I recently had the opportunity to interview Bestselling author, Rita Gerlach to discuss her latest book, “Mercy’s Refuge”. It is a historical fiction novel about the Pilgrims and the trials they faced as they struggled to find a place where they could freely worship the Lord. Much of it is based on William Bradford’s own writing, “Of Plymouth Plantation”.
Q: The book blurb on the back of Mercy’s Refuge mentions that Mercy’s Refuge was inspired by ’Of Plymouth Plantation’ by William Bradford. Can you explain this in a little more detail?
A: William Bradford was one of Plymouth’s founders and later a governor. In 1643, he wrote ‘Of Plymouth Plantation’ to document the events the Separatists endured when leaving England, living in Holland, and then their perilous voyage. I had already begun Mercy’s Refuge with my heroine, Mercy, living in Ipswich, England, so while researching the era I discovered Bradford’s amazing work. I was so inspired by the courage of the men and women who endured so much persecution, and risked all they had to live out their faith. Incidents in the book were new to me, and so I decided this was the direction Mercy’s Refuge was to take.
Q: Do you read books like William Bradford’s ’Of Plymouth Plantation’ regularly for pleasure or did you read Bradford’s book strictly as research for an idea you already had for Mercy’s Refuge?
A: I read ‘Of Plymouth Plantation’ for research, both in the ‘King’s English’ and in a modern English translation. I’m what they call a ‘pantser’. I write pretty much by the seat of my pants. In other words, I do not outline a book chapter by chapter before I write it. I research the era before and during the writing of the manuscript.
Q: Mercy’s story is filled with tragedy and loss. Why did you find it necessary for her to experience so much of these things?
A: Such an interesting question. It was necessary in order to flesh out the characters. Life in 1620 was not a bed of roses. It was hard. There was great poverty and religious persecution. One reader’s opinion of the novel, and how it affected her, touched me deeply. Her comment was what I hoped readers would come away with.
She told me she had been feeling depressed about her job, bills she had to pay, the shutdowns. But when she read Mercy’s Refuge she realized how blessed her life is, that those courageous people and Mercy’s bravery caused her to realize how thankful she should be for the life God has blessed her with.
Readers will also find moments of joy and humor in Mercy’s Refuge.
Q: Who is your favorite character in Mercy’s Refuge and why?
A: Absolutely it is Mercy McCrea. She’s my favorite mostly because she is my heroine…and a true heroine she is. She is brave and forthright. She is as her name is…merciful and kind. She trusts God to lead her and to watch over her loved ones. She is not without flaws, though. I don’t want your readers to think Mercy is the perfect woman. She makes some bad choices that lead to disaster. She is a little prideful when it comes to making a decision, when she should have listened to wiser counsel.
Q: Who was the most difficult character to write?
A: I’d say the most difficult character to write about was Dorothy Bradford. There are so many opinions by historians about her personality. Some believe she was depressed and committed suicide by throwing herself overboard in Plymouth Harbor. Others say it was a tragic accident, and that Dorothy was as courageous as the other women aboard the Mayflower were. She left Holland with her husband leaving her young son behind in the hands of her parents so he would not suffer the journey. I tried to put myself in her shoes. How hard it must have been for her to kiss little John Bradford farewell, and her mother and father, and sail to an unknown land. I believe her death was an accident. Writing about her, I wanted to present her to readers as a woman of virtue, a woman who had a heart of gold but also a heart grieved and afraid of what laid ahead. She and Mercy are very close in the story. I have to include here, that Mercy’s Refuge is not a sugar-and-spice and everything nice story. It is a gritty novel of love and redemption, bravery and faith.
Q: Why do you choose to write historical fiction?
A: Ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I’ve loved stories and books. I’m fascinated by the lives lived in the past. You know the ones we don’t hear much about anymore. My mother was a great storyteller. She told me stories about her childhood during the Great Depression and WWII. I believe her stories put me onto the path of writing historical fiction.
Q: Why do you believe that learning and knowing accurate history is so important?
A: If you think of the opposite, where history is told inaccurately it’s like looking at history and historical figures through a pair of dark sunglasses. You only see what a revisionists wants you to see to fit a particular agenda.
We can learn from the truth. The Pilgrims’ story has been skewed in many circles of education. I had one person tell me they learned in school the only reason the Pilgrims came to Plymouth was to kill the Indians and take their land. I recommended William Bradford’s ‘Of Plymouth Plantation’ to read it straight from a man who sailed to those shores and lived peacefully with the Wampanoag Tribe. Not only did the ship’s passengers and crew sign the Mayflower Compact, but they made a compact with the chief of the Wampanoags, that they would each protect the other from their enemies. We are living in a time of ‘cancel culture’, so we best hold fast to what we have left.
Q: How long did it take you to complete Mercy’s Refuge? How much time do you typically take to complete a novel?
A: It took two years total. I initially began writing it in 2014. But I had to put it aside to write five novellas for Barbour Publishing, and the novel After the Rain. Once I fulfilled my commitments to my publisher, I pulled out the manuscript and dove back in. I don’t have it written down but that was around 2018.
Q: What do you hope readers will take away from Mercy’s Refuge?
I have an article on my website readers may be interested in reading. It’s called ‘Why I Write Inspirational Fiction’. Here’s a portion that answers your question.
‘Christian fiction should be a balm of healing against the kind of secular fiction that seeks to glorify the flesh and bring hopelessness to a hopeless world. Writing inspirational fiction is a calling to draw readers back to the Creator, opposed to away from Him, through stories that show the struggles people face, their journeys through heartbreaks and heartaches, to understanding and healing. It is to remind them of His love and forgiveness, how He works in others to bring us to that place, and that it is not by our own strength alone we overcome adversity.’
Q: Where is Mercy’s Refuge available? Is Mercy’s Refuge available in ebook format?
A: Thanks for asking. Mercy’s Refuge is on Amazon in ebook and paperback. I’m waiting on Christianbooks to place it. For now, Amazon is the best place to purchase a copy, and you get it fast.
On a side note, the manuscript was requested by a Dutch publisher in the Netherlands to be translated into Dutch.
I am currently writing a novel set in 1917, during WWI. I hope to have it finished this fall for publication.
Thank you, Kelly, for having me.
You’re very welcome, Rita. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions.
I’d like to add my website and author’s Facebook page.
Rita’s web: http://ritagerlach.wordpress.com/
Author’s Page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/249323152879604/
If you’d like to hear more from Rita, please watch her video interview with Jo Massaro:
I highly encourage anyone who loves history or who wants to read a story that includes true history to read Mercy’s Refuge. I have read it, and if you would like to read my review of Mercy’s Refuge, click the following link: https://kellyfbarr.com/2021/02/08/mercys-refuge-by-rita-gerlach/