How Writing Remembers

Last week, I settled into my table at the library. My table—and woe to anyone else who takes my spot! Another week day romp through my latest novel. This one — a coming-of-age story of a young girl in the 1950s in Oklahoma.

Although my main character is NOT myself, she does experience many of the situations I grew up with — also in the 1950s in Oklahoma. Write what you know, but be willing to research what you don’t know.

But this day was not for sketching my main character and the obstacles she faces. It was more of a reminder of the joy of country living.

My main character is working on a farm during harvest, helping the mother of the family with chores and the always necessary food and snacks. She is hot, because it is June and in the 1950s, central air did not exist on most farms.

There is no dishwasher or dryer. So all the dishes, including multiple pots and pans, are hand-washed and hand-dried. Then the laundry is hung out on the clothesline, keeping watch for sudden thunderstorms. The kitchen smells like bacon, a leftover sensory joy from breakfast. Potatoes are soaking, waiting to be peeled for lunch and dinner. Bread is rising on the gas stove. Its yeasty smell permeates everything.

Even writing about that bread makes me salivate. As a gluten free consumer for many years, I still miss the smell and taste of homemade bread.

I paused in my first draft and flexed the muscles of my right hand. Then closed my eyes and remembered again, the joy of living on a farm. The freedom it represented as I walked through the pasture to bring the cows home, picked fresh produce from the garden, swatted at the wasps who tried to invade our peach orchard, fed scraps to the dog, and watched the sunset stretch across the entire horizon.

How I miss those days with Mom and my sister in the kitchen, Dad and my brother in the field. The putt-putt of the tractor as it headed home. The roar of the combine as the guys readied it for another day harvesting our red winter wheat. The calls of “Come, bossy” before milking and “Here, kitty, kitty” after milking.

The people and the place merged into a giant memory of time, distance, emotions, and loss. After a couple of hours creating my book’s storyline, I headed to the grocery store. Found some pears on sale and HAD to buy one.

Again, the memories flooded in. The line of pear trees on our other farm in the far reaches of the county. How we brought food to the field, then picked the fresh pears that had fallen during the night. Carried them back to the kitchen for easy snacks, pear jam, and a fiber-rich side dish.

Between the pears and the writing, it was easy to disappear into the past. This happens to us writers. We transport ourselves to other worlds. Sci fi and fantasy becomes a future. Historical fiction and memoirs detail us backward into both good and bad scenarios.

But always, always — it is the power of the words that transports wordsmiths, then hopefully, our readers as they travel with us through the story. We find again the beauty of creativity, the power it holds over us, and the possibilities it opens for our readers.

Hope remembers the past with fond details of country life. Hope also moves forward to create, invent, and enjoy a make-believe world.

People often wonder what is the writer’s process? It simply begins with pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. Then as the soul adds the creative elements, the process gives life to characters, to time and place. And the process fills the words with hope.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re struggling to find time to write, check out Finding Your Writing Plan.  

Hope Returns

My hometown recently hosted an author festival. Thirty authors set up their tables, complete with vertical displays, dishes of candy and an assortment of books.

After I set up my table, I roamed through the library and visited with the other authors. This library was the modern version of the old Carnegie library where I grew up. Mom drove us to town each week so we could check out a stack of books.

Who would have guessed that little girl who loved to read would some day return as a published author? Only the God of returned hope.

But this day included more of a helping attitude. Although I sold some books, I was also able to share with other readers how my books came to be — the life issues that impacted me.

One reader wanted to write, but she was stuck. She wanted so desperately to finish her book, but she felt blocked and unable to continue. So we talked about the issues that often stop our creativity. As I listed them, she grabbed my hands and said, “That’s it! Perfectionism. I keep going back to make everything perfect.”

“Ah-h. So remind yourself that a good editor will fix any mistakes. Keep writing, because you can always revise later.”

She seemed relieved and wanted to know more about my coaching services.

Another reader picked up my book Sometimes They Forget. She read the back blurb, and tears formed as she said, “This is about Alzheimer’s?”

“Yes. My mother had Alzheimer’s, but this book is for the caregivers.”

“I need this. We’re trying to take care of my mother, but it’s so hard. How many years was it for you?”

When I told her it was ten years and Mom passed last December, she closed her eyes. “That long,” she said. She seemed tired.

“You have to take care of yourself. It’s okay to leave for a while and get away. Don’t give in to false guilt.”

She nodded, hugged my book to her chest and moved on. I watched her as she took time to look at other books, bought a few, filled her bag with more hope.

A young couple stopped at my table and looked at all the books. Ate some candy. Then she picked up Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe.

“That’s the book my son and I wrote,” I said. “He’s a millennial, so we wanted to write a book together to explain some of the topics of faith. And we wanted to do it in easy-to-understand language.”

“We’re millennials,” she said. “I think we need this.”

It was fun to share the proceeds of that book with my son and tell him about this couple. I hope the book will help them.

Several women were intrigued by The Invisible Women of Genesis. A couple of them bought the book. When I explained the background, they nodded. “The Bible is full of amazing stories, but many of the women are invisible. Their names aren’t mentioned or any of their back story. I decided to write about the invisible women just in the book of Genesis.”

As I signed copies, I wrote, “You are never invisible to God. He sees you.”

A pastor and his wife were both writers. His books are published. Hers have yet to be finished. “Time,” she said. “There’s never enough time, and people keep dying at inconvenient times.”

I remembered Mom saying something similar at the funeral of one of our relatives. “Death is never convenient.” So true.

One of the more interesting authors I met was an Episcopal priest. He writes murder mysteries. We discussed ways to kill off the bishop. He’s a bit worried about the NSA checking his online research as he looks for the best ways to get blood stains out of the carpet.

So many genres. So many interesting authors.

But this day of returning hope manifested on so many levels:

  • Returns on my books as offerings of hope
  • Returns on my years of experience as an author and coach
  • Returns on relationships as I visited with family and friends

But mostly a return of the soul of a reader who became a writer — back to the place where my love of words began.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved Check out the list of my books on my Amazon Author page. Find the hope in every title.

Hope Arrives in a Book

When creativity nudges a book idea, strange things can happen.

Writers usually begin with the germ of an idea, maybe a “What if” question such as: “What if a young girl from Kansas ends up in the land of Oz?”

Sometimes these creative nudges become a puff of wind. They fly away, and the writer forgets about them.

But as we learn to nurture our creativity and pay closer attention to ideas, the nudging sprouts and begins to take root. Then we water it with more ideas, nurture it with the fertilizer of brainstorming and honor it with structure.

After some time of thinking, planning, or wondering through various tunnels of ideas — we begin to actually write.

All this setup can take from days to years, sometimes even decades.

My novel No Visible Scars was 15 years in the making. A long time before I held that book in my hand.

My latest book began as an idea in 2017. I knew a novel was begging to be born, but I had only the scarcest of ideas.

Then I remembered the maxim so many of us follow, “Write what you know.” So I made a list of what I knew at that time:

  • Loss
  • Ministry
  • Kansas, specifically Johnson County
  • Church politics
  • Old houses and DIY projects
  • Gardening
  • Eating gluten free

Then I found my “What if” question. What if a woman who lives in an old house loses a child and seeks help from a minister? What if the minister in Johnson County has also suffered a loss?

From that point, my idea thread wound all over the place and ended up in several knots. Brainstorming sessions with my critique group helped eliminate the unnecessary and solidify the important. And I took long walks where I talked myself through the kinks.

So when I took my creative writing retreat in Santa Fe, circa September, 2018 — I had my skeleton of ideas and a basic structure. I knew the names of my characters and was ready to begin.

I also had a Bible verse that haunted me. “The year of my redemption has come” (Isaiah 63:4). That verse would become my title.

But when I flipped open my new writing pad to begin the first chapter, something entirely different happened. A quirky change. Instead of telling the story from the female protagonist’s viewpoint, the minister jumped out and said, “Let me tell it.”

I have learned not to argue with my characters — or with the God who inspires them.

Pastor Tanner told his story about a tragic loss that led him to his year of redemption. In the process, he learned to care about the woman in my notes who had also suffered a loss. Together these two hurting characters lived out the story and became the book that is now published.

So that is how The Year of my Redemption happened. One of the fun things about books is when we find a surprise waiting in the words.

When writers are also surprised, it germinates hope that the next project will be just as much fun.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out The Year of My Redemption, available on Amazon. And follow me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads and YouTube.

When Writing Becomes a Hope-filled Surprise

In our world of virus warnings and political mayhem, it’s nice when life offers a surprise.

A few months ago, my creative brain noodled with an idea. What about writing another Christmas book, but not one related to Alzheimers or caregiving?

Why not consider the women of Christmas and the roles they played in the greatest story of all time?

So I sat at the keyboard and within one week composed a small book titled “The Women of Christmas.” Using fiction techniques, I told the story from each woman’s viewpoint, including the usual characters we know about: Mary, Elizabeth and Anna.

Then I inserted other women who have been invisible for ages: the innkeeper’s wife, Mary’s mother and Rahab from the Old Testament.

The final chapter kept the book contemporary and personal as it invited readers to find themselves in the Christmas story.

That sweet little book sold so well, I decided to follow it up with a sequel for the next religious holiday. Thus “The Women of Passion Week” was composed and released.

It follows the same format with some of the women who were present in biblical accounts, but also includes the invisible women who helped Jesus and supported his ministry.

These women of great courage became leaders in the early church. In fact, the news of the resurrection came first through women. The reason why could be another book.

Neither of these books were planned in my goals list, yet they have each provided a pleasant surprise — a reminder that the Great Creator writes with me.

How can a writer know when an idea comes from God?

Ultimately, all creativity spring from the Creator. He designed our hearts and the passion to create art.

We shouldn’t be surprised when something completely unusual springs to mind. After all, God made butterflies and dodo birds, osprey and copperheads, little children who play in mud and puffy clouds that scamper across the sky.

He is not the God of the ordinary idea.

When an idea is obviously from God, I don’t have to think about it. The thought just comes, then springs into action with my fingers on the keyboard. Often, I type his words faster than my own because I’m not thinking. I’m just doing it.

Crafting the paragraphs and chapters becomes an easy flow, from his heart to my energy and eventually to the printed page.

Creative ideas from God feel like fun. No grinding out a structure to merge plotlines into character sketches. No research at the library or clicks on the internet. No questions for my critique group.

It just happens. As it develops, I know it’s like all God’s other creations — very good.

Results aren’t pre-determined. Although both my “Women Of …” books were financially successful, that is not the aim of God’s creative surprises.

Other books from his creative genius have not fared so well. The goal is not to make money. It is only to listen to his heart, respond and make my fingers move. And as I do the typing and the editing, I feel the joy of completing a project God himself designed.

So far, I’ve experienced these creative surprises five times. The three books of the Reverend G trilogy worked the same way. Just listen to God, sit down and let him write through me. And now I can add these two “Women Of … “ books.

I have numerous ideas for other books, goals to meet this year and in the coming years — a five-year plan. Maybe those ideas are directly from God or maybe just from the creative juices he has poured into me.

I’ll know when I sit down to write.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

In case you haven’t read it yet, check out “The Women of Passion Week.

 

 

 

Hope Rebounds with “Little Women”

Little Women coverOn Valentine’s Day, I treated myself to the movie, “Little Women.” It was a fabulous version of the classic story, told with back story and references to the Civil War time period. The movie was true to form, credible in its costuming, setting and historical accuracy.

The theater was filled with mostly women, probably like me — those of us who grew up reading all of Louisa Mae Alcott’s books and loving the March family.

Halfway through the opening credits, I found myself smiling with anticipation, remembering my younger self climbing my tree with a book tucked in my sweatshirt. Then reading in my branchy nook as Jo and Meg, Amy and Beth galloped through my imagination.

Leaving my own words behind in my office, I reveled in the words of this talented author whose journey came alive on the big screen.

But what struck me the most was my own history and how it ended up intertwining with the life of Jo March.

Louisa Mae Alcott and her writings inspired me to become a writer, around the same age as Jo March discovered her passion for words.

I understood how as a tomboy, she liked to climb trees. My private space was nearly twenty feet up, within yelling distance of the house in case Mom called.

Several years ago, an Oklahoma spring storm destroyed my tree. I still grieve when I visit the farm and see its empty space, remember the naïve girl who disappeared in its limbs.

Jo March wore her “one beauty” with pride. Her long hair became a key scene when her mother needed money to tend her father’s wounds. Jo and I liked to braid our hair or wear it in a long ponytail, playing with it as we tried to find that perfect word for the next sentence.

How crushed Jo was when her words were rejected by editors. As my files of rejections grew, I empathized with her yet never lost my hope that someday, I would see my books in print. Both of us accomplished that dream.

When little sister Amy burned Jo’s manuscript, I also swore with my heroine that I would “Never ever forgive her.”

The ultimate insult is not the rejection of our words, but the destruction of them.

Jo and Louisa cared more for their principles and their freedom than they did for romance. Unlike her fictional character, Louisa never married either Teddy or Fritz. But to sell her manuscript, Louisa had to either marry off her main character or sentence her to the grave.

Even today, publishers still insist that characters act a certain way, find a certain pathway to their dreams. This is one reason why I primarily write independently. I like the freedom of letting my characters be who they are without preconceived ideas that might sell more books but will damage my creative soul.

The Alcotts were progressive thinkers. They believed women’s rights should be fought for, championed in spite of society’s morays. If Louisa had lived longer, she would have been a central figure in the battle for women’s voting rights. And I would have joined her in the protest line.

How difficult it was to be poor! It still is. Louisa and her family struggled financially, and it was always her intention to help support the family with her words. Wisely, she fought to keep her copyright and the highest royalties possible on her Little Women contract. Ultimately, her writings did help keep food on the table.

Louisa and Jo loved the family and hated the idea of growing up. So totally my story. Wearing a bra seemed like torture and becoming a “woman” with the curse of Eve wrecked my chances of being drafted into professional sports. My teenage years occurred before Title IX, but fortunately, I attended a high school that included girls’ competitive athletics.

Hormones still destroyed many of my athletic dreams until I learned to accept who I was. I learned how to exercise for my health rather than competition. Even today, the channel I watch the most does not include soap operas or Hallmark movies. My remote most often clicks on ESPN.

In spite of perilous times, poverty, tragedy and the uncertainty of her future, Louisa and her Jo continued to write. The passion for words was her driving force, her reason for existence and her burning desire.

In spite of my travels, life changes and various ministry assignments, I have always returned to writing. Journals, articles, stories, blog posts and books make up my resumé, and I don’t regret a moment of the time used to create sentences and paragraphs, to shape characters and envision plots.

Louisa was lucky enough to discover a story that resonated with a publisher and continues to delight to this day. Her words are evergreen, precious to those of us who grew up with them.

Some of my older books continue to sell, surprising me at the end of the month when I check my reports. Even after I step into eternity, I hope they will continue to provide an income supplement for my beloved son.

I understand Jo March and her creator, Louisa Mae Alcott. As one of my life-long she-roes, Louisa still inspires me to use a pen and write my first drafts long hand. Pentel pens don’t stain my fingers like ink and quill, but I love the scritch of the nib across paper, the allowance of time and thoughts to discover how deeply the words are buried — how they erupt once found.

God has allowed me these years to follow the same passion, to be a writer, to hold my published books, and I am grateful. From my current office, far from the nook of my tree, I whisper, “Thank you, Louisa. You and your Jo were my favorites of the little women.”

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my books on this Amazon Author Page. Louisa would have never imagined the internet.

 

 

Words of Hope

Are you beginning this new year the usual way – reviewing the past and considering your direction for the future?

acceptanceFor my 2019, I have set goals to complete three nonfiction books, begin a Coaching group and continue working on another novel.

Each goal includes its own set of action steps and deadlines for accomplishment.

But without too much of a focus on tomorrow, I am trying to learn how to live in the present. Grateful for the past and faith-filled for the future, it is nevertheless in the present that I live each day.

So what is it about words that helps us live well today?

The Power to Communicate. Whether expressing needs or chatting with a friend, communication is the core of how we relate.

If you’ve ever visited another country where you were not fluent in the language, you know how desperate it feels to not be able to communicate.

In my opinion, one of our greatest gifts is the freedom of speech – to communicate what we believe, using any medium, without fear of condemnation.

The Expression of Creativity. Every serious writer recognizes that moment when the a-ha Spirit invents a new word or crafts the perfect sentence.

That feeling of creating art gives significance to our craft and helps us realize we are co-creators with God Himself.

Each day, I am hoping to learn more about the gift of creativity and the quiet beauty God uses to infuse spiritual truths into my particular world.

Words as Tools. As a wordsmith, each construction becomes a building block for sentences, paragraphs and stories.

Without words, I am silent. Without words, I feel bereft.

I empathize with Reverend G who lost her words due to expressive aphasia. I cannot imagine such a terrible fate. Check out her story and the rest of the trilogy.

Words I loved in 2018 and want to use better in 2019 include:

  • Synchronicity – a meaningful coincidence. It brings me comfort to imagine a loving God who sends me a terracotta sunset just as I am longing for New Mexico. Or meeting a new friend who just happens to like chunky jewelry and lots of it.
  • Parameters – physical properties that determine characteristics or behaviors. This type of structure sets the boundaries for my character sketches.
  • Expectations – We all have them, good and bad. Often misconstrued, the proper expectations help me keep a positive outlook.
  • Fantabulous – I just like the way this word sounds.

I feel blessed to begin a new year thinking about words and their power to add or subtract from the quality of life.

The blessing of words comes inherently from how they are used – to destroy or to build up. I choose the latter.

How different would our world look if we used our words to communicate hope, express creativity and construct a truly caring community?

Wouldn’t that be fantabulous!

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out all my words at Author Central on Amazon.

Hope Finds Abigail Within Domestic Abuse

Have you ever wondered what a Bible story might look like in a contemporary setting? Yeah, me too.NVS Cover

Almost 12 years ago, I wrote a nonfiction book about Abigail, one of the characters in First Samuel 25. But I couldn’t sell it, and no one seemed interested in the background story of this incredible woman.

So the unpublished pages sat in a box, waiting. About that time, the divine whisper reminded me how much people love stories. Fiction. Novels.

“I don’t do fiction,” I said.

Note to self: Never argue with God.

Then came a period of intense challenge as I was unemployed for 14 months. One day, I sat down to write and discovered Reverend G. Throughout the next four years, CrossRiver Media published my trilogy about a fictional woman minister diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

The Reverend G books were therapy while dealing with my mother’s failing memory. I discovered I could indeed DO fiction. I just needed to be passionate about the subject matter.

So I went back to my research about Abigail. Here was a woman living in an abusive marriage. But in her culture and time period, she had no options for escape.

What would Abigail’s story look like in a contemporary setting? What if she was a woman who felt trapped within the culture represented by the church?

In my role as a biblical counselor and life coach, I had met scores of women dealing with domestic abuse. These women approached me in lines at the grocery store, at writers conferences, through email and blog comments, in ministerial retreats.

Not only were they trapped within the church culture, but no one believed their stories. Their husbands were smart enough not to hit them, so the abuse was not labeled violence.

Instead, it was the soul-sucking damage of mental, emotional, verbal and spiritual abuse.

The most heart-breaking symptom these women carried was the shame of feeling they had somehow failed God. They no longer knew how to live as godly wives, because church leaders told them they had to submit and respect these men who screamed at them, called them names and consistently raped them. Yes, rape can happen within marital bonds.

As I cried with these women, I also examined the culture of shame. These women were told they weren’t thin enough, smart enough, pretty enough. Never enough. And the women believed their abusers because they loved them, hoped they would change.

Resources included the Holy Bible and how God promises to be husband and maker to his precious daughters (Isaiah 54), Doctor Brene Brown who researches the effects of shame, Leslie Vernick whose blog posts often list the symptoms of domestic abuse and various internet sites where women typed out their vulnerability into cyberspace.

I outlined plots, moved scenes around and let my imagination soar with the heart of so many Abigail’s. The first draft was followed by a second, third…and finally 12th.

Perseverance is at the core of a writer’s soul.

Then I tried to sell the story, pitched it in the Christian marketplace that wanted nothing to do with this particular truth-telling. So I approached secular agents and publishers who could not understand why a woman would stay in such an abusive situation.

I found myself educating agents and publishers about PTSD, the numbing down after years of emotional scars, the fear of leaving, the lack of financial resources.

Each time I described another Abigail, my passion for these courageous women flared. Many of them DID leave the security of their homes in spite of threats from their abusers who felt themselves losing control.

And so many of these precious women also had to leave their churches. They no longer fit in with the traditional model. Friends rejected them. Leaders refused to believe them.

Yet some pastors listened and helped, encouraged their freedom and even provided financial assistance. But rarely.

One out of three women live in destructive relationships. These are women from every segment of society, every demographic, including those who sit in church pews.

Finally, the book is completed and published. “No Visible Scars” is available on Amazon. In a few weeks, it will be available on Kindle.

My hope is that you will read it with an open mind, then share it with the women in your life. Share this blog post as a reminder.

Then fall to your knees and ask God what else you can do to help these brave women. How can each of us move from bystander to a caring community?

Consider how we might educate our children so this tragic pattern ends here: to teach boys how to treat girls, to remind girls how to look for red flags, to train church leaders to see what they don’t want to admit.

Let’s spread the word so the Abigail’s we know and those who hide will know they aren’t alone. Let’s help them find hope as we band together to end domestic abuse.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Order your copy of No Visible Scars” today.