My guest today is Bethany House author, Regina Jennings. Her book, Sixty Acres and a Bride was released this month. I preordered the book, but it is now available in all bookstores. I must say God’s message of unending faithfulness blends perfectly with Regina’s gift for humor.
Ann: Could you please tell us how this story was birthed in your heart, Regina? Did you first have the story of Ruth and Boaz planted deep inside you? Or, did Rosa and Weston develop in your mind before everything else came together?
Regina: This book came about in an unusual manner. It began when my Music Minister asked me to write some sketches for our Christmas play named Redeemer. Naturally I thought of the Ruth and Boaz story from the Bible, but the play already had a nativity scene in it and I didn’t want to use the Bethlehem costumes for two acts. As a solution we switched the setting to a Western town and made use of our cowboy boots and Oklahoma accents.
Because of time constraints I had to shelve most of the conflict and dialogue between these two characters, and I didn’t like it. By this time Weston and Rosa had personalities of their own, apart from the Bible story. In fact, I like to think of Sixty Acres and a Bride as two characters who find themselves in a similar situation as Ruth and Boaz. The choices they make are completely their own.
Ann: How much research did you have to do? I understand you have worked in the Oklahoma stockyards alongside your family. I assume you know a lot about animals. Have you actually sheared a sheep?
Regina: I’ve never sheared sheep, I’m sorry to say, but I would love to. Most of my experience at livestock auctions has been behind the scales or in the office dealing with farmers and ranchers, and I definitely learned much from those conversations—the cadence of their speech, their humor, their turn of phrase. All of these elements went into the voices of Caldwell County.
Rosa’s backstory did require quite a bit of research. Even though readers only get glimpses of her life before coming to Texas, accuracy was important to me. Every year my husband and I travel to Mexico for a mission trip and I wanted to show respect to the culture of our friends and co-laborers there.
Ann: I laughed aloud imagining Rosa wrestling with the ewe. Is this a personal experience story? If not, where did this idea come from? Great fun!
Regina: That incident comes from a family story about my great-great granny Laura Melissa Alice Mahaney Louise Jane Mosley Austin. (Her name is long because her mother named her after every woman that was present at her birth—including herself.) The story goes that a hog wandered into Granny Austin’s kitchen and she tried to herd it out the back door. Maybe the pig caught a scent of bacon, because it turned on her and ran into her skirts leaving her in a predicament much like Rosa’s.
Ann: Tell us how you created Sixty Acres and a Bride. Did you write plot outlines and build character sketches, or did you write the story as it came to you?
Regina: I’ve tried playing with character sketches, but I don’t know my characters until I see them in a scene and hear them speak. My favorite part is concocting situations that will force them to show their true colors.
As for plotting, I like to know where the story is going, even if I’m wrong and it changes. I’ll keep my synopsis at hand and add details as they become clear, sometimes writing whole scenes that won’t be reached chronologically for weeks. In general however, plots are just suggestions. I’m always open to a better idea.
Ann: What is your favorite part of the writing process? What inspires you to write?
Regina: I like researching and editing. It’s the first draft that I dread. Once I have a manuscript to work with, I’m energized to roll up my sleeves and make something out of it. And I think the desire to get the story right is what inspires me. I can’t stand to have an emotion or a motivation that doesn’t click. Once the first draft is down I can pick it apart and tape it back together until it’s smooth. I love the final product, but there’s a lot of drudgery before there’s anything I’m proud of.
Ann: I know you are a busy wife and homeschooling mother. Describe to us when and where you write, and how you maintain your balance.
Regina: Usually I have my laptop open during the school day and tap out a few rough paragraphs while supervising the kids’ work, but polished writing rarely results. After lessons are finished we load up for basketball or band practice where I hide in a corner and try to scratch out a few more lines before we head home for dinner. Most of my usable work comes from my evening writing sessions when Mr. Jennings takes charge of the troops.
I’m still learning how to balance the demands of writing with homeschooling. Many times I’m physically present with the kids, but not attending. I need to spend less time daydreaming dialogue and more time making conversation with the little people around me.
Ann: I love your conference story, and how Bethany House recognized your talent so quickly. What happened next? Walk us through the development process with a publisher. Tell us about the dreaded deadlines. What were they like?
Regina: I had to email my editor for help with this question as the whole process is still a bit of a mystery to me, but I do remember how it started.
To begin with, even before a contract was offered, Bethany House let me know what areas they wanted to change in the manuscript. I was excited to hear their ideas to fix the problems, but I had to wait until after signing for that information.
The editorial letter was written by my Acquiring Editor, Dave Long, but included input from a handful of editors who had read the first draft. Rewrites were sent to Dave until he approved that stage and then I began working with my Line Editor, Sharon Asmus. After Sharon and I smoothed out smaller concerns like scene transitions and clarifying murky points, the rewrites moved on to the copyeditor. After that there were three more proofreaders who searched not only for grammar, but also for historical inaccuracies and to make sure there were no inconsistencies in the book itself.
Deadlines haven’t been a problem thus far. I give in to impatience more than procrastination, so I’m more likely to turn in something early—being anxious for feedback— than I am to cram before a deadline. Lately, I’ve learned to hold on to the manuscript a little longer and force myself to read through it again so all those editors don’t have as much to worry with when they get the first draft.
Ann: I look forward to book two. When will it release? Can you reveal a little of your story surrounding Molly Lovelace?
Regina: I think readers of Sixty Acres and a Bride will be excited to see Molly Lovelace in a book of her own. Molly gets led astray by her parents’ expectations and her own misguided sense of adventure. Will she recover her footing to find a love of her own? Love in the Balance releases February 2013. (BTW, you are the first to hear the new title. Exclusive reporting, right here.)
Ann: And Regina, I saw on Face Book where you have a video interview posted at http://www.reginajennings.com/books . You commented that it was painful to watch. It’s not painful. You did a great job, and to quote one of my own stories: “I think you’re as cute as a button out of the notion barrel at the general store.” (Smart, too.) I hope Sixty Acres and a Bride is a success far greater than you can imagine.
Regina: Oh, thank you, Ann. It’s been fun chatting with you, and I’m glad it’s typed out and not videoed. God bless!