Beth is a 2016 Christy Award winner, a 2016 ACFW Carol Award winner, and a 2015 RITA Award finalist. Her 2014 novel, Somebody Like You, was one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2014. Having authored nine contemporary romance novels or novellas, Beth believes there’s more to happily ever after than the fairy tales tell us.
An established magazine writer and former editor of the leadership magazine for MOPS International, Beth blogs for Novel Rocket and also enjoys speaking to writers' groups and mentoring other writers. She lives in
with her husband, Rob, who has
adjusted to discussing the lives of imaginary people, and their youngest
daughter, Christa, who loves to play volleyball and enjoys writing her own
stories. Connect with Beth at http://www.bethvogt.com. Colorado
Welcome back, Beth. You have described Things I Never Told You as “Little Women gone wrong,” with a This Is Us feel. Without giving too much away, can you tell us a little about this title and why it might be described in this way?
Things I Never Told You is a story about things both spoken and unspoken between sisters. Little Women is a classic story that idealizes the relationships between four sisters. For all their differences, the March girls are undergirded by a sense of loving unity and, well, goodness. The Thatcher sisters? I replace idealism with the kind of reality you see in the popular TV show This Is Us. The conflicts separating Johanna, Jillian, Payton, and Pepper seem to outweigh the sense of family.
What themes do you explore in Things I Never Told You?
Family is a major theme of the book. I also delve into grief, including delayed grief, and secrets, and the always intriguing topic of sisters.
I understand that you develop a story question for each book you write. What is a story question (or how does a story question help you as a writer)—and what was the story question for Things I Never Told You?
I’ll answer your question with a quote: “I start with a question. Then I try to answer it.” ~ Mary Lee Settle (1918-2005), author. A story question is a question of the heart and mind—one that your main characters are wrestling with throughout your book—and that your readers will try to answer, too. A story question is not easily answered with a yes or a no. Developing a story question before I start writing a book helps me just like fuel for a car: it keeps my story going. So long as I remember what my story question is, I can stay focused and keep writing because I know the heart of my story. For Things I Never Told You, the story question is this: Is family always worth fighting for?
This novel involves the complicated relationship between sisters. Why did you decide to tackle that family dynamic? Did your own experience inform this story?
Sisters can be the most supportive of relationships . . . but they can also be the most competitive of relationships, too. And yes, I’ve experienced this personally with my two sisters, one of whom is my fraternal twin. I’ve watched other sister relationships, as well as my daughters, navigate their relationships with one another. There’s a beautiful, yet at times, frustrating dichotomy between sisters.
Things I Never Told You deals with death, delayed grief, strained family relationships, impending trauma, and resentment. When faced with similar challenges, what questions must we ask ourselves? Where do we turn for answers?
So often, our first reaction to pain or tragedy is to ask, “Why?” I’m learning to ask, “How?” How am I supposed to walk through this tragedy, this trauma, this tension, in a manner that is both honest and allows me to survive? How do I find God in this? How do I hang on to my values through this—and let others be who they are during this time? When we face struggles of any kind, sometimes we are looking for answers . . . and sometimes we think we know the answers. Sometimes we are looking for an escape rather than God’s provision so that we can stand and face the problem.
The novel brings to light, both for the characters and the reader, certain challenges faced by many families. How might this story help your reader untangle their own family dynamics?
I think readers will see aspects of themselves and of others they know—friends, family members, coworkers—in Things I Never Told You. Maybe they will understand themselves—and someone else—a little better when they are finished reading this book. They’ll see choices fictional characters make and weigh what they would or wouldn’t do in similar situations.
What is the role of faith in your novel?
Both faith and unbelief play a role in my novel because I find both in this world. At one time, I believed in God—in a distant “I know you’re out there, but let’s not ask too much of one another, okay?” kind of way. Now, my relationship with God influences my entire life. But I know that not everyone believes as I do—and I try to weave that reality into my books.
Family is very central to the plot of Things I Never Told You, and many will probably recognize some aspect of their own family life in the characters. What do you hope readers will take away from being immersed in the drama and imperfections of the Thatcher family?
I hope they fall in love with the Thatcher sisters—Payton, Pepper, Johanna, and Jillian—as well as the subplot characters. I hope they miss them when they finish reading the book. I hope they tell other people about them because, while Things I Never Told You is fiction, what I write about is real life. I hope readers wonder, “Would I do what Payton did? What Jillian did?” And maybe, just maybe, it changes their real-life relationships in some way.
Your novel gives readers permission to have questions about their faith. Why do you think this is important?
Living a life of faith is hard. Choosing to believe in God doesn’t mean that you don’t doubt . . . that life is always good, that you’re guaranteed a permanent residence on the sunny side of Easy Street. A few years ago, I sat across from a trusted friend and said, “I know all the right answers, but they’re not working anymore.” I still believed in God, but life was harder than I ever expected. It’s important to know that God accepts us when we doubt. He is a big, big God—big enough to handle any and all of our questions.
Forgiveness and reconciliation can be difficult topics, and you include them as core themes of the novel. What do you hope your reader will learn from this?
I often say that all writers of faith have the theme of forgiveness in their novels—after all, forgiveness and reconciliation are at the very core of our Christian belief. And yet, I’ve had to unlearn and relearn what true, honest forgiveness means . . . and realize that reconciliation is hard, hard work. Life is messy—and God doesn’t shy away from any of it. Neither should we.
Thank you, Beth, for sharing this new book with us. Relationships are so complicated sometimes.
Readers, here are links to the book.Things I Never Told You - Christianbook.com
Things I Never Told You (Thatcher Sisters) - Amazon paperback
Things I Never Told You (Thatcher Sisters) - Kindle
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