A lover of the English language, Sharlene MacLaren has written all kinds of things—including poetry, essays, and articles for periodicals and newspapers. Her favorite thing to write, however, has always been romance. Her latest novel is the Civil War romance Her Rebel Heart (Whitaker House): When a Confederate widow mistakenly shoots a Yankee soldier, she decides to nurse him back to health. What will happen when she discovers that he’s the one who made her a widow? Will her rebel heart forgive him—or finish him off? In this interview, Sharlene explains why she chose the historical setting, the challenges in writing stories based in history, and the spiritual themes behind the book.
Her Rebel Heart is set during the Civil War. What inspired you to want to tell this story?
The American Civil War has always fascinated me. The issues of slavery, the Underground Railroad, Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, battles fought, victories won, soldiers from both sides of the spectrum, and the Reconstruction of the South are just a few intriguing topics surrounding the war. Because it’s such a widespread era with a vast array of complex situations and problems, inventing stories that encapsulate that period come naturally to me.
In Her Rebel Heart, I tried to take one segment of history and build a story around it. War often necessitates men and women leaving behind loved ones to fight for causes bigger than themselves. Such was the case in this story, one Southern woman’s husband leaving her to fight for the Confederate cause only to lose his life at the hand of a Union soldier. As a result, moral and religious questions come into play, and two characters set out to find the paths best suited for them.
Did you have any challenges or apprehensions in setting a romance during the Civil War?
Challenges always abound when writing historical fiction. On the one hand, it’s fiction, so there’s plenty of room for setting my imagination free; on the other, it’s history, and no author wants to “mess with actual fact.” So, yes, there is natural apprehension going into writing a historical novel.
As for the romantic element, I am a big believer in romance. Romance can blossom from the driest soil. It can flourish under fire, in the deepest, darkest night, in grief and sorrow, and in hopeless situations. When all else fails, love prevails—a cliché, I know (sorry), but true nonetheless. I love writing romance into my stories because it represents light and hope and goodness.
Cristina Stiles is the wife of a Confederate soldier, and Jack Fuller is a Union soldier. Presenting both sides of the conflict, which character surprised you most as you told their story?
In Her Rebel Heart, Jack Fuller is a strong, faithful, and trustworthy character. He is a “what you see is what you get” sort of guy. You meet him, and you instantly know you can count on him. His intentions are right, his motives true and pure, and his convictions strong. Clearly, nothing and no one can sway his faith in God.
Cristina Stiles comes off as feisty and strong-willed, but her heart and mind are awash with questions and feelings of insecurity. Who is God? What part does He really play in this world? Does He even exist? If He’s real, why doesn’t He step in and fix all the wrongs? What is my place on this earth, and will I ever be able to find it?
It is Cristina who “surprises” me the most as she learns to navigate life’s complexities. It was so much fun watching her character evolve and her spirit and personality soften before my eyes.
This is the first in your new series. Aside from being the intro, how will Her Rebel Heart fit into the framework of the series?
Her Rebel Heart is the first in a three-book series titled Hearts of Honor. All three books will have their focus on one of the Fuller brothers. The Fuller Family Farm is located in Lebanon, Ohio, so while book one is set in Ripley, West Virginia, the home of Cristina Stiles, books two and three will have their settings in Lebanon. Book one is set in 1863, book two, 1864, and book three, 1865.
Did you have spiritual themes you wanted to share in writing Her Rebel Heart?
There is always a strong faith element in my stories, and Her Rebel Heart is no different. Anyone who reads my books will learn that while I am not “preachy,” I do weave in a gospel message with every story. I don’t want my readers closing the covers on my books with any sort of question remaining as to how to have a genuine relationship with God through Jesus Christ, His son.
I think one of the main lessons to be gained from Her Rebel Heart is that God is always with us, whether we’re aware or not. He is in the now of life, just as He was in all our yesterdays. We may not always sense Him, but He’s here—in the sorrow and the joy, in life’s accomplishments as well as the disappointments, in the laughter and the tears, and in the victories and the losses. We have but to seek Him, and He will reveal Himself.
Visit Sharlene MacLaren’s Author Page