Monday Mentor: Jen Stephens

Who are you?

Well, my Facebook page says this: “I’m an average gal who has been blessed with a wonderful husband, two beautiful little girls and a fulfilling career teaching third grade in a Christian school that I love. I now have the opportunity to touch lives with my writing. Thank You, Jesus!” Above anything else, I’m a child of God, and I try the best I can to live my life for Him.

 What can you tell us about your latest project(s)?

The Heart’s Journey Home released February 2010 and 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 the back cover blurb:

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.

I’m now working on the second book in the Harvest Bay series titled The Heart’s Lullaby which is scheduled for release March 2011.

PREVIEW:  The Heart’s Lullaby

March 2011

After two years of trying without success to have a baby, Elizabeth Truman’s world is turned upside down when she learns that her husband may already be a father.

Amy Beauregard arrives in Harvest Bay with her ten-year-old son and a lot more baggage. Having suffered more heartache in her thirty years than one woman should have to experience in her lifetime—from losing her beloved father as a preteen, to becoming the single parent of a special needs child, to facing the ravages of war—she’s convinced that God has long since abandoned her. While she picks up the pieces of her shattered life, things start to fall into place that she couldn’t have predicted, including the feelings that start to develop for Owen Sullivan. Can one man show her that she isn’t alone? When she finally learns the secret he’s hiding, she has no choice but to open her heart to him and give faith another shot.

Faith hasn’t seemed to have gotten Elizabeth anywhere. While her husband Elijah is busy spending time with the son he never knew he had, Elizabeth is more desperate than ever to have a baby of her own. Against the advice of her family physician and friend, she leaves Elijah in the dark as she seeks help from a fertility specialist. Within weeks, the treatment seems successful and she is carrying the answer to years of fervent prayers! However, her happiness is short-lived as she is rushed to the hospital with severe abdominal pain and miscarries shortly thereafter. With Elijah’s son and her dishonesty putting a strain on her marriage, she falls into a pit of deep despair, questioning not only her faith, but also the faithfulness of the Lord.

As Christmas approaches, a time of celebrating the most beautiful of all gifts, an unexpected visitor comes to their church and speaks on the sovereignty and faithfulness of the Lord, how even in the darkest times He is guiding the steps of His children, though they may not realize it until the darkness has passed. Through his words and a strange twist of fate, Elizabeth and Amy are drawn together in a way neither could have imagined, and heavenly healing begins to take place. But will their renewed faith be strong enough to withstand another devastating blow? Or will The Heart’s Lullaby be left unsung?

What do you believe is the greatest conflict Christian writers face today? How do you believe they can overcome these obstacles?

Fortunately, there is a market for good Christian fiction, though not quite as big as mainstream. Still, as long as readers want a good Christian story, there is a demand for Christian fiction. That’s good. I believe the greatest conflict in writing a good Christian story is trying to interweave the Christian message into a REAL story. Let’s face it, a lot of people can’t relate to squeaky clean Christian fiction. Why? Because Christians are humans. Christians struggle with all kinds of temptations, addictions and fears. I want to write a book that is publishable in the Christian market but will still be real enough for someone struggling with any worldly issue to relate to. How do I overcome the obstacles and accomplish this goal? Prayer. I just pray that God will give me the words that will touch somebody, even one person. It sounds silly, I know, but it helps me. It keeps me inspired and helps me to keep my focus where it should be.

 Why do you write?

Because I breathe. Really. I’ve been writing since I could put words together – poems, short stories, articles, and, of course, novels. I have always loved stories, but I was (and still am) a very slow reader. So as a kid I solved that problem by making up my own stories. Also, my parents divorced when I was a baby, and it was hard for me to deal with going back and forth from mom to dad so I used my writing as an outlet. I learned to express myself through my writing and eventually it just became a part of who I am. 

 How do you find joy in your creative journey?

When you’re a writer, the towns and characters you create become real. Sounds weird, but it’s true. And I love going to visit my “friends” in Harvest Bay, the town I created. It’s my own little get away without having to go anywhere! That’s the first way I find joy. The second is the response I get from my readers. I’ve received several emails and letters from people who read The Heart’s Journey Home and were touched in some way, shape, or form. That’s a satisfaction unlike any other.

You can win a copy! Just leave a comment!

What is the best advice you can give to a writer just getting started?

Be patient. It’s often a long road, and there are a lot of rejections. It’s just a part of it. But the growth you make while journeying on is what will shape you into a really great writer. Also, get involved in writers’ groups.

Mentors are so important when you’re learning a craft, especially one as competitive as writing. Yes, it’s competitive–not like knock-each-other-out-football-game competitive, but there are a lot of great writers out there with the exact same goal as you. Also, if you get involved in a writers’ group, you’ll meet people that can help you grow and improve in a way others can’t. Lastly, just write. This is something I struggle with a lot. I’m one that will write something and go back over a paragraph a hundred times! You have to just get the story out, and then you can polish it up. Above all else, believe in the gift God has given you.

 Please answer the question I didn’t ask but that you wish I did.

One of the most rewarding parts of writing this book was having the “What a Difference You’ve Made in My Life” contest. The contest came about when I was reading one of Karen Kingsbury’s books, Beyond the Clouds, and noticed she had a “Forever in Fiction” contest type thing where, from what I understand, she auctions off a small role in her book for a loved one to be honored. I thought what better way could little ol’ me really be a blessing in the lives of others? So, with the permission of my publisher, I created the “What a Difference You’ve Made in My Life” contest (named in honor of my daddy who loved Ronnie Milsap) where a male AND a female winner would have a short bio in the front of the book AND become a minor character in the story. To enter, all anyone had to do was simply email me the name of the person they wished to honor in my book within a designated time period.

Thankfully, I got two newspapers from near my hometown to help me promote it. I was so touched by the way people shared their loved ones with me. At the end of the given time period I put all of the female names in a hat and then did the same with the male names, and I drew Cassie Ground’s and Dan Olien’s names. The best part of the contest for me is that through learning as much as I could about Cassie and Dan for the purpose of creating their character, I became friends with their amazing families. I just held the contest again for The Heart’s Lullaby from Mother’s Day through Father’s Day so you can look forward to learning about two more inspiring people!

 Finally, please leave us with your favorite Bible verse, inspiration quote or song lyric. Tell us what it means to you.

“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”  ~   Isaiah 40:31

This verse reminds me that though I may become worn out with all I have to do as a wife, mama, teacher, and author, my hope and faith in the Lord gives me the strength to keep going every day and work towards accomplishing His plans for my life.

CONTEST!  You have the opportunity to WIN a copy of Jen’s first book The Heart’s Journey Home. All you have to do is leave a comment. A random drawing will determine the winner, and I will announce the name on Friday’s post. Have a great week!