Inspirational author Lisa Tawn Bergren has had great success with her current YA series, River of Time. Following the adventures of two time traveling teens that end up in medieval Italy, the River of Time books offer readers plenty of suspense and romance along with a message of faith. Today the author talks with RT about her inspiration, writing faith-based fiction for all ages and her experiences researching different time periods.
This year readers have gotten three books in your Young Adult inspirational series River of Time. Can you give us a bit of background on what inspired your time traveling sisters?
It was really a confluence of several factors: two teen daughters who only like rockin', page-turning stories with a good dose of romance; a fascination with history that always makes me wish I could travel through time; and the desire to try something different with my writing.
Much of the series takes place during medieval times and you have been able to wow readers with the sword fights as well as other fun details from this time period. What type of research went into creating your realistic world?
I did a ton of research for this period for another, adult series called The Gifted (The Begotten, The Betrayed, The Blessed) that I wrote for Penguin a few years ago. And after I got over the shock of how much I didn't know (much of my knowledge was Renaissance and later), I fell in love with this era. It's right before the Renaissance and Reformation, and so much of these people's lives were lived in dark and primal circumstances. But they're also a people on the brink of tremendous change ... which I always think is evocative. It's kind of like watching a teenager on the brink of adulthood, sometimes a kid, sometimes old for her years. I read a good number of books and purchased two massive encyclopedias of medieval Italy ... not what most people spend their book budget on. That said, I'm no historian — as much as possible, I strive to make things true to the period, but this is fiction, and the story always comes first. I don't want to bog people down in history — but rather utilize history to enhance the story.
Your protagonists, Lia and Gabi, are quite young yet they are swept up in some very major choices. Life altering, if not life ending, decisions need to be made. How did you write believable characters that could deal with this type of pressure when they are so young?
I think kids are facing big issues earlier and earlier, so this wasn't such a stretch for me. My own kids are more "worldly wise" at a younger age than I...because the issues of life confront them at school and in the media. And if you and I were 17 again, and cast back into a world where we had to fight for our very lives, as well as those we loved, it'd make us grow up fast too, don't you think?
Definitely. And in order to cope, your heroines look towards their faith in God. Can you discuss this aspect of the novel? How do you weave the inspirational message into the stories?
I really wanted this to be a series my girls could give to anyone in their public schools. I'm a committed Christian, but these characters have done little more than attend church on Christmas and Easter with gramma, and have never really delved into thoughts about God on their own. Given their extreme circumstances, they face the big questions any of us might ask, regardless of our faith background, if we were in their shoes — Why am I here? Does God see me? Does he care about me? Did he send me here for a purpose? I think that's natural and true to both the characters and the society in which they've been thrust.
You write for many different audiences: adult, teens as well as young children. Can you explain how your faith-based message differs when you are focusing on each audience?
In my fiction, I've always tried to not climb up on any soapbox. The faith aspect has to be true to the characters and where they are in life, regardless of which book or series I'm writing. I want my story to come first, and sometimes that incorporates incredibly deep, heart-wrenching issues of faith, and sometimes it is far lighter. That said, my relationship with Christ is as important to me as my physical well being; and just as I can't write a story without describing the heroine as either a world-class athlete or a couch potato or a paraplegic in a wheelchair, so must I define where she is with God. It's too much a part about life, the whole person, to ignore.
As I said above, I treaded very carefully with the faith aspect in this YA series, given my goals for the readership and the status of the characters. But in my new adult series I'm also writing right now, the Grand Tour Series (Glamorous Illusions releases June 2012), it is far more overt, because the heroine is facing both internal and external issues of identity, relationship and covenant. It's impossible to fully explore such issues without incorporating faith.
I write little kids' books that really attempt to put big questions about God and life in bite-sized, digestible pieces for the Pre-K crowd (God Gave Us You, God Gave Us Heaven), and delve deeper in my Christian nonfiction to adult women (The Busy Mom's Devotional, Life on Planet Mom, and the upcoming 31 Upside-Down Prayers).
The last in the River of Time series, Torrent, (or is it the last?) was published in September. Can you tell us what readers can expect next from you?
Even after 17 other novels, I've never really had the kind of reader response as I've seen with River of Time (Waterfall, Cascade, Torrent). It's truly thrilling. People — from teens to adult women — have fallen in love with these characters and this world, right along with me...and they're begging for more. And because I'm in just as deep, it's not like they really had to twist my arm to consider it; I was so reluctant to end Torrent and leave this tribe of warriors that I had to tell myself, "It's okay. Just end this particular story. You can come back and write more if you want." So yes, I'm writing at least one more book, Tributary, but think there may even be a few more after that. We'll see! Meanwhile, I'm working on more in the Grand Tour Series and that devotional. I'm excited to see all that 2012 brings.