Sunday, 27 November 2022

G Guest Editorials

Celebrate Lit: Seeds of the Sojourner

By Jennifer Sienes


labor of love cover

This may be a generalization, but I think when we grow up with a large family, we take it for granted. I know I did. Three sisters and a brother. Lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Holidays spent with loved ones, always a listening ear when needed, and the usual sibling squabbles. I thought that was how everyone lived.

I was blessed to have a mother who encouraged my dream of becoming a writer—sadly, she didn’t live long enough to see it come to fruition—and a father who led by example. He was a man of few words, but what he did say had merit. I remember him coming home from the store one day, and realizing the clerk gave him too much change, drove all the way back to return it. It was less than a dollar, and maybe cost him more in gas to go back, but it didn’t matter. His moral compass was true.

I was born and raised in Northern California where people seemed to be transitory, moving from place to place for a bigger home, better job, or more amenities. In fact, my family lived in five different towns before I was in middle school. I had dreamt of raising my children in one home where I’d live until the day I died. That was one dream that didn’t come true. What was it John Lennon said? “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”

When my husband and I moved to Middle Tennessee four years ago, I was plopped into a culture that spoke to my heart. It seems everyone in our church is related in one way or another. Families don’t scatter here like they did in California; they stick. Many live in the community where they were born, and they raise their kids here, and their kids raise their kids here. Some live in separate houses on the family property where there is truth to the adage it takes a village to raise a child.

All this came into play as I began creating A Sojourner’s Solace. I thought about the gift of family and the ties that bind us together. But what if protagonist Kate Mallory had none of this? What if she was born and raised in New York City by a single mother who never revealed the identity of Kate’s father? Not an unlikely scenario in today’s culture. She has no siblings, no cousins, no grandparents. Aside from one friend, the closest thing Kate has to family is the pack of dogs she walks for pay.

When Kate’s mom suddenly dies, she is bereft. While grieving the loss, she sees how closely her life mirrors that of her mother’s—no purposeful work, no familial connections, on-again-off-again boyfriends—and it shakes her up. And then she discovers a “Dear Joan” letter from a man named William Wheaton along with picture tucked away in her mother’s things. Could this William Wheaton of Bell Buckle be her father? Desperate to find out, she leaves the only life she’s ever known in search of the one she longs for.

I wanted Kate’s circumstances to be juxtaposed against that of antagonist Noah Wheaton’s—born and raised in the (extremely) small town of Bell Buckle, Tennessee—population 558. A man with so many family ties, he had to join the service to get a break. A man who sees his restauranteur-father (William Wheaton) as his hero and adores his mother. The moment plucky New Yorker Kate Mallory arrives on the scene, he’s suspicious. Why would a single woman with no familial ties choose a Podunk small town as the next chapter in her life?

Although my writing genre is considered women’s fiction, this novella is a romance, pure and simple. I love romance, and I try to weave it into every story. More importantly, I want my readers to connect with the hope we have in Jesus Christ. In order for that to ring true, the characters have to deal with hard stuff. It was through a season of pain that I surrendered my life, which I believe is most often the case. A truly happy ending requires submission to the Creator of the universe, because we know it’s from where our only true joy comes.


tabitha

 

Jennifer Sienes holds a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in education, but discovered life-experience is the best teacher. She loves Jesus, romance and writing—and puts it altogether in inspirational contemporary fiction. Her daughter’s TBI and brother’s suicide inspired two of her three novels. Although fiction writing is her real love, she’s had several non-fiction pieces published in anthologies including several in Chicken Soup for the Soul. She has two grown children and one very spoiled Maltese. California born and raised, she recently took a step of faith with her real-life hero and relocated to Tennessee.

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