Thursday, September 22, 2011

Debut Author Spotlight ... Jennifer Rogers Spinola

by Jennifer Rogers Spinola

It’s amazing the way early memories and loves are so often fused into the deepest core of our being. Some of my earliest memories are making paper “books” out of construction paper, coloring the pages, and stapling them together along the spine. After I learned to write words, I started making stories to go along with the drawings, or poems, or even songs to sing with the story.

And after that, it was all over. I loved to write! I wrote in school, between classes, on the bus, and at home. Stories, longer and longer stories. Stories that came in installments so my fifth-grade classmates could read as I carried them in off the bus. Spiral notebooks that filled up with historical novels. A giant folder that I carried around, which included a personal list of synonyms, sheets of new vocabulary words and definitions, lists of city names, and several unfinished stories.

My greatest dream was to write books—lots of books. To see my name on the spine and thumb through the pages, remembering so many moments spent hovered over notebooks or sketching out plot ideas.

And then… life at full speed intercepted my writing hopes.

First there were high school clubs and SATs, and then college and midterms and first jobs and broken-down cars, then boyfriends and church “college and career” classes and Bible studies and prayer journals and… life. Snowstorms and college transfers and the death of my mother that changed my life forever.

And somewhere along the way, I had no more time for babyish novels, whose voices I could barely hear. I loved my old characters and dreams, the plots still clear in my head like nearly forgotten rivers of my childhood. I dreamed about them sometimes. But I could no longer find them.

Through the thicket of career choices I followed the scent of writing into journalism, where I landed a beautiful job as writer for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. Still in love with words, I wove articles about missionaries and changed lives. I tracked them into South America, interviewing new believers through a translator, and then into northern Japan as a missionary.

After my missionary term I married Athos, the brilliant Brazilian Christian exchange student I met in Japan, and found myself stuck in Brazil—a beautiful tropical country where I felt, for all practical purposes, useless. I couldn’t speak Portuguese, and all that Japanese I’d studied rang in my head like strains of the wrong song. I couldn’t use my journalism skills, didn’t have a car, and couldn’t even work until I was issued (after a lengthy wait) my official work documents.

And on one of those windy days of tropical winter, with the sea roaring outside the borrowed beach house where we lived, I scooted up a chair to our laptop and… began to write again.

* * *

As a child, I often wondered—late into the night—how I’d ever enter the world of publishing. Query letters and proposals and agents seemed far outside my simple, small-town realm, and the few query letters I sent out as a young teen served merely to show how little I knew about publishers and genres.

All of these things I wondered as I grew up… and eventually lost in that ocean of life and relationships and jobs.

Until that day in front of the computer screen when I resurrected one of my oldest novels and began to type with gusto. That day that stretched into years, page after page, chapter after chapter, completing one novel and starting another, then another. Toying with new explosions of options and plotlines and characters.

And I remember clearly a second important day in front of the computer screen. A clear fall day in Brasilia, in the large house where we were house-sitting. I realized that all of my chapters and work would most likely be for naught. I knew nothing about publishing, or even about fiction writing, and I had no clue what made a good novel nowadays. I could either give up, or I could follow the advice of my wonderful English college professor Dr. Gayle Price: “A writer writes because she must—not because she wants to get published. She writes because she simply can’t not write.”

“Okay,” I said to myself, typing another paragraph. “If nobody else sees this but me and maybe my children, it’ll still be worth it.”

Why? Because I can’t *not* write. And like Eric Liddell in “Chariots of Fire,” when I write, I “feel (God’s) pleasure.” I find joy in writing, whether or not another soul reads it: because it reflects the joy of my soul-calling.

A few years later I started pounding away on my first “Sushi” book, and not long after I met my former International Mission Board co-worker Roger Bruner, by then a published author with Barbour Books. He and his sweet wife, Kathleen, took a look at my (lengthy) manuscript, suggested some changes, and then submitted the first three chapters to Barbour.

And I waited on the edge of my seat, waiting for Barbour’s reply. Wondering if I might encounter one more breath of miracle at my computer screen.

* * *
My heart stopped the day I received an email from Barbour women's fiction editor Rebecca Germany, asking to see the full manuscript. I sent it, rough as it was, and waited... waited... waited... heart pounding until she finally wrote again. I'd given it up into God's hands, prepared to expect whatever she said, but her reply was simply to send the next manuscript in the series - or what I'd finished of it.

I sent the sequel and waited again. Changing diapers and teaching my son to eat ground pumpkin and avocado and tofu solid foods (all of which he loved at first, then refused for about three frustrating months). Mixing special (expensive) soy formula for his lactose intolerance. Up late at night with his cranky sleep times, stepping over the cat to get to the crib before Ethan's howls woke the apartment neighbors. Walking with Ethan in the cool of the morning and snapping pictures of rain on the leaves.

Rebecca wrote me once again, say there would be a meeting about book proposals in a month, and she'd know more after that.

The month came and went, and still I waited. Paced. Wrote. Emailed Roger Bruner back and forth to ask publishing questions. Tried my hand at "EC"-ing Ethan (Elimination Communication, where you teach a baby how to use a pot instead of his diapers)... a laughable goal for a new mom already in her 30s. Astounded everybody by holding my six-month-old preemie over a plastic potty and watching him "go." Reverting back to diapers again when, at a year old, he decided walking was more important than potty training - and loving it all.

And then one day out of the blue, on April 27, my husband called me from work.

"You'd better check your email," he said. "There's something from Rebecca Germany in your inbox, and I saw the word 'contract.'"

My heart stopped. I don't remember the wording of the email. I don't remember anything beyond hearing that word 'contract' ringing in my ears. All I remember is that I must have read it, must have sat there in frozen shock, must have called someone. Barbour was interested in a three-book contract.

From ME, the nobody from Brazil, who'd never even been to a writer's conference.

I cried. I thanked God.

And I didn't sleep for four nights in a row, staring up at the darkened ceiling in disbelief, joy, and shock - until my sweet husband bought me a bottle of natural passion fruit extract (what Brazilians use as a mild tranquilizer).

Even as I write about it all now, nearly a year and a half later and all three books submitted, one more book contract added, my eyes still fill with tears as the memories pour back. I still feel the joy. My life has changed so much because of that day. Because of Rebecca's decision to take chance on somebody like me, a newbie, with zero publishing experience. I've been able to stay home with my son, do the thing I've loved since childhood, and create... remember... weave... spin words...

No matter how many years or books I write, that day - that contract - will always stand out to me as a first. A forever mark on my soul. "I know You can do all things," said Job to the Lord. "No plan of Yours can be thwarted."

And he was right. Oh, how very right.


Barbour Books
October 2011
384 pages

Ride the rollercoaster of Shiloh Jacobs’s life as her dreams derail, sending her on a downward spiral from the heights of an AP job in Tokyo to penniless in rural Virginia. Trapped in a world so foreign to her sensibilities and surrounded by a quirky group of friends, will she break through her hardened prejudices before she loses those who want to help her? Can she find the key to what changed her estranged mother’s life so powerfully before her death that she became a different woman—and can it help Shiloh too?

Jennifer Rogers Spinola lives in Brasilia, Brazil with her Brazilian husband, Athos, and two-year-old son, Ethan. She teaches ESL private classes and is the author of Barbour Books' "Southern Fried Sushi" series (first book released October 1!) and an upcoming romance novella collection based on Yellowstone National Park (also with Barbour Books).

Jenny is an advocate for adoption and loves the outdoors, photography, writing, and camping. She has previously served as a missionary to Japan, a middle- and high-school teacher, and National Park Service volunteer. Jenny has a B.A. in English/journalism from Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina and has worked as assistant copyeditor for OnSat Satellite & TV Guide and as a staff writer for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board and two other Baptist newspapers. Jenny is a member of Association of Christian Fiction Writers and has a Goodreads page.

LIKE SWEET POTATO PIE, coming March 2012


  1. Thank you, Jennifer, for sharing your story with us. I think many of us can relate to your beginning of loving to write, needing to write, then life gets in the way.

    I'm so glad you pursued your dream, and I look forward to reading Southern Fried Sushi.


  2. Great testimony. Uplifting and sweet. Thanks, Ladies.

  3. Thanks, Nicole! And thanks so much, Brenda, for posting this!

  4. So exciting how you have broken into the publishing world! =)

  5. Brenda, thanks again for having me! And Mandy, thanks for stopping by! It is really neat how God puts things all together at just the right time... :)

  6. Awesome story behind an awesome book! Thanks, Jenny and Brenda.

  7. Thank you Nicole, Mandy, & Iola for stopping by. :) Jenny does have an inspiring story, doesn't she? It becomes easier to keep going when we learn of others who've pressed on before us.