When author Libby Sternberg comes to Bethany Beach Books on Sunday, Sept. 3, she will be signing copies of her latest book, “Fall from Grace,” a tale of redemption about a modern-day man from a famous evangelical Christian family whose indiscretions bring him and his family unwelcome scrutiny.
Sternberg, interviewed by phone from her home near Lancaster, Pa., said “Fall from Grace” was inspired by the scandal surrounding Josh Duggar — oldest son of the family whose lives were made famous by their reality TV show, “19 Kids and Counting.”
“I started thinking about ‘What would it take for a man like that to make his way back to his wife, his family and his faith?’” Sternberg said. “What would that look like?”
Sternberg, who herself is Episcopalian, said she feels certain branches of Christianity are too often painted with a broad brush that doesn’t show the whole picture. “I feel like evangelicals are often mischaracterized,” she said, either as one-dimensional zealots or in a manner that is “overly sentimental.” Neither of those is particularly flattering, she said.
After working with evangelical Christians in a public policy capacity on educational reform, Sternberg said she came to realize that they are actually “not that different” from those who are less conservative, in many ways.
At its core, Sternberg said, “Fall from Grace” is a love story, about a man and a woman, their relationships with each other and with God. While some would assume her newest book might fall under the category of “inspirational fiction,” Sternberg said she does not want to give that impression. She said there are “very, very strict guidelines” regarding what can be considered “inspirational” and that her book does not fall within them.
“Fall from Grace,” however, addresses faith in a realistic way — which in itself makes it rather unique in the genre. “In the publishing world today, it seems like fiction is secularized,” not delving into characters’ faith in a meaningful way. This was part of her inspiration for the book. “You just get called to write different stories,” she said.
Sternberg, whose “day job” is copy editor for book publisher Harper Collins, is a Baltimore native who has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the Peabody Conservatory of Music. After working as a union chorister for opera companies in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and coming to the conclusion that singing was not going to pay her bills, she turned to writing.
She embarked on her writing career first in public relations, then as a freelance writer for trade organizations and small newspapers. Her sister, she said, encouraged her to take the next step in her career and write a book. The result was “Uncovering Sadie’s Secrets,” a young-adult novel that was nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America.
After that, Sternberg wrote three more young-adult novels, four humorous women’s fiction (romantic comedies) books, two adult mysteries and two historical fiction novels.
One of the humorous books has been “greenlighted” to become a film. That book, “Fire Me,” is set in Washington, D.C., and, as of this week, the process of writing the script for the film had begun. The whole journey from book to screenplay has taken about 10 years and progressed in fits and starts, Sternberg said.
Sternberg said that, while she has had considerable success in publishing, she has also had her share of rejections.
“You progress through the types of rejections,” she said, adding that the more personal rejection letters sting less than the form letters.
While she has set other books in Mid-Atlantic cities where she has lived — her debut contemporary women’s fiction book, “Loves Me, Loves Me Not,” is set in her native Baltimore, as are her Bianca Balducci young-adult mystery series and her two adult mysteries, among others — she has not yet written a story based at the beach. Nor has she written a book based on the Amish culture that is such a large part of her current home in Lancaster. “I just haven’t felt called to write those stories,” she said.
Sternberg has written several historical novels — a genre she said she finds particularly challenging — in part because the language spoken in such tales must be specific to the time period, which adds another dimension to writing dialogue.
“It’s very daunting,” she said. “You just kind of immerse yourself in it for the duration.”
Sternberg said her novel “Sloane Hall,” about 1920s Hollywood, remains among her favorites because of it was a transitional time in the film industry.
“Movies were changing from pictures to sound,” and focusing on that period drew her into a world that was also changing and modernizing, she said.
Sternberg writes under two names — Libby Sternberg for “serious fiction” and Libby Malin for her more humorous works.
She will be at Bethany Beach Books at 99 Garfield Parkway, Bethany Beach, on Sunday, Sept. 3 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. to meet visitors and sign copies of “Fall from Grace.” For more information on Sternberg and her work, visit www.libbysternberg.com.