A Chat with Clarissa Kliest from Denise Weimer’s The Witness Tress

Past betrayal has turned John Kliest’s passion to his work as a builder and surveyor in the Moravian town of Salem, North Carolina. Now, to satisfy the elders’ edict and fulfill his mission in Cherokee Territory, he needs a bride. But the one woman qualified to record the Cherokee language longs for a future with his younger brother.

Clarissa Vogler’s dream of a life with Daniel Kliest is shattered when she is chosen by lot to marry his older brother and venture into the uncharted frontier. Can she learn to love this stoic man who is now her husband? Her survival hinges on being able to trust him—but they both harbor secrets.

Novel PASTimes: It’s autumn 1805, and the fields are lined with corn and dotted with pumpkins here at the Springplace Moravian mission in Cherokee Territory, located on the plantation of Chief James Vann. We’re sitting down to tea with Clarissa Vogler Kliest, heroine of The Witness Tree. We’re gratified for this moment to catch up with her, since so much has changed in her life since August. Do you feel comfortable to tell us about what happened in August, Sister Kliest?

Clarissa: Please, call me Clarissa. *nervous giggle* I’m afraid I’m not quite used to my new last name. I’m married, but, well, my husband and I … that is to say, we’re taking our time to get to know each other.

Novel PASTimes: That is because your marriage was an arranged marriage or a marriage of convenience, is that not correct?

Clarissa: We prefer to call it marriage by the lot, but yes. Would you like a ginger cookie? They are delicious with this autumn spice tea, made in the paper-thin Moravian style from the bakery back home in Salem, North Carolina.

Novel PASTimes: They sound wonderful, but I’m most interested in this marriage by the lot. What does that mean?

Clarissa: Well, we Moravians believe that for major church and life decisions, we can seek confirmation of God’s will through the lot. This is based on Scriptures in both Old and New Testaments of the Bible. After we pray for guidance, our church elders will draw a piece of paper out of a bowl or tube. The paper will read either “yes,” “no,” or “wait.”

Novel PASTimes: And that is what happened with your marriage?

Clarissa: Yes. John Kliest was the builder and surveyor for our town of Salem, but he always wanted to work at the Cherokee mission here at Springplace. Our church was founded and expanded from Germany to America with the focus on missions. But the elders said he must have a wife first.

Novel PASTimes: My, that seems unusual to those who are not familiar with Moravians. Did the elders pick you, or did John?

Clarissa: *blushing* John mentioned my name as a possibility. The elders agreed, and then the lot confirmed. You see, before the Revolutionary War, my father shared the Gospel with the Cherokees. He had told me what he knew of their language and customs.

Novel PASTimes: From what I understand, language is an important part of what you are to do here at the mission.

Clarissa: True. I am uniquely qualified because not only am I to help the other brothers and sisters here teach the children of the chiefs, but the church hopes I will be able to record their language. So far, there is no Cherokee alphabet. 

Novel PASTimes: Despite all that, did you have any say at all in marrying John?

Clarissa: Oh, women can refuse the lot, but to do so would be to refuse the will of God. Although, when my choir helper came to tell me of the proposal, I thought it was from John’s younger brother, Daniel.

Novel PASTimes: You had an understanding with Daniel?

Clarissa: *ducking her head* Please forget I mentioned it. We not to have understandings with members of the opposite sex.

Novel PASTimes: As you wish. Do you find that the lot was correct? You are a good match for John?

Clarissa: John and I are … very different. He is not the most expressive person, and he longs for adventure. In fact, I sometimes wonder how long he will be content here at Springplace. The Vann family is mixed-blood, wealthy, and has learned European ways.

Novel PASTimes: And you?

Clarissa: I loved my comfortable life as a teacher in the girls’ boarding school in Salem. I am not a good Moravian. I like beautiful things. Traveling. I must admit, I pictured traveling to Philadelphia, though, not to the frontier. 

Novel PASTimes: Why Philadelphia?

Clarissa: There is a Moravian painter there, a master, who was to have taught me and D—. *shakes her head* I am an artist, you see. I once thought that using my talent was part of God’s plan, but apparently, it was not. Instead, I am here. I must apply myself to my new purpose. And my marriage.

Novel PASTimes: What challenges do you see before you, Clarissa?

Clarissa: Besides Rosina?

Novel PASTimes: Who is Rosina?

Clarissa: *covers mouth* Did I say that aloud? A fellow missionary who came here with us. She is so very … perfect. I am afraid John would like me better if I were more like her. 

Novel PASTimes: I’m sure that isn’t true. You seem like a lovely woman.

Clarissa: Thank you. In all seriousness, we are not sure how the Cherokees will respond to our teaching. And to my assignment of setting down their language. Some are very progressive and embrace European ways, while others feel their society is being corrupted by outside influences. It was not very many years ago that their warriors scalped settlers in the Cherokee-American Wars.

Novel PASTimes: Well, Clarissa, we pray that God will bless your time here in Cherokee Territory and your new marriage as well. We look forward to a report of how it all turns out.

Denise Weimer writes historical and contemporary romance and romantic suspense set in her home state of Georgia. She’s authored over nine novels (including her contemporary story, Fall Flip, new with Candlelight Romance in September 2019!) and a number of novellas. As a managing editor at Smitten Romance, Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, she also helps others reach their publishing dreams. A wife and mother of two daughters, Denise always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses.

Interview with Jozefien van Rees from Melanie Dobson’s Memories of Glass

Welcome to Novel Pastimes, Jozefien.

Please call me Josie. The other name brings back some hard memories.

Thank you for sharing with us today, Josie. It must be very difficult for you to talk about the past.

I’m glad to be here, especially after all that’s happened. I’m—

We don’t want to give away too much of your story right now. Just a glimpse.

Life is just a glimpse, isn’t it? A few lines to remember the beginning, middle, and end.

We’re glad to learn more than just a few lines about your journey. Could you tell us where you grew up?

In a beautiful village called Giethoorn. Idyllic, really. Do you know where that is?

I’m guessing it’s somewhere in the Netherlands.

We called it Holland back then, but yes, it’s on the east side of the country. Near Kamp Westerbork and the German border. Klaas and my brother, Samuel, and I would play for hours along the canals. The houses in our village were built on little islands, separated by the waterways. We’d have to cross over on bridges or with our canoes or, my personal favorite, swimming. And the flowers—I forget some things, but I could never forget the gardens of Giethoorn.

Now you had a relationship with Klaas . . .

We were friends, nothing more.

But he seemed to think there was more.

I suppose, in hindsight. If only he hadn’t chosen to . . .

That’s part of the ending, isn’t it?

I only want readers to forgive him. They didn’t know him like I did.

Did he know you were helping the Dutch resistance during the war?

I’m not certain when he found out, but I don’t think he knew when I was delivering money. Only when Samuel and I started to help the children.

You lost a lot as a result of your choice to help those kids.

I only wish I could have rescued more. We had no idea at the beginning of the war where the Jewish children were taken when they left Amsterdam. When we found out, we had no choice except to help.

You were a hero.

I was terrified! We all were. None of us thought of ourselves as heroes, but God’s call was quite clear on our lives.

Do you have any regrets?

I don’t think about regrets anymore. Once Samuel and I and all the others stepped into the horror, we had to press right through it. I don’t want to forget what happened, but I want to embrace all that is good now, not focus on what I should have done so long ago.

I can understand that. How do you recommend that our readers remember the Holocaust?

The Dutch lost more than a hundred thousand of their Jewish citizens during World War II. It’s impossible to remember all the names, but I pray we can honor their collective legacy by remembering their stories.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of nineteen historical romance, suspense, and time-slip novels, including Hidden Among the StarsCatching the WindChateau of Secrets, and Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor. Four of her novels have won Carol Awards, Catching the Wind won the Audie Award for inspirational fiction, and The Black Cloister won the Foreword magazine Religious Fiction Book of the Year.

Melanie is the former corporate publicity manager at Focus on the Family and owner of the publicity firm Dobson Media Group. When she isn’t writing, Melanie enjoys teaching both writing and public relations classes.

Melanie and her husband, Jon, have two daughters. After moving numerous times with work, the Dobson family has settled near Portland, Oregon, and they love to hike and camp in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest and along the Pacific Coast. Melanie also enjoys exploring ghost towns and abandoned homes, helping care for kids in her community, and reading stories with her girls.

Visit Melanie online at www.melaniedobson.com.

Meet Mary Sullivan from Jane Kirkpatrick’s One More River to Cross

In 1844, the Stevens-Murphy company left Missouri hoping to be the first wagons into California. Mostly Irish Catholic, they sought religious freedom and education. All went well—until October when a heavy snowstorm forced the party to separate in four directions. Each group risked losing those they loved as they planned their escapes, waited for rescue . . . or even their own deaths.

Welcome to Novel PASTimes! We are pleased you stopped by today.

Thank you!  The men and women in this story chose me to be the main speaker today. I’m Mary Sullivan, but you should know that there are nine other women who are a part of this amazing story based on real people and a real incident in 1844-45.

Tell us something about where you live.

So, where do I live?  I lived in Canada before heading west and I spent a grueling winter in the Sierra Nevadas. Now I live in California but getting there wasn’t easy! This story is set mostly, though, in the mountains. Now the pass where we wintered is known as Donner Pass. A couple of years later that disastrous party had a terrible time. We were there before them in an equally terrible winter near Lake Tahoe but we had a very different outcome.

Is there anything special about your name? Why do you think you were given that name? 

Many in my family were named Mary or derivatives of Mary like Maolisa. One of my fellow travelers bore that name. It has an Irish connection which most of us on this Stephens-Murphy-Townsend wagon train have. Many, like Maolisa Murphy, came from Ireland to Canada then to Missouri and finally to those incredible mountains in the west. We all wanted a new life and an opportunity to worship freely in what was known as Alta California.

Do you have an occupation? What do you like or dislike about your work? 

 Like most women of my time, I am a homemaker and had to make adjustments in being my mother’s helper after she and my father died of dysentery just days before we headed west from Iowa. My brother John and two little brothers and I were left orphans.  John, however, wanted me to be sure I behaved like a proper lady. But my real skills are not in knitting or cooking but in working with the oxen and in solving problems and using my physical strength like walking long miles in snowshoes to reach help.  Women can do those things and still be a lady. And I love to read and I helped another young woman — a wife — learn to read. Very gratifying. So is making sure my little brothers have night time stories of encouragement and faith

Who are the special people in your life? 

My brother John who is two years older than me and my two little brothers ages eight and ten. I’m a little shy but because of this journey I’d made new friends including Sarah and Ailbe and Ellen and Mrs. Patterson and…and then I also met Peter. That’s a whole new story!

What is your heart’s deepest desire?

I want to make my mother proud even though she isn’t on this earth anymore. And I want to do that by being true to myself, by speaking up and offering ideas even when others might say a woman should be silent. I also want to keep my brothers and the other children who are waiting for rescue to trust that they are not alone. I want to keep their spirits up.

What are you most afraid of? 

That we will die here in these mountains before I have a chance to live.

Do you have a cherished possession? 

The Aron wool sweater that Sarah showed me how to knit. I took apart the sweater my mother made for me to learn how to do this “womanly” thing, to make my mother pleased that I did learn a woman’s art.

What do you expect the future will hold for you? 

I may not be able to wait for rescue but rather will start out to bring a rescue team to us. The risk is great but I will do what I must for my brothers and my friends.

What have you learned about yourself in the course of your story? 

Oh my goodness!  I’ve learned that friendships are the fuel that keep us warm in time of trials. I’ve discovered that leadership involves listening more than talking. I’ve witnessed the power of faith in struggle and how helping others in a challenging time is a way to help oneself. I’ve also come to accept that I can be different from other women — liking the outdoors more than cooking and sewing, being physically strong and still be a lady. I also realize that tending and befriending is a better response to stress than fight or flight!

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you? 

I was in the background when this story began. Ellen Murphy, a real beauty, was important in this story of One More River to Cross  but she chose a different route out of this winter deluge. Then Maolisa was pretty important because she didn’t realize that she was about to deliver a baby. Now there’s a story! She thought she had another two months! Then Sarah Montgomery’s story took front stage as she came to terms with being abandoned by her husband who stayed behind to guard his weapons. At one point, all the women had moments of abandonment. I came to love each of these women (and a couple more I haven’t even told you about). When we shared things like where our feet had taken us or how we prepared a memorable meal, all ways to help us deal with starvation and the cold and the eight feet of snow, and our fears, I realized how tragedy had brought me into a family of women whom I didn’t know I needed. Now, when things get difficult I pray and I reach out to friends who help to support and sustain me until I can hear God calling me to a new direction. 

Thanks for allowing us to get know you a little better!

Jane Kirkpatrick is the New York Times and CBA bestselling and award-winning author of more than 30 books, including Everything She Didn’t SayAll She Left BehindA Light in the Wilderness,The Memory WeaverThis Road We Traveled, and A Sweetness to the Soul, which won the prestigious Wrangler Award from the Western Heritage Center. Her works have won the WILLA Literary Award, the Carol Award for Historical Fiction, and the 2016 Will Rogers Medallion Award. Jane lives in Central Oregonwith her husband, Jerry. Learn more at www.jkbooks.com.