Leslie Lynch writes “novels of suspense and healing.” She is the author of The Appalachian Foothills Series (Hijacked, Unholy Bonds, Opal’s Jubilee, and Christmas Hope.) Not only is she a writer, but she is a pilot and a nurse, possessing enough technical knowledge to make this writer jealous.
I’m fascinated by Appalachia. Maybe it’s my hometown’s proximity to West Virginia. Maybe it’s my affection for the people of the Virginia mountains who were ejected to establish Shenandoah National Park. In any case, I was intrigued by Opal’s visit to her Appalachian home in Opal’s Jubilee. Can you tell me a little about the Foothills region and why you chose it as a setting for the series? What is Appalachia like today?
Hi, Carolyn! First, I’d like to thank you for inviting me to your blog today. It’s an honor to visit with you and your readers!
My books (so far!) are set in Louisville, Kentucky, which is about a hundred miles from the foothills of the Appalachian range. A remote valley in that wilderness plays a large part in Hijacked, book 1 in the series; Opal McBride of Opal’s Jubilee (book 3), burst into my consciousness fully formed and from a small fictional town in western Kentucky on the edge of Appalachia. Mountain mists and hidden hollows spark my curiosity, and there’s a mystique about the folk art and culture that beguiles.
I am no expert on the region, and rely on my visits to Berea, Kentucky, home of Berea College, to create authentic characters. The college specifically serves students from impoverished circumstances in Appalachia while honoring and promoting the varied art forms unique to the area. My conversations with students, while brief, reveal lively, intelligent, pragmatic and quirky personalities—in other words, great fun to incorporate into my characters! In addition, I’ve listened to young people after mission trips to Appalachia as they describe poverty very much like the Indian reservations I’ve witnessed out West. So, while not an expert on the region, my interpretation of the setting is an amalgam of what I’ve experienced and what I imagine. Like any area, some towns are more developed and others less so. Changes in society and technology can both strengthen connections to the wider world and create deeper isolation. That aspect is evident in both Hijacked and Opal’s Jubilee.
The Appalachian Foothills Series, particularly Unholy Bonds, deals with restorative justice. My knowledge of it is limited to my superficial familiarity with Prison Fellowship. Can you give a thumbnail sketch of the concept and how you came to incorporate it into your work?
In my mind, Restorative Justice is a secular, practical application of the Biblical concept of forgiveness. It is used with great success in both criminal justice and school systems in a number of states and countries. Criminal justice (by itself) is concerned with what happened, who did it, and what punishment should be levied. Restorative Justice focuses on who has been harmed (which is both victim and perpetrator), how have lives been impacted, and how can healing occur. Standard criminal justice is about the responsibility and power of the state to maintain order in society; restorative justice is about restoring dignity. Perhaps the most difficult aspect is recognizing that the perpetrator of evil has harmed his or her own dignity in the commission of the crime. It’s easy to see the harm to the victim and others involved; the perpetrator, not so easy—but that awareness is crucial to our collective ability to see all people, no matter how flawed, as children of God.
My interest was initially piqued years ago. I was deeply moved by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa after apartheid fell. It amazed me that such deep societal and personal wounds could be addressed without violence. Then I heard an interview on NPR that featured several people who had suffered heinous crimes against them but chose to use the process of Restorative Justice instead of nurturing bitterness. I ran across several more instances of the practice and was so impressed, I decided to write Hijacked from that perspective. Unholy Bonds delves into the damage to the three protagonists’ lives as a result of a crime committed by one of them and their subsequent return to dignity as human persons through Restorative Justice.
The series is marked by some serious issues – rape, alcoholism, spousal abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, unplanned pregnancy – yet your characters are strong and resilient, and the stories resist the trap of becoming maudlin. Do you struggle to balance the heavy aspects with the romance or are they natural complements?
Thank you for your kind words about my work! Strong and resilient characters are important. I want readers to recognize that quality in themselves, especially if they identify with any of the subjects addressed. I think difficult issues and romance are natural complements; nobody makes it through life unscathed, and the story is that much sweeter when a couple finds love in the midst of trials. I would be lying if I said there was no struggle in finding the balance, though. I usually sense when things are getting too heavy or maudlin—and if I miss it, my critique partners don’t hesitate to tell me!
For me, the most romantic scene in Opal’s Jubilee was when the hero, Josh Boone, pulled the car over and vomited on the side of the road. To someone that hasn’t read the book, that must sound crazy, but it showed the depth of his compassion and his concern for Opal and it, and the preceding scenes, served as a sort of turning point in his attitude toward her. Did you construe that scene as romantic when you wrote it?
That’s an interesting interpretation, Carolyn! That’s what’s so cool about writing; my words are not complete until the reader experiences and responds to them. No, I didn’t envision that scene as romantic, but it was indeed the pivotal scene for Josh in terms of finally truly understanding Opal and the injustice(s) visited upon her.
The faith element is handled very deftly in your novels. It’s subtle but not shallow, and in your heroes in particular, it’s simply part of who they are. How do you straddle the line between popular and inspirational romance? Or am I creating a line that doesn’t exist, particularly as an independent author?
Again, thank you for your kind words. There is a definite line between popular and inspirational romance, so you are not creating a line that doesn’t exist. As an independent author, I have more latitude to write the faith element in a way that makes sense to me, and I really appreciate that. For instance, my Christian characters might utter a cuss word here or there; or not be Amish; or act contrary to their beliefs, creating situations that they then must face and rectify. For me, it comes down to good writing and characters who are true to whatever belief system they hold dear. Authenticity is key.
What’s next? What are you working on now?
I’m about halfway through a full length novel about Josh Boone’s partner, Christian Hasselback, and a peace activist, Hannah Adams. I’m having a lot of fun with it in spite of the (again) profound issues they confront during their story. I hope to have another Christmas novella out in October, titled Christmas Grace. It follows three generations of women as they negotiate their way through life transitions as the holiday nears—and discover what matters most. Don’t hold me to all that, but that’s my plan!
Also, in “fresh off the press” status, an audio version of Hijacked is available on Audible, iTunes, and Amazon. That’s been an exciting project, and I am delighted with the outstanding work my very talented voice actor, Carol Dines, has done. The other books will come out in audio as well over the coming months, so if you are a fan of audiobooks, keep an eye out for them.
Thank you, again, Carolyn, for the opportunity to chat with your readers! It’s a pleasure and an honor to spend time with you today!
Award winning and Best Selling author Leslie Lynch gives voice to characters who struggle to find healing for their brokenness—and discover unconventional solutions to life’s unexpected twists. Leslie lives near Louisville, Kentucky, with her husband and her adult children’s cats. While not engaged in wrestling the beautiful and prolific greenery of their yard into submission, she flies light aircraft, loves the exuberant creativity and color of quilting and pottery…and, of course, writes.