In Becoming the Talbot Sisters (Thomas Nelson), author Rachel Linden hopes to bring a greater awareness to issues important to women around the world and encourage them to live what she describes as “every day brave.”
Becoming the Talbot Sisters tells the story of estranged twin sisters who live very different lives on opposite sides of the world but are drawn to rebuild their relationship in support of one another as they face challenges ranging from miscarriages to sexual assault to career woes. The sisters’ stories draw from many aspects of Linden’s own life as she shares in the interview below.
An author normally works some of herself into her novel. How much of Becoming the Talbot Sisters reflects your own life?
So much of the book reflects my own personal experience! The main themes – women having courage to face infertility and miscarriage as well as sexual exploitation and trafficking – are all very personal for me. I lost my first child to miscarriage, so I identify deeply with that thread of the book. I also worked with a faith-based organization in Europe for seven years, focusing significantly on women who experienced trauma and exploitation, so that theme is one I am very passionate about. The locations in the book are also dear to my heart. I set the book mainly in Budapest where I lived for five years. Parts also take place in Sarajevo and several other fascinating locations around central Europe, all places I enjoy and want to share with readers.
As for the sister-relationship aspect of Becoming the Talbot Sisters, much like Waverly and Charlotte, my sister and I are very different and live geographically far apart. However, we have a harmonious relationship and have grown in friendship more and more as we’ve gotten older unlike the sisters in the book.
Waverly seems to have it all together but can’t have the one thing she desperately wants in the world, a baby, due to struggles with infertility and miscarriages. So many women struggle with the same issues but live in silence. Why is it still so taboo to talk about emotional trauma involved with pregnancy loss?
I think a big part of it is that the grief after pregnancy loss is so deeply personal. It is a unique type of grief, a loss of possibility and potential at the very start of a life. You are mourning the loss of a life and the loss of so many hopes and dreams you had for that child. The loss of a child is a devastating thing, even if it is a baby that had not yet been born.
There can also be a sense of shame associated with losing a baby, a feeling of failure or fault. It is easy to feel you might have done something to cause the loss (although this is highly unlikely) or that there is something wrong with you or your ability to create or carry life. The loss of a pregnancy can elicit a complex and confusing mixture of emotions! That combination makes it hard to talk about and explain to someone who hasn’t had the same experience.
How does infertility impact a marriage, especially when the husband and wife don’t agree on the lengths they want to go through in order to have a child of their own?
Infertility can put incredible strain on a couple’s intimacy. It’s very difficult to not become task-oriented and focus solely on outcomes in the process of trying to become pregnant instead of working on building relationship intimacy. The physical joy and intimacy of the marriage relationship can suffer tremendously over the months and years of waiting, trying, disappointment, and loss.
Infertility can also really drive a wedge between couples emotionally, taking a toll on their ability to enjoy what they have in the present and with each other. Too often couples become fixated on the fact that what they want to happen isn’t happening. It’s even more complicated and difficult if the couple isn’t in agreement about how far they will go to have a child. I greatly admire couples who are able to walk the painful road of infertility with grace and joy, choosing to be thankful for their present lives and keeping their hearts open to alternate ideas of how their family might look in the future. It’s especially inspiring when they are able to do so in unity and use this painful experience to strengthen their bond.
The story addresses the pros and cons of surrogacy. Why is it a subject not often addressed?
I think surrogacy is just starting to come into our national consciousness as a viable option for couples who cannot have a child by a more traditional method. Only in the last few years have I noticed it starting to get more attention in our society. It’s a concept that goes back to the Old Testament (remember Abraham and Hagar?), but not one that has been present in American or Christian circles in recent history.
Surrogacy is becoming more common, though, and people are starting to consider it more and more as an option if they struggle with infertility. As it becomes more widespread, I think the questions and sticky issues around it will need more attention. It’s a complicated situation with many facets to consider, and I think the story explores some of them in intriguing ways!
How does the fact that the sisters lost their parents at a young age play into Waverly’s desire to be a mom and Charlie’s offer to help her fulfill her dream?
Both sisters want to restore what they lost when their parents died – a sense of home and family. Waverly longs for a baby so she can recreate the warmth of the family she lost at such a tender age. Charlie realizes that she’s built a very lonely, isolated life as an adult and offers to be a surrogate for her sister in the hopes of rebuilding their sisterly bond.
Even though the sisters approach it in different ways, they are both longing for relational connection and intimacy. That’s what they’re trying to regain in their adult lives. Humans are made for connection. We crave it. We need it. However, we are often terrible at knowing how to build and maintain healthy intimacy. The story is really about Waverly and Charlie having the courage to choose relational connection, especially the beautiful connections related to sisterhood and motherhood, and forging those connections in quite unexpected circumstances.
Charlie’s decision to help trafficked women in the story is based on your own involvement with an international not for profit organization. Can you tell us more about your experiences and how you were able to work them into Charlie’s story?
For five years I lived in Budapest and worked specifically in the region of central Europe. I was able to use so many of my experiences as a basis for Charlie’s life and work in the story. I especially drew on my time working with women who had been traumatized. Some had been sexually exploited and forced into prostitution. Living in a region rife with sex trafficking, I came to see how widespread and pervasive the problem really is. As I met women who had been trafficked, I realized each one was a normal woman, just like me, despite the fact they had endured tremendous abuse and trauma. Many were mothers of young children. We had a lot in common.
I began to understand sex trafficking is huge in scope, but it is also very personal. Those sizeable numbers represent individuals with faces, names, and stories. As I came to know some of these women personally, it made the issue of trafficking extremely relevant for me as a woman and a person of faith. I could no longer look at it simply as a vast problem with staggering numbers attached. I had to look at it through the faces of the women I met . That changed everything!
For years I’ve wanted to write a story about women who are caught in sex trafficking, but from a relational, women-centered angle. I wanted to tell a story about these women in a personal way with compassion and clarity rather than a sensational way that can cause further harm.
In the story, Charlie’s decision to help the women she encounters is a direct result of my experiences helping similar women. Charlie lays aside her own past trauma and enters into this sisterhood of women helping women, choosing to have courage in the face of great danger and personal risk. In different ways, Charlie and the women in the story all exhibit courage and resilience. They represent so much of my heart for women in trauma. My hope is that in telling this story, other women will be awakened to find their own courage and help stop the trafficking and sexual exploitation of women.
How vast is the problem of human trafficking around the world and in the United States?
The problem of sex trafficking is staggering in scope. According to new estimates by the International Labor Organization, roughly 25 million people are in forced labor worldwide, and 4.8 million people, mostly women and children, are in forced sexual exploitation. That latter number is more than the entire state of South Carolina or the country of Ireland!
It’s an enormous problem, but one that is shrouded in secrecy. We often aren’t aware of what is happening in our own cities. It was happening frequently in Budapest, but I didn’t recognize it until I learned some of the signs to look for. It happens in the US too, but often we are completely unaware of it until it hits the local or national news.
What are some of the signs of trafficking to look for, and what should we do when we start to notice them?
There are a number of potential warning signs, but here are a few. For a more complete list, check out Polarisproject.org
· An individual, usually a woman or child, is accompanied by an older adult male who may pose as a father figure or boyfriend. This person is usually a pimp who is controlling the woman.
· She is not free to come and go at will and does not seem to have official documents like a passport, visa papers, etc.
· She shows signs of physical abuse – scars, burn marks, etc. She may also have a brand or tattoo, often a money symbol, name, or bar code which could indicate trafficking.
· She seems tense, nervous, does not make eye contact, is wary of law enforcement, and seems withdrawn or depressed.
· She may live at her place of employment, works strange or long hours, and does not seem to control her own time or money.
· She has a large debt she cannot seem to pay off but also may exhibit expensive clothes or jewelry.
· She lives/works in a location with high security measures – bars inside the windows, barbed wire, security cameras, locked doors, etc.
· She has a contradictory story, is vague or seems confused about her circumstances, and may be using drugs.
If you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
Given that part of the book is set in Budapest, Hungary, did you have to do a lot of research on the area?
I had the privilege of living in the gorgeous city of Budapest for five years and working extensively in that region of central Europe. I had to do minimal research because so many of the places I describe in the book are places I’ve been, and lots of the small details were ones I’ve experienced firsthand. In a way I was living the research for this book! Central Europe is a beautiful, somewhat undiscovered region of the world, rich with culture, history, natural beauty, and of course, very yummy food. This story is, in a way, a love letter to a region of the world very close to my heart.
How does faith weave its way into Becoming the Talbot Sisters?
The underlying themes of the book – courage, connection, and hope – are all deeply rooted in my own personal faith. I think the story will appeal to readers of both inspirational and mainstream fiction because the faith elements are subtle but very relevant. The main characters are on a journey toward relational healing, intimacy and joy in every aspect of their lives. The story also really affirms the value of human life, from Charlie’s unborn baby to the central European exploited women, and the historical figure of St. George plays an important part in the overarching theme of women having courage to face life’s big challenges.
The sisters were raised by their Aunt Mae whose motto was, “Whatever the Good Lord puts in your hand you give back to others.” How do characters live out this motto in the story?
The sisters live it out in different ways. Charlie’s offer to be a surrogate for her twin is one example. She says she has two good ovaries she isn’t using, so why shouldn’t she carry a baby for her sister? Later she chooses to stand in solidarity with the trafficked women she rescues, using her position of influence to help those who have been exploited, despite her own past trauma.
Likewise, Waverly uses her clout as TV star to try to help her sister when they become embroiled in a very unexpected and perilous situation. She also opens her mother’s heart in unexpected ways. Both sisters learn as the story progresses what it is they have in their hand and how to give it to others in a positive way.
Courage is a central theme of the story. What does it mean to be “every day brave”?
I hope women walk away from reading Becoming the Talbot Sisters understanding they can courageously face life’s big challenges, choosing to be “every day brave.”
Every day brave is a simple concept but it’s not easy. It means standing with courage against life’s fear and challenges, no matter the circumstances. As women we can face tremendous challenges in our lives, our careers, our family relationships, our roles as wives and mothers, sisters and daughters, matters of the heart, so many areas of life! Being every day brave takes guts, grit and a steadfast hope and optimism!
You will be donating a portion of your author proceeds to an organization in Budapest, Hungary that helps women who have been exploited or trafficked. Can you tell us more about the work Hope Dies Last does and how you became involved with them?
Yes, I am absolutely thrilled to be supporting Hope Dies Last and their amazing work with trafficked and exploited women in Europe. They focus on creatively addressing the root causes of trafficking and sexual exploitation as well as supporting other anti-trafficking organizations in the region and working directly with women in Budapest and around Europe.
I first connected with them about five years ago and since then have supported the organization financially, served in an advisory role for them, and participated with them practically in the work they do. I know the staff very well and am consistently impressed by their integrity, creativity, and dedication as they work to help exploited women across Europe.
Find Rachel Linden online at www.rachellinden.com, on Facebook (authorrachellinden) and on Instagram (rachellinden_writer).
About the Book
Becoming the Talbot Sisters tells the story of estranged twin sisters living very different lives on opposite sides of the world who begin to rebuild their relationship and learn to support one another as they face challenges ranging from miscarriages to sexual assault to career woes. Readers are introduced to Waverly Talbot, a celebrity chef with her own successful home-entertaining television show. She seems to have the perfect life, yet she and her husband have never been able to realize the true desire of Waverly’s heart: to become a mother. One miscarriage after another has strained their relationship, and Waverly is at the point of despair, believing that she may never have a family of her own.
Meanwhile Waverly’s twin sister, Charlie, buries bitter disappointment and shattered idealism beneath a life spent serving others as an international aid worker in Budapest, Hungary. Charlie is passionate about helping exploited women and aids in the rescue of women trapped in human trafficking in Central Europe. When the aunt who raised them passes away, Waverly and Charlie come together in their grief after living years on separate continents. Struck by a fierce desire to bridge the distance between them, Charlie offers Waverly and her husband the selfless gift of surrogacy.
When the sisters find they are each in danger of losing their jobs, Waverly makes a bold move and shows up unannounced in Budapest. From there the sisters embark on an adventure across Central Europe that takes an unforeseen turn forcing them to stand together to save their careers, the baby, and each other.
The sisters’ stories draw from many aspects of Linden’s own life and she hopes to highlight the prevalence of the various struggles so many women face. “The main themes – women having courage to face infertility and miscarriage as well as sexual exploitation and trafficking – are all very personal for me. I lost my first child to miscarriage, so I identify deeply with Waverly’s story. Though many women face the same struggle to start a family, it’s not something we talk about because it’s so personal and painful,” the author explains. “I also worked for five years with a faith-based organization in Budapest where much of the book is set, focusing significantly on women who experienced trauma and exploitation, so the work that Charlie does in the story is something I am very passionate about.”
According to new estimates by the International Labor Organization, roughly 4.8 million people, mostly women and children, are in forced sexual exploitation. It’s an enormous problem, but one that is shrouded in secrecy. Linden hopes to bring attention to the vastness of the situation by making it personal and relational. “For years I’ve wanted to write a story about women who are caught in sex trafficking, but from a relational, women-centered angle. I wanted to tell a story about these women in a personal way with compassion and clarity rather than a sensational way that can cause further harm. “
Linden will be donating a portion of the proceeds from sales of Becoming the Talbot Sisters to Hope Dies Last, an organization focusing on creatively addressing the root causes of trafficking and sexual exploitation as well as supporting other anti-trafficking organizations in Budapest and around Europe. To learn more about the work the ministry does, visit www.hopedieslast.org.
Currently, Rachel lives in beautiful Seattle, WA with her husband and two young children. She enjoys creating stories about hope and courage with a hint of romance and a touch of whimsy. Her first book, Ascension of Larks, released in 2017. Becoming the Talbot Sisters is her second release.
Find Rachel Linden online at www.rachellinden.com, on Facebook (authorrachellinden) and on Instagram (rachellinden_writer).