Author: Jess Lederman
Narrator: Alison Maglaughlin
Length: 12 hours and 24 minutes
Released: January 06, 2020
Publisher: Jess Lederman
Genre: Literary Fiction; Christian
“Readers of inspirational fiction will love this moving story that affirms the power of God’s mercy.” (Publisher’s Weekly)The Alaska Territory, 1925: Thirteen-year-old Luke couldn’t be prouder of his father, whose heroic efforts have just saved thousands of lives. but his world turns upside down when dad abandons his family for a beautiful reporter from New York. Luke’s mother, Yura, vows to win back her husband and kill the woman who stole his heart, and she and Luke embark on an epic cross-country quest that will lead them to the Nevada desert, and to truths – and terrors – of which they’d never dreamed.Reno, Nevada, 1930: Boxer David Gold, a Bible-school dropout who fights as the Pummelin’ Preacher, is nearing the end of his career and feeling hopelessly far from God. Then one day, a former call girl who hails from a railway stop called Las Vegas shows up at his door. She’s part of a rag-tag congregation whose pastor has been murdered; the killer is still at large, they haven’t a cent to pay David, but they need a fighting man to shepherd the tiny Church of the Heart Set Free. Her proposal seems sheer madness – after all, he’s not really a preacher, how can he possibly do these people any good? But the Spirit is at work; it’s already brought a mother and son from Alaska into his life, and now it’s telling him to say yes….Las Vegas, 2011: Science Cable T.V. big-wig Tim Faber is an arrogant narcissist determined to prove that mankind has no need of God, while his producer, Joan Reed, is trying to regain the faith of her youth. They’ve come to Vegas to meet with 99-year-old Luke and David Gold’s grandson, Daniel, two men who hold the key to a mystery they must solve – and answers that will forever change their lives.“Bold and forthright writing that would set any heart on fire.” (Christian blogger Miranda A. Uyeh)
After I graduated with a degree in music from Columbia University, a lust for expensive pianos drew me into an unexpected career in finance. It turned out that I had a knack for business; I gained much that the world had to offer and became a hedonist, a gambler who haunted the poker rooms of Las Vegas, and an arrogant atheist. I’ve written fiction for most of my life, and at one point I quit work to devote myself to writing a novel. During that time, my late first wife, Teri, and I lived in Paris, down the street from where Hemingway once lived, and later in the mountains of Idaho. But the novel was never published, for my soul had not yet awakened, and I did not yet have anything important to say. So I went back to the business world. One day, when we were living in Dallas, Teri heard a radio interview with Francis Collins, an eminent scientist who wrote The Language of God, which tells the story of his journey from atheism to becoming a disciple of Christ. Collins’ book led us to the writings of C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald*, who became the midwives of our rebirth from above. There’s no hiding from the Hound of Heaven, once He’s on your trail! Several years later, Teri was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and we left Dallas and the business world behind and moved to a small town in Alaska. There we looked out on the glory of God’s creation and read to our heart’s content during the last two years of her life. Faced with tragedy, we learned to trust utterly in Him, and He blessed us with the peace that surpasses all understanding. It was after Teri’s death, while I was still living in the far north, that the idea for Hearts Set Free—which opens in the Alaska Territory in 1925—was born. People who know that the novel contains autobiographical elements (and several historical characters) sometimes ask me, “How much of the story is true?’ And I answer, “Perhaps twenty percent—and the rest is even more true!” What drives my writing is the desire to convey truths that transform lives. Truths of the heart. In 2013, I met a wonderful woman—my current wife, Ling—and soon we began talking about having children. “Impossible!” said our doctors. “According to your test results, there’s no chance at all, even using the latest techniques.” Of course, within two months of that pronouncement, Ling was pregnant with little David, who just turned three, and we subsequently adopted Daniel, who’s now twelve. After David’s birth, we moved to southwest Washington. I’m currently at work on a novel set in Las Vegas in 1955, and, when I’m not writing or chasing my sons around, can usually be found at the piano playing Chopin nocturnes for Ling.
Alison Maglaughlin is a narrator, blogger, artist, lover and learner of languages from rural USA. Her hobbies include skateboarding, traveling, collecting trinkets and calling home. She lives in Amsterdam with her sister and travel companion, Maciah. The two of them are having a silly goose time in a hostel somewhere.
I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Jess Lederman. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.
Q&A with Author Jess Lederman
- How closely did you work with your narrator before and during the recording process? Did you give them any pronunciation tips or special insight into the characters?
- I worked very closely with my narrator, Ali Maglaughlin. I knew Hearts Set Free would be a challenging book to narrate, because it’s got a long cast of characters, and many of them talk with distinctive accents. For example, among the real-world characters, heavyweight champ Jack Johnson was a black man from Galveston, Texas; physicist Georges Lemaitre, Belgian; Albert Einstein, German; while Bugsy Siegel grew up in New York. Then there are fictional characters who speak with Cajun and Southern accents. And two of the primary characters are native Alaskans, so I had to research the pronunciation of some Inuit words as well.
- Any given narrator is going to have a greater or lesser natural affinity with certain characters. So of course there were times when I would ask Ali to take a different approach with certain lines. And in other cases I was very pleased when she voiced a character in a way I hadn’t anticipated but which worked very well.
- Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing?
- People who know that Hearts Set Free has such elements, and that it also features a number of historical characters, sometimes ask me, “How much of the story is true?” I answer, about twenty percent–and the rest is even more true. I like to write about truths that change people’s lives, truths of the heart. I put aspects of myself into several of the characters; for example, I was an arrogant atheist for much of my life, before coming to Christ, much like the character of TV producer Tim Faber. Much of the novel takes place in Las Vegas–half back when it was only a small town, and the Hoover Dam was just being built, and half the way it is today–and back in my pagan days, I haunted the poker tables of the Vegas casinos, so I know it well.
- Also, there are several historical characters who play an important role in Hearts Set Free. One of the most important is Jack Johnson, the first black, heavyweight champion of the world. He was a fascinating figure, a self-educated man, a fighter familiar with Shakespeare and who could perform Bach on his bass viol. He was an arrogant narcissist–that was his fatal flaw–but at the same time had a big heart. Needless to say, he was much maligned by the racist culture which prevailed in the U.S. during his lifetime. Georges Lemaitre is one of my favorite characters, and one of my personal heroes. He was one of the greatest scientists of all time, yet most people have never heard of him! Lemaitre was a Belgian who became both a physicist and a Roman Catholic priest. As a young man, fresh off the battlefields of WWI, he challenged Einstein’s view of the universe, and though at first Einstein called his ideas nonsense, within ten years he acknowledged that the young priest had been right! Other historical characters include Amelia Earhart and gangster Bugsy Siegel.
- How do you manage to avoid burn-out? What do you do to maintain your enthusiasm for writing?
- When I take breaks from writing, it’s usually to chase after my four-year-old son or play the piano. I’m especially a fan of Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, and the Blues. And for me, music is often an inspiration for my writing. Sometimes I’ll hear a melody or harmony and think, yes, that is just what I want to express, if only I can find the right words!
- If you had the power to time travel, would you use it? If yes, when and where would you go?
- Sure, who wouldn’t! Assuming I could first master first-century Aramaic, I’d go back to ancient Israel around 30 AD and hang out with Jesus and the disciples.
- What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?
- To say that listening to an audiobook, as opposed to reading, is “cheating,” is just silly. For the first few millennia after people first began to compose stories–often in the form of epic odes–most people could not read at all. For most of human history, stories were spoken aloud and listened to. In fact, to truly be appreciated, a well-written novel should be read aloud, just as all poetry ought to be read aloud. It’s not all that different from music, really; sure, a gifted musician can look at a score and imagine the music in his or her head, but that’s not the same from hearing it performed.
- What bits of advice would you give to aspiring authors?
- First and most important: write, write, write. Get lots of words on paper. Then, don’t fall in love with what you’ve written, no matter the blood, sweat, and tears; rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Join a critique group. Go to writing conferences and network with as many people as possible. That’s not only for getting advice and making contacts with agents and publishers; writing can be a long, lonely journey. Become integrated into the writing community.
- Do you have any tips for authors going through the process of turning their books into audiobooks?
- Take the time to make sure you are as sympatico as possible with your narrator and that he or she will be comfortable with multiple “takes” until you’re completely satisfied. That might sound obvious, but it can be a long and sometimes painful process, so you need a tight working relationship. Make sure you’re allocating the necessary time to listen and critique each chapter as it’s recorded.
- What’s next for you?
- I’m eager to get my next novel published. The working title is Fire. Like Hearts Set Free, it’s set in Las Vegas, but in 1955, a time when the Mob ran the casinos and above-ground nuclear bomb tests not far from the city were a tourist attraction.
- Who is the author you most admire in your genre?
- Among writers of what I would call Christian literary fiction, George MacDonald would be at the top of the list. He was a Victorian-era minister, novelist, and poet and the great inspiration to C.S. Lewis, who referred to him as his “master.” MacDonald was also a great influence on G.K. Chesterton, Madeleine L’Engle, and countless others. Reading his novels is one of the best ways of discovering what it means to follow Christ.
- What is the best thing writing makes you feel?
- I love my own sense of emotional connection with my characters and what they are going through. There have been quite a few times when I find myself laughing or crying at my writing desk! And of course there’s a wonderful feeling of accomplishment when I feel I’ve expressed something in just the right way. But perhaps the very best feeling is when a reader—someone I don’t know, who just happened to buy my book—provides feedback, and lets me know that they, too, were moved by the same things that moved me. That sense of connection—and most especially of inspiring people in their faith—is just wonderful!
- What inspired the story?
- When my late first wife was diagnosed with ALS, we moved from Dallas to a small town in Alaska so that we could spend her remaining time in peace, looking out at the beauty of God’s creation. She was the inspiration for one of the main characters in the book. We were living not far from the headquarters of the Iditarod, the iconic thousand-mile dog sled race that takes place each year. The Iditarod was inspired by an amazing race against time which occurred in the frozen darkness of an Alaskan winter in 1925, when dogsled was the only way to get diphtheria serum to remote town of Nome, to save ten thousand lives. The novel begins with that dramatic event. One of the other main characters—David Gold, a Bible-school dropout turned boxer who is led by the Lord to become a heroic pastor—was inspired by the studies that two pastors in Alaska encouraged me to undertake to better understand the Pauline epistles. Paul became one of my all-time heroes, and at one point I toyed with the idea of writing a novel about him. That eventually led to Hearts Set Free.
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