Robin Lee Hatcher
Robin Lee Hatcher (www.robinleehatcher.com) is an award-winning, bestselling author of over 50 novels, including WAGERED HEART, RETURN TO ME and CATCHING KATIE, named one of the Best Books of 2004 by Library Journal. Winner of the Christy Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction, two RITA Awards for Best Inspirational Romance and the RWA Lifetime Achievement Award, Robin lives in Idaho.
International bestselling novelist Robin Lee Hatcher has received a number of honors thus far during her prolific writing career, including the Christy Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction, the RITA Award for Best Inspirational Fiction and the Romance Writers of America's Lifetime Achievement Award. In this interview with FaithfulReader.com reviewer Bethanne Kelly Patrick, Robin talks about how the Scriptures guided her in writing CATCHING KATIE --- a book about a suffragette --- the research she conducts for her historical novels and the transition she made from the secular market to the Christian market.
FR: How did you come up with the idea of writing a book about a suffragette?
RLH: I wrote a series of books that took place at the end of the 1800s, and I was simply ready to move into a new time period. I envisioned Katie in her big touring hat driving her Model T Ford up a bumpy road and knew I'd found my heroine. As I began to do research, it seemed natural that she would be a suffragette.
FR: Many readers of Christian fiction have very specific ideas about women's place, not unlike Katie's fellow townspeople. Tell us about the Scripture that guided you in writing about a woman who sought to expand her expected role in her time/place/society.
RLH: I believe the Gospels reveal that Jesus showed no prejudice toward women, even though the society He lived in did. And He challenged that prejudice (along with many others) by His words and actions. Greater minds than mine have long debated the role of women in the church and society, and have not been able to come to a consensus. It is not my goal to enter that debate but simply to be true to my story and my characters and what I believe God has revealed to me through His word.
Historically, evangelical Christianity, which spread in America with the Second Great Awakening, emphasized the moral and religious autonomy of women and established women's moral authority in the priesthood of all believers. (1 Peter 2:9) One book that helped me understand both contemporary and historical points of view regarding women's issues was 10 LIES THE CHURCH TELLS WOMEN by J. Lee Grady.
FR: How did you learn about the history of women's suffrage that you wove throughout your story? What are some books you think of as "required reading" on the subject --- or other good resources?
RLH: When I was in school, they didn't teach "women's history," so much of what I learned was totally new territory for me. I read a number of books as I prepared to write CATCHING KATIE, and I include a bibliography in the back for those who want to do their own research about the women's suffrage movement. All but one were specifically about the time and the people of that era.
AMERICAN WOMEN'S HISTORY: An A to Z of People, Organizations, Issues, and Events by Doris Weatherford
BORN FOR LIBERTY: A History of Women in America by Sara M. Evans
FAILURE IS IMPOSSIBLE: Susan B. Anthony in her Own Words by Lynn Sherr
HISTORY OF IDAHO by Leonard J. Arrington
JAILED FOR FREEDOM: American Women Win the Vote by Doris Stevens
TWO PATHS TO WOMEN'S EQUALITY by Janet Zollinger Giele
The other was the book I mentioned earlier, 10 LIES THE CHURCH TELLS WOMEN by J. Lee Grady.
FR: Women's rights is an issue charged on both sides, and one of your characters embodies what can happen when an idea is held onto too tightly. Talk about her, how she developed and what you think she shows us in your own words.
RLH: Blanche was never meant to be anything more than a secondary character with a minor part to play. But, as often happens when I'm writing, she began to reveal herself and she took on a more prominent role. In my mind, Blanche represents what can happen to any of us when we become inflexible and unable to see other points of view, when we begin to judge others and don't see them through the eyes of compassion and love.
FR: One thing that I don't think was fully explained (but please correct me if I'm wrong!) is how Katie got to Vassar. Since Idaho was fairly forward-thinking about women, did it just seem natural that a young woman would go East for her education?
RLH: Yes, it did seem natural for Katie to go to college, and there weren't a great many colleges available in the early 1900s for a woman to attend. Vassar was an obvious choice for the story.
FR: You've been forthright about the books you've written that were not centered in your Christian beliefs. CATCHING KATIE was originally published in 1989 as KISS ME, KATIE. What parts of the book did you re-write? Have you/will you re-write other older titles of yours?
RLH: The original story was published in 1996, and although I loved Katie and Ben (two of my favorite characters), the original novel is the one that embarrasses me the most of all the books I wrote for the secular market. In rewriting the novel, I removed inappropriate language and scenes that most surely did not show Christian values and I added a strong faith plot.
Including CATCHING KATIE, I've "redeemed" (rewritten) five previously published novels for the Christian market. The revised editions of the first three books of the Coming to America series were published by Zondervan in 2000 and 2001. In 2003, Tyndale published SPEAK TO ME OF LOVE, which was a revised edition of a book first published in 1996. There are a few more titles that I would like to see "redeemed," but I don't plan to do many more. I have too many new stories to tell.
FR: Many of the reviews on Christian sites thus far of CATCHING KATIE have been very positive, remarking on what a good view of history the book provides and how important it is to know about women's suffrage. However, some of these writers might balk at modern definitions of women's equality. Is it easier for Christian authors, readers and reviewers to look at women's place from an historical perspective?
RLH: That's a difficult question for me to answer because I can really only speak for myself. It isn't any easier or harder for me. But again, I look to Jesus as my example, and I enjoy great freedom in Him. Historically, Christian women played a large role in the suffrage movement, and I have much to be thankful for because of their sacrifices. I can vote. I can own property. I can protect my children. These are issues of equality that matter. Too much of what we hear today isn't about equality. It's about being better than, being number one, being selfish and self-centered. Jesus called His followers --- men and women --- to serve, not to master.
FR: Do you plan to write more historical novels in this vein? I noted on your Web site that you're working on a book about women on an airbase during WWII.
RLH: I don't "plan" to write any particular type of novel. I wait for the story to come to me. When one takes hold of my heart and imagination, that's the one I write. I'm sure there are historical novels in my future as well as contemporary ones. I just don't know yet what they will be.
FR: I asked about your historical research --- but what about being true to spirituality, historically? How do you work to accomplish this?
RLH: The most important "research" I do is to read my Bible every day. I try to read through the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) one time in odd number years. In even number years, I try to read through the New Testament four times. I do Bible studies as well. I want to filter everything I read and hear and see through God's perspective, and I can't do that if I don't know His word. The Word of God does not change, so if I know what He is saying to believers today, I will also know what He was saying to believers a century ago.
FR: One review I spotted called your ending with a newspaper clipping "abrupt" --- but the clipping, with its surprising "news," seems to me to be something you did consciously. Did your characters surprise you in the directions they took?
RLH: Hmm. I didn't find the ending abrupt, and yes, it was a conscious decision. It seemed quite natural to end with another clipping --- one that revealed what had happened to the characters in the ensuing years --- since the book began with one and more were interspersed throughout. My characters often surprise me since I write "by the seat of my pants." By that I mean I rarely know where a story will take me when I begin. For me, writing a novel is about discovering a story the same way the reader will discover it later. I don't know the middle or the ending when I begin. It unfolds as I go and as the characters whisper their secrets to me.
FR: What one message would you, as a Christian author, want your readers to take from Katie's story?
RLH: "And further, you will submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." (Ephesians 5:21) Marriage isn't about one-upmanship. It isn't about who's in charge. It's about loving your spouse. When we act and react out of love instead of selfishness, we honor Christ.
FR: Can you imagine writing about Katie again? Even if that's something you would never do/never be interested in doing, what do you think Katie's life would look like, say, 40 years later?
RLH: I doubt I will write about Katie again because her story seems complete to me. What would her life look like 40 years later? I think she would be a grandmother and possibly great-grandmother who has passed along a strong Christian belief to her children and grandchildren. I believe she would have shown them by example not to be afraid of life but to grasp hold of whatever God calls them to do and to go wherever He calls them to serve. I think she would have left a legacy of love to be passed down to many generations.
FR: On your Web site you mention some of your favorite writers --- tell us about those, others, favorite secular writers/novels.
RLH: I have many favorite authors, and it's hard to mention a few and not all. But one I never hesitate to mention is Francine Rivers because both she and her books have had an enormous impact on me and my own career. It was Francine's novel REDEEMING LOVE that first showed me the power fiction could have. When I read it back in 1991, I remember wishing I could write something that powerful. That was the starting point of God's call on my heart to write novels that reveal His love, mercy and grace.
FR: Is there anything you would not write about, even if you felt it would somehow further a story's message about God's love? You once told an interviewer "It's easy, as a writer, to throw in a curse word to reveal emotion, harder to find another way of conveying the sentiments of the character." That's so wise. But are there some things that can't be conveyed any other way?
RLH: I haven't run across anything yet. My first novel for the Christian market, THE FORGIVING HOUR, is about adultery and its aftermath. The reader sees the affair as it begins, and they know good and well what is happening between this man and this woman. Yet I never actually "show" them in the act of adultery. In truth, the Bible is much more graphic about many things than I can be in my novels, and that's okay with me.
FR: What advice do you have for other writers who are wondering about exploring their Christian beliefs in their work --- i.e., discovering their vocation?
RLH: Know the Word of God. Immerse yourself in it. Pray without ceasing. Ask God to give you the stories He wants you to tell, then listen for His answers.
FR: You have, for many years, been squarely in the camp of romance writers --- now, inspirational fiction writers. Are there other books you would like to write that would take you outside of that genre?
RLH: I don't envision myself as ever writing another book without a strong Christian theme, but God alone knows what my future actually holds. Most of my novels still have romantic storylines included because I'm a romantic at heart. The beauty of writing Christian fiction is that I've had freedom to explore many different kinds of stories, especially ones that tackle difficult issues of today's world and show God's answers for those issues. Whatever God has taught me or is teaching me comes out in the novels I write.
FR: You preface your On-Line Diary by saying, "I'm a writer by profession, but writing does not define me." In your own words, what does define you?
RLH: My relationship with Jesus, my Lord and King.
FR: What are you working on now, and when can readers expect to see it?
RLH: I'm nearly finished writing THE VICTORY CLUB, my novel about four women during WWII. It will be published in early 2005. I have two other books that will be released before then: LEGACY LANE (Revell, April 2004), a mother/daughter reconciliation story, and BEYOND THE SHADOWS (Tyndale House, June 2004), a story of hope for a marriage caught in a hopeless situation.
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