IRON & FIRE: An Interview with Kerrin Willis

Kerrin Willis
Kerrin Willis

Two of the things we adore are teachers and writers. Today’s guest checks both boxes. In her new novel, she explores a place that is near and dear to our hearts: New England. With Iron & Fire, Kerrin Willis deftly captures what it was like for a woman living in the Plymouth Colony in 1675. We hope you enjoy this exclusive interview! —J&H

J&H: Kerrin, welcome!

KW: Thank you for having me!

J&H: As a high school English teacher, we imagine you have always loved books. Which books and authors influenced you most?

KW: My English teacher answer is that I’ve been heavily influenced by Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen – A Room of One’s Own spoke to me in a way that nothing has before or since, and Pride and Prejudice is my absolute favorite book of all time. I named my children after characters from Pride and Prejudice. However, I’m also strongly influenced by Diana Gabaldon, Sara Donati, and Abby Jiminez, as all of their novels have that “can’t put it down” quality that I think all writers strive for.

J&H: Were you bitten by the writing bug early? And when did you decide to tackle a novel?

KW: I was bitten early, yes. I’ve been making up stories and characters for as long as I can remember. I was writing Anne of Green Gables fan fiction in fourth grade! Iron & Fire is the first novel I’ve completed, however, as well as the first that I’ve published. I don’t think I ever clearly decided that I was going to tackle a novel; credit for that has to go to Verity. She was just intent on telling her story!

J&H: Please tell our readers a bit about Verity Parker and her role in Iron & Fire.

KW: Verity Parker is a little bit Elizabeth Bennett, a little bit Jo March, and also entirely herself. She’s a young woman who has recently moved to Puritan New England after the death of her father and her mother’s subsequent remarriage, and she has an extremely difficult time acclimating to her new life. Verity was raised by a father who encouraged education and free thinking in his daughters, and Plymouth Colony in 1675 valued none of that.

J&H: Has New England history always fascinated you, and why or why not?

KW: I’ve always loved the idea of land having history. I remember being a little kid and looking out my bedroom window, wondering who else had lived on this exact same patch of earth over the years.  When I learned that King Philip’s War, the bloodiest war per capita in American history, took place right here I knew that I needed to learn more about it.

J&H: What is it about Verity that you think readers will identify with today?

KW: Verity’s character comes from my belief that people haven’t changed much over the centuries. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of believing that people in the past were one dimensional, but they were not. They had the same desires and conflicts that we have in 2022, it’s just that the world they lived in looked different. Everyone has a bit of Verity in them – she’s smart, and she’s determined, and she occasionally gets herself into trouble by speaking her mind.

J&H: Which traits do you admire most about her and her love interest, Kit?

KW: I want to be Verity Parker when I grow up. I admire her tenacity, her fierce love for her family, and her refusal to make herself smaller in order to fit other people’s expectations. As for Kit, I have a pretty big crush on him! I love his determination to do the right thing, even if it isn’t the easy thing, and I love his appreciation of and admiration for Verity’s intelligence and individuality.

J&H: Verity lived in a turbulent, dangerous time. How do you think she would fare if she could be propelled forward in time to our modern day, like Claire in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series?

KW: I think Verity would do well in 2022! She’d love that women can pursue higher education and then excel at any career. However, I think she’d be disappointed that we still have a way to go towards real equality. I can see her  going to law school or running for office to do her part in making the world a better place.

J&H: As a mom and teacher, do you teach the next generation to admire strong women?

KW: As both a mom and a teacher, my number one goal is to teach the next generation to admire strong women! My school has made great strides in including more women and BIPOC in our English curriculum, and I think that’s great, but we’ve still got a way to go. And I’m raising my own daughters to be strong, independent women who can do anything they set their minds to! (I just have to survive them)

J&H: Have your students and children read your book? If so, how have they responded to your writing?

KW: My own girls are only 6 and 9, so they haven’t read it, but several of my former students have. I actually dedicated the book to four of the most amazing young people I have ever had the pleasure of teaching – several of them had a hand in editing the novel at its early stages, and I don’t think I would have finished it if it wasn’t for their help and support. They’re proud of me, which makes me so happy, but I’ve learned so much more from them than they will ever know.

J&H: While researching this book, did you learn or experience anything that surprised you?

KW: Yes! That’s one thing I love about historical fiction – you’re always finding some new nugget of information that you weren’t expecting. I learned a lot about the indigenous peoples of New England, especially the Pocasset and the Pokanoket tribes. The sachem of the Pocasset, who was arguably the most powerful sachem in New England, was a woman named Weetamoo. She was actually killed during the war, and her body was displayed on Taunton Green as a show of English dominance. That disgusted me, and it made me wonder what Verity would say about it. Would she see Weetamoo as “other”, or would she see her as a fellow woman who was destroyed by a male-dominated society who didn’t understand or value her? I think it was the latter.

J&H: What are you working on next?

KW: My next novel, Strange Arithmetic, is a dual timeline that takes place in 1945 and 2016. During WWII, southeastern Massachusetts was home to one of the biggest embarkation camps on the east coast, and it was also where the military housed POWS from Germany and Italy. Once Italy surrendered, thousands of Italian POWs became classified as “co-belligerents”,  meaning that they were still prisoners but they were able to hold jobs and get passes to go into the community. They also dated local women – but not everyone was happy about it. So of course there’s a story there.

J&H: Kerrin, thanks so much for stopping by. We hope you’ll visit again. The book is Iron & Fire, and you can order it now from Jathan & Heather Books and everywhere else books are sold.

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Kerrin Willis' IRON AND FIRE
Kerrin Willis

1675—Plymouth Colony—Verity Parker promised to look after her family.

Raised among the bookshops and turmoil of Reformation London, Verity now finds herself in Puritan New England, where she must learn to keep her head down and her mouth shut, or risk dire consequences. The only person who values her tenacity is Kit, the heretical ironworker she has been forbidden to see. When King Philip’s War breaks out, Verity must stay silent as the Puritan elders spread hateful rhetoric about the “savages” in the forest. When she witnesses a young girl die in childbirth, Verity must stand by as neighbors blame God’s vengeance. But when tragedy strikes her own home, Verity must choose between her duty to her family and her love for Kit. Will she choose to keep the peace, or will she defy the leaders of the colony for a chance at happiness?

Set against the backdrop of King Philip’s War, the bloodiest war per capita in American history, Iron & Fire explores the experience of a clever, educated woman at a time when being so often resulted in death. Perfect for fans of Amy Belding Brown’s Flight of the Sparrow, or Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Iron & Fire was written for those who read the original American Girl series as children and are now all grown up.

Praise

“Whether you’re a fan of passionate romance, a detective in search of a mystery, or a history buff looking to learn more about what happened after Plymouth Rock, Iron & Fire has something for everyone. While Verity and Kit are the main attractions, the family relationships were my favorite parts- especially the bonds between the cheeky eldest Parker sisters. I learned quite a bit about things from my own backyard I knew nothing about- and most appreciated that for a novel that took place nearly 350 years ago, the characters and their issues felt modern and relatable. A fast read that will stick with you after you turn the final page!”

Meredith Bickford, MA MEd

“Iron and Fire masterfully depicts Puritan New England in a story that seamlessly blends themes of love, war, and family. Verity Parker, the headstrong protagonist, challenges nearly every “norm” of Puritan society. Throughout the course of the novel, Verity seeks to define her purpose; oftentimes she is trapped deciding between meeting the expectations of her family or embracing her divergent worldview. In particular, Verity’s conception of humanity will make her an endearing and relatable character for Willis’ audience; unlike her peers, Verity’s notion of justice and community extends far beyond societal limitations, making her worldview far more relevant for modern readers.

Beyond Verity, Willis incorporates a series of complex characters whose subtle growth help shape the novel into a well-rounded story. Each character faces a conflict that calls their identities and beliefs into question. It is unlikely that readers will not be able to find one character with whom they can relate to. Willis’ ability to interweave these intricate story lines is captivating!”

Megan Johnson, MEd

“In her debut novel, Kerrin Willis captures the heart of American colonial historical fiction with her words and characters. Iron & Fire, set during the King Phillip War in southeastern Massachusetts, explores the themes of family dynamics, love, and the voice of independent women living in a time when silence was the standard…. The writing style is fluent and peppered with wit and descriptive prose balanced throughout the dialogue. The novel reads quickly, while the characters stay with you. Iron & Fire is an engaging, character-driven novel that is strongly recommended”

Kimberly Rocha, MA MEd
About the author

Kerrin Willis lives in Southeastern Massachusetts with her two daughters and her dog, Austen. She is a high school English teacher who prides herself on being a feminist and a strong protagonist in her own story, and she would probably have been burned as a witch in colonial New England. Kerrin can usually be found pausing The Little Mermaid and subjecting her daughters to a lecture on the dangers of giving up their voices.

Kerrin has a BA in English from Stonehill College, and MA in English from Simmons College, and is currently working on her MFA in Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University.

For more information, visit KerrinWillis.com, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.

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IRON & FIRE
By Kerrin Willis
316 pp. Kerrin Willis. $16.99

Purchase Iron & Fire direct from Jathan & Heather Books or from one of these other fine online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Half Price Books, Hudson Booksellers, IndieBound, Powell’s, or Walmart.

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Enter to win a copy of Iron & Fire by Kerrin Willis! The giveaway is open to the US only and ends on April 22nd. You must be 18 or older to enter.

Please note: Giveaway is not presented by Jathan & Heather, Jathan & Heather Books, Jadeworks Entertainment, or any of its subsidiaries.

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About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

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