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Interview with author Sharon Gillenwater

Posted Jan 27 2010 9:30pm


To continue with my last two articles on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), I'm talking today with Sharon Gillenwater about her new release, Jenna's Cowboy. While the book is labeled as a Christian romance, it's also the story of a wounded solider recently returned from several tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sharon delved deeply into the mindset of the soldier suffering from PTSD and those around him. I found this book a perfect follow up on my PTSD series.

Gillenwater-02_op_640x960Winter: Tell us a little bit about your book, Jenna's Cowboy.

Sharon: It's a book about faith, second chances in life and in love for two people who have been deeply wounded emotionally. When Nate Langley returns to Callahan Crossing, Texas after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, all he wants is peace and a normal life. And, God willing, to marry the only woman he's ever loved, Jenna Callahan Colby. But how can he promise Jenna forever when he may be losing his mind? Jenna has gone through a devastating divorce, and she's leery of relationships. But Nate is the one man who will never hurt her. She is deeply touched by his tenderness with her and his love for her little boy. She sees that he is hurting and rallies her family to figure out how to help him.

Winter: What's the story behind the book?

Sharon: Every week there are signs up around our small Washington town welcoming home someone in the armed forces. One day as I glanced at one of the reader boards, Nate's face popped into my mind. Not the handsome hunk on the book cover, but close enough—and I knew I was supposed to write about a returning vet. I grew up on a ranch in West Texas, and I have a deep love for that part of the country and the people who live there. It's fitting that my war vet hero is a cowboy since many of them serve their country in the military.

Winter: Your book deals with the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) on returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. What led you to write a book about this?

US_Army_Soldier_08 Sharon: I'd been reading about how many current veterans are having problems with PTSD. And I learned just enough to realize that my husband had PTSD when he came home from Viet Nam. He'd had some nightmares at first, was jumpy, always on the alert, etc. Thankfully, for him, the nightmares only lasted about six months, and he didn't have them every night. So he didn't go through the sleep deprivation that so many do.

Still, I figured I had a little insight into the problem. Originally, that was all I'd planned to include. But God kept whispering, "Go deeper." So I kept researching. I discovered that my husband's PTSD hadn't ended when the nightmares went away, and it had affected him in many more ways than we'd realized. I had much more to share than I'd first thought.

You said in the acknowledgments that you wish you and your husband had found the book Nam Vet, by Chuck Dean. As a wife of a former military man, how did you two cope with the effects of PTSD on your marriage?

Sharon: Not very well a lot of the time. Just like Dub and Sue in the book, we muddled through on our own with God's help. We had a lot of arguments, even after we came back to Jesus and asked Him to be Lord of our lives. I truly believe God held us together. Without Him, we couldn't have made it. His grace allowed us to forgive each other and try again, over and over.

Gene was twenty-one when he went to Viet Nam as a helicopter pilot. Of course the war changed him, but we didn't realize how much. Even decades later when we heard the term PTSD, we didn't think it applied to him. He'd gotten his degree after he came home and had a good job. He wasn't affected by PTSD as badly as some are, but there were issues that made it hard on the family. We butted heads a lot because he expected our son and me to obey his every command. None of us, including Gene, understood the sudden anger that came out of nowhere. My son and I walked on eggshells for years. My husband never hit us, but even verbal rage does damage. But we loved each other and hung on.

In 1990 Gene read a novel called CW2, about a helicopter pilot in Viet Nam. The author had been a chopper pilot in 'Nam about the same time as my husband. As Gene read it, buried memories and emotions surfaced, things he didn't even know were there. He sobbed his way through the book. But the significant changes didn't come until he joined a small, caring prayer group about ten years ago, and God began His healing process.

Researching and writing Jenna's Cowboy has brought even more healing and understanding for both of us. We've been married forty-two years and the last two have been the best ones yet.

Jenna_s_Cowboy3Winter: Not only does your book reveal what goes on in the mind of a soldier suffering from PTSD, you also give us a look into the lives of the people who love him. Is there a piece of you in Jenna, or her mom, Sue?

Sharon: I'm sure there is some of me in both, but especially in Sue. The incidents that Sue and Dub relate about their experiences with PTSD are what Gene and I went through.

Winter: Any parting words of wisdom?

Sharon: Just my favorite scripture verse, which helps no matter what you're dealing with. Proverbs 3:5-6 says: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths." NKJ

Winter: Thank you, Sharon, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share your story.

If you're interested in getting Sharon's book, Jenna's Cowboy, you can pick it up now at your local bookstore or online at For my review on Jenna's Cowboy, stop by my person blog, Rodeo with a Twist of Suspense, and check it out. 


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