Everyone, please welcome Haley Stewart to our corner of the internet today! Haley is the author of several books; most recently, her adult non-fiction Jane Austen's Genius Guide to Life and her early reader "Sister Seraphina Mysteries," The Pursuit of the Pilfered Cheese and The Curious Christmas Trail. All three were among my favorite books from 2022. I am so excited to host her today so you can all get to know her a little better.
FEH: Hello, Haley! Can you tell us a little bit about your recent books and any new projects you're excited about?
HS: Sure! In the spring, my new book from Ave Maria Press was released: Jane Austen's Genius Guide to Life: On Love, Friendship, and Becoming the Person God Created You to Be. It explores what we can learn from Jane Austen's wonderful novels about cultivating virtue: what virtue (and vice) look like, how we might develop the virtues (and what holds us back), and how the people God places in our lives can help us to become more holy. Austen is such a brilliant novelist but she's also a moral philosopher diving into the big questions of life and what it means to be a good person. And I tell plenty of personal anecdotes along the way about how much she has taught me! The other big project I'm excited about are my new series for young readers, The Sister Seraphina Mysteries.
They're about an order of mouse nuns (the Sisters of Our Lady Star of the Sea) who live in an abbey underneath G.K. Chesterton's house in England. They run a school for village mice and, inspired by Chesterton's Father Brown mysteries, start solving local crimes. In the first book, The Pursuit of the Pilfered Cheese, the sisters (and two eager students) ride their tiny bicycles to London to investigate the theft of the prize cheese meant for the school fundraiser. And in the second book (my favorite of the series), The Curious Christmas Trail, Sister Seraphina and her friends must find Sister Dymphna, one of the senior nuns, who has started wandering off and becoming disoriented. All the excitement takes on Christmas Eve on the night of the Nativity Play and the Christmas feast!
FEH: I loved all your insights in Jane Austen's Genius Guide to Life. Even though I'm a diehard Austenite and have read most of her books multiple times, your focus on virtue and vice made me think about aspects of the stories I'd completely missed. Was this something you naturally made the connection with while reading, or was there a moment that pointed you in that direction?
HS: I've been really interested in Austen as a moral philosopher since taking a wonderful class with Dr. Margaret Watkins my senior year at Baylor University. We read all of Austen's novels through a philosophical lens. Ever since, I've been really interested in what Austen can teach us about vice, virtue, and what it means to live a good life.
FEH: I read that you got the idea for your mouse nuns book in a dream. I think that's every author's, well, dream! What was your process like bringing that from the seed of an idea to a full fledged plot?
HS: I let the idea simmer for several months and then I just decided to try it out. I started out with one character in mind and then a second. Pretty soon I had a full cast of characters! I started writing without knowing how the mystery would unfold or who the villain might be. I just followed my little mice around from scene to scene. I love writing but it's usually a bit of a slog to get through a book project. For these books, the whole process was a joy!
FEH: How does your faith influence your creativity?
HS: This is a hard question to answer because it's hard to imagine any way it doesn't influence my creativity. Everything from the kind of art I want to create to what I think it means to be a creative are all connected to my faith!
FEH: I'm not mean enough to ask you to name your favorite book, but are there particular books that inspired you? If you could write a book that was *like* any book, what would it be?
HS: For fiction I'm always inspired by Madeleine L'Engle. I love the way her books explore complicated ideas of faith, science, and relationships without being preachy. I'm also hopelessly devoted to both Lucy Maud Montgomery and Jane Austen's characters. They are so life-like!
FEH: Okay, and a few super quick questions just for fun! Would you rather live in Narnia, Middle Earth (at peace), or Pemberley?
HS: Oh my, what a difficult choice! It's hard to pass up Middle Earth, but I'm afraid that I'm a Pemberley sort of person.
FEH: Favorite ice cream?
FEH: Favorite Doctor of the Church?
HS: St. Hildegard of Bingen
FEH: Last book you binge read?
HS: Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin
FEH: Pumpkin spice or apple cider?
HS:Very basic pumpkin spice.
FEH: Thank you so much for the interview, Haley! I loved learning a little bit more about you and your books.
Hi! I'm Faith. I blog about books and creativity, family and faith. Welcome!