Happy Monday, Reader Friends!
I hope your weekend was filled with lots of books. If you haven’t gotten enough–and who can?–then check out today’s featured read, Tethered, written by Brenda Cox. Brenda has been kind enough to let me interview her so you can find out more about her latest book and herself. Grab a cup of tea (or coffee) and meet Brenda!
About the Book
The Blurb: “Tethered begins in 1835 as Henrietta and Jehu Lewis Shuck set off on a 19,000 mile voyage from Virginia to China to establish the first Baptist mission. In Tethered Henrietta must hold a leather strap nailed to the railing of their ship to keep from falling overboard, but her life is also tethered to her husband, to their mission board, and to God. Their relationship is marked by humor and unflinching determination despite illness, poverty, danger, and opposition from the mission board at home in the volatile years of conflict in the First Opium War. By the end of her story, she has come to a full faith relationship with God and has become an icon in Baptist missions for American and Chinese Christians across two centuries.”
Toni: Welcome, Brenda! Thanks for joining me today to talk about Tethered. Tell us, what made you decide to write about Henrietta Hall Shuck?
Brenda: Henrietta is my husband’s third great-grandmother, and I learned about her from his mother and grandmother when we married. However, I confess that I didn’t pay a great deal of attention to her for over forty years until I retired. I was at loose ends for something to do, so I began an ancestry search and realized she and her husband Lewis were extremely important missionaries to Asia. I had started another book, but I was so fascinated by Henrietta that I put it aside to write Tethered.
Toni: How neat! What did your research entail?
Brenda: I read the first two biographies about her as well as her own journals and letters and became fascinated. I then read missionary journals and histories of missions in the 1830s and 40s. I was amazed that this kind of information was deliberately preserved for posterity by mission boards who sponsored the missionaries to Asia. I also read modern commentaries of 19th century missions that regard missionaries as virtual agents of Western imperialism and discount their religious commitment. I read 19th century histories of China as well as revisionist histories published recently so that I could acknowledge different perspectives on outsiders trying to change Chinese culture, but ultimately God’s providence rules and not the efforts of men or “New Historians.”
Toni: Wow! You certainly went in depth. How essential was the element of faith to Tethered?
Brenda: It was central. No one would know about Henrietta and Lewis Shuck if they had not been driven by their desire and commitment to share their faith with the Chinese who were so distrustful of foreigners that they wouldn’t allow them to set foot on Chinese soil except in Macau and Canton. The Shucks set sail in 1835 for a land where Christians were beheaded for their faith, yet they both felt God’s call. Their faith and their commitment to spread the gospel was all that sustained them when they were sick and poor and besieged by robbers and conflicts of the First Opium War. Ultimately, they persevered and were allowed to enter Hong Kong where the British invited them to establish churches and schools. They are regarded as the founders of the first Protestant (Baptist) mission in China, and Henrietta established the first schools for girls. Every step they took was by faith.
Toni: Sounds like there are plenty of lessons to learn about faith. What three elements are always included in your writing?
Brenda: I try to develop characters in ways that reveal both their strengths and their vulnerabilities and show growth and perseverance. I also include a great deal of historical grounding. History is fascinating itself and enhances an understanding of what the characters experience. Finally, I include the element of God’s providence since we all live under it.
Toni: Amen! What is your favorite…
Brenda: I can’t choose only one. I love everything Annie Dillard.
Toni: Fiction book?
Brenda: Again, it’s too hard to choose. Jane Eyre, A Confederacy of Dunces, The Great Santini, Gilead, A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man.
Toni: Jane Eyre is pretty fantastic. Movie?
Brenda: The Age of Innocence with Daniel Day Lewis and Michelle Phiffer. When he kisses her foot, my heart flutters every time.
Or, Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightly. I love the scene in which she tells off Mr. Darcy when he proposes to her. I wish I could have played Darcy’s Aunt. “Are the halls of Pemberly to be thus polluted?”
Or, Love Affair with Deborah Kerr and Carey Grant. “If it had to be one of us, why couldn’t it have been me?” “It’ my own fault. I was looking up.”
Toni: You’ve chosen some great movies! I love Pride and Prejudice and Love Affair! Song?
Brenda: “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved by You”
Toni: That will be in my head all day now. 🙂 If you could meet one person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Brenda: Shakespeare!! I would tell him about all the theories about his work not being his and ask him if he really wrote all of his plays. I’d ask about how he crafted such compelling dialogue and poetic language, and I’d ask which were his favorite characters and did he base them on people he actually knew. I’m sure I would sound like the silliest groupie ever.
Toni: No! If you do then I would as well because those are some questions I want answers to. Before you go, can you tell us what you’re working on?
Brenda: I’m working on a book about a Viet Nam vet who comes back to Charleston, SC where he went to The Citadel and starts a wrestling team at a newly integrated high school in a low-income area. His contacts and former roommates from The Citadel help him develop a team and mentor the boys who deal with their own struggles. Eventually, they overcome obstacles and become state champions. It’s quite a diversion from Tethered, but it is another family story that closely follows my husband’s experiences.
Toni: Sounds like another great one in the works. Thank you so much for joining me today. Readers, do you have any questions for Brenda?
About the Author
Brenda H. Cox is a life-long English educator at the high school and university levels. She earned a BA at The University of South Carolina, an MAT from The Citadel, and a PhD at The University of Georgia where she served as the Assistant Director of the Freshman English Program. She was affiliated with the National Writing Project site at Clemson University where she led a Writing in the Humanities Institute and is a member of the North Carolina Writers’ Network. She has taught numerous writing workshops and delivered papers at state and national conferences and directed The Young Writers Conference at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro where she was an Assistant Professor of English Education. She has published articles in English leadership and in 18th century rhetoric. In addition, she has served as a writing consultant in numerous school systems in the Southeast and in the American and International Schools in Kuwait. She also served as a Reader of Advanced Placement exams for The College Board, and her students have won numerous local, state, and national awards in writing. Brenda lives in Greensboro, NC and is married to Jim Cox. They have one son and daughter in-law and two perfect grandsons.