Q: How long did it take to write all three novels?
A: Actually, the first book originally incorporated the second. It was one huge book, approaching 230,000 words! Author Roger Bruner and his wife, Kathleen, read my manuscript and suggested I cut it in half and make two separate books. After that I created a third book to round out the events I'd brought up in the first two, and also to resolve some final issues. So all three books took about one year altogether.
Q: You lived in Japan and are from the South. Is the book autobiographical?
A: NOT AT ALL! I merely created a book based on events that I knew well (such as living in the South, or living abroad as an expat). This was the first time I'd created a book based on what I knew from experience rather than research - mainly because I was frustrated with how much writing time my research was taking up. In fact, my experience in Japan (read about it here) as a missionary was quite different from Shiloh's. I was not "in love" with Japan at that time, although my feelings have changed a bit in hindsight, and I was ready to go home (at least for a break) after two years in Sapporo. I did, however, always have a great time at mission meetings in Tokyo, so I drew on those to invent a character who deeply loved Japan.
Q: What about the death of a parent and Shiloh's job as a journalist? Aren't those your experiences as well?
A: Yes, but both of them were quite different. I wasn't a newshound like Shiloh. I worked as a staff writer for the International Mission Board writing about missions and missionaries, and before that, I served briefly on the writing staff of OnSat Satellite and TV Guide (circ. US/Canada). In the case of my mother, she did pass away unexpectedly in 1996. However, we had a close relationship, and she was a strong and devout believer in God. I merely drew on the feelings of shock and surprise of losing a parent when writing "Sushi."
Q: Do you have an agent?
A: Nope! Not yet. I actually hadn't prepared these books for publication yet, or even written a query letter, when my good friend and fellow author Roger Bruner read my manuscript submitted the first three chapters to Barbour Publishing. Talk about a surprise when Barbour women's fiction editor Rebecca Germany contacted me to read the entire manuscript! You can read about my publishing experience here.
Q: Are any of the locations/businesses/homes described in "Southern Fried Sushi" real?
A: YES! Absolutely. Some of them are invented, but the majority of places described in "Sushi" and the following two books are real. Here's a rough breakdown:
- I invented a Barnes&Noble in Staunton. I don't think there is one. However, these chain stores move in and out so it's hard to tell what's there and what's not at all times. I got the idea from a very similar store (a Borders, perhaps?) that was located in the Staunton mall years ago. The Starbucks in the mall was also invented; however, there actually is a brand-new Starbucks (probably the first in Staunton) a few blocks over from the mall. I make reference to that one in Book 3 and have a short scene set there.
- Green Hill Cemetery is real. In fact, this is a poignant point for me because my own mother is buried there. The cemetery is an old one, and the descriptions I've given are entirely accurate. It's located just past Bear Funeral Home in Churchville. You follow a winding road past the funeral home and will come to the cemetery on your left a few miles up. It's one of the most beautiful, quiet, and peaceful places I've ever seen. At Easter every year the local churches hold a sunrise service there, complete with coffee, a sermon, and usually a couple of deer coming through the mist. (And as the dedication of the book says, my mother was a wonderful Christian, Mennonite woman. No similarities there to Shiloh's mom whatsoever. I just used events that I could identify with, such as the cemetery I knew and the death of a parent).
- Crawford Manor, the housing development, is entirely real. I grew up there. The names of the streets, descriptions of houses, and even some of the neighbors (ha ha) are real. I patterned the house that Shiloh moves into after my own, where we lived fifteen years when I was a girl to a late teen. It's located on the outskirts of "downtown" Churchville.
- Jerusalem Chapel is a real church. Or was. I heard it burned down about two years ago, but it's probably been rebuilt by now. I've been past it, but like the story shows, it's reeeeally far out in the country, on no-name roads, and I'd be totally lost trying to find it!
- Western State, Virginia School for the Deaf Blind, and the Best Western Staunton Inn are all real. Most of the other locations are entirely taken from life, like the Tastee-Freez out in Churchville next to the landfill (this is actually true - LOL!), the Staunton mall and its somewhat gloomy, artificial interior (although the hair salon called "Crystal" is invented), and other descriptions of the names and streets (like Greenville Avenue). The News Leader is a real Staunton paper. I referenced local stores (Food Lion, etc.) as well.
- The Green Tree restaurant is totally invented. However, the Mrs. Rowe's restaurant, Cracker Barrel, and Lone Star steakhouse near the Best Western are all real. I've eaten at all of them. Mrs. Rowe's has been there for probably fifty years and is a tourist point of sorts. My high school friend Aaron Digrassie (grandson of the original Mrs. Rowe) owns it now. It's the real-deal old-fashioned Southern food, and I used an actual menu to describe the dishes I show in the scenes that take place there. (The location of the The Green Tree restaurant is real, however - there are some older upscale restaurants in that historic part of downtown Staunton).
Q: Is there really no sushi in Staunton as the book claims?
A: Actually I think there is now. However, that must be relatively new, because when I visited Staunton about two or three years ago, I still didn't find any restaurants offering sushi. But on my last visit earlier this year I saw two sushi bars. Both of them looked really new, and those new places don't always last long - so it's hard to tell how long they'll stay, or if they'll become permanent fixtures. So the short answer is yes, Staunton does have sushi. Now.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I was born in South Carolina and grew up in Staunton/Churchville most of my life. After that I studied two years at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and then transferred to Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. We also lived briefly in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and a slightly longer stint (about three years) in Clifton Forge, Virginia, when I was a girl.
Q: Is there really such a thing as "Southern fried sushi"?
A: If there is, I haven't heard of it! I invented this title during a brainstorming session where I was desperately trying to combine Southern/Japanese imagery and create something catchy. This one just seemed to work. Here in Brazil, though, we have something called a "Hot Filaelfia" roll, which is probably like a "crunchy roll" or whatever we call it back in the U.S. It's warm sushi made with cream cheese and salmon, lightly breaded and fried. Yum! Not particularly Southern, but it is fried sushi. I'm obviously not the only one to ever think of this combination, though, because since naming the book I've heard of a song with "Southern fried sushi" in the lyrics - and www.southernfriedsushi.com was already taken.
Q: How did you go to writer's conferences from Brazil?
A: Actually I'd never been to a writer's conference until after Barbour offered me a contract for the "Sushi" series, and after that I decided it was worth it to fork over a bigger chunk of money to 1) meet with Barbour representatives and my new editor, Rebecca Germany, 2) learn about publishing and marketing, and 3) hone my writing craft. I attended the 2010 American Christian Writer's Conference in Indianapolis and had an absolutely wonderful time. It was there I met my first critique partner, Jennifer Fromke, who introduced me to the other members of our group--now including Shelly Dippel, Christy Truitt, and Karen Schravemade. Karen lives in Australia and is another "writer abroad" - who just attended her first ACFW conference this year.
Q: Where did you get the idea for "Sushi"?
A: I have no idea. I do clearly remember walking outside of our Brazilian apartment one morning in early January 2009, notebook in hand, and mentally sorting out bits and pieces of a plot into a cohesive storyline. I’d been praying for a while for God to give me something “new and fresh,” since I couldn’t seem to let go of the same old plots and characters I’d worked with for years. In addition, I’d recently decided to stop getting bogged down with research on complex topics and write about what I know. Nothing exotic, nothing fancy. Just what I’m familiar with and can write about easily. The idea of writing about what I know felt freeing… until I realized I really knew about only two things: 1) Southern life and 2) Japan. When I decided to do something shocking and combine them, that’s when the plot began to flow—as did the references to fried food and belt buckles, all wrapped in Japanese nori -- seaweed paper. I’m not an outliner at all, but that morning I walked and scratched notes in pen, completing a full outline and rushing back up to the computer to write. The finished story was actually pretty faithful to that original pen-stained outline. I’ve never written an outline like that either—before or since.
Q: Do you see Shiloh appearing in any future projects?
A: "Southern Fried Sushi" is the first book in a series of three with the same name, all starring Shiloh as the main character. The second, "Like Sweet Potato Pie," and the third, "'Til Grits Do Us Part," will be released in 2012 (March 1 and November 1 respectively). And like the first book, they’re loaded to the brim with cultural blunders, redneck tackiness, and Southern surprises. All tossed in the mix with cups of green tea and a sprinkle of cherry blossoms.
Q: So Shiloh will be the main character throughout this "Sushi" series. Will her story ever turn into a romance?
A: Yes, there will be romance! But don’t expect it to be like a typical romance novel—with a handsome hero who has it all together and sweeps her off her feet. Most of the characters in the “Sushi” books are quirky and “real” to a fault, and her romance—as well as others that develop alongside hers in the series—will usually be between the two people who least expect it. And, as is normal in real life, not without a good helping of conflict.
Q: Where did you come up with the name "Shiloh"? Were you channeling celebrities?
A: I have no clue what's going on in Hollywood from over here in Brazil. I actually saw the name on an online baby name site and thought it sounded cool and interesting. I was already tossing around "Shanna," and "Shiloh," with its unusual sound and Biblical connotations, fit perfectly.
Q: Are those your boots on the cover?
A: No, and they're not my legs, either!! :) I've been asked that. I doubt you'd want my legs on the cover - LOL.
Q: How about your next books? Are they also about the South and Japan?
A: My next contracted book is a romance novella collection set in Yellowstone National Park, also by Barbour Publishing. After that I'd like to write about the South again, and Japan, but I'm also interested in writing about Brazil, since I've lived here nearly eight years.
Q: Are you really a redneck?
A: Um.... no.... not entirely. Although I do listen to bluegrass and make grits - and I used to cheer for Dale Jarrett in NASCAR until he retired. And we did have a rooster in our kitchen once when I was growing up. And a possum. Oh, and a raccoon, too. Okay, so maybe I AM really a redneck.
Got a question about "Sushi"? Email Jenny or post in the comments section on the homepage!