Thursday, February 9, 2017

14 Days of Sweet Stories: Janell's book "Embracing Hope"

Interview with Janell Wojtowicz, author of Embracing Hope

Alexis: What is your new novel, Embracing Hope about? Share why you chose that title and how you imagined the main characters. 

Janell: The story follows Drew, the 30-year-old student life dean at an “Ivy League” Christian university, through the first year after his wife tragically died. Allison is the new employee in the office who’s endured her own loss and understands Drew’s feeling of loss and hopelessness. The novel had a couple of working titles, but I settled on Embracing Hope because hope really emerged as I developed the plot, and the romance begins with a simple embrace.

Alexis: Why did you choose to set your story in a Christian college and not a secular university? Is there any significance to that choice? Explain. 

Janell: First, I attended a Christian college, then worked in one for over a decade so I’m very familiar with the atmosphere. Second, I wanted to open eyes that Christian colleges are not perfect. The line, “Good Christian kids wouldn’t do that” is a fallacy. They have the same problems as secular colleges, but sometimes leadership doesn’t know how to approach the problems and the college’s reputation is damaged. Drew attended a prestigious secular university and worked just a couple of years at a small Bible school, so he expected a cushy job with well-behaved kids. But as he deals with grief and his Christian College Bubble bursts, he loses confidence—and eventually control. There are also elements specific to Christian colleges that impact the story’s outcome. 

Alexis: Tell us about your story’s hero Drew McKinley. Describe his looks, personality, and goals. 

Janell: The quintessential love story hero: tall, dark brown wavy hair, chocolate brown eyes, looks dashing in a suit, a “babe”, too thin due to the physical effects of grieving. Prior to the story, he had it all: confidence, eloquence, a wealthy academic family, a talented and beautiful wife. He loves working with college-age youth and thrives being in front of an audience. Drew is pursuing his Ph.D. so he and his father assume he’ll be a college president someday. When the story begins, he’s pathetic, uncertain, unmotivated, tries too hard to hide his feelings (and fails), doesn’t sleep well, and doesn’t think beyond the next day. He has no hope. 

Alexis: When the reader first starts this story, they see that Drew is suffering from a horrible heartache, the death of his wife. Why did you choose this trauma for Drew to experience? 

Janell: Death can dramatically turn a person’s life upside down, ruin futures and break hearts. Sometimes survivors turn away from God. Drew had lived a privileged life, so he doesn’t know how to deal with loss and grief aside from wallowing in self-pity. But death—after anger and questioning—often draws people back to God as they realize they are helpless and hopeless without faith. Death can also bring a new purpose to survivors’ lives that can be transformational not just personally, but to those around them. 

Alexis: Tell us about your story’s heroine Allison. What makes her tick? What makes her smile? What role does she play in Drew’s life? 

Janell: First-year grad student Allison, 25, has a strong faith that has sustained her through tough times. Her parents struggled to make a living on a small farm which gave her a strong work ethic and can-do attitude. As a result, she’s all work and practically no play. It took her six years to earn her bachelor’s degree because she had to work almost full-time to finance her education. She speaks her mind and is serious most of the time, but humor emerges unexpectedly. Maintaining a 4.0 GPA makes her smile. She’s devoted to her mother and grandparents even though she doesn’t see them very often due to her obligations. Her outspokenness keeps Drew on his toes and she is, quite frankly, smarter than him. 

Alexis: Allison and Drew share a special connection regarding loss. Tell us about it. 

Janell: Allison’s father died suddenly when she was 17 years old, resulting in total upheaval of her life—like Drew. Her mother lost the farm and they moved in with her grandparents in another state. She put off college for a year to earn money and help her mom rebuild her life. She understands Drew’s sense of loss and hopelessness but is living proof that God is the giver of hope. Allison’s compassion emerges, softening her sharp edges, as she sees him suffer. She reaches out to help him find the new normal and eventually his way back to God. And, of course, they fall in love in the process.

Alexis: Many tough real-life issues are involved in your story including dysfunctional families, career upheaval, substance abuse, domestic abuse, and assault. Why did you as a Christian writer, choose to tackle these topics and what effect do you want it to have on your readers? 

Janell: I’ve heard heart-breaking stories of people who endured more than their fair share of suffering yet they emerged stronger with God’s help, so I don’t feel the real-life issues the characters faced were excessive. My publisher maintains that the book is more than a good read; it could help readers going through their own tragedies and difficulties. Just recently a reader told me that she could see how someone struggling would be able to relate to the real-life issues. They’d see steps the characters took to overcome the hardships, and as a result, would receive some direction for their own situation.

Alexis: What’s the moral of this story? That it takes hard work, patience, time, surrender, and most importantly, God’s intervention to find and experience hope. Perhaps readers will relate to what happened to one of the characters; perhaps they have a Mitch in their lives to seek out or have the gift to be a Mitch to others in need. If they need comfort, restoration, or the need to forgive or be forgiven I hope the scripture I’ve scattered in the story will plant the seeds 

Alexis: What do you want readers to remember most about Embracing Hope

Janell: In addition to illustrating the tangibility of hope, I set out to show how people, despite what they are going through, can help each other. In the beginning of the story, Drew is weak and pathetic, and Allison is strong and compassionate. Halfway through the story, their roles reverse when Allison suffers a devastating blow in her life. Drew uses his newfound strength to sustain her and the compassion to forgive. At the end, their shared strength and compassion come to Chris’s rescue.

Chris, by the way, is the hero in the sequel (still in development). Valentine’s Day has significance in the story. And if the reader cries or tears up in places, I’ve accomplished my mission.

Alexis: Thanks for the interview, Janell! God bless you.

Author bio: 

Janell Butler Wojtowicz, born and raised on an Iowa farm, was one of those kids who loved to write the dreaded “What I did on summer vacation” essay. It’s no surprise that she has spent her entire 30-year career in writing, including journalism, Christian higher education public relations, and local government public information. 

She is a freelance writer/editor, and a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. Janell and her husband, Frank, live in New Brighton, Minnesota. She has two step-sons and three step-granddaughters.

Blurb for Embracing Hope: Christian college dean Drew McKinley mourns his dead wife and still wears his wedding ring.

He stumbles on a desperate journey to understand God’s motives for her tragic death. Crossing his perilous path is Allison, a graduate student and new employee in the dean’s office. Even as she deals with financial hardships, she recognizes Drew’s unresolved grief from her own loss. Putting up a roadblock is Chris Whitney, the handsome but egotistical student senate president. He carries the secret burden of a dysfunctional family and a below-the-surface temper. 

The road Drew must navigate is fraught with career upheaval, a reawakening heart, substance and domestic abuse, a violent assault, and the struggle for forgiveness and restoration. Will Drew finish his journey to embrace the hope God offers, the love Allison shares, and the guidance Chris needs, or will he turn his back on all three with catastrophic consequences?

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Enter the book giveaway contest for your chance to WIN a copy of this book by filling out the entry form on the Rafflecopter widget below: 

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  1. This is a great setting for a Christian inspiration book. I too attended a Christian university, and can't wait to see how Janell crafts this story!

    1. Congrats on winning Janell's book, Quanny! :)

  2. Replies
    1. Oh, I think that she will enjoy your story! Thanks for being my guest, Janell! :)


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