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/

 

Christmas thoughts on a marine RTO, recon, and writing.

Yesterday, I attended the funeral calling for a great and humble man.

Although I had only met him a couple of times, his family is dear to me and so accounts of his greatness are evident through their words and legacy.

He was a decorated marine veteran of the Korean War, and as with all stories from The Greatest Generation, I was captivated learning he served as a radio operator.

img_0449When we were in Washington D.C. this past spring, nothing except the Holocaust Museum moved me more than the Korean War Memorial. The statues hauntingly depict hollow fear and stony cold.

I don’t know near what I should about the Korean War except that like this man, and like my uncle who was a field surgeon there, they refused to talk about it. Although this is not uncommon among war veterans for obvious reasons, whatever abominable things Korean vets survived seem particularly unbearable. The extreme cold and rivers of red blood staining blinding white snow had to have been two wretched reasons alone.

Imagine, for a moment, the role of the marine radio operator.

753536525Because I live with a husband and three sons who are consummate war buffs, I have watched (and been moved by) Band of Brothers, The Pacific, and nearly every contemporary, big screen war movie in between–and some of the old ones, too. I’ve seen depictions of radio operators in fox holes begging for someone to hear them, begging for more back-ups. I’ve seen how they had to swallow terror while on reconnaissance missions, navigating harrowing edges of enemy lines to send critical, tactical information back to officers.

And while in many ways I have no business comparing the role of the writer with a soldier, I couldn’t help but make a few connections. Maybe that’s because it’s Christmastime and conveying the imperative message of this season feels like battle. Maybe that’s because of the things I’ve learned this past year, in particular, about the politics of being an author.

Maybe that’s because I’ve been knocked down and tempted to hunker down in a proverbial fox hole and quit.

I think there are times–necessary times–in any artist’s life when they question their calling. That’s been me this year. Words didn’t flow. Plots didn’t form. I questioned my ability–maybe midlife has ruined my brain, as well as my waistline? I questioned myself–if only I wrote more like so-and-so. And most of all, I questioned my faith–if only I had more of it and lived a life more worthy of sharing G-d’s grace. If only this and more, writing would be easy.

Right.

But it was the calling of that hero, the marine radio operator, yesterday that helped shift my heart.

Lifting my eyes from the fox hole of self-pity (never a good place to be), I saw with new eyes the bloody and silent pain of people the world overlooks, and of those who have not yet felt the grace and peace of G-d.

Words are my transmitter and my receiver.

Writing is not about using all the proper literary devices, schmoozing at all the right conferences and literary circles, or garnering critiques from academically cloistered, progressive reviewers.

Writing is about listening through the static for the notes of the voiceless, and then playing their song.

These days, anyone trying to make headway with grace and hope is going to face unexpected mortar shells and miles left to go when our legs feel too heavy to carry the message.

You don’t have to be a writer to know that the battle is bigger than we are.

But the One who has called us is bigger still.

Do you hear the notes of the hurting around you?

What will you do with their song today?

Writing is good. Day 11, counting down #25daysofgood

i don’t say it enough,

what a privilege! 

what a wonder!

to sort and hold the words of a broken character,

a passionate soul, a dream.

why i have the chance to share story,

i’ll never understand. but i know 

i’ll never waste it.


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Writing is my good today.

What’s YOUR good

🔎 Find the good.

📸 Snap a picture.

📲 Share it on social media.

#25daysofgood