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Interview with Jennifer Sienes

Author Jennifer Sienes’ love of reading since childhood morphed into a love of writing in her adult years. No stranger to hardship and heartache, Jennifer brings the realities of life to her novels, where she uses the deep emotion of her own life experiences to show God’s goodness.

Hi Jennifer and welcome! It’s a pleasure to have a chance to chat with you today. You have been an avid reader since childhood. What was the turning point that made you realize you wanted to create your own stories?
When I was twelve, my family moved to a new town. I had to leave everything and everyone I knew behind (except my family, of course). I was very shy and introverted, so stepping into a new middle school mid-year was torturous for me. I wanted to get lost in books, but I had a hard time finding any that interested me. I was at that in-between age, and nothing seemed to fit. The town library was in a very old, historic building, and I loved just hanging out there. The children’s section was an add-on, and I’d bounce from there to the main library searching for something that could keep my attention. I discovered Nancy Drew (and even then, it was an old series) and read every “case” I could get my hands on. I liked the mystery component, but Nancy and her friends never seemed to change over time, and I found that disappointing. Even at twelve, I knew a good story needed character growth.

It was about this time I started writing. I figured if I couldn’t find books that held my interest, I’d write my own. To this day, my sisters remind me of the “books” I wrote and had them read when we were growing up. I even wrote fan-fiction before it was a thing—a Happy Days episode, which I’m sure dates me. I took every creative writing class I could, starting in high school, and even declared journalism as my college major until I realized I like fiction a whole lot more than truth, because I can create the characters any way I like.

What is your favorite part of creating a story, developing the plot, the characters, the setting, etc. and why?
Because of my background in psychology, creating characters has always been my favorite part of writing. Two of my completed novels were inspired by actual events, but it was the characters, not the story, that remained true. The plotline, other characters, setting… everything else had no basis in true events. Before I even start a story, I have a character in my mind. I’ll look through my books on the Enneagram or Myers-Briggs to get a sense of how trauma might affect a particular character type. Once I get my characters figured out, then I begin to develop a story for them.

What do you find is the most challenging aspect of the writing process?
The most challenging thing for me is definitely the plotline. I try to stay true to the contemporary women’s fiction category, but I love romance and mystery, as well. So, I’m always struggling to find a way to bring all those elements into the story without making it seem implausible. The first time I ever entered a writing contest, it was with a piece I’d written based on my own story. I’d gone through a horribly rough season over a period of a few years, and I thought it made a compelling read. One of the judges dinged me pretty good because he stated that no one would believe all those things could happen to one person. I thought it pretty ironic, considering.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I would have to say I’m more of a plotter. I get stressed out if I don’t even know the direction the story is supposed to go. The very first full novel I wrote was definitely by the seat of my pants. At the end, I’d written the main characters into a corner and didn’t know how to fix it. That story still sits on my bookshelf in an old-fashioned binder. I may revisit it one day. And although I plot out my storyline now, what I’ve found over and over again is that my characters will go off on a direction all their own without my permission. New characters show up out of the blue and become elemental in the overall plot of the story. I stay open to it knowing that when it happens, it’s God’s hand or direction. It’s exciting, and more often than not, an answer to prayer.

What does your daily writing routine look like?
I am routine-oriented, so I try to keep a regular work schedule. My husband is retired, so sometimes I get a little off track with him around, but I try to spend at least four days a week at my desk. We’re up at five every morning, so once I’ve done a Bible study and worked out (we have a home gym set up in our garage) I’m at my desk (or tread-desk). I’ll work about three to four hours in the morning, take a break for lunch and then get back to it for a few hours after lunch. That’s not always time spent writing—it could be marketing, critiquing for my writers’ group, or researching characters, plot, structure, or settings. Typically, I don’t work on Saturday or Sunday.

You have experienced difficult trials and tragedies in your life. How did these affect your faith and spiritual life?
If I had a life verse (which I don’t) it would be James 1:2-4:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Remember that season I was referring to earlier in the interview? It started with my daughter’s car accident which resulted in a coma, traumatic brain injury, and months of rehabilitation. The following year, my husband of nearly 23 years abandoned our marriage, and within months, my mother died of leukemia after fighting it for three years. I remarried (the most amazing godly man) and he was diagnosed with renal cancer (which ended up being benign). Then my brother committed suicide and my father died. And I’m not even sharing the worst of that season, because it’s not mine to share. Consider it pure joy… It was my ex-husband walking out that got me on my knees, surrendering my life to Jesus Christ. I’d been a believer, a fan, but not a follower up to that point. I was still trying to control everything because I figured God wasn’t going to do it right.

This is why I write. I’m here to proclaim that it doesn’t matter what life throws your way, God will redeem it all. Beauty from ashes. There is hope when we put our trust in Jesus Christ. All the difficult trials and tragedies was God shaping my character so that I’m able to do whatever work He sets before me. Does that mean my life is perfect now? Absolutely not. But I have peace in the knowledge that God’s holding it all in the palm of His hand, and He loves me. All I need to do is trust.

You enjoy including romance in your stories. What is unique about your romantic scenes?
My first novel, Surrendered, ended up being more romance than not. It wasn’t my intention when I was writing it. But remember, those pesky characters will often do things without my permission and take over the story. Even so, there was nothing physical between the main characters—it was more emotional. I think they shared one kiss near the end. In Illusions, my second novel which will be released this month, the main characters are married. I had an English teacher tell my adult class that once we’re married, there is no such thing as romance. Even as shy as I was, I couldn’t let that one slip by undefended. I see romance as an emotional connection more than a physical, and it’s in things that most people might not even consider romantic. It’s as simple as filling that “love tank” Gary Chapman talks about in The Five Love Languages. Women need to feel secure and loved. Men need to feel respected. I try to bring that element into my stories, not that there doesn’t need to be an attraction.

How is your faith reflected in your writing?
I can’t write a story without the theme of hope being interwoven throughout, whether it’s a novel, novella, or novelette. There has to be a point where the characters come to the realization that there is no fullness in life here on earth without a relationship with Jesus. Even in the deepest hurts, understanding that the Lord can and will redeem it is evident.

You are published in non-fiction as well as fiction. Which do you prefer to write and why?
Not only do I have several non-fiction pieces in Chicken Soup for the Soul and anthologies put out by Inspire Press, I also write a weekly blog post. There is an element to non-fiction (no plotline to create) that makes it much easier to write. However, I enjoy fiction so much more, because I feel my characters are creative and engaging in a way I don’t feel I am. My non-fiction work seems to reflect that teacher part of me that is more formal and less fun than I want to be. But when I write fiction, my characters can just be whoever they turn out to be, and I don’t have to edit them, because they aren’t me.

At what point in your writing career did you tell yourself, “I’m a successful writer!”
If I’m going to be completely honest, I don’t know that I’ve come to a place where I’d say, “I’m a successful writer.” Define success. By the world’s standards, I will probably never be a successful writer. When I first dreamt of being a writer, it didn’t look anything like it does today. I never thought about writing to glorify God—He didn’t even come to mind. I thought it meant being able to financially support myself, writing tons of books, and selling tons of books.

Today, it looks more like a ministry. I’m not selling books—I’m offering hope to a world that so desperately needs it. I’m grateful to have a husband who sees it as a ministry, as well, because had it not been for him encouraging me to quit my “day job” and jump into the deep end, I wouldn’t be doing this today. I pray that my success will be apparent when I face God on judgment day and He says, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Then I will feel I’ve been successful.

What is your next writing project?
Right now, I’m finishing the edits for my third novel, Providence, in my Apple Hill Series, which is due to my publisher on May 1st. I’m working on a Christmas novella, which is due to my publisher on July 1st.

But the big project is kicking off my next series. The Apple Hill Series was set in Placerville, California (northern California), but now that I’m living in Tennessee, I want my next series to be set here. I have the main characters for three novels living in my head and screaming to be heard, so it’s a matter of fleshing out their stories and getting the first one written.


Patti Shene Gonzales hosts Step Into the Light, a weekly interview-style blog talk radio show, where she promotes those who share God’s love through writing and other ministry outlets. She hosts writers, published and unpublished, on her two blogs, The Over 50 Writer and Patti’s Porch on her website at Patti is published in two anthologies and local publications and has three western novels in progress. When not writing or reading, she is doing volunteer work for her church or attending her only granddaughter’s sports activities. Patti lives in Colorado with her devoted feline companion, Duncan.

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