Writers often find the best stories lurking as close as the person sitting across from us at the dinner table. I found this to be true in both the inspiration and the research for my historical novella, Red Pen Redemption.
I wasn’t close to my father in my youth but he mellowed with age. Since he turned eighty, he’s begun sharing stories from his past and I’ve enjoyed seeing a new side to him. It’s been fascinating to observe that he’s now asking as many questions about life as I did in my college years. So many parallels between these stages of life – entering young adulthood and then entering senior adulthood. It made me wonder what would occur if something happened to make a woman in her eighties question everything she’d believed. From that question, I created Helen Bancroft and the adventure she encountered one Christmas Eve.
The true time lapse of the book is just a few hours but readers travel back through every decade of Helen’s eighty-one years and experience her fiery personality, her quirky family, and her eventful history against the backdrop of American history from the 1930’s to the present day. Helen was a journalist for most of her career so that allowed me to explore everything from the ‘38 hurricane to the assassination of JFK to Woodstock and the March on Selma. Of course, I did hours of historical research but I also asked countless questions of my parents. Their stories added a texture, depth, and detail to Helen’s life that has resonated with readers. Even my own recollections make an appearance. The pivotal event for most of us in 2001 occurred on 9/11. For this portion of the story, I was able to tap into my own vivid memories as well as those of my children who were Helen’s grandchildren’s ages when it happened.
There are also portions of the story where I drew on my relationship with my parents growing up in the sixties and seventies. Life was changing on so many levels and parents were mystified by the choices their children were making. Helen raises three children and each of them makes choices that leave her feeling set aside and sometimes entirely lost. One of the taglines of Red Pen Redemption is “Helen is not a sweet woman and this is not a sweet story.” Helen’s spitfire, overly confident personality was also a homegrown inspiration. My great-grandmother was a salty woman with a sharp tongue and strong nature. I thought she was a hoot and it was delicious to incorporate her into Helen’s character. Often, strong personalities are best appreciated from a distance and this is reflected in Helen’s relationship with her grandson as compared to that with her own children.
No story or person from my own family’s history made it into the book without undergoing transformations of details that make them unique to the characters. This was important so that the novella is truly Helen’s story and not at all mine. Still, the emotional truth of these tales remained so clear I have to imagine that’s why I’ve had readers let me know they laughed aloud and then cried, sometimes on the next page.
I’m happy I was able to recognize the treasure of living research as close as my dad’s recliner. It not only made Red Pen Redemption a better story, for me, it’s made it especially meaningful and my father is proud of his contribution. I now pay close attention at family events to everyone’s stories and jot them down for my next homegrown novel.
What if God took you up on a dare?
Helen Bancroft’s led a good life and feels no need for her daughter’s Savior. When God accepts Helen’s dare to edit her autobiography and prove her righteousness, she’s in for a lesson in her own history. One woman’s journey from unbelief to acceptance turns into the Christmas Eve adventure of a lifetime beneath the red pen of Christ’s mercy and grace.
About Lori Stanley Roeleveld
Lori Stanley Roeleveld is a disturber of hobbits who enjoys making comfortable Christians late for dinner. She’s authored an unsettling blog since 2009; a pursuit that eventually resulted in her first book, Running from a Crazy Man (and other adventures traveling with Jesus). Her next book, Jesus and the Beanstalk (Overcoming Your Giants and Living a Fruitful Life), releases September 2016. Her historical Christmas novella, Red Pen Redemption, is a quick but satisfying read if you love history and life’s big questions. If you don’t find her at her website, www.loriroeleveld.com, know she’s off somewhere slaying dragons. Lori is a retired homeschool mom with a day job who lives her adventure in Rhode Island with her husband, Rob and family full of characters.