Hi everyone! I’m honored and delighted to welcome Bethany Turner, author of The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck, to Made to Create. I met Bethany at a writer’s conference in 2017. When I heard what her book was about and the passion she feels for writing stories around tough issues, I was deeply inspired. Not only is she passionate, talented, and likable, she loves cookies about as much as I do. 🙂
Hi Bethany, welcome to Made to Create. First, let’s give readers a glimpse into your life.
What does a day in your writing life look like?
A day in my writing life usually looks like a three-ring circus inside a tsunami inside a hurricane! I work full-time on staff of a growing and very busy church. I’m married to a man who is every bit as busy I am, and we have two sons—one in high school, one in middle school. All too often, I will go days (or even weeks…yikes!) without writing a word. So when I actually get to spend some time writing, that time usually consists of me not moving from my chair—door shut, headphones on, coffee in ready supply—for hours and hours at a time.
What do you do to recharge creatively?
When I just need a small recharge, to get past a minor brain block, nothing works better than a hot shower, for as long as it takes to break through. For some reason, God talks to me in the shower. (Or more accurately, I seem to listen in the shower.) But if I’m really depleted and need to recharge on a bigger level, I rearrange my writing space. I just moved all of my furniture yesterday, actually! Something about literally facing a different direction and staring at a different view seems to change my writing outlook as well.
What inspired you to start writing The Secret Life?
It started with a conversation that my friend and I were having about Fifty Shades of Grey—not the book itself, but the fact that the book had taken over the world a bit. Everyone had an opinion about it, and not always the one you would expect them to have. It created this cultural shift, even among Christians. Some Christians were convinced the book and its author were evil, but others read the book and loved it, and weren’t ashamed to say so. And with so many people having so strong an opinion, I commented to my friend, “What do you think would happen if she (the author) suddenly announced that she had become a Christ-follower?” Would we—a collective “we” as Christians—accept her? Would we believe her? Would we judge her for her past? Would we believe she was capable of putting hope and light into the world? That became the inspiration for Sarah Hollenbeck’s story.
How has writing The Secret Life shown you more of who God is?
Wow! I love that question. As I wrote this book, and I looked at the world through Sarah Hollenbeck’s eyes, I realized how much of the wonder of God I take for granted. Sarah is in her mid-thirties when she becomes a Christ-follower—mature enough to have lived a lot of life without God, but young enough to focus more on what’s ahead than maybe on the time in the past that’s been lived without God. And while she certainly struggles with her past, and wrestles with past sin and past choices (and the present and future consequences of those choices), there is something very hopeful and almost childlike about her faith. She’s lived long enough without God to appreciate what a gift it is to be moving forward with Him. I think that many of us, like myself, who have just always believed, and can’t really remember our lives before salvation, are missing that hopeful, childlike faith. Looking at God through Sarah’s eyes has helped give me a little bit more of that.
What’s been the hardest thing about writing a story that deals with sexual purity?
You know, at first the most difficult thing was grappling with the misconceptions of some readers. Or, actually, I shouldn’t even call them misconceptions. In most cases, it comes down to their hearts and minds seeing it differently than I do. And that is fine, of course. Every reader is entitled to their own opinion, and I certainly have always known that this story would not be for everyone. The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck does speak frankly about sex, through the eyes of a grown woman who has recently become a Christ-follower, and who is looking at sex through the filter of purity and a desire to honor the Lord, for the very first time in her life. And a very few select readers have been very confrontational with me, and have basically implied that I am trying to ruin Christian fiction. It’s actually been stated that I am obsessed with sex! Now those comments make me laugh. But at first, I was hurt by them. And then I turned a corner when someone stated online that books like mine should not be acceptable in the world, because we are to be “pure unto the Lord.” I wasn’t hurt by that, or angry…I was just fired up. Because being “pure unto the Lord” is very much the point! Sarah Hollenbeck is striving with all her might to maintain purity—a renewed purity after her salvation—but that doesn’t mean that her past and the very core of who she is will change overnight. We do such a disservice to both nonbelievers and new believers when we pretend that you pray a prayer of salvation and then everything becomes easy and simple. When we pretend that temptation goes away. And we certainly do a disservice if we act like it’s not okay to acknowledge and talk about our flaws and our struggles. Jesus did not die for perfect people, after all. So all of that has been the hardest thing, but it has also helped fuel my passion to address issues that we need to be talking about.
Who is your hero in the writing world?
Though we write in such starkly different genres and styles (and at such starkly different levels of success!), I probably have to say J. K. Rowling. Personally, I love Harry Potter. But even if I didn’t, as a writer, I would be in awe of her skill. She created characters and a world that would be nothing without fantasy, and yet she made it all so real. She even created an entire vocabulary of made-up words which I could competently use in a sentence, as if they were from the dictionary. And her character development? The way she realistically aged Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the rest of them right before our eyes—and held true to their development through every word they said and action they took, through childhood, into adulthood? I mean, c’mon! Don’t get me started. I will geek out over J. K. Rowling’s talent all day every day if you let me.
What can readers expect next from you? This includes me, of course. 😀
I’m working on another Contemporary Romantic Comedy. I hope to release some official news about this book very soon, but for now I’ll just say that it’s the story of Cadie and Will—and it very much addresses some issues that we need to be talking about! It will tackle a very tough subject while wrapped in a package of grace and humor, and swoon-worthy moments!
Bethany Turner is the director of administration for Rock Springs Church in Southwest Colorado. A former VP/operations manager of a commercial bank and a three-time cancer survivor (all before she turned thirty-five), Bethany knows that when God has plans for your life, it doesn’t matter what anyone else has to say. Because of that, she’s chosen to follow his call to write. She lives with her husband and their two sons in Colorado, where she writes for a new generation of readers who crave fiction that tackles the thorny issues of life with humor and insight. For more, visit facebook.com/SeeBethanyWrite and www.seebethanywrite.com.