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Interview with Jennifer Deibel

“Home” has been a lot of different places for Jennifer Deibel, but it’s because of those experiences living abroad and learning to find “home” wherever she’s at that she’s able to write stories of encouragement and hope for her readers. Her debut novel releases this month and is set in one of the places Deibel calls “home.” Read on to find out more about her publishing journey and how she plans to celebrate a book launching during a pandemic.

Welcome, Jennifer. You describe yourself as a "typical American mom" who has had the opportunity to live and work overseas. Tell us a little about how you came to live in Austria and Ireland for a decade before returning to the States.
We first moved to Donegal in 2002 as students. We were there studying the language and culture. Later, we moved to county Galway and worked for an American-based travel company. We lived in the Gaeltacht—an area set aside to preserve the language, where Irish Gaelic (Irish) is most people's first language. Schools are taught through Irish, business is conducted in it, etc.—for four years using what we learned in our time in Donegal to take small tour groups around to experience more than just Blarney, and to help them see more of the real Ireland. Then, we spent almost two years in Vienna, Austria doing media for a faith-based community service organization before finally returning to the States and re-settling in our home state of Arizona.

A Dance in Donegal is your first published novel. Congratulations! What has the journey to publication been like for you? (Highs and lows along the way?)
Thank you so much! And oh boy. My publishing journey has felt very long, and yet I know once it actually began in earnest, it truly wasn't that long at all. A Dance in Donegal releases almost 17 years after I first started writing it. I began writing it after our time in Donegal as a way to process all we'd been through there. Our years in the wilds of northwestern Ireland were some of the most difficult and refining of our lives, and I was itching for a way to express it all—and to express my love for Ireland and her people.

But, it wasn't until January 2017 that I actually finished the manuscript. I pitched agents for nearly a year—and had many rejections—before I signed with my wonderful agent, Cynthia Ruchti. I was disappointed by the rejections—I had that naive new writer belief that the first agent I pitched would be falling over themselves to sign me. Ha!! Yeah, I know. But, knowing all I know now, I can plainly see that God was orchestrating it all, and he brought me to Cynthia as the exact right agent at the exact right time. Anyway, Cynthia and I then spent several months polishing the story, closing any plot holes, etc. before we started shopping it to publishers.

We shopped it for about 8 months before we got the offer of a contract from Revell. As we shopped, the rejections that came stung, but not as much as they had during the agent process. I trusted that if it was going to be published, God would lead us to the right house in the right time. And he most certainly did. I signed a two-book contract with Revell in April 2019, and my debut novel releases in February 2021. So, it's been a years-long process. Decades, if you count the time when I first started writing the book. But, I honestly wouldn't change a thing, because it's led me to this moment. And it is so very clear that this is the exact right time for this book. And I'm honored and humbled that I get to do this.

How do you feel now that the book is close to publication? Any plans for celebration on release day?
The word I keep using is surreal. I still can't believe it is actually happening. Publishing a book is a dream I've held in my heart since I was a child—a dream I never uttered to anyone until I was adult. So, I am so very excited. And slightly terrified. After over a decade of only having my mom and a couple of other people read it, knowing that complete strangers are going to read my “baby,” is a bit nerve-wracking. But also exciting, because I love these characters, and I want the world to love them, too. I also pray that God uses this story to encourage others in their faith journey, no matter where they are in it.

As for celebrations...I had originally intended to have a live launch party, and schedule book signings at some local stores, but we all know how those things are working right now. So, I'm working on planning a Facebook launch party to celebrate the day, and I plan to take some treats down to our local bookstores and see if I can sign any copies they have on hand.

In your novel, the main character moves to Ireland from the United States and finds herself struggling to fit in. What aspects of your experiences living abroad and returning “home” were you able to encapsulate in the book?
When Moira first arrives, she takes a morning to just walk through the village. She describes the feeling of the windows of the buildings as eyes watching her. After living in a rural village in Donegal, I can attest to that feeling. The communities are so very tight-knit, and when someone new comes, they want to know absolutely everything.

I also tried to capture what it's like living surrounded by a completely foreign language, customs, and beliefs. Particularly in a country like Ireland, we tend to believe they're quite similar to us in custom and day-to-day life. And they are, in many respects. But they are so very different than others. And having so many similarities, kind of lulls you into a false sense of security, so then things will hit you out of the blue where you suddenly realize you have no idea what's going on.

Eventually, though, Moira begins to acclimate and see beyond the differences as annoyances. She begins to see them as bridges and doors—new ways to see the world around her, and it opens up a whole new understanding of other people, of God, and her relationship with Him. And that's when it begins to feel like home.

Why did you decide to set your novel in Ireland? What is one thing you'd like people to know about Ireland and/or the Irish people?
I almost feel like I didn't choose Ireland—Ireland chose me. I couldn't not write about it. Ireland has a way of enchanting your body, mind, and soul, as anyone who has been there will attest. It gets under your skin and into your heart, and becomes a part of you in a way like no other place I've been.

This book is my love letter to Ireland and her people. They are such a beautiful people, inside and out. I want people to know that Ireland is so much more than shamrocks and top o’ the mornin’ (which they don't say, by the way). They are some of the warmest, most generous people you'll meet, and they see the world like no one else. Which means if we listen, there is much we can learn from them.

You say that you tell stories of home through the lens of culture, faith, and family. How are those things connected and what draws you to combine them in your stories?
Having lived so long overseas, away from family, friends, and our typical support systems, we had to learn how to redefine what home meant. Home became wherever we were—even when on vacation. I remember one time, we were driving and one of the kids asked where we were going. I replied, “Home."

They paused and then asked, “Which home?”

That question both endeared me and broke me heart. But, through our time there, I came to appreciate the scriptures that talk about the world itself as our foreign land. For the Jesus follower, this world is not our home—we are just visitors and stewards of it. our home. And through that lens of faith and relationship with him, we can focus on what truly matters—loving Him, and loving others—even in the middle of the most uncomfortable or heart-breaking circumstances.

What are you currently working on?
Hopefully by the time this interview is published, I will have just submitted the manuscript for my second book with Revell. It is yet to have a title, but it's a story that I love so very much. It follows the daughter of a British lord who is sent to Galway, Ireland as the new landlord. She's headstrong...and bored. So, her father sets up an apprenticeship with the jewelry shop run by the family who invented the Claddagh ring.

The Irish War for Independence is ramping up, and preconceived notions about what it means to be British and Irish abound—on both sides, and in the jewelry shop. The main characters have to work together to keep the shop afloat, and through the process, decide if they're going to buy the stereotypes about each other, or be willing to look beyond the surface and discover the truth. It's a story about forgiveness, culture, prejudice, redemption, and of course: love, loyalty, and friendship.

What do you do when you're not writing?
I teach 7th grade English/Language Arts by day. When not at school, I'm shuttling our three kids around to their various activities, meeting with friends, and when I have time, I love to dance.

Who are your go-to authors when you're reading?
Oh my goodness, how much time do you have? Ha!! I have so many authors I adore, and greatly respect. Some of my auto-buy authors are Jaime Jo Wright, Julie Klassen, Jocelyn Green, Sarah Sundin, and Liz Johnson. Just to name a few.

Any parting words?
Thank you so much for hosting me today! My parting encouragement would be to follow whatever it is the Lord is nudging you to do—no matter the consequences.


Lisa Bartelt is a child of the flatlands fulfilling her dream of living near mountains in Pennsylvania. She loves reading, writing and listening to stories—true ones, made-up ones and the ones in between—preferably with a cup of coffee in hand. Wife, mom of two, writer, ordinary girl, Lisa blogs about books, faith, family and the unexpected turns of life at

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