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September 15, 2011

Inspirational author Loree Lough has had, at last count, 82 award-winning books, 67 short stories and 2,500+ articles in print. Her latest novel, FROM ASHES TO HONOR, is the first in a series called First Responders, about 9/11 and its emotional impacts. With the recent 10th anniversary of the tragedy, there’s no more relevant time to pick up this book. In this interview, Lough discusses the feedback she received from real first responders, as well as her hopes for what readers will come to learn and understand. She also reveals how she herself was affected by that fateful day of 10 years ago.

Question: Tell us a little bit about your new book, FROM ASHES TO HONOR?

Loree Lough: This novel opens on the morning 9/11, as police officer Austin Finley and his partner, Eddy, are beginning what they think is a very ordinary day. That was Austin's first mistake. His second? Ignoring the cell phone call from his brother, trapped in the North Tower and calling to ask his twin to recite the Lord's Prayer with him. Then, as the story unfolds, readers learn that the events of that day --- the mistakes in particular --- take such an emotional toll on Austin that his Department-assigned psychiatrist recommends desk duty. Instead, he moves to Baltimore, turns a rusting old tugboat into his home on the Chesapeake Bay, and becomes an EMT. Meanwhile, Dr. Mercy Samara, who didn't enjoy writing that life-changing report, is grappling with 9/11 ghosts of her own. Unbeknownst to Austin, she, too, moves to Baltimore and takes a job as a guidance counselor. When their paths cross on the high school football field, haunting memories awaken. But will those memories draw them closer...or drive them farther apart?

Q: What kind of feedback are you getting from first responders to FROM ASHES TO HONOR?

LL: Every one of them, without exception, says I captured the emotional roller-coaster nature of the job, as well as their long-lasting reactions to 9/11, perfectly. (One went so far as to say if he hadn't already completed his mandatory therapy sessions, he'd be tempted to go back, because the memories I woke were so real and vivid.)

Q: This is the first of a series. How do you decide when a series is right for telling a story?

LL: Usually, if a theme or a topic holds enough importance in the reading public's eyes, it's safe to assume a series will be well-received. Such is the case with first responders, and all things related to 9/11...especially with the tenth anniversary of the terror attack this year.

Q: 9/11 affected millions of people in millions of ways. Where were you emotionally on that day?

LL: Prior to the phone call from a friend in Chicago, who told me to turn on my TV, I was at my desk, working hard at finishing a novel with a looming deadline. After that phone call, I turned off my computer and sat --- as most Americans did that fateful day --- transfixed by the streaming reports from NY, DC and PA. It took me all day to accomplish it, but I painted the front of an old dresser, used to hold movies in my family room, with a rendition of the covered bridge near our humble little cabin in the Allegheny Mountains. Every time I look at that painting, I'm reminded of the horrors that unfolded that awful day.

Q: Describe the perfect writing environment.

LL: First, there'd be 48 hours in every day, instead of only 24. (Maybe then I'd get half the items on my daily To Do list crossed off!) Second, I'd hold fast to my "silence only" rule. (Many of my writer pals watch TV or listen to music while working. Not me!) Third, I'd buy a desk with a big flat work surface, so I could spread out all my interview and research notes, books that help me better understand the time periods, places, and people I'm writing about, all without having to stack stuff up beside my elbows!

Q: How did you react to your very first book being published?

LL: I imagine most authors reacted the same way I did when that "We want to buy your book" phone call came in: I feigned calm professionalism. Quietly thanked my editor for his confidence in me and my work. Politely asked when I might expect to see the contract, and when the book was due. And after saying goodbye, I cut loose with a “Yeehaw” that would put any rodeo cowboy to shame!

Q: As a writer and a Christian, what do you hope readers will take away from FROM ASHES TO HONOR?

LL: If readers come away from this story with a better appreciation of the dedication and sacrifice made by every first responder, every time they head toward an emergency, I will have done my job as a writer.

© Copyright 2011, Loree Lough. All rights reserved.