Sunday, July 1, 2018

Summer Stories: Beside Still Waters

Interview with AnnaLee Conti about her book, Beside Still Waters:

Alexis: Beside Still Waters is book number three in your Alaskan Water Series. Tell me about it.

AnnaLee: After her last living relative dies, Violet Channing answers a newspaper ad to teach an ailing child in the harsh 1915 Yukon Territory.

“Am I jumping from a city firetrap into a wilderness icebox?” she wonders. But that seems preferable to her cold-water flat in a Boston tenement and the tinderbox garment factory, the only place where she could find work after her uncle’s untimely death interrupted her teacher education and plunged her into poverty.

Sailing up the Inside Passage on her way to her new job, she falls in love with a dashing Yukon riverboat captain. Just when her life feels as beautiful as her surroundings, tragedy again crashes in on Violet. She cannot seem to comprehend her losses and struggles to find a new reason to live.

Through her experiences of first love, loss, and grief, Violet is ultimately reminded of God’s love and grace and discovers God’s ultimate plan for her life.

Alexis: In a few sentences, describe the other books in the series and detail how they lead up to your newest novel (Beside Still Waters).

AnnaLee: While each book stands alone, my Alaskan Waters Trilogy of historical Christian fiction follows the life and death saga of a fictitious Norwegian immigrant family who battles the beautiful but often treacherous waters of early twentieth century southeast Alaska to find love and happiness in the midst of tragedy.

The first book in the series, Till the Storm Passes By, takes place in 1953. Evie Parker is plagued by a recurring nightmare of herself as a child sobbing over a woman she doesn’t recognize but calls Mommy, who lies cold and wet and still on a strange beach. Her mother’s deathbed confession compels Evie to fly across North America to the Territory of Alaska, where she struggles to unravel a past shrouded in mystery. She must learn that a heart full of unforgiveness cannot open itself to love.

The second book, A Star to Steer By, goes back a generation to detail why Evie’s parents immigrated to America. Tales of big money to be made in Alaska in 1920 lure Norman Pedersen, a poor Norwegian fisherman, to leave behind his fiancée, Kristina, who promises to wait for him, even if it takes years to earn his fortune. But Norman becomes entrapped in a “prison” of his own making until he turns to God, his true “star to steer by,” and discovers a God of second chances.

In Beside Still Waters, grief seems to be Violet’s lot in life. As her story merges with Norman’s, Violet begins to understand more clearly that God is near to the brokenhearted and how He leads His children beside still waters and restores their souls. Looking back, she recognizes His gentle hand in her life.

Alexis: What is it about Alaska that fascinates you? Why did you choose it as the setting for your stories?

AnnaLee: I grew up in Alaska. Even though I have spent most of my adult life in New York, I still miss the vibrant beauty of the snow-capped mountains that soar abruptly from the sea. I wanted to showcase Alaska as I knew it before statehood.

Alexis: Did you go on a research trip when writing this book? Why or why not?

AnnaLee: No, I didn’t need to. I drew on my memories of growing up in the fifties and sixties in southeast Alaska and many visits since. The plots of my books are based loosely on true stories my grandparents told while I was researching the nonfiction book I wrote about their 65 years as missionaries in Alaska from 1917 to 1982. 

Alexis: What was it like to grow up in a missionary family?

AnnaLee: I loved it and played an active part in my parents’ ministry, singing solos in services, playing the piano or accordion for church, teaching the younger children’s Sunday school class, and leading the youth group when I was in high school. I learned to trust the Lord to supply my needs and even my heart’s desires—all great preparation for our own church planting and pastoral ministry. At present, I am working on another book under the working title “Nuggets of Faith” about the many miraculous answers to prayer my family and I have experienced through the years. 

Alexis: How did your experience as an MK (Missionary Kid) affect your storytelling?

AnnaLee: My missionary grandmother was a wonderful storyteller. She entertained everyone she met with stories of her early days in Alaska. My mother also made up life-application stories to illustrate Bible truths. Their Christmas letters to supporters, family, and friends provided an opportunity to write about the miracles they experienced. I too have wonderful stories to tell and have continued that tradition. For 25 years, I wrote church school curriculum and Sunday school take-home papers for Gospel Publishing House and often incorporated my personal stories.

Alexis: Describe your writing style in three words.

AnnaLee: My critique group says my writing style is inspirational, character-driven, and descriptive. Reviews of my book comment on how my writing helps them visualize Alaska even if they have never been there.

Alexis: What is the main motivation of each of your main characters in Beside Still Waters?

AnnaLee: Violet, an orphan raised by her uncle and aunt, was studying to be a teacher when her uncle’s untimely death interrupted her education and plunged her into poverty. She wants to escape the garment factory, the only place where she could find work.

John Barston, captain of the Yukon Bell riverboat, fell in love with sailing while working his way through college on the ferries of Puget Sound in Seattle. He plans to eventually earn advanced degrees and become a college English professor, but the call of the Yukon has woven its spell on him. When he meets Violet, his focus shifts. He wants to take care of her and make her happy.

Norman Pedersen, main character in A Star to Steer By, needs to heal from two great losses.

Alexis: How does the faith of your characters impact their outlook on life?

AnnaLee: In the face of her losses, Violet turns her back on God, but after what seemed a chance encounter with the Penningtons, she comes to realize God’s great love for her and finds purpose and peace.

Alexis: What do you want readers to remember the most about Beside Still Waters?

AnnaLee: Violet experiences a range of emotions before finally learning not to trust in her own understanding. The book explores powerful themes of grief and redemption, exposing the flaws of relying on human feelings and the ultimate peace that can be found only in a relationship with God. Through tragedy, God reveals Himself. The troubles that befall us can make us better if we trust Him

Alexis: Thanks for the interview, AnnaLee! God bless you.

AnnaLee: Thank you, Alexis, for the opportunity to share my books with your followers. Anyone cruising to Alaska will find them especially meaningful as background as well as entertainment.

Author Bio:

AnnaLee Conti is an author, teacher, and ordained minister. 

She resides in the Mid-Hudson River Valley with her husband, Bob. Together, they have pastored churches in New York State for more than 35 years. They have one son and five grandchildren. One is following a career that involves writing; another is a missionary to Thailand.

AnnaLee’s experiences growing up in a missionary family in Alaska during the fifties and sixties provide inspiration for her writing. She has also published numerous short stories, articles, devotionals, church school curriculum on assignment for Gospel Publishing House, and a non-fiction book. 

Beside Still Waters is the third novel in her Alaskan Waters Trilogy.

Book Blurb for Beside Still Waters:

Is she jumping from a city firetrap into a wilderness icebox?

Violet Channing, orphaned at a young age, is tossed about by life’s turbulent waters when the aunt who raised her dies. She wants nothing more than to be a schoolteacher. Living in a Boston tenement in 1915, barely able to survive, she accepts a job as a live-in teacher for a sick child in the harsh Yukon Territory.

Sailing up the Inside Passage of Alaska, she falls in love with a dashing Yukon riverboat captain. Just when her life feels as beautiful as her new surroundings, tragedy strikes again.

Can Violet allow her losses to make her better not bitter and learn to love again in this continuing saga of the loves, tragedies, and second chances of a Norwegian immigrant family who must battle the beautiful but often dangerous waters of early twentieth century Southeast Alaska?

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1 comment:

  1. Yes I would love to visit Alaska even if it is through the eyes of an author.


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