I’m thrilled to have author Jennifer Lynn Cary here with me today. Her latest book, Relentless Heart, just released a little over a week ago and Jennifer agreed to talk to us about herself and a little about her book.
Jennifer, thank you for joining me today!
What do you do when you are not writing?
What do I do when I’m not writing? I didn’t know I could stop! Ha! No, only my family thinks that way. I do spend an awful lot of time on my laptop. But I also love to crochet and enjoy making prayer shawls, baby blankets and baby caps. Those are my specialties.
What is your favorite Bible verse?
My favorite verse, my life verse, is Isaiah 41:13 I feel his hand clasping mine when I recall it and I know I am not alone. The cool thing is, if you read Isaiah 41:10 along with it, you will see that it is God’s right hand and your right hand together. The images that calls up are precious.
Which person (living or dead) would you most want to be able to interview? What is one question you would ask them?
If I could interview someone (living or dead), I’d have to cheat and make it two someones—ha! The reason is, I keep thinking about my great, great, great grandfather Davy Crockett and his great, great, great grandfather Antoine, the first Crockett of the and how different their lives were (the distance from me to Davy is 5 generations and from Davy to Antoine another 5 generations). I think it would be a blast to have them sit and discuss their lives with each other—the second in command of the palace guards at Versailles and the young frontiersman who had to teach himself to read and write as an adult. Both left the land where they were born on principle. One was polished, one a little rough around the edges. And then there’s me in the twenty-first century. What would they think of everything that has happened since their time? And would the thread of faith that I believe with all my heart was passed down to me from them be true? I’d love to think it is and that they would be happy to have our family’s stories told. Even if a lot is from my imagination.
What is the most fun thing you did in the name of researching one of your books?
You might not believe it (it’s the stuff novels are made of), but the most fun thing I ever did in the name of research was travel to Ireland. I stood in the ruins of where my great, great, great grandfather’s great, great grandparents were married—that’s 9 generations back for me. The place is called Rath Mullin and you can read about this in The Sojourners. While there I met a very distant cousin, Robert Crockett, who at age 85 drove himself to the folk park were we were introduced (it was set up as a surprise), walked the grounds with me, recited poetry he’d written and then complained that he couldn’t do what he used to do. When I listed all he’d done with me and questioned what it was he could no longer do, he looked shocked and replied, “manual labor!” I also was on the radio discussing my research and had a newspaper article interview. None of it was planned by me. A librarian I’d corresponded with arranged it all and only filled me in right before each event. It was a blast and I’d love to go back.
That sounds amazing! What would be the biggest compliment a reader could offer about one of your stories?
I had one person, not a friend or relation, tell me my story drew them closer to God. I can’t imagine a greater compliment than that. Made me cry.
Is there a particular theme that tends to come out in your writing more than others?
Looking back at my stories, I have to say that the theme of trusting in God always manages to crop up. Even when it isn’t the planned theme, it always seems to make an appearance, most likely for my own sake. It’s a lesson I think I have under control and then I get out of bed and a new day starts. Please tell me I’m not alone in this.
I would love to know more about your inspiration for Relentless Heart. Please tell us what inspired it.
I love telling how God inspired this book. You see I’d retired from teaching and knew I finally had time to write. But I had no ideas. I did have a new grandbaby and several times a week I drove to my daughter’s to babysit. I did that for about six months and then my hubs and I were watching Ken Burns’ documentary on the war in VietNam in January of 2018. It brought back a lot of memories and suddenly I was watching with mature eyes things I’d tried to understand when I was twelve, thirteen, etc. It hit me extremely hard and I found myself thinking and dreaming of it. Well, one morning after watching I was driving to my daughter’s and started praying again for an idea for a story. And it was as if I heard God tell me I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. To think of things I already knew and find a new twist. Well, I’d been reading that morning in the book of Ruth and the documentary was on my mind and suddenly I wondered what Ruth’s story would’ve been like had she been in 1968 Saigon. The more I thought the more excited I got. The whole idea came together so well, and I can only praise God for that.
Will you tell us about the main characters?
I want to tell you a little about my just released historical, Relentless Heart. It is the story of a young photojournalist/translator named Hien (“Hee-ing”—not exactly 2 syllables, kind of slurred like in music). The year is 1968 and she’s just gotten married on New Year’s day. Only In Viet Nam, they don’t celebrate on January first. Instead they call the celebration Tet and it happens a few weeks into the month. That year was the year of the Tet offensive and in Hien’s story, it nearly destroyed her. But she relentlessly hangs on, and you will have to read to see what happens.
What type of research did you do for this story?
I had four major sources I used to research Relentless Heart, though there were a lot of other references and memories poured into this. Of course, there was Ken Burns’ documentary. That got things started. Then my uncle who had served there loaned me a book, Mark Bowden’s Hue 1968 (he’s the author of Black Hawk Down). He’d interviewed many of the same people Ken Burns had. Then I found a masters thesis on line that was written by one of the MSGs who helped secure the embassy in Saigon during the Tet offensive attack. That went into such detail of the moment by moment event and explained why and how things happened. Finally, I used a couple devotional Bible Studies I found on the book of Ruth. I wanted to make Hien as true to Ruth’s character as possible. I have to say, the story still brings tears in places as I read it and Hien will always have a special place in my heart because she’s so real to me.
What in particular do you hope your readers will take away from Relentless Heart?
I hope readers will come away with hope that no matter how bleak it gets, God’s light can still shine. As Ted Dekker once told me, “the darker the dark, the brighter light shines.” God never leaves us, He never forsakes us, and He will never let go of your hand.
Please describe the setting. What prompted you to choose the Vietnam Era and Iowa for your setting?
This book has two distinct settings and is divided into two parts. Because it is inspired by the book of Ruth, I knew I’d need that many and the first one had to be Saigon as that was part of the inspiration. But that second part, I had to think about that. About two seconds. I’m a transplanted Hoosier. You can take the girl out of Indiana, but you can’t take the Hoosier out of the girl. Bethlehem, in the original story, was Ruth and Naomi’s destination. Bethlehem means House of Bread. Bread. Growing fields of grain. Corn is a grain. Wheat is a grain. Indiana had lots of cornfields. And other types, too. Anyway, if you check the names, you’ll see “Wheaten” and “Breadville” tucked in there as salutes to Bethlehem. But then I put my imaginary Hoosier small town in the middle of a real corn field on an Indiana map, not too far from where I grew up so I could blend my memories into the story. I kept checking with high school friends and cousins to ask for details when my recall failed me, but I think I got it pretty close. And I can always fall back on the fact, I write fiction. Right?
What are you working on now?
I just finished the first draft of a split time novel I’m titling The Traveling Prayer Shawl and by the time you read this I should be up to my eyeballs in editing. Ha! I had this idea because I’m part of a group of croc/knitters who started out making prayer shawls and branched out to cancer caps; baby caps, blankets, and booties, lap robes for the VA, knitted knockers for mastectomy patients and I’m sure I’m missing something. But these ladies are so wonderful, and I wanted to celebrate them. The story took on a life of its own, nothing like my original plan, but I’m excited. It centers around two cousins and their grandmother’s legacy. I promise you will hear more—I’ve got at least three (maybe four) more books coming in between!
Thank you for sharing with us, Jennifer!
Readers, here is more information about Relentless Heart. My review is here.
Series: Relentless #1
Published by Tandem Services Press
Publication Date July 20, 2020
Genres: Historical Fiction, Christian Fiction, Clean Romance
Setting: Vietnam, Indiana Vietnam Era - US - 1961 - 1975
Main Character Ages: 18-24, 25-34
Written for: Adults
Her future looked desperate…
…but she had a relentless spirit.
Could she learn to love again?
Vietnamese Photojournalist Hien begins 1968 with great promise—a new husband, new family, and a pending move from Saigon to a new place, Indiana. With the Tet celebrations, plus a truce for the holiday, everything points to wonderful.
It wouldn’t last.
When her world explodes, she has a choice to make.
Will it be enough to save her family?
Indiana farmer Beau Salem helps everyone in need. But after lonely years of caring for his family and community, Hien brings old buried wounds to the surface.
Can he release his hidden pain?
What will it cost?
Set against the turbulent Vietnam era, you’ll love this passionate retelling, inspired by the book of Ruth, where two worlds collide, because this gripping tale won’t let you go.
I would like to thank Jennifer Lynn Cary for giving me a copy of this book. This gift did not influence my opinion or review.