By Sue Baldani
When writing fiction, authors are able to let their imaginations run free and transfer the stories in their heads onto paper. Readers then get to live vicariously through the characters that these writers have brought to life.
Some writers wait longer than others to share their passion and talent with the world. “I had the desire to write, but I was 67 years old before I pursued it,” said Claudette Renalds, a successful Christian author and Haymarket resident. “I always had a wild imagination and stories playing in my head like a movie.”
She has always enjoyed reading and since retirement, has read thousands of books. “I could never get enough of reading,” she said. “I grew up on a dairy farm in South Georgia where we didn’t have access to many books except for the school library.”
One Sunday in 2013, the pastor of her church encouraged the congregation to pursue their dreams and goals and share them with others. “My friend Carolyn Abbott met me outside and asked me what my dreams and goals were,” said Renalds. “Out of the blue I said I would like to write and she said, ‘Well, just go home and write.’ So I did, and wrote a story, By the Sea, that had been in my head. That was the beginning of my first contemporary romance.”
When Renalds first started writing it, she planned on sharing it online with family and friends, but her sister, Paulette Zawadzki, told her she had to pursue getting it published. It was that good.
“I joined Capital Christian Writers Fellowship in Northern Virginia, took workshops, and in 2018, I attended the Greater Philadelphia’s Christian’s Writer’s Conference,” she said. “There, quite by accident, I found a publisher for By the Sea!”
Deb Haggerty of Elk Lake Publishing was on one of the panels, and later, when Renalds saw her standing alone, she walked up to Haggerty and handed her the first chapter of her book. Shortly after leaving the conference, Haggerty sent an email saying she loved it and asked her to send the whole thing.
“It was like a miracle,” said Renalds. “She believed in me, and at age 74, Elk Lake published By the Sea in 2019. It’s a sweet little romance about a young man, who’s a famous writer, who has lost his faith. He is introduced to a young pregnant widow with twin boys whose husband has died in Iraq.” Later on, this encounter changes the trajectory of his life. By the Sea was chosen as the finalist for the 2020 Blue Ridge Christian Conference Selah Awards.
Renalds second book, Journey to Hope: The Legacy of a Mail-Order Bride is a historical romance published in 2020, and the third one, Jonah’s War, was just released in August of this year.
In this latest book, she focuses on two characters that are as different as night and day. It opens with a male police officer arresting a female social worker who has been accused of sexual abuse and distributing drugs in the neighborhood. He learns very quickly that he has made a huge mistake. The social worker lives in the neighborhood because she wants to help people and has a heart for social justice.
“I had an outline of this book for five years,” she said. “But it really came together in and around the election. All the disunity, turmoil, racial injustice, hatred, and the bitterness and the unforgiveness surrounding the last election just hurt my heart. Even families were divided. So I wanted to write something I thought Jesus would do about the problems that were going on.”
The time she spent as the Director of Children’s Ministry at the Church of the Apostles in Fairfax also had a big influence on the storyline. “I had a lot of dealings with the youth and I saw how they were caught up in drug and alcohol addictions and how they had to suffer with all the racial injustice. I started thinking about how I could write something to do with that. I write about what God lays on my heart.”
Renalds’ style has been compared to Karen Kingsbury, the well-known Christian author, and she has also been called the Christian version of Nicholas Sparks. She may have started later in life, but she has been very prolific since then. She is currently working on another book that is due out in 2022. “It’s based on three days in Afghanistan, and things are changing there so quickly that I’m not sure how this one is going to play out,” she said.
For those looking to pursue a career in writing, regardless of age, she suggests taking the time to study the craft and going to workshops and conferences. In addition, reading a lot of books which enable you to recognize a good book as opposed to a not-so-good book.
“Also, get into a writing group and let them help you,” said Renalds. “And don’t despise criticism, because good criticism is what made me be able to write like I do.”
Her books can be ordered on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and from other book outlets. She and her husband, Charles Renalds, whom she met in college, live in Haymarket, and he is a huge supporter of her writing.
“You are never too old to learn something new,” said Renalds. “Have faith in yourself and embrace the desires of your heart.”