Book Review: Gideon’s Call

Title: Gideon’s Call
Author: Peter Leavell
Publisher: Worthy Publishing
ISBN: 978-1617951176
Category: Historical Fiction

I don’t read historical fiction. Never liked it, never cared much for history at all. Not since school when it was the most deadly dull course I had to suffer through. George Santanya had me in mind when he said, “Those who cannot learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Until this year.

Finally, after much resistance, I gave in to a friend’s demand and read Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth (1989). It was phenomenal! Follett put skin and bones on history in such a visceral, in-your-face way, that I was transported. I could see it, smell it, experience it, and live it.

Award winning novel

In much the same way, but without Follett’s verbosity, Peter Leavell transported me to Civil War-era South Carolina and a small, but important, piece of history connected to the state’s tropical sea islands, in his debut novel, Gideon’s Call, winner of the 2011 Operation First Novel contest of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild.

Leavell took me to the islands, sat me down on the shore, and told me a story. From what I’ve since learned, his research was impeccable. But I didn’t know or care about that as I read; I only wanted to hear the story.

Why can’t history be taught this way?

In Gideon’s Call, when soldiers from the North force the landowners to evacuate South Carolina’s islands, 10,000 slaves are set free in a single day. Leavell interweaves the fictional story of Tad, a young clever slave, into the real lives and history of people like Edward Lillie Pierce, who headed up The Port Royal Experiment for the Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, Laura Matilda Towne, who came to South Carolina to educate the slaves and stayed to establish The Penn School, and many other heroes of the time.

Leavell takes a multiple track approach to telling the story, showing us the realities through the eyes of the slaves, from the point of view of staunch abolitionists like Pierce and Towne, and through the experiences of those far removed in the North who believed slavery was wrong, but wondered if the slaves could learn, let alone be accepted as free people in that day’s society.

And what would happen to them after the end of the war and the landowners returned to claim their land? Would slavery simply re-establish itself as the rule of the day? The newly freed slaves had no money, no education, no leadership, and little hope. The North could free them from slavery, but who would make them truly free and lead them into a productive future?

Learn the emotional history

We all know the end of this book’s larger story, but the brilliance of Leavell’s work is found in the plausible fictional characters he creates—Tad, Peg, Collin, Samuel, Mammy, and others—who reveal the emotional history of the struggle. All are so finely drawn, that they become every bit as real as the others.

Whether or not you like historical fiction, the world Leavell reveals as he weaves his story, will hold your attention intellectually and emotionally. Learn more about Peter Leavell.

Worthy Publishers provided me with an Advance Reader’s Copy of Gideon’s Call.

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Still Waiting?

I’ve been in waiting mode for years with this novel I’m writing. Waiting for me to commit the time to it (note I didn’t say find the time). Waiting for inspiration to strike. Waiting for God to extend His finger from the sky and emblazon my manuscript with the perfect words.

Waiting. Yes, for these things, but mostly for the courage to continue. Can anyone relate?

So, anyway, I’m reading in one of my favorite blogs the other day (Novel Rocket: http://www.novelrocket.com) and I find this post by Anita Mellott from March of 2010 on waiting. (Feel free to enjoy it.)

Anita’s waiting was of a different texture than mine, but this line leapt out at me: “I had a choice–to allow the tentacles of doubt and anxiety to tighten their stranglehold on me or to ‘travel steadily along his path’ (Psalm 37:34; NLT).”

I, too, have a choice–and it’s the same one.

Then, in my mind, a song started playing (I’m a regular jukebox, most days). John Waller’s “While I’m Waiting” from the movie Fireproof. Again, totally out of context from my brand of waiting, but here’s the line that moved me:

And I will move ahead bold and confident
Taking every step in obedience

It’s that “bold and confident” part I have trouble with.

How about you? Have you been waiting? Letting fear of (fill in the blank) rob you of your writing?

I think it’s time to take a step in obedience.

What are you waiting on? Can you find a way to move forward, even while you wait?

On Thursday, something new for Writing On The Fine Line–our first book review! Come back then and see what I thought of Peter Leavell’s Gideon’s Call. Did this historical win me over?

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Snippets from ACFW Conference

Curious about how the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference went last weekend in Dallas TX? Catch a glimpse of some of the knowledge shared in my post today on Novel Rocket.

Then, come back later today when Peter Leavell steps Into The Edit with me–right here on this blog.


Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

The Glow

Recently, I attended the American Christian Fiction Writers annual conference in Dallas TX. I always come away from these gatherings with renewed creativity and an appreciation for just how tough this business is.

But I also come away with a glow.

If you’ve been to a writer’s conference, you probably understand. If not, and if you consider yourself a writer, you need to get to a conference and experience it. The ACFW conference is one I highly recommend, whether you’re new to writing fiction or a multi-published author.

I—intentionally—did not pitch a writing project in Dallas. Instead, I focused on promoting this website and my services as a freelance editor. This freed me to mostly relax and enjoy the conference.

When I did, I realized a few things:

  • I like the company of writers, editors, and agents. In an informal lobby gathering one night we had a laugh-fest—as creatives, yes, but also as people.
  • You can inhale creativity. I had more new ideas—for my business, my novel, the ACFW Journal—in those few days than I had in the previous three months. Not all are gems, but I think some of them are.
  • You can be alone in a room with hundreds of people. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing because you’re really in the world of your novel and everyone there understands.

What’s next?

Now I’m back home, back at work trying to build this business, back in my everyday world—and I’m enjoying the glow.

The keynote speaker for this conference was Michael Hyatt (left), former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing, and the author of Platform: Get Noticed In A Noisy World. He said many things worth remembering, but two pieces of advice stuck with me:

First:

Do not ask, “Where have all the good times gone?” Wisdom knows better than to ask such a thing (Ecclesiastes 7:10, The Voice).

“We often get stuck in a version of how things were and we pine for the old days. But they aren’t coming back. In the future you will look back on this day and think of it as the good ol’ days. You are living in the good ol’ days. God is doing a new work today and you have the privilege of being a part of it.”

Second:

“One of the reasons your role (as a writer) is so important is we live in chaotic times. People desperately need stories to sort out the meaning of what they’re experiencing. (They need) a way of thinking about the world to help them make sense of it.

“What do you choose to do with the gift—the future—you’ve been given? Will you lean into it and believe that God is with you?”



What is your response? Share—or simply ponder it in your heart.


Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Man in glow image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net