Jade Fitzgerald feels that her life has finally come together. Moving to Whisper Hollow, Tennessee, she runs a successful antique shop and has met her soul mate, Max Benson, a lawyer and a member of one of most socially prominent families in the area. She and Max have agreed that their relationship is a clean slate.
In a book with a pink cover, such an agreement requires, of course, that the protagonist consume a few of her own words, and indeed Jade learns that the past is not always content to remain in the past. She must acknowledge the anger she still feels for her mother, Beryl, an aging free spirit who often seemed more concerned with her own freedom than with her children. Jade has some secrets of her own, as well—one that could definitely put a crimp in the wedding plans, and another that has eaten at Jade for years and must be faced before she can truly move on with her life.
To complicate matters for Jade—and provide a plot for this book—not all of Jade’s problems derive from the past. Her future mother-in-law believes it more than proper for her to run the lives of her son and his future wife. Then there is her fiancé’s ex-lover, a woman who has moved back to town and is now a lawyer in the same firm. How does a chick-lit protagonist handle it all? With humor, the occasional panic attack, and the faith she learned at the hands of her grandparents.
Sara Evans’s debut novel, The Sweet By and By, written with Rachel Hauck, is a story of faith, forgiveness, and redemption. The novel, while inspirational, is never preachy. The characters, no matter their faults, are treated with sympathy and even-handedness. There is a deep poignancy to Beryl, who desperately wants to have a relationship with Jade before it’s too late but doesn’t know how to break down the wall of anger that the years and her own actions have built.
In an interview, Evans discusses her characters, the writing process, and the role faith plays in her own life:
Chapter 16: On your website, you note that you and Jade share many of the same traits. What are they?
Evans: Jade is from the Midwest. She’s marrying a southern boy. She grew up on a farm and had a very close relationship with her Granny (which is what we call ours). She is at the same time very strong and confident yet has insecurities.
Chapter 16: One of the most appealing characters in the novel is Jade’s sister, Willow, who really rings true as the youngest child. Where did the inspiration for this character come from?
Evans: When my mother married my step-father and they had two more daughters, my half sisters. I was fourteen and eighteen when they were born, so I practically raised them. Same thing with Jade. Although my mother wasn’t absent like hers!
Chapter 16: Ultimately this is a novel about faith, redemption, and forgiveness. How did your own faith pull you through a period of personal upheaval and media scrutiny?
Evans: I just prayed and asked people to pray for me and with me. I spent a lot of time in the Word and had to keep trusting God that He would bring me through it. And of course He did. [See] Jeremiah 29:11.
Chapter 16: You wrote this novel with romance novelist Rachel Hauck. How did the process work?
Evans: Well, they told me to come up with the story and the character and what I wanted this novel to be about, and I did. Then Rachel and I met at my home for hours talking it through. Then she went and put it together as a professional writer, and she sent me pages, and I would read through them and add or take away things. A very fun process!
Chapter 16: Since this is the beginning of a series, it’s clear that Jade’s personal and spiritual journey is far from over. While she has faced the demons of her past, it seems that she married into a family with its own set of problems. What is next for Jade?
Evans: Oh my gosh, there is so much more for Jade to face and struggle through and learn and overcome. The thing I love about this journey she is on is that she is very human. She gets mad at God and feels sorry for herself, and she fears a lot. But she has this love for God in spite of all the crud she’s had to deal with and people treating her badly. Somehow she keeps this faith alive that God is there for her—and, of course, He is!
Sara Evans will be performing and signing copies of The Sweet By and By at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Nashville on January 11 at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.