Today we’re celebrating the release of a wonderful new women’s fiction novel, Ladies of the Lake, by Cathy Gohlke. I was able to read an early copy, and I absolutely loved the story! I invited Cathy to answer a few questions for us, so you can learn more about this amazing novel! I hope you’ll read on and see for yourself why this is a book you’ll want to order and enjoy this summer!
Where did the inspiration for this book come from?
When I first read of the Halifax Explosion (December 6, 1917) I was astonished that I’d never heard of it, considering that before the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in WWII this was the biggest manmade explosion that had ever occurred.
Reading of the devastation, of lives lost and those forever changed by burns, crippling and blindness in the Halifax Explosion, I was reminded of all my mother endured as a small child after being badly burned, how she overcame that tragedy, and yet how those injuries affected her throughout her lifetime.
It was fascinating to me that with so many disappearing in the explosion some took the opportunity to reinvent themselves and change their identity. I asked, why would a person do that? What would make a person choose to leave everything and everyone behind and forge a new life?
The growing disregard for others and increased bullying that I witness through social media and in our society greatly concerns me. I wanted to show through story that such things to which we may turn a blind eye can go beyond rudeness and can have serious and lasting consequences that we may never intend or imagine. It is our responsibility to temper our words and actions, and to stand against bullying for the sake of others.
I was inspired by Joseph’s handling of those who wronged him in the Bible, how he reacted when faced with the opportunity to retaliate or to forgive, or to forgive and embrace and wanted to see how that could play out through fictional characters.
Lastly, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of young people growing up in boarding schools, so looked for a girls’ boarding school in New England, knowing that I wanted to set the main part of the story in the U.S. That’s when I discovered Miss Porter’s School and its long and interesting history. I could well imagine four girls growing up as close friends in such a setting and together facing numerous challenges—many like challenges we face today.
Ladies of the Lake focuses on four friends. Were any of them inspired by real relationships in your own life?
I am blessed with a precious natural sister who was my very first friend and lifelong confidante, and dear longtime women friends, each a true sister of my heart. Those relationships have taught me the importance of sharing faith, truth from our hearts, trust, integrity, of championing one another’s successes, of comforting through trials and sorrow, and of refusing to allow jealousy, envy, or competition to worm their way between us. Close relationships can be challenged when years, courses and stages of life or miles come between. Love is not fragile but requires nurturing. Staying connected through letters or emails, cards, phone calls, and visits requires diligence and commitment. The value, the joy, and the strengthening of those relationships for ourselves and for the witness to our next generation as an example is worth every investment.
Which of the four young women in this novel was your favorite to write?
Addie. I understood her shyness, her desire to fit in with other girls, her feelings of shame and vulnerability as a young person and her eagerness to grow into her desired gifts of teaching and writing. I understood her desire for friendship, her sacrificial loyalty to those she embraced as family, as well as her desire to disappear when faced with returning to the world she’d known became conflicted and too hard, and when duty called her to a new direction. I appreciated Addie’s/Rosaline’s sacrifice, her determination to raise her niece as her daughter, and her great love and desire to protect her. I was inspired by Addie’s courage in overcoming her fear to return to the school years later for her daughter’s sake, even though she knew it would cost her everything to confess her secrets, to remember and confront all those she’d left behind, especially the man she’d always loved. I loved writing Addie’s character arc, her growth into the woman she was meant to become.
Your novel centers on the Halifax Explosion. Why did you choose this historical event to anchor your novel?
When I first read of the Halifax Explosion (December 6, 1917) I was astonished that in all my WWI research I’d never heard of it, especially considering that before the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in WWII (1947), this was the biggest manmade explosion that had ever occurred. I realized that if that was true for me, it must be true for others.
Reading of the devastation, lives lost and those forever changed by burns, crippling and blindness, I was reminded of all my mother endured as a small child after being badly burned and how she overcame that tragedy. I’ve long wanted to explore, trough a fictional character, some of the fortitude I’ve witnessed in my mother’s long life. This was the perfect opportunity to do so.
It was also fascinating to me that with so many disappearing in the Explosion some took the opportunity to reinvent themselves and change their identity. I wondered why a person would do that. What would make a person choose to leave everything and everyone behind and forge a new life?
This book explores themes of friendship, love, and resilience. Which theme was the most fun to write?
Friendship. I loved exploring the wonder and complexities of growing up with close friends from diverse backgrounds. The joy of knowing there was always someone there to comfort or champion, even when others might bully or misunderstand juxtaposed with the inevitable rivalry and sometimes misunderstandings among friends was fascinating to write.
A group of close friends was something I longed for as a young person but with too frequent moving never experienced for long. As an adult I’ve learned to value greatly the healthy friendships of other women. Busy lives and geography can make staying in touch difficult—unlike girls who see each other daily in a boarding school. I’m keenly aware that nurture must be intentional and not neglected.
Why are female friendships so important?
Women need the friendship, mentoring, companionship, and sisterhood of other women. Such bonds are precious and can prove life-sustaining through hard times. Who, besides your sister or best friend—your sister of the heart—will tell you the unvarnished truth, even when it hurts, will rejoice with you over the smallest victory, will stand with you through embarrassing or hard times when all others desert, and is ready to take your phone call even in the dead of night?
Women are unique in countless ways and understand one another’s hearts through similar life experiences. Being able to share life journeys, without explaining every detail—knowing the other woman understands—is a great gift.
How did research play a role in your writing process?
Shortly before the Pandemic, my husband, Dan, and I embarked on an anniversary trip to Nova Scotia, originally planned to fulfill my longtime desire to see Prince Edward Island and all things Lucy Maud Montgomery, and to fulfill his desire see the Maritimes. Before going, I read The Great Halifax Explosion, by John U. Bacon, and knew immediately the event described was the background for my story—that, and Prince Edward Island, beloved birthplace and favorite girlhood haunt of Lucy Maud Montgomery.
We spent our first day in Halifax exploring the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic where I saw graphic images and testimonies of the Explosion and its aftermath. The gift shop featured several excellent research books which I gladly purchased. I spent another day at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, gaining a better understanding of travel, especially for women of the period traveling alone. The Public Gardens in Halifax were breathtaking, and I smiled when I saw just where the proposal could take place. So many streets in Halifax, from the town’s famous Clock Tower that the stopped at the moment of explosion to the Memorial Bell Towers and Fairview Cemetery, where unidentified victims of the Explosion—as well as those drawn from the water after Titanic sank—are buried breathed more of the story into my brain.
We spent time on Prince Edward Island, especially the Anne of Green Gables Museum, Montgomery’s beloved Silver Bush at Park Corner. At trip to Charlottetown and attending the Anne of Green Gables musical was a treat. A trip to Farmington, Connecticut to snap photographs of Miss Porter’s School and the surrounding area rounded out my tours.
Beyond those wonderful explorations I read numerous research books and memoirs, as well as the published journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery, a history of Miss Porter’s School, and interviewed for some unique family histories from the period. It was only difficult to stop the research and write the book!
What will fans of Little Women and Anne of Green Gables enjoy about this story?
Fans of Little Women will enjoy the strong and diverse personalities of four girls growing up together, of their united force in facing the trials others present them, as well as the differences that come between them. They’ll recognize and appreciate the girls’ fierce bonds, the hard lessons each one learns yet how those life experiences ultimately mature them, drawing them closer.
Fans of Anne of Green Gables will love the references to Prince Edward Island and the life and work of Lucy Maud Montgomery. They’ll love the anticipation and reaction of the release of each Anne or Pat of Silverbush book, as well as the correspondence and that beloved author’s mentoring of Addie, the main character, who claims a kinship with Montgomery and dreams of becoming a writer.
Fans of both books will appreciate the precarious and sometimes humorous escapades and scrapes in which the girls find themselves—sometimes as victims and sometimes as perpetrators. Readers will enjoy watching the girls grow into women, using their individual gifts for the good of all.
How does faith play a role in this story?
There are similarities between the life and choices Joseph and his brothers of the Bible are faced with and the life and growing realizations of Addie and Dorothy in Ladies of the Lake. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. Ultimately, despite horrific experiences not of his own making, he forged a new life with a new name in a new country. Addie, through sudden tragedy, chose to make herself over by claiming a new name and forging a new life in a new country. Like Joseph, when the time came that she was faced with confronting or receiving those she’d never expected to see again—she learned to forgive, and ultimately to reconcile, reclaim, and to provide for those she believed had hurt her.
Surrender to the Lord of personal hurt and pride, as well as seeking, accepting, and offering His forgiveness, to others and ourselves, are all major faith themes in Ladies of the Lake.
What do you hope readers take away from Ladies of the Lake?
Sometimes our closest family is found in our dearest friends. I hope readers will embrace the great worth of their friendships among women, how we need one another, how as the Bible says, “iron sharpens iron” and “two are better than one.” I hope readers will recognize the beauty, the strength, but also the potential fragility of those relationships if they are not nurtured and maintained.
The story speaks of the importance of trust, kindness, compassion, and the transformation of repentance when we are wrong and ask forgiveness, and the joy and freedom of when we offer forgiveness. I hope that if readers find themselves in fractured relationships this story will inspire a path toward that first step in seeking and accepting or offering forgiveness that will ultimately bring forth reconciliation and restoration.
The story addresses bullying and its consequences, the cruelty of gossip and prejudice, and how easy it is to misunderstand and/or misrepresent what we hear or imagine. It shows that sometimes doing nothing is the same as doing wrong. I hope it alerts us to recognize and stand against bullying, for ourselves and for those who need a voice but have none.
I hope it reminds us all that politics and war should never trump relationships, especially among those who, whether blood relations or not, are family in Christ.
Bestselling, Christy Hall of Fame, and Carol and INSPY Award-winning author, Cathy Gohlke writes novels steeped with inspirational lessons, speaking of world and life events through the lens of history. She champions the battle against oppression, celebrating the freedom found only in Christ. When not traveling to historic sites for research, she and her husband of 40 years, Dan, divide their time between Northern Virginia and the Jersey Shore, enjoying time with their grown children and grandchildren. Visit her website at www.cathygohlke.com, and find her on Facebook at CathyGohlkeBooks; on Bookbub (@ CathyGohlke); and on YouTube, where you can subscribe to Book Gems with Cathy Gohlke for short videos of book recommendations.
Congratulations to Cathy on the release of Ladies of the Lake! I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!
Until Next Time ~ Happy Reading,