Tiffany Norris, who writes under the pseudonym Jere Steele, is excited about her debut novel Sweeter, which tells the story of a May-December romance that causes drama and redemption in a small Alabama faith community. The novel was recently released on Kindle and is available now on Amazon. (Check out the link HERE.)
Norris/Steele is an active member of the Southern Christian Writers Conference who lives in Birmingham and works as a university librarian; she's married with three daughters.
I recently got a chance to talk to her about her writing, her faith, and her new novel.
When did you first get interested in writing?
I've been writing almost as long as I've been reading, which is a long, long time! The first story I remember writing was about a pig named Stewart based on bedtime stories my mother made up. I believe I was about 8 years old. I've written off and on since then, storing scraps of stories in my email drafts and Notes app. (That Notes app is a whole situation!)
A couple of years ago, though, I pulled several of the scraps together and started working in earnest on Sweeter, and, as it started shaping up, I began feeling like it was one that needed to be shared, something which was both exciting and terrifying since I had never shared my creative writing.
Where did the idea for Sweeter come from? The characters and plot seem very real; were they inspired by real people and events?
The first inkling of it started after my mom passed away back in 2002. She and my dad, along with my aunt and uncle, had been a very tight foursome from the time they were young. When my dad started dating again, my aunt asked the question that Amy does at one point in the story--How long would you wait to replace me?
It was a hard, but honest, question and something we had to walk through as a family. And that idea of "replacing" a member of a group as well as navigating loss and grief as a community just really stuck with me for a number of years.
The four of them were also very involved in church, and, as I thought about what context to set the situation in for the book, I realized a church family often navigates loss and grief as a group. When really beloved members of a local church pass away, it's not just the individual families that grieve. The whole community feels it.
I did include some real-life details as well, just to make it more realistic and fun! My brother is 14 years older than I am, so I made Carole's sister 14 years older than her...that kind of thing.
What sort of experience do you want readers to have from reading Sweeter?
I want them to be encouraged that they're not alone in their grief or struggle--that God is with them in their darkest times. Very often, they have a community of people with them as well--in their church or family or friends--who will love them and walk with them in struggles too. These communities and relationships take work and time, but they're worth the effort.
I want them to be reminded that God is in the business of redeeming the tragedies of life and developing something beautiful out of them. It's my favorite way to see Him work!
And I want readers to be entertained, to be able to just get completely lost in another world for a little bit!
What other projects are you currently working on?
My next two books in this series--Faster and Deeper--are almost ready to go. If any of the secondary characters in Sweeter caught your attention, I think you'll like these next two stories too. They're set mostly in Alabama, and the stories can stand alone. However, if you read all three, you'll see a larger character arc as well!
I'm planning to record an audio version of Sweeter very soon to release as a podcast. I'd also like to start an email newsletter by the end of the year, so I'm currently working on a weekly serial kind of story to be ready to include with that.
What role does faith play in your writing?
I try to have everything in my life fall under the umbrella of my faith, and that includes my writing. My ultimate goal is to tell God's big story through my characters' smaller stories.
Tell us a little bit about your life outside of writing?
I have three young daughters and a full-time job, and we recently relocated from Texas to Alabama, which is where I'm from originally. Other than writing and playing the piano, my hobbies these days mostly consist of hanging out with my girls and trying different coffee places around Birmingham!
Learn more about Sweeter on Amazon.
Check out Jere Steele's Facebook author page.
Sweeter is published by Southern Story Books. Learn more about publishing opportunities HERE.