After 20 years of writing and publishing novels, Christy Award–winner Lisa Samson decided to take an extended break. “Not only did I get to the point where it wasn’t fun anymore, it was a chore,” she says. So Samson embarked on a new adventure—opening a tea shop.

“It was the best year I ever spent, realizing that I’m meant to be a writer,” says Samson, whose 22nd adult novel, The Sky Beneath My Feet (Thomas Nelson), releases in March. She also is the author of two nonfiction books and, as L.L. Samson, nine children’s books.

In April 2010, Samson opened Cuppa in her hometown of Lexington, Ky. She went to work at 6 a.m. every day, didn’t write at all, and enjoyed meeting a wide variety of people. “Golly, it was so good to get in among the populace, and to have people come in, and welcome them.”

Samson says that although she was never hard-nosed about what views others should hold, the tea shop “really opened my eyes to a host of other beliefs, and [gave me] greater respect.” She often hears complaints about how Christian fiction portrays non-Christians. “People are searching for God, and they’re searching for God in other ways. And that needs to be absolutely, 100% respected.”

Samson knew she would be “picking up the pen again” and also thought the tea shop had a future. But she closed Cuppa a year after its opening. Although the economy didn’t help her business, Samson concluded all she had needed was a break, not a new career. “I don’t regret all the money I lost,” says Samson. “It was the best money I ever spent. I found out who I was.”

In The Sky Beneath My Feet, Beth, the mother of two teenage sons, reexamines her life and beliefs when husband Rick, who has been wrapped up in his work as a men’s pastor, withdraws to a backyard shed to await a sign from God regarding a job offer in another state.

“I guess I wanted to explore themes of where women fit in, how we fit personally into our own faith,” Samson says. The book came about “as an expression of me finding faith for myself through the tea shop and through so many people.”

Samson is married to a sociology professor and has three children, ages 16, 18, and 23. She uses a “little shotgun shack in a checkered neighborhood in Lexington” as an art and writing studio. As an artist, she likes to do lettering that is more fanciful than calligraphy; she also paints abstractions onto old doors.

There is no computer at the studio. “I’ve started writing everything longhand, first draft, and that’s been wonderful, just wonderful,” says Samson. “I think as a visual artist, using my hands to write is a very different process. It slows me down, my first drafts are a lot cleaner, and it’s just very satisfying on a tactile level.”