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Sweet, but not surface level: Local author hopes her ‘Christian contemporary romance’ helps readers fall in love with Jesus

Neena Gaynor, who belongs to St. Stephen Cathedral in Owensboro, recently published her first novel. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC


Neena Gaynor, a local author and member of St. Stephen Cathedral, believes that reading fiction can become a “holy way to spend your time.”

Her first novel, “The Bird and the Bees,” will be released on April 21 from Mantle Rock Publishing. It will be available in paperback and e-book format.

“While the book is a ‘Christian contemporary romance,’ it’s my hope that the story inspires readers to fall deeper in love with Jesus,” said Gaynor.

Neena Gaynor’s book, “The Bird and the Bees,” will be released on April 21, 2020. COURTESY OF NEENA GAYNOR

“The Bird and the Bees” tells the story of Larkin Maybie, who after burying her mother in the foothills of Appalachia is left alone with a crazy aunt, a mountain of debt and a run-down, secluded cabin – as well as the task of caring for the cabin’s honeybees. As the protagonist begins to accept the kindness of the local people and the affection of a professional baseball player, she must decide the value of true love.

While Gaynor herself is Catholic – she entered the Church in 2017 – the book is not explicitly Catholic. The story steers clear of “very strong church language, because the character is largely unchurched,” said Gaynor.

And besides, “from my experience in learning the Christian market, people don’t typically want a sermon out of their free time,” she said.

Gaynor also explained that her book, while classified as a “romance,” avoids anything “inappropriate” for “young readers – or even adults who aren’t interested in that.”

The Christian writer’s market is different from the regular market, and “that standard is really very high” she said, crediting Mantle Rock’s “great job” in working with her.  

“It’s something you can hand your young teenage daughter and not be terrified about,” she said. “They call it ‘sweet’ romance, which is another name for it; clean or sweet – and I just think the word sweet just exemplifies what it is.”

But Gaynor said the book’s plot is far from shallow, “because our faith is a deep faith.”

“So it’s sweet, but not surface level,” she said.

Gaynor said she had always wanted to be a writer, but her education is actually in nursing. She was a surgical nurse for a few years until she and her husband had children and she shifted her life to being a stay-at-home mom.

“If I’d never had children I don’t know if I’d ever have been a writer,” she said, explaining that her sons – Josey, 6, and Wiley, 4 – like her to be in their room as they fall asleep. After realizing she was spending far too much time scrolling on social media, she decided to “try and do something productive.”

So she took to writing on her laptop – and after a year, “I had a book,” said Gaynor.

She said it’s “kind of crazy” but just from sitting in their room, her sons had “carved out a writing time for me.”

“It’s my hope that the story inspires readers to fall deeper in love with Jesus.” – Neena Gaynor

Gaynor is no stranger to writing. Her husband, Wade, had played professional baseball for a number of years, and during that time she started writing devotions for the women of Baseball Chapel (which ministers to families within professional baseball).

In that, she said she discovered her gift for writing and “taking something I love and using it for Jesus.”

These days, she writes on her blog,, and is a regular columnist for The Hancock County Clarion in Hancock County, and the Kentucky Today online news magazine.

She said her husband has been “encouraging” and “wonderful” throughout her journey as a new author.

“When someone says ‘My dream is to do this,’ he says ‘Why don’t you start?’” said Gaynor of her husband. “He grew up always thinking ‘I want to play professional baseball,’ and he got to do it, so when he hears someone else, especially his wife – someone he loves and wants to encourage anyway – say I want to write a book, he says ‘Well take your laptop! Go!”

The novel’s love interest, she admits, is based heavily on her husband – he is a baseball player, after all – and more so than the main character resembles herself.

“It seems very autobiographical, but it’s not,” she said with a chuckle. For instance, her protagonist’s parents are not good parents, versus Gaynor’s own “such wonderful parents!”

She said the book includes discussion questions at the end, and is endorsed by Susan Brinkman, OCDS, director of communications and New Age research at Women of Grace, and also by Elizabeth Santorum Marcolini, New York Times Best Selling Author.

Gaynor said the theme of her book is “the power of choice,” and that “ultimately, at the end of the day, there is only one choice that matters – and it’s always just to follow Jesus.”

“While there are many circumstances in life we would never choose from flat tires, a parent addicted to drugs or alcohol, or devastating medical diagnoses, we aren’t alone,” she said. “The best response is always to embrace the Heart of Jesus. Always!”

Originally printed in the April 2020 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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