Introducing Debut Author Lynne Gentry

Lynne’s book, Reinventing Leona, is one of four new ebooks released this month through Tyndale House’s Digital First initiative which provides a direct to ebook original titles. For more information, click here.

Lynne Gentry knew marrying a preacher might change her plans. She didn’t know how ministry would change her life. This author of numerous short stories and dramatic works 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.

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 ever bang your head against the wall from writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?

Isn’t the blank page and the blinking cursor the curse every writer must fight to banish, or is it just me? There are brief moments when my words flow, but usually every word is like giving birth to a child…a real pain in the posterior.

Three things help me when I get stuck:

1. Edit previous chapters. That seems to get me back into the story and help those creative juices flow again.
2. Read a chapter or two from another author. Somehow feeling the flow and rhythm of another’s storytelling sparks my own creativity.
3. Walk. We have a beautiful park not far from home. Walking in nature or taking my computer outside and just letting the Creator of creativity’s creation surround me jumpstarts my stalled motor.

Do you consider yourself a visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use?

I love to do research. Every time I stumble upon a picture, I think I’ve hit pay dirt. I also love to cast my characters with pictures of ordinary people and stars. As a trained actor, the human face and body is very interesting to me, so I’m continually looking for visual characteristics I can incorporate to create my characters.

Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What’s the most difficult part of writing for you?

For me, one of the exciting things about writing is letting the story unfold with each keystroke. I start out with an overall premise, a couple of main characters, and where I want to end up. How I get there is anyone’s guess because I’m more of a big picture person than a detail person. Trouble with this method is that I have written myself into many a corner.

How do you overcome it?

I’ve learned I can do one of two things: Ask “what if” and sometimes making it worse for my characters gets me out of trouble. Or, I can take a little time BEFORE I start writing and think through several basic plot points. Planning ahead is never my first choice, but when I make myself do it, I’m always a happier writer.

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?

After our kids left home, I converted the upstairs game room into my own little world. When I look out my windows, it feels like I’m writing in a tree house. I had a tree house growing up on the farm and that little platform tucked inside some leafy branches was my favorite place in the world. I’d sit there for hours surveying the barnyard and making up stories in my head. Little did I know someone might pay me to day dream.

What does a typical day look like for you?

There are no typical days at our house. I’m helping my husband plant a church, so a lot of my time is spent doing whatever I can to help. I am most creative first thing in the morning. So after several cups of stout coffee, I hit the treadmill, the shower, and am usually at my computer by no later than 8:30. I confess to checking email and scanning Facebook, but then it is on to writing by 9:00. I will sometimes write 8 or 10 hours a day. Now, that I’ve said that, you’d think I’d have a higher word count to show for all of those hours, but I’m slow.

Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?

I’m a tweezer and retweezer. I have to go over and over my stuff, catching places where I can layer in additional feelings or clarify motives, etc.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

From a multi-published RWA writer: “The only people who don’t get published are the ones who give up.”

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.

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?

Check out Reinventing Leona here.