Author Sarah Baughman gave us the inside scoop on her life as a mom, wife, and writer of historical fiction. Check out her interview with us below!
- A Flame in the Dark is classified as a Historical Christian Fiction novel. Where does your passion for history come from?
I’ve enjoyed history since I was young . . . playing pioneers in the backyard; reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books and L.M. Montgomery’s, among others; volunteering at a living history village when I was in high school. And now I’m married to a history professor (his focus is the Ancient Roman Empire and Early Christianity), so that’s fun.
I think that learning about how people lived years ago is fun, but also informative. We can learn a good deal about the world we live in now by understanding how it was in the past.
Most of all, I love seeing the marks of God’s hand in history—how He has shaped and guided and been present throughout, even in the dark times of history. His Light sometimes shines all the brighter in those times.
- Why did you feel it was important to include so much vivid detail in this story?
It’s the details that bring a story to life. If you tell someone about a place you visited, and say that the park was pretty because there were a lot of flowers and animals there, they’ll know what you thought about your visit. But what if you said instead:
The air was heady with the smell of freshly turned soil and sweet, new blossoms. Everywhere I looked, some animal was tending its young brood, and their chirps and chatter filled my ears. I was sitting on a bench, planning to read, but the sun’s warmth, the freshness of the air, and the song of the animals were so soothing that I just closed my eyes and enjoyed the feeling of being outdoors again.
People can feel a little as if they’re there with you. And that’s what I wanted for my readers: to feel that they’re walking with Heinrich, running with Brigita, cooking with Marlein, and so on. To experience a time and place different from their own, and to bring back with them the same Truth about God’s love that the characters learned and let it work in their own lives.
- Why did you choose to write the story of the Reformation from the perspectives of many characters instead of solely Martin Luther himself?
The idea of writing from Luther’s perspective really intimidated me. He is such a widely known figure that I wasn’t sure I could do his person justice. It wasn’t even my intention to have any scenes from his perspective at all, but they grew just as the scenes from various other characters’ viewpoints grew. Focusing on fictitious characters who were on the periphery of the actual start of the Reformation allowed me to do two things.
One is that I could have some freedom with their lives and personalities. I didn’t have to find out which historic people were living at the time, dig around to find letters or records that made mention of their physical features and personalities, what they did for a living, and so on. I still needed to research about the place, about the day-to-day life of the time period, and more, but there was a lot more freedom in making the characters how I wanted them to be.
The other thing that writing from the periphery was that it allowed me to explore everyday people and how the Reformation would have impacted them. Sure, some individuals didn’t care about the spiritual truths and freedom that were being communicated, but for others, it opened their eyes to the redeeming love of God, where before they’d only seen judgment and wrath.
A secondary theme throughout the novel is that of the community of believers. Inviting readers into the heads of more than one or two characters hopefully gave them insight to the depth of others’ existence. We can’t know what pain or suffering others are enduring, but being aware that there’s more than we can see helps us love one another more deeply.
- Which character’s perspective was your favorite to write from?
Ooh, this is a good question, but hard to answer! I think the easiest was Heinrich’s, because he was the character whose motivations and thoughts I’d been developing the longest. Brigita and Keterlyn were enjoyable, too, because of the intensity of their emotion, and the fact that for a time at least, I knew something the reader didn’t know. So hinting at things without fully explaining was a little fun. To answer the question directly, though, I don’t think I had a favorite. They all are dear to me.
- Are any of the characters inspired from people present in your own life?
Not really. There’s a little piece of me, I think, in each of the characters, but I try hard not to let myself think too much of people I know when writing. Part of what I always try to do in writing is examine a character’s flaws and follow his growth throughout the story. If a central character hasn’t changed between the beginning and the end, I’m not happy with it. Because of this focusing on flaws and often drawing from those flaws, I don’t want to let a real person influence my imagining of a character.
Now, I will use my own emotional experience and relationships to inform my writing. For example, I’ll allow memories of a time that I was reprimanded as a child or young adult to help me describe the shame or guilt of a character experiencing those feelings for a different reason. No two experiences can be identical, but taking cues from similar experiences or similar feelings can help bring that out in a character for the reader.
- Tell us a little bit about how, throughout the novel, you kept the focus on God in the midst of the underlying story.
I love this question. In some ways, keeping the focus on God is like keeping my heart beating—it just happens because in Him we have breath and being. In other ways, though, it can be a real struggle. Just like in life! We know He is the center, but it’s so easy to be distracted by this struggle, that love story, or even the day-to-day of life. Just like in life, it’s through prayer and a constant checking of focus that it remains on Him. And honestly, it was a little easier in this storyline, because God’s Word was at the core of a lot of what was happening.
- Why is this story of the Reformation so important for people to hear?
This story of the Reformation is the story of its effect on the lives of everyday people. I’m not a key player in anything, and I’d guess that most of the readers aren’t, either. This story is about God’s grace in the lives of everyday people. It’s about Him reaching into those lives to forgive, to heal, to restore, to redeem. It’s about God’s love poured out and overflowing in the lives of not only figures like Martin Luther, but the people whose names no one but our Savior remembers now. Because each of them matters to Him, each of them is precious to Him. You matter to Him, you are precious to Him.
- What was the most exciting part of writing this book?
As cheesy as it may sound, I think it was near the end, when I realized that this was a novel that I’d poured so much of my heart into. There’s nothing like the exhausted but content feeling of feeling utterly poured out into a project and hoping . . . perhaps even daring to know . . . that it was going to touch hearts just as it touched mine. I cried over some scenes as I wrote. And as I re-read. And even as I edited (becoming emotional while writing really wrecks one’s ability to look for grammatical errors or sentence flow). So while it might not sound exciting in the jumping-up-and-down, happy-dance sort of excitement, my favorite thing to do when writing is to make a real connection for people with the place and the characters of the novel, and for the Truth of God’s redeeming love for us to be communicated in the fictional setting of the novel. And seeing that happen is incredibly exciting.
- How do you find time to write while raising and taking care of your family?
It does help that they’re all school-age now, so being able to write while they’re at school does help. Sometimes, it’s difficult to balance, but generally, considering writing like a job, and doing it between certain hours not only helps me write with consistency while not letting it get in the way of other things that I need to be doing.
During summer, of course, all bets are off and I either try to time it so that I don’t need to be writing too much during that season or snatch moments when the kids are otherwise occupied. My husband, Karl, is also great about giving me time by taking the kids somewhere or staying with them while I go to a coffee shop or somewhere to write.
- Historical fiction often takes a long time to write due to the amount of time needed to research and fact-check. Do you enjoy that process?
I do enjoy it. I love learning new things and getting a picture of what life was like at various times throughout history. It’s really fascinating to me to learn about things like how candles are made, or how they were made five hundred years ago. Learning about clothing construction and what was worn gets my imagination chugging along, and sometimes I even attempt sewing something related to the time period. Foods that were eaten, how they were harvested or purchased or bartered for, and the preparation or preservation that happened . . . it’s all fascinating to me. So yes, I really enjoy that aspect of writing historic fiction.
Of course, sometimes I’m looking for an obscure fact that isn’t so easy to find, and that can get frustrating while I’m searching. But the satisfaction in the end, after I’ve finally tracked it down (or found someone to ask) is immense and makes it all worth it.
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