SW. Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
JS. I grew up in a small Ohio town where I developed a passion for writing at an early age. I participated in Young Authors contests in grade school, wrote my first novel in junior high school, and wrote dozens of poems and short stories in between. I majored in elementary education with a concentration in English and the humanities at the University of Toledo.
Now, I live in the Nashville, Tennessee, area with my husband and two beautiful daughters. I teach third grade at a Christian school and is very active with the youth in my church. A member of Middle Tennessee Christian Writers, American Christian Fiction Writers, and Nashville Christian Writers Association, I write in my “spare” time. My debut novel, The Heart’s Journey Home, released in February 2010. The Heart’s Lullaby, the second book in The Harvest Bay Series, is scheduled for release in March 2011
SW. When did you first become interested in writing?
JS. Since I can remember, I’ve always loved stories, but was (and still am) a slow reader with an active imagination so I’d make up my own stories. My first “published” story (Actually, it was handwritten in a blank hardback booklet.) was when I was about ten years old and was about a boy who befriends an Indian chief and together they capture a burglar who breaks into the boy’s house. I wrote my first novel when I was in junior high and another one in tenth grade. I took a break from it while I was in college and gradually returned to it after I got married eleven and a half years ago. I’ve been writing—and working on honing my craft—ever since.
SW. Can you tell us a little about the ups and downs on your journey to publication?
JS. Well, I’m not a very patient person. Add that to the fact that I’m severely lacking in spare time and the result is a pretty wild roller coaster! Of course, my career as a teacher and spending time with my girls didn’t allow me the time I wanted and needed to spend on this manuscript. As much as I love being a mama and a teacher, it was (and still is) frustrating. Then there were times when the story was flowing beyond my control and I had no choice but to keep writing, even if it was 2 a.m. and I had to get up for school at 5 a.m. That’s a good problem to have. Then there were several times when I queried an agent or editor before I was really ready (the patience thing) which, of course, led to disappointments. But it only takes one “yes” for that roller coaster to propel you into the clouds!
SW. How do you approach a new project? Do you research and plot before you write? Or do you have a general idea and just go to it and see where it leads?
JS. I wish I was a better planner, but I’m not. When I start a new project, I have the basic skeleton of an idea. I print out a blank calendar in the year that this story takes place and pencil in events that I know will be happening, but other than that I kind of let it take me where it goes, and research as I go along. I think that’s the way God wants me to write because I do A LOT of praying that way!
SW. Tell us about your latest release?
JS. The Heart’s Journey Home is a story about life, love, loss, and finding love again. It’s a story about how faith can lead you home . . . though it may not be on the path that you expect. Here is a brief synopsis:
Three years after Kate Sterling's heart was shattered by the unexpected death of her husband, she packs up what is left of her life and moves back to Harvest Bay, Ohio, with her young daughter. She soon discovers that her sleepy hometown has changed—and that she has been given a second chance at love. But, is God leading her to a love linked to the past . . . or to one who will walk with her into the future? Which road will Kate take on The Heart's Journey Home?
The Heart’s Journey Home is very special to me, and I hope and pray that whoever reads it will be as touched as I was writing it. I believe that many of the scenes were Spirit-led because of the way it flowed and the way I felt as I wrote them. This is NOT my biography, but I come from a blended family and my Daddy went home to be with the Lord nine years ago, so in many ways writing this book was an emotional release for me. I pray that my readers can sense even a fraction of that emotion.
SW. What inspired you to write this story?
JS. This is the hardest question on the list, Shawna, and it’s because, as strange as it sounds, THE STORY inspired me. As I said earlier, I’ve experience some heartache and this story helped me to heal. I didn’t plan for that to happen. I thought I was just going to write the stories of these three people searching for themselves and where they belong in this “after heartache” world. Through writing this story I drew closer to the Lord than I’ve ever been and I felt, I mean, really felt my daddy with me. When he died there was just an emptiness there, you know? While I was writing this story, especially the parts including Grandpa Clayton, he was near me. I’m sorry, I don’t think that answers your question, but that’s the truth of it.
SW. Can you give us a little history on the characters, including how you developed them , and what endears them to you?
JS. Let’s see, Kate Sterling is a young widow who decides to move back “home” to be close to her family, especially her Grandpa Clayton. Kate is very strong and independent, almost to a fault. In the beginning of the story she’s very, very weak in her faith, but even in that area she grows a lot. She’s also a very organized teacher and an involved, loving, nurturing mother to her active seven-year-old. I think Kate evolved by me taking every quality that I liked about me (teacher and pretty decent mama) and added all of the qualities I wish I had (everything else). Adam Sullivan is like every gals dream guy on the outside – blonde, nice physique, friendly – but he has deep, emotional wounds and lots of questions that he searching for. I relate to Adam because he has a real fear of failure. Nathan Sterling, the brother of Kate’s deceased husband, was originally Nathan Walker, her husband’s best friend. I had the feeling that he needed to have more invested in Kate and Maddie to even consider relocating, which is a notion he fought. I relate to Nathan because he is trying, good heavens, he’s trying to follow God’s plan for his life but it doesn’t go where HE expected it to which throws him all off. My other character that I love is Grandpa Clayton who I did not know when I started this really ended up having a lot of the qualities of my daddy. He’s wise in a non-threatening, non-judgmental sort of way. He’s just a wonderful, special old man. Of course I love Madeline, too. She’s just a little bundle of energy! People think she’s my girls, but she’s really me when I was a kid.
SW. What do you hope to be able to accomplish through your writing? Any long term goals?
JS. Simply put, I hope to have my readers experience what I did writing it. I hope if they’ve experienced heartache they can find a certain measure of healing and I hope more than anything they grow in their relationship with the Lord. As for long term goals for myself and my family, I’d like to one day be able to write full time, but I’m not in a hurry. I’m pretty content right where I am, and that’s a really cool place to be!
SW. Any ideas for future projects?
JS. The Heart’s Lullaby, the second book in The Harvest Bay Series, is scheduled for release with Sheaf House Publishers in March 2011 and is about two things I care deeply about – children and our United States military. Third installment, The Heart’s Hostage, will most likely release sometime in 2012 and is about marriage.
SW. Now for some trivia. What's your favorite movie, food, and place to vacation? Also, any other hobbies?
JS. Favorite Movie – Forrest Gump, hands down. The Miracle Worker is second place with Dirty Dancing coming in third. Favorite food – my Grandma Dominick’s spaghetti and meatballs. She was married for somewhere around 50 years to a 100% pure Italian so, I mean, it’s really the best there is. Second place would be my husband’s barbeque. Oh, great! Now my mouth is watering! Favorite vacation place – well, since we’re both from North Central Ohio, we usually vacation up there to see our family and friends, but this past December we were fortunate enough to go to Disney World, which is truly a magical place and now my very favorite. We can’t wait to go back! Besides writing, I love to cook and I dabble a little in photography.
SW. Other than your book, do you have any recommendations you'd like to pass along?
JS. Well, Shawna, of course I’d recommend No Other to anyone that loves REAL Christian fiction with a splash of nostalgia, being set in the 1940’s. It is really a beautiful story. Also, right now I’m reading, The Weight of Shadows by Alison Strobel, and, oh, my! Is it ever a powerful story! It had me completely enthralled within the first 30 pages and invested emotionally in these characters, and that’s not easy for me as I said earlier I’m a slow reader.
Jen is giving away a copy of her book, The Heart's Journey Home. And if we can rack up more than 40 comments, she'll give away two!
Here's my review of The Heart's Journey Home.
There was so much I loved about this book I'm not sure where to begin. It's a beautifully told story about second chances. Jen Stephens creates relatable characters with real life struggles. The story had so many levels too; healing from loss, returning to your roots, finding love again -- but the heart of the story was in rediscovering Faith.
Along with being such a great story, The Heart's Journey Home has tremendous cultural relevance. There's something for everyone, but as a thirty-something y/o woman, I understood the characters' phase in life, balancing kids and career. While I recommend this book for everyone, I think single parents would find it exceptionally interesting -- not just for its entertainment value, but for the hopeful message and it's realistic portrayal of life as a single Christian parent. And I wouldn't do the book justice if I didn't mention that it's beautifully romantic as well.
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