Jennifer L. Wright has been writing since middle school, eventually earning a master’s degree in journalism at Indiana University. However, it took only a few short months of covering the local news for her to realize that writing fiction is much better for the soul and definitely way more fun. A born and bred Hoosier, she was plucked from the Heartland after being swept off her feet by an Air Force pilot and has spent the past decade traveling the world and, every few years, attempting to make old curtains fit in the windows of a new home. She currently resides in New Mexico with her husband, two children, and one rambunctious dachshund. She currently resides in New Mexico and has discovered a passion for all things green chile.
In this interview, Jennifer discusses her debut novel, If It Rains.
FF: This novel is set in the Dust Bowl era. What led you to set this novel during that time period?
My husband is an Air Force pilot, and back in 2014, he transferred to a base in southern New Mexico. It was a completely new experience for someone like me who was born and raised in the Midwest, especially when I witnessed my first dust storm. My background is in journalism, so I am a naturally curious (or nosy, depending on who you ask!) person to begin with, and I was soon down a rabbit hole of dust storm research that eventually led to the writing of If It Rains.
FF: What kind of research did you do while writing this story?
Ken Burns’s documentary The Dust Bowl was monumental in getting eyewitness testimony and humanizing the era. Hearing stories from the mouths of those who actually lived during the Dust Bowl was humbling. I also kept Timothy Egan’s book The Worst Hard Time on my desk during all stages of the writing process. His exhaustive account, not only of the lives of everyday people but also of the legislative attempts at diagnosing and “fixing” the problem, was invaluable. I also devoured all the Dust Bowl fiction I could get my hands on, most notably Susie Finkbeiner’s A Cup of Dust, which was so wonderfully rich in atmospheric detail.
FF: What inspired the relationship between Melissa and Kathryn in this novel?
I have an older sister with whom I’m very close. Our bond isn’t as complex as Melissa and Kathryn’s, but the basis of their relationship is definitely rooted in my real-life connection with her. Some of the other intricacies and details are taken from friendships I’ve had over the years. Female friendships are such a unique and precious gift, and I attempted to showcase many of the best attributes of them in the relationship, not only between Melissa and Kathryn, but also between Melissa and Annie as well.
FF: Kathryn’s favorite book is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Do you have a special connection to that story?
One of the first movies I ever remember watching was The Wizard of Oz. My mother likes to tell the story that I was so terrified of the Wicked Witch, I hid behind a chair every time she came on-screen—but I still insisted on watching it! My love for the movie eventually encouraged me to read the books. They were my first foray into older, more classic literature, a love that only deepened over time and has lasted to this day.
FF: How does faith play a role in this story?
Faith is a central theme of both Melissa’s and Kathryn’s stories but in very different ways. For Melissa, it’s about truly coming into your own faith, rather than borrowing or trying to emulate that of your parents’, and the difficulty of doing so when you find out the world isn’t exactly the fairy tale you thought it was going to be. Kathryn’s faith journey comes from a completely different mindset, one in which she feels unfairly put upon or cast aside by God. Hers is not a question of finding faith; it is a question of deciding whether God is worthy of her faith. Is He really good even when life is not?
FF: Who is your favorite character in this novel?
What’s funny is the answer to this question changed during the course of writing the book! When I started out, I loved Kathryn. She was a spitfire, she was a bit ornery, and she was quite simply a blast to write. But as I settled into the story and got to know the characters, I found myself drawn to Melissa. She has a quiet strength inside of her to which I really connected, and it was her pivotal scene, rather than Kathryn’s, that had me crying as I wrote. Of course, Kathryn will always have a special place in my heart as well.
FF: What do you hope readers learn from Kathryn in this book? What about Melissa?
I hope people read Kathryn’s story and see the goodness of God. He is so much bigger than our emotions and what we perceive as good or bad; His purposes aren’t just achieved in spite of our hard circumstances, but often times through them. As for Melissa, I hope readers learn the importance of living out our faith. Following Jesus is about so much more than quoting Scripture or knowing the words to our Sunday morning hymns. It’s when times get tough that our faith is proved genuine.
FF: Can you tell us a little about your writing process?
I typically spend anywhere from four to six months researching and outlining before I actually start writing. Once I’m ready to begin, I force myself to sit and write anywhere from two to three thousand words a day, whether I feel inspired or not—the goal is just to get it out of my head and onto the screen. I don’t self-edit or delete anything during a first draft. All of that comes later when I weed through my “garbage words,” as I call them, and seek to make it readable. I usually go through three or four drafts before I feel confident enough to let my critique partners take a look.
FF: This is your debut novel. What has been the most exciting part of your publishing journey?
I wrote for ten years before signing a publishing contract, so there was nothing quite like the feeling of knowing that, after all these years, I was finally going to see my words in print! But I have truly enjoyed engaging with readers and editors and getting to talk to them about these characters I’ve held close to my heart for so long. To have your story in the hands of someone who appreciates it, who connects with it, and who understands what you were trying to convey is such a huge blessing.
FF: Are there any other eras of history you’d like to write about?
For my next book, I ventured into the late 1940s and early 1950s, as I went down another rabbit hole, this time about the Trinity test. It was a fascinating time period to research as well as a joy to write . . . and yet I find myself being drawn back into the 1930s for another idea after that! There’s also a story from the late 1800s worming its way forward. I tend to go wherever my curious mind leads me, and there’s no telling what—or when—that may lead me to next!
If It Rains
Jennifer L. Wright
Genres: Historical Romance
Release Date: July 6, 2021
ISBN-10 : 1496449304
ISBN-13 : 978-1496449306
A story of resilience and redemption set against one of America’s defining moments—the Dust Bowl.
It’s 1935 in Oklahoma, and lives are determined by the dust. Fourteen-year-old Kathryn Baile, a spitfire born with a severe clubfoot, is coming of age in desperate times. Once her beloved older sister marries, Kathryn’s only comfort comes in the well-worn pages of her favorite book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Then Kathryn’s father decides to relocate to Indianapolis, and only the promise of a surgery to finally make her “normal” convinces Kathryn to leave Oklahoma behind. But disaster strikes along the way, and Kathryn must rely on her grit and the ragged companions she meets on the road if she is to complete her journey.
Back in Boise City, Melissa Baile Mayfield is the newest member of the wealthiest family in all of Cimarron County. In spite of her poor, rural upbringing, Melissa has just married the town’s most eligible bachelor and is determined to be everything her husband—and her new social class—expects her to be. But as the drought tightens its grip, Henry’s true colors are revealed. Melissa covers her bruises with expensive new makeup and struggles to reconcile her affluent life with that of her starving neighbors. Haunted by the injustice and broken by Henry’s refusal to help, Melissa secretly defies her husband, risking her life to follow God’s leading.
Two sisters, struggling against unspeakable hardship, discover that even in their darkest times, they are still united in spirit, and God is still with them, drawing them home.
Buy If It Rains from the FF Store HERE!
Buy If It Rains from Amazon HERE!