Purcellville-based novelist Kelly Goshorn has turned her own love story, complete with its painful beginnings, into a 19th century romance set in Loudoun.
Goshorn’s first novel, “A Love Restored” was released last month. The story of Ruth Ann Sutton, a spirited teacher at a freedmen’s school for African-American children following the Civil War, is set in the fictional Catoctin Creek, which bears a striking resemblance to the author’s hometown.
And while Goshorn has a passion for 19th century history, she also has a powerful message to convey about self-acceptance.
“The words that other people say to us matter—we internalize them,” Goshorn said. “And as much as they hurt, the things we say to ourselves hurt even more.”
That message of self-acceptance through faith is an ongoing thread in the novel as the full-figured, unconventional Ruth Ann fights for her beliefs and struggles with her love for Benjamin Coulter, an ambitious railroad surveyor, who has to choose between his love for the feisty, imperfect teacher and the outwardly perfect young woman he thinks he should pursue.
When Goshorn decided to start writing in 2010, she was initially researching the history of so-called mail order brides from Ireland in the 1800s. But Goshorn’s husband of 28 years, Michael, encouraged her to tell their own love story—even though he doesn’t initially come off as a sympathetic character. After publishing a nonfiction essay about the beginnings of their relationship in a Christian anthology, Goshorn turned it into the storyline for “A Love Restored.”
Goshorn has struggled with her weight over the years, and when the couple met in graduate school at Penn State University, her now-husband was up-front about having to work through his own weight-based bias. Their own story has a very happy ending, and the couple are now the parents of three children in their 20s.
“He said, ‘I think it’s a good story and I think it turned out well.’ We’ve been married for 28 years so I can’t really argue with that,” Goshorn said.
But Goshorn knew from the start that she would move the story to the 1800s and set it in western Loudoun where she and her family have made their home since 1998. The witty, well-read Ruth Ann is absolutely autobiographical, Goshorn said, and has a message for 21st century readers.
“I think the fact that Ruth Ann is full-figured woman is something that makes the book different. She’s not the typical tiny and petite or thin willowy heroine you usually find in romance novels. I think her struggles will be relatable to most women,” Goshorn said.
Goshorn grew up in Leesburg and graduated from Loudoun County High School. After marrying Michael and moving to California and Syracuse, NY, for her husband’s military service and studies in engineering, the couple returned to Loudoun in 1995 and put down roots in Purcellville a few years later. Goshorn, who has a master’s degree in education, ran a child care business in Loudoun for 20 years but gave up the business in 2013 and took a part-time retail job to focus on her writing.
Inspired by her Christian faith, her love of history, and her 20-year-old son, Noah, also an aspiring writer and English major at George Mason University, Goshorn began playing with some ideas.
“I decided to start tinkering with it and it didn’t take long before that became a sort of obsession,” she said. “I didn’t really have a goal of getting it published, it was just something fun to do.”
But after winning a prestigious contest through the American Christian Fiction Writers organization, Goshorn started to take her prospects as a writer more seriously and found her publisher while attending the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference.
“A Love Restored” is published by Pelican Book Group, a Christian specialty publisher focusing on family-oriented love stories without explicit material that might be found in the romance genre.
“Anybody can read it, but in Christian fiction, the characters usually have a spiritual arc as well as an emotional arc, and they’re usually relying on their faith to work through problems,” Goshorn said.
In addition to an inspirational message, Goshorn has also worked to offer historical accuracy, relying on her studies as a history major at Pennsylvania’s Messiah College and Penn State and extensive research including the work of Loudoun historians like Eugene Scheel and Richard Gillespie.
“The train arrived in Purcellville in the spring of 1874 with a band playing and the crowd cheering as the prosperity of the region and its agricultural products was finally secured,” Goshorn said. “Speeches were made by local businessman and prominent railroad officials—all of which I try to capture in [“A Love Restored”].”
Goshorn’s upcoming three-volume series “Surrendered Hearts” is set in Hillsboro during the Civil War. And at 52, a new career is exciting as she finally embraces her talent and welcomes success after a lifetime of self-doubt.
“Part of the journey has been acknowledging that I am a writer,” she said. “I look back and I see seeds, but it was never something I pursued. I think through the process, God taught me to overcome the fear, to overcome the things that I had told myself: that you can’t do things, that you’re going to fail.”
Kelly Goshorn’s “A Love Restored” is available at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. For more information about the book and the author, go to kellygoshorn.com.