Focus on Fiction is pleased to feature
Denise began her first novel in 1996, writing while her children napped. Two years later, that story was published, and she's been writing ever since. She is the author of best-selling stories Aloha, Blind Dates, and the recently released Kansas Brides, as well as Mending Places, book one in her New Heights series. Denise lives in Indiana with her husband Kevin and their three sons, Justin, Chad, and Trevor.
Focus: Denise, you've written a number of novellas and full-length novels. How many stories in total have you had published in the Christian market?
Denise Hunter: Six novels and three novellas.
Focus: In March, besides celebrating your fifteenth wedding anniversary, you also had two books released! Can you give our readers a brief synopsis of Kansas Brides and Mending Places?
Denise Hunter: Kansas Brides is a compilation of my four historical romances published by Heartsong Presents. All four stories take place in the fictional town of Cedar Springs, Kansas and feature heroines that fall in love--either before their marriage or after.
Mending Places is a contemporary women's fiction story set in Jackson, Wyoming. It's about a wounded woman who comes face to face with the source of her pain and learns in the process that God can heal all wounds. It's a story about forgiving the unforgivable.
Readers can view a sample chapter of Mending Places by clicking here.
Focus: Author Primo Levi, when asked about one of his stories, said, "I had written those pages without a specific recipient in mind." Would you say this was true of you as you wrote your book, Mending Places? Or were there particular groups of people you hoped to encourage?
Denise Hunter: I definitely had a particular recipient in mind with Mending Places. I envisioned a woman who has been wounded by one of life's many injustices-abuse, betrayal, or some other hurt. Not only does she have to deal with the pain of what happened to her, but she also has the terrible burden of anger/hate/bitterness toward the person responsible for her pain.
I hope Mending Places will help women like this shed that burden of unforgiveness and find true healing.
Focus: What do you feel is the greatest message with which God has entrusted you, and why have you chosen fiction as the medium for that message?
Denise Hunter: We live in a culture that's anti-Jesus. We're surrounded by people, radio, TV, magazines, and books that tell us there is no God or that there are many ways to God. I want to write books that show how someone can relate personally to God and that God can be an integral part in our lives. I hope seekers and new believers can read my books and see how Christians think and behave through the characters. When they make mistakes, what are the consequences, and what do they do about it?
I suppose I chose fiction as the medium of that message because I'm passionate about novels, and I'm particularly passionate about Christian novels. Years ago I was addicted to secular romance novels. I'm ashamed to say it's one of the few things I've ever fought God about. For a few years I poured things into my mind that were displeasing to God. I tried a few Christian novels, but they weren't the kind of stories that interested me. By the time I finally gave up the fight, there were more Christian books on the market, and I began to find authors I liked. Even to this day, I won't pick up a secular romance for fear of the pull it might have on me. And when I started writing, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to write novels that edified and encouraged.
Focus: Hannah Landin and Micah Gallagher, your lead characters in Mending Places, face an excruciating test of forgiveness in the story. How difficult were these scenes to write?
Denise Hunter: They were not easy. I struggled for days over the crucial forgiveness scenes, wanting to do justice to the hurt that was caused. I didn't want to gloss over the difficulty or tiptoe around the hard parts. (She knew she had to forgive. She was a Christian, and that's what Christians did. "All right, I forgive you," she said.) I'm sorry, but it's just not that easy. I tried to face the issues head-on, the way you have to in life if you want to find healing.
Focus: Your took on a number of tough, real-life issues in Mending Places- things like divorce, Alzheimer's, rape, child abuse, and adultery- and you crafted a beautiful story that offers hope and healing to each. Were there ever times, as you wrote the book, when you felt inadequate to convey the answers needed for these difficult topics?
Denise Hunter: All the time, from before I wrote a word to after the first draft was finished! I wrestled with this story in my mind for a full year before I wrote a word. I was afraid the story idea was so controversial it would never find its way between the covers of a book. I asked a well-known CBA author if I should bother writing it, and she advised me not to because, same as I, she felt it was too edgy for the Christian market. However, God would not let me forget this story, and I finally sat down to write it.
This was truly a story that made me lean on God. Each day I remember sitting in front of the computer, feeling totally inadequate and thinking, "Ok, God, you're going to have to do this because I can't. I just can't."
Focus: What response do you hope to stir in the readers of your stories?
Denise Hunter: I want readers to be able to connect emotionally with the characters and their problems. They may not have the exact same problem as the characters, but they've likely struggled with the same emotions. I hope readers find some nugget of truth they can grasp and hold onto in their walk of faith.
Focus: Saving Grace, the second book in your New Heights series, will be released in March 2005. Would you mind giving our readers a sneak peek of what to expect?
Denise Hunter: The New Heights series follows the stories of three sisters, Hanna, Natalie, and Paula. Saving Grace (Book Two) picks up Natalie's story from where it left off in Mending Places. She works at a Crisis Pregnancy Center and is faced with an astoundingly difficult decision. It's a story about putting feet to your faith.
Focus: You dreamed of writing a novel for many years, but it was a traumatic event that finally motivated you to pursue your dream. Can you tell us what happened?
Denise Hunter: I have been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. When other kids were sneaking notes back and forth in study hall, I had my head burried in a novel (and often still do, just ask my husband). When I was in my early twenties, I started wondering if I could write a book. By then two of my children had come along, and I kept putting it off. Then my grandfather ended up in the hospital, and we were told he was going to pass away in a matter of days. I remember watching him struggle to breathe and thinking about everything he'd done for the cause of Christ. His life had counted for something. What had I done? All the way home--a three hour drive, I thought of my dream of writing a book and wondered if that was a way God could use me. I knew it was difficult to get published. I didn't even know if I had any talent for writing, but I knew I had to try. It was decided before I got home that day.
Focus: Once you began writing in earnest, how long was it until you held your first book in published form?
Denise Hunter: Too long! Sometimes I think God stuck me in the middle of this writing business to develop my patience because everything happens at such a slow pace. From the time I started writing my first novel to the time I held it in my hands was almost three years. But I realize I was fortunate to get my first novel published at all.
Focus: There is a man in your life who claims to be the inspiration for all the romantic material in your stories. Would you tell us about him?
Denise Hunter: Gladly! My husband is an amazing man: A romantic husband, a playful dad, a crazy cut-up, a gifted leader, a man of integrity and faith. I could use him as a hero in one of my books, but no one would believe he was real! He is my opposite in so many ways, and yet together we are complete (Thank You, God!) One thing he is not, though, is a reader. (Just so you know he's not perfect) I cannot ask him for advice on plots or bounce story ideas off him. Once I tried to, and he just stared at me with this horrified expression and said, "You are sick! I can't believe you have these thoughts!" So now I just plot with my writer friends who understand I must make horrible things happen to my characters and let my husband think I'm sweet and innocent with nary an ugly thought in my mind.
Focus: Many writers are also avid readers. Do you have any favorite authors? Could you name a few of them?
Denise Hunter: Yes, yes, yes! There is nothing like knowing you have a brand new book by one your favorite authors just waiting to be cracked open. For women's fiction, I favor Kristen Heitzmann and Karen Kingsbury. For romantic suspense I turn to Dee Henderson and Colleen Coble. When I need a laugh, it's Kristin Billerbeck.
Focus: Besides posting comments on your website, how can your readers and fans support you?
Denise Hunter: Hearing from readers is always a treat. The best thing readers can do for me if they like my books is tell their friends about them. Word of mouth really counts when it comes to book purchases (second only to name-recognition). One of the misconceptions readers have is that an author, once published, will continue to publish books until they choose to stop writing. But publishers can't afford to publish an author whose books don't sell well, so support your favorite authors and tell all your friends about them!
Focus: Is there anything else you would like your readers to know?
Denise Hunter: I want my readers to know how much I appreciate them. I realize they spend their hard-earned money for my books, and I'll always strive to make the stories I write worth every penny.