Focus on Fiction is pleased to feature
Denise is a Nashville author and an international speaker. She graduated from the School of Journalism at the University of South Carolina, and has been involved in numerous writing projects since then. Her writing credits include two delightful novels, Savannah from Savannah and Savannah Comes Undone, and a #1 hit single, written with her husband, recording artist Jonathan Pierce. When she’s not writing, Denise can be found enjoying early evening walks, reading, and drinking Coca-Cola
Focus: Denise, welcome! It’s a pleasure to have you with us. Prior to writing your breathtaking debut novel, Savannah from Savannah, you were a journalist and a successful songwriter. Can you tell us what motivated you to write fiction?
Denise Hildreth: Honestly, fiction simply crossed my mind one day as I sat out on my back porch drinking a coca-cola. I thought, “I know three things: Crazy people, beauty pageant winners, and the south. Why not combine all three of these and see what I can come up with?” So I did, and Savannah from Savannah was the end result.
Focus: Once you settled on novel writing as a career, you created a work of heartbreaking genius. A work that was profound and meaningful…yet we know you had another book rejected multiple times! Would you tell us about this book of your heart? Does it bear any resemblance to the plot line of Savannah’s abandoned novel in Savannah from Savannah?
Denise Hildreth: Well, I know those feelings Savannah felt when her dream wasn’t realized the way she thought it would be realized. I wrote a book that was more a Christian Living style. It was really reflective of my heart and where I saw myself as a writer. But after thirteen rejection letters, I quit counting. And I honestly would have quit writing had the idea for Savannah not come to me that day on the porch. I was really frustrated. I didn’t want my first, self-titled contribution to the publishing world to be about a rigged beauty pageant. I wanted substance. Life changing messages. I got how to tape your breasts better for swimwear competition. But you know, it turned out better than I could have dreamed. It was exactly the way life was supposed to be for me at that moment. And like Savannah, I realized loss isn’t always a bad thing.
Focus: Do you still hope to see this story published in the future, or do you feel it was just a good warm up exercise for the books you’re writing now?
Denise Hildreth: I believe it will be told eventually. I believe everything has its perfect time. And I know it is a message that is relevant to this generation. So, my fingers are crossed!
Focus: For those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading Savannah from Savannah, would you share a quick synopsis of the story?
Denise Hildreth: I’d love to! Savannah from Savannah is about a young 24-year-old girl named, well, Savannah. She has just graduated with her Masters degree and discovers she has won a prolific fiction contest, only to come to the conclusion that her mother rigged the entire thing. So, she refuses to accept the prize and moves back to Savannah her hometown, (hence the title of the book), to prove to her mother she can get her own career, thank you very much.
When she becomes the local human interest writer for the Savannah Chronicle, a story of a rigged beauty pageant falls into her lap. A rigged beauty pageant that her extremely southern and involved mother is a former queen of. On top of that, the love of her life has found a new love, she is forced to become friends with the reigning Miss Savannah United States of America, and let’s just say the fella that works across the cubicle aisle at the paper is rather easy on the eyes.
But in the end, it is a lesson on life and loss and all the things that happen in between.
Focus: Savannah from Savannah is, without a doubt, the best first-person fiction story I’ve read this year. But I’ve got one huge question, and we’re all friends here, so you can tell the truth. Savannah’s real, isn’t she? A cooler-than-cool person you followed around with a tape recorder for a few months?
Denise Hildreth: Of course she’s real! She’s your best friend. Or she’s you on a good day, or a bad day. And she’s a little of what you wish you were on any given day. And she’s parts of me and every young, discovering woman I know.
Focus: At least one of the characters you mention in your story is real, and that’s Savannah’s favorite Recording artist, Jonathan Pierce. Can you tell us why you think Savannah’s got good taste in musicians?
Denise Hildreth: Let’s just say there are a few things I put in there for me alone. That is one of them. The man is just too cute! My editor actually edited him out until she found out he was my husband. Then she added him back in a couple times.
Focus: I’m sure all our readers, especially the single men, are mourning the fact that they won’t meet Savannah on a jogging path in Georgia. But some readers will get the chance to meet you in the coming months. Can you give us some details about your upcoming Pink Slipper Tour?
Denise Hildreth: Yes! These are going to be great evenings with me, Colleen Coble--another West Bow writer who has written for thirty years and writes mystery/romance novels--as well as Neicy Allen formerly of Annointed. It will be a night of good books, good music and good fellowship. And everyone is encouraged to come in their slippers!
We are still working out the details as far as dates and locations. As of right now, it looks like we will be hitting Nashville, Indianapolis, possibly Louisville and Chattanooga towards the end of September. And a few of those cities could change.
More information can be found on Colleen’s website, www.colleencoble.com and mine, www.denisehildreth.com, however, because I am technologically challenged, I just got e-mail a year ago, and my website won’t be up until the first of August.
Focus: While you’re on the Pink Slipper Tour, you’ll also be promoting Savannah Comes Undone, the second book in your fabulous Savannah series, which releases in early August. Can you give our readers a sneak peek into Savannah’s continuing adventures?
Denise Hildreth: Undone actually picks up exactly where Savannah leaves off, which I think is fun for the reader. And, as always, Savannah’s mother is in the middle of everything, literally. Victoria Phillips is chained to a monument, sitting in the middle of the sidewalk in front of the Court House. And there she resides the entire novel. Savannah is mortified, but knows this will all make a great story and on top of everything, the President is coming to Savannah. It makes for perfect mayhem.
Focus: In both your novels, Savannah’s dry wit, crazy escapades, and manic devotion to Coca-Cola present readers with a bona fide laughter-asphyxia hazard. But there are some deep messages in these stories as well. What do you think is the most important thing Savannah learns in book one?
Denise Hildreth: I think the real lesson in book one is that life doesn’t always follow our plan. That loss happens. People die, dreams die, plans die. But good can still be found when your heart is set on the Giver and not His gift.
Call me crazy, but when I was little girl I dreamed of becoming Miss America. (Hey, don’t laugh, at least I’m willing to admit it. The first step to recovery!) But, if you haven’t realized it by now, I didn’t win. Never even got to the party.
A couple weeks ago I was riding in the car and I was thinking, “You know, if I had won Miss America, I would have never written this book. But if I hadn’t been a part of the pageant and lost, I would have never had these fabulous stories to tell.”
And my husband, Jonathan, continues to remind me that if I had won I would have never met him either.
So, life has taught me that loss isn’t always a bad thing. If I hadn’t gotten thirteen rejection letters, on my last book, I would have never written Savannah, of that I am certain. I wanted Savannah to give people hope. Because when life doesn’t happen the way you think it will, that means God has an even better plan.
Focus: How has writing these stories changed you as a person?
Denise Hildreth: Savannah has helped me lighten up. People always tell me I’m an old soul. Acted forty when I was fifteen. Savannah just makes me smile. She lets me say all the things my mother would freak out over if I said in public.
The opportunity to write something so light yet still containing impact has just been such a blessing in my life. I told someone the other day how blessed I am to do the two things I love so much: Go to a women’s conference and teach the Word, and then sit down and write about women taping their breasts! It doesn’t get any better than that. Grin!
Focus: You’ve said that you wrote Savannah from Savannah during one of the darkest times of your life. Your husband, Jonathan, has also mentioned the storms you two have experienced. Some of our readers may be going through difficult times of their own right now, either personally, or in their marriages. What advice would you give couples trying to stay in love through the dark storms of life?
Denise Hildreth: You know, when Jonathan and I finally faced the elephants in the room, I knew a few things. I knew first that this was the man God made for me. And if I hadn’t thought it before I married him, it became true the day I married him. God had also spoken a promise in my heart that I was not to give up on the brink of my miracle. That miracle for me was a whole marriage. I held onto that hope. Even when everything was telling me our marriage wouldn’t last, I knew it would.
I also made the decision that in light of eternity, the situation in my marriage was a temporal issue. So, I surrounded myself with people that spoke life. And closed out every voice that would try to speak death over my home. And then I held on for the roller coaster ride. And a roller coaster ride it was. But do you know what? Today, a little over two years after we renewed our marriage vows, I have a beautiful marriage. A marriage I fought nine years to have.
So my words to those feeling lost or hopeless, or just plain tired…hold on. God isn’t out of touch with your situation. He is faithful to perfect all that concerns you. And you are not to throw away your confidence because it will be richly rewarded. If you persevere in doing the will of God then you will receive all that He has promised.
Focus: In your stories, Savannah demonstrates that a sense of humor is also crucial during tough times. If we asked Savannah’s mother, Victoria, she might add that a good interior designer can be helpful as well. How has interior design been a part of your life? Do you have a favorite room in your home?
Denise Hildreth: My husband has more talent in his right eye, than I have in my whole body. He is as gifted an interior designer as he is a singer. And that’s saying something!
He worked with an interior designer for years and whenever he’d get home from singing with the Imperials, he’d go into the design firm and work during the week. He’s kept clients all throughout the years, so about five years ago when he wanted to stop touring for a while, he started designing full time.
Today he has fourteen clients, a wonderful design firm and a brand new job in San Francisco, plus he’s pitching a new album.
The pain in this, though, is that a designer’s house is always last. Two weeks ago, we finally got a new sofa for our family room--to complete the look--and two days later my husband sold it to a client. Is anything sacred??!
But we do have a beautiful home and he has always designed beautiful office spaces for me, where I can actually create. My latest one has drapes!!! The first time in five homes, in ten years. So he’s done exceptionally well this time.
Focus: When you’re not writing #1 hit songs and breakout novels, traveling, speaking, or enjoying time with your husband, you’ve got two smaller friends that keep you smiling. Can you tell us about Maggie and Chloe?
Denise Hildreth: Maggie arrived in a little red bag as my first married Valentine. She’s a Shih-Tzu (don’t say that in anger!) and grew to be a whopper! She weighs twenty pounds and is an ornery critter. But she has been through everything with me. She has let me cry in her fur, she has traveled to concerts and been moved around to five houses and two apartments. And has just had a severe attack of kidney stones and still thinks she should sleep in my bed.
Chloe is a Shih-Tzu as well, and she arrived a little over six years ago. We’ve never been certain her elevator reaches the top floor but we love her anyway. She used to be our little lap dog. Then she started having seizures back in December, and her weight jumped from seven pounds to thirteen. She is a lap dog no more!
But they both have been such troopers and will still get attention until we have children. Then the party is over!
Focus: Besides posting raving reviews of your books on Amazon and Christianbook, how can your readers and fans encourage you?
Denise Hildreth: Nothing speaks louder to me then when someone other than my mother actually buys my books. That still amazes me to this day. I am so grateful and humbled that God allows me to do something people can enjoy. So, just know that anytime you see a copy of Savannah in your bookcase you have spoken the loudest compliment to me. And as always, your prayers are a treasure. That is the only thing that has gotten me this far.