Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Special Feature: Author Lynne Gentry talks about her recently released debut novel, Reinventing Leona, and her journey to its publication

Lynne Gentry knew marrying a preacher might change her plans. She didn’t know how much ministry would change her life. This author of numerous short stories and dramatic works writes about the fragility of family ties and the lengths to which we will go to preserve them. She travels the country as a professional acting coach and inspirational speaker. Lynne lives in Dallas with her husband Lonnie and counts spending time with her two grown children and their families her greatest joy.

Tell us about your new release:

"In Reinventing Leona, the pastor’s wife knows that residing in the parsonage is not for sissies, but the thought of living anywhere else scares Leona Harper spitless. When her husband drops dead in the pulpit, Leona loses more than her spouse. She loses her best friend, her home, and her entire identity. How does a woman cast adrift find the courage to reinvent her life?"

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?

"I watched three of my older friends lose their husbands. Two of them regrouped, rebuilt, and reinvented their lives. One shriveled up and died in a nursing home. Observing their experiences made me ask, what would I do if tragedy struck me? Do I have the spiritual chops to pick myself up and start over? Could I trust God to lead me through a dark valley?

"Fear that I would fail a spiritual test lingered in the back of my mind.

"In 2005, I attended my first ACFW writer’s conference and took a class that encouraged us to write about our deepest fears. I wanted to write something funny, and frankly, writing about something that scared me to death didn’t sound fun let alone funny. But God used this story to teach me to trust, and in the process He prepared me for a devastating turn of events that would either make or break me in 2009. Not the death of my husband, but something almost as bad. I’m happy to say, I’m coming out of that deep grief a reinvented woman, one who daily rejoices in the faithfulness of God."

Did anything strange or funny happen while researching or writing your book?

"While I was writing this book, I was commissioned to write and perform a comedic monologue for a women’s conference in Houston. Since this story was fresh on my mind, I used it to create the dramatized story of The Reinvention of Leona Harper. After the performance an audience member cornered me. “So, have the people in your church seen this?” she demanded. I smiled and said, “Well, no, and this story isn’t about people I really know. I made this all up.” She said, “Well, I still think you might consider getting some therapy.” That’s when I knew this story was capable of touching nerves, of exposing the secret struggles people of faith face when they encounter setbacks and tragedies. And that’s when I knew without a doubt, sharing God’s ability to reinvent us from the ruins was a story that had to be told."

Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

"I’m not one of those people who always dreamed of being a writer, but I have always been a storyteller. I thought my talents were better suited to the stage. The Lord slowly altered my course from the stage to the page when I married a pastor.

"Back before sermon skits were a dime a dozen, my husband thought it would be great to use drama as an additional sermon teaching tool. But, we had trouble finding dramas that fit his messages, so I started writing and directing them. That blossomed into full-blown musicals, video production, etc. Then a writer friend of mine, Lisa Harris, encouraged me to turn one of my musicals into a novel. Little did I know, it would take nearly eight years to finally sell one of my precious darlings.

"My husband and I were treating ourselves to a lovely birthday meal in a very nice restaurant when I got the call from my agent, Sandra Bishop. She asked, “Lynne, did you ever wonder where you’d be when you found out you sold your first book?” I think the huge smile on my face had the wait staff wondering what was in my tea. Or maybe it was the screaming and jumping up and down. I’m not sure which. But I remember being extremely grateful to God."

Do you have any parting words of advice?

"We are not stuck. According to Ezekiel 36:26, God can give us a new heart, a new spirit, and new purpose for our life. Don’t be afraid to let God reinvent you. It’s never too late to start over."

Thank you, Lynne, for sharing your fascinating story with us, and thank you, Tyndale, for publishing this intriguing novel. Reinventing Leona is a humorous, heartwarming story that deals with real-life issues familiar to most of us, and it's truly a page-turner. If you haven't read it already, make it your next read. You don't want to miss this one.

Please feel free to leave comments for Lynne below.

Learn more about Lynne at her website: www.lynnegentry.com/