This BookPage Icebreaker is sponsored by Thomas Nelson.
Rachel Hauck’s bestselling inspirational romances include The Wedding Dress and Once Upon a Prince. Her new novel, The Love Letter, shares the emotional and spiritual journeys of two women connected through the centuries by an heirloom letter.
The Love Letter offers sweeping historical romance along with an intriguing look behind the scenes of a modern day Hollywood set. Esther Kingsley is a strong-willed young aristocrat whose plans for marriage are upended by the American Revolution. In another storyline set in the present, actress Chloe Daschle has finally landed the perfect role to reverse her typecasting as “the girl who always dies.” It’s a screenplay about Esther’s star-crossed romance with her neighbor-turned-revolutionary Hamilton Lightfoot—written by Lightfoot’s descendant, the magnetic Jesse Gates.
Stephanie: Would you tell our readers a little bit about The Love Letter and how it came to be?
Rachel: It’s a split-time romance novel set in 1780 upcountry South Carolina and contemporary Hollywood and a little bit of contemporary South Carolina as well. It’s about a love letter that inspires a young screenwriter to complete the story of his great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. The question that resonates throughout the book is what happens to unfinished love. I really wanted to explore two people who were descendants of another set of people who were in love but were never able to make it happen.
What did you find inspiring about the loyalist and rebel conflict in the American Revolutionary War? I thought the perspective of a family struggling with their financial and personal ties to the British monarchy and how that conflict affected relationships with their neighbors was super interesting.
I love the world of “Poldark.” It’s a BBC show on PBS about a guy who’s coming back from the Revolutionary War—of course he fought for the British. It’s in Cornwall, which is in southern England so the scenery is extraordinary. And I just loved this world. I was sharing with Debbie Macomber how much I wanted to write kind of an American “Poldark” and she goes, “You have to do the opposite of dark, so why don’t you do something with light?” So that’s how I got the name Lightfoot.
When I started looking at 1780, I knew I was going to deal with the Revolutionary War. I wanted to be in the South because most of my stories are in the South. Plus we don’t talk a lot about the Southern [Revolutionary War battles] and what that looked like. We always think of Lexington and Boston. But the Battle of Cowpens, which I used, was a pivotal battle in the war.
You just really had to know that whole families were divided. I would read testimonies where sisters wouldn’t see each other anymore because one was a loyalist and one for the American rebels. I can’t imagine not talking to my sister because she’s pro-Democrat and I’m pro-Republican or whatever. You know what I mean, like to be so divided that we would never talk to each other again?
What were some of the tools that you used in researching the period?
Most of it came from books. Also YouTube. I wanted to see what the field in the Battle of Cowpens looked like. I read up on colonial life. I read the letters of John Adams to Abigail Adams. That’s how I knew they were on a tea fast and they refused to drink tea. So they were complaining about having to drink coffee all the time.
It was a lot of reading to get the tone. I watched a lot of “Poldark” to get the cadence of the language.
So when I was writing Hamilton and Esther scenes, I would have “Poldark” in the background to get me into their mindset, because then I would have to flip to modern Hollywood or modern South Carolina.
Do you enjoy writing letters? Do you have a cherished letter that you've been holding on to?
I do enjoy writing letters, and I wish I would do more handwritten letters. But I have letters from my childhood. I have one from my dad where he wrote to me a college and told me, “Rachel, you’re a writer. Be a writer.” He just really always encouraged me to be a writer. So I love that letter, and I hang onto it. And it’s one of those, when you’re in your dark days going, “Do I know what I’m doing?” that echoes in the back of my mind.
That’s beautiful. And it’s echoed in the story, the idea that people’s thoughts and desires on paper can go on to influence people later.
Yeah, very much so.
How does your characters’ relationship with faith influence their thoughts as they search for love? I felt like that was really present, that you would get an internal monologue of faith as they go through the story.
You know, it’s always a challenge for us as Christian authors. . . . We come from a biblical worldview. I don’t ever try to draw conclusions for the reader. So [we] put those [beliefs] in characters that are seeking faith. Chloe—throughout her journey after [her embarrassing] video—comes to faith, and so she’s trying to reckon her faith with her life. I try to show that their faith is influencing their decisions. That either comes in dialogue or internal thought. Always in my mind is how I can make it organic to the thought process of the character. How do I invite God in without sounding like I’m sending the reader to a church meeting?
Chloe is from the modern period and Esther is from the past—they’re such different heroines. One thing I noticed is that Chloe seems to have so many fears. She’s afraid of being typecast or not finding her true love. But on the other hand, in the 18th century, Esther rarely wavers in her conviction. She seems very sure about the different choices that she makes. What is the relationship between those two women in your story?
Well, that was really cool insight. Actually, I love that about Esther. I wanted her to really be determined because I think our ancestors were. I don’t think we would have had this country if we hadn’t had strong women. And we tend to—in the lens of time and then through our own lens of how we live today—we look back and we think, oh, those women must have just been so oppressed. But I don’t think they were. I think a lot of them were very incredibly strong, and I wanted Esther to be really strong. She had to be to fight her father. She loved him so much, and he was her best friend. But yet: I have this love, and I’m willing to lay down everything for it. I think there were a lot of women who fell in love with men, and they went across the country never to see their families again.
I just felt that our ancestors are incredibly strong. And I got that from Abigail Adams’ letters to John Adams. She’s home with the farm and the kids by herself, and she’s making it happen, and she’s serving the community as well.
I think today we almost have so many choices and we have so many luxuries that we get trapped in, I don't know what to do with myself, I don’t know who I’m going to be, because we have so many choices. I think fear is something very prevalent in our society today. We’re afraid of a lot of things. And so I think Chloe is very real to a young woman today and to a young Christian woman.
What are you working on now?
I just finished The Memory House which comes out early 2019. It’s about two women, one from New York, one from West Texas, who find their home in this house on Memory Lane in Fernandina Beach Florida. It’s another split-time romance but a really fascinating story.
So lastly, your dad wrote you a letter in college saying, ‘You’re a writer, just be a writer.” How are you feeling about being a writer today?
I’m a writer for sure. I love it. I know this is what I was called to do. And that is something that you need to know on the hard days. Writing is a lot of work. I often tell people who want to be writers, “OK, go for it, but it is hard!” Put in 10 exclamation points [when you transcribe this]. It’s lonely. It’s what you do by yourself. Your writing community is out there across America. Facebook is my water cooler. While you’re sitting there plowing through the weeds of your novel, someone else is getting a lot of acclaim, and you think, oh, that’ll never be me. And then while you’re getting acclaim, someone else is going, why can’t I be like her? It’s a job that requires years to mature and find success. So stick with it.
And that was my dad—stick with it. Give everything you’ve got to what you want to be.