Sweetwater Gap, Women of Faith Series #18Sweetwater Gap, Women of Faith Series #18
Denise Hunter
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When Josephine's family insists she come home to help with the harvest, the timing works. But her return isn't simple benevolence-she plans to persuade the family to sell the failing orchard.

The new manager's presence is making it difficult. Grady MacKenzie takes an immediate disliking to Josephine and becomes outright cantankerous when she tries talking her family into selling. As she and Grady work side by side in the orchard, she begins to appreciate his devotion and quiet faith. She senses a vulnerability in him that makes her want to delve deeper, but there's no point letting her heart have its way-he's tied to the orchard, and she could never stay there.

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deniseDenise Hunter has garnered multiple awards for each of her books, which include being a two time Holt Medallion Winner for "Finding Faith" and "Surrender Bay." ( She's also an outstanding drummer!) She lives in Indiana with her husband Kevin and their three sons.

Favorite Verse: Deuteronomy 31:6a "Be strong and courageous and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you." 

Visit Denise Hunter in our Writer's Corner



 Our Interview with Denise Hunter

What inspired the concept for Sweetwater Gap? 
I conceived of the idea for Sweetwater Gap when my editor sent me a newspaper clipping. The article was about a man who was dealing with survivor guilt after his fellow soldier had fallen on a grenade to save his life. He was left with questions: Why had his friend done the unthinkable and how could he live up to this incredible sacrifice?

I did further research and found one particular soldier whose life had turned chaotic following a similar incident. Unable to deal with the guilt and pressure to be worthy of his friend’s sacrifice, he changed, becoming reckless and distant from his family.

I began thinking about how Christ died for mankind and wondering how mere mortals can be worthy of that act. Seeing the parallels lit my creative fire. What kind of love story could I write that illustrated the value of this gift?

The creative journey led me to a wounded photographer named Josephine Mitchell, an apple orchard in Shelbyville North Carolina, and Sweetwater Gap was born.

How long did Sweetwater Gap take you to complete?

Six months from conception to completion.

Is this book part of the Nantucket Series? 

No, it’s not. In fact, I was in the middle of writing Seaside Letters (my 3rd Nantucket book) when my editor contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in writing a Women of Faith novel.


How does a book qualify for a Women of Faith series title?

 Well, I’m not sure how it usually works, but in my case, my publisher asked me if I was interested in writing a Women of Faith novel, told me the theme was “Second Chances” and said, “See what you can come up with”.

Do you have a favorite character in Sweetwater Gap?

Why? Normally I’d say my favorite character is my protagonist. But in this case, I have to go with the hero, Grady. I love how strong he is and his deep sense of integrity. I love how he protects Josie, in his dark, brooding way. He’s the kind of hero every woman wants in her life. 

How much research did Sweetwater Gap take?

Quite a bit. I always try and visit the setting before writing a novel. Even though Shelbyville is a fictional town, I based it on a certain area of North Carolina, in the Blue Ridge Mountains. My husband and I took our kids there for a few days and stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast. I took photos of the area and of the apple orchards, gathered information and talked to the locals.

Dr. Ronda Wells educated me on the medical research necessary for the story.

All the first hand information on apple orchards came from an Indiana orchard (Kercher’s Sunrise Orchards). The owner was so kind as to sit down with me, fill me in on the workings of an orchard, and take me on a tour. I found it all very interesting!

What was the most interesting fact that you learned while writing Sweetwater Gap?

Well, this will probably sound pretty ignorant, but I didn’t realize apple orchards use bees to produce the fruit!  Most orchards hire a pollination service that transports hives of bees to the orchard in the spring—about one hive per acre. They pollinate the apple blossoms and this produces the fruit. Who knew?

What are some of the challenges you face as an author?

From a creative standpoint, it’s the fear of the blank page. Every day, a blank page (actually 6 blank pages) I need to fill. I always worry I won’t have the right words and suddenly the pile of laundry is calling my name and gee, shouldn’t I really be grocery shopping?

What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?

 I love when the perfect phrase just pops onto the page. I love when I’m paring down sentences to the leanest form possible. I love that I get to set my own hours. I love working from home and being there for my kids. I love the people I work with—the real ones at Thomas Nelson, not my characters. And I love the other writers in my life who’ve become close friends.


What is your writing style?   (Do you outline?  Write “by-the-seat-of-your-pants?  (Or somewhere in between?)

 I’m an organized and efficient person, so I outline pretty heavily. I write an 8-10 page synopsis of the story before I start writing and run that by my editor. She can catch things that need to be changed, and I find it’s much easier to change it then, when it’s only a few sentences in a synopsis than to change it later when it’s a dozen scenes.

Do your characters begin to take on a life of their own as you write?

Sure. I wish I could really have the characters fully fleshed out before I start writing, but I get to know them better as I go. Inevitably, they do things I didn’t expect and this changes the story a bit. But by the time I’ve finished the story, I’d say I’m generally 80% true to the synopsis.

What other new projects do you have on the horizon?

 I just finished Seaside Letters (Nantucket #3), which will be out in Sept. ’09. Right now I’m working on the synopsis for Nantucket #4 and will start writing it in January. After that, I have another 4 book contract to fulfill which will keep me writing through 2011—a real blessing!

Who was the person who influenced you the most with your writing?

My 7th grade English teacher, Mrs. Caldwell, awakened my love of words. She was a tall, sassy, red-headed woman. A little scary at first, I’ll admit! But she taught me more in that class than I’d learned in all my other English classes combined.

What advice would you give to a person trying to become a fiction writer? 

Take classes, go to conferences, read books on writing. There’s a lot more than instinct to writing novels. Save yourself a lot of time and learn something about the craft before you start!

Write what you read. Better yet, write the novel you want to read but haven’t found.

Keep practicing. Write every day, even if it’s only a page. Carve out the time. Make it a routine. If night time is your creative time, write then. If early morning works for you, write then. When I started writing, my kids were little and I wrote during their naptime. Do what works for you.

If you prefer not to have an outline before you start, that’s okay! Do what feels natural to you—everybody’s different.

Keep learning. You never know it all, no matter how many years you’ve been writing. Keep going to classes, keep going to conferences, keep reading books on writing.

When you’ve finished your first novel and sent it off to publishers or agents, get started on the next novel rather than waiting with bated breath for a response. Your second novel will probably be better than your first. Be persistent, be patient, be downright stubborn about this dream of yours.

What message would you like your readers to take from Sweetwater Gap?

 Christ’s sacrifice was a free gift—all you have to do is accept it.


What is your greatest achievement?

You know, I work very hard at this writing thing, the craft, the networking, the publicity. But after it’s all done and said, my family is really what matters most to me. If I can raise my 3 boys to be men of God, that will be my greatest achievement.

What is your goal or mission as a writer?

Mostly I want to produce clean, quality love stories that point toward God in one way or another. There’s a lot of unwholesome reading out there, and I love to write stories women are happy to pass along to their daughters.

What do you do to get away from it all?

 Read! There’s nothing better than finding a book you cannot put down. I’ll admit, that’s gotten harder as my own craft has improved. It’s hard to turn off that internal editor. I also love playing the drums (I’m on my church’s worship team), eating dark chocolate, and traveling with my family. Not necessarily in that order.



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