Sunday, January 24, 2010

Blog Tour: Jenna's Cowboy - Interview & Review


Callahan Crossing had changed some while he'd been gone. But then, so had he. A man couldn't fight for his country and not be affected by it.

With those opening lines, Sharon Gillenwater introduces readers to the first book in her newest series, The Callahans of Texas, which centers upon the lives of siblings Jenna, Will and Chase.

Set in a small Texas town filled with ranching, farming, football, patriotism, community, friends, family, God and country, The Callahans of Texas also contain themes of heartache, healing, faith, laughter and love.

The first book in the series, Jenna’s Cowboy, opens with Nate Langley’s return to Callahan Crossing after serving in Iraq in the armed forces. In the novel, Nate comes home from the war seeking peace and a normal life – only to be plagued by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.

“He has loved Jenna since they were teens,” Gillenwater said. “He wants to marry her and help mend her broken heart, but he thinks he may be losing his mind.  It's up to God and Jenna and her family—who are also Nate's close friends—to help him heal.” 

Gillenwater said she enjoyed developing Nate’s character. In fact, she thinks his character is what sets the book apart from others.

“I love to write about the people of West Texas, usually with heroes who are cowboys or lawmen,” she said. “I've never done a book where the hero is in love with the boss' daughter and thought that might add a little fun to the story.

“But mostly I wanted to write about a returning vet who had problems putting the war behind him and adjusting to civilian life.  He needed a heroine who had experienced emotional hurt.  A happy, everything-is-wonderful heroine wouldn't have understood his pain.”

This is the first time Gillenwater has made one of her main characters a returning veteran.

“I've read about many veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who are dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and my heart goes out to them,” she said. “I wanted to make people more aware of PTSD and how it affects not only the person returning from war, but family and friends as well. 

“Our soldiers and their families sacrifice so much for us.  It's a small way of maybe giving something back to them.”

In fact, Gillenwater knows first hand some of the struggles faced by Nate. Her husband returned home from serving in Vietnam with PTSD.

“He had nightmares for a while, although not as many nor as often,” Gillenwater said. “He was jumpy, always on the alert.  Some of that carries over even today.  It's not wise to walk up behind him if he doesn't know you're coming.  He's come close to decking a few people. The unexplained/unexpected anger was there, too, for a very long time.”

For the most part, Gillenwater used her personal experiences to craft the characters Dub and Sue, Jenna’s parents. Dub, a Vietnam veteran, also experienced PTSD. It’s only when Nate begins to exhibit the issues, does he share the diagnosis with his three children.

In the Jenna's Cowboy, Sue tells her children about a time when their father began to have a nightmare and kicked her out of the bed.

“My husband was a helicopter pilot, and he really did kick me out of bed once during a nightmare,” Gillenwater related with laugh. “The other things Nate deals with is a compilation of stories I've heard from veterans of the War on Terror.”

Dub and Sue are not the only characters Gillenwater based on real people. Jenna’s young son, Zach, is “completely based upon her grandson.”

“Almost everything Zach does in the book was something my grandson did at the same age,” she said. “I had a ball writing about that kid.”

While not a real location, Callahan’s Crossing is a combination of many small, West Texas towns, explained Gillenwater, admitting that much of the landscape and terrain around and south of Colorado City, Texas – her hometown – influenced the setting.

Gillenwater hopes readers take several messages away, once they finish reading Jenna’s Cowboy.

“I hope they understand that God is there for us no matter what, that He can bring peace and healing even to the most wounded minds and hearts,” she said. “I also hope they take away a better understanding of PTSD, and pray for our military folks.”

The Callahans of Texas will be a three-book series, with each sibling taking center stage in a novel. Gillenwater developed the series after Andrea Doering at Revell asked her to submit a proposal with a contemporary Texas setting.

“She remembered the Texas books I'd written for Multnomah back in the mid-1990's and wanted to see something with the same Texas flavor,” Gillenwater explained. “I'd had both the ideas for Jenna's Cowboy and for what became Will's story for quite a while but knew they would be too long to submit to Love Inspired who had published my latest book.  So I jumped at the opportunity to send the proposal to Revell.”

The second book, Emily’s Chance, is set to release in September 2010. In it, Chance has to convince Emily, whom he met in the first book, that marrying him and living in Callahan Crossing is more important than her five-year plan to get a job at a big city museum. Or he has to decide if he is willing to leave his small town and move to the big city with her. 

The third and final book, set for a 201l release, is Will’s story. When he meets Savannah, she is homeless, broke, pregnant and unmarried.  Will's challenge is to convince her that he doesn't care about her past—only their future.

So, who is Sharon Gillenwater
Gillenwater describes herself as a wife, mother and grandmother of two delightful children.

"[I'm] a country girl who finally moved back to the country after living in the city for thirty years," Gillenwater said. "I love Jesus and am blessed that I can serve God through the stories He gives me.  After twenty-two years at this writing gig, I'm still amazed that someone actually publishes them and people read and enjoy them!"

Gillenwater started writing after lecturing a friend, leaving for college, not to wait until she was in her 30s to decide what she wanted to do with her life.

"She astutely turned the tables and asked me what I wanted to do," Gillenwater said. "Without thinking, I blurted, 'I want to write.'  Once the words were out in the daylight, there was no turning back.  With my husband's encouragement, I followed my dream, which took a while—almost four years to sell my first book."

Since she started writing, Gillenwater said God has used it to draw her closer, and to give her more wisdom in some areas.

"His opening up the door with Revell has been amazing," she explained. "He literally handed me the opportunity out of the blue."

She said the birth of a new granddaughter, last October, also add to the excitement in her life.

"My husband just retired, so it's interesting to have him home a lot more," she said. "[It's] nice to have someone to talk to during the day besides the dog. It's fun to see him finally have a chance to relax and spend even more time in the Scriptures."


She encourages her readers to lean on Jesus and find their trust in Him.

"God knows what is best for us even when it doesn't exactly line up with our thinking!" she continued.


What Did I Think
I really enjoyed Jenna's Cowboy. I immediately fell in love with the town, the characters and Gillenwater's colorful descriptions of life on a West Texas ranch.

I thought the struggles she gave Nate were authentic and well written. As a friend whose husband is in the military once said, Army life is not a "drama." It's not a Lifetime movie special.

Nate's struggle with PTSD, and the other characters reaction to it, seemed genuine.

I found Jenna's struggle to piece her life back together, after being (not quite literally) kicked in the teeth by her "football star" ex-husband an honest portrayal of how a woman can literally pull herself up from the bottom of a pit, thorugh the help of family and faith.

Gillenwater's characters are real. They aren't full of saccharine. They could be the guy or gal next door.

One of my favorite scenes: the homecoming parade that takes place shortly after Nate returns home. Thanks to the "small town" grapevine, everyone finds ways to show that they care for Nate - through business marquees and other statements.

He is welcomed home, in the truest sense, not just because he's a returning veteran, but because everyone cares for him.

Callahan's Crossing, as a town, shows off small-town Americana at its best.

Jenna's Cowboy is a good read. Don't be surprised if you find yourself staying up late to finish it.

Find it Online
Find Jenna's Cowboy online at Amazon.com.Jenna's Cowboy is also available through most regular and Christian bookstores, some Walmart stores, and Christian Book Distributors catalog or online. 


More about Sharon Gillenwater

Sharon Gillenwater was born and raised in west Texas, and loves to write about
her native state. The author of ten novels, she is a member of ACFW and Romance Writers of America. When she's not writing, she and her husband enjoy spending time with their son, daughter-in-law, and adorable grandson. She lives in Port Angeles, Washington.

Looking for other books by Gillenwater? While many are out of print, you can find them on-line through Amazon.com.

Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, offers practical books that bring the Christian faith to everyday life.  They publish resources from a variety of well-known brands and authors, including their partnership with MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and Hungry Planet. For more information, visit www.RevellBooks.com.


Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

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