Leisha: I grew up in the small town of Camp Point, IL, the middle child in a family with seven kids. We always had a full and busy household. All of us were involved in many extra-curricular activities. My mother was a librarian and I inherited her great love of books as well as learning to cook while she was working evenings. We have a very big family now. More than forty of us when we are all together. And those family times are very special to me. I also love music. I sing with the worship group at our church. I also teach young children on Sundays and teens on Wednesday evenings at our church. My husband is a wood and leather crafter, and my children love to be able to make things also, so another of my favorite things to do is an art or craft project with my kids. I am very blessed that both of my children (Justice and Hosanna) also love a good story. We have worked on several together and separately and will probably do much more of that in the future.
Beth: Tell us about your writing journey. Did you always want to be a writer?
Leisha: Pretty much. I can remember writing at a very young age. I really don’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. I might have been as young as five when I wrote one of my first (short) stories, about a little Indian girl. But most of my stories stayed inside my head. I would let them roll in my mind from one scene to the next at bedtime, never really telling anyone about it. Mom said I was the easiest of all her kids to get to bed. She didn’t know it was because I always looked forward to selecting one of the several stories I always had going in my head and picking up where I’d left off the night before. I didn’t start writing down any novel-length projects until junior high or high school when I finally decided all those stories might be there for a reason. I decided to put them on paper and perhaps eventually share them.
Beth: Who has influenced you most as a writer and why?
Leisha: A difficult question. I expect my family, including my grandparents, were an important influence. I had an English teacher in Jr. High who encouraged me tremendously, convincing me that my writing really was good enough to share. She actually wrote on one of my school papers that I should consider being a writer. Talk about a boost! I had another English teacher in high school, and that was a funny situation because each year I was in high school they moved her to a different teaching level so that I ended up having her for all four years. That turned out really well for me because a teacher who didn’t know my work might have let me slide by easily because I was capable of making A’s without a great deal of effort. But good enough for the grade was not good enough for her when she knew I could do better. She called me on the carpet more than once for turning in a paper that was less than my best. She knew when I had better in me. She made me work to do the best I could and I was better for it. Besides all those, I am sure the authors I have loved down through the years (too many to list them all) have influenced my writing as well.
Beth: What is your favorite movie? Favorite books?
Leisha: Oh, boy. Another hard question. I am not completely certain. I have never been as much of a movie person, but some do stand out, in particular The Sound of Music, which my mother loved and introduced me to. My sisters and I went about the house singing songs from that movie, so it is a part of happy memories for me. Now my daughter loves the movie and the same songs so I continue to share them with her. About books, there is no way I could list all the books I have loved. But I would like to mention that the work of Laura Ingalls Wilder inspired me as a child and I continue to be awed by her accomplishment. The books she wrote are truly rare in that they appeal to such a wide age range. I’ve seen pre-schoolers sit in rapt attention when they’re read, older kids lap them up independently, and adults continue to enjoy them. Wonderfully amazing. Few people have a writing style with such broad appeal. Tolkien also amazes me because he created a world that is practically alive in its own right. I fell into those stories and practically forgot they were actually written by somebody. I love when that happens, when you get absolutely lost in the action. The works of C.S. Lewis inspire me, and perhaps oddly, Lee Strobel, for non-fiction. Beverly Lewis is a wonderful person and a wonderful writer who has perhaps led the way in writing gentle books for the heart. And Leif Enger, in his book Peace Like a River simply made me believe. It was a wonderful book. But there are so many other wonderful books out there.
Beth: Tell us about your newest release, Till Morning is Nigh.
Leisha: This is a story set in 1932, one year after the loss of the Worthams’ dear friend Emma Graham, and the Hammond children’s mother, Wilametta. Julia Wortham is trying to find a way to make Christmas merry for Katie, the little girl they’ve taken in, as well as all the other children. But with sickness in the house and everyone missing loved ones, it is no easy task. It is a home-made nativity set that finally sparks the Christmas spirit in the childrens’ hearts and inspires unexpected blessing.
Beth: What inspired you to write this?
Leisha: My own children. When they were very little, they asked many questions when we got out our little nativity set. As I told them the Christmas story, they decided it simply wasn’t right to set the whole set up together early in December, because “Jesus isn’t born yet” until Christmas Eve and the rest of the players could not possibly all be in Bethlehem so early. So we hid the baby, put the wise men at the far corner of the house, and set Mary and Joseph in “Nazareth”, the next room. Only the shepherds, and animals remained in “Bethlehem” with an angel sent ahead to prepare the way. Every day after that, we moved Mary and Joseph a little closer, and then after a few days, began moving the wise men too. On Christmas Eve, Mary and Joseph arrived in “Bethlehem” and the baby came out of hiding to be born and placed in the manger. The angels immediately flew to the shepherds who responded by coming at once to the stable. But the wise men would not arrive until late the next day. The children had such wonderful fun acting out the Christmas story through the month of December this way that our “traveling” nativity set has become a family tradition. I wanted to incorporate the whole idea into a Christmas story featuring the Wortham and Hammond families from some of my other books, and the theme (lines from the Christmas carol, Away in a Manger) just fit the whole idea.
Beth: What is the message you hope to get across in this story?
Leisha: That the Christmas story is as relevant to us today as it has ever been. That Jesus is with us in all the things we go through in this life, in sorrow and mourning, in trials of sickness or despair, in poverty, as well as in blessing.
Beth: Do you tend to see the same Christian themes in your books and what are they?
Leisha: I believe I do, though I never sit down and plan a “message” for any book in advance. The most important theme, of course, is that we are never alone. That the Lord truly does love us and is present to be a comfort, a provider, a friend. We can lean on Him, no matter what we go through. He has the answers. There are difficult things sometimes, like George Hammond’s attempt to abandon his family, but the mercy of God is available to heal and restore. Nothing and no one is beyond His reach.
Beth: Closing thoughts you’d like to share.
Leisha: I would like to encourage everyone to remember not only the reason for this season, but the reason we are here in this world with hope for the world to come. We are made in the image of God to live for His glory. He loved us so much that He became one of us and sacrificed His life to redeem us. Now in response to His great love, we can choose to live a life of love ourselves.
A big thanks to Leisha for joining me during this busy holiday season!
Leisha Kelly’s Website.
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