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Interview with Rita Gerlach

"Romantic historical fiction that has an inspirational bent, is one way people can escape the cares of life and be transported back to a time of raw courage and ideal love," Rita Gerlach says. "The goal of my writing is to give readers a respite, and inspire them to live fully and gratefully."

In many of her stories, Rita writes about the struggles endured by early colonists, with a sprinkling of both American and English history. Currently she is writing a new historical series for Abingdon Press entitled Daughters of the Potomac.

Congratulations on some awesome reviews of Before the Scarlet Dawn, including a USA Today review! Tell us, what prompted you to write historical fiction?

When I was little, my parents had an old family Bible that was filled with beautiful art. I would sit and look at those paintings for hours and felt drawn back in time. In my early twenties, I found a box of old family photographs going back around the Civil War. Again I felt drawn to the past. I wanted to know whom each person was, and wondered what their lives had been like. What hardships and adventures had they face? What romances had they had? My father knew some of the names, but that was all.

With those photos I found another box. This time they were old books. I have two my father gave me on my bookshelf. Kidnapped and a history of the Civil War. I began reading historical fiction and fell in love with it. Jane Eyre was the first gothic romance I read. Historical fiction takes us back to a time and place where my ancestors walked.

I did not begin writing seriously until the 90s, and when I fell in love with the process I then decided this was what I wanted to do with my life. I felt God’s call, and so I kept at it regardless of rejections.

Good job persevering! How do you research for your novels?
It is difficult to say exactly how much time I put into the research. But it was quite a bit in regards to the history of the area during the Revolutionary War period. Much of it I was able to do online. But the best part was the day trips out to the Potomac and Israel Creek. There is nothing like seeing the places where your story is located. As far as the Hope Valley in England, this took several hours of reading and viewing photographs of this part of England.

What does a usual writing day for you consist of?
After a cup of eye-opening coffee, I’m ready to delve into my novel in progress by mid-morning. I write throughout the day until around five in time to start dinner. I do take breaks. A writer has to get up and move. My husband retired last year, so he’s a huge help and is learning to cook. He often steps in and says to me, “I’ll do it. You have books to write.” He’s so sweet.

Wow, he is sweet! Who/What spurs you to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?
The love of stories has been with me since I was a little girl. I loved books before I could read. Writing is a passion to tell a story and it comes from deep down. I can’t help but want to write, even though writing is hard work.

As far as my stories and character ideas, most of the time they begin with a time period and a setting. Then the heroine and hero spring up in my imagination. It’s a little like daydreaming.

I keep a notebook for each book, and I start out by writing character profiles. I write down their appearance, what their clothes are like, what profession, if any, they may have, their talents, their likes and dislikes. As I am writing a novel, I flesh out characters through dialogue. What a person says has a lot to do with who they are.

Can you share with us how you plot?
When I begin a novel, I buy a large spiral notebook, write the title in thick magic marker on the front, and then write a synopsis so I know where to start and how to end the story. I then write about the main characters and the setting. This gets me focused and attached to the story. But even though I have a guide to where I am going, how, when, and why, I am a seat of the pants storyteller.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
The most significant thing in my journey to publication was learning to be patient and persistent. I had to get to the place where I trusted God implicitly with my work that whatever happened it was in His plan.

I wrote about my journey and the miracle it was the day I contacted Barbara Scott, then acquisitions editor at Abingdon Press. For writers that are struggling and feel discouraged, please read Perseverance, Patience, and Humility.

Tell us about your next release, Beside Two Rivers.
Beside Two Rivers is a continuation of book 1. This is important for readers to know that have read Before the Scarlet Dawn. Eliza and Hayward’s story does not end there.

In Beside Two Rivers, Eliza's daughter Darcy seeks to unravel a lifetime of memories and understand the absence of her parents, unaware that the young Englishman who loves her holds the answers. Her search takes her far from her beloved home along the Potomac, to a manor house in faraway England where she finally meets her estranged grandmother—Hayward Morgan’s mother, as well as others that played a role in her parents’ lives.

I have to throw in a little about book 3, Beyond the Valley. In book 1, readers are introduced to an indentured servant named Sarah Carr. Beyond the Valley is Sarah’s story. Kidnapped from her homeland to an unpredictable wilderness, into a life rife with heartache and hardship, she stands in the crossroads between love and duty. This could be a stand-alone novel, but it is an interesting read to see how Sarah saw things, how she watched Eliza go through the trials she faced, and how it changed her life.

All the books sound intriguing! Thank you for spending time with us today, any parting words?
I hope readers will enjoy this series, and find a little respite in them from our crazy world. I would like them to know that the series is more like a trilogy, and not sweet romances. They have a literary bent, more historical drama than anything, and have been called by book reviews ‘immensely emotional, fast-paced, and riveting stories that touch the heart.

While writing Before the Scarlet Dawn, I realized forgiving and being forgiven can change lives for the better, and how much harm can come out of a heart that refuses to forgive. There are so many people walking around today with that weight on their shoulders. Perhaps someone reading this interview has this burden. My prayer for them is that they cast it upon Him that is able to carry it.

Rita, thanks for sharing with us!
Thank you! I am so blessed to be apart of ACFW, and appreciate the opportunity to be reviewed.

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