Friday, April 20, 2012

Rebecca Price Janney: Keeping An Eye On The American Family, Heaven, Hell, and History

Everyone's Story welcomes this week's guest, Dr. Rebecca Price Janney. Rebecca is a theologically trained historian, speaker, and author. Having written about the American family, the cultural history of heaven and hell, American history, and YA novels, Rebecca makes an awesome guest to help celebrate the one-year anniversary of this blog. Begun last year on April 19th as a gesture toward establishing an internet basis, plus a nod toward the commemoration of my mother's birthday, Rebecca's interest in honoring family and life is perfect timing!
~*~~*~Book GiveAway~*~~*~
One randomly chosen commenter (please leave email address within comment) will get to choose one of the following books by Dr. Price Janney:

Great Events in American History
Then Comes Marriage: A Cultural History of the American Family
Who Goes There? A Cultural History of Heaven and Hell

Questions for Rebecca Price Janney:

I admire your biographical author history, Rebecca. You began by facing off to a seemingly hard-nosed editor pre-determined not to give you the time of day but you stood your ground and he hired you. And this at the age of 15! At 17 you published your first article with Seventeen Magazine. Looking back, where do you believe you found such strong confidence at such a young age? What advice can you offer teens today during these changing publishing times that are stiffening the competition for everyone?

Sometimes I look back and can’t believe I did those things either!  I think part of it is the callowness of youth—you believe anything is possible.  The dark side of it was that I felt driven to prove myself, to gain approval from my family.  I do believe God used all those things, however, for my good, and hopefully for His glory.  He made me an enthusiastic and ambitious person.  I’ve tried to let Him steer me since then!

Times certainly have changed in publishing since then, but I think more roads have opened to teens than before.  A creative and ambitious young person can use the internet and social media to flex writing muscles, as well as going the traditional route of contributing to school publications and trying to connect with local media.  In my area (Philadelphia) there are internships available with public TV stations for teens who are interested in journalism.  Many writer’s conferences also have workshops available for young writers.  The possibilities are there!

You describe yourself as a theologically trained historian. I imagine this background as extremely helpful for non-fiction writing, but does it also help—or hinder—your fiction writing when it comes to freeing creativity, or what some call a “writer’s license to stretch the facts.”

It’s also helpful to me as I write historical fiction because I can be both accurate with the facts, as well as creative.  For example, in my new book, On a Steed of Iron, I take actual events and put fictional people alongside real ones as the story plays out.  Because I’ve researched the times so thoroughly—in this case, the late 1960s—I can present the adventures and dilemmas my heroine faces in a way that’s harmonious with that era.  This helps me not to impose current mores and pop culture upon that decade’s.  It’s like, when you know the rules of good grammar and spelling, you can work with them in an innovative way that doesn’t offend the language.

In THEN COMES MARRIAGE?: A CULTURAL HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN FAMILY you wrote about the past, present, and future of family life. Are there cyclic patterns that tend to repeat themselves, shaping and shifting themselves to the ups and downs of the other cyclic factors effecting the country such as the economy or do you see the American family as moving in only one steady direction, and if so, which way? Fiction wise, will the future reader of the novel read only about family life as something that occurred back in the “old days”?

If you look across American history—actually human history as a whole—you find periods of rebellion and low moral standards, followed by a reining in of those impulses and a resulting spread of better manners and basic decency.  I was surprised to find that early in American colonial history, premarital sex and living together outside of marriage were not uncommon.  After revivals happened (the subject of my new novels), people’s lives became better morally.  

After World War I, the “roaring twenties” were a “loose” decade, followed by that reining in process during the Depression, World War II, and the family-and-faith-oriented fifties when people felt more of their need for God. We’ve been in decline since the late 1960s, but I’m not sure when or how that will turn around.  Based on past trends, however, I think it will change—for the better.  We’ve not hit rock bottom yet, but we’re awfully close.
Your book WHO GOES THERE? A CULTURAL HISTORY OF HEAVEN AND HELL grabs my attention just by the title itself. The blurb tells its about the attitudes Americans have about heaven and hell. Can you share a little bit about these attitudes with us? As a country, do we Americans have distinct differences in our attitudes than other countries? 

I became intrigued with American attitudes about heaven and hell after Princess Diana’s death in 1997.  In the media, there were many references to her being “up there looking down” on us.  I wondered what made people so sure she had gone to heaven, and where they got the idea of her being able to see the rest of us.  After that, it seemed that whenever anyone famous died, it was the same thing.  Then everyday people started using similar language; it was cross-cultural and went across religions as well.  

My research fascinated me, as I discovered how attitudes have changed and where we are now regarding what the Bible teaches about the afterlife.  While there are some distinctions, the media casts such a large net of influence, and America is such a cultural trendsetter, that many people from other nations believe related things.  Also, Americans have become syncretistic about their religious beliefs, picking and choosing teachings from other countries and faith traditions.  Reincarnation is one example.

You’ve written many Young Adult novels. With the YA market exploding, have you entertained the idea of becoming the next big YA author?

Actually, I haven’t, but I’ve never given up on some of my earlier inspirations.  I wrote three books in the mid-to-late 90s about some homeschooled kids who time travel to solve historical mysteries.  That’s an idea that still appeals to me!

Who is your most inspirational person in American history and why?

It’s always hard for me to choose just one person because our nation has been blessed with so many outstanding people.  Those who come to mind include:

George Washington—a man of outstanding integrity, vision, and faith
Abraham Lincoln—whose weaknesses God turned to strength
Harriet Tubman—she had nothing earthly going for her, but God at work in her made for an extraordinary life (I wrote a book about her, Harriet Tubman)
Teddy Roosevelt—another man of God with boundless optimism for America
Ronald Reagan—I stand amazed at how God used his mother to form her son’s faith, and how God spared his life and enabled him at an advanced age and in failing health to bring an end to the Soviet Union.

Your new fiction release is ON A STEED OF IRON. Fascinating title. Please tell us where that title came from, and share with us a line or two about the book.

The year 1968 was one of the worst in American history—the Tet Offensive in Vietnam occurred, costing many lives, then Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed, resulting in terrible riots, and two months later, Robert Kennedy was assassinated.  Most heroes in stories ride off into the sunset on a white horse, or steed—by contrast, RFK rode off on a funeral train—a steed of iron.  The title is from a poem my heroine writes after supporting Kennedy and finding her dreams dashed to pieces.  The book deals with her attempts to find peace and meaning in that tumultuous era, culminating with her experience at the February 1970 revival at Asbury College in Kentucky.  God’s presence filled the campus, and the revival spread to many parts of the country.  It still amazes me when I read accounts of it, and speak with people who were there.
Rebecca & family
With your academic and vocational backgrounds, if you’d like, dare you confess any secret fun reads you enjoy? Any Mad Magazines hanging out in your coffee table stash?

No Mad Magazines, but I love to read women’s fashion magazines, and fun fiction—P.G. Wodehouse, Jan Karon, Robin Jones Gunn, Joyce Magnin.  I’m also enjoying reading the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew to my little boy.

Any predictions of where the future of literature is going?

I sure wish I could offer some!

If you could wave a magic wand, how would you like readers to remember you the most? 

That I loved Jesus with all my heart, and wrote inspired works—with excellence-- that he used to bless many lives.

What part of American history or culture fascinates you? Rebecca looks forward to hearing from you--leave a comment ✍

Author Bio:

During her senior year in high school, SEVENTEEN published her first magazine article and, in conjunction with the Columbia Scholastic Press Association, named her a runner-up in their teen of the year contest for her work as a budding journalist. In September 1996 Horizon Books published Rebecca's best selling GREAT WOMEN IN AMERICAN HISTORY, featuring 23 women of faith and principle whose lives impacted the nation. GREAT STORIES IN AMERICAN HISTORY came out in the summer of 1998 and went into its second printing in two weeks. GREAT LETTERS IN AMERICAN HISTORY was published in January 2000, and Rebecca's biography of Harriet Tubman (Bethany House) appeared in August, 1999.

Multnomah published her IMPOSSIBLE DREAMERS series for 8-12 year-olds in 1997. In the books, three pre-teens time-travel to solve histories' unsolved mysteries. Rebecca is also the author of the eight-book HEATHER REED MYSTERY SERIES published by Word. She has also written for dozens of newspapers and magazines and regularly contributes to other books.

Her most recent books focus on history and include Then Comes Marriage? A Cultural History of the American Family and Who Goes There? A Cultural History of Heaven and Hell from Moody Publishers, and Great Events in American History from AMG. Rebecca enjoys speaking at schools, churches, and civic organizations, as well as on radio and TV.

A graduate of Lafayette College and Princeton Theological Seminary, Rebecca received her doctorate from Biblical Theological Seminary in April 2000, having focused on the interpretation of women's roles throughout American history.

You can contact Rebecca by:
website:  (Includes my blog)
Facebook: Rebecca Price Janney
Twitter: @PriceJanney


  1. What a fascinating guest to celebrate Elaine's birthday blog! I would love to have my own copy of GREAT EVENTS IN AMERICAN HISTORY. I'd also love to have the the first of the Heather Reed mysteries for my little cousin who's nine and who loves to read.

    1. Thanks, Caroline! I hope you enjoy my books--the Heather Reed Series is still available through Amazon, although it's officially out of print.

    2. Rebecca, kind words for someone fresh home from work & grocery shopping. Thank you so much for brightening my day.

  2. Caroline, all of Rebecca's books sound like fascinating reading! Rebecca, are any of them on audio? Lately, since I have a long commute to work, I've discovered I have more listening time to enjoy a book than visual time.

    1. Thanks for the kind remark, Elaine. Also, you do a terrific interview, asking interesting, thought-provoking questions! Regarding audiobooks, not that I know of, but there are some on Kindle.

  3. How very intriguing! Especially the one on the history of marriage ... while researching over the past few years for my own novel, I've noticed these same trends and would love to compare notes. So glad I happened across this blog and this post--I'm looking forward to checking out Rebecca's work!

    1. Great minds think alike, Shannon! Ha ha! I hope you get a chance to read THEN COMES MARRIAGE? for your research. I cover every era of American history, tracing developments in family life, including courtship, marriage, child-rearing, and how the sexes regarded one another.

    2. A warm welcome to Everyone's Story, Shannon! I'm glad you came across this little corner of the world. I hope you come back for a few visits.

  4. Elaine,
    Great interview and some very interesting books!

    1. Cynthia, always happy to see you here! Glad you enjoyed the interview.

    2. Thanks, Cynthia. I've enjoyed writing them and am always pleased when people are blessed by reading them.

  5. I love that Rebecca writes across a variety of genres/time periods. Very cool! And the 60s was such a tumultuous era. It's so hard to understand all the stuff that happened then. So your book will be helpful! (and I always thought RFK was such a tragedy, with all his kids left fatherless).

    Great post!

    1. Heather, nice to see you in this little--but growing!--corner of the world. I agree, the 60s was a point-of-change time in American culture. I'm a child from that era & I've always wondered if my attitude toward civil events would be different if not for those years.

      I'm thankful that Rebecca has captured such an important time in this country's history for others to read & to learn... and make us all think.

    2. The 60s fascinate me, which is why I also wrote about them in my family, heaven and hell books, as well as Great Events and Great Stories. I, too, am deeply moved by the tragedy of RFK's death. Sometimes I wonder what might have happened if he'd lived. Elaine, would love to know what you mean by "my attitude toward civil events." At the risk of user my professor voice, "Please provide an example!" :)

    3. BTW, Heather, I also meant to mention the C.S. Lewis is my writing inspiration, humanly speaking. He wrote so many different types of books!

    4. Ugh, typos--"that," not "the!"

    5. LOL, Rebecca. I guess I'm at the age when I'm still trying not to own up to the number, so thus the confusion. What I meant is that I was born in the 60s, in NYC, surrounded by a lot of turmoil and changes, particularly when it came to different races, religions, and cultures re-learning how to live with each other in a time-period poised on change. I see this impact on the fiction I write--I keep beating this author-theme-drum of let's all learn how to live with each other.

      Ha. Did I clarify or muddle things up more?

    6. That makes a lot of sense to me. I remember that MLK, Jr. urged Americans to juddge one another "not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." That is very important to me. While there's still racism--and always will be among humans until Christ returns--I think we've come a long way since those days.

    7. Now if we can only get the world leaders to share their toys and say nice things about each other... but wait, that's why Christ must come a second time :)

  6. Some historians believe the 60s ushered in important changes for America, while others believe they were disastrous for traditional values and the family. What do you think are some of the important changes? What about the problems that decade brought us?

  7. Although it seems as if social media has captured the 60s as all negative, I think there were some positive step in the right direction (every decade--every action--has positive & negative consequences, depending whether people interpret things advantageously or corruptly/abusively). Looking back, I think it was the first major step in civil rights for many non-Amerian-whites. And definitely a launch pad for women's rights. Whether or not one can blame the 60s as the beginning breakdown for faith practices or the decaying of the family... well, I'm not sure. I'd think so-called decaying has a ripple effect and as much awful stuff I see going on in the American family & American culture today, I also see more & more fantastic values and respect and faith being practiced within families and between different population groups.

    Unfortunately, it's the old saying: a few bad apples spoil the whole batch. A few people from the 60s (and 70s and 80s and etc. etc.) have painted that proverbial ugly picture permanently printed on the pages of history.

  8. Replies
    1. I'm posting this for author and past guest Bonnie Calhoun:

      I for one am very happy that God allowed spoken prayer to be taken out of school. It doesn't stop one single child from bowing their head and praying silently but it does stop Christian children from having to hear Muslim prayers, Wicca prayers, and Budda prayers in this "equal" religious society that we have now.

    2. Fascinating perspective, Bonnie. Makes one wonder if too much liberation/rights can actually backfire & implode upon itself. Not sure if there's a right or wrong answer... may be one heck of an ethical debate. I look forward to seeing what Rebecca has to say. My take: freedom is a must for all. However, as a whole, I think society has yet to grasp how to deal with so many possibilities/scenarios/opportunities.

  9. A very interesting post. I find it comforting that our society recognizes when it's lost and floundering morally and manages to correct itself in the following generations. Unfortunately, rebellion seems inevitable at some point, and the cycle begins again. I wonder if the majority of our society has hit a middle-ground (not what we see on television). That might explain why there hasn't been any major morality swings in the past twenty or thirty years (not to the extent of the '20's, '40's, or '60's). You open a great dialog.

    Happy birthday to your mom, Elaine! And congrats on your one year anniversary!

    1. I was fascinated by Bonnie's perspective about school prayer in our politically correct culture. It's something I'd like to think about more deeply and perhaps debate with some of my students at Biblical Seminary.

      Sara, I've also been pondering when the next big swing might occur. Postmodernism "started" (it had earlier antecedents) around 1970 in a way that filtered down to most layers of society, and it retains a firm grip. To paraphrase Scripture, "Everyone does what is right in his own eyes." At other times in history, people have become so fed up with their sinful condition that when God broke through, they began to listen.

      I'm writing a series of novels about revivals that have occurred in our nation's history, and I am fervently hoping that we might see something on the scale of the First or Second Great Awakenings, again.

    2. I've pondered this "next swing" thing overnight: it might have been on 9-11 when you think about it. I've seen a stronger pull back toward God and family since then.

  10. Rebecca, thanks for being such an awesome guest this past week. It was quite lively conversation & visitor wise, exchanging several fascinating thoughts.

    The winner of one of Rebecca's books (by choice) is Heather. Congratulations. We'll be in touch with you shortly. Happy reading!

  11. Thanks so much! I'm excited and trying to decide which book to pick!


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