The latest of our author interviews features Hannah Anderson, author of our most recent review, Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul. We’re also excited to include tomorrow another “author” interview with the illustrator of Humble Roots, Michelle B. Radford.
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF: I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia where my husband pastors a small country church. Both he and I have roots in the mountains, although I grew up in the Appalachian foothills of Pennsylvania. My days are a messy mix of caring for our three children (aged 7-12), working with him in the church, and writing.
WHAT WAS YOUR READING EXPERIENCE GROWING UP? Reading has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I read ALL the original, yellow-backed books in the Nancy Drew series and when I got a little older, I moved on to Agatha Christie. So I definitely remember reading a lot of mystery books. Come to think of it, my appreciation for mystery may have started with Encyclopedia Brown. I also read the classics and remember a lot of Jane Austen and L.M. Montgomery.
WE NOTICED YOU QUOTE AUTHORS LIKE WILLA CATHER, G.K. CHESTERTON, JOHN MILTON, DOROTHY SAYERS, C.S. LEWIS, AND WENDELL BERRY – SO IT SEEMS LIKE YOU ARE FAIRLY WELL-READ. CAN YOU IDENTIFY SOME OF YOUR FAVORITES? One book that I return to on a regular basis is Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. To me, this is the perfect book. It’s complete in itself—doesn’t require a sequel. It portrays the brokenness of the world in a realistic way, but still offers hope. And it has beautiful characterization and strong attention to local color. In a lot of ways, I think of it as a cousin to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Another of my favorite writers is the modern author Alexander McCall Smith, particularly his Sunday Philosophy Club series. [Insert cheers from the Book Club!] It’s a bit of a light read at times, but his writing has many of the elements that you’d find in Jane Austen, P.G. Wodehouse, and James Herriot. Looking at this list, I realize that my favorite authors use strong characterization and give attention to local color. Occasionally, I’ll pick up a plot-driven book, but for the most part I stick with books that celebrate the feats and foibles of human existence.
WHAT’S CURRENTLY IN YOUR READING STACK AT HOME? I’m currently working my way through the P.D. James mystery, Original Sin; but honestly, it’s taking me much longer than I’d anticipated. James is such a skilled writer and I find the story compelling, but I usually read it before bed so I keep falling asleep after only a few pages! I also have a book of Mary Oliver poems beside my bed (because you never know when you’re going to need a poem).
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE SNACK/DRINK TO HAVE ON HAND WHILE READING OR WRITING? Diet Coke and Good & Plenty (my husband refuses to kiss me after I’ve been eating these, though, so I only get them out in a case of a writing emergency).
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE PLACE TO GO RECHARGE? Our family loves Chincoteague Island off Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The island has an interesting mix of local history, beach life, and wildlife refuge. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes are pretty abundant, too.
WHAT’S YOUR METHOD OF ENCOURAGING READING IN YOUR KIDS? Each of our children has a different level of interest and ability in reading. My daughter is a voracious reader who will stay up half the night reading if we let her. Her interests tend to fantasy, but my husband created a list of “must reads” that include a lot of Newberry Award winners and classics. For her, the challenge has been to develop an appreciation for the variety of books that are available. My middle son, on the other hand, struggled a bit in his reading so we found that graphic novels helped bridge a gap for him. Now, his favorite characters are Calvin & Hobbes. All three of the kids are big fans of DK informational books. We also try to read aloud as a family. Two of our current favorites are The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall and The Great Brain series by John Fitzgerald.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
HOW DID THE IDEA OF WRITING ABOUT HUMILITY BEGIN? I wanted to continue the conversation that began in Made for More, but it took me a while to land on the right approach. If Made for More celebrates the wonder of being made in God’s image, Humble Roots gives attention to the fact that we are made. Biblical doctrine often comes in paradoxes and I realized that by exploring the topic of humility, I could present the truths that hold imago Dei in tension. We are made like God, but we are not God. On a practical level, I was also going through a period of intense stress and anxiety. And I saw that a lot of my peers seemed to be dealing with these issues as well. As I pressed into it further, I came full circle. Our anxiety and restlessness can often be the result of trying to live beyond our natural human limits. Embracing humility is the process of embracing the boundaries that God has placed on us as creatures. When we live within these limits, we can be at peace.
HOW DID YOU COME TO DEVELOP THE IDEA OF USING THE DIFFERENT PLANTS TO CONNECT YOUR STUDY ON HUMILITY? Interestingly, I didn’t know that botanical imagery would play such a central role in the book until I was in the middle of writing it. When I submitted my proposal to Moody, none of these themes were present. I had a clear structural sense of where I wanted to go, but I had no idea how prominent the agrarian imagery would become. As I began writing, though, the imagery naturally emerged from the passages in the Gospels where Jesus calls us to rest. Jesus Himself used a lot of botanical metaphors, and the more I unpacked these, the more it made sense to connect them to the natural world outside my own front door. I’d probably written 2-3 chapters before I realized what was happening. From there, I began to get this larger vision for what the book could be, so I started charting the ideas and thinking of stories and plants that illustrated the truths. Some days, I’d wake up with the exact image that I needed for the next chapter. But I didn’t have them all at once. The process of writing was really a process of trusting God to bring the images I needed.
DID YOU ALREADY KNOW MUCH ABOUT PLANTS NATIVE TO THE BLUE RIDGE AREA? I knew a lot from having grown up in the country. Both my parents and my husband’s parents have small homestead/hobby farms, so much of the writing was instinctual. But I also read several books to get my scientific data right. There’s this common knowledge that you gain by living a certain lifestyle but there’s another layer of specific knowledge that needs to be precise. I relied on my husband, too. He’s definitely the gardener between us. Also, I talked with my father-in-law who is a state forester. He could tell me about the forest itself; and after 40 years of working in the same area, he knew a lot of local stories.
ANY FAVORITE QUOTATIONS FROM THE BOOK?
“When Jesus calls us to learn of His humility, He’s not calling us to adopt a humble posture or master a new skill. He intends to fundamentally change us. He intends to strip us of the pride that keeps us from experiencing rest. He intends to get to the root of the problem so that humility becomes natural to us.”
“Part of humility means trusting God with our plans and submitting to the possibility that they will not be fulfilled… But part of humility also means trusting God with our plans and submitting ot the possibility that they will be fulfilled in ways we cannot imagine. Precisely because we can’t know the future, we also don’t know when he will choose to bless us with abundance despite all signs pointing to failure.”
MICHELLE’S ILLUSTRATIONS THROUGHOUT THE BOOK ARE BEAUTIFUL. DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE? I love her illustration of the blackberries. Blackberries carry so many memories and emotions for me and are one of the strongest links I have to my paternal grandmother. Michelle’s rendering captured the wildness of blackberries perfectly.
WHAT’S THE ONE THOUGHT YOU WANT READERS TO COME AWAY WITH? Many of us think of humility as an awareness of our faults, but humility is better understood as an awareness of our limits. The main thing I want readers to take away is that there is freedom in embracing our human limits. In fact, we suffer when we refuse to honor them. Jesus Christ sanctifies the human experience by living a life dependent on the Father. This is the life we are called to as well.
Many thanks to Hannah for this thought-filled interview. We’ve loved getting to know her a bit more through this, and hope you all have as well!