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Interview with Jennifer Hallmark

Southern Fiction author Jennifer Hallmark is a prime example of a child of the Deep South. She has a basset hound named Max. What other proof do you need?

Okay, so maybe it would be helpful to list some other obvious reasons why Jennifer is the perfect person to write "Alabama Inspired Fiction."

First and foremost, "The Most Important Things" in her life are relationships: with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, her family, and friends. Second, she's lived in Alabama for over 40 years, been married to a former soybean and wheat farmer for 37 of those years, and has been a poultry farmer for over 20 years. She's also cooked Southern family favorite meals (like Mama Avon's Pink Stuff) and created her own recipes for too long to count; tended a big garden that includes corn, tomatoes, and watermelon for multiple years; lived within ten miles of her two adult children for several years; helped care for her grandbabies for 11 years; and loved Southern Fiction writers ever since she first set eyes on fellow Alabama author Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.

As you can see, Jennifer certainly fits the "type" of what one thinks of when the word "Southerner" is mentioned. Do these characteristics though give this author the qualifications to write in the very niche genre of Southern Fiction? Absolutely. I guess though, we'd better pull back a bit and define exactly what is Southern Fiction. Jennifer has her own great special explanation of this.

"True Southern fiction needs to be experienced. You need to feel the over-the-top humidity, spend time working in a large vegetable garden, and fish in a pond surrounded by cattle and their deposits. Southern fiction is about family, not just one generation, but how past ancestors lived and shaped each and every character."

Jennifer's debut novel, Jessie's Hope, is published by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas (LPC), under the imprint Firefly Southern Fiction. The Writer's Guidelines page for this imprint contains a long list of specifics on how this publisher defines Southern Fiction. The shortest clarification LPC gives is: "Southern Fiction is about story, driven by characters who are distinctly southern and/or characters who move to southern settings." A summary of some highlights from those guidelines are: writers of Southern Fiction are well-informed about, and understand thoroughly, the wide variety of food, music, language, landscapes, faith, families, dialects, idioms, and house structures / living arrangements that represent "the South."

Since this author has lived most of her life in Alabama, that setting is probably what pulled her toward writing Southern Fiction over other genres, right? Not exactly.

"The first book I ever wrote was actually an allegorical medieval fantasy. I enjoyed the work I put into it, but soon realized I didn’t have the skills at that time to build my own fantasy world. My husband asked me one day why I didn’t write something normal, which to him would be Southern. I put the thought in the back of my mind and continued working on my fantasy."

Later, during a monthly writer group meeting, Jennifer was given three prompts to create a story: blue coveralls, a dusty baseball cap, and a wedding dress designer. Guess what debut novel contains all three of those? You got it! Jennifer said what she pictured from those prompts was "a grandfather trying to provide the perfect wedding dress for his granddaughter."

Now there weren't any prompts from that meeting that dealt with God or Christian themes, or with disabled characters, but that's what is contained in Jessie's Hope.

"The reason it's Christian fiction is because that is the direction the story took, and as a Christian, I write from a Christian world view. My faith is part of who I am. I guess some people might not like it, but I can't live a life where I separate what I do from my life in Christ."

In this novel, Jessie is wheelchair-bound, just like the author's father was for 22 years, after he contracted a disease similar to Muscular Dystrophy. Is this one reason why Jennifer wrote the heroine Jessie as a paraplegic, because of her dad's situation?

"I didn't start out to write a disabled character, but I knew she had been crippled in a car wreck. Maybe it's a sub-conscious thing. To me, my dad was normal. I couldn’t understand why others couldn’t see that. I tried to portray Jessie as a normal person with the same passions, struggles, and joys as everyone else."

Perhaps another part of the "sub-conscious thing" going on as far as writing a character with a disability, had to do with Jennifer living close to Tuscumbia, the birthplace of Helen Keller. Also, a movie that made a huge impact on the author as a teen was The Other Side of the Mountain, the life story of a paraplegic Joni Eareckson Tada.

Tada started a charity called Wheels for the World that Jennifer personally supports, in one way by donating a percentage of the earnings from the sales of Jessie's Hope to this charity. The program offers professionally fitted wheelchairs for free to those in need around the world, while also sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Who else helps share the Gospel around the world? Why, Christian authors like Jennifer, and all the other writers and members of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW)! Jennifer joined ACFW in 2009.

"It was one of the best decisions I made for my writing career because I started to meet other writers. I was not alone anymore. I was actually gifted a trip to the 2016 ACFW Conference in Nashville by ACFW member, Patricia Fay Reece. So, I think the conferences and members are great."

Some of those writers she met she became fast friends with, and having those friends, along with the overall ACFW-member experience, helped inspire the launch of two blogs: Small Acts of Kindness and Inspired Prompt: Follow Us Down the Write Road.

In the Kindness blog, Jennifer shares stories about people who have made someone's day a little brighter. Did someone do a small act of kindness for Jennifer that was pretty memorable?

"I witnessed many kind people (and a few unkind) growing up as we did. My mom would sometimes need help and often found it with our neighbors. I believe many people would be kinder if they were given an example. In Jessie’s Hope, people step up and are kind to Jessie and her family. You’ll have to read the book to find out what the townspeople did!"

Part of the Prompt blog's mission statement is: "To educate and inform writers, with an emphasis on new and Indie writers."

This blog came about because Jennifer has been "so blessed" on her own writing journey. She said writers have helped her in more ways than she can name. When she was trying to decide what to blog about, the thought of giving back to others kept cropping up, so the blog was created in 2012.

Ever since Jennifer joined ACFW, she not only has met other writers who she's become friends with and who she has started blogs with, but Jennifer also met Eva Marie Everson at the 2015 conference, who later became an important part of getting Jessie's Hope published.

"From 2009 to 2014, I was still in learning mode, taking classes and courses online. I wrote and edited two novels during this time, Jessie’s Hope and a 100,000-word fantasy that I’m still working on. I attended a writing conference each year and read a ton of craft books. Eva Marie Everson really helped me with deep point of view, and mentored me to bring my book up to par. Then in 2017, she and Firefly Southern Fiction offered me a contract."

Eva continued to help by introducing Jennifer to her future agent. Jennifer had actually sold the book to Firefly first, then Eva asked her who was her agent, and Jennifer had to tell her she didn't have one.

"By this time, I'd been rejected by some of the best agents in the business. Eva put me in touch with Cyle Young of The Hartline Literary Agency, and he agreed to represent me for Jessie's Hope. After several more conversations, he decided to keep me on. I'm actually hurrying to finish edits to the sequel, so Cyle and his team can pitch it."

In addition to finishing these edits, Jennifer also works a little each month on her fantasy novel, which she says is her "Magnum Opus." She has written about 25,000 words on her newest WIP, which is a Southern Fiction novel about a young man living in 1978. Jennifer says it's not Christian per se, but it has an important message concerning that time period in the South.

When she's not busy writing, Jennifer enjoys reading and watching movies. Some of her favorite Southern Fiction authors are Eva Marie Everson, Ane Mulligan, Betty Thomason Owens, and Alice J. Wisler. Jennifer is on her library's waiting list for Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens, a new author to Jennifer.

You might think Southern Fiction is Jennifer's genre of choice to read the most for pleasure, but it's not. Detective Fiction from the Golden Age category fits this bill. During her teenage years, Jennifer and her father watched TV shows with Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Alleyn, and Lord Peter Wimsey on PBS. She grew to love England and Scotland Yard, so she thinks that's why she loves to read those type of books.

You'll never guess what is Jennifer's favorite movie to watch. Fried Green Tomatoes? Steel Magnolias? No. How about … The Return of the King – one of the Lord of the Rings movies! And coming in a close second? All the Star Wars movies!

Although Jennifer may not sit down to read a Southern Fiction book or watch a movie in this genre, you can be sure she remains true to her Alabama roots, by enjoying a big glass of sweet tea, eating Mama Lander's tea cakes, and scratching the ears of her basset hound while reading those other type of books or watching those kind of shows. I mean, after all, I'm a Southerner, and that sounds like a pretty good plan to me.


Melinda Freeland wrote her first "novel" at age 8 about Mr. & Mrs. Texas Toast, and their struggle to get off the plate before someone ate them. Today, Melinda writes fiction you can relate to—about humans—and their real struggles, not only in relationships, but also with understanding and trusting God. Love, Texas – Population 2 is her debut Christian contemporary romance novel. It was inspired by Melinda's reunion with her first love, her life as a small-town reporter, and her faith journey. Melinda lives in Texas with her handsome husband, two great kids, and her lovable Pug. She'd love to connect with readers at and on social media @authormelindafreeland and @melindafreeland.

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