MA: It’s a real treat for me today to have as my guest a fellow member of the Military Writers Society of America (MWSA), and Rocky Mountain neighbor, Erin Rainwater. Erin is a Pennsylvania native who says she probably should have been born in the 19th century but somehow got flash-forwarded into the 20th. There was never any question that she would be a nurse when she grew up, regardless of which century she was in. And beginning in about the seventh grade, there was no question that she’d launch that nursing career in the military. The daughter of a WWII intelligence officer, she entered the Army after graduating from nursing school. That was during the Vietnam War era, and she was privileged to care for the bodies and spirits of soldiers and veterans, including repatriated POWs and MIAs. Her military experience has helped in writing parts of her novels. Her support of the military has been life long and is ongoing, and one of her favorite pastimes is volunteering at the USO in Denver. She participated in Operation Desert Swap, having “adopted” a soldier in Iraq to whom she sent a copy of her novel for reading and swapping with his fellow troops. Erin now lives in Colorado with her husband of 35 years, has four children and the four most adorable grandchildren on the planet.
Erin, thank you for your service. Please tell us a little more about your background, especially your military service.
ER: My “back story” consists of being born and raised in a suburb of Pittsburgh, PA, attending nursing school there, and going directly into the Army Nurse Corps upon graduation. I served for three years during the Vietnam War era, including duty stations at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, the 121st Evac Hospital in Korea, and at Walter Reed in D.C. I got married while still in the Army, and after my discharge I worked part time—mostly in ICU—while raising our four children. I only started writing when I was in my thirties.
MA: I’m familiar with the 121st from my two tours in Korea…a huge facility. Nursing and writing – how did you end up becoming an author?
ER: I’ve always loved fiction, especially historicals, so it was natural for me to migrate toward that genre when I began writing. As for novel length versus short stories, it’s not so much a choice as a lack of ability on my part to write shorter tales. I just plain lack the capacity to spin a yarn in less than 45,000 words. My new release, Refining Fires, started out as a short story, but there was just too much story to tell, and my attempts to limit it failed miserably. My critique group hounded me into telling the full story, so the three-part novel was born. I consider the term “short story” an oxymoron.
MA: Tell us more about your latest release.
ER: Refining Fires is unique in format and storytelling approach. It’s three-stories-in-one format, beginning with “Refining Fire.” Clare Canterbury is a nurse with a tarnished professional reputation seeking work. Any work. She answers an ad for a live-in nurse situation, caring for a disabled Korean War veteran. Little does she know what she’s in for. He tosses her out of his home. But his anger is no match for her pluck, and she finagles her way into his employ, his home, and eventually his heart. As she ministers to Peter’s body, his soul develops a raw yearning for a life and a love he’d long ago thought hopeless. Theirs is quite a romance, but “Refining Fire” is only the beginning of their love story. In the second story, a little girl named Susannah shows grit beyond her years as she faces her biggest fear. She must go it alone on a treacherous journey down a mountain to save her mother’s life, then faces harder times yet to come. The love that Peter and Clare share has an immense impact on this extraordinary child who is filled with “Blind Courage.” Finally, you’ll meet the “Kept Woman” bent on self-destruction until a child and a man from her past teach her about who has been keeping her all along. Refining Fires is not your prototypical romance. It’s made up of three stories of people seeking redemption in one form or another, whose paths cross, showing how God’s hand is ever on us, leading and refining as we go.
MA: I understand you take a unique approach to developing your characters. Please talk about that.
ER: This might sound strange, but for me it’s never been so much about my developing my characters as it is my catching on to the nuances of their personalities. Although I begin with a concept of who I want the main characters to be and what they will be like, I honestly discover things about them right along with the reader as we trek further into the story. Take Peter Cochran in Refining Fires, for instance. We initially see his darker, angry side, but in time, as the walls of his internal fortress begin to crumble, we gain insight into what’s been there all along—astounding courage (even in the face of death, I later discovered), humility, a sense of humor, and the longing to be loved for who he is and not for what he has.
MA: What are Peter’s strengths and weaknesses?
ER: I mentioned his courage, which is one of his great strengths. His nurse Clare points out that not only did he show heroism in the war but during his recovery from his injuries as well—fourteen times he’s been through those operating room doors, plus he learned to walk again, every step he took a victory in itself. His greatest weakness is his lack of awareness that he possesses any of these strengths, or that any of it matters. He also had chosen a lifestyle contrary to his early Christian upbringing, then became embittered when consequence time arrived.
MA: What about an antagonist…is there a unique “bad guy” or a recurring nemesis of any kind?
ER: Ooh, that is such a cool question. In my two previous books, I’ve had some really nasty villains (one reader told me every time the heavy in True Colors entered the scene it made her skin crawl). And there is one character in Refining Fires who definitely is the “bad girl.” But for the most part, Peter is his own worst nemesis.
MA: Given your nursing background, your service in the military, and your overseas time in Korea, I imagine a lot of your real experiences influenced your writing of Refining Fires?
ER: Yep, they sure did. Clare Canterbury is a former Army nurse, as am I. Some of our military experiences were similar. Read More