The Write Editor

Editor's Spotlight

by Michelle Sutton

Stephanie Grace WhitsonWho is this amazing author named Stephanie Grace Whitson? As I’ve gotten to know her, I’ve become intrigued by her unique personality. But I think she’ll do a better job at describing herself than I would. She is a great author, and I love her books. Now here’s more about the woman behind the fantastic fiction.

(Stephanie describes herself in the third person point of view, and does it well, don’t you think?)

She writes historical fiction . . . and rides a motorcycle. She writes contemporary fiction . . . and loves tromping around old cemeteries. Mother to four, stepmom to one, expectant grandma to two, Stephanie Grace Whitson has made a career out of playing with imaginary friends, and it all started in an abandoned pioneer cemetery. This one’s graves are scattered on a tiny corner of land near where the Whitson family lived in the 1990s—mostly providing comic relief for the real country folk in the area. That cemetery provided not only a hands-on history lesson for Stephanie’s home-schooled children, but also was a topic of personal study as she began to read about and be encouraged by the pioneer women who settled the American West.

Since writing had always been a favorite hobby, it was only natural for Stephanie to begin jotting down scenes in the life of a nameless woman crossing Nebraska on the Oregon Trail. Things in Stephanie’s everyday life found their way into they story as it grew: some unfinished quilt blocks purchased at an auction, an arrowhead the children found one day while playing on the acreage, a woman’s brooch inscribed with the name Jesse. Eventually that story took on a life of its own, and Stephanie sent a query letter—mostly to get the expected rejection letter and have a reason to put aside the story and focus on the family’s booming home-based inspirational gift company.

God had a different plan. A plan that put the query letter in the hands of an acquisitions editor at a publishing house looking for historical fiction. A plan that included writing becoming more than a hobby. “When I was offered a three-book contract, I was stunned,” Stephanie says. “I hadn’t even written one complete novel yet . . . how would I ever write three?” Seventeen novels later, Stephanie says she has enough ideas to keep her writing for the rest of her life. “I think it was what I was always meant to do in this season of my life, but it took a few years before I realized that.”

God blessed Stephanie’s beginnings, putting two of her three first books on the ECPA best-seller list and making two of her first nine books finalists for the Christy Award. Other awards have followed, but Stephanie considers her most precious “award” the readers’ letters that share how God has used Whitson-authored novels to bless lives. “It’s astonishing, humbling, and encouraging. I can’t really put it into words—and I can usually find words for just about everything!”

Whitson’s books include a dozen historical novels, many of them set in her home state of Nebraska, which Whitson calls “one of the best kept secrets in American history.” She continues to delve into Nebraska history and add to her idea file. Pioneer women’s diaries and letters have spoken to her and encouraged her in profound ways over the years.

In 1996 Stephanie was working on her first series when her best friend died of breast cancer, her husband was diagnosed with an incurable form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, her parents died within six weeks of each other, she and her oldest daughter were hit head-on by a driver who had a heart attack and crossed the center line, and her youngest daughter was growing sicker and sicker with what would be diagnosed in 1997 as Addison’s disease. During that difficult year, God used pioneer women’s stories to encourage Stephanie. “They endured so much more than I, and so often I ended up reading letters and memories that spoke of their strong faith in the goodness of God. That was a very real help to me.”

In 2005, Stephanie’s nonfiction title, How to Help a Grieving Friend, was published by NavPress. “After Bob died I realized what a pathetic job I had often done of helping my friends deal with grief, because when people said and did some of the things I had said and done, I realized that not only were those things not helpful, but also they sometimes added more hurt to the pain I was already experiencing. So I asked several families who had suffered a profound loss to help me educate people. This little book is a very simple sharing of things we all agreed provided us meaningful comfort in a very difficult time.”

Antique quilts and pioneer women’s history, French, Italian, and Hawaiian language and culture are all passionate interests for Stephanie. “I don’t even know why quilts speak to me, but they do. I have a small collection, I love taking classes that teach how to recognize and date fabrics and quilts, and one of my favorite lectures is called “Time Travel the Calico Trail” because I get to combine two of my passions: old quilts and pioneer women’s stories.”

Stephanie says she has been a Francophile since high school when she took her first French class. “If I could I’d spend a month in Paris every year.” Loving Italy began when she and her husband spent two weeks in Florence researching Stephanie’s contemporary novel A Hilltop in Tuscany. “Someday we hope to do some serious motorcycle riding in Provence and Tuscany.”

In 2003 Stephanie married her best friend Celest’s widowed husband. “As couples, Bob and I and Dan and Celest were good friends, and so now Dan and I imagine Bob and Celest smiling down on us from heaven and laughing at our escapades—like the motorcycle thing. Dan has taught me to love Hawaii, where he studied traditional Lomi Lomi massage with Auntie Margaret, a beloved native Hawaiian woman whom God used in amazing ways in Dan’s life. Just last year we journeyed to the Big Island to attend Auntie’s husband’s funeral. When I stood on the lava looking out toward the sea, with Auntie’s home to my back, I was profoundly moved. There is something about that place that is beyond words. Someday I’d love to write a novel set in Hawaii—I’m researching. We shall see.”

For now, Stephanie is awaiting the galleys for her August 2008 release, Unbridled Dreams, which was inspired by a Nebraska woman and is the story of a trick rider in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and is working on finishing A Claim of Her Own, the story of a woman gold prospector in Deadwood, South Dakota.

“This August I’ll have the joy of becoming a grandmother as I welcome a granddaughter and a grandson into my arms. Until then, I’ll be writing and rewriting, helping my ‘baby’ get ready for college in France next year, celebrating my stepson’s graduation from college, attending ICRS in Orlando, speaking a couple of times a month at women’s events, and riding Kitty (my motorcycle) every chance I get. In some ways I’m fifty-six going on twenty. In others, I’m fifty-six going on ninety-two. It just depends on the day.”

Unbridled Dreams