The Lily Cafe is thrilled to welcome author and blogger Lisa R. Howeler, here to talk a bit about her Christian romance novel Beauty From Ashes. Lisa blogs at and shares early drafts of her novels on Boondock Ramblings. Even though I don’t identify as Christian, I love her novels as they’re clean, sweet romances that never push religion on readers and her Spencer Valley Chronicles series, of which Beauty From Ashes is the third, have incredibly fun and delightful characters.
Title: Beauty From Ashes (The Spencer Valley Chronicles #3)
Author: Lisa R. Howeler
Publication date: May 10, 2022
Publisher: Howeler Media
Genre: Christian, Romance
After becoming pregnant by her abusive ex-boyfriend, 27-year-old Liz Cranmer feels trapped in a prison of shame. Now a single mother she feels like the whole town, especially her church-going parents, view her as a trashy woman with no morals. That’s not how she used to think of herself but — could they all be right? And if they think that, then what does God think of her?
Ginny Jefferies, 53, has hit a few snags of her own in life. Her husband, Stan, barely acknowledges her, her job as the town’s library director has become mundane and stagnant, and her youngest daughter is having some kind of identity crisis. Pile on the return of a former boyfriend and you have the makings of a near-midlife crisis.
Can the two women figure out their chaotic, confusing lives together? And how will the men in their lives fit in their journey?
Beauty From Ashes is a Spencer Valley Chronicles book.
Welcome, Lisa, and thank you so much for being here to chat a little about Beauty From Ashes.
To start with, Beauty From Ashes is the third in the Spencer Valley Chronicles series. Is it necessary for the books to be read in order, or are they standalones?
The books can definitely be read as standalones. There will be a few references to past books but it isn’t important to know what happened in those books to read the next one.
Fantastic to know! What made you want to write Beauty From Ashes? Where did the idea come from?
Since Beauty From Ashes is the third book in the series, I wrote the book to complete the stories of characters mentioned in the first two books. I also wanted the message of the book to focus on redemption and on a person not letting their past mistakes, or what they feel were mistakes, to dictate how good their future can be.
The idea for the book didn’t come from anything specific or from a personal story. I simply imagined what it might be like for a young woman who became pregnant unexpectantly and in a way she doesn’t think back on fondly to move forward in her life after choosing to give birth to the baby.
I also have wanted to write a book that focuses on a woman over the age of 45, maybe because I’m now getting older, too. Ginny’s story is not my personal story either, but there are elements of her life I can relate to. She is moving into menopause, she feels a bit stuck in life, and her husband is so wrapped up in work that he seems to have forgotten her. I can relate to two of those issues and the husband situation is not one of them. Ha.
Since Beauty From Ashes focuses on two very different women, new mother Liz and empty-nester Ginny, was it difficult to weave their stories together or did it come naturally? Which one was your favorite to write?
It was a little bit difficult to weave their stories together, but from the beginning I knew that I wanted a story about a younger woman facing challenges and an older woman doing the same. We have challenges in different seasons of our lives, and I liked the idea of Ginny, who is older, being able to offer advice to Liz, who is younger. What ended up happening, though, is that Ginny began to learn some lessons from Liz as well. They were able to support each other through difficult times in their lives.
While reading the draft you posted to your blog, I really appreciated how you highlighted the different challenges women face at different ages as well as what they can learn from each other. One of the things Liz and Ginny had in common was motherhood, but at different stages. What was your experience of writing about two different points in motherhood?
Since Ginny had already raised three children, she knew how to help Liz through those early years. I knew Ginny would be able to offer that advice because I remember older women helping me when I first had a baby. It made becoming a mother easier because I knew there were women who had walked this road before me and could help me navigate the tough days.
When I wrote the story, I relied on memories of the help I received. I also wrote in elements of support that I wish I had had, such as people stepping in when I became overwhelmed, which is something that rarely happened to me, not because people are mean but because sometimes, we don’t realize how much a new mother is struggling. Maybe we feel it isn’t our place to offer to help, that it will make the mom feel like we are saying she can’t handle it, but I think simply offering makes many moms feel like they aren’t alone.
Since I have a teenager and a young child at home, I am in the unique position that I can remember what it was like to have a baby while also knowing a little bit about parenting an older child. I don’t know what it is like to parent an adult child, yet, but I know the issues my parents deal with and that helped me to be able to write about Ginny and how she relates to her adult children.
It was so sweet to see all the support Liz received! Beauty From Ashes also has two romance stories woven together. Was it difficult to balance them? Did you find yourself favoring one over the other and, if so, how were you able to balance them?
Yes, it was a challenge to balance the two romance stories and I don’t think I will do that again in future books. I favored Matt and Liz’s story over Ginny and Stan’s simply because I’m sort of in love with Matt myself. He’s a good, sweet, guy and I really wanted Liz to find some happiness with a good and sweet guy.
Can’t argue there! I adore Matt myself. Which one of your characters is your favorite? Which character was the hardest to write?
Asking a writer which of their characters is their favorite is a little like asking a parent which one of their children is their favorite, so that is a hard one for me to answer. If we are talking about this book, I guess I am more partial to Ginny than Liz because I can relate more to Ginny’s struggles. I can relate to my brain and body being out of whack from perimenopause and to feeling lonely and left out. I can relate to feeling a bit stuck in my life and unsure of my future. My children are not as old as Ginny’s, but I can relate to being a mom first and foremost and then losing some of that identity as your children grow and don’t need you as much anymore.
Stan’s part was definitely harder to write because it was hard to get into the mindset of a man when you aren’t one. Also, I felt Stan was a clueless idiot most of the time. I wanted to slap him more than once. When I had to write a scene from his point of view, I just knew he was going to think or say something that would make him even more insensitive and slapable. Sadly, that’s who his character was and needed to be to explain the position Ginny was in in her life.
Oh, there were definitely times I wanted to slap Stan myself. Ahem. Moving on. Why did you choose to title your novel Beauty From Ashes?
I actually originally named the book A New Chapter, to fit with the theme of Ginny being a librarian and her and Liz turning over a new leaf in their lives, but part way through writing the book I remembered I had already named one of my books A New Beginning. I felt the titles were too similar so I changed the name to something I felt would reflect something good resulting from something both women thought was bad.
The phrase is from a verse from the Bible which is actually “beauty for ashes.” It is the idea of exchanging grief for joy.
This is a book based on my characters faith in Christ, but I do not bash anyone over the head with my beliefs. I focus more on the story of how they work through their issues and mention the idea of healing through God. My main goal of the title is to show that no matter if you believe in Christ, something beautiful can come from a dark time in your life. It may not come the way you thought it would or how you wanted it to, but it can come.
I do love and appreciate that, while your novels are Christian fiction, they never push it on the reader. Is there a message in your story? What inspired you to write it?
As I mentioned above, the message of the story is really a simple one — that there is redemption available to anyone, first through God who created us, loves us, and forgives us when we walk away from the plan he had for us. There is also a redemption available from our loved ones, as well as reconciliation with them. So many times, we feel we have failed in life and everyone around us has seen that failure and now thinks badly of us. This isn’t always true, but if it is true, we don’t need to hold on to what others think about us.
For Liz her big worry is not only what her friends and family think about her, but what God thinks about the mistakes she made.
For Ginny, she’s struggling to reconcile her feelings about her husband and her marriage. She loses sight of how to communicate with her husband at the same time he seems to lose sight of what is most important in his life.
I am inspired to write stories like this from personal experiences, such as my own failures and the failures of those around me. People hurt other people and even when they try to make amends to the person they hurt, they hold on to a lot of guilt. Some people can be offered all the forgiveness in the world — from the person they hurt, from God even —but they can’t forgive themselves. That’s really Liz’s story. Her friends and family assure her that her mistakes do not define her, but she has a hard time accepting that. She can’t accept it because she ultimately can’t forgive herself.
Liz deals with a lot of shame, like many of us do, when we do something which goes against who we really are. Liz’s issue is that she has to balance her shame with trying to change herself for the better so her daughter doesn’t make similar mistakes. I think her journey is one a lot of us can relate to.
Beauty From Ashes is such a lovely story in so many ways and I love the messages you wove in. Turning to you now, why do you write?
and I really wanted Liz to find some happiness with a good and sweet guy.
Why do you write?
I have always written in one capacity or another. I started writing in a journal around the age of nine. I began writing fiction stories in elementary school and even more so in junior high. In college I majored in Mass Communication with an emphasis in journalism, which is what I earned my degree in. I had professors who tried to urge me to add public relations or broadcasting to my degree, but I was interested in writing, not in speaking so I stuck with print journalism. I was also uninterested in promoting an agency or one person, like someone in public relations might do. I wanted to tell the stories of as many people as possible because I loved reading those stories.
For 14 years I wrote stories about people from all walks of life — war veterans, politicians on a variety of levels of government (from local to national), musicians, survivors of 9-11, people who had interesting collections, students, doctors, lawyers, nurses, and on and on. I learned a little bit about a lot of things and then I shared those things with our readers and it was a blast.
When I left newspapers to be home with my son I felt a little lost. I’d wanted the time with my son, but my outlet for learning about others and expressing myself creatively was gone. Around that time I picked up blogging, something I had done when my son was young. I tried to start a photography business and it feel on it’s face. Then I hit a very lonely patch and continued to blog but also decided I wanted to try to write a fiction story.
I based the story on my great-great-grandmother and great-great-grandfather and their tumultuous relationship. I had no clue what I was doing and if you pick up a copy of A Story to Tell you can tell but I had fun writing it and sharing it on my blog.
I continued to write fiction from there and hopefully I’ve gotten a bit better with each book I’ve written. So, I guess the simple answer is that I write because it’s how I’ve always expressed myself — either in journals or for publications where others would read it. I also write to escape. I write fiction to watch stories unfold and my characters come to life. It’s fun, yet also scary, to be in control of bringing people to life.
Wow, you certainly have a ton of writing experience! What do you love about writing?
It sounds simplistic but I love writing because I love words. I love how you can string them together and pull a person along into your story or your world.
Writing connects me to people in a way I am unable to do in person, partially because I am an introverted person. I love that writing helps me formulate my thoughts better. I also love that I can create something out of nothing and, as I said above, make people and their world come to life.
As a fellow introvert, I completely understand. What’s your writing routine?
I don’t have a strict writing routine. I do like to wake up and get some tea or cocoa and check my email, etc. first for about a half an hour and then, if I can, I like to sit and write for an hour straight at least. I try to write in brief sprints that will result in at least 1,000 words a day, if not more. Because I am homeschooling my kids, I don’t have the luxury some authors have to sit and write for hours at a time.
I am lucky, though, that I don’t need total quiet to write. I prefer total quiet but after working in noisy newsrooms for so long, I have somewhat learned to tune out the noise around me and focus on what I am writing. This doesn’t always work and sometimes I have to slap on a pair of headphones with some instrumental music playing so I can focus on what I am writing. I find that most of my ideas come to me late at night so when I really get into a story, I will sit up in bed right before I fall asleep or first thing in the morning and write a scene in the Word app on my phone. Usually, I write my stories on my laptop, so later I’ll take what I jotted down in the night on my phone and flush it out more.
I’ve also discovered that I like doing what author Jerry Jenkins does and that’s to write a chapter or section and then review that same chapter or section the next day and fix little things in it before I go on to the next chapter. This helps to refresh my memory on where I’ve already been and where I am going in the story. I don’t do heavy edits when I go over the chapter again, but by doing this I don’t feel so overwhelmed when it is time to tackle the second draft after the first draft is complete.
This is because I’ve already done a type of “second draft” while writing the first. By the time I get to the end of the book, I’ve already done two or three drafts on each chapter, which means now I only need to polish, maybe rewrite a few things, and send the book on to my editors.
That sounds like an interesting way to write, and a lot faster way to edit at the same time! How do you plan your stories? How long does it take you to write a novel?
I used to not really plan my stories. I started out with a general idea of where I wanted to go and just started to write. I essentially still do that but now I do a little bit of plotting by jotting down how many chapters I hope to have and writing in some ideas for each chapter so I am ensuring I have a inciting incident, a climax, and a resolution portion of the story, as well as what goes in between. I once heard an author say they don’t start a book until they know what the beginning and the ending is going to be. I don’t really feel the same way because I know that my ending could always change, but I try to get a general idea of what the ending is going to be so I drive my character(s) toward that conclusion as I tell their story.
I want to know how to get from point A to point B, in other words, but I don’t always know exactly how I am going to get there when I start writing. I am not a meticulous plotter. I am a meandering plotter with a lot of pantsing in between.
That sounds like a fun way to approach writing. Thank you, Lisa, for telling us more about Beauty From Ashes and a little about you and your writing process!
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Most of Lisa’s books will also be available on Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Apple iBooks within the next two weeks.
Thank you so much, Lisa!
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3 thoughts on “Author Interview: Lisa R. Howeler, author of Beauty From Ashes”
Thank you for sharing this, Kat! I appreciate it and your support!
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Always happy to! Your stories always make me smile and laugh, so I hope what little I can do can help the right readers find your books.