about the author
Award-winning author Elizabeth Byler Younts writes historical fiction for Harper Collins/Thomas Nelson. She gained a worldwide audience through her first book Seasons: A Real Story of an Amish Girl. She is also the author of the Carol award-winning novel The Solace of Water, critically-acclaimed novel The Bright Unknown, and The Promise of Sunrise series.
She has consulted on Amish lifestyle and the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect for two award-winning television shows. Elizabeth lives in Central Pennsylvania with her husband, two daughters, and a small menagerie of well-loved pets.
How would you briefly describe The Bright Unknown?
E: The Bright Unknown is a journey story of belonging and identity.
B: I am so drawn to those themes in a story!
Share your inspiration behind The Bright Unknown.
E: It was 2014 and my dear Grandma-in-love (law) was visiting from Oregon. She’s an absolute joy and a wonderful woman. I love her dearly. Over one of our meals, she mentioned a story to me and it went something like this.
Joann grew up for many of her formative years in Oklahoma and there her mother had a friend who was a nurse in a mental asylum. The nurse would come for coffee on occasion and she told Joann’s mother that there was a patient there who had had a child and that the child was being raised within the walls of the asylum. Years later Joann moved away from Oklahoma and that child would’ve been at least 18 by then, and, to her knowledge was still living at the asylum.
I didn’t know anything more than that. I didn’t know the mental condition of the girl or her mother or why no one came for her. I knew there were next of kin laws for asylum patients and perhaps her next of kin wanted nothing to do with her. And my mind spun. And wandered. And wondered. I needed to know more.
So I decided to write what I conjured up. And this the seed of this tale grew into The Bright Unknown. And now you can partake in this story!
B: Oh wow! Thanks, Grandma!
What are some of the challenges you faced while writing The Bright Unknown?
E: This book was the hardest to write out of the 6 that I have in print. It was as if the characters themselves held their stories so closely to themselves—which is no surprise because that is a huge element in the story itself. There was a time in the editorial process where I asked for more time and did a massive revision—it could almost be called a rewrite. I’d never done that at this point in the process when it really needed to be ready for the next steps! It was a very draining and difficult season of writing and if it wasn’t for my agent, my editor, my husband, and several dear friends I am not sure this book would ever have happened!
B: It sounds like the characters put you through an intense writing experience!
What is your reading style?
E: I read physical paperback books—I really struggle with ebooks. I hope we never convert 100%! BUT, I am an avid audiobook listener. I am a very busy mom—I homeschool and direct our co-op’s 2-6 grade division and my husband’s job requires a lot of worldwide travel. These make it difficult to sit to read, so I listen and read with my ears—A LOT!
B: Go, super mama! You get those stories any way you can!
What’s your writing style?
E: I don’t plot much but think of the book as a whole—though it all starts with a character that seems to plague my mind! A lot of ruminating happens first and I write random notes in so many places that I just hope that when I’m ready to start writing that I can find them all. Of course, I carry a journal with me almost everywhere and still many of my pre-writing notes don’t get in there! This stage can be anywhere from a few months to as long as 7 years before I write the book!
Eventually, I write a bit of a synopsis to get an overview of the story. Sometimes this needs to be sent to my publisher but not every time. Synopses are hard to write, but I usually find that writing one really helps. Once I get to that point I usually start to see the first chapter formulate a bit and once I’m really sure I know where/when/how I want to start the story, then I let myself writing the first chapter.
Then I try to write as consistently as possible to finish. I usually really struggle around the 1/3 point and again just past half-way. But eventually I do finish and then the fun begins…edits and revisions, which I love!
B: I’ve heard wonderful (heart-wrenching, ugly crying, crumpled tissues everywhere) things about your stories! You are doing something right!
Do you have any writing quirks?
E: One writing quirk is probably that I need noise. Perfect silence is way too distracting for me. I need a TV going or music. And to take it further, the TV conversations don’t distract me but music with words do! It can only be dramatic instrumental music…mostly movie soundtracks. If there are words, I just start singing and then I can’t write.
I also have a corkboard where I love to cover with pictures of my characters—not sure that’s a quirk but it might be that I can’t bear right now to take down the photos of The Bright Unknown characters that are next to my Solace of Water characters still!
B: Sounds like you need some more corkboards! Thank you so much for sharing with us, Elizabeth!
about the book
The Bright Unknown by Elizabeth Byler Younts
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre: Literary Fiction
Release Date: October 22, 2019
This poignant and heartbreaking novel explores the power of resilience, the gift of friendship, and the divine beauty to be found in the big, bright world—if only we’re willing to look.
Pennsylvania, 1940s. The only life Brighton Friedrich has ever known is the one she has endured within the dreary walls of Riverside Home—the rural asylum where she was born. A nurse, Joann, has educated and raised Brighton, whose mother is a patient at the hospital. But Joann has also kept vital information from Brighton—secrets that if ever revealed would illuminate Brighton’s troubling past and the circumstances that confine her to Riverside. Brighton’s best friend is a boy she calls Angel, and as they grow up together and face the bleak future that awaits them, they determine to make a daring escape.
Nothing can prepare Brighton and Angel for life beyond Riverside’s walls. They have no legal identities, very little money, and only a few leads toward a safe place to land. As they struggle to survive in a world they’ve never seen before, they must rely on each other and the kindness of strangers—some of whom may prove more dangerous than the asylum they’ve fled.
Narrated in Elizabeth Byler Younts’s gorgeous style, The Bright Unknown is a sparkling search for answers, family, and a place to call home.
Join our chat by sharing your thoughts in the comments!
Are you going to invest in a box of tissues and add this story to your tbr?!
I don’t like to cry but I am very tempted right now!!!
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