Every once in a while, I get asked this question… “Is this book about you?!” In all the books I’ve written, I’ve never written a book about myself. However, I can’t write what I don’t know, so there are bits and pieces of me in every story, little nuggets of truth in all the fiction I’ve put out there. Some of you have asked specific questions regarding certain characters and situations, and I’ve sidestepped most questions (ha!) on all of it, not wanting to give away too much.
I’m just getting started on the next two books (!!!), so in this “breathing period” between stories, I thought it would be a great time to let you in on these secrets, telling you at least some of what’s true in every book. I’m not going to be exhaustive in this list because who has time to read that? (And I would have to go back and read every book to get all the places where I borrowed something from my past or from people I know, so…) I’m hopeful that even this short (well, short-ish) list will be fun and might answer your questions.
Where to start? Well, I’m not a pastor’s daughter. I’m not a missionary’s daughter. My parents are not in any kind of ministry. People assume all of this when they start reading my books, but I didn’t even become a believer until high school. My dad is an accountant who spent his career doing audits for the IRS (exciting, I know), and my mother is a retired elementary school teacher. I don’t have five brothers (yes, people have asked me if the Huntingtons are my brothers), just one older sister who is the assistant superintendent of a large school district in south Texas and who is married with two children. I grew up in Alvarado, Texas, a small town just south of Fort Worth, and I had never lived anywhere else until I went to college at the University of Houston. After graduation, I spent two years as a missionary in Swakopmund, Namibia, where I worked with a national church and spent all of my time hanging out with teenagers on the beach. Rough stuff. I came back to the US at the end of my term and headed to seminary in Fort Worth, where I met my husband, Wes. Since then, we’ve had two children, and he’s pastored churches in Japan, Oklahoma, Texas, and now Louisiana. I’m a stay at home mom of a sixth grader and a fifth grader and have been a pastor’s wife for thirteen years, which has provided enough drama for forty-one books. Amen.
Resolutions– Emily’s grand introduction to the world of running was much like mine, way back when I was in Namibia. I ran a 5K with some people in Swakopmund, and I would swear to this day that they were Olympians because I got lapped twice by some of them. (Okay, all of them.) Also, Shoko was the name of a young woman who was a member of our church in Okinawa, and all the places she and Matthew take Emily are places I frequented when we lived there. And when Emily tells Josh that he’s home, that being with him is like being home… well, I’ve said that a few times to Wes. (And Wes is more like Josh than any other character I’ve written.)
Different Stars– I got locked in my own garage in Swakopmund once, just like Sara did. I called my pastor and his wife to help me out of that situation and several more like it. I also lived far away from my supervisors in Namibia, just like Sara did, and led a friend to Christ after having a conversation with her that was very much like the one that Sara had with Ana Marie at the beginning of the book. (And the Afrikaans spelling of her name would be Anne Marie, but I changed it to Ana Marie so my English readers would read it with the right pronunciation.) I also knew a few Afrikaans pilots, one of whom had an English father and an Afrikaans mother, just like Riaan. (And who was sweet and gentle and kind like Riaan, too. I see this guy’s face every time I write about Riaan.) I took a trip up north with some Peace Corps workers and had the same experiences that Sara did on her visit to the north. Minus, of course, falling in love. (Alas.) I did have a sunset moment like Sara did with Daniel, except mine was with a single missionary from Zimbabwe who visited Swakopmund. Neither of us was into one another at all, though, but he did ask me with awe and wonder, as we were watching the sun set into the Atlantic, “Is this your reality? Like, you get to see this every day?” Yes, it was. (And I usually enjoyed it with fish and chips, just like Sara.)
Just Breathe – Just like Kenji, I also went to the University of Houston on a full academic scholarship. (But he wisely used that money on an engineering degree, and I went with creative writing after a brief time as a theater major. I know, y’all.) I was in a sorority like Tara and played that dumb game with the mud pit and the big ball. I also played on an intramural bowling team except with guys from our Baptist Student Ministry who took it really seriously. (And I sucked as much as Tara did, much to their frustration.) As far as Okinawa goes, Tara’s tourist adventures were the same ones we’d take people on when they’d come to visit us there. And the no-tell motels? Those are real. We lived a kilometer away from Lover’s Lane. (And there were plenty of poisonous habus in our yard. Wes killed one before church one morning when it fell from the awning over our porch and right into our entryway. Yikes!)
Best Day Ever – I’m a Phi Mu just like Chloe. And that’s about it as far as similarities go. Ha! I did fall in love with a hot, Jeep-driving preacher. So there’s that. And pretty much everything that Beau Thibideaux says about his work as a rocket scientist are things that one of my friends from UH (who is some sort of fancy engineer with a wife who is an even fancier engineer) has said regarding his work on missiles and rockets. Seriously, there are things I’ve just copied and pasted from his messages to Beau’s lips on several occasions. I probably owe him some royalty money, but he’s a rocket scientist, so he doesn’t need my paltry earnings. (Because he majored in engineering, not creative writing. Like I said before.)
Even Still– While we were still in seminary, Wes filled the pulpit a few times for a church out in east Texas that was looking for a pastor. And there was so much drama in that little church. The church that Stu and Abby end up serving at IS that church. I used the situations and the conversations that we had while there (minus Abby and Stu’s conflict – Wes and I didn’t argue at all about any of it as we tried to figure out whether or not we needed to go there) and put them right into the book. We didn’t end up at the church as we didn’t feel any peace about it, even after a few weeks of visiting and discussing things with them.
Ready or Not– Sophie loves Mr. Price, the discount clothing store in Namibia. Me, too, Sophie. (I lost forty pounds in Namibia, so I had to shop out of necessity. Most of the time, at least.) She has a conversation with Willem about cantaloupe, and he laughs at how ridiculous the English word is. I had the same conversation with a group of Afrikaans pastors who kept repeating “cantaloupe” over and over again to one another after I told them that we had this melon in the US, too. (Even my South African pastor, whose first language was English, sounded completely ridiculous when he said “cantaloupe” with an overly-affected Texas twang, which is what I sounded like to them. “Jennaforus,” he would say, “would you like some caaaan-tuh-low-opp?!” “I don’t sound like that,” I would argue with him. But yeah. I kinda did. I still do.)
A Little Faith – Everything Gracie does is something my Emma does. And every reaction Faith has to Gracie is a reaction my Ana has had to Emma.
Promises Kept– We have a German Shepherd. Ours is named Charlie, not Buddy… but I call him Buddy all the time anyway. And like Buddy was Chelsea’s protector as a stay at home mom and pastor’s wife who spent a lot of time with her husband out, so Charlie has been my protector since we got him eight years ago. (And he’s a great protector. He meets visitors at the door, sticking his giant head in front of me until they’ve backed away a few yards, lol!)
Beyond the Game– I dated an NBA player once. Oh, I kid. (If I had, I would have probably gravitated to an ugly, goofy one like Trent.) I went to a lot of Rocket games while writing this book. And I came up with most of the details of the storyline while running the Cowtown Marathon. (Oh, and I drove a red Mustang back in the day.) This is the only one of my books that Wes has ever read (really), and he was highly alarmed when he got to the part about Josh meeting Trent, telling me, “This is me! I’m Josh! You wrote me into your story!” Yep. He’s Josh, and he’d act exactly like Josh did in that scene if he ever met a Spurs player. (Oh, and Sadie pleading with Jesus to make her brave as her dad baptized her as a little girl – that’s exactly how it went down with our oldest daughter when Wes insisted on practicing her baptism before the big day. She’s a great swimmer now and not at all afraid of water, but we were all beseeching the Lord’s intervention there for a while.)
Just Friends – You can tell a lot about people based on the things they put on their wedding registries, FYI. And who of us hasn’t been where Rachel was, watching as everyone around her settled down and it seemed like she’d never meet the right guy? And I, too, suffer from Caucasian Rhythm Deficiency.
A New Tune– Marie was working her way through seminary as a children’s minister. I was a children’s minister during my first year of seminary as well, and I worked with monkey puppets named Bolt and Sprocket, too.
Pure Fiction– Grant’s testimony is actually Wes’s testimony. Except he wasn’t new in town. He just started school at the biggest high school in Texas, where he didn’t have any classes or lunch with any of his friends. And I hate wearing heels as much as Maddie does. Which is why I was delighted to marry Wes, who is the exact same height I am and gives me a good excuse not to wear them. I wore slippers in our wedding because “I don’t want to tower over him!” Love it.
Home to You– Who had color coded calendars and schedules for studying, for papers, and for tests in high school? This girl, right here. And Sam obviously attends the same church Wes pastored in Okinawa. (I described the building, and it’s laid out just like that church was.)
Something Better– Hennie and Savannah spend most of their nights in Southeast Asia eating and drinking in the hotel restaurant together because of jet lag. Wes and I first spent time together on a mission trip to Southeast Asia, and we got to know each other the same way. (Except we drank Coke.)
From Here on Out– Daniel told Piet to give Kait some immunizations before she went up north. He did, and she wasn’t even sure what he was giving her. I had the same experience before I went to Namibia. I’m pretty sure one of the shots I got was a rabies shot. (I’m not even kidding about that.) And if I had a quarter for every time I’ve sliced my fingers on a cotton candy machine, I could pay someone to do that loathsome sticky task for me. (And I remember wanting to run away from the plane at the Walvis Bay airport when it was my time to leave Namibia, just like Kait did. If there had been a hot guy waiting out in the parking lot for me, I would have had even more incentive to do so!)
Anywhere – I love Walt Disney World, but other than that… I don’t think there’s any of me in this book! Oh, except when Gracie starts running with Jacob on his eighteen mile run and thinks she’s going to die. That’s got me written all over it.
Happily Ever After– Ahh, Paul Connor. I’ve had people tell me that they think they know who he is, going so far as to name past presidents of the convention. They’ve all been wrong. Paul Connor is fictional. I know. Boring, right? As for Cammie and David, the work they do in Namibia is pretty much the same work I did there. All of the teenagers named in the book are actual teens I knew while I was there. Except now they’re all grown up.
Perfectly Pretend– I’m Hope Connor, through and through. She’s so easy to write with her awkwardness because that’s all me. She tells the story of how her mother prayed some church woman into a heart attack, which is something that happened at our church in Oklahoma. (Seriously, I was praying that God would keep this troublemaker out of the church that day if she was up to something, and she had a heart attack that same morning. Not like it kept her out of commission for long, but still.) And when Hope and Craig have to go and clean up the carpets because the church has flooded and they can’t afford the deductible if the insurance company gets called? Been there, done that. (And the goat treadmill at the Lucas house – got that idea from my cousin who’s an ag teacher and who would agree that we should all work smarter, not harder.)
Take Heart – Libby comes to faith through the witness of her choir friend, Courtney, and the ugly matching jackets they have. I came to Christ through the witness of my band friend, Brandy, and we did have matching, puffy, neon jackets. Which were ugly.
So Like Us– Our home in Oklahoma had foundation issues. There was a big crack in the concrete slab, y’all. Solo trips to Wal Mart also felt like vacations to Tahiti, and I spent my days with two children crawling all over me. I also toasted Wes with a Dr. Pepper when he went back for his vasectomy and may have gleefully laughed when the surgeon came out and said it was finished. (Although all of that came after the book was written.) And when I say that Charlie is a dog in the book? Charlie is a dog. Remember my German Shepherd, Charlie?
Christmas Surprises– We have a cute little fluffy dog who is actually evil incarnate, just like Sugar. Ours is named Evie. And we’ve had baby lotion on our walls before. And Wes and I have tried to share a twin bed before, and it wasn’t all hot and steamy. Well, not like that, at least. “You’re like a giant space heater!” Yes, I’m pretty sure Wes said those exact words as I was trying to put some distance between us in the middle of the night.
Tis the Season – There actually is a real Piper Witt. She lives in Botswana with her missionary parents and her two brothers. When she tells Chad that she prayed for God to provide the means for her to go back to the US as a little girl – the real Piper Witt actually did that. And the princess sleeping bag that she had to leave behind that ends up making for a sweet ending… well, Piper’s real parents found a way to bring it back to Botswana with them after that furlough.
The Plan– Uncle Mark tells Alicia about a time that he was in Beirut, ate the raw kibbeh, and had to make an emergency stop at the Phoenician hotel, right alongside the leaders of OPEC. This happened to me back when I was in Lebanon. Curse you, raw kibbeh. (Google it, y’all.) I’m also a wimp when it comes to really scary roller coasters. And I’ve ridden a camel by the Pyramids while in Egypt. Because you’ve got to do it if you’re there, right?!
A Big Summer– Head lice. That is all. (And everything else Gracie and Faith do… pretty much all of it is real.) The one thing that isn’t ours is the chapter on the baby. I wrote that as we were walking through this with one of our friends, praying with them and affirming what we knew to be true about God – that He was good, and we’d know it better in the end.
Taking Chances– When people tell Mark they’ve seen him in dreams – that really happens in the Middle East. It happened to Wes and me in Lebanon with a family we met, and we were able to share Christ with them. In the book, it’s mentioned that Mark can dress in traditional Arab clothing and put on sunglasses, and no one can tell that he’s a foreigner because his Arabic and his mannerisms are so culturally appropriate. I met a missionary from the same region that Mark would serve in who had the same thing said of him. They said he was like a “rock star,” getting into places that no American could ever get into, sharing the Gospel in places where it had never reached before.
Destination Wedding– Wes and I went to the Big Island for our ten year anniversary, and we did everything the Millers and the Pearsons did in the book. I got stuck on the zipline just like Amelia did, and I nearly had heart failure when a guinea fowl ran out at me at the volcano national park. (And Wes drove a Mustang, telling me “it’s a rental” just like Charlie did as he drove over those gravel roads.)
Crushed – The notes on the mirror. All Wes Faulk, ladies and gentlemen.
Run – Audrey and I went to the same college. Leeann was the mastermind behind this book, so apart from Audrey being a little annoying and childish at first, there isn’t too much that’s got a back story from me on this. (Were we not all like this at nineteen? Just me? Oh, okay.)
Childish Ways– That scene in the snow outside of Kevin’s house was Wes and me outside of his house at seminary when it unexpectedly started snowing one night, back when we first started dating. I still remember reaching up and wiping snow off of his sweatshirt as he smiled at me. Sigh.
The New Girl– Ministry is hard. Enough said. Also, Baptists eat a lot. (And I once dated a guy who told me that he was like a two-sided rug underneath his shirt. That pretty much killed the relationship, sad to say.)
You and Me, Baby – There’s none of me in this one… and it’s one of my favorites!
Obsessed– The baby is named Emma like my youngest daughter, and… well, that’s it. (I can’t think of anything else in this one…)
What A Christmas– Wes’s grandmother came to visit us in Japan, and she brought a brisket in her luggage. The odds of us finding that much beef on the island of Okinawa were slim, and there was absolutely no chance that we’d find beef from Texas cows there. (And what’s the point if your beef isn’t made from Texas cows?) Also, Wes once took some flu medication and confused teaspoons and tablespoons when he was measuring it out. He passed out in the middle of Golden Corral as a result and still has an aversion for the restaurant now. As if he shouldn’t have already had one before passing out because Golden Corral? It’s all about quantity, not quality…
Romance, Reality, and Blog Writers– I was a big fan of The Bachelor when it was fairly new. After watching a season with Wes and enduring his commentary, I didn’t find it nearly as fun anymore. (He was relentless with the comments and the rolling eyes.) But I learned all I needed to know to write this book. (And who doesn’t love the country bears?)
Meet in the Middle– Avery’s big finish at the Ironman was just like Wes’s big finish. Except I didn’t sweep him into my arms and profess my love for him like Travis did for Avery. No, I just helped him hobble back to the hotel as he kept telling me, “I’m an Ironman! Did you see me cross the finish line?! Wait… did I cross the finish line?! I got two IV bags of fluid! And I have blisters!” On and on and on…
The Same Place– Chicken Tikka Masala. I’d eat it every day if it wasn’t so much work.
Always – Do you remember that fabric softener bear, Snuggles? I had the backpack and the stuffed animal and insisted that my mother buy only the Snuggle brand for the laundry. (Marketing works.)
Lost and Found– My youngest daughter, Emma, is just like Zoe. And I feel like all of the convention meetings I’ve attended paid off with this book. (We also met some top brass from the convention in an airport on our way home from a meeting one time, just like that young preacher did in the book. And this high-ranking gentleman offered to come and fill the pulpit at our church for Wes. We were so impressed by his humility and kindness.)
Who You Know– Who among us hasn’t had a job where we did the things that no one else wanted to do? I’ve moved a few boxes in my time…
The Mrs. Degree – My sweet husband is dyslexic, and I’ve read the books, just like PJ has. He was diagnosed as a child, but we still spent many days and nights together in seminary (and even now) going over things like Melanie and PJ did.
You Again – There’s not much of me in this one either. Apart from the one daughter who talks enough for two. Oh, wait, both of mine talk all the time. Hmm.
I hope this was fun… and maybe it inspired you to read some of the books that you haven’t gotten to yet! Happy reading, and happy weekend, friends!