As a child, Jennifer AlLee lived above a mortuary in the heart of Hollywood, California, which may explain her unique outlook on life. Her publishing credits include The Love of His Brother, a contemporary romance from Five Star Publishing (November 2007) as well as skits, activity pages, and over one hundred contributions to Concordia Publishing House’s popular My Devotions series. Her latest novel, The Pastor’s Wife, released February 1, 2010 from Abingdon Press. She’s an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers and serves as the Nevada Area Coordinator. Jennifer resides in the grace-filled city of Las Vegas, Nevada with her husband and teenage son. Be sure to visit her website.
This is your first CBA novel and your first time on Novel Journey. To begin, tell us about your new release.
Thanks, Ane. As a reader of Novel Journey, it's a real thrill to be here! Here's a short blurb for The Pastor's Wife: Maura Sullivan thought she knew what she was getting into when she married soon-to-be pastor Nick Shepherd. But when she realized the 'other woman' in her marriage was her husband's congregation, she ran.
Six years later, she finds herself back in the small community of Granger, Ohio for the reading of a will that names both her and Nick as beneficiaries. Now Maura must face the husband –and the congregation – she left behind.
How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?
I spent many years working as a secretary for two different pastors. When I was working on the original concept for this novel, I thought about the pastors’ wives I’ve known over the years, all of whom have handled themselves with amazing grace under pressure.
But what if another woman couldn’t? What if a young woman thinks she knows what she’s getting into, but the reality of losing who she is and becoming a “pastor’s wife” is more than she can handle? What if some other tragedy pushes her over the edge? Would she run? And what would happen if she had to return to the scene of her heartbreak years later? All those questions eventually became The Pastor’s Wife.
Did anything strange or funny happen while researching or writing your book?
Because of the nature of the book, I didn't have to do much research. But during the writing, I found myself being very careful not to accidentally insert any people that I've known and worked with over the years. Not only is there the matter of confidentiality, but the last thing I would ever want to do is embarrass or hurt anyone.
The one exception is the church secretary (who has a very small role in the book). I modeled her after my friend and former co-worker, Pauline. It's my tip of the hat to her and all the years we worked together.
Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication?
It's been a long, winding, and sometimes broken road! I sold my first short story back in 1984. After that, my published work was almost non-existent. In 1994, I started doing freelance work for Concordia Publishing House, writing skits, activity pages, and a ton of devotions. But my first book wasn't published until 2007.
Silly me, I thought once I had my foot in the publishing door, the rest of my body would be quickly ushered through. Not so much. Now it's 2010 and my second book is coming out. I've learned that seeing a book through from inception to publication is a slow process... but I still love it and it's the only thing I want to do.
Do you ever bang your head against the wall from writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
No, I have too much respect for the wall. Seriously, I do get blocked from time to time. Usually, I'll try to plow through by writing something, anything, just to get me going. So I might write a paragraph or two that I know I won't use but then I flow back into the story. If that doesn't work, I have to get up and do something else. Some days, you just can't force it.
Do you consider yourself a visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use?
You know, I'm not, which is funny when you consider how much I love TV and movies. Right now, I'm co-writing a book with a friend of mine, and we're using actors as models for our characters. It's the first time I've ever done that, but I think it's important in this situation so we're both visualizing the same person. On my own, I see the people and places in my mind and write from there.
Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What's the most difficult part of writing for you?
The supporting cast! I like to write about my main characters and deal with them, so sometimes I forget to surround them with other people.
How do you overcome it?
It's a very intentional process. When I start a book, I nail down the main characters. Then I have to ask questions about them: Who are their friends? What are their parents like? What other people live in this town and what role do they play in the story? This ensures that I have a novel populated with real people, not just folks who pop up when I have an emergency.
Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?
We have a spare room that I get to use as an office. You can't see it in the picture (thank heaven) but the room is pretty full. There are two small file cabinets on my right, another small one and a tall one on my left. Behind me are two bookcases and stacks of stuff I'm going through. We're in the process of buying a house now, and I hope my new office will be a little more imaginative and a whole lot neater!
What does a typical day look like for you?
I don't have a hard and fast schedule. During the school year, I usually get up around 7:00 AM, but that gets pushed out to 8:00 on holidays and in the summer. So I get up, turn on the computer, read emails while I eat breakfast, take my son to school, then come home and get back to the computer. My working day is divided between writing on new projects and marketing existing books. I'm off and on the PC all day until I shut it down around midnight and go to bed.
Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?
I have been blessed with the occasional flowing stream of words, but they don't normally come that easily. I have a tendency to edit as I go, which really slows me down. If I can turn off the internal editor and just write, the work goes much more quickly. As for word count, I consider the day a success if I hit 1000 words. My personal best was 2800 in one day, which is a common occurrence for some authors. I sure was proud, though!
Do you prefer creating or editing? Why?
Even though it can be difficult, I prefer editing. For one thing, it means you have a complete manuscript to work with. More importantly, the editing phase is when you really get to make the book shine.
What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?
This is one of those really hard questions because I love so many books, but here are three.
Watership Down by Richard Adams – I still have the copy I bought in high school. I've read it so many times, it's falling apart. What I love is that Adams creates an emotional story about a complex society of rabbits. It's got everything we're told won't work: It opens not with an inciting event but with description of scenery; it's about animals who talk to each other; it's got footnotes! But it's a wonderfully rich, moving story.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen – What's especially impressive about this is how real the protagonist is, especially since HE was penned by a woman. I loved meeting the 93-year-old Jacob in a nursing home and then experiencing him as a young man working and traveling with the Benzini Brothers circus. The ending was thoroughly gratifying, exactly how I hoped it would be.
Demon: A Memoir by Tosca Lee – This book blew my mind. First off, Tosca is a word-artist. She could probably write a technical manual and make it interesting. What really amazed me, though, was how she could create such a beautiful picture of the love of God while telling the story of a demon.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?
"Just write the book!" That's a paraphrase from Stephen King's book, On Writing. Of course, it's been reiterated by just about anyone who knows anything about writing, and with good reason. Lots of people talk about writing a book, but they never get past the third chapter. (I used to be one of them.) You need to sit yourself down and write a wonderfully sloppy, imperfect first draft. Then you've got something to work with, which goes right back to that question about editing.
What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in your journey to publication?
I wish I'd known more about how the whole submission/acceptance process works. I think there's a belief among many novice writers that you can finish your manuscript on Monday, email it to an editor on Wednesday, and have a contract in your inbox by Friday. Well, not only will you probably not sell that first manuscript, but it could take several months to find that out. That kind of stuff is a lot easier to handle when you find out it works that way for just about everybody.
Do you have any parting words of advice?
If you dream of a career as a writer, don't try to do it by yourself. Writing is often a solitary undertaking, but you've got to have a support system. The best thing I ever did was join American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). Through them I have a network of people supporting me in a professional capacity. I've also made very close friends that I can talk to about anything that's going on in my life. If you don't already belong to a writing group, I highly recommend that you find one. It will save your sanity.
Thank you, Ane, and Novel Journey readers. It's been fun spending this time with you! I'd love to hear from you, too.
Maura Sullivan never intended to set foot in Granger, Ohio, again. But when circumstances force her to return, she must face all the disappointments she tried so hard to leave behind: a husband who ignored her, a congregation she couldn’t please, and a God who took away everything she ever loved.
Nick Shepherd thought he had put the past behind him, until the day his estranged wife walked back into town. Intending only to help Maura through her crisis of faith, Nick finds his feelings for her never died. Now, he must admit the mistakes he made, how he hurt his wife, and find a way to give and receive forgiveness.
As God works in both of their lives, Nick and Maura start to believe they can repair their broken relationship and reunite as man and wife. But Maura has one more secret to tell Nick before they can move forward. It’s what ultimately drove her to leave him six years earlier, and the one thing that can destroy the fragile trust they’ve built.