Austin is author of a dozen standalone novels, three series (Refiner's Fire, Chronicles of the King, The Restoration Chronicles) and one nonfiction book, Pilgrimage.
Austin, who had book signings in Grand Rapids and Holland, answers questions about Waves of Mercy, her life, and her writing.
Q: What inspired you to write Waves of Mercy and set it in Holland?
A: My husband grew up in Holland, so when we decided to move back there two years ago, I began researching Holland's history to see if it would make a good novel. Also, I grew up in the area of New York State that was originally owned and settled by the Dutch, and I visited Holland for the first time when I attended Hope College. I was immediately impressed by how proud the community was of their faith and Dutch heritage.
Q: What interested you about Holland's history?
A: I was intrigued to learn that the first Dutch sellers came here in 1846 for religious freedom after suffering persecution in the Netherlands. Since that's true of so many other immigrant peoples over the years, I knew the story would resonate with many readers. I was very surprised to learn how much hardship these early settlers suffered in the process of founding this community.
Q: Are the characters based on actual people?
A: The only "real" person in the story is Reverend (Dominie) Van Raalte, who led the Dutch immigrants to America in 1846. I read a collection of memoirs written by the first settlers, so I combined a lot of their stories when creating my characters. My main characters—Maarten, Geesje, and her family—are products of my imagination.
Q: What was the most challenging part of writing this book?
A: My biggest challenge was making the story realistic but not too sad. I had no idea how much the early settlers suffered until I started reading their stories. Also, there was so much information available—including an entire Van Raalte Research Center at Hope College—so it was difficult to do a thorough job and not be completely overwhelmed. I knew I was leaving out a lot of good information but I had a story tell, first and foremost. Keeping the history and the story in balance was challenging at times.
Q: Can you give us a glimpse into your writing process?
A: I begin a new book by reading everything I can find on the topic, going down rabbit trails, gathering information, visiting the book's setting if possible. Pretty soon, I begin to envision characters in that setting and historical era and they start "talking" to me. Next, I develop their personalities, collecting pictures, writing "resumes" for them until I know them thoroughly. Then I start writing, making up the plot as I go along.
Q: What do you hope readers will come away with after finishing Waves?
A: I hope readers see what a close relationship with God is really like, and will learn to trust Him through the hard times and praise Him in all circumstances.
Q: What are a few of your favorite things?
A: The beach on Lake Michigan near my home—lounging on the sand with my husband and watching the sailboats. The floor-to-ceiling bookshelf in my great room with a sliding library ladder—and all of my books, of course. Spending time with my children and granddaughter. Going on vacation to fun, new places.
Q: How do you recharge your batteries?
A: I go out and play! I love to ride my bike, walk in the woods, and play with my granddaughter. My husband is a professional musician, so going to his concerts recharges me too.
Q: Most history lovers have an antique or two around their homes. Do you? Do you have a favorite?
A: I love antiques but my husband doesn't care much for them, so I have to keep my collection under control. My favorite pieces are the ones that were handed down through my family, such as the mantle clock my great-grandfather bought for my great-grandmother on the day my grandmother was born. I also have a huge, wooden steamer trunk from 1812 that I bought before Ken and were married to serve as my "hope chest." We've been dragging it around ever since. My oldest antique is an oil lamp I purchased in Israel that dates to the time of King Hezekiah.
Q: Which has been your favorite era to research?
A: The Civil War. I did a lot of traveling when I researched my three Civil War novels (Refiner's Fire series), and I enjoyed every minute. The battlefields and cemeteries were very moving, especially seeing the grave of my husband's great-great-grandfather, who died in the war. And I loved visiting the beautiful plantations in the South. This time period also brought a lot of good changes for women, so that made it interesting, too.
Q: Can you offer a small clue about the setting of your work in progress?
A: It's about two wealthy sisters who live in Chicago in the late 1800s. They love to travel the world and seek adventure.
Q: Is there a theme that seems to show up often in your writing?
A: Life is hard but God is good—and He always has everything under control.
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