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/

 

No part of our lives is wasted. Thoughts on writing and research.

I had the hardest time picking a major in college.

Everything interested me.

(Well, except for math.)

Truly.

Everything.

Just ask my roomate from back in those days.

From medicine to literature, political science to genetics, journalism to plant biology…there is so much wonder in the world…and so much to wonder at…how could I possibly choose just one thing to focus on for the rest of my life?

While I used to feel inadequate about my indecisiveness, I’m finally realizing I’m wired this way for a reason, and that writing novels is the ultimate and wonderful culmination of all my passions.

When I write a story, I can be whoever, wherever, and whenever I want

I can live on a pecan farm in Alabama (How Sweet the Sound). I can be a nationally renowned jewelry artist in Santa Fe, New Mexico, or South Haven, Michigan, or a Jewish boy escaping Eastern Europe in 1904 (Then Sings My Soul). I can be a dairy farmer or a pastor and live in a small town (Lead Me Home).

And all of that takes research.

Glorious, wonderful research in libraries and online, in documentaries and journals, and even in my own back yard.

I have books on pecan farming and I’ve spent hours watching pecan farmers on YouTube. 

I have binders full of lapidary design and stacks of books on rocks and minerals.

I’ve spent hours at my cousin’s dairy farm and I even hauled my family north to South Haven, Michigan one spring break when they’d have much preferred to go south.

And now I’m at it again.

I can’t say a whole lot about the current novel I’m working on, but here’s a stack of some of the reference books I’m using. The fiction ones you see are there not because of the subject, but because I’m studying those authors’ writing styles. You’ll also notice books on the writing craft, wildlife, and more.


Last week I even went on a wonderful field trip to spend a couple of hours interviewing a woman who is a wildlife rehabilitator. (So much fun!!!)

I hope you’ll be able to see the fruits of my current research sometime in 2018. Until then, I’ll share bits and pieces like this.

Mostly, I wanted to encourage you today to know that even though some seasons of our lives don’t make sense, no parts are wasted. Not even the painful parts. 

I agree with Carrie Fisher, who said to, “take your broken heart, and make it into art.”

All things work together, after all. 

That truth is more evident the more I learn, whether studying the life cycle of a pecan or the intricacies of a gemstone; the incredible instincts of rabbits and squirrels to care for their young; the way monarchs migrate for miles and across generations; the birds of prey and ducks who mate for life; and the ability of nature to heal itself. 

We live in a pretty amazing world, don’t we?

So, this is a glimpse into my writing life and what I’m working on at the start of 2017. 

It’s great fun.

It’s a lot of hard work.

And most of all–best of all–the results are a gift to you, dear readers. 

What about you?

What are you working on this year?

If you are a writer, do you like research? Why or why not?

Home Sweet Farmhouse Home: Collections

Home is where the heart is.

That’s for sure.

I don’t know about you, but especially during these times of social uncertainty and unrest, I am finding a particular comfort in my home.

While my other Home Sweet Farmhouse Home posts have focused on projects, I wanted to write a little bit about collections. The sort of collections that make a home…well…home.

Luke 2:19 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible, and especially since becoming a mother:

“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

So much love, so many memories were happening all around Mary when Jesus was born. She didn’t have a Creative Memories scrapbook consultant (I was one back in the 90’s!) down the street to help her save all the memorabilia, or a smart phone to document the visitors and events in real-time. So she pondered, cherished, and held the memories close in her heart. I’d be willing to bet she pocketed perhaps a smooth stone, a swatch of fabric from baby Jesus’ swaddling clothes, a snippet of wool from the sheep they shared the cave with.

Similarly, here are a few ways I’ve collected “memories on display,” if you will, in our home, visual reminders of travels and places and people we cherish:

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I love farms.

I love barns.

My ancestors were farmers, and several of my cousins still are today. Indeed, if you’ve read Lead Me Home then you know that my dairy-farming cousins were the inspiration behind this novel.

No wonder I collect paintings of barns.

These paintings in particular, belonged to a friend’s mother, so not only do they remind me of my heritage, they remind me of the special place from which they came as well.

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One of my dear friends, Sharon, painted this barn (below).

Isn’t it gorgeous?

You really should check out her work here. She’s pretty amazing.

All of my barn and farm paintings are in my dining room.

That’s one thing I’ve learned about decorating with collections: grouping things makes them stand out.

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Like these pretty glass jars.

I don’t have a particular memory associated with them, but I like them.

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Same thing with these vintage tablecloths.

Some of them belonged to my grandmother.

Others I’ve just collected over the years.

Putting them together in a little antique wire basket makes them look neat and special.

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I have two of these chicken egg crates, and I use them for books on my bookshelves.

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These rocks belonged to my grandfather, who was a hobby lapidarist. He cut and polished these himself.

He was also the inspiration behind my novel, Then Sings My Soul.

Keeping these beauties in a cigar box in the basement wasn’t doing them any good.

Now they are front-and-center on my mantle in a bowl I found at Goodwill.

I smile and remember Grandpa’s glee at showing us a new stone he’d been working on each time I walk by these.

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Sea shells!

Who doesn’t have a few of these around from a trip to the beach?

We love our trips to the beach. The vase of cotton sprigs and these shells, all together in a cake stand, remind me of steamy southern nights on the Alabama gulf coast.

No wonder I was inspired to set my first novel, How Sweet the Sound, in southeast Alabama.

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This painting also belonged to my grandpa, the lapidarist. He spent a lot of time on Lake Michigan, and I am sure he liked having this in his home to remind him of the lakeshore when he couldn’t be there.

This also inspired me to set Then Sings My Soul in South Haven, Michigan.

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The glass lamps have beach pebbles and pieces of driftwood in them that my family and I collected during our own trip to South Haven, Michigan.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing some of the ways I’ve used collections in my home sweet home.

What do you collect?

How have you used collections in your home?

May the Lord bless your home and the precious memories you ponder today and always.

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So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self  is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV)