An Interview with Amanda Wen,
Author of Roots of Wood and Stone
For readers who can’t decide if they would like to pick up something historical or contemporary for their next read, debut author Amanda Wen offers them the best of both worlds in her new release. Roots of Wood and Stone (Kregel Publications) is a warm, delightfully written split-time novel that will resonate with readers looking for stories that reveal the beauty of God’s plan for our lives, and how our actions ripple for generations.
Q: What drew you to the split-time genre? What unique
challenges does writing in two time periods present?
I’ve always loved reading both historical and contemporary books, and I’ve long been a fan of TV shows that hop from era to era. From the ‘80s sci-fi show Quantum Leap and the 2000s crime drama Cold Case to the new hit This Is Us, series like these illustrate in dramatic fashion just how deeply the past impacts the present. Split-time novels do the same thing: characters’ past decisions have ripple effects, both good and bad, for generations to come.
In addition, one of my favorite things about split time is watching the contemporary characters dig into the past. My mother is a genealogist who’s been tracing our family history since before I was born, and her passion for uncovering our family’s stories has been an important backdrop my entire life. Her research has given me an appreciation for those who came before and a desire to pass along this appreciation to my own kids. Given all this, I think the split-time genre is a natural fit for me!
However, split time doesn’t come without its challenges. Instead of writing one story, I’m writing two, and they have to weave together in an organic way. If you can lift one story line out of the book without hurting the other one, then it’s not integrated well enough. With two stories come two heroes, two heroines, and two plotlines, all of which must be correctly paced and equally interesting to the reader. But challenges aside,
Q: How does the historical story connect with the contemporary story?
Roots of Wood and Stone revolves around an 1890s farmhouse that is the home of contemporary hero Garrett Anderson’s grandmother, Rosie Spencer. In cleaning out the house, he finds an old satchel which he brings to the local historical museum in hopes that they might have some use for it. The curator, Sloane Kelley, is initially unimpressed with the satchel . . . until she opens it and finds a nineteenth-century diary inside. That diary, written by past heroine Annabelle Collins, links the past time line with the present. As Sloane digs into the diary, she wants to find out more, so she ends up going to the farmhouse to help Garrett and his sister, Lauren, declutter.
Subsequent diaries found in the house shine a light on Annabelle’s life as an early settler to Sedgwick County: the love she finds, the losses she suffers, and the God who is faithful to carry her through it all. In addition, these diaries draw Sloane and Garrett together in ways neither could imagine and form the crux of the conflict that arises between the two. Exploring the past has a direct impact on the present for both Sloane and Garrett.
Q: Roots of Wood and Stone was inspired by your
own family history. Can you tell us a little bit about your family’s story and
what parts made their way into your book?
The seed of inspiration for Roots of Wood and Stone is an 1890s farmhouse not far from where I grew up (and where I now live) which belonged to my great-great-grandfather, Francis Thomas Little. He immigrated to the United States from Ireland as a child and became one of the earliest settlers of Maize, Kansas. Grandpa Little, as he’s known in my family, wrote a memoir, A Kansas Farmer, which was an invaluable resource during my research process.
Francis Little married Mattie Stevens, daughter of another early settler, William Fletcher Stevens, who lost his first wife and infant son shortly after arriving in Sedgwick County in 1870. (In fact, my great-great-great-grandfather would go on to bury a second wife and eight of his fourteen children.) I wondered how someone would cope with such a tragic loss and emerge with his faith intact, and it’s this first early loss that forms the crux of the spiritual journey for my past hero, Jack Brennan.
My past heroine, Annabelle Collins, is very loosely based on a paternal ancestor, Antoinette Patrick Peterson, who as a young child was left with an aunt and uncle after the death of her mother. She moved to Kansas with her aunt and uncle, who raised her to adulthood, and I grew curious about the impact of such a decision on a child. The rest of Antoinette’s life was no less interesting and colorful, but I decided to save it for a future book.
Q: Sloane was abandoned at birth, so she never had a connection to her biological family or their history. How did she compensate for that in her professional life?
Abandoned at birth and adopted by strangers, Sloane differs from her adoptive parents in every way—appearance, personality, talents, and interests. She struggles with knowing they love her, and they don’t fully understand her. She feels like plan B: someone her birth parents didn’t want, who her adoptive parents settled for after not being able to conceive biologically. This feeling haunts her formative years.
As an adult, Sloane discovers historical research, the filling in of gaps in her own knowledge and the sharing of information she uncovers with others. Though incomplete, the satisfaction she receives from helping people connect with and appreciate the history of the Wichita area is enough to propel her forward in her career as a museum curator. “I guess that’s why I’m so passionate about history,” she tells Garrett in one scene. “If I can’t know my own, at least I can help everyone else know theirs.”
Q: Tell us about Garrett. Where does his sense of responsibility come from?
type-A overachiever since childhood, Garrett Anderson has been thrust into a
difficult situation with the weight of the world on his shoulders. In recent
years, he’s lost his mother to cancer, his father to a hasty remarriage and
subsequent new life in Florida, and his grandfather to a sudden heart attack.
As a result, the burden of care for his Alzheimer’s-afflicted grandmother,
Rosie, has fallen to him and his sister, Lauren. The siblings are close but
very different in personality, and they have not been able to reach an
agreement as to what’s best for their grandmother.
In caring for Rosie, Garrett has also learned what can happen when people fail to plan. Due to a family whose approach to life has always been “ready-fire-aim,” as he describes it, he now realizes his grandmother is in dire financial straits. This impacts him personally and professionally, since, as a certified financial planner, his career revolves around helping other people avoid the sort of situation his grandmother has found herself in. He believes that all of life’s problems can be avoided, or at the very least mitigated, if one just comes up with—and follows through on—the perfect plan.
Q: How about the historical characters—do they carry the
missing pieces of their family with them as well?
Like Sloane, Annabelle Collins was raised by people other than her birth parents, although unlike Sloane, Annabelle had a relationship with her birth family. A child of eight when her mother died of a sudden illness, Annabelle is left with a father and two older brothers, all of whom feel called to fight for the Union in the Civil War. Before they enlist, Annabelle’s father leaves her with his sister, Katherine, and her husband, Stephen, who’ve always longed for a child of their own. As Annabelle grows up under her aunt and uncle’s roof, she feels loved, cared for, and wanted, but she also suffers the wounds of her father’s abandonment, particularly when she learns that he has remarried and started a new family: one that has no room for her.
Jack Brennan, meanwhile, is reeling from the tragic loss of his wife and infant son, along with his wife’s sister and her husband, who made the journey to Sedgwick County with Jack. In fact, the only other survivor of the journey is Jack’s young nephew, Oliver, who he’s taken in as his own. Jack’s love for his nephew is one of the first things Annabelle notices, and it’s a key part of their blossoming relationship.
Q: What role does faith play in the lives of your characters?
my characters are people of faith, but all of them have run up against some
struggles. For Sloane, the wound of her childhood abandonment is the lens
through which she sees everything. Feeling unwanted and unloved by her birth
parents extends to her relationship with God. Is she plan B to him too? Garrett,
meanwhile, has grown up in the church and has a fairly strong faith, but he hasn’t
truly grasped the concept of trusting God rather than leaning on his own
understanding (Proverbs 3:5–6). A highly intelligent and motivated individual,
Garrett believes that life will be infinitely easier if he just comes up with
and follows through on the perfect plan. But when his perfect plan runs up against
obstacles he can’t overcome, he struggles to let go and allow God to enact the
Trust is also a theme for Annabelle Collins, the heroine of the past time line. She suffers some losses both early and later in her life, and she struggles with the holes those losses leave in her heart. Can she learn to trust God to provide not necessarily everything she wants but everything she needs? Meanwhile, past hero Jack reels from loss as well, and he struggles to understand why—if he’s being obedient to God’s call on his life, as he thought he was—his life involves so much suffering. Throughout the book, Jack learns that just because life is difficult doesn’t mean he’s on the wrong path. Sometimes, one needs to stay the course.
Q: What did God teach you through the writing of Roots of Wood and Stone? What do you hope your readers take away from the book?
Roots of Wood and Stone was my first attempt at split time, and I depended on God for the wisdom to know how to weave the two time lines and stories together. It was an intimidating undertaking, and one possible only through him. Also, trusting God has always been a challenge for me. Like Garrett, I’m a type-A uber planner, one who needs a plan A, plan B, and plan C to feel fully on top of things. While writing this book, I quickly discovered that I could control very little. My characters had their own ideas of how the plot should progress, and the story was frequently better if I let go and trusted them.
publishing journey was no different. Through the very lengthy (and also
agonizing) submission process, I had to trust every day that the God who gave
me the idea for the story and enabled me to put it on paper would do with it
what he chose in the timing that was very best, not only for me but for all who
will read the book.
As for those readers, I hope they come away with a renewed and restored faith. Though I would never in a million years have chosen to release my debut novel during a global pandemic, I think the message of the book—that God will take all your loose ends and broken pieces and weave them into something more beautiful than you can imagine—is especially timely for such a difficult period in our world. Many of us have been forced to alter the vast majority of our plans this past year, including plans for things—church, work, school, family get-togethers—that we never thought we’d have to alter. But God is still in control. This pandemic has not changed, nor will it change, his good and perfect plan.
Q: Which character in Roots of Wood and Stone was
easiest for you to write and why? Which character presented the biggest
The most challenging character was probably Sloane. An introvert by nature, and one who’s been dealt some serious wounds, she doesn’t trust easily. In fact, that included me when I was first getting to know her. I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer, so the only way I get to know characters is by writing them, which doesn’t work well when a character isn’t quite ready to talk. We spun our wheels for a bit, but I finally decided to put a little of my own love for music into the book and gave Sloane a musical hobby. That, it seemed, gave us enough common ground for her to feel comfortable opening up to me.
By contrast, Jack Brennan was the easiest character for me to write. Inspired by (but not based on) Jack Pearson from This Is Us, Jack sprang into my head fully formed and quickly stole all his scenes in the best possible way. He wears his heart on his sleeve and was thus very easy for me to get to know and love.
Q: How did you start writing? How do you balance writing with being a mom and a professional musician?
I’ve been writing stories since I could hold a pencil, but it wasn’t until 2008 that the writing bug bit me and refused to let go. This sounds cheesy, but a story idea came to me in a dream one night, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I wanted to know what happened next, so I did the only thing I could think to do: write the story so I could read it and find out!
Over the next few years—interspersed with the births of my three kids—I dabbled in story writing in a couple different genres. In 2014, after my youngest was a year old, I got serious about writing for publication and shared my work with my best friend, who is a multi-published author in the general market. She took me under her wing and corrected all my newbie writing errors, but she also encouraged me and inspired me to write better and better stories.
As for how I
balance writing with my other life as a professional cellist (playing a lot of
freelance gigs, including weddings and the occasional orchestra concert) and
pianist (as a choral accompanist for a local middle school and high school),
I’ve learned the fine art of prioritizing. During busy music seasons, my
writing usually gets put on the back burner. Similarly, when I’m deep in
drafting mode or on deadline with revisions, I don’t take on quite so much on
the music side. And sometimes I make an intentional choice to take a week or
two off from all professional pursuits and focus on my family.
Both music and writing feed my soul—as well as feed each other—and they’re both wired so deeply into my DNA that I can’t not do them, so I pray for a lot of wisdom in how to manage my schedule and trust that God will give me the time I need to do what he’s called me to do.
Q: What’s next from you? Can readers hope for more stories from Sedgwick County?
I am working on a sequel to Roots of Wood and Stone that features with two secondary characters
from that book: Garrett’s sister, Lauren, and his grandmother, Rosie. After a
tailspin in her late teens, Lauren’s life is finally on track. Her food blog is
successful, her photography studio bustling, and her battle with bulimia seems
to be under control. But an unexpected wrinkle appears in the form of Carter
Douglas, the summer fling whose rejection launched her downward spiral. When
old feelings reappear with new strength, can Lauren risk her heart to love a
man who already broke it once?
TV meteorologist Carter Douglas has a job he never thought he’d take in a city where he never planned to live . . . and comes face-to-face with a woman he never thought he’d see again. He’s determined to make the most of this second chance with Lauren, but when circumstances force the same decision he made as a teenager, will he have the courage to make a different choice?
When Lauren’s elderly grandmother calls out a name from the depths of dementia, the name of a man her family has never heard of, Lauren and her family seek the truth. Who was this man? Who was he to her grandmother? Their journey takes them to the 1950s, when a gently blossoming love attempts to withstand a storm of racial prejudice and separation. As stories are told and secrets revealed, Lauren and Carter embark on a journey of forgiveness and second chances that will change their lives forever.