Monday, March 31, 2008

Author Interview with Joan Hochstetler

I'm so pleased to have author J. M. Hochstetler in the Blog Studio with me this morning. J. M. Hochstetler is the author of One Holy Night, a modern-day nativity story set during the Vietnam War that retells the story of Jesus’ birth for today’s readers. Her previous books are Daughter of Liberty and Native Son, books 1 and 2 of the American Patriot Series set during the American Revolution. Book 3, Wind of the Spirit, will release in January 2009.

Hochstetler graduated from Indiana University cum laude, taking a degree in Germanic languages. In the mid 1990s, she worked for The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, assisting with the development and production of Freedom Speaks, a weekly television program devoted to First Amendment rights, broadcast nationally on PBS. She was subsequently an editor with Abingdon Press for twelve years before founding her own independent small press, Sheaf House Publishers, in 2006 to publish extraordinary fiction by fresh new voices.

Born and reared in central Indiana, the daughter of Mennonite farmers, Hochstetler currently resides near Nashville, Tennessee. Her interest in the American colonial and Revolutionary War eras grew out of the experiences of her Anabaptist ancestors who immigrated to America from Europe seeking religious freedom. With her cousin, author Bob Hostetler, she is writing a novel titled Northkill that is based on the massacre of three of their Amish Mennonite ancestors on the Pennsylvania frontier during the French and Indian War, the Indian captivity of the attack’s survivors, and their eventual return home.


CAROL ANN: I am so pleased to have you with me in the blog studio this morning. **CAROL ANN HOLDS UP A BOOK COVER**

CAROL ANN: Thanks for sending in a copy of your latest book cover. Tell us a little about ONE HOLY NIGHT.

J.M.: My latest release is One Holy Night, which retells the Christmas story through the discovery of a baby abandoned in the manger of a church’s crèche scene. The story is set in 1967, when the military build-up in Viet Nam is undergoing a dramatic surge. The resulting explosion of anti-war sentiment tears the country apart, slicing through generations and shattering families. In the quiet bedroom community of Shepherdsville, Minnesota, the war comes home to Frank and Maggie McRae, whose only son, Mike, is serving as a grunt in Viet Nam, and to their daughter, Julie, and her husband, Dan Christensen, the pastor of a growing, independent Christian church.

Although One Holy Night is at heart a modern-day nativity story, it isn’t a story just for Christmas. It deals with all the gritty issues that impact our lives every day—intergenerational and interracial conflict, violence in various forms, addictions, war, illness, death, divorce. Brokenness of one kind or another affects every family and individual. And the more I thought about it, the more I questioned how we can make sense of our lives and find reconciliation in our relationships. Where can we find purpose, strength, and healing?

I first started tinkering with the idea for this story back in the late 1980s. Then the Gulf War came along and shaped my thinking some more. Life happened, and the story lay fallow until 9-11. Right around that time a young woman in our church was diagnosed with intestinal cancer, and then died within a year. Shortly thereafter, both my parents died as the result of a car accident. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were in all the headlines, and opposition was growing along with the casualty count. Commentators were beginning to compare the war in Iraq with the quagmire of Viet Nam—a conflict I was well acquainted with since I was in high school and college during those years.

So all these elements started to find their way into this story about a family facing life-changing issues while the son is away serving in Vietnam. The conclusion I came up with is pretty well summed up in the blurb for the book:

As on that holy night so long ago . . . in a world torn by sin and strife . . . to a family that has suffered heart-wrenching loss . . . there will be born a baby . . .

CAROL ANN: This sounds wonderful. What do you find is the hardest thing about being a writer?

J.M. For me it’s all the promotional stuff you’re expected to do—and need to do—to promote yourself and your books. I love to write, but at times it seems like actual writing is the least part of being an author. With so many books on the market vying for readers’ attention, you have to find a way to set yourself apart from the crowed, and that simply takes hours and hours of work. I’m still trying to figure out how to balance all of it, including time with my family.

CAROL ANN: Yes, it is hard to find that happy medium. What stumbling blocks have you encountered and how have you overcome them?

J.M.: My biggest stumbling block has been getting book contracts. Zondervan published the first two books of my American Revolutionary War series, Daughter of Liberty and Native Son, then I lost my editor and the new editor cancelled the series. It’s a depressingly familiar scenario in the publishing business.

After a considerable amount of soul searching, I finally gave in to the prompting the Lord had been giving me for some time to found my own small press. I realize not everyone can come up with such a drastic solution, but I happened to have qualifications and resources that enabled me to take that step. So I founded Sheaf House specifically to publish extraordinary inspirational fiction.

My biggest resource, of course, is the Lord. If I didn’t feel strongly that God’s hand is in this venture, I wouldn’t be doing it. I’m already amazed at how many excellent projects the Lord is bringing my way. But although it feels overwhelming at times, doors keep opening as I keep on taking each step forward in faith. I’ve discovered I truly have a heart for working with new authors to help them make their work excellent, and then to get them published.

CAROL ANN: On a personal note, do you collect anything?

J.M.: Oh, goodness, at any point in time, I’m open to collecting just about anything. I have a chicken/rooster thing going right now, among others. I acquired a small, old landscape painting done by an unknown artist that I’d love to expand into a collection of similar works. I just haven’t found anything yet I like well enough to buy. At one point I was collecting barns—ceramic, wood, paintings, whatever. I grew up on a farm in central Indiana, and I love old, weathered barns.

I have a great Stars and Stripes collection going. My office at home is crammed with all sorts of things with that motif, including an afghan, a lampshade, curtains, decorative boxes, and wall hangings. Very natural since I’m writing a comprehensive historical fiction series about the American Revolution, so the patriotic level is high!

For some time I was also collecting those cardboard coasters many restaurants put on the table for your drink. I have a stack of interesting ones, but I have no clue what to do with the silly things. Don’t anybody get me started on anything else!

CAROL ANN: Perhaps they'll show up in a book one day! Do you believe the pen is mightier than the sword?

J.M.: Absolutely! For example, the American Revolution would never have started if writers like James Otis, Mercy Otis Warren, John Adams, Joseph Warren, Thomas Jefferson, and many others hadn’t expressed their objections to British policy in writing. Just look at the effect God’s written word has had on the world. If you don’t have people’s hearts and minds on your side, your cause isn’t going to prevail no matter how many weapons you employ.

CAROL ANN: Which inspires you more? A brisk walk in the autumn with the leaves changing color, or in the spring when the flowers are and trees are budding? Why?

J.M.: That’s a hard one. Autumn has always been my favorite season, but since I moved to Tennessee, I’ve come to love spring almost as much. When the flowers and trees begin to bloom on the hills and in the hollows, the colors are so heartbreakingly lovely it almost hurts your eyes to look at it. And of course, the sense of new life is intoxicating.

Still, there’s something about the flame colors of autumn that holds my heart. I love the cool misty mornings and evenings, the scent of wood smoke and moldering leaves in the air, the soft patina of the pale sunshine that softens all the edges. There’s a feeling of melancholy suspense, as if the earth is holding its breath waiting for the winter snows, and then the springtime beyond that begins the cycle of the seasons again. It’s a time for thinking deeply and for writing intensely.

CAROL ANN: You are sitting in a restaurant with several friends when someone walks up to you and thrusts a microphone in your hand. You have one minute to tell the world something....what will it be?

J.M.: The first thing that comes to mind is: Jesus lives! God loved his people so much that he came down to earth to live among us, to bridge the gap that sin placed between human beings and the divine. By his grace and mercy God restores us to a personal relationship with him through Jesus’ death on the cross.

CAROL ANN: Thank you so much for joining me today. Before we leave, where can readers learn more about you and your books?

J.M.: You can find more information about me and my books at, where you’ll also find many links to historical sites and resources. More information about One Holy Night is at You’ll find Sheaf House at, and you can follow the process of building the business on my Publishing Dream blog at I also manage the reviews on the Favorite PASTimes historical fiction blog at Readers can contact me at

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