Though The Homecoming of Samuel Lake (Random House) is Jenny Wingfield's first novel, she has plenty of screenwriting experience—on films including The Man in the Moon (starring Reese Witherspoon) and The Outsider (starring Naomi Watts). Wingfield is 65 and lives on a farm in East Texas.

Her process for writing the novel was decidedly unconventional. She wrote the first hundred pages in a couple of weeks, then set the manuscript aside for 12 years. Finally, at the urging of friends, she wrote the remaining 300 pages over the course of three months.

Wingfield, who rescues animals—she once saved a buzzard after it was hit by a car—initially intended to write a play that would be acted "on three sets in one—a house, sandwiched between two distinctly different businesses, so that a set change would only entail moving the lights."

The play morphed into a novel ("I still intend to write the play," Wingfield insists) about an Arkansas preacher whose rigid ideas about right and wrong are challenged when his 12-year-old daughter hides an eight-year-old neighbor from his abusive father.

Random House publisher Susan Kamil, who acquired the book from Susanna Einstein at LJK Literary Management, says, "Jenny's huge gifts as a storyteller, her ability to create characters that leap off the page, and her authentic, colorful voice combined to make her debut an unforgettable reading experience. Plus there is a young protagonist—Swan Lake (truth!)—who will lodge in readers' hearts forever."