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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Spotlight on Sally John and A Time to Gather


SALLY JOHN is the author of twelve novels, including the three popular series: The Other Way Home, In a Heartbeat, and The Beach House. Her stories run the gamut from small-town dynamics to Chicago emergency personnel to Pacific beach epiphanies. Initially inspired to write after penning a computer software manual, Sally has also published nonfiction articles, and she speaks at workshops and conferences about writing and family issues. Three-time finalist for The Christy Award, former teacher, and Illinois native, she lives in Southern California with her husband Tim (married 1973). Writing fiction takes a backseat only to her cherished roles of wife, mom, mom-in-law, and grandma. She is the vice president of The Sedona Group, a nationwide staffing firm. Children: daughter, son, daughter-in-law, two granddaughters.

by Sally John
Published by Thomas Nelson


Never before has a family so desperately needed to gather..." While Max and Claire Beaumont blissfully plan their re-wedding event, the lives of son Erik and daughter Lexi begin to fall apart. Two strangers step into the midst of the family drama, both offering unseen healing paths. Will the Beaumonts embrace or reject the gifts they bring? "A Time to Gather" is the second novel in the Safe Harbor series. Drawing on the insights of best-selling marriage expert Gary Smalley, the series explores the joys and struggles of marriage, family and faith.

Buy Your Copy of A Time to Gather Today!


1. What gave you the inspiration for this story?

It began several years ago with the idea for the Safe Harbors series when I simply strung together three random thoughts: 1) A retreat center. (I was intrigued with it because my son and daughter-in-law worked at one at that time.) 2) Southern California. (Always a favorite locale of mine.) 3.) Family relationships. (Writing about them is my passion.) This all translated into a story about a family who owns a retreat center in a fictitious San Diego County area. Not my most aha! of inspirational moments, but it worked. Gary Smalley liked the idea of exploring relationships and was a big help in aspects of relational dynamics in A TIME TO MEND, A TIME TO GATHER, and A TIME TO SURRENDER ('09).

2. How much of your own experiences influenced your characters? What aspects became traits that are theirs and theirs alone?

Not much of my own experience influenced these particular characters – Lexi and Erik – beyond the fact that I have adult children and a daughter-in-law who are 20-30somethings. What I wanted to do – and which I probably do much of the time in my fiction – was to examine how unhealed wounds manifest themselves in different ways in different people. Siblings Lexi and Erik were set up in MEND: Erik the hotshot tv news guy and quiet Lexi both had major unresolved issues with their dad. In GATHER we see their coping mechanisms in full swing.

My own experience in God]s healing of childhood wounds comes into play with Lexi and Erik as it does in many of my stories. I don't portray my real-life experiences, but I do incorporate what I've known of the hope, healing, and forgiveness that God offers.

Many readers ask me how I know their life's story. Of course I don't. I think it's the universality of some story situations that speak to them. We've all struggled in family relationships. In GATHER as in MEND we see parents who made mistakes in parenting (okay, who hasn't done that or been the recipient of that?) and adult children who have not forgiven their parents (been there too, right?). We also see problems within couples (touch a sore spot yet?)

Claire's heart through all three stories is another example of a common attribute we women who are wives and mothers have. Again, she doesn't experience my experiences except in the heart realm: we have similar hopes, pain, and prayers as wife and mom.

3. If one of your characters were an ice cream flavor, what he/she be and why?

LOL! I have no clue! Erik would be something luscious but not quite satisfying to the palate because he's awfully good looking and charming but without much interior substance (at first). Lexi's artistic eye points to colors, a rainbow of flavors, maybe sprinkles on top or perhaps sherbet instead of ice cream. Rosie's personality makes me think of an ice cream bar with a hard coat of chocolate on the outside and soft creamy tart fruit flavor on the inside, definitely not a bland vanilla. Tuyen would be a combination of flavors not usually combined because her background is most difficult to relate to.

4. What themes exist in A Time to Gather that you hope the reader sees? Are there any themes that weren't overt but developed as the story progressed?

I pull my themes from Scripture and note them on the first page. This one is Galatians 6:7: "A man reaps what he sows." I wanted to examine that truth as a reaping of good and bad. It's pure grace watching my Father enter into the natural process of my reaping. He extra blesses the healthy plants and turns around the sick ones for His glory and my benefit.

GATHER is all about gathering in what has been growing for a long time. Max, the dad, blames himself for his kids' bad choices; he wasn't there for them through the years as he should have been. Erik and Lexi both reach the end of their self-destructive ways which has led to physical, mental, and emotional breakdowns. Ben and Indio see the end of their son's MIA years when Tuyen arrives. For Claire, the mom, it's also a time of gathering her family into the safe harbor she's creating at the retreat center in hopes they can recover there.

5. What were your most difficult parts to write? Your favorite?

Both MEND and GATHER were written before my husband and I lost our house in the 2007 San Diego wildfires. Two months after that happened, it was time to edit GATHER. Hm. I rewrote the first chapter. This meant I had to get back into Lexi's head, a character who had experienced similar things as to what I had just lived through in a wildfire. Whew. That was a bit much.

If I wanted to write today what I wrote back then in MEND and GATHER about surviving a wildfire and losing material things, I don't think I could do it, not yet anyway. It was much easier to imagine the scene of driving through horrific winds and fire racing through a neighborhood than it was to actually live it in real life. I remember during the writing of MEND that I wanted to push Indio beyond her limits; she lost photographs and mementoes. My editor asked if that had to happen; I said yes. Today I probably wouldn't have the heart to do that to the poor Indio!

Tuyen's meeting of the Beaumonts was difficult and a favorite at the same time. It overwhelmed me. First of all was Tuyen growing up unloved, unwanted in Vietnam. Then there was Indio and Ben's situation of having a son as MIA for the past thirty-some years. How does one live with that? And now they meet his daughter, their granddaughter whom they had no idea existed until that moment and learn that their son is dead—well, there's so much emotion, so much pain. And then, in the middle of that pain comes the most exquisite picture of love and grace in Indio's response.

I had fun with Rosie and Erik's dialogues. Nathan totally took me by surprise. My most favorite scene was with Lexi when she finally receives God's love and healing at the moment she's ready to destroy one of her paintings. Technically the most difficult to write was when the bad guy attacks Lexi. Trying to get a picture of how that happened took some work; watching such a thing in a movie is one thing, to break it down into descriptive sentences is quite another.

6. When is your next book coming out and what is the story?

July 2009. A TIME TO SURRENDER. The story follows the other two Beaumont siblings, Danny and Jenna, who both are forced to surrender long-held attitudes about life and God. In GATHER, Jenna's husband went off to war. In SURRENDER she copes with his absence, rebelling against and eventually coming to terms with her role as military wife. Again, new characters enter the scene, slipping into the Beaumonts' safe harbor. Danny meets Skylar, a quirky young woman who challenges his faith and his love and finds both for herself.

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Thank you, Sally, for being in the spotlight with us.

Readers, leave a comment for your chance to win a FREE autographed copy of A Time to Gather.

If you wish to comment but don't want to be entered, say so when you post. Make sure you also leave your email address (name at domainname Wouldn't want you to miss out on winning a book. :)

And if you want to make certain you don't miss anything, check the box that says 'email follow-up comments to:' when you leave a comment and they'll be sent to the email address associated with your blogging account. That way you'll be notified of any comments and will know when I announce the winner.

This week, the contest is open to anyone worldwide.

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Carolynn said...

I would love to read this sounds great! Thanks for the chance to win!

windycindy said...

I go on a retreat at our Church Camp almost every fall with my mother-in-law. It is actually a mother-daughter event, but my mom is gone and my sister-in-law shows no interest. We have the best time with the friends we have met over the years! Please enter me in your book drawing. The storyline sounds great!
Many thanks.....Cindi

Deborah said...

please enter me! i have the first book and i would love to win the next one the series!

Grateful Gramma said...

Sounds interesting. Please enter my name in the drawing. Thanks!

Mocha with Linda said...

Sounds intriguing! I'd love to be in the drawing. Thanks.

Carole said...

I'm very familiar with Gary Smalley's excellent work, and would love to read this series. Thanks for a great giveaway!

cjarvis [at] bellsouth [dot] net

Pamela J said...

We all have sore spots we get punched once in awhile. I think it's great you deal with real life hurts and help them work through them.

I don't have A Time to Mend and wondered if these books need read in order. If I win this one, A Time To Gather, I'd like to know so I could get the first one first. Thanks.

Pam Williams
cepjwms at yahoo dot com

Martha A. said...

i just read the first book in this series last night and i was impressed by it! i would love to read the rest of the story!

Fr. Clifford Crowe said...

As an associate Priest at the church where Sally & Tim attend I have now read 4 of her lates books. Normally I am not a reader of fiction, especially if I think it is writen mainly for women. I throughly enjoyed & was impress with her writing that I found it hard to put each book down before I finished them. Sally, in person, is a very humble & contrite person,never putting herself on display. After reading her books I see so much more of the depth of her wisdom & charactor. I found her writing to to very annointed!

Barb Downey said...

I have read every one of Sally John's books and enjoyed them all! I love her descriptive detail and her engaging characters. Most importantly, the Christian message is clearly shown as the characters work through their problems/situations. Thank you, Sally, for sharing your gift with us. We are blessed.
Barb Downey

Tiffany Amber Stockton said...

We have a winner from this drawing and that is:


Congratulations! I've emailed you for your mailing information so we can send out your book.

Others, check out the interviews on Donn Taylor, Maureen Lang, Virginia Smith, Andrea Boeshaar, Sandra Bricker and Golden Keyes Parson to see if you've won.

As always, thanks to everyone for your continued support.