Scroll down for a chance to win a copy of Bethany Turner’s book, The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck. Winner will be announced in the next Author Spotlight feature. Congratulations to winner of last Author Spotlight of Dangerous Illusions, Elaine Rieder! Please e-mail your mailing address to my assistant Christen (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Can you tell us about your newest release? Is it part of a series or a stand-alone?
The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck is a romantic comedy all about a woman who must figure out how to reconcile her life as an author of steamy, scandalous romance novels with her newfound faith in Christ. She’s still under contract, on bestseller lists, and in negotiations for film rights, but suddenly she wants nothing to do with any of it. And then she begins falling in love with her pastor, which doesn’t exactly simplify things, as you can probably imagine! It is a stand-alone. But having said that, I’ve always known where these characters go next. Quite a few readers have already said they would really like to read Piper’s story — Piper is Sarah Hollenbeck’s best friend — and that is a story I would love to tell someday. I adore the character! So, who knows?
Is anything or anyone in this book based on real-life experiences?
Again, we come back to Piper. I have several Pipers in my life. Piper is a friend who always tells Sarah what she needs to hear, and very rarely is that actually what Sarah wants to hear. But she does it in love, and in a way that she knows Sarah understands and appreciates. And for all of the wise, wonderful advice she has to offer, she also just knows when to listen. On top of all that, she’s hilarious at times! While I was writing this book, I was dealing with some major life adjustments. I had left my long-term, successful career and stepped out in faith that God had something better in store, but I had no idea what that “something” was. Money was tight, choices were scary, and occasionally my faith faltered. But thankfully, I was surrounded by Pipers.
Who was your favorite character in this story, and why?
I adore Piper, and I certainly adore Ben Delaney, Sarah’s leading man. (I really adore Ben Delaney…) But my favorite is actually Sarah herself. For one thing, I really get her. She and I share the same pop culture sensibilities, and have an appropriate movie reference for every situation, and she makes me laugh a lot. But what I really love about her is the way we see her mature through the course of the story. When we first meet her, she’s very self-centered and occasionally a bit detached from reality. But it doesn’t take long to see that it’s all about survival, and that she isn’t satisfied with who she’s become, either. As she embarks on her journey — and takes us along with her — we get to see who she is, and the potential that exists inside of her. And with God at the center of her life, and Ben and Piper by her side, it turns out she’s actually a bit of a powerhouse — albeit a powerhouse with a quirky sense of humor and an obsession with The Sound of Music!
Compared to your other books, was this one easy to complete or challenging? Any idea why?
It was so easy! The first draft of this book was written in about six weeks, and that is not at all typical for me. It all happened right after I quit my job, and I think I was experiencing a freedom I hadn’t known in a very long time. Maybe ever. Ideas were coming more quickly than I could keep up with, but I was dedicating the first and best of my time to the Lord. And He blessed that. I also think that this book was so easy to complete because I wasn’t thinking about getting it published, or even what anyone else would think. I was telling the story that I knew I was supposed to tell, and writing it in a way that entertained me! It really was just between God and me at that point, and it was a completely joyous experience.
What was the hardest scene in this book to write? What made it difficult?
Sarah makes quite a lot of money, of course, and there comes a point in her new walk of faith in which she learns about tithing for the first time. The concept of giving back to God is totally new to her, but she wants to give her first 10% as a statement of her faith. So she writes a check to her church for 10% of her earnings — earnings that include royalties from her scandalous books. Prior to that, most people had been unaware that Sarah was indeed the author of those books, since she wrote under a pen name, and therefore unaware that the author of those books was dating their pastor. It’s a humorous scene in many ways, but it is also absolutely heartbreaking to me. It was heartbreaking to write. Sarah is so sincerely trying to honor God, and she’s met with judgment from people in her church. People who should be walking alongside her and holding her up — not tearing her down. Sadly, that’s something that is all too common among Christians. I am a lover of and a believer in the local church, and I’m blessed to be on staff of a church I love dearly, but I felt it was important to shine a light on the damage we can so easily do to each other when we try to take God’s place as judge.
What did you (or your editors) edit out of this book?
In the original draft, I spent a lot more time telling the story of Ben’s relationship with his first wife, Christa, who died of cancer. I was using it to, in a lot of ways, make it evident that Ben is a really great guy, and also magnify the differences between the love Ben had previously experienced and the love Sarah had been denied in her first marriage. Ultimately, my editor very wisely pointed out that Ben and Christa’s love story was so romantic and solid that it took the focus off of Ben and Sarah’s blossoming romance. I was sad to see some of the Ben and Christa stories go away, but it was absolutely the right call!
What’s the most difficult thing about writing from the point of view of the opposite sex?
I love that question, and I would say, in general, the most difficult thing is not doing what we, as women, quite often tend to do in life. Okay, I can’t speak for all women. But I know that I tend to add layers of complexity to a man’s point of view. Men, in my experience, are better than women are at just getting to the point, and the crux of the situation. At least, many of them are better at it than I am! I filter everything that is said through my emotions and doubts and thoughts about the weather. That makes it difficult for me to take what is said at face value, when I really should. We see that happening a lot between Ben and Sarah. Sarah will ask Ben, “What are you trying to say?” And he’ll respond, “I’m not trying to say anything. I’m saying it!” Obviously every man is different, just as every woman is different, but I think often those conversational tendencies are there. So it’s important not to write words which come out of a male character’s mouth, but have been processed through a female character’s mind!
Bethany Turner is the director of administration for Rock Springs Church in Southwest Colorado. A former VP/operations manager of a commercial bank and a three-time cancer survivor (all before she turned 35), Bethany knows that when God has plans for your life, it doesn’t matter what anyone else has to say. She lives with her husband and their two sons in Colorado.