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Intersection Column | The Impact of Neighbors

by Holly Varni

I admit I completely fall into the cliché of “Every book is an autobiography, fiction or not.” When story lines and characters come to me, I am immediately transported back to my childhood home and the buzz of activity on our cul-de-sac.

Mr. Wagner would mow his lawn every Saturday morning, wearing the same pair of blue pajamas. With the shuffle of his slippers, he’d push the mower up and down his lawn, looking as if he had literally just rolled out of bed. Mrs. Reitburger always sat on her front steps directly across the street, watching the world going by as she smoked packs of cigarettes. With her gravelly voice, she’d shout a hello and then eventually go back to baking cookies and putting on a fresh pot of coffee in hopes a neighbor would stop by for a chat. Mrs. Seaton, with her bright orange beehive hairdo, would take her little yorkie dog, Peggy Sue, outside long enough to see if the UPS man had dropped off her latest porcelain figurine from the Home Shopping Network. And on the corner, my friend Sammy’s mother would invite me over for some flatbread and tabouleh.

There was a rhythm and consistency I grew up with that fills me with nostalgia. When writing On Moonberry Lake, I wanted to capture the feeling of a close community and neighbors who become family. Much like my childhood, the novel is filled with eclectic characters who at first glance appear to have nothing in common in terms of diverse backgrounds and ages, yet are bonded by one unbreakable tie—they look out for one another.

A sweet sentiment that highlights the best of humanity.

The fictional small town of Moonberry Lake is what most of us are not only looking for but yearning for in finding a home. The hope for a connection and a sense of familiarity and safety is a longing that never goes away, no matter how old we grow to be.

Neighbors are so important that God made it the second commandment to guide our life by: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31, ESV). As Christians, we are asked to not only show love, but shower those around us with the same love we would want for ourselves. Love your neighbor. Love those strangers living right next door.

Growing up in Minnesota, the neighbors on my street were much like the neighbors in On Moonberry Lake. In summer evenings, kids would run around playing tag as the adults visited while swatting away mosquitoes. In the fall, the invisible lines separating our lawns disappeared as we raked leaves. During snowy winters, my brother and I were expected to shovel the sidewalks and driveways of the elderly neighbors.

Everything was seen by everyone. Everyone’s business was considered interesting. We all knew who was on vacation and how long they’d be gone. We picked up each other’s newspaper and mail, in addition to hauling out their trashcan on garbage day. We operated like a community of ants in a colony, crawling over each other’s business without giving it a thought.

Galatians tells us to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, ESV). When writing On Moonberry Lake, the idea of a young woman who had lost everyone and had no family but was suddenly surrounded and embraced by a community of neighbors was placed on my heart. I wanted my story to feel like coming home, whether or not the reader ever experienced a home like that.

Neighbors aren’t simply a cute character addition to On Moonberry Lake, they are the cornerstone of the book. There is no measure of the impact of the neighbors. It can only be felt and cherished.


About the Author

Holly Varni is a native Minnesotan of strong Norwegian and Swedish descent, who was raised in the Lutheran Church that Garrison Keillor made a career depicting. Between the lutefisk, grumpy grandparents and crazy neighbors who mowed their lawn wearing pajamas, the seed to becoming a storyteller was planted in Holly. Though she, her husband and their three sons live along the Central Coast of California, her beloved Midwest roots continue to haunt everything she writes. She hosts the “Moments from Moonberry Lake” podcast where she shares more stories of her beloved characters.


About the Book

Cora Matthews's life is a mess. A broken engagement and the unexpected death of her mother have left her wondering if things will ever return to normal. Whatever “normal” is. It certainly isn't what she finds at Moonberry Lake. After she receives her family's dilapidated lakefront lodge as an inheritance—with a surprising condition attached—Cora finds her life overrun by a parade of eccentric neighbors who all have something to say and something to teach her.


Did You Know?

The Bone Wars are a fascinating piece of American history centered around the Great Dinosaur Rush in the mid-late 1800s. The era became known as the bone wars because of two men who did some pretty nasty things to one another all in the name of becoming “the best” and “first” in the field of paleontology.

  • The dig for dinosaurs was on. And they would stop at nothing to outdo one another. They spent a great deal of their fortunes—one of them actually went broke—and brought a name to their field of science. But perhaps not the way they hoped.

  • Many Christians were and are involved in paleontology. Including Earl Douglass, the man famous for finding the original fossils in the area that has since become Dinosaur National Monument.

  • Some say the Bone Wars are still happening today since it can be a cutthroat and challenging field.

I’m looking forward to the day when all is revealed and we understand—to the full extent—the intricate details of our vast universe. From the massive expanse that we can’t truly fathom down to the smallest micro-organism—I’m captivated by God’s incredible creation. (And yes, I’m fascinated with dinosaurs.) Until then, I will continue to research, and tell the stories that God has laid on my heart.

-Kimberley Woodhouse, The Secrets Beneath


Why I LOVE My Local Christian Bookstore

“Shopping in bookstores engages my senses. I can see, touch and smell books. I can feel their thickness and weight. And I can see the care given to page layout, to aesthetics. Bookstores move me from the one-dimensional world of words on a screen to the three-dimensional world of experience.”

-Sandra Glahn, Nobody’s Mother


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