Today I’m delighted to host author Brandy Heineman, who marries two of my own interests–genealogy and inspirational fiction–in her debut novel, Whispers in the Branches. Brandy likes writing stories seasoned with secrets from the past and mysteries of the faith–and this one certainly includes both. Here, she chats with me about what that intersection looks like. To learn more about this as well as her giveaway on Goodreads, read on…
Brandy, welcome! Which came first: your interest in genealogical sleuthing, or the idea to write Whispers in the Branches, in which genealogical sleuthing plays a key role? How has each influenced the other?
I’ve always loved books and writing, and I had an interest in genealogy from a fairly young age, too. Case-in-point: when I was about ten, I created an unfortunate family tree out of paper cut-outs, string, and clothes hangers.
So the sleuthing came before the story, but they were intertwined from the beginning. Around the time when I started asking God if it was even possible for me to write a “Christian ghost story,” I received some family documents that hinted at a story of regrets, and that was ultimately the seed for Whispers in the Branches—the desperate ache of wanting what you can never have.
One of the themes of your novel is discovery—which is also, of course, what genealogical research is all about. What do you hope your readers discover about themselves in Whispers in the Branches?
For the most part, I hope readers simply find whatever they need in the story. Whether that means a few hours entertainment or a spur in the soul is out of my hands. Nonetheless, since this book includes some characters who wrestle with truth—or what they wish to be true—I do hope readers will examine their own assumptions about faith. For example, we’re all susceptible to sliding into patterns of relating to God in terms of our circumstances, rather than according to who He is. If this story gives readers pause about any ill-conceived spiritual notions they’re holding, praise God!
“Those who do not look upon themselves as a link connecting the past with the future do not perform their duty to the world.” As a genealogy buff, you must appreciate this quote from Daniel Webster, but “duty” is a strong word. Do you agree?
It is a great quote, but I can’t say I agree. It’s a tough question, though. History is full of lessons, of course, and our experiences (as individuals and as the human race) can and should be mined for their treasures. However, if we indeed have a “duty to the world,” I’m not convinced that being a link from past to future is the only way to perform it.
As I see it, story is powerful. That power imparts responsibility to exercise wisdom in choosing the stories we tell. Merely discovering an ancestor’s dark secret doesn’t create an obligation for me to dredge it up. I have found horrible stories, barely hinted by relatives, splashed across newspaper pages from a hundred years ago. Who knew way back then that yesterday’s news would one day be indexed and searchable? If my best judgment tells me that a particular dark moment of our family’s story is better left forgotten, then my duty to the world would be not to forge that link.
To put it another way, it’s often said that gossip hurts three people: the person it’s about, the person who tells it, and the person who hears it. If the subject happens to be dead, is it less toxic to the other two? I would say no. I have definitely had moments in my research that left me heartsick, and that’s not a feeling I want to multiply without cause.
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What can our extended family’s story tell us about ourselves?
I think a legacy of story presents us with a slew of choices. Can I live up to my family name or rise above it, as the case may be? Will I be defined by it? To the extent that I can identify generation patterns of thinking—and you’d be amazed—will I assess and choose my attitudes, or automatically agree because that’s how I was raised? Will I excuse bad behavior in others because of how they were raised?
We often hear people say that they’ll never forget where they came from. I think the choices we make in response to knowing our heritage are a part of that sentiment.
An underlying question of Whispers in the Branches seems to be, Can we find redemption in the past? Well—can we?
Since several characters attempt to fill their need for Jesus with other things, I’d shy away from saying we can find redemption in the past. I do think that for many of us, there’s a sense of satisfaction and completeness derived from knowing what factors that shaped our lives and attitudes. More importantly, if understanding the past helps us to see varied perspectives and bridges difficult relationships with the living members of our families, then in that sense, perhaps it is indeed a form of redemption.
And of course, if something from the past is haunting you, you’ll want to chase it down and subdue it. Whether you should or not—that’s a question for another day!
Thank you, Brandy!
My pleasure, Katherine! Thank you for having me!
About this book: (from the publisher) Tending a void in her heart that demands to be filled, Abby Wells uproots her life in Ohio to move into the ancestral home in Georgia. Now that her mom is gone, it’s her best chance to connect with the last of her family, and she can’t deny the pull of the supposedly haunted house. The seductive comfort of believing that ghosts could be real drives her search, but Aunt Ruby’s plans for Abby don’t include revealing secrets kept for seventy years. Oh, there’s dirty laundry she’d like to air—just not her own. Indulging in the attentions of the house’s handsome caretaker helps numb her pain, but Abby’s ex-boyfriend won’t let go of the past. He hounds her about his newfound religion in hopes of reconciling, but why reach for him or the God who couldn’t or wouldn’t spare her mom? In the stillness of the old house, the spirit world feels so close she can almost touch it. But she doesn’t know yet that there’s more than one way to be haunted.
About the author: (from her website) Brandy Heineman’s debut novel, Whispers in the Branches,finaled in the 2014 ACFW Genesis contest and was released by Elk Lake Publishing in 2015. When she’s not writing, she divides her free time between reading, scrapbooking, and genealogy sleuthing.
She’s a graduate of Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia with a degree in Business Administration and Communication, and has worked in financial services and marketing. She treasures her family time, which usually means Marvel movie marathons with her husband, Michael, and their two needy, greedy cats.
Brandy is represented by Jim Hart of Hartline Literary Agency. She is active in the North Georgia chapter of ACFW and has contributed articles to Writer… Interrupted, the ACFW Journal, and Book Fun Magazine. You can find her on Twitter as@brandyhei, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Goodreads.
About the sweepstakes giveaway: No purchase required; US residents only; void where prohibited. See official rules when entering. Click here for details.