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/

 

second servings.

sweet tea

Shame sticks

to folks like sweat on a glass of iced tea on a hot summer day,

the condensation of cool, sweet hope as it

slams

up against thick and humid heat of pain.

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No one asks for shame

and the folks who dish it out don’t know any better. Better to assume they don’t, because the alternative would be that they shove the blame of their pain onto someone else on purpose, the recipient simply collateral damage of a load,

indeed a pall,

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no one was meant to bear.

Do you feel shame,

your shoulders aching from the weight of it, your frame bent and caddywampus from the way it makes you lumber through the days?

A sack of salt blistering your tender palms?

Because as much as we want to give up the shame we carry, most of us want to own it. If we’re honest, flat out honest, the shame feels good, and we appreciate the applause of those who notice the hunch of our tired backs, who inadvertently encourage us to hang on to the heavy instead of releasing it like the only One in history

His-

-story

who was able to say–and mean it

forgive them, Father. They know not what they do.

Here, Abba, take the shame. Because the double portion isn’t only for the shamed, but also for the one who’s dished it out, the one who piled the double portion of sorrow on the plates of others and for whom grace

oh, elusive grace

grace says the shame-throwers deserve a double portion, too. The ones who roll the dice at our feet and fight over the shredded aftermath of our soul killings, they’re captives, too, after all. They just don’t know they are.

Which is worse

Than letting go.

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Drop it, then.

A double portion waits for you and waits to overflow, runneth over, pour into the brokenness of the shame-throwers’ empty hearts.

Feels like lassoing stars, this business of dropping our beloved shame bags and sharing double portions but somehow the Gospel can handle this sort of greed and apparently joy and freedom are two of the few feasts where even in our gluttony we’re never filled.

We can’t receive even a single portion when we’re clinging to the thing we can’t give up.

But when we do, we

you

even me

even they

will be

radiant.

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*****

Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance. (Isaiah 61:7-8)

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Those who look to him are radiant;
    their faces are never covered with shame.
 This poor man called, and the Lord heard him… (Psalm 34:5-6)

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The Harlan family struggles with emerging from generations of shame in the novel How Sweet the Sound. For a limited time, you can order the e-book version of the novel for only $2.99 (or even less at some retailers). Click here to choose from your favorite e-book retailer today.

And see why folks like Rachel McMillan at BreakPoint are saying How Sweet the Sound is not your grandmother’s Christian fiction (click here to read her gracious article).