Interview with Nancy Jo Jenkins

On Friday my Book Club had the wonderful Coldwater Revival as its selection for the evening. We had a great time discussing the writing, characters and issues of depression, family and faith. Author Nancy Jo Jenkins generously gave of her time to answer our questions and provided us with a lovely gift each to remember the evening by :)

Here are those questions and answers – hope you enjoy the insight Nancy Jo shared with us.

Jenny:~

Q ~ Did you base any of Emma Grace’s experiences on your own experience, especially the loss of faith?

A ~ There was a time in my life when I walked away from God. Not because of the death of a loved one, but because of sin and disappointments in my life. I was able to write about Emma Grace’s loss of faith from my own experience of trying to live without God. It was one of the most miserable times of my life.

Q ~ I really enjoyed your style of writing. Are you planning to write more novels?

A ~ Yes! I am writing another “Texas” novel right now and hope to get the proposal in to my agent within a couple of weeks.

Thanks, Jenny, for your wonderful questions.

Angela ~

Q ~ How long do you mull over the characters personality, age, circumstances before you put pen to paper, or should I say fingers to keyboard?

A ~ What an insightful question, Angela. I make “character” sketches of my key characters before I begin writing: their ages, what they look like, their likes and dislikes, their strengths and weakness and what makes them unique. But as I write the story, sometimes my characters change. I’m often surprised at the personalities they take on. I believe God reveals my characters to me, and helps me “plumb” out the richness in each personality.

Nolene ~

Q ~ Did any particular events inspire you to write Coldwater Revival? Do you see yourself or your family in any of the characters?

A ~ I believe I can answer your first two questions together, Nolene. I truly was inspired by my large Irish family on my dad’s side. I can remember hearing stories when I was a little girl about my grandparents’ struggles to raise fifteen children. And so I chose to write a saga about a poor farming family who lived in Texas during the 1920’s and 1930’s. My dad grew up during the time of Emma Grace’s crisis, and I have an aunt who was born with a hip condition that caused her to limp. So, yes, I do think I took bits and pieces of my family’s history to create Coldwater Revival. But from there, my story takes on a life of its own that is far different from the one of my grandparents.

Q ~ Is there a place called Coldwater in Texas (or is it fictitious?) and do you know how it got its name?

A ~ No, there is no Coldwater, Texas. I made up the small hamlet of Coldwater to fit the needs of my story. I situated it near Brenham, Texas (a real town – famous for its Blue Bell Ice Cream – whoopee!). I wanted Emma Grace to live about 100-150 miles from Galveston, Texas, where Granny Falin lived. I absolutely love this beautiful area of Texas. There are rolling plains and small hills, woods with pine trees, and miles and miles of greenery. We call this forested section in East Texas “The Big Thicket”.

Mandy ~

Q ~ How did you choose the names of your characters?

A ~ Good question, Mandy. I researched my archives for Irish names and chose Falin, mainly because I liked the way it sounds. Emma Grace’s name came to me at two different times. I knew her name was Emma, but hadn’t settled on her entire name. Then, in church one Sunday, a baby girl was dedicated. You can guess what her name was. Emma Grace! My husband and I looked at each other at the exact same moment, and I just burst into the biggest smile. God quickened my heart about Emma Grace’s name, as He did about Elo’s name. That strange name touched my heart too. The other names came as I tried them on my tongue. Some tasted good and some didn’t. I chose the ones that had a good flavor.

Q ~ Do you get attached to your characters? If so, who in particular?

A ~ It’s not hard to pin down the one character I became most attached to ~ Emma Grace. I lived in her head and in her heart for many months, and actually “became Emma Grace” when I wrote. But I also became very attached to three other characters: Granny Falin, Tate Fletcher, and Elo, the older brother.

Q ~ Do you map out the story before you start writing or do you just see where it is taking you?

A ~ I know the beginning, end, and middle of my story before I begin writing. But from there on, I just see where the characters and the story take me. I believe God gives me just enough revelation for what I need to write for a short time. Then He reveals some more of the story. I call it “manna”, because I get just what I need to write one day at a time.

Q ~ How long did it take you to write Coldwater Revival?

A ~ I believe, Mandy, that I wrote the book in about 15 months. Writing historicals involves tons of research, so if I added all that into the mix, it would be more like 18 months.

Rani ~

Q ~ Emma has a dream/vision about Micah in heaven and before that, in her grandma’s house, she hears God singing to her – Did you write these accounts based on some similar personal experience or on biblical accounts?

A ~ The scene in Heaven came to me as a gift from God. I visualized Jesus holding little Micah, and the words just flowed. I didn’t even understand some of the words I used to describe the scene. A word would come to me, and I would try to look it up in the dictionary without knowing how to spell it. I believe God wanted me to write that scene in an “other worldly” tone. After all, none of us know what Heaven is truly like, except by what we read in the Bible. So I wrote the scene with great love and respect, trusting God for the vision and the words He would have me use.

The scene in Granny Falin’s house comes from a verse in the Bible ~ Zephaniah 3:17 – “He will quiet you with His love; He will rejoice over you with singing.” I believe the verse tells us how God feels when we “return” to Him, as Emma Grace did. He is absolutely ecstatic as He rejoices over us with singing.

By the way, Rani, a lady came up to me in church one day. (She had read my book). And she said, “How did you know that story about me? Did I tell it to you?” I didn’t have a clue as to what she was talking about. She explained: “I heard singing in the middle of the night, just like Emma Grace did.” The lady went on to explain that she was asleep, but woke up to singing. She said it was the most beautiful music she had ever heard in her life. It happened after her son died.

Her story reaffirms to me that “God is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”

Leanne ~

Q ~ Have you experienced grief like Emma Grace’s or did you research it?

A ~ Yes, I have experienced grief and depression in my life. I didn’t have to research it at all. I didn’t lose a little brother or sibling, as Emma Grace did. But I did lose my mother when I was a toddler. And I have also grieved over a failed marriage. In my early twenty’s I suffered through a two-year bout with depression. Therapy helped me talk about childhood problems and issues that arose from growing up without a mother’s love.

Q ~ How did you put this story together, that is, choosing the different characters, where they would meet, etc?

A ~ My story came together during the process of writing. I knew my premise, and began with that. I knew my basic characters, as well. As I sat at the computer, an idea would come to me and I would take off writing. Ideas feed off each other, so the story grew. Sometimes, things didn’t fit well in the plot, and they were eliminated. I usually know what each chapter needs to say and I write toward that completion. But characters are peculiar. They sometimes say or do things that take the writer in another direction. All in all, it seems like a miracle when the story comes together and makes sense.

Mariska ~

Q ~ What inspired you to write a novel about a girl’s buried guilt over the death of her young brother? Do you think feelings of undisclosed guilt over past events hinder many people from living the full, productive life God intended for them?

A ~ Oh, yes I do, Mariska. I’ve carried guilt around with me most of my life. I believe, in my situation, the reason I always felt guilty was because I was raised to think I was a “bad person”. Writing Coldwater Revival helped me realize even more that God wants us to forgive ourselves as much as He wants us to accept His forgiveness. There is a verse in Isaiah that says, “…You have put all my sins behind Your back.” My prayer is that everyone who is burdened with guilt will seek God’s forgiveness and forgive themselves, as well.

Tracy ~

Q ~ Where did you learn to write like that, and what was it that inspired you to be an author in the first place? I’m thinking there must be some amazing relationship with a lovely English teacher somewhere in your past!

A ~ Thank you for your kind words, Tracy. Hate to disappoint you, but I was scared to death of the lovely English teachers in school and always dreaded writing assignments. I was very bashful, too, and would beg my teachers to let me recite my poem, or book report, or oral assignment to them after school instead of in front of the classroom.

But I was a “born-storyteller”. My sisters amaze me with their memories of stories I told them, real or make-believe. I can hardly recall doing that. It was during the last ten years of teaching in the public schools that I knew I wanted to try to write some of the stories that constantly filled my head. After I quit teaching I began attending writing conferences, retreats, workshops and reading tons of “great” books to learn how to be a writer.

Fiona ~

Hi, Fiona. It seems that I have answered your first two questions already (see above). But not your third.

Q ~ I enjoyed your book immensely, do you have any new books coming out in the near future?

A ~ Thank you for your lovely comment. I am in the proposal stage right now. My second book proposal is in the hands of publishers right now. And I’m writing up a third proposal for another “Texas” story. It will be a while yet before I know the results. Thank you for asking.

Annette ~

Q ~ Who would you cast in a movie of Coldwater Revival?

A ~ I love this question, Annette.

Roan Falin (Papa) ~ Mel Gibson

Annaleen Falin (Mama) ~ Jessica Lang

Elo Falin ~ Josh Hartnett

Emma Grace Falin ~ Evangeline Lily (Kate, on “Lost” – a TV show)

Tate Fletcher ~ David Carr, past quarterback for the Houston Texans, professional football team.

Gavin O’Donnell ~ Heath Ledger

Granny Falin ~ Shirley Jones

Q ~ Coldwater Revival is a book about family – tell us about your own please.

A ~ With pleasure, Annette. As I mentioned earlier, I come from a very large family on my dad’s side. In my immediate family, I have three grown children and six grandchildren. My husband has two grown daughters and three grandchildren, so in all, we have ten grandchildren. We all live within an hour’s drive of each other, and believe me, our get-togethers are pretty boisterous. We have two separate Christmases (one for David’s children and one for mine). Our house is too small to hold all of us at the same time. If you look on my website – www.nancyjojenkins.com – you can see pictures of some of the grandchildren. They’re a handsome lot, if you’ll allow me to brag a little.

Narelle ~

Q ~ If you could use only one word to describe the following characters, what would it be?

A ~ Oh, Rel, you are really making me think hard on this one. But I LOVE the question!

Emma Grace ~ passionate

Elo ~ lionhearted

Gavin ~ rascal

Annaleen ~ selfless

Roan ~ stalwart

Granny ~ plucky

Tate ~ pillar

Q ~ Coldwater Revival is a beautiful and emotive story – did you find some scenes difficult to write?

A ~ Thank you, Rel. Yes, I found many scenes difficult to write. When Emma Grace was in the depths of despair, so was I. In a very real sense I became Emma Grace as I took her through those long weeks of suffering. I felt her pain, her hopelessness and her guilt. And I couldn’t keep from crying as I wrote about her heart-wrenching weeks of depression when all she wanted was to drown her sorrow in the sea. It reminded me of my own times of depression and how God graciously lifted me out of the darkness.

Q ~ What do you hope your readers take away from this story?

A ~ I hope they realize this truth: God is always with us, even when we can’t see Him, sense Him, or feel his presence. When life is darkest, there’s still hope. God has plans for us that we cannot even imagine. Give Him another chance.

Q ~ Please share something of your faith journey.

A ~ Twenty-five years ago I was about as far away from God as a believer could be. Sin saturated my life. I thought it would make me happy, but it did nothing of the sort. At my lowest point, I called my older sister and moaned to her about my latest disappointment and about my great sadness. She said two words that changed my life forever. She said, “Why don’t your ‘try God’”. At her words, I agreed in my heart to come back to God. By the time I had hung up the phone and turned around, I was so filled with joy and love I felt as though I was floating on air as I walked back to my classroom. His spirit did not leave me, though I faced some of the darkest days of my life in the months that followed. When I decided to try God again, I opened my heart just enough for His spirit to flow in, filling me with His love. From that moment on, my life has never been the same. Now I strive to live for God, write for Him, and share His love with others. I’m so grateful I listened to my sister that day.

Wendy ~

Q ~ I really enjoyed the novel and must congratulate you on a wonderful first book. I hope there are many more in the future. I was really impressed on how successfully you changed back and forth in time throughout the book without interfering with the flow of the story. Do you intend to make this a signature of your writing in future books?

A ~ You are so kind, Wendy. I appreciate your comments very much.

No, I don’t intend to make back-story and back-flashes a signature of my writing. Sometimes it is necessary to write this way, but it is very difficult to do without confusing the reader. My newest book is a story that begins in the heroine’s childhood and progresses throughout the decades of her life. I’m in the beginning stage of this book and I love the way it flows through the years. It’s a book about love and loss, but with a very happy ending.

Q ~ Having experienced the guilt that you feel as a teenager with the accidental death of a sibling, I could really relate to the accuracy of the feelings you portrayed in Emma and I was therefore wondering if you don’t mind me asking, were you writing from personal experience?

A ~ No, Wendy, not from that particular personal experience. But I have dealt with guilt all of my life so I was able to write about it truthfully from experience. Having made so many wrong choices in my life, I feel as though I need to carry my guilt around my neck like a boulder. But then I remember what God says about our mistakes. Our transgressions. He says that He will fling them as far as the east is from the west and remember them no more. If God can forget all of my sin, then I need to do likewise. Forgetting the past and forgiving ourselves is a very hard thing to do. But with God all things are possible.

Thank you ~ RBC Book Club – for allowing me to spend some time with you. I’ve enjoyed answering your questions. I hope I answered them to your satisfaction and not confused you.

I wish I could say “hi” to you in person. I feel as though I know you now, after reading and answering your questions. I absolutely love all of your names. Don’t be surprised if a couple of them show up in one of my books.

Love to each of you,

Nancy Jo Jenkins

Thank you Nancy for making our night extra special! We too had a soft spot for Tate and Elo :) We were unanimous in hoping you will write more stories soon!

Bless you!

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