When readers find an author whose stories touch them deeply or cause them to make positive changes in their lives, those readers tend to devour every new book that author releases. Such is the case with Robin Jones Gunn. Her beautiful readers, as she affectionately refers to them, are extremely loyal because her stories continue to change their hearts.
The newest book in Robin’s Haven Makers series, Being Known, relates the stories of Jennalyn and Tess, one struggling to balance being a wife and a mother while processing her own grief and the other searching for a meaningful relationship that will erase her loneliness. Both women discover what it means to be truly “known” by those they love. As readers tag along on the journey, they also discover the value of being vulnerable in their own relationships.
In our most recent chat, Robin graciously shares her thoughts on building quality relationships and what it takes to form bonds that go deep.
ATG: I remember when we last talked, you were putting the finishing touches on Being Known. How was the idea for Jennalyn’s story born?
Robin: Purely imagination. When I began writing this second book in the series, I thought Tess would be the one, the focus. I did all the notes. Tess is single so readers expect the story to be about her – finding her the right guy and all that, but Jennalyn kept coming up. With the backstory that I introduced in an earlier book, there was obvious unresolved conflict.
Of course, I am always listening to many different women as they share their stories with me. Over the years, I’ve become sort of “Mama Robin.” I am not a counselor. At times, I am not even a great listener. But still, these young women tell me their stories. I suppose it is a type of research – when many women tell me these things over and over…they need to be explored.
ATG: I am thankful you weave those common experiences into your writing. I know that, as I read the book, I felt like you had a window into my soul. Your beautiful readers also say that reading Jennalyn’s story is like reading pages from their own journals, and her story affects them deeply. Did writing Jennalyn’s story change you?
Robin: I don’t know, exactly. For readers, they say it is like looking in the mirror. Whenever I write, I am concerned with how the story rings true. It takes pulling back and really looking at the story, rather than in the mirror.
You know the guy that Tess is seeing? The one pursuing her? He was a completely different character in my notes. There is a significant turning point in the story where the girls find out who this guy is. I had that character all planned out, even down to his name. But when I typed that scene, the name and the character were different. A character from Christy’s past entered the story. And it just fit. There was something about him, the something that makes the reader ask “What is it about you? Your struggle?” that made it more complex because of his history. So, as I write, I pull back and ask myself “Would a mother really say that?” or “How would a young couple react to this?” It allows the reader to relate it to real people and real situations.
ATG: Observing how the women in the book relate to each other has impacted how I interact with my own circle of friends. I find myself making different – better – choices.
Robin: You’re being intentional. That’s a great start.
ATG: Thank you. I love how the women in the Haven Makers books speak truth into each others’ lives. It is one of the most important ways they let themselves “be known.” What are a couple of life-changing truths you’ve gained from your own circle of friends?
Robin: There have been many, many moments when we started on common ground. For instance, when a friend with younger children mentioned something she was going through with her son and I thought about having dealt with that same issue a few years earlier. It starts off with feeling like I am going to be the mentor, the one who shares from my experiences. Then, I leave our coffee date two hours later with the thought, “I’ve learned so much!” There are plenty of friendship moments like that for all of us. We never see them coming.
ATG: There are other ways your stories have made lasting impressions on me. I first tried scones with clotted cream after reading Finding Father Christmas. After finishing Being Known, my friends and I gathered to discuss the book over pie, since the phrase “Oh, my, cherry pie” plays a significant role throughout the story. What is your go-to dessert? Is there any nostalgia or experience linked to it?
Robin: (laughs) I like cherry pie.
But really…okay. I have this friend. We would go to the local pie shop at ten in the morning. They make these amazing miniature pies. We would split one and eat it for breakfast, with vanilla ice cream. It became our “thing.” A few weeks back, she got a great promotion at work. To celebrate, I picked her up and took her to the beach. I’d set up a table and chairs, and we shared pie. That’s the connection. It’s not the food. It is the cherished experience.
When my husband and I got married, we had carrot cake at our rehearsal dinner – someone in my husband’s family said it was “Aunt Becky’s Carrot Cake.” Since then, I’ve really enjoyed carrot cake. For my birthday this year, one of my friends made her own recipe. It was so good!
But I am not a cook. I’m not a baker. It is the shared time with family and friends that makes it special.
ATG: I agree. We gather over food for a shared experience, but what happens around the table is more important than what is on it. In fact, at one point in the book, Tess drops a soul-opening idea on the group over tea and cookies. She asks “What if…He knew precisely when the breeze would come to turn the page and that your eye would fall on the verse?” That is a beautiful idea of being known. When do you feel most known by God?
Robin: Many, many times. When I am quiet enough to hear that still small voice…
ATG: I imagine that you’ve listened for that voice often, having navigated the growing-up years of your children and the often-cluttered road of marriage. What advice do you have for young wives and mothers who are currently in those phases? How can we develop relationships that honor the whole truth while also honoring God?
Robin: Tenacity. Know that you’re going to get beat up emotionally when you are vulnerable. In my teens, I never would have guessed that – in friendships in my 20s and 30s – I would still be hurt and that I’d experience the same drama in relationships that I did in high school, but it happens. We start off on common ground but something unbalances the roles.
Relationships are living organisms. They grow and change. Those friendships where people are the least needy and the most healthy are the ones to hold onto – where the person is least impressed with what they can get from you. They don’t want to climb some social ladder or get something from you and move on. Chase those relationships. Those are forever friends.
ATG: For those who have already devoured Being Known, what can they look forward to next from you?
Last fall, I signed a contract on production of the first book in my Glenbrooke series, Secrets. Obviously, with all that is happening in our world, filming is on hold. But the script is written and it is ready to go into production as a Hallmark Christmas movie. I don’t know when it will happen, but it is certainly in the works.
I also have a new nonfiction book in the publishing process. I recently finished edits on Preparing Your Daughter for Womanhood. This book has been years in the making, and it touches on a topic that is very close to my heart. It is the result of many conversations and questions from readers, especially after the celebration of womanhood in the first Haven Makers book, Becoming Us.
As children of God, we often talk about being intentional with our time with Him, but intentionality in meeting our own needs as wives and mothers often falls by the wayside. Thanks to the truths Robin has woven into this book, women are forming their own purposeful gatherings so that they can encourage and support each other and truly be a part of each others’ stories. Perhaps, if you are feeling a bit overlooked or disconnected in your relationships, you will find inspiration in Being Known, too.
To learn more about Robin’s heart for encouraging women in their faith, her newest projects, and upcoming social media events, follow Robin on Facebook at @RobinJonesGunn and on Instagram at @RobinGunn.