Prolific writer? Yeah, you could say that about Robin Jones Gunn. Her latest novel, Cottage By The Sea (Howard Books), tells the story of best friends Erin and Sharlene as they start the wedding planning business together. But, as often happens, God has His own plans for their lives.
WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION DRIVING THE STORY IN COTTAGE BY THE SEA?
When my dad was in his 70’s he had a stroke that partially paralyzed him and took his speech. For over five years my mom cared for him at home. During that time my brother, sister and I made continual trips to be with him and provide mom with some breaks. It’s a difficult journey for any family to see a loved one in such an incapacitated state. After my dad passed away I knew that I wanted to incorporate that experience in a story one day. It took over ten years before I was ready to put those feelings into this novel.
OVER THE COURSE OF WRITING THE STORY, WHAT SURPRISED YOU THE MOST?
Even though the story drew some parts from real life it still felt as if I was standing back and reporting on someone else’s experience and not my own. I was surprised that I was so objective and truly saw it as a novel with imaginary characters. I definitely knew what those characters were thinking and feeling in that situation and that’s what kept the story going in my imagination. When I started the book several people told me it would be too difficult and I’d get my emotions too tangled up in my own experience. I actually found it to be a freeing process and was glad that I had a chance to write about the sweet and tender moments in a way that I know has provided hope and encouragement to others who are in similar difficult situations.
WHAT PARTS WERE INSPIRED BY REAL LIFE (EITHER RESEARCH OR EXPERIENCE)?
As I mentioned, my dad experienced a stroke. And the location at a cottage on the Oregon Coast is based on a real cottage where our family stayed a number of times. But the characters, the family relationships, the ending are all imagined and not drawn from my own experience.
WHY DO YOU THINK THAT STORY IS SUCH A POWERFUL WAY TO COMMUNICATE TRUTH?
When a story connects at the heart level with a reader either because of the characters or the life experience being explored in the story it becomes a mirror. A reader gazes into that mirror and murmurs, “That’s me.” As they draw closer they see what needs improvement in their own life. That realization can incite the courage to change, especially when they see change modeled in the characters. Or they might draw closer and notice a loveliness and complexity in their own life they hadn’t noticed before. That realization brings hope. All of us need both courage and hope. That’s why we need stories. We need to see what is true before we can change and before we can dream.
WHAT DO YOU MOST HOPE THAT READERS GET OUT OF YOUR WORK?
I’ve written over 80 books. With each book I pray before I begin. I ask God to accomplish His purposes with that story. When I finish a book I pray that every reader who enters that tale will come out the other side closer to God’s heart. For almost three decades I’ve watched God answer those prayers in abundant ways and I give Him all the glory.