Focus on Fiction is pleased to feature
Roxanne has a degree in behavioral and social science from the University of Mary and for many years was a newspaper columnist. She has written and recorded radio commercials, written and performed in a comedy duo, and has penned four acclaimed books: After Anne, Finding Ruth, Becoming Olivia, and Always Jan. When she’s not writing or speaking, Roxanne enjoys spending time with her husband, Lorren, their two adult daughters, Rachael and Tegan, and their dog, Gunner.
Focus: Welcome, Roxanne. We’re glad to have you with us! People have described your fiction as “heart-deep, and character-driven.” Do you feel the pain of the characters in your stories as deeply as they do? Are your books emotionally wrenching to write?
Roxanne Henke: First of all, thank you for inviting me to chat with your readers! People who love good books are my favorite kind of folks. ; ) And, please, call me “Roxy”…all my friends do.
You asked if I feel the pain of my characters as I write my stories. The answer to that is not a simple “yes” or “no.” All of my stories have a core of truth to them…which means at some point I have lived through the pain I write about in my books. I’ve learned that God doesn’t waste anything, so the actual writing process helps me make sense of some of the life experiences I’ve had, and allows me to share what I’ve learned with others. Somehow, that makes the journey worth it.
Focus: Your first book, After Anne, describes the friendship between Olivia Marsden and Anne Abbot and how that friendship is affected when one of them develops breast cancer. Did you have any idea that the story, inspired by the life of your friend, Lori, would have such an impact on readers? What has been the most touching reader feedback you have received about this book?
Roxanne Henke: During the year it took me to write After Anne, I had no idea if anyone would ever read those words. After the book was written, it took me two more years to find a publisher, years when I doubted God’s plan for that story. Now I know He had a much grander dream than my dream of simply writing a story about friendship. The letters I have received from readers have been incredible. They are my reward for long hours at my computer and the YEARS I spent wondering what God wanted me to do with my desire to write.
Perhaps the most gratifying responses have been from cancer survivors who have told me that reading After Anne allowed them to process emotions they’d stuffed away during their illness and in reading that story they somehow (emotionally) healed. I’ve heard from mothers who have lost children to cancer and this story has somehow helped ease their pain. I’ve heard that many Hospice organizations use this book with their clients. And also from estranged friends who were led to make amends after reading After Anne. All this is totally amazing to me! Obviously, God dreams MUCH bigger than I do!
Focus: You donated a portion of the proceeds of After Anne to support breast cancer research. Have you done something similar with your other books, which also deal with life-changing issues?
Roxanne Henke: Growing up as the daughter of a banker, I was taught not to talk about money…other peoples’…or mine. Let’s just say that I give a good portion of any money I make from book royalties and my speaking engagements to support worthy causes.
Focus: The ending of After Anne is surprising, because it’s so unexpected. Without giving away the ending, can you explain why you chose that twist? Was there an underlying message you wanted readers to understand?
Roxanne Henke: Okay, how to explain this without giving anything away? Hmmm… The truth is, the ending of that book surprised even me. I was sitting at my computer, typing away, when all of a sudden I realized what was going to happen. I actually stopped typing and said, “No!”
But the more I thought about it, I realized that even when we think we know how things will turn out, we often don’t. We need to always be ready for whatever God has planned.
Focus: In Finding Ruth, the next book in your Coming Home to Brewster series, Ruthie has big dreams that never found their wings and a tarnished Statue of Liberty figurine that taunts her with its promise of great, unseen places. Were you ever Ruthie Hammond? Feeling stuck in a small town while longing for adventure and a chance to see the world?
Roxanne Henke: Oh my, yes! Except for a few years away at college, I have lived my entire life in my same, small town in rural North Dakota. How would I EVER get a book published from here? I didn’t know any editors. I didn’t know any agents. I didn’t even know any other writers!! If my dream of writing was ever going to come true it was going to take a miracle…at least that’s how it seemed to me. I wrote in some form or another for thirty years before my first book was published. While Ruthie Hammond’s story isn’t mine, her struggle to find contentment is. Or maybe I should say “was.”
Focus: Ruthie’s search for contentment really is a key theme of this second book. It seems that many women today struggle with finding contentment in their lives. They strive to do more, be better; they enroll in self-help classes, volunteer, try to be perfect moms, and the list goes on. Do you have any suggestions for women who struggle with finding contentment, as Ruthie did?
Roxanne Henke: This question brings to mind the words a wise doctor once told me. He said, “Discontent is the cutting edge of growth.”
When I’m feeling unsettled in life, I like to remember those words. The fact of the matter is, if we were always content, we wouldn’t grow. So, I like to look at our sometime-struggles as periods of new growth.
That said, I encourage women to try and enjoy each stage of their lives, rather than wish for a life they don’t have right now. We may be able to “have it all”…just not all at the same time. There is a time to go to school. There is a time to raise a family. Time to have a career. Time to follow a long-held dream. Sometimes those things over-lap, other times we have to wait for God’s timing. I’ve learned His plan is best!
Focus: Another battle many women face is with clinical depression and anxiety, which you feature in your third book, Becoming Olivia. These are not issues to be taken lightly, yet the sentiment amongst some Christians is that truly faithful believers should not wrestle with depression. Many depressed women have been told, “Just pray and let God take care of it.” For readers who think they may be suffering from depression or anxiety, but don’t know what to do about it, what advice do you have?
Roxanne Henke: I’d like to start by saying that if it had been possible to pray myself out of my own depression, I would certainly have done so. But, most days my mind was so clouded and unfocused it was all I could do to simply take care of the very basics. It was during that very dark time I learned I had to rely on the prayers of others since I couldn’t pray for myself. It was quite humbling to admit I couldn’t heal myself on my own! The hardest part of my depression and anxiety was having to ask for help. The good news was that there was help available.
Now, when I look back on that period, I can see how that dark time greatly increased my faith. I clung to God, because I had nothing else to hang on to.
I also had to come to grips with the fact that clinical depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. I’d somehow thought I could think my way out of my illness. The fact was, I couldn’t. When my doctor finally found the proper medication for me (not an easy task) I gradually began to climb out of that awful hole I’d been in.
The amazing thing is that after I learned to manage my depression, I went on to complete my college degree (something that had been on-hold for twenty years), and write the book I’d dreamt of writing my whole life (plus four more).
Amazing things came from my walk through that valley. It’s a hard concept to grasp, but I say “embrace the struggle!”
Focus: While some women struggle with depression, others fight a different but no less painful fight with self-image problems. I found it very easy to identify with Jan as she worked through some of these problems in Always Jan. In fact, I’ll bet many readers identified with her as she peered into the mirror at the lines (real and imaginary) on her face. Aging is a funny thing. The older we get, the more advanced our definition of “elderly” becomes. How did writing Always Jan help you refocus and “understand the value of every precious day,” as you wrote in your note at the end of the book?
Roxanne Henke: Like most women, I occasionally gaze in the mirror and wonder, “What happened!!??” But, generally, getting older doesn’t bother me too much. I’ll tell you why…my dad was diagnosed with cancer when I was ten years old. I learned at a very young age that life is precious and fragile and it’s best to enjoy it in the time we’re given.
When I was in high school, there was a rash of young deaths in my small community, another wake-up call that taught me life can be short. A few years later, I also had two close friends die in their 20’s. (One of those friendships was the genesis of the story that became After Anne.)
I’ve seen way too many women get hung-up on their looks. I’ve met some GORGEOUS (on-the-outside) women who, when I got to know them, didn’t have much more to offer than a pretty face. On the other hand, I’ve met some women who, on the surface, appeared rather plain, but once I got to know them, they somehow turned BEAUTIFUL! Amazing how God does that, isn’t it!? To me, inner beauty is true beauty.
Don’t get me wrong, I love pretty clothes, nice jewelry, and my make-up bag. But, if forced to choose, I’d rather have a gentle and loving spirit than any of those outer signs of prettiness.
Focus: Another inwardly beautiful character in Always Jan is Pete, the diamond-in-the rough kid who’d never had a break. How important do you think it is for adults to invest and believe in today’s youth, even if these youth have attitudes or clothing styles that are surprising or cause us discomfort?
Roxanne Henke: I’ve learned everyone has a story. It’s often the kids who appear most “different,” who have the most interesting things to talk about…if we take the time to listen.
Deep-down most kids long to have a wise adult in their lives. It’s up to us to make ourselves (and our ears) available. Not judging, just listening. At least at first. When we put in the time, and earn their trust, then they might listen to us. I like to think I can use what I’ve learned in my 51 years to save someone younger than me some time in navigating life’s path.
When I see a kid with pitch-black hair spiked into a Mohawk, I don’t think, “Weird kid.” I think, “Sad kid,” or, “Troubled kid.” “There’s a kid who is crying out for attention.” If I don’t have a chance to talk to that person, I can at least look them in the eye and give them an accepting smile, then say a quick, quiet prayer that someone in their lives will take the time to listen.
Focus: You’ve said that the best part of being a writer is knowing that you are fulfilling God’s purpose and doing what He planned for you to do. As an apt close to your Coming Home to Brewster series, your fifth and final book, With Love, Libby, will focus on ‘purpose’ as its theme. Can you give us a sneak peek at the plot for this story? Does Olivia ever get her book published?
Roxanne Henke: That would be telling!! I never give away the end to a good book…especially mine.
What I can tell you is that the characters’ stories featured in this last book of the series will be Vicky (who owns Vicky’s café in Brewster), her daughter, Angie, who is now a senior in high school, and, of course, Libby. All three of these women are wondering what their purpose in life is. Sometimes trying to find it by taking things into their own hands. In the end, they discover God has a better plan than they, themselves, could ever imagine.
Focus: Throughout this series, one particular character has been especially endearing to us all, and that’s the spunky, elderly Ida Bauer. Was her character, and her delightful accent, inspired by someone in real life?
Roxanne Henke: You’d certainly think so from the comments and mail I get. Countless people have asked me if “Mrs. Bauer” was their Aunt, Grandma, you name it! I hope I’m not disappointing anyone when I say that Ida Bauer is a fictional character. She is also a conglomeration of several interesting women I have known in the small town where I grew up (and still live). My goal with Ida’s character was to show readers that you don’t need a fancy theology degree to love and serve God, and to show that there is purpose at every stage of our lives, no matter our age or ability.
As for Ida’s accent…they say “write what you know.” Growing up in an almost exclusively, German-Russian community, I’ve heard that brogue my whole life, and can do a pretty mean imitation of it when in the right mood. (You should hear us when my “old” high school friends get together for a “wisit,” Oh, I mean, visit. ; ) )
Focus: Rumor has it that you recently signed a new, three-book contract with Harvest House Publishers. Can you tell us a little about the future stories we can look forward to from the pen of Roxanne Henke?
Roxanne Henke: The rumor is true. I’ve signed contracts to write three more books for Harvest House. Even though many readers have asked me to write more books in the Brewster series, for right now those fictional people are going to have to live life on their own for a little while!
I will be doing what are called “stand alone” books for my next three novels. These are stories that aren’t connected; rather each book is a world unto itself.
I’ll give you a sneak peek and tell you that the topic of my first stand alone book is marriage. After being married thirty-one years I figured I might have something to say about that subject!
The book is scheduled for release in January of 2007. (Which, right now, seems like forever away, but I know from previous experience, once I start writing, time will simply evaporate.)
Focus: Your slogan for your writing is, “Fiction that finds blessing in the broken.” In light of this, 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?
Roxanne Henke: I grew up devouring fiction. I never liked reading a list of facts-and-figures. To me, those kinds of statistics came to life when they were woven into a story about people who were like people I knew…or would like to know.
Through fiction I can explore events and reactions in a way non-fiction can’t. Stories are the way I make sense of life.
I’ve come to realize that God has allowed me to go through certain experiences in life so that I can share what I’ve learned through the stories I tell. Hopefully, readers who are dealing with these same sorts of issues can learn from my books that there is meaning, hope, and growth inside our struggles.
“Fiction that finds blessing in the broken” says to me that God can take our “messes” and use them for our good…and His. I hope my readers will begin to look at their own lives through His eyes and see that everything can be used for His good purpose.
Focus: Besides being an author, wife, mother, and owner of an adorable black dog, you are also a popular speaker, covering topics like friendship, following your dreams, depression, and the writing and publication process. When and where can your readers meet and hear you?
Roxanne Henke: I always tell people “God called me to write, He pushed me to speak.”
For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to write a book, but never, not once, did I EVER dream of being a speaker. Yet, God seems to think I have something more to share than what’s on the written page and I have been doing a lot a speaking over the past several years.
In my talks, I tell the stories behind my stories. There is a nugget of truth in all my books, and in my talks I like to encourage others to look at their lives and see how they are moving towards God’s plan, even when it might not seem like it.
If anyone would like me to speak to their group, they can read about my talks on the Contact page of my Web site: www.roxannehenke.com. They can also e-mail me from that page.
Another way readers can keep up with what’s new on my schedule is to sign up for my sporadic, e-newsletter. Just drop me an e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be added to my list. Every now-and-then I send out a note telling about my latest book news and my speaking and book signing schedule. (If you sign up, don’t worry, you won’t get spammed. I’m not nearly that organized!)
Also, check out my blog (which I update weekly), there you can follow along as I live the writing life. (Click on Roxy Writes… from the front page of my website)
Focus: Is there anything else you’d like your readers to know?
Roxanne Henke: I’d like to share a quote with you. Pastor and author, Wellington Boone, once said, “God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called.”
Writing is the best thing I’ve ever done, AND the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Many mornings I wake up with a stomach ache because I know I have to write and I have NO IDEA what is going to happen next. I often sit at my computer and say, “Okay, Lord, tell me what to write because I don’t have a clue!”
What I do have is the assurance that I’m doing the work He has planned for me.
I’d like my readers to know that God has a grand plan for their lives, too. It may not be the easy road, but it will be the better road. Don’t be afraid…take it!