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Interview with Kim Vogel Sawyer

You might assume from Kim Vogel Sawyer’s prolific career and frequent speaking engagements that she was born to write and speak on writing and the Word. You would be partially right. Kim started out as a kindergarten student with a passion for stories, but with a shy disposition. Through her faith, passion for words, and perseverance, she has now published over fifty titles and earned numerous accolades, including the ACFW Carol Award, the Inspirational Readers Choice Award, and the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence. We are so excited to chat with her today about her writing life and her newest release, Freedom's Song.

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You shared that even in kindergarten you can recall knowing people would check out your books in libraries someday. What inspired you, as a mere five-year-old, to have such a passion for writing?
I was blessed to have a mother who read to me. My mom was a voracious reader and a former elementary school teacher, and she loved reading and teaching reading. She passed that love on to me. I remember at a very early age being fascinated by words turning into pictures inside my head, and I wanted to share that excitement with others. My parents said I started telling stories when I was barely able to talk. They didn’t know if I was going to turn out to be extremely creative or a pathological liar, but they hoped for the best!

I love how on your website, you remind us that God wastes nothing. What experiences in your writing journey at the time appeared like set-backs, but you can now see for their true purpose?
Let’s take one example, centered around my novel My Heart Remembers. In 2005, three other writers and I put together a novella compilation built around four orphan-train-riding siblings who were separated as children and seeking to find each other in adulthood. The compilation was declined, which was disappointing. But I asked the others if they would mind if I tweaked the initial idea and wrote a single book on orphan-train riders. They gave their blessing.

The story went through quite a metamorphosis from the original idea, but apparently it met with approval because it was published by Bethany House. We entered it into four contests, and it took first place in all of them. The story is now being made into a major motion picture. So I guess that rejection really worked well in the end.

In your newest release, Freedom's Song, we follow the story of Fanny Beck, a river-boat singer who has been unfairly indentured to the service of her greedy owner. Was this story inspired by true events in history?
The story was inspired by a visit to the Steamboat Arabia museum several years ago with one of my writing friends. I was fascinated by the popularity and busyness of river travel, so later I researched different types of steamboats. Of course, the entertainment steamboat caught my attention. Coupling this information with previous research about indentured servants led to the creation of Captain Kirkpatrick, Fanny Beck, and the other characters. It never ceases to amaze me how a simple “Hm, look at that” observation grows into a full-length story.

Was your own experiences with singing inspiring for this novel?
Whenever I write about singers, I’m usually thinking about my oldest daughter, who is definitely the songbird in our family. Of course, singing is also a big part of my Mennonite heritage, so I enjoy plugging music into my stories.

What drew you to write about this moment in history?
Although I predominantly write historical stories, I’d never set one prior to the Civil War. Given the theme of the story—finding freedom—it seemed the perfect story to set during that time period in our nation’s history.

You brilliantly represent the various dialects of the time in this novel. How did you go about learning the various vernaculars?
Thank you for that observation. It’s a delicate balance to be realistic and yet readable! A few years ago when I was writing a story set in Georgia in the early 1890s, I made connection with a woman from the historical society in Atlanta. She helped me create realistic dialect for my characters in that story, and I relied on her advice for this story, too. I appreciate assistance from “those in the know” so much.

What message do you hope readers take away from Freedom's Song?
There’s a beautiful old hymn that begins, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness…” When our hope is in Him, our souls find freedom; when our souls find freedom, then no chains—emotional or physical—can hold us captive. I pray readers will see where our true source of freedom is found and, if they haven’t experienced it for themselves, will fall into the arms of the One who longs to set them free.

Given that you have now written over fifty books in less than 20 years, we can assume you have also learned to write quickly. How do you manage to produce such beautiful, gentle stories, across time, in very little time?
This might sound a little nutty, but I really don’t have a great deal of choice. When the characters are speaking, they’re noisy. I have to write their stories or they won’t leave me alone. I’m also blessed that writing is my full-time occupation, so I have the hours to commit to the keyboard.

You also have a theatre side to your creative giftings. What character have you loved playing on the stage or tried to reimagine in one of your stories?
The stage is such an awesome place for introverts to hang out. You can be someone other than your own bashful self. That being said, my favorite roles are always the ones that are way different from “real life Kim.” The whackiest part I’ve played is Queen Aggravain in Once Upon a Mattress; the most challenging, the 90-year-old morphine addict, Mrs. Dubose, in To Kill a Mockingbird; and the most fun, definitely Clairee in Steel Magnolias. Someday I’d love to try the part of Ouiser in Steel Magnolias. Maybe. Someday.

What books are on your nightstand right now? What stories from others do you hold close to your heart? (Besides the Bible, because I can tell from your stories that it is already a frequently used desk reference.)
I tend to read more historical than contemporary—I’ve always loved escaping into a different century. At the moment I am reading, along with my Lit & Latte (book club) ladies, You’re Gonna Love Me by Robin Lee Hatcher. A few books that have lingered with me for decades are Catherine Marshall’s Christy, Winter Birds by Jamie Langston Turner, and a biblical fiction story, Magdalene, by Angela Hunt. I look at that list now and think my reading is a bit eclectic! But that’s okay.

What is up next for you? Can you give us any teasers on your next project?
Well, I am working on the substantive edit right now for my fall of 2022 release, and it features another music-maker—this one a young composer and conductor seeking to make his mark. Think The Music Man meets Mr. Holland’s Opus in small-town Kansas at the turn of the 20th century. The story is as yet untitled, but I’m really enjoying my time with Gil, Ava, and the members of little Falke (“falcon” in German), Kansas.
As a teen, Tara Ross first discovered how hope-filled prose can change the entire trajectory of a person's life. Case in point: her life. She now has the joy of sharing this truth with youth every day - as a Speech-Language Pathologist, youth ministry worker and YA author.
Her debut novel and blog, were created to ignite sparks of faith for Generation Z. You can follow Tara on instagram (tara.k.ross) or twitter (tara_k_ross) for more book reviews, tattoo-worthy quotes, and updates on her publishing journey.

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