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Saturday, May 09, 2015

She loves all things French and writes SoCal beach stories

The short version could likely be similar for a lot of women of a certain age: I’m a wife (41 years and counting), mom (adult son and daughter), mom-in-law, grandmother (two girls, one boy), a former teacher (middle school reading; subbing; tutoring; writing workshops); and now I’m well into that season of life defined by such things as: not concerned about coloring the grey; navigating through the Smart TV is a bit of a challenge; my mom doesn’t always know who I am; and middle age is becoming a tiny dot in the rearview mirror. I was born and raised in Moline, Illinois, and now live in San Diego.

Sally, you don't know this yet, but it was your book, Castles in the Sand, that made me know what kind of stories I wanted to write—stories about relationships. Tell us about your newest releasing book.
Oh wow! Really?! That tickles me to no end – and makes me grateful once more for how the stories touch readers in so many ways. I think your response is a first, though.

Heaven Help Heidi is set in a make-believe San Diego beach community, Seaside Village. It’s another story about women’s friendships at the Casa de Vida, a cozy group of rental cottages we met in Between Us Girls.

When Heidi’s life is turned upside down, she moves in. As a successful real estate agent, she never ever would have chosen this place to live. She struggles to adjust as well as to ask for and to accept help from the other residents.

Piper, a resident, faces her own life-changing decisions. Can she move beyond her grief over her fiancé’s death? Can she let go of a job she adores for something different? Can she let Hud into her heart?

Liv, Casa owner and woman of a certain age, mentors the young ones and deals with a deep hurt from her past.

By the end of the story, all three women are living examples of how God is never finished with healing us and is always creating something new in our lives. They’re in a space of love and acceptance.

Where do you get your ideas for your books? What sparked this story?
The seeds for ideas come from real life. Writers are observers. When something interesting happens, we write notes on paper napkins, palms, and receipts. I have learned to send myself a text message but that’s still not my first thought. The news also provides story ideas (and proves that life is stranger than fiction).

These seeds offer the starting point to ask “what if” questions. Imagining the answers is what develops into stories.

Heidi’s roots came from the idea for the Family of the Heart Series. I wanted to create a safe harbor for people, something we all desire. I’ve done many stories about marriage and family. With these new stories I wanted to explore the power in women’s friendships. (Harvest House suggested “family of the heart” after I had started. It’s a great phrase for the series.) From there I simply began to imagine women. The practical: what did they do for a living? The catalyst: what stumbling blocks might be thrown onto their paths?

I created Casa residents as minor characters, incorporating a variety of life experiences. Piper came along in Between Us Girls, a fashionista who offered exactly what Jasmyn needed when her clothes were stolen. She intrigued me. How was she dealing with her deep grief? (Current news: Iraq and Afghanistan and our great losses.) I chose to make her a major character in the new book.

Heidi came from—I’m not sure! LOL. With the large population here in Southern California, real estate is a huge deal. Every other day an agency ad lands on our doorstep or in the mailbox. (Last week I received a nifty tool from one of them: a flashlight/screwdriver! It’s better than the magnets and notepads.) I decided Heidi could be successful in this work, happy as a lark, good at what she does. What could bring her down? The economy and a physical injury that disrupts her everyday life for months on end.

Did anything strange or funny happen while writing this book?
Roaming several blocks from home one day, I happened upon a walled courtyard. I peered through the locked gate and laughed. It was totally the Casa’s courtyard! The cottages weren’t there (the place is an inn, although it doesn’t look like one), but the ambience enveloped me exactly as I had imagined my characters feeling when they entered the Casa.

That's so cool about that courtyard! Did you always want to be a writer?
Always! Reading fiction kept me sane as I was growing up. More than an escape or entertainment, it remains a source of insight. A favorite quote of mine is “stories give us eyes other than our own with which to see the world.”

The thought of writing fiction was a wild and seemingly unattainable dream. Until I was 35 years old, I believed Carolyn Keene lived in New York City along with every real writer in the U.S. Seriously.

Where do you write, a coffee shop, attic nook, or a cave?
Today I’m actually in the process of moving from a bedroom to a corner in the living room. Last week at a consignment shop I found a “secretary,” a small desk with drawers and nooks and a hutch. Next to it is a narrow window; I can see a slice of the patio surrounded by a low concrete block wall. Between my potted succulents on it, I can see heads and shoulders of people as they walk by. The neighbor’s hot-pink bougainvillea droops into the space. This makes for dappled sunlight.

I’m partial to desks. Okay, I drool over desks. For years I wrote on a huge one that I’d bought at a Salvation Army. I left that in Illinois. At our next house I claimed a bedroom (without a bed) as an office and filled it with a brand new desk and matching bookcase. Three books later, a wildfire claimed that set and the house.

I wrote the next couple of books on a folding table in a bedroom. Eventually I bought an inexpensive, drawer-less desk and enjoyed it. But, seven years later, it’s saggy. The alley outside the window and the bed are totally disrupting the feng shui… So here I am. 

Sally, of all your characters, which was your favorite and why?
As a group, the women in The Beach House hold a special place in my heart. I had never tried to write from four points of view before, but those ladies marched front and center into my imagination before I realized what was happening. Jo, Molly, Char, and Andie carried me to a new writing arena.

Padre Miguel (Ransomed Dreams) is an all-time favorite. He would show up and take over. I never knew what he would do or say. And I didn’t even have a bio on him beyond the basics: he was short, a priest in Mexico, loved God, and had a faith was as big as all outdoors.

Share a few of the techniques you learned that changed the way you write.
Outlining is necessary for me. I learned this early on from a multi-published author. Like her, I could write scenes, but stringing them together into a coherent story took some forethought.

I’ve learned to trust the process. My outlines aren’t as detailed as they were early on. Although I never planned exactly how a story would end, in recent years I’ve seen how organic storytelling can be. Once I have the big picture in place (plot, setting, characters, theme), the story can unfold. I might know Point A and Point B, but situations and characters get me from one to the next when I don’t have a clue.

Now for the fun: Tell us 3 things your readers might not know about you.
  • My all-time favorite movie scene is from Stranger Than Fiction, when an author (played by Emma Thompson) meets her fictional character (played by Will Ferrell), in person.
  • I’m 5’ 7”.
  • During college, I lived for one semester in Grenoble, France, and I love all things French.   
If you were a musical instrument, what would you be and why?
A clarinet. It can be made of wood and uses a reed (both earthy). It has shiny keys (a little “glitter”). The sound is low and smooth, a steady undercurrent that supports other instruments. Alone, it can make beautiful music…when it’s played right. 

Heaven Help Heidi
Young and successful real estate agent Heidi Hathaway is totally in control of her own life. That is, until an accident leaves her injured, unable to work, and questioning the purpose of her life. That’s when she moves to the Casa de Vida, an ocean-side community that becomes so much more than a place to rest and recover.

It’s there she meets Piper Keyes, a young woman reeling from the loss of her fiancé in Afghanistan. Piper knows Jared isn’t coming home, but she struggles to open her heart again.

The two women couldn’t be more different, but they need each other now. In their friendship, they discover God’s grace and mercy, and with that comes hope, healing, and the promise of new love. 


  1. I loved Heaven Help Heidi! I'm so honored to host you here on Novel Rocket, Sally!

  2. Such fun. I love community stories, Sally! Ane, thank you for introducing me to another writer.

  3. You're welcome, Normandie! Her books are so good!

  4. Thank you, Ane, for your wonderful article here about Sally's work. We have been friends as writers for several years and her books have made me smile, laugh, and cry, too. She is an exceptional person and fearless yet gentle with grace in describing what her characters experience. And in the recent novels, I can feel the ocean breezes and wish her neighbors in this community were my own (on more than my book shelf!). Thank you again!

  5. Elizabeth, I agree with you about Sally's books. I read The Beach House several years ago and knew that was what I wanted to write. stories about women's friendships.

    I recently saw a photo of the San Diego group and was tickled to see you and Sally in it. :) Hope all is well with you!


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