The Story Behind the Story
It’s not uncommon for writers to borrow from their lives and weave personal stories into their fiction. But every once in a while, another spark of inspiration comes along, often from unexpected places.
I first “met” Gwenn Eyer on Facebook. In my private reader group, I mentioned needing to do research on bed-and-breakfasts for an upcoming book and she graciously sent me a digital copy of Bed & Breakfast Magazine that featured her own, award-winning accommodations, Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast.
From the first few paragraphs of the article, her family's story of heart-wrenching loss, extraordinary courage, and unwavering hope touched my heart. And by the last paragraph, I knew I wanted to write a novel based (at least loosely) on their inspiring testimony.
Once you hear it, too, I know you’ll see why.
Innkeeper Gwenn Eyer always dreamed of owning her own bed-and-breakfast, so when she and her husband purchased a 130-year-old mansion in the stunning historic district of Jacksonville, Illinois, she wasted no time pouring her heart and soul into the project, purchasing antique furniture and, of course, a plethora of beautiful Christmas decorations. She also didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation to be a part of the annual Christmas Home Tour hosted by the local Pilot Club.
However, the Eyer family’s joy and excitement soon turned to heartbreaking sorrow. In late December, just two short months after purchasing their new home, they lost their youngest grandson in an unspeakable tragedy—a level of loss that could shake a person’s faith.
But not so for Gwenn and her family.
In Gwenn’s own words: “The heartache from that loss will forever be part of our lives, but it has always been my prayer that the Lord will be honored, even in my most challenging times. That experience has been used to strengthen my faith and has strongly impacted my work in the child welfare field, and I have determined to find joy—even after the hardest loss I have ever experienced.”
I confess, her poignant words brought tears to my eyes, and my emotions compounded as I continued to read.
Reeling with pain and loss, Gwenn knew she needed help to fulfill her commitment to the Pilot Club’s Christmas Home Tour and she made a few phone calls to seven of her closest friends. In a moving show of love and support, these fabulous ladies arrived on her doorstep with willing hearts and hands, and together, they began a special tradition forever known as Elves Weekend. Now, it extends to the entire town, with neighbors, townspeople, and even guests joining in the fun.
Imagine the smile on my face as I pictured the heartwarming scene ~ college football players putting up the 12-foot Christmas trees, the chef of the local Italian restaurant, Lonzerotti’s, passing out delicious appetizers, Gwenn’s friends laughing together and cheerfully directing volunteers in a flurry of festive merriment.
Not to mention, Gwenn’s home is unbelievably gorgeous and couldn’t be a more picturesque setting. So much so, I used a photo on the cover of the book!
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
After reading the article in Bed & Breakfast Magazine, the fire of inspiration had been lit, and I spent some time praying about whether I should reach out to Gwenn with my initial concept.
I finally summoned the necessary boldness and sent her an email asking if I could write a Christmas novel incorporating some elements of her story ~ nothing too close, but borrowing the ideas of the bed-and-breakfast and Elves Weekend, in particular.
She generously said yes, and it’s been a snowball of inspiration ever since, leading not only to one Christmas book, but an entire series. While the journey of my heroine, Abigail Preston, differs from Gwenn’s story in many ways, I’ve incorporated themes that are dear to both Gwenn’s and my heart, like children in foster care and our Nation’s veterans.
Gwenn not only adopted five children, she supports local foster families with her Blessings Bags, and gives back to our valiant men and women in uniform through BnB’s for Vets, a national program that offers free accommodations to veterans and their families.
Gwenn is a veritable treasure, and I’m so thankful the Lord had our paths cross. I highly recommend you check out her charming bed-and-breakfast and all the amazing work she’s doing in her community. You can find her website here. You can also read more about her story in her own words in this blog article.
The novel inspired by Gwenn and Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast releases on November 2nd in a sweet Christmas anthology titled A Keepsake Christmas. You can snap up a copy here.
And before we go, here’s a never-before-seen glimpse of the cover featuring Gwenn's B&B, to be released in print in 2022.
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