I’m welcoming another visitor to my blog today: Stephenia McGee. 🙂 Stephenia is joining me today to talk about her latest release, In His Eyes, but more about that in a moment, because I know you’re going to love what Stephenia is sharing with us all today:
That’s right! Red Velvet cake and a frothy coffee of your choice. (For the record, Stephenia is having a vanilla latté.) So settle in and enjoy while I introduce you to Stephenia and In His Eyes.
~ About the Author ~
Stephenia H. McGee is a wife, mother of two very active little boys, author, and lover of all things historical. Stephenia currently lives in Mississippi with her husband and sons where she writes stories of faith, redemption and life steeped in Southern culture.
~ About the Book ~
Ella Whitaker rescues a newborn from the dying arms of a woman of ill repute and at long last she has someone to love. In need of a wet nurse, she arrives at Belmont Plantation just as Federal soldiers demand to speak to the owner. Thinking quickly, Ella masquerades as a Yankee officer’s widow in order to have a roof over her head and a home for the child.
Major Westley Remington has dedicated his life to serving his country. The Civil War has divided his family, torn his thoughts of glory, and left him with a wound that may never heal. Westley returns home on medical furlough to settle his father’s estate at Belmont Plantation, only to find his home is being run by a fiery and independent woman—one many believe to be his wife. Now he is faced with a conflict he’s never been trained to fight, and one she has yet to conquer.
~ Interview ~
KATIE: Welcome to my blog, Stephenia. 🙂 To begin with, let’s take a little ‘flight of fancy’. Finish these sentences for me:
If I could visit any place in the world, I would visit…
STEPHENIA: Italy again. I’ve been to see Rome, Pisa, and Venice, but I really want to go back and see Florence. My dream is to get to stay in a little villa somewhere and take cooking lessons from an Italian chef.
Oh, I’d love to go to Italy! Especially after reading Katherine Reay’s A Portrait of Emily Price.
If I could assign one household task to the fairies forever, it would be…
Bathrooms. If those little scrubbing bubble dudes were real and could sweep in and polish the bathroom for me like they do on the commercials, I’d be ecstatic.
Yes! They make it look so easy, don’t they? False advertising, right there!
If I was a musical instrument, I would be a…
Violin. The sound is beautiful and sophisticated (not that I’m all that sophisticated, but hey, it’s my flight of fancy…ha ha!)
Lol! 😅 I love the violin!
When I was a child, I wanted to be a…
Veterinarian. I actually graduated college with a degree in Animal and Dairy Sciences.
Well, there you go! I love it when this answer surprises me!
My ideal place to read would be…
In a hammock in a shady green field (that has no bugs!) where there is a gentle breeze, birds singing, and it’s a beautiful spring day.
Oh, that sounds so peaceful and relaxing. 😌
Now, down to business. You live in Mississippi, and your books are set in Mississippi. What makes Mississippi special to you?
I was born here, and returned when I married my husband nearly 14 years ago. Even though my mother was in the military and we moved around a lot, I always came “home” in the summers to stay with my grandmother, who taught me how to grow a garden, can vegetables, sew, and cook. Mississippi has always represented those things to me. It’s a place with a rich (although at times troubled) history and the people here are generous, hospitable, and friendly. Mississippi has a lot of quirks, but I love it. One of my favorite quotes is from Mississippi’s own William Faulkner who said, “To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.”
How lovely that you had a permanent place that was ‘home’ to you in all that moving. I’d love to visit there one day.
Your books are all set around the time of the Civil War. What is it about this period of time that appeals to you as a writer?
This was a tumultuous time period in our country’s history, and one that has affected people ever since. Many parts of Mississippi never really recovered after the war, and to this day people carry deep-seated opinions about what happened and why it happened. Not only do I love the fashion and the genteel Southern mannerisms of the era, but it is a time period that gives me the opportunity to explore issues that God has put on my heart. You’ll find that in many of my stories, I seek to heal a divide between the races and shine a light on some of the more misunderstood aspects of life during that time. That’s not to say that I get everything right, but I believe a lot of those issues from back then still carry over to people today.
It certainly was a tumultuous time, and I think you’re right about the issues carrying over to people today. Our circumstances and settings may vary, but human nature stays the same, and I think war has a tendency to bring out the best and worst in us.
This novel is set at Belmont Plantation, which is an actual location you’ve been able to visit. What kind of details do you absorb or take note of when you visit an actual location for your novel?
This is one of my favorite parts of the process. I’ve been able to meet some wonderful people who have taught me a lot about the history of these homes. I can get a feel for what the real people that lived there during that time were like. And, when I stay, I walk around the house and see it as my character would. I immersed myself so much into Belmont that when I returned to the house for the cover shoot, I had to remind myself that the first room at the top of the stairs wasn’t actually Ella’s. (I told the cover model she would be staying in Sibby’s room, and then remembered she didn’t know which one that was!) I take note of the layout of the house, the details of the architecture, and the position the home sits in relation to the outbuildings, towns, and landmarks around it. I think all of this lends an authenticity to my books.
Lol! I love that you became that immersed in the world of your novel. That kind of authenticity really brings a novel to life.
Where did the inspiration come from for this story?
At one of the classes I attended during the ACFW conference last year the teacher handed out notebooks. And I think this is super cool—he prayed diligently over them and God led him to write a from God note in each one. He prayed over them again and then handed them out to the attendees—each with their own note from God. The way people reacted and how each note really meant something to the one who received it was amazing to watch. Mine said, “Use your stories to give others a glimpse of the not yet. This is a season where we will go into new lands and dream new dreams.”
Not too long before that, I had a dream where the colors were unreal and the place was stunning. I must have reread that note a hundred times, it so stirred me. A couple of months later as I began to pray over the next book I wanted to write, those words came back to me, as did my dream of that place of color and light. I didn’t do the things Ella does during her dreams in the book, but the place I saw in my own dream really stuck with me and inspired the story.
Wow. That is cool. I’d love to hear stories of how those notes impacted others who received them.
Tell us a little bit about the main characters, Ella Whitaker and Major Westley Remington.
Ella loses her family and decides to head north to escape some of the destruction of the war. Unfortunately, she doesn’t make it very far. She ends up taking work at an inn in order to survive. Ella struggles with insecurities, but she is a determined woman willing to give anything for those she loves. Westley dedicated his life to the military, and likes everything in its structured order. When an injury and a fiery female upends his world, he learns he has an entirely different battle to fight.
I can’t wait to meet them!
What sort of things do you do to get to know your characters?
My characters reveal themselves to me as the story progresses. My rough draft is all about watching their story unfold and learning who they are and what growths they will encounter. I start with a general sense of their personalities, but they often show me who they really are as we move through the story.
It’s a lot like it is in real life, I guess. The more time you spend with them, the better you get to know them. But then, we all know book characters are real, don’t we? 😉
Was there anything about your main characters that surprised you during the process of writing this story?
Ella turned out to have a bit more spunk than I initially thought she would. She often battles with feeling as though she is not enough, but she buries it under a thick layer of determination and strength.
Gotta love a girl with a bit of spunk!
What was the most enjoyable part of writing this story?
The dreams. This book was a journey for me. I felt God asking me to dig deep and walk through some of Ella’s discoveries with her. I share some of her insecurities, and He kept nudging me to lean on Him as I wrote. The dream chapters in particular took a lot out of me. At times it was emotionally draining, and I spent most of the time writing them with tears on my cheeks, but I know that He taught me something through it. It’s my hope that there is a reader out there somewhere that He has the same message for and that this story can help point them toward Him.
I love it when authors have that deep, personal connection to their stories. It always comes through and enriches the story. I pray that God gets this story into the hands of those who need it. ❤️
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today, Stephenia. 🙂
Thank you for having me! It’s been great!
~ Giveaway ~
Stephenia is giving away an eBook copy of In His Eyes to one lucky reader. Share which historical period you enjoy reading about the most, and then click here to enter.