Susan K. Beatty

From Black Beauty to Nancy Drew and Beyond: A Fiction Love Story

Not long ago, I read it had been ninety years since the publication of the first Nancy Drew book. I read these delightful books as a ‘tween nearly sixty years ago, and still have several of those well-read copies on my bookshelves. Nancy Drew books continue to sell well.

My love of books and fiction goes back even further than my Nancy Drew years. I remember many cozy winter nights when my mother read Black Beauty aloud. She read to me from the full-length novel (not a picture book adaptation) although I was only four. Many classics followed, but who can forget their first love?

Both of my parents read in mammoth amounts. My childhood home had bookshelf after bookshelf lined with book-of-the-month club volumes sporting those bargain-basement dust jackets. My dad made me a bookshelf (painted lavender!) of my own, and it had pride of place in my bedroom. My mother used to say I was born with my nose in a book.

As far back as elementary school, I emulated the fiction I read by crafting my own stories, beginning with tales of westward-ho-in-a-covered-wagon to a man escaping Communist Russia by climbing a mountain no one had ever climbed before. Despite the fact I knew nothing of geography or climbing mountains, I received an A+. Mostly for effort I’m sure.

The siren song to write novels called to me. But it was to be fifty years before the Lord said, “Now is your time to write fiction.” Oh, I did a lot of writing in the intervening years, mostly news stories as a journalist, how-to manuals for homeschoolers, curriculum, and the like.

But it’s fiction that held my heart.

For me, reading fiction is like seeing into the heart of another individual, discovering how he or she thinks and feels, understanding their emotions. It’s being transported to another place, maybe another time. Experiencing life that I may never experience first hand. (And sometimes that’s a good thing, WWII fiction for example!) Christian fiction is seeing how God has worked in others and coming away with a few learned lessons.

Writing fiction is the reverse of the process. If I do the job right, I get to show the reader another person’s story, how the person felt, thought, and how God worked in his or her life and the lessons learned.

I mostly write about courage and how we can find it at the intersection of faith and grit.

In my first novelette, House of Courage, we follow a metastatic breast cancer “thriver” as she tries to find the courage to meet her family’s needs as well as her own. My second novelette, Isobel’s Mission of Courage, shows how Isobel courageously deals with her breast cancer journey as well as how she finds the courage to face and deal with her own shortcomings. Continuing the theme of courage while dealing with breast cancer, Faces of Courage, my upcoming novel, tells the story of Olivia’s cancer journey as well as her ordeal with an increasingly abusive husband. We he find the courage to change and help his wife?

My third novelette and my second novel depart from breast cancer and show characters looking for the courage to forgive and ask for forgiveness amid tragedy and confrontation.

I hope readers will not only enjoy the stories, but will be inspired to courage in whatever the circumstance.

Thank you, Lord, for the love of books and for fiction, both to read and to write. Thank you Anna Swell, Carolyn Keene (et al), and the many, many authors who fueled my love of fiction.

Why do you read fiction? If you write, why? When and where did your inspiration for reading and writing begin?


Jennifer Sienes

Have you ever dreamt of chucking it all and moving to an entirely new place? Maybe you’ve already done so. I’m a California girl. Born and raised in the Bay Area. It wasn’t until a five years ago, when my husband and I visited Savannah, Georgia, that I envisioned living anywhere other than Northern California. I figured it would take an act of God to get Chris out of his cabin in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada’s. He, too, was California born and raised. The reality of living anywhere else didn’t seem likely.

It was as I stood under the shade of a southern live oak and basked in the humid warmth and greenery of a Savannah park the dream took root. “You can go back to California,” I told Chris. “I’m staying.” Of course, I was kidding. Sort of. The idea of setting myself up in a little house on one of the cobblestoned squares and writing to my heart’s content was intriguing. But I’d never leave my husband. I’m a good Christian woman married to an incredible godly man. But still, the yearning to live in the south didn’t end with the vacation.

I learned early in our marriage that submission was only possible with a whole lot of prayer. Who would want to be considered a contentious, nagging wife? Certainly not me. When we were at odds, I would state my case and then pray Lord, change my heart or change his mind. The first time I prayed this was when I discerned something not quite right with the pastor we were under. A few days later, Chris suggested, out of the blue (or not), that we attend a different church. Within months of our departure, our previous church disbanded due to ungodly leadership. I know that decision was Spirit-led, not wife-led, which was critical. We made amazing connections and grew incredibly in our next church.

You might wonder if I used this strategy to instigate a move out of California. I did not. Even though I’d retired from teaching, with Chris’s encouragement, to write full-time, he still had a viable chiropractic career to consider. He thought he’d stay in practice until the day he died. It gave him purpose and brought him joy. How could I ask the Lord to take that from him?

But God knows our hearts better than we do. I believe it’s He who sets our desires on them—not us. Okay, there are times it’s pretty obvious that our “wants” aren’t His. Motivation plays a crucial role. In hindsight, I believe the yearning to move out of California didn’t come from me, but from Him. During the fourteen years of our marriage, I’ve always processed things much quicker than Chris. I have things thought out and planned down to the nth degree before he even contemplates the idea of it.

So, imagine my shock and delight when, a couple years after our Savannah trip, he told me he wanted to retire. And move out of California. The big question was, “Where?” I know what you’re thinking—Savannah, Right? We never even considered it. We thought of Oregon, Washington and Idaho. But every time we followed through on a search, it was as if God closed our hearts to those places. Chris and I weren’t aligned in our motivations to move, although both were valid. I wanted to leave the increasingly contentious politics and threat of fire (we lived on twenty acres surrounded by trees). Chris wanted to move toward something—like an adventure—and find a new purpose in his life. One that would honor God.

“What about Tennessee?” I asked him one day.

“What about it?” He gave me the look. You know the one. It clearly communicates to you when your husband thinks you’ve got a screw loose.

“Remember when we visited Joanne and Paul?” Probably not. It had been eight years ago (even before Savannah.) “We loved it there.”

“All I remember are the fireflies. They were cool.”

I couldn’t get the idea of Tennessee out of my mind. Yes, Savannah was beautiful, but it seemed like a place to visit and dream, not to actually live. But Tennessee? That was a definite possibility. We flew out to visit our friends in Franklin on May 7, 2018. It was while we were there that I received an email from Sandra Barela of Celebrate Lit Publishing offering me my first book contract. Within an hour, Chris received a call from the Billy Graham group approving his application to be a volunteer chaplain. Coincidence? I think not. I took it as confirmation that we were on a path blessed by God.

We returned to California on May 14th and told our realtor we were going to put our house on the market. Before we could even get it listed, it sold for the asking price. Two months later, we moved with everything we owned to a house I’d never seen except for Internet pictures and Facetime with our friends who lived there. Everything fell into place as if it had been set up before we even made the decision.

We’ve been in our new home for more than two years, and I have to say, this is another example of a Spirit-led (not a wife-led) move. I can’t tell you what will happen in the next few years, let alone the next month, but I know God knows, and that’s enough. It’s opened our eyes to a different life, one filled with abundant blessings, joy and opportunities to serve. It’s been quite a ride.

The setting for my Apple Hill Series takes place in Northern California—Placerville, to be exact. It’s what I knew and loved about the area. Surrendered (Book 1) and Illusions (Book 2) were released in 2019 and 2020 respectively. The Christmas novella, All That Glitters, will be released on November 10th with Providence (Book 3) being released April 2021.

I loved writing those novels, but I’ve enjoyed even more working on the next series, which takes place right here in Tennessee. It challenges me to write with a whole different tone. It’s required me to pay close attention to the nuances of the language and gain appreciation for the slow drawl and idioms that communicate as much as the words. Southern hospitality is a living, breathing thing. This California girl has had to take things down a notch or two in order to truly appreciate life in this part of the country. I hope and pray my writing will reflect that.