ways in this book. The theme is also very strong that God has a plan and a purpose far greater than what we can see in front of us, and only when we release ourselves and surrender our plans to Him can we find peace and the fulfillment of His love and plan for us. That surrender may be a "growing thing" or the realization for its need may flash upon us suddenly. And finally, the thing that changes us forever—consecration to the Lord—to be forever His and to know we belong to Him. I hope the reader sees these things.
5. What were your most difficult parts to write? Your favorite?
The most difficult part for me to write was Col. Mitchell's recounting of the battle of Gettysburg. The research was heart wrenching. The carnage and mass waste of human life angered and grieved my heart so writing became difficult for a time.
There were many parts I loved writing. One of my favorites was the exchange between young Hezekiah, on the floor, and Robert as Robert lay, hidden, face down between mattress and bed ropes. Hezekiah also helped Robert escape the Home Guard determined to catch him by telling him to hide in a giant coffee pot outside the tinsmith's shop. I'd grown up on a legend that a Civil War soldier had hidden in that 12 foot coffee pot. It was great fun to write it into this story. And, of course, I loved writing the epilogue—which you'll have to read on your own. I dare not give away the ending!
6. When is your next book coming out and what is the story?
I'm researching a new novel with new characters, set in England, America, and France in the years just prior to and including WWI. I spent two weeks researching in England this spring—mainly in war and maritime museums and cemeteries—with a day trip to Calais, France, "getting to know" my characters, their history, falling in love with their story, culture and setting. This is Michael's story, a survivor of Titanic, who is given a life, a hope and a future through the sacrifice of a friend. And it is Annie's story, who struggles with bitter loss of someone dear to her, the challenge to forgive, and to love as Christ loves us. How will they respond to such amazing grace? And when the Great War calls on them to sacrifice, how will they respond?
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Thank you, Cathy, for being in the spotlight with us.
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