Today, award-winning author Cara Luecht joins us to talk about her her novel, Devil in the Dust. It’s set during the dust bowl. She took a difficult subject during a devastating time in our history and turned it into a realistic novel.
Cara, can you tell us how you decided to tackle such a difficult subject?
I think, as Christians, there is this pressure for everything to look like all is good with life. Almost as if struggling is equal to a lack of faith. But this is not how it is supposed to be. We are supposed to walk alongside each other when things get difficult.
I was doing some research when I realized that the dust bowl conditions in the central part of the US lasted for a decade. A decade! And people survived! I began to wonder what a minister’s job might look like in conditions like these—how does a person preach hope to people who have lost everything?
This novel was really my exploration of the place where suffering meets grace.
I love it that you’re tackling the difficult subjects. I agree there is pressure for Christian writers to write those types of books, but life is hard. Jesus even told us this life would be difficult. Thank you for not sugar coating a devastating time in American History.
Jessie, your main character is intriguing. Could you tell us a bit about her?
Jessie is a sixteen-year-old in poverty. She is the oldest of five children and is that strange mix of woman/child we all were. She is embarrassed by growing out of her shoes, she is attracted by new things and opportunity, but she also takes on more responsibility for her family’s well-being than she should. She wants to be independent but doesn’t trust her instincts, and because starvation looms, she doesn’t know if the most responsible move she can make is also the most rebellious and the most dangerous one.
She’s a character I would like. I love it when characters face impossible decisions.
Researching the Dust Bowl and the people who lived through it must’ve been very difficult. How did this touch you?
This was, and I think primarily because the minister and his wife play large roles. I grew up in a pastor’s home, so I’ve watched my parents as they have had to deal with bad situations that were out of their ability to fix. It was during this novel when I realized how much of a burden and a privilege it is to be called to stand by people at their weakest point, knowing you can do nothing but be present.
So true. Sometimes the greatest blessings are coming alongside hurting people even when we cannot fix it. On the flip side, having someone be there when life is devastating is more of a blessing than they will ever know.
Do you have a favorite character in Devil in the Dust?
I think Jessie’s mother, Emma, is my favorite. She is so strong, yet somehow all of her insecurities, her worries over feeding her children, her concern over the changes she witnesses in Jessie—It all comes through in her character. As the parent of four children, 21, 20, 14, and 12, I think I related most to her.
Parenthood is the hardest job ever, and it doesn’t end when they are adults!
Do you have any hobbies, or should I ask do you have time for hobbies between writing, teaching college, and going to college for your Master’s of Divinity?
I do! I play piano and sing, of course, I read, I like to bake (but I don’t have too much time for that right now), and I can’t seem to stop crocheting slipper socks. Mostly, though, I look forward to the next time I am too sick to do anything, so I can binge some Netflix show without feeling guilty.
Wow! You are a busy woman. I don’t know how you find time to do it all.
Dust in the Devil may be fiction, but it’s based on a true time in our history. A devastating time. Did you develop any new insights into God’s character as you researched and wrote the story?
How much we are all called to community and how silly it is to let things stand in the way of that. While writing this, it struck me that we are here to support each other. That’s it. We are called to love and care and serve.
I think you summed up our calling as Christians in a very concise way. Love and serve.
When you were researching Devil in the Dust did you come across any unique stories of faith that inspired you?
I do not recall reading any stories of unique faith, but there was a sense, during the worst storms, that the drought was a judgment from God.
One story recalled the horrific mass killing of rabbits followed by an epic, black-out, storm. This storm was seen by many as the punishment for that killing.
While my faith does not lead me to believe that God is in the business of doling out earthly punishments, this sense of judgment was right in another way. The dust bowl was largely man-made. When farming began, the farmers thought they’d had a gold mine. The top soil was measured in feet, not inches. They plowed and harvested more and more land with no knowledge of the need to rotate crops. When the drought came—something the native people knew could happen—the land, stripped of nutrients, turned to a fine powder that sometimes blew all the way out to the Atlantic Ocean.
In essence, the farmers, with their belief that God had judged them, were right in a way. Not because God was displeased and chose to starve the people of the Oklahoma territory, but because we can, if we are not careful, outpace God’s blessings.
What incredible insight. Thank you so much for joining us at Roller Coaster Suspense, today!
Cara’s Bio and links:
Award winning author, Cara Luecht, lives in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin with her husband, David, and their children. In addition to freelance writing and marketing, Cara works as an English Instructor for a local college. Cara graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Wisconsin and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Currently, Cara is studying for a Masters of Divinity at Fuller Theological Seminary.
Cara has four published novels: Soul Painter, Soul’s Prisoner, and Gathered Waters, and Devil in the Dust. Soul Painter and Soul’s Prisoner will be joined by a third novel in the series, Soul’s Cry, in 2017.