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Interview with Catherine Ulrich Brakefield

I met Catherine Ulrich Brakefield two years ago when we talked about her new release, Swept into Destiny. It was first book in a four-part saga of an Irish immigrant family and the hardships they faced in pre-Civil War America. With the recent release of book four, Waltz into Destiny, the story comes full circle. A new generation of the McConnell family is at war—fighting America’s enemies at home and abroad as Hitler races across Europe in WWII. Will the family perish, or find the true meaning of love, honor, faith, and sacrifice? Wanting to find out kept me up late at night, flipping the pages until I reached the end of the story.

Here are a few excerpts of our recent conversation about the fourth and final installment of the Destiny saga.

What inspired you to create a timeline of the McConnell family that spans an 80-year time frame?
Funny you should ask that. While gathering information for this latest book, Waltz with Destiny, I went with my dad and the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division on a sightseeing excursion to Gettysburg. There I came across a Celtic Cross dedicated to the Irish Brigade. I thought it honored Ireland’s soldiers who came here to fight for the Union, but I learned it was a dedication to Irish immigrant soldiers. I realized that to do justice to Waltz with Destiny, I needed to start the saga at the Civil War. I am so glad I did.

Matthew 7:17, 18 says, “Even so, every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” (KJV) That truth of that scripture is woven throughout the saga of the McConnell family.

How did the faith of your character Ruby influence her two children, Esther, and William? Is she one of the characters that you carried over from the previous books in the series?
Yes. Ruby is one of the key characters in the four-book saga. Ruby is inspired by my grandmother. She had a sharp wit, amazing memory for detail, and extraordinary faith. Ruby, like my grandmother, held no regret that she was not wealthy in earthly possessions because she was rich in the wisdom of Christ’s love.

You really captured the mood of America in the 1940s, as well as the hardships of day-to-day life. How much research did you do?
I love history, so reading volumes of period books is not a chore, it’s an adventure. When I speak at conferences, I tell the audience that I have “taken out the mundane facts to weave the true thrill of history around an inspiring, sweet love story for your reading pleasure!”

Waltz with Destiny is a work of fiction; however, it is inspired by many of the exploits of my dad and mom. Dad wrote down many incidents of his youth living through the Great Depression which you will find in book 3, Destiny of Heart. My mom and dad were my driving force in getting the right slant on the period.

Your author’s note about your father’s service in Italy during WWII was compelling. Did you weave some of your own family history into Waltz with Destiny?
Dad had clipped out newspaper and magazine articles that I used to create the backdrop of the story. On his death, I learned that he had carried in his wallet many of the prayers he had read during the war, like the soldier’s prayer that I quote in the book. He had kept them for over 60 years.

I can confidently say that the generations prior to mine had strong, determined, and working relationships with Christ. If my grandmother’s generation were still alive today, what is happening in America right now would not be happening.

I was so encouraged by the strong women in your story. They kept the home fires burning, built planes, and nursed the injured on the battlefield. Did you base them any on real-life models?
Yes, I did. I was fortunate to hear first-hand stories about the sacrifices everyone willingly made. Sometimes these women selflessly worked ten-hour shifts in the factories, then went home feeling exhausted and mentally drained. But they got dressed up to go to the USO to dance and flirt with the soldiers. They’d build up the men’s morale before they shipped out to active duty.

I’ve never heard that mules brought supplies to soldiers in the field. I loved the picture in my mind of Eric chasing one down for food and water. How did you learn about them?
This information I found in interviewing my dad and also in his notes. Of course, after my dad’s death, I also found anecdotes in Dogfaces Who Smiled Through Tears by Homer R. Ankrum and The 34th Infantry Division which was compiled by its members.

A big part of your story dealt with romantic relationships during war and separation. What led you to explore the Christian faith of your two couples, Eric & Esther, and William & Dot?
I based their stories on conversations with my mother. She said her faith meant everything in getting her through those terrible years. People flooded into churches, lit candles, and prayed throughout the night. My grandmother said that many saved their ration cards so their sons, husbands, or sweethearts would have enough to eat.

During the war, my mother sent my dad happy pictures of her standing in front of a Christmas tree. Dad sent back funny pictures of his decorated “Easter” helmet. They were determined to the end not to give in to fear.

In your story, you wrote of Christian young men who would be called on to kill their enemies. Did you research the effects PTSD or the psychology of soldiers in war?
Yes, I did. I have a suspense novel which I have been working on which has a character in it that is plagued by PTSD. However, back in the 1940s, little was known about PTSD. It was usually termed “shell shock.”

I also watched Billy Graham’s movie, “Unbroken,” which was based on the book by Lauren Hillenbrand. It tells of the life and tribulations of Louis Zamperini, a downed airman who was captured in WWII.

My dad taught me that there were three ways soldiers deal with conflict: alcoholism, crying in a psychiatrist’s office, or trusting in Jesus. He always said there are no atheists in fox holes.

In the 1940s, many WWII soldiers had a strong faith, solid family ties, and were backed by a nation praying for their safe return.

Horses had a place of importance in your story. Do you like horses?
My parents practically got married on the back of a horse. Jack and Jill Dude ranch was one of their favorite vacation spots. When I grew up, we had a horse named Black Magic. I still have horses and so do my children. Presently we have four Arabians that act more like dogs than horses. They come when I call them and obey me better than my husband.

What message do you hope readers take away from this book?
That the “Greatest Generation” didn’t just happen. It took generations of staunch believing, Christian principles and obedience that gave my dad’s generation the stamina they needed to beat their enemy.

Is it best that the four books in the Destiny series be read in order?
They are all stand-alone books, but readers will glean more if the books are read in order.

Now that your series is finished, what’s next for you?
I have a publisher interested in my speculative Amish love story. I am rushing to finish that.

What has your writing journey looked like?
I’ve written short stories for Revell, Guidepost, and Bethany House. My first book contract was for Wilted Dandelions. I love working with my wonderful agent, Cyle Young of Hartline, and now after finishing my four-book contract for the Destiny series with CrossRiver Media Group, I am eagerly looking forward to seeing what God has planned for me.

What is your writing routine?
I get up a 6:00 a.m., grab some coffee, feed dogs, cats, horses, and chickens, and then I write. I stop for a quick lunch and write until 4:00. However, sometimes I am babysitting my granddaughters a couple times a week.

What is the funniest thing that has happened to you as an author?
Would you believe I forgot my books for a book signing? To this day I always double-check to make sure they are packed before driving down my driveway.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
I love swimming, horseback riding, sightseeing, and spending time with my family, which are the most important times of my life.

What books are on your nightstand right now?
I’m rereading for a potential pick for my Bible study; Unshakable Faith, Living Strong, the Kingdom of God by Debra L. Butterfield.

I am also reading “The Decision Magazine.” The upcoming election has me praying in advance for our nation. Franklin Graham has knowledgeable editorials about key issues Christians need to know.

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
On my business card I have “Writing America’s story one truth at a time.” This is my biggest concern. Much of the truth about America’s Biblical roots have been left out of modern-day history books.

Any event concerning your writing life for which you are particularly proud?
I pinch myself ever so often. This July, Swept into Destiny was picked for the ACFW book club and readers seem to love it. Also, I had the honor of being interviewed for The Southern Writers Magazine.

Any regrets?
Leaving my characters in the Destiny saga. It is hard to say good-bye.

If you could have coffee with an author, dead or alive, whose work you admire, who would that be? What would you ask him or her?
Corrie Ten Boom. I would ask about her life in Holland and her ordeals in the Nazi concentration camp. I often thought about what she wrote in The Hiding Place and the scriptures that kept her alive. I compared them with my dad’s memos, pocket Bible, and written prayers. I wished I could have interviewed her. Did she ever feel alone? Did she feel God’s guidance and direction throughout? Once she wrote, “A mouse in a cookie jar doesn’t make him a cookie….” I’m sure I would feel the goosebumps, the dread, and the adrenaline rush as she talked about her experiences.

Any sage advice for new or aspiring ACFW authors?
Read your Bible. Write what the Lord speaks for you to write, then write, write, write as if your life depends on it. We can all rest when we get to our true home.


Teresa Haugh, a graduate of the University of Montevallo, is a recently retired public affairs specialist with the U.S. Forest Service. She and her husband enjoy life in Alaska, the Last Frontier. She takes pleasure in talking with other authors about their writing journeys, and is completing her first full-length novel.

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