How to Find Hope in a Published Book

With the release of “Final Grace for Reverend G,” the trilogy is complete. The gutsy little minister has challenged us to find hope even within the plaque-infested world of Alzheimer’s Disease.Rev G 3 Cover

On the eve of the release, I sat in my office and looked at the three books on my dream shelf. “The Unraveling of Reverend G,” acquired by Pamela Sonnenmoser for CrossRiver Media, not long before she graduated to heaven. The book that surprised even me, because I didn’t think I could write fiction.

Intermission for Reverend G” followed with its characterization of Alzheimer’s and a culmination of a romance between Reverend G and her soulmate, Chris. Another surprise for me because I don’t read romance. I still have no idea how that plot line happened and what made it so successful with my readers. Maybe because the characters were older and the idea of a romance with an Alzheimer’s patient was just flukey enough to be wonderful.

Final Grace for Reverend G” ended the trilogy and hopefully – it will become a best-seller with my readers, reminding us all that hope is eternal and God has a good plan for our lives – even when we face a serious disease.

As I looked at the books and realized the release date had arrived, I wondered – why am I not more excited? I didn’t even feel like celebrating with a bowl of Chunky Monkey ice cream or a slice of cheesecake with blueberries on top.


Was it because I missed Reverend G and the end of the series meant I had to finally let her go?


The publishing of a book is still a big deal to me. Even though I’ve been published before, these were my first novels. This story was real, because it mirrored what my family is going through with Mom. But it’s not the final release that is exciting, or the marketing and promotional activities.

It’s something else.

The achievement of writing and finding a publisher for three books is also a big deal. It marks another goal in my writing career, the answer to many prayers and the culmination of a dream. Seeing my books on library shelves and signing my name on the title page of each book during speaking events or booksignings – I still get chills up and down my arms.

But that doesn’t bring the most excitement.

What really does it for me is when I hear from readers, “Your books gave me ideas for how to deal with my dad. He has dementia, and we just didn’t know what to do.”

Or the CNA who shared the books with her colleagues, hoping they could all learn some new techniques for dealing with patients in assisted living.

The reader in Kansas who buys my books for her friend in Indiana, so she’ll have something encouraging to read as she watches her husband fade away in the last stages of Alzheimer’s.

Or the readers who emailed me, “I didn’t know we could pray so honestly to God. Reverend G taught us that it’s okay to cry out, ‘I can’t stand this.’”

When my readers learn something from the story, when they feel encouraged in their difficult journeys, when they find some hope, when they hear from God through the words he breathed through me – that’s exciting.

The end result of all the hours of writing, editing, revising, and doing it all over again to make it the best it can be is when all that perseverance pays off.

The excitement generates when people read my books and then buy them for someone else – to help another family dealing with the disease.

That’s when I know it was all worth it. And that’s when I’m encouraged to write another book, another blog post or another article so that this writer can somehow make a difference.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://www.crossrivermedia.com/portfolio/1624/gallery/fiction/

When Obedience Spawns Hope

Have you ever told God, “No!”

How did that work out for ya’?

Why-Who quoteTen years ago, God nudged me to write a book about the Biblical character, Abigail. He especially wanted me to focus on the fact that Abigail lived in an abusive marriage yet was strong enough to do what was necessary to save her household.

So I began writing the book, grateful for such a directed assignment. Then the divine whispered, “It’s a novel.”

I reminded God, “I don’t do fiction. For 30 years, I’ve written nonfiction.”

So after I researched all the material, I wrote a nonfiction book about women in abusive marriages with Abigail as the focus and completed the book in record time.

But I couldn’t sell it. No publisher wanted it, even though I knew it was a timely subject. The book’s pages sat unread in a box in my office. It must have been practice, I told myself.

Several years later, I woke up with a story in my head that I could not ignore because the core of it involved Alzheimer’s – the horrid disease that tormented my mother and was stealing her from us.

Within six months, the book was finished and a publisher wanted it. “The Unraveling of Reverend G” led to the second book, “Intermission for Reverend G.” The third and final book in the series will be released this year, and I’m still amazed that three novels are now in my credits.

Perhaps God birthed those words in me to teach me that I could indeed write fiction when he equipped me to do it.

Psalm 51:10 ends with the plea to “Renew a right spirit within me.” That right spirit includes being willing to follow God’s call, no matter what it involves.

For a writer, the willing spirit sometimes means stepping outside my comfortable routine and inviting a new genre or even a different focus than what I originally planned.

Writing the Reverend G books taught me that God knows more about my creativity than I do. He knows where the words originate within because he is the Word. And he knows how to pry them out of me, even when I’m not willing to let him weave it his way.

It’s a good reminder that our gracious God knows the end of the book and also how to make sure it happens. Even the willing spirit necessary for the author is a gift from his generous heart.

I’m glad for God’s patience with me and for his grace to give me another chance. When I’m afraid to say, “Yes” to those divine nudges, he grabs my hand and carefully guides me in the right direction.

Oh – and the Abigail book? I’m now revising it – as a novel.

I think I’ve learned an important lesson.

©2015 RJ Thesman – author of the Reverend G books – http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

 

Hope at the Capitol

To be chosen as one of the featured authors at the Kansas Book Festival seemed both a humbling and inspiring event.

Years ago, I toured the capitol building in Topeka and was impressed by its grandeur, the gold and bronze shining off light fixtures. The acoustics in the hallways. That rotunda with its dizzying majesty. 20140913_100441

But this trip to the Capitol was different. I actually spoke in the Senate Chamber because my writing dream became reality.

As I shared with the audience about Reverend G and the Life at Cove Creek Series, I recognized despair in some of the faces. They knew in first person viewpoint what Alzheimer’s Disease is all about.

Even from the podium, surrounded by plush leather chairs where  senators make laws, I felt the needs of my audience, the plea to “Please, help us make it through this journey.”

So I shared practical tips, told some funny stories (because we all need to laugh) and tried to let them know they were not alone.

After I spoke, several came up to shake my hand. They said, “I have a friend with Alzheimer’s” or “My husband has dementia” or “Thank you for your encouragement.”

I hope they found some help from Reverend G when they took their books home and began to read her story. I pray they laughed at Bert and marveled at Gabriel, the gifted cat.

I hope they will be honest enough to pray the words of Reverend G when the 36-hour day becomes too hard, “God, I can’t stand it.”

To meet the other authors was indeed a privilege, companions in the art of crafting words. My volunteer escort, the wonderful Marta, made sure I ate lunch, drank some hot tea and found my way to the various places I needed to go. For that one incredible weekend, someone cared for me, and I found it such a blessing.

The author reception at Cedar Crest reminded me that I am easily impressed. Give me a long table of hors d’oeuvres and a beautiful spray of flowers, and I am pleased. Let me walk through a beautiful sunroom, complete with comfy chairs and a Tiffany lamp, and I am awe-struck. Sit me down in a library with a plateful of chocolate truffles, and I am in earthly heaven. 20140912_182129

To meet Governor Brownback and his wife – a privilege. To speak to the chef – a delight. To sign the Festival posters with the other authors – a pleasure.

But the most inspirational moment of the weekend came as I was leaving Cedar Crest. A panorama of trees formed an anchor for the setting sun. Off in the distance, a church steeple rose above the tree line, its cross pointing straight upward.

I stood for a moment in the cool of dusk and thanked God for the honor of sharing his words in the form of the printed page. That he would call me to write and then allow me to be honored for what he had done seemed a strange irony. But then, that is what God often does for his children.

He proves over and over that he is the one – the only one – who can make good happen in this mixed up world, even using the disease of Alzheimer’s to somehow point us toward hope.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “Intermission for Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo

 

Cemetery Wanderings

20140418_153338In one of the scenes in the 3rd Reverend G book, she wanders around a cemetery. Recently, I found myself doing the same thing.

Isn’t it odd how often life imitates art?

Since I was in my hometown for a book signing, I stopped at the cemetery to “visit” with Dad and all the other relatives. Yes, I know Dad isn’t really there, but this is the place that represents closure for me.

I don’t believe in talking to the dead, but I often ask God to talk to Dad and others for me. I imagine the group of saints sitting in chairs like the scene in “Our Town,” that great cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews watching me as I roam among their graves.

I stopped in front of the gravestone that represents the woman who led me to Christ. “God, oh God – tell Matilda how much I appreciate her. She told me about Jesus and helped me understand how to become a Christian. What a wonderful woman she was!”

“And God, here’s Lydia’s shell. She taught Sunday School when I was little. Tell her thank you, please. She was a sweet reminder of your love.”

The tune of “Thank you for Giving to the Lord” by Ray Boltz filtered through my soul.

“And God – here are Dan and Alma – neighbors who flew to heaven just eight weeks apart. They loved each other and they loved you.”

My father-in-law, Jake. “Tell him, God, how much I loved him. I miss him.”

The grandparents and great grandparents I never knew. “Do they know about me, God? Are they proud of me? Are you?”

So many babies’ graves. In the 1800’s and early 1900’s, so many little ones lived only one or two days. Was it SIDS or a childhood illness, something simple like the croup that we can cure so easily now with antibiotics?

I imagined God watching over his heavenly nursery and loving each baby.

Then I knelt before Dad’s stone and brushed some of winter’s dust from his name. A few tears, a soul hurt. “The family will be together soon, Dad – at the farm. I loved being a country girl. Mom is in assisted living now. She has Alzheimer’s, and she still misses you. We all do.20140418_152813_1

“Do you know, Dad, that I’m a published author now? Has God told you about my books? Some of your life and your journey is in those books. Those years of dementia, as you struggled to communicate with us and then just stopped talking – I used those experiences in my plots. I wanted caregivers to be encouraged, to know they are doing holy work, caring for their loved ones. Ah, Dad – I miss you so much.”

A wind blows through the trees, rippling the cedars that border this Mennonite cemetery. All alone in this place of legacy and influential lives, I sing that old Easter hymn, “Lo in the grave He lay, Jesus my Savior. Waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord…He arose. He arose. Hallelujah Christ arose.”

As I leave the cemetery, I add my own hallelujahs, anticipating the day when those graves will open, the bodies of those saints will join their souls in heaven – and I, thank you Jesus, I will be close behind them.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “Intermission for Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo

Why Book Signings are So Important

Many authors, especially the more famous ones, avoid book signings. They feel that the amount of work required to put into a book signing doesn’t equal the sales returned. The ROI doesn’t calculate in favor of the author.

But I disagree. Book signings are some of my favorite events.book sign - 2nd book

With my most recent book signing, I was billed as a native of Enid, Oklahoma. The Hastings store in my home town hosted the signing and helped me advertise it.

What makes a successful book signing? Some authors believe selling 10-50 copies constitutes a success. But for me, the success of the event centers around the people who attend.

For example, in Enid, the following people visited my table:

• A prayer partner – a woman who faithfully prays for my ministry as writer, life coach and program director at GateWay of Hope. She also prays for my personal concerns and the cares of my family.

• My former piano teacher – the woman who taught me how to follow the notes but also how to play with my soul. She is still teaching me because every time we visit, I am awed and inspired by her gracious personality and her godly character.

• A high school and college friend – this woman has taught me about the importance of faith, especially when life unravels in different directions. She encourages me through social media and by attending the events that are important to me. She is an example of the believers in the Hebrews’ Hall of Faith.

• The sister of another high school friend – she came to buy each of the books so that she could read them and then send them on to her sister. Every time I see her at church, I am struck by the peace of God that rests on her, and I feel blessed.

• A friend of our family who continues to meet weekly with my mother, walks around the mall with her and drives her to Braum’s so they can have biscuits and gravy together. I have known her all my life and appreciated her kindness to our family.

• My own sister who buys books for six of her friends, filling her Christmas list early and encouraging me in the process. She interrupts her own schedule to fill my needs.

• A pastor and his wife who show loyalty to the family of their parishioners and continue to encourage me in my writing journey.

All these people uplifted me because they took the time on a busy Saturday to drive across town and buy one or more of my books. I know they will read the books and probably tell someone else about them. They will pray for me and that will build up my coverage in heaven for this wordsmithing I do.

But then – just as I began to pack my remaining books away – another person approached the table, picked up a book and asked, “What’s it about?”

“A woman minister,” I said, “who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She lives in assisted living and meets a whole group of interesting characters.”

“Perfect,” she said. “My mother’s best friend just went to live in assisted living. Mom doesn’t know what to do to help her, and she misses her so much – the things they used to do together.”

We talked for a while about how life changes so rapidly and how difficult Alzheimer’s and dementia can be for the caregivers. She bought the first book, “The Unraveling of Reverend G” and slipped a bookmark for the second book, “Intermission for Reverend G” into her purse. She picked up a business card, “So I can follow you online,” she said, “and buy the second book on Amazon.”

Then she moved toward the register, and I continued to pack up my books, grateful that I waited a few more minutes so that I could share hope with this lovely woman.

All my book signings have been successful – that is – I’ve sold more than 10 books. But the best part of the entire process is that I get to meet face to face the people who read the words God has given me. I get to thank them for coming and hopefully bless them with a hug or a handshake.

I meet people who will be encouraged by the story of this brave little minister with Alzheimer’s Disease, people who are caregivers, who experience the 36-hour day and know firsthand how it feels to live with a loved one who sometimes forgets.

Book signings are another way to share the message that no matter how dire life gets – God is still good and he never stops loving us.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “Intermission for Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo

An Incredible Woman of Words

She has been one of my favorite authors – forever – and I think I have read everything she ever wrote. For years, I listened to her “GateWay to Joy” devotions on the radio, mesmerized by her mellow voice and inspired by her story.Elisabeth Elliott

Elisabeth Elliott was one of the wives of the missionaries who were killed by the Auca Indians in 1956. I remember sitting in church when the news came in. Even then, I prayed for Elisabeth and her infant daughter.

But what really inspired me was how Elisabeth stayed in Ecuador and continued to minister to the Indians. She even allowed one of her husband’s killers to baptize her daughter, Valerie. The killer, of course, was by then a genuine Christian – but what level of forgiveness is that? How in the world can a mother trust her child to a former murderer? Elisabeth’s story was one of complete redemption and restoration.

When Elisabeth returned to the United States, she filled her days with writing and speaking. That was how I began to know her – through her words, through the wisdom contained in the pages of her books.

Oh, how I wanted to be like her. How I wanted to be that type of writer and that brave a woman.

Now, Elisabeth lives with dementia. She is several years into the disease and can barely speak legibly anymore. Her husband, Lars, cares for her and tries to communicate for her. I cannot imagine how painful it must be that her words have been taken from her, but the one foundation Elisabeth has based her life on – is still strong.

She believes in the sovereignty of God and for whatever reason, the Almighty has allowed her to walk through this dementia challenge. True to form, the courage to trust God buoys Elisabeth’s spirit even now. Her words may have been silenced, but her brave heart continues to beat with love for her Savior.

While I hate the disease that has removed Elisabeth’s words from her, I am still inspired by her life and by how she deals with daily challenges. She is a woman of strong faith and incomparable courage.

As a writer who wanted to emulate her, I salute my sister of faith, Elisabeth Elliott. And I ask God to be the Word within her and continue to let her former words remain in print.

You can read more about Elisabeth’s life and work at: http://www.elisabethelliot.org/about.html

2014 RJ Thesman

How Do Authors Work a Blog Chain?

I’ve been asked to participate in the Author’s Blog Chain. Sally Jadlow tagged me. Visit her blog at  www.sallyjadlow.com.

Sally writes poetry and devotions. Her book “The Late Sooner” chronicles the land run in Oklahoma while her “God’s Little Miracle Books I and II” describe the many miracles Sally has observed as a corporate chaplain. Her latest book, “Family Favorites from the Heartland” shares recipes and stories from Sally’s family gatherings. 

The Author’s Blog Chain asks four questions. Here are my answers:

What are you currently working on?writing4502.jpg

I just finished the first draft of my memoir, so in a couple of months I’ll go back and start those edits. I’m also doing the final edits on the third book in the Reverend G series. The first book, “The Unraveling of Reverend G” was released by CrossRiver Media in 2012. The second book, “Intermission for Reverend G” will be released in April, 2014. This series follows the fictional story of a woman minister who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Then I’m beginning to do some character sketches and plots for the next novel that I have in my heart. No name for that one yet, so I’m keeping it a secret.

How does your work differ from others’ in the same genre?

Because my family is dealing with Alzheimer’s personally, through my mother’s struggle with the disease, I wanted to explore what the Alzheimer’s patient might be thinking and experiencing inside her soul. So I wrote the Reverend G series from the deep viewpoint. I wanted my readers to feel what Reverend G feels and think as she thinks, to understand how devastating this disease is but at the same time, find some nuggets of hope.

I’ve also included lots of funny stories with the other characters Reverend G meets. Because laughter is healing, I wanted my readers to understand that even in the midst of Alzheimer’s, it’s important to look for the humor.

Most books about Alzheimer’s are nonfiction, telling about the latest research. Rarely do any of them deal with the disease from the spiritual viewpoint.

Why do you write what you write?

Sometimes I write because the words just come pouring out of me, but other times – I have a definite purpose.

I wrote my memoir because I wanted my son to understand his roots and why his family does what they do. I wanted him to experience the security of our cozy Oklahoma roots in the 1950’s, the turbulence of the 1960’s and the insecurities of my world in the early 21st century. Although he can study these decades in history books, I wanted him to see them through my eyes.

I wrote the Reverend G series because of my mother’s Alzheimer’s and my father’s dementia. Whenever I visited them, I tried to communicate and wondered what they were thinking about, what they were trying to communicate to me yet couldn’t make any sense of the words. I also wanted to encourage caregivers who work so hard during those 36-hour days to take care of their loved ones.

I write mostly about hope, on my blog and in my books, because we all need to experience hope – especially when times are tough.

How does your writing process work?

As a bivocational writer, I work another job. So my writing begins after I come home. Although I feel as if I’m always writing, getting new ideas, forming characters in my mind, jotting down notes – the real grist of the work comes when I sit down and type out the words.

I follow a weekly writing plan of working on shorter pieces and my blog during the week. Then on the weekends, I work on the books because I have a longer period of time to devote to them. Each weekend, I try to finish a chapter and then go back the next day and work on some edits.

I write a bimonthly column for the Johnson County Gazette, and a monthly blog post for Trochia online. My own blog posts are scheduled for Tuesdays of every week and then I answer all the comments that come from those posts.

My editorial calendar keeps me on track, and that’s the first document I open every night. Once I get in the zone of writing, it’s difficult to stop and that’s when it’s really fun – until the next day when I realize I’ve missed several hours of sleep because I was spending time with my characters.

I’m tagging Author Nancy Kay Grace who has been published in four anthologies and speaks on the topics of grace and faith. She also writes regular devotions on line and in print, titled “Grace Notes.” Nancy Kay’s book, “Grace Notes: 30 Days of Grace” is scheduled for publication in September, 2014 by CrossRiver Media.

Her contact info follows:

Website http://www.nancykaygrace.com/

Facebook Author Page: Nancy Kay Grace/ GraceNotes
Twitter:  @nancykaygrace
LinkedIn: Nancy Kay Grace profile on Linked In