Jennifer Sienes

Quiz time: Can you name a common component to the list of books below:


The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Harry Potter (every book) by J.K. Rowling


Are you stumped? Well, let me continue and see if you can follow my train of thought.


Do you know what the five elements to a novel are? You probably learned them in school. When I taught middle school, these elements, and how they make up a story, were part of the writing curriculum for my students. In case your memory is a little rusty, I’ll give them to you:







Any clue where I’m going with this yet?


Miss any one of these five elements, and the story is probably a dud. Believe me, after teaching middle school English for nine years, I graded my share of duds. And when I was my students’ age (and long after), I wrote my fair share of them, as well.


Of these five elements, one is often overlooked. Not so with those novels in the list above. In fact, this particular element stands out—setting. The “where” of these books is so well done, it’s like a character unto itself.


As a novelist, I can appreciate a rich setting. My Apple Hill series was set in Placerville, California. There was nothing particularly unique about Placerville, except in my heart. It’s where my grandparents lived after they retired. It’s where I spent my summers and most holidays until my grandmother died, and my grandfather sold the property.


But now it’s time for a new series—and a new setting. Almost two years ago, my husband and I moved from northern California to middle Tennessee. I can’t explain it, but I’ve always felt I belonged in the south. Do you know what I mean? I truly believe the Lord put it on my heart in preparation for change. When I went through a very difficult season in my life, I wanted to run away to Georgia. Why? I couldn’t tell you. I’d never been before. In fact, I’d never been farther south than Oklahoma until about nine years ago.


Now here I am, living the dream. My first series was written before I ever moved here, although it needed plenty of editing and re-writes. I’ve been super excited to begin a new series so I can try my hand at making the new setting come alive for my readers. It will definitely challenge my writing skills. If you were born and raised in the south (as I was in California), you may not find anything magical about it. But for me, each day is a discovery of child-like proportions.


I want my readers to experience summer storms the way I do—thunder and lightning unlike anything I’ve ever seen or heard before. I want them to feel the wonder of fireflies lighting up a summer night like a full-blown Christmas display. Hear the unique song of the mockingbirds and discover the vibrant red of the cardinals. Cottonwood trees that play a symphony when the wind blows through them. Magnolia trees with their waxy leaves and blossoms bigger than my head.


And then there are the people. Southern hospitality is actually a living, breathing thing. There are sayings here that need a dictionary to translate, and don’t get me started on the drawl. It doesn’t matter much if I can’t understand what they’re saying—I’m too enthralled with enjoying the way words are put together to care what they mean. It took an actual visual for me to know that when my new friend said, “bolled peanuts” she meant, “boiled peanuts” (until then, I didn’t even know there was such a thing.) And my poor husband listened to a man talk on and on about “bar huntin’” before he finally caught on that he was referring to “bear hunting.”


But it goes much deeper than that. It’s the quaintness in shops that display scripture without apology and end every transaction with, “God bless you.” And we’re allowed to say, “Merry Christmas” and talk about our “Christmas tree” instead of changing it up to “Happy Holidays” and “holiday tree.” Maybe that’s nothing new to you, but it certainly was for me. And I want my readers get as lost in the wonder as I do.


A few nights ago, I laid awake until the wee hours of the morning because first lines of my new book were running through my mind. The windows were open to the sounds of the night, and clear as daybreak, I heard a mockingbird sing. How many birds (aside from an owl) will communicate at two o’clock in the morning? Because we have a wealth of information at our fingertips, I now know it was most likely a male bird seeking a Mrs., which made me a little melancholy.


And as I lay there lamenting over this poor, bachelor bird, I realized the main character of my WIP and Mr. Lonely Hearts have something in common—a need for deep purpose in their lives. Okay, I suppose it’s a bit of a stretch, but it was late, and I was exhausted. Still, while I ran lines and lamented, the title for my novel came to me—Night Songs. Believe it or not, I find creating a title harder than the actual novel. This is the first time in my writing career that I have a title before I’ve even written a word of the book, and I owe it all to a mockingbird. How many authors can say that?


Susan K. Beatty

An Interview with Quint Yancey

Quint’s Story: Standing on the Promises and Isobel’s Mission of Courage


Sometimes a book’s secondary character just begs for his own story.

Let me introduce you to Quint Yancey. He’s become a great friend to Isobel and the Parker family in Isobel’s Mission of Courage. You can first meet Quint in Quint’s Story: Standing on the Promises. This story takes place about ten years before he meets Isobel. Find out how you can get a copy of his short story after this interview.


Hello, Quint. Glad you could chat today.


Q:  Tell us a little about yourself. Where you live, what you do.

A:  My name is Quint Yancey. I was born in the small town of Orange California. Lived here all my life. In fact, I live in the house I was born in and that my wife and I raised our four children in. I’m the third-generation owner/proprietor of Yancey Real Estate & Development. At one time, my grandfather owned a great deal of property in the area. We’ve sold a lot of it over the years, but I still own and manage several business and residential locations.


Q:  How many children do you have? Are they grown? Do they live near you and your wife?

A:  My wife, Margery, died ten years ago from breast cancer. We have four adult children who live and work all over the world. My eldest son is a research fellow at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota; another son is a law professor at Harvard. My youngest daughter is a journalist living in London; and my oldest daughter is currently in Israel as part of a diplomatic team. All are now married and have terrifically talented spouses.


Q:  Isobel has called you a gentleman. What do you think about that?

A:  That’s quite an honor. I was brought up to treat everyone with courtesy and respect. More importantly, the Bible tells us to love on another, and I believe to do that we have to mind our manners. In this day and age, I know I’m old-school. Heavens! I’m just old. I don’t mind admitting it. Couldn’t deny it anyway.  <Here Quint laughs. A lot.>


Q:  Do you mind telling us how old you are?

A:  Seventy.


Q:  Any plans for retirement?

A:  My kids thought I should retire after my wife died. What would I have done with myself? The kids said I should travel, but I don’t see myself doing it without my wife. At sixty-five, I reduced my work schedule to part time. Still have my hand in the business, you know. I keep very busy in the community and with my church.


Q: How did you and Isobel meet? What drew you to her and her family?

A: I saw Isobel downtown one day. She stumbled, and I could see she was in trouble and needed help. We happened to be near my favorite hangout, Watson’s Soda Fountain, so I gave her an arm to hold on to and invited her to have a chocolate soda with me.

She told me about her breast cancer, and because of my wife’s experience, I felt I could be an encouragement. Her husband Todd has become a dear friend as we work to help the homeless. And her son Elijah is one wonderful kid. He laughs at my jokes. <Quint chuckles.>

Isobel’s a little scared about the future. She doesn’t believe she has courage, but she has so much more than she thinks. And when she was drawn outside of herself … well, you’ll have to read her story to find out.


Q:  Do you mean when Isobel meets Noolie, the homeless woman who needs help?

A:   Yes, but there was so much more to it. Noolie needed help; Isobel needed help. And Noolie, bless her heart, in spite of her anger at God, had a real spiritual discernment that helped Isobel more than just meeting her physical needs.


Q:  We don’t want you to give away any spoilers, but what can you tell us about Isobel’s future? Your future?

A: <Quint chuckles again.> I’ll just keep plugging along, helping others as I can. Isobel? Well, you’ll have to read her story to find out.


Thank you for taking the time to talk today, Quint.


Interested in learning more about Quint? You can get a copy of his short story, Quint’s Story: Standing on the Promises, free when you pre-order Isobel’s Mission of Courage. Just click on the Isobel’s Mission of Courage button that will take you to the pre-order page, and then follow the instructions to claim the short story.