On writing: What I could write and why I don’t.

For as long as I can remember, I could write. And not just write, but write well.

When I decided to write books for publication, I surprised some folks.

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“Do you really want to be known as something eone who writes about sexual abuse?” (A pastor asked me that one.)

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“Why can’t you write stories like ___(insert favorite Christian romance genre writer here)___.” (A relative asked me that.)

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I’ve fielded countless other similar questions since then. Still, my novels (with all gratefulness and glory to Him) sell well enough that I have a fourth one coming out in 2018, and a re-release of the said sexual abuse story in less than two months, September 1 to be exact.

The people who asked those questions above were right. Kind of. To be sure, my novels are meant to entertain. Each has threads of romance, intrigue, and even a little mystery in them. But those things aren’t ultimately what propels the characters, or me to write them.

I’m well aware that I don’t write what I “should” write–at least not in the eyes of others. I write the stories I argue with God about until I’m 100% certain that’s what He wants me to write. I write as a reluctant introvert and as someone who could write genre romance or Hallmark-esque stories, but I’m not called to write those. Some writers are, and that’s spectacular for them. Truly. Readers want and need and buy those books. They sell well. But whenever I’ve tried to write something more like so-and-so or less personally honest or less edgy or whatever descriptives/labels you’d like to use, I just can’t. My mind goes blank. Either that, or what comes out is a linguistically shameful blob of nonsense. (Just ask my beloved editors.)

Nevertheless, if a lifetime of Bible stories have taught me anything, it’s this: Most people won’t understand the work of someone who is listening to or following the Lord.

That doesn’t stop me from struggling with what I feel called to write. It’s downright scary to put stories out there I know are going to ruffle some feathers.

Gratefully, what I write and why made a little more sense to me when my pastor spoke this weekend about Proverbs 24:10-12. Here it is in The Message version:

“If you fall to pieces in a crisis,
there wasn’t much to you in the first place.
Rescue the perishing;
don’t hesitate to step in and help.
If you say, “Hey, that’s none of my business,”
will that get you off the hook?
Someone is watching you closely, you know—
Someone not impressed with weak excuses.”

 

See, I was perishing once. Still am, if I’m honest. Back when I wrote my first novel, How Sweet the Sound, I was perishing under the weight of having been sexually abused for over 10 years as a child and I had questions…BIG questions…for a God I grew up believing could stop such evil, and yet it had happened to me. I learned there were hundreds of thousands of others who had suffered the same way, so I couldn’t say sexual abuse wasn’t any of my business. Sexual abuse was all about my business. And when I argued with God about why it all happened, well…

How Sweet the Sound was born.

How Sweet the Sound is an unlikely novel about an unlikely family in Southern Alabama torn apart by the same fate I suffered. I wrote and wrote and re-wrote and re-wrote, until not only did I have a book about it, but I had a book of hope. And that’s the key to my stories right there.

I wrote a book of hard and a book of hope.

Whether or not it ever makes a best-seller list makes no difference, especially in light of Proverbs 24:10-12.

What makes a difference are the tens of hundreds of notes and handshakes and nods from others who’ve been sexually abused and say to me, “Me too. Thank you.”

Me too.

Thank you.

What they thank me for is not a book as much as for the hope the characters in that story found in the midst of their perishing circumstances.

Each one of my books is like that. How Sweet the Sound is about not turning my head to and finding hope in the midst of sexual abuse. Then Sings My Soul is about not turning my head to the plight of the aging and elderly. Lead Me Home is about not turning my head to the plight of small churches and small communities and overlooked people in our midst. And my fourth book (title TBD), releasing in 2018, is about not turning my head to the plight of the unborn, the plight of birth mothers, and the plight of those in the midst of the opiod epidemic that’s happening right smack in the middle of each of our back yards.

The sexually abused, the aging, small folks, and the unborn and birth mothers…all of them have two very real things in common:

1) People turn their heads to them.

2) They’re all desperate for hope in the midst of perishing situations.

Because when you’ve got nothing, hope means everything.

(((which just might be a direct quote from my upcoming 2018 novel)))

Could there be any greater reason to write–or to read, for that matter–than that?

Hope.

Hope in the midst of struggle. In the midst of terror. In the midst of grief. In the midst of abuse. In the midst of even death.

If one person picks up one of my books and finds that, well then I’ve done my job.

Recently I finished reading Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. (He was a writer who, in his time was often misunderstood and ridiculed and chastised. I’m smitten!) So many things moved me about that story, in particular the parallels between the hopelessness of the dust bowl era and migrants searching for survival in California, and the hopelessness of America’s current small towns and the poor and marginalized within them. These words in particular brought me to tears (and do again even as I type them):

“Where does courage come from? Where does the terrible faith come from?…The people in flight from the terror behind–strange things happen to them, some bitterly cruel and some so beautiful that the faith is refired forever.” ~John Steinbeck

I’ve seen a lot of bitter cruelty first hand, whether personally, or in the eyes of friends in Ukraine where abortion is seen as simple birth control, or on the faces of an aging hospital patient who never has visitors, or at the bedside or graveside of someone riddled by the effects of an opiate addiction.

Some may say my faith is terrible, and in many ways I’m sure is. I doubt. I wrestle. I sin. And I sin again. I have often prayed the prayer, “Oh Lord, help me overcome my unbelief.”

But in and because of all of that, my faith is refired forever.

The perishing are my business.

Therefore my writing will never be off the hook.

Someone’s watching, after all.

Someone’s watching.

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Stay tuned for details about my novel, How Sweet the Sound, releasing September 1 with a brand new cover and a chapter from my brand new 2018 novel.

Also, Lead Me Home is on sale for e-readers across all your favorite platforms. Click here for options: http://ebookdeals.net/

 

Third time’s a charm. Encouragement for writers and anyone with an impossible dream.

I’ve seen them plenty of times, red tail hawks floating in circles above the Indiana tree lines. But I’ve never seen one as close up as this:

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It’s as if he was sitting there, waiting just for me.

And I think maybe he was.

I was at the darkest point in my writing career. My editors had broken the news to me that the novel I’ve been working on for close to two years had to be rewritten…for the third time.

They weren’t being mean when they told me this. They were being honest. The first two drafts–as sometimes drafts can be for many authors–were truly horrid, despite the exhausting effort I had put into them.

I was devastated.

I didn’t have the energy, the heart, or the wisdom to know how in the world I could write yet another version of the story. More than that, I began to feel that my other three novels were just a fluke, that I was a fake of a writer, that whatever luck I’d had before was plum wrung out.

Lord help me, I prayed.

My dear husband encouraged me not to give up.

I forced myself to make new plot cards and storyboards, to comb through the previous two drafts for any paragraph, sentence or word that could be salvageable, and to pray (even more) that the Lord would allow me the ability to write just once more something that would be pleasing to Him.

Slowly but surely, I began to notice things.

Things like this red tail hawk who remained still even as I moved within steps of him (there is a thread that involves a red tail in the story)…

…things like a song on the radio, a point in a sermon, a chance finding of a book or movie that helped me work through a new or difficult plot thread just when I needed help the most…

…things that other people might think I’ve lost my ever-loving-mind to find significance in, but that I knew–or at least suspected–was the Lord whispering to me.

“Keep going.”

“You’re on the right track.”

“I’m with you.”

Stating openly that I “hear” God like this does seem nuts, especially when it involves writing a novel. I mean, there are so many more important things going on in the world…people fighting so many bigger battles. But at the same time, a big theme of my story is about how the Lord sees and cares for even the tiny, insignificant little sparrow. But as the scriptures show us time and time again…

…He is big enough to be in the big battles, and still have more than enough left over to be in our little battles, too.

I got the call last Friday that this third re-write has been accepted. Pending the standard editing process, the story I finally finished and submitted a few weeks ago will become my next new novel, slated for publication in 2018.

If you’d seen the other drafts (and thank goodness you won’t), you’d know without a doubt that this story was only possible because of the grace of God.

But isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?

Our faith, our offerings, are but tiny seeds in the hand of a mighty, mighty God.

He’s the one who grows them and forms them into something bigger and better than we could ever have imagined.

Whatever you’re facing friends, don’t ever think it’s too small or too impossible to take to the Lord in prayer. Don’t ever think He doesn’t see the sparrow of your dream or your worry, or that your toil is in vain. Every delay, every rehash and rewrite and do-over of this manuscript, and every manuscript I’ve ever written has been for a reason, whether to hone me, or to hone my work.

In the meantime, stay tuned to this website and my social media sites for updates about this next novel. I can’t wait to share the hope and these new characters with you!

On how to survive this constant fray.

It was quiet that day.

Mid-day.

Sun high.

Scorching.

Humidity as thick as the shame the woman felt.

That’s why she went to the well, after all.

No one else would be there.

No one cat-calling. No one spitting at her feet. No one turning the other way to avoid her. No one carrying invisible signs that read “slut,” or “worthless,” or worse.

There were no crowds.

To be sure, the man who met her there created and moved crowds on occasion. But when he really wanted to change a life, he picked a time no one would notice, except of course for the one who needed him most.

He looked in her eyes–first time anyone had done that in a long time. It unnerved her, that deep, gentle stare.

She had to turn away.

But he refused to leave. 

I’m talking about Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman. (Click to read about it in John, chapter 4.)

And I want to be more like that.

No shouting. No name-calling. No talking over people who think differently from me. No turning the other way to the hurt and shame of others.

I fail.

A lot.

Especially these days, when fury seems like the new standard, the resting posture of so many of us.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence I felt led to make 2 Corinthians 10:5 my memory verse for the second half of January. I need to take every thought captive more than ever. And I’m learning I have to get drastic to do so. I took all social media applications off my phone. I made a pact with myself to check it once a day, twice at the most, but only for messages–not to scroll and fall into the fray. I figure anyone who really needs to get ahold of me knows my email or my phone number, and that’s enough. It’ll have to be. This isn’t something everyone should or even wants to do. But for me, well, I’m finding that the more time that passes with this new quiet, this new posture, the more I feel peace re-entering my heart.

The less connected I am to the world, the more re-connected I am to Him.

(This is the great conundrum of course–how to be in the world, but not of the world; how to reach out without falling in. All we can do is try to find a balance the best we can, with the Lord’s help.)

I wonder what we’ll have to say for ourselves in five, ten, twenty years.

I hope we’ll be able to say we were kind in spite of the times; that we were still able to hear the birds singing in the morning; that we still noticed the small green spears of crocuses and daffodils emerging this spring; that we held banners of love high above signs of hate; that our children were able to watch us and learn swords of grace and mercy work best against hate.

I hope.

I sure hope.

I know for sure I can’t do it by reading and listening to the soundbites and the news feeds and the home pages anymore.  And I can’t do it at all without turning my focus, my eyes, and my heart on him, the man at the well.

Like I said, I fail. And I will again, because I’m human, and because it’s hard not to hear constant, deafening outrage.

But there is a voice calling, even and still in this wilderness,

and it’s filled with words like those found in Philippians 4:8-9:

Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart. The things which you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things in daily life, and the God who is the source of peace and well-being will be with you.

The source of peace.

The source of well-being.

Center your mind.

Implant them in your heart.

That’s my prayer for me first, since I fail at this worse than anyone I know.

It’s my prayer for you, too.

And maybe…maybe…something good will bloom out of these dark times after all.