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A post-apocalyptic Georgia: NGMC nurse will soon release her first book in a dystopian romance series
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Jennifer Sargent of Clermont, who uses the pen name Havana Wilder, will publish her first book, "Protecting Tova," on Dec. 4, 2020. This is the first novel from the dystopian romance series, "Iron Mountain." Photo courtesy of Chasiti Varini

When she was diagnosed with COVID-19 and isolated for three weeks, Jennifer Sargent of Clermont passed the time by escaping to other worlds.

She read a book a day, devouring mostly dystopian romance novels with protagonists living in a post-apocalyptic environment.

“I started having dreams of my own characters, and how they would survive in a world I had not read about,” Sargent said. 

She said she started to put these visions on paper, and each night, more would come to her.  

After receiving encouragement from a friend and local author, Cassie Pugh, to transform her character and plot ideas into a book, Sargent dove in.

Six weeks after starting her first novel in July, Sargent finished “Protecting Tova” and submitted it to an editor. 

“For me, that was a huge accomplishment,” Sargent said. “It took my friend over a year. I asked her, ‘Did I go too fast? Is this normal?’ She said, ‘If you’ve got a story, put it down.’ And I did.”

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Despite raising three kids with her husband and working full-time as a cardiac nurse practitioner at The Heart Center at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, she found time to write her first novel. 

Sargent said she would carry her laptop everywhere she went — including her kids’ volleyball and horseback riding lessons — and type away. 

Before embarking on her author journey in July, Sargent said she had no past experience with professional writing. In school, she said language arts and English were some of her least favorite subjects. 

“I hated the thought of having to sit and read,” she said. “This was completely out of my comfort zone. It’s something I would’ve never thought in a million years I’d do.”

Her book, “Protecting Tova,” is the first of her self-published “Iron Mountain” series. Sargent said the target demographic for her dystopian romance series includes those 15 years and up. The novel is scheduled to come out on Friday, Dec. 4 and will be available for paperback purchase and Kindle download via Amazon.com. Her books are written under the pen name of Havana Wilder.

Sargent plans to have a meet and greet and book signing from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 12, at Hopscotch Restaurant on Gainesville’s square. 

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"Protecting Tova," is the first book in a dystopian romance series written by Jennifer Sargent, whose pen name is Havana Wilder. The novel is set in post-apocalyptic Georgia and will come out Dec. 4, 2020. Book cover by Christian Bentulan

Finding strength through the female lead

Sargent said she came across the dystopian genre for the first time while recovering from COVID-19. She found herself drawn toward plots centering on main characters surviving in a harsh setting while pursuing romance.

Sargent’s book, “Protecting Tova,” follows the story of 18-year-old Tova, a strong, independent female protagonist who grew up “abused as a child in more ways than one.” In the midst of the mayhem surrounding her life, she becomes romantically drawn to Pierce, a 20-year-old man who Sargent describes as “protective in nature and not willing to back down.”

The first book of the series is set in post-apocalyptic Georgia, 100 years after a great extinction event, which Sargent said wiped out a large chunk of the human race and animals.

The story takes place in a mountain territory called Iron Mountain, inspired by Sargent’s travels in Blairsville, Georgia. Sargent said Tova and everyone else in her community lives in a space encompassing thousands of acres and protected by a thick forest and stone wall.  Beyond the protagonist’s home lies mutated beasts and people “living with no rules or sorrow for killing another human being.”

“She’s (Tova) got to overcome the demons that have haunted her in the past,” Sargent said. “There’s this love interest, and she thinks she’s not worthy of him. The whole story line is: Can love survive in the midst of all the craziness going on? And can she overcome everything that happened in her past and not let it define her future?”

Out of the characters in her book, Sargent feels the strongest connection to Tova, with whom she says she shares similar personality traits, like quirkiness. She said the protagonist’s two friends, Dani-Jo and Adi, are near copies of her best friends growing up. As for Tova’s love interest, Pierce, Sargent considers him her “book boyfriend.”

I definitely see a lot of my husband in him,” she said. 

When people read “Protecting Tova,” Sargent said she hopes they finish it feeling motivated to stand on their own two feet and not let obstacles stop them from living a fulfilling life. 

“I want any person that reads this that had to deal with crap growing up and crap right now to say, ‘I’m not going to let something that’s completely beyond my control dictate what happens to my future,’” Sargent said.

The author has already started writing her second book in the series called, “Defending Pierce,” which she aims to publish in 2021.

If she could give one piece of advice to those considering writing their first book, Sargent said she would tell them to “not wait until tomorrow.”

“You’re never going to have time,” she said. “I never had time, and I made it happen. I carried around my laptop with me and any given moment I had, I typed as much as I could.”

To purchase “Protecting Tova,” visit Amazon.com.

Book signing with local author

What: Meet Jennifer Sargent, author of “Protecting Tova,” and purchase her new book

When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 12

Where: Hopscotch Restaurant, 107 Bradford St. NW, Gainesville
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