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Interview with Michelle De Bruin

Author Michelle De Bruin’s new book, Promise for Tomorrow, will be released November 19. The book is the second in a series set in the early 1900s. Like other authors of historic fiction, Michelle spends time to research the contemporaneous details of life that add richness and authenticities to her stories.

What inspired you to set your books, Hope for Tomorrow and Promise for Tomorrow, on a farm in 1910?
The heroine of the story, Karen Millerson…is based on my grandmother, Elizabeth Van Zante.

The hero of the story also has significance. He embodies my Dutch heritage and portrays the values my family and my Dutch community hold of living out our faith in the world while doing the work of our vocation. I saw this play out in my childhood as my dad, grandfather, and uncles were both farmers and church leaders. They cared for the land and lived out their faith.

My books were created in part as a tribute to my family and that community. My great-grandparents were married in 1910 and then traveled by train to their new farm and to start their life together.

Both sides of my extended family live in the farming community of Pella, Iowa. I grew up a mile away from her grandparents’ farm. My husband is the service manager at the local John Deere store. Pella is surrounded by wide-open spaces and restored prairie lands with native flowers and grasses. A nearby wildlife refuge is home to a wild buffalo herd.

Pella, Iowa was settled by a band of people who left the Netherlands in 1847 for religious freedom. They immigrated to the U.S. and established Dutch Reformed Churches. The hero in the series, Logan, also has a Dutch background and even lapses into the Dutch language when he is flustered. Like the men in my own family, Logan learns to juggle the occupation of farming with his love of preaching the gospel.

Your heroine, Karen, is a schoolteacher from Chicago who moves to the farm with a beautiful wardrobe. She holds a fashion show for the women in the rural community to raise money for the church. What kind of research was required to add authenticity to the scene?
I created a Pinterest board of 1910 Clothing and Fashion. It helps me to have actual images. I looked up Edwardian clothing like the type that was worn in Downton Abbey. Once I got to know the names and actual articles of clothing, I could be more specific. How long were the traveling skirts? How long were the coats?

How did you develop the one-room schoolhouse that was an essential part of Karen’s story?
There are country schools preserved in the area around where I live, and documentation on them is at the local library. My biggest question was if one-room schools had basements. I learned that they did not until the 1920s and into the 30s. This added to the drama in the first book of Karen as the teacher left alone with a building full of children in a windstorm. Where did they go? I asked my father-in-law about it since he attended country school. He said the kids knelt under their desks if the weather was bad.

How did you collect other research materials to round out your story?
I bought second-hand books online. I gave myself a a budget of ten dollars or less per book. When we go on vacation, we stop at historical sites or living history museums. I look through the gift shops. I once found an old diary of women who lived on the plains in South Dakota. I also discovered a book about how to operate a cook stove. When visiting a lighthouse, I found a diary of women who were lighthouse keepers.

Why do you think modern day readers enjoy Christian historical romances?
Because of the nostalgia, and because traditional values were unquestioned during the eras in which historical romances are set.

I was hungry reading your book because of all the fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, apple pie, and pumpkin pie. Were farm women expected to raise and preserve their own food?
They weren’t necessarily expected to, but it was the most economical route to go.

Will we see more of Karen’s side of the family in book two?
Karen’s stylish and well-to-do mother and sister travel from their upper-class home in Chicago to pay a visit to the farm in Silver Grove. While they are in Silver Grove, the women participate in a style show with Logan as the emcee in order to raise funds for a building project Logan is involved in.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
Without a doubt, working with Liz Tolsma. She did freelance editing of my manuscript for Hope for Tomorrow before I started looking for an agent or publisher. I learned so much from Liz. She helped me with so much more than just the technicalities of editing. I learned about character development and weaving spiritual themes into the plot from her. Spending time working with a credible editor is well worth the extra work that goes into a manuscript to prepare it for a publisher to see it.

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
I want people to see God accurately as the loving heavenly Father who is compassionate, Redeeming, and Sovereign.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
I’ve had to do some serious re-prioritization. I’d been working 30 hours per week giving ten hours to a church leading worship with 20 hours going to my spiritual services position. I had to resign from the worship leading to free up another day in my week to give to writing.

What is your writing routine? Any quirky habits or must-have snacks?
I write with a pencil and paper. Old fashioned, I know. I get 5.5 x 8.5", three-hole punched paper and put it in a loose leafed binder. I then type up a chapter at a time on the computer and add it to my ongoing manuscript.

I take the time to research everything I need for a story first and then outline the entire story. Then I outline a scene one at a time and write it out until I’ve got the entire manuscript. Usually one draft will suffice. I try to get it right the first time.

As far as snacks—chocolate! There is a family-owned chocolate store in Pella called Van Veen Chocolates. I keep a stash of their candy on hand while in the process of getting a manuscript completed. For some reason, the lovely mix of caramel and chocolate, or mint filling and chocolate makes me so much more creative!

What is the funniest thing that has happened to you as an author?
Oh, my. The designer at the publishing company sent me two possible proofs for the cover of the second book. One of the proofs had a young man on it that looked exactly like the neighbor boy I went to high school with. Dead ringer. No way was I putting his mug on the cover of my book! I went with the other proof instead. The publisher doesn’t know the difference, thank goodness.

Any event concerning your writing life for which you are particularly proud?
Discovering who my fans are has been humbling and brings me joy. I didn’t expect to have such a following among the people I live with. I have a lot of community support for my writing. I appreciate it.

I will have my book release party after Thanksgiving at the library here in Pella. They will publicize it as a community library event. It helps them draw in their patrons, so we are helping each other. I like that my promotion can also be a community service.

Any regrets?
I wish I would have figured out the marketing sooner. It has taken me awhile to get my bearings and find readers.

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?
I would like to meet Janette Oke sometime. I discovered her books when I was in high school and didn’t realize that as I was learning from her faith, I was also learning from her writing. I wrote her a letter many years ago and she replied. I still have that letter.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
Spending time with my family, playing piano, and gardening.

What books are on your nightstand right now?
Hearing God by Dallas Willard
The Magnificent Journey by James Bryan Smith
Invitation to Retreat by Ruth Haley Barton (I have a membership to InterVarsity’s book club)
Daily Light by Anne Graham Lotz
The Book of Common Prayer

Any sage advice for new or aspiring ACFW authors? How did you make writing friends?
Be a friend—writing is relational. Invest in people. The friendships come first. Sales and interest in your work will follow. That’s been true in my experience in leadership doing ministry, and I’m finding that it is also true in the writing world. Love. Give. Serve. You’ll never go wrong by doing that.

Spend time in ACFW’s critique groups and monthly online classes. I met a lot of people that way and continue to cross paths with them. The classes are structured for discussions. If you're in the class as a new writer, do your homework. Ask questions and submit back in. Other people hear your name and hear your voice, and you learn from each other. Take initiative.

Finally, professionalism will win the day for a rookie. Professionalism will always serve you well. Be gracious, kind and patient.


Teresa Haugh lives with her husband in sunny Prescott, Arizona. When she is not writing, she enjoys music, hiking, reading, and visiting the gym (with audiobooks, of course). She loves meeting and talking with other authors about their writing journeys.

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