We can hardly turn around without seeing thin, shapely women on our TV screens, computers, or billboards. We’re bombarded with body shaming or the best diets for weight loss. Fortunately, a newer trend emphasizes body acceptance, regardless of size or shape. But that was long in coming.
Author Kelly Goshorn puts a new twist on the body image obsession with her historical fiction, A Love Restored, set in the antebellum south. Rarely had I considered such concerns by women back then.
But women from every era have been plagued by cultural notions of beauty, brooding over whether they measure up or fall short. For protagonist Ruth Ann Sutton, it’s complicated by men also prone to ambition, racism, or others’ opinions.
A Love Restored is Kelly’s debut novel.
Comment below for a free copy of the paperback! In one week, I will contact the winner.
Blurb for A Love Restored
With pert opinions and a less-than-perfect figure, Ruth Ann Sutton doesn’t measure up to society’s vision of a perfect lady. When she accepts a position teaching in a Freedman’s School, it threatens the only marriage offer Ruth Ann is likely to receive. She’s forced to choose between life as a lonely spinster or reinventing herself to secure a respectable proposal.
Determined to rise above his meager beginnings, Benjamin Coulter’s reputation as a fast learner and hard worker earn him the opportunity to apprentice with a surveyor for the railroad—a position that will garner the respect of other men. After a chance encounter with Ruth Ann Sutton, Benjamin is smitten with her pretty face, quick wit, and feisty personality.
When others ridicule his choice, will Benjamin listen to his heart or put ambition first?
What intrigued me initially was discovering this novel was based on a true story that happened over 100 years later. The author’s personal experience is encased in a fresh context. This transparent act of bravery enhances the story’s richness.
Setting this tale in Virginia in the wake of the Civil War complicates things. The war may be over, but racism is not. As a white woman, Ruth Ann Sutton’s decision to teach at a Freedman’s school is met by disdain and threats. And that’s simply not acceptable to her suitor James.
Furthermore, Ruth Ann’s mother has told her she has little chance for a good marriage match unless she takes James’s offer. This is due to her “generous” figure. Ouch!
Another complication is railroad worker Benjamin Coulter. Ruth Ann and Benjamin have an amusing first encounter by the creek. A spark is ignited, but when Mrs. Sutton catches on, she puts a damper on it. Benjamin doesn’t have the resources to provide for Ruth Ann. She will have to settle for a respectable but loveless marriage. Or remain single forever.
Ruth Ann doesn’t accept her mother’s dour predictions, despite her worries about them. Strong and feisty, she definitely speaks her mind. But she struggles with insecurities about her appearance. This complexity made her likable and relatable.
Benjamin’s a good man, but with problems of his own as he works his way up in the company. But when he succumbs to others’ opinions, he causes possibly irreparable damage to Ruth Ann.
Powerful characterizations and descriptions immersed me in these people’s lives as well as in antebellum Virginia. I learned more about railroad expansion and Freedman schools by watching how things played out. As conflicts and tension increased, issues seemed insurmountable. Yet resolution occurred in meaningful, unexpected ways.
Ultimately, this story speaks to the innate value and worth of each human being.
Join me for some Q & A with Kelly Goshorn.
Questions about A Love Restored
According to your website, you’ve made it no secret your nemesis is your weight and the worldly expectations for feminine beauty. Your novel is a fictionalized version of your struggle in the context of historical fiction romance. What prompted you to tell your own story in this mode?
Kelly: God had laid it on my heart many, many years ago that I would share our story (my husband’s and mine), I just had no idea it would be in a book. That part was a prompting by my husband. When he discovered I was writing a story about mail order brides, he suggested I write “our story.”
I was skeptical and responded, “Are you sure? You don’t look too good in that story at first.” He grinned and answered, “Yeah, but it’s a good story and needs to be told. Besides, I think it turned out alright.” Since we’re celebrating our 32nd anniversary this year, I’d have to agree.
Of all the historical time periods at your disposal, how and why did you choose this particular time period and setting for telling the story?
Kelly: The latter part of the 19th century is probably my favorite period to read and write about. I set the story locally and used the coming of the railroad into the western part of the county as the historical timeline that anchored the story.
How similar are Ruth Ann’s and Benjamin’s personalities to you and your husband’s? How closely does your novel follow the progression of your pre-marriage relationship?
Kelly: I tried to capture our personalities and attributes in my hero and heroine. I trained as a teacher, have a quick wit, cannot carry a tune with a handle on it, and have struggled with self-image and weight issues most of my life. My husband is extremely smart, has a quicker wit than my own, loves to tease me about my less-than-stellar singing voice, has the heart of a servant, and is an excellent baker of pies and cookies.
While we didn’t meet at a creek or ever take a snowy sleigh ride, the core of the story and the issues surrounding Ruth and Ben’s breakup are identical to our own. In fact, some of the dialogue is exactly as I recall it—sweet, sassy, and heated.
How do you want your novel to resonate with your readers? What do you want their main takeaway to be?
Kelly: I hope readers will be able to relate to Ruth Ann’s struggle. Whether their issue is body image, finances, appearance, lifestyle, occupation or something entirely different. I hope they will come away realizing that our words matter. Words have the power to lift us up or tear us down, and the most dangerous ones are the ones we repeat in our own mind every day. I spent way too many years repeating words of death to myself—that I was fat, ugly, unlovable and unworthy of the very God I believed sacrificed His son on my behalf.
In a world that often equates our worth to the size of our paycheck, our appearance, or our diploma, it can be very tough to see our own value. We are ignorant if we don’t agree with the current PC opinion. We are ugly if we don’t look like the air-brushed images on the covers of fashion magazines in the check-out lines. We are a failure if we don’t earn a six-figure income and have the latest devices at our fingertips.
The Bible tells us in John 10:10 that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
Here are just a few things the Bible has to say about you:
- 1 Thes.1: 4 You are chosen and dearly loved of God.
- Ps. 139:14 You are fearfully and wonderfully made.
- Zech. 2:8 You are the apple of God’s eyes. (I just love that one!)
- 2 Cor. 5:17 You are a new creation in Christ.
- John 1:12 You are a child of God.
- Col. 1:14 You have been forgiven.
- Rom. 8:1 You are free forever from condemnation.
- Eph. 2:10 You are his masterpiece. — NLT (Can you just imagine?)
Questions about writing
What books have been most influential for you as a writer? Was there a book that sparked or confirmed your desire to be a novelist?
Kelly: I’ve always been fascinated with history. As a girl, I loved watching Little House and The Waltons. In high school, I hated reading the assignments for literature class but was reading Michener, Jakes, and Wouk. When my sister introduced me to Love Comes Softly, I discovered Christian Fiction and that is primarily what I read now.
Share a bit about your journey to publication.
Kelly: I come from a long line of storytellers and nearly everyone on my father’s side of the family can “spin a good yarn.” But I never had a desire to be an author. After seventeen years of running an in-home, licensed daycare, it was time to move on. Only problem was, I didn’t know to what.
My husband and I, along with our small group, started praying for God to give me a new passion, a new direction for my life and a purpose that would glorify Him. After three years, the answer came when I started writing “our story.” It began as something fun to do, but before long it became evident that writing was the answer to that prayer for a God-given passion.
Please share something about a current project or the direction you want to go as an author.
Kelly: I’m thrilled to say I have two novellas releasing in 2023. The first will be in April. “The Veil” will be part of the Across the Shores novella collection from Barbour Publishing with co-contributors including Angela K. Couch, Carolyn Miller, and Cara Putman. Across the Shores is already available for pre-order on Amazon.
My other release will be a Christmas novella titled “The Christmas Carving.” This story will be part of the Chiseled on the Heart: a Christmas Legacy Novella Collection from Scrivenings Press with fellow authors Cynthia Roemer, Candace West, and Elaine Cooper and should be released in October of next year.
Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?
Kelly: Don’t give up. Writing is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m ashamed to admit it, but before writing I was a first-class quitter. Fearing rejection, failure, or both, I’d often quit projects before I completed them because somehow, in my twisted thinking, it was better to quit on my own terms than to give 100% and fail.
God not only answered my prayer for a new passion, but being the wise all-knowing, lover of my soul, He answered it with something that would challenge my deep-rooted fears forcing me to rely on Him in ways I never had before. Writing has completely changed my faith and my relationship with God.
Writing will make you second guess yourself and your calling, but I encourage every writer—or every secret dreamer afraid to even begin—not to give up. Learn the craft, write every day, press into Him with every contest loss or rejection letter, but keep writing the beautiful stories God lays on your heart. You are the only one who can, and the world is waiting for them.
Back to Laura . . . On a similar note . . .
If you like southern historical fiction, you might enjoy my recently re-launched novel All That Is Hidden. Set near North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1968 rather than late 1800s Virginia, the story highlights the bond of family and the connections of a tight-knit community. Northern exploitation threatens as a father’s hidden past catches up to him and tests family ties. Learn more and watch the trailer here. Incidentally, my trailer was created by Kelly’s daughter, Maddy Goshorn. She did a wonderful job!
In June, I was named a semifinalist in Serious Writer’s Book of the Decade contest for All That Is Hidden.
Additionally, in August, All That Is Hidden became the winner of the Artisan Book Reviews Book Excellence Award.
I invite you to join my monthly newsletter for updates, freebies, and giveaways. Sign up and I’ll send you a free gift: www.StandoutStoriesNewsletter.com
Kelly Goshorn Bio
Kelly Goshorn weaves her affinity for history and her passion for God into inspiring stories of love, faith, and family set in America’s vibrant past. Her debut novel, A Love Restored, won the Director’s Choice Award for Adult/YA fiction at the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference in 2019, and earned recognition as both a Selah Award finalist in the Historical Romance category and as a Maggie Award Finalist for Inspirational Fiction. When she is not writing, Kelly enjoys, binge-watching BBC period dramas, board-gaming with her family, exploring historical sights, and spoiling her Welsh corgi, Levi. Learn more on her website. To stay in touch with Kelly, sign up for her newsletter here.
Join me next time for another visit with author Naomi Craig.
Meanwhile, have you read A Love Restored? What novels about body image have you read? Answer in the comments below.
I’ll be looking for this book. Besides identifying with the female protagonist, my writing revolves around the same time period. In fact, the third book in my Civil War series also includes someone who works the Freedmen’s Bureau. I’d love to connect with Kelly and compare research notes.
Amazing that you have so much in common!
I’d love to connect. Feel free to PM me! Thanks for visiting the blog today!
I just love the concept of this book—and the modern love story set in another era.
Hoping for great success for Kelly (who I think is a Facebook friend of mine) 🙂
Nice lead in and review Laura, as usual. You create an appropriate setting for each book
you review, and that isn’t easy!
I agree–great concept for the book. And thanks for your kind words, Anita.
Nice to see you here! I appreciate your kind words. And I agree Laura did a great job on the lead-in. I’m taking notes!
It has long been my most-remembered scene of Gone With the Wind: Scarlett demanding that Mammy pull her corset strings tight enough to return to the 18-inch waist she was before pregnancy. Yes, there’s some discussion on how accurate that corset scene would have been at the time, but the whole “women swooning” from cut-off oxygen seems to have been well-documented in higher end circles.
So perhaps that’s why this storyline didn’t hit as surprising to me as it sounds like it did you, Laura.
But perhaps it’s also because I’ve shared a similar weight struggle most of my life. I just had a discussion with my daughter about the fact that while I used to be called “hour-glass,” my shape is now termed “a pear”–a positive term clearly turned more-negative. My goal since the 6th grade has been to make healthy choices in food–sometimes that has helped me lose weight, other times the weight has gone back on no matter what I do. Either way, there are those comments–the assumption that if I’m larger, I must gorge on Twinkies. Or, on the other hand, the complaint that I’m “always on a diet.” So, yes, it’s discouraging.
People are definitely treated differently when they are larger, even if they make much wiser food choices than their counterparts.
All that to say, it’s nice to see a protagonist who isn’t “model thin”– And I love the idea that it’s Kelly’s love story set in a different time/place–and that the original idea came from her husband. Bravo!
We ARE beautifully and wonderfully made, no matter our shape. I want to treat my body as the Lord’s temple, eating and exercising correctly, but it’s great to see a strong message that reminds us to look to God for our satisfaction and love, not to Scarlett and society’s look-of-the-month. We need more novels like this one.
I can relate to so much of what you say, Elizabeth–the pear-shaped figure, people’s assumptions, etc. I’d forgotten about that scene in Gone With the Wind. But apparently, there is nothing new under the sun! Plus, I’ve known plenty of “perfectly” thin women who abhor the shape of their noses or some other body part. We can always find a reason to be discontent with our looks. And sometimes it’s because we fall prey to other people’s perceptions and thoughtless comments.
Thank you for visiting the blog and sharing your weight journey. The struggle is real. If you’re interested in learning a bit more, you can read the post “My Nemesis,” on my website at https://kellygoshorn.com/info/spiritual-takeaway.
What a great interview. Kelly’s book sounds like a topic many of us struggle with. I was at Blue Ridge when this book received the Director’s Choice Award. Yay for you, Kelly!
I haven’t read books about body image that I can recall. In most books, the hero and heroine are gorgeous.
I purchased the book a few minutes ago. Can’t wait to see it in my mailbox.
Yes, rarely are the hero and heroine anything but drop-dead gorgeous. Since we identify with the protagonists, that must be what most readers want. We live through the protagonists vicariously, so of course we want them to be beautiful–with a few acceptable personality flaws so they’re relatable. So Kelly’s story is a breath of fresh air in many ways, tackling the reality of false expectations and what’s really important.
Nice to see you here. I’ll be curious to know your thoughts when you’re finished reading. Thanks for stopping by.
I enjoy books that challenge false expectations. I also love knowing that this is Kelly’s story told in a different time period! That makes me feel like she is brave and vulnerable.
It’s always brave to be vulnerable!
I applaud the bravery and self disclosure of telling one’s own story with the cleverness of setting it in a completely different time period. Sounds like an intriguing read.
Yes–both brave and clever. Thanks for dropping by, Janet!
Thank you, Janet. I spend many years listening to negative talk, most of it in my own head. I hope that others will read Ruth Ann and Benjamin’s story and challenge themselves to rid their minds of their own negative self-talk. God came to free us of all that bondage and to walk with Him in freedom! Amen?
Thanks for writing a novel where the heroine struggles with insecurities about her appearance and setting the story in a Freedman’s school, which I’d like to learn more about. I’m intrigued by all the complicated layers, North vs. South, dealing with racism, personal image, and education in a rural setting where people aren’t always accepted. This sounds like a good read, and I agree with Elizabeth, there should be more books like this.
Yes, there are a lot of layers here.
Oh, my goodness! I can’t wait to read Kelly’s “A Love Restored”! It sounds like a story many women can relate to… How can any of us live up to the ridiculous standards of physical perfection that today’s social media falsely puts out?
Kelly’s book sounds relatable— with lessons from her protagonist’s dilemmas that are relevant today !
I so appreciate Kelly’s words of encouragement to other writers! Heaven knows we all need some extra “oomph” to keep us going after our dreams…
Thank you, Laura, for highlighting this story— and thank you, Kelly, for writing it! I’ll be checking it out 🙂
Yes, the heroine is definitely relatable. I hope you get a chance to read the book.
Thank you for your kind words and enthusiasm regarding A Love Restored. I take it from your comments about my remarks for struggling writers that you are also a writer. I mean what I said, don’t give up. It can seem overwhelming, but you can do it. Surround yourself with a few cheerleaders, friends who won’t let you quit and will encourage you through your most difficult challenges! You’ve got this!
Thank you for your kind words. While the specific events surrounding the Freedman’s school in this story is fictitious, it is based on a great deal of research of similar stories throughout the South. The threatening letter Ruth Ann receives and the Freedman Bureau Office that comes to keep her and the Negores attending the school safe, was based on an incident in a neighboring county. If interested, you can learn more here: https://www.loudounhistory.org/history/loudoun-cw-reconstruction-towns/. Thanks for stopping by!