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Are you ready to discover some good, old-fashioned Southern hospitality? While Stephenia McGee is not a new author, she has not yet visited with us on the blog. I am excited to have her here today to share about her newest novel, In His Eyes. Before we begin our visit, let’s take a quick peek at the story. (This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience. You can see my full disclosure policy here.)
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.
Welcome, Stephenia! What inspired you to write In His Eyes?
This particular book is very special to me, and it came about in an interesting way. After finishing a trilogy and putting it out in ten months (during which time I had two back surgeries) I was worn out. I took some time off from writing and spent a lot of time praying over what to write next. They way God answered that still fascinates me, and I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of sharing the story.
At one of the classes I attended during the ACFW conference last year the teacher handed out notebooks. He had prayed diligently over each of 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. 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’d 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. The more I thought about what the themes would be for my next book, the more 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.
What an encouragement to have those pieces line up like that! Why did you choose this particular setting, and have you been there?
Belmont Plantation is a real place located just out of Greenville, MS. How I came about choosing this particular house is also a cool story. I knew I needed a house in the Mississippi Delta near the river, so I started Googling historic plantations. I saw this one very old picture of Belmont, and not only was it beautiful, it stood exactly where I needed it to for the story. When I clicked on the link, I discovered the house had recently been purchased, restored, and opened as a bed and breakfast. I dug around and found the owner’s name (who happens to have been born in the small town I now live in) and sent him an email. I told him who I am and asked him if he would be interested in discussing the possibility of featuring Belmont Plantation on one of my novels. He sent back a reply later that day and—this is such a God thing—showed me a picture of one of my other books (The Whistle Walk) that he was currently reading while on a business trip! He said he would love to see Belmont on my next book.
A few weeks later, I took a trip up there and just loved the place. They showered us in Southern hospitality and even took the time to drive me all over the county so I could get a good dose of the local history. If you ever find yourself in Greenville, MS, it is definitely a place you want to check out.
How cool is that?! Seeing the plantation now is one thing, but if you could live during the time period of your novel, would you? Why or why not?
In some ways, I would love to. The antebellum era of beautiful dresses, horse-drawn carriages, and impeccable Southern manners has always called to me. But then, I remember that when it’s 98 degrees with 95% humidity down here in Mississippi and we are nearly drinking our air it’s so thick with humidity, I’m glad I get to wear shorts and not eight layers and a crinoline cage!
And air conditioning… I drove through Mississippi in March, and the humidity even then was amazing. I can’t imagine in the heat of summer! Do you have a favorite or “life” verse? Why is that one important to you?
John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (NIV) This verse reminds me that I have to stay connected to Him daily. When I do, life is fruitful, and when I don’t I feel empty. It is also the verse I used for my publishing company, By The Vine Press, because it reminds me that in all my projects, if it’s not “by the vine” then it’s disconnected from the very One that makes all things possible.
That’s a great reminder for each of us. Our efforts in our own strength really do get us nowhere. Can you share about something you feel the Lord has been teaching you recently?
This book was really a journey for me. God used the story to help me grow in some of the same ways that Ella grows throughout the book. Sometimes I could hardly see the screen because I had tears running down my cheeks as I typed. 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. 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 how God works even through fiction to speak truth to our hearts! Can you give any hints about what you’re working on now?
I’m just starting to poke around in my research for the next book. My readers have been asking me for a while about writing another Ironwood novel, so I’m taking them up on it. This one will take place sometime in the 1880s and will feature the daughters of the main characters (Lydia and Ruth) from The Whistle Walk.
Very fun! Thanks for taking the time to visit today, Stephenia, and to share In His Eyes with us. 🙂
Your turn! What’s your favorite Bible verse? (Right now mine is Colossians 2:2: “My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,” NIV)
Author of six historical novels, Stephenia H. McGee writes stories of faith, love, and life in the Deep South. She has a fascination with hoop skirts and ball gowns, Greek revival homes and horse-drawn carriages, quirky Southern sayings, and home-grown recipes. She currently lives in Mississippi where she sips her sweet tea on the front porch with her husband and two boys, accompanied by their two spoiled dogs and mischievous cat.
Visit Stephenia’s website at www.StepheniaMcGee.com and be sure to sign up for the newsletter to get sneak peeks, behind the scenes fun, the occasional recipe, and special offers.
Also by Stephenia:
A Mississippi Plantation: Civil War pits countrymen against one another and tears a nation asunder. Life and death are held in the balance where everyone is a slave to something.
One is born free, yet lives as a soul in bondage…
Lydia Harper never intended to purchase a slave. But when she witnesses a woman being beaten in the street, all her pretenses begin to unravel. A bride to a man she barely knows and bound by her secrets, Lydia will risk everything to save a stranger. Amid the War Between the States, the mistress of Ironwood faces the battles in her own heart and discovers strength in a way she never imagined.
The other is born to serve, yet holds the spirit of freedom…
Ruth, standing on the threshold of desperation, has lost everything she holds dear. After being pulled from the dirt, she is no longer a field hand but the personal maid to the lady of Ironwood. Ruth soon realizes adversity pays no mind to the color of skin. When propriety slips, she discovers they have more in common than she dreamed possible. In a time when fear brings the South to its knees, two women will forge a friendship in the fires of redemption and thrust Ironwood into a new future – where the battle for freedom has merely begun.
’In His Eyes’ Giveaway:
Stephenia has graciously offered to give away an ebook copy of In His Eyes. Giveaways are subject to the Giveaway Policy.