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

 

Promoting Our Words

As a published author, one of my duties includes marketing and promoting my book. I do this through social media, through speaking events and through this blog. I also work hard to find new outlets for my book and use every tool imaginable to market the words I write.3D Rev G cover

Sometimes it seems as if I’m trying to push myself on other people, just for the purpose of sales. I hate that. But the truth is…I worked hard to write my book, and I feel the words have meaning and purpose. I want the message about faith while dealing with Alzheimer’s to spread across the globe.

The main reason Christian authors work so hard is to promote the truth of the Gospel. Yes, of course, we want our books to sell as we continue to publish our words. Yes, of course, we want readers to ask for more. We long for agents, publishers and distributors to beg us for another book.

But the main purpose is the message. Always. We want more sales, because that means more and more people read about Jesus.

In our nonfiction, they find encouragement in their faith journey. In our fiction, they place themselves into the story and root for the hero or heroine, while waiting to see how faith impacts the outcome of the book.

In articles, poems, scripts – all sorts of genres, Christian writers become messengers of the Light as we hope and pray that somewhere in that vast configuration called the internet – someone reads the truth and finds peace.

As authors, we know that sometimes you tire of reading our promotional material. You skip over our Facebook posts because you’ve seen them before. We understand.

But we also hope that someone new sees the post for the first time. Maybe that person will buy our books, turn to a page that counsels her about God’s love and find the answer to her questions.

Whether our readers find us through books, blog posts or tweets, we thank God when we market His message and send it into the world.

Someday I hope to meet a soul in heaven who read my book and found it encouraging, helping him or her through the dark ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Someday I hope a reader sends me an email and says, “You helped me find my way back to God.” Someday I want to meet that great crowd of witnesses who cheered me on as I sat for hours in my cold office and typed out the words that burned in my heart.

This is why Christian writers promote our work. It’s because at the core of it all, we’re marketing Jesus Christ and his message of love.

We do it for Him, and we do it for you.

©2013 RJ Thesman

Reading Reverend G

It’s just the sweetest thing.

A lady in my Sunday School class has a difficult time these days. She struggles from the side affects of a brain cyst. Although she has lived a full life and raised children, worked outside the home and managed the household – she now struggles to deal with the basic necessities of life. Her husband cares for her, while a daughter and her family moved in to also help with her care.

Although this dear woman no longer reads for long periods of time, she bought one of the Reverend G books. 3D Rev G coverShe and her husband wanted to support and encourage me. It awed and humbled me at the same time.

Another couple in my Sunday School class decided to take on the task of reading my book to this dear woman. So every week, they drive over to her house and read a chapter or a section of the book. Together, all of them laugh and cry with Reverend G.

Each Sunday, they tell me about it and I imagine them sitting together in the living room, sharing the words that God birthed in me, ministering to each other.

I also imagine angels in the room as these dear saints share a kindness with each other. Again, I am blessed and awed for the ways this simple story blesses people.

Reverend G illustrates the importance of living each day to the fullest – of finding extraordinary joy in the ordinary details of life.

That’s what these folks are doing. They are finding and sharing joy with each other, reading through a fiction book and imagining it as real. They are showing love to each other even as they validate my task as the writer.

It’s just the sweetest thing.

©2013 RJ Thesman

Seeing My Characters

During a trip to a garden center, I saw them. Big as life and twice as wonderful. My two main characters. Who could have imagined they would suddenly surface while I looked for the latest varieties of petunias? They stood next to a shelf of geraniums, apparently waiting for me to discover them.

I barely paid attention to the people around me – a warning to writers everywhere. Pay attention to people! My mind focused on which annuals to plant and how many perennials I could afford. Spring is one of my favorite seasons, right up there with fall and summer. Forget winter. In the spring, God surprises me with wildflowers that somehow made it through the cold months and greet me with a morning, “Here we are. Don’t you love us?” Yes, I do.

During the winter, I save my coins to buy flowers in the spring. I carefully plot out where to plant the various colors and textures so that they accessorize the house and bring cheer to my neighbors. The perennials go in a special garden that returns each year and blesses me as it breeds. Container gardens on my deck make me smile each time I open the door or peer out the window. Did I mention how much I love flowers?

So the annual trip to the garden center is a treasured moment. I concentrate on buying just the right amount of blooms yet sometimes surprise myself with a brand new hybrid. But what a delight to run into my fictional characters – right in the middle of a sunshiny Kansas day.

There they were. Human clones of Reverend G and Chris. Okay, he didn’t have a mustache, but I easily imagined one thriving just above his top lip. His long white hair bespoke the bearing and eclectic genius of a college professor. Not quite as tall as my Chris, but hey – he wore sandals. In dress shoes, he’d be just the right height.

And Reverend G – a petite lady with white hair, bunched behind her head in a scoonchie, standing beside her man with a look of utter contentment. Obviously in the middle of one of her prayers to the God who understands why He allowed her to fall into the abyss of Alzheimer’s.

They looked at flowers, too, she with her arm in his – he, carrying one of those cardboard flats that hold the seedlings. My two main characters who go through several adventures in life and end up…well…you have to read the book to find out.

I looked around me and wondered, Am I the only person who sees them? Have I finally succumbed to the creative disorder of novelists who spend so much time with their characters that they dream about them, pray for them and see them in real life? Or are these two people in front of me actual human beings, deeply in love and enjoying spring as much as I?

They passed on, and I finished my shopping with a giggle in my soul. Only after I paid for my flowers, settled them in my trunk and started my car did I think about the camera on my phone. Why hadn’t I taken a picture? Why not boldly walk up to this couple and say, “You look just like two of the wonderful people in my novel. Would you mind if I took a picture of you among all these beautiful flowers?”

Of course by that time, they were no longer in sight.

I’ll just have to go back to the garden center, buy more flowers and search for Reverend G and Chris. If I find them again, I’ll take a picture. Then I’ll have proof that I’m not crazy.

Journey of a Novel – Step 4

In Christian circles, we talk about the divine coincidence. This is a moment when everything in the universe centers around a particular event, and we find ourselves in the middle of something wonderful. The divine coincidence is birthed in the heart of God. When it happens, we are reminded once again how much God loves us and desires for us a truly abundant life.

A divine coincidence produced Step 4 of my novel’s journey.

As a member of a writers’ group, I attend monthly meetings. During this particular meeting, the focus of the program was a critique group. So each of us were supposed to bring something the other writers might critique.

Although my novel was finished, I had not found a publisher. In fact, I had almost decided that this particular novel was just for practice. Maybe God never intended it for print. That made me sad, but I resigned my heart to the possibility. Still, I wanted to contribute something to the group discussion, so I printed off my one sheet and took it to the meeting.

The one sheet is a tool that writers use to whet the appetites of editors and publishers. It starts with a killer hook, so that the reader wants more. It describes a bit about the book, how many words, how many chapters, what the topic or the story is about. The one sheet also includes a bio about the author and a bit of marketing information – all on one page. The one sheet is the first step toward getting the proverbial foot in the door and moving ahead with a full-fledged proposal.

So I took my one sheet to the meeting, not even sure if I would have the opportunity to share it. But of course, I didn’t know God had planned a divine coincidence. He and my guardian angel probably chuckled in the back of the room, knowing what would happen.

At my table, I sat next to the acquisitions editor for CrossRiver Media. In some pocket of my brain cells, I remembered that this particular person was an acquisitions editor, but I had not put two plus two together to equal four. I’m a writer; not a mathematician.

Other people at the table shared their manuscripts for the critique and finally it was my turn. I passed out copies of my one sheet to the other people, then read it through – hoping that someone might give me a clue for how to make it better.

I had barely finished the last word when the editor said, “I love it. I want it.”

Stunned, I wondered if I had heard right. Maybe it was just my imagination, spurred from the desire of my heart or maybe it was too much Mexican food the night before. Not enough sleep. Too much salsa.

But the editor was serious. She liked my one sheet and wanted to see the entire proposal. I left the meeting trying to decide if I had just dreamed the sequence or if it had really happened. A publishing opportunity for a first-time novelist, for a writer who never thought she would venture into the fiction realm? A confirmation of the journey God designed from Step 1 when he told me to read a book about writing novels? This was one step closer to a contract, to share my words with the world.

Was that a chuckle I heard from the back of the room? Probably, because Step 4 was the divine coincidence that set up the next step in the journey.

Journey of a Novel – Part 3

It takes guts to participate in a critique group. The first group I joined – many years ago – was connected with a writers’ retreat. As the facilitator of the group, I helped other writers polish their manuscripts and encouraged them to keep writing. It was a grand experience until my manuscript emerged from the pile. I received one scathing critique from another writer. My face turned red with embarrassment even though the other writers disagreed. But for many years, because of that experience, I refused to attend critique groups.

However, as a newby to the fiction genre and desperate to escape the house during that long year of unemployment, I decided to uncork my courage and try again. So I chose a group that included several fiction writers and seasoned authors from the Heart of America Christian Writers Network.

I love Panera’s. The smell of the pastries and the roasted coffee beans always provide a welcoming atmosphere. The same could be said of my critique group – welcoming, encouraging, honest.  I passed the pages of my manuscript to the group and tried not to let them see my shaking hands.

To my amazement, they laughed at the funny parts and said, “Ah,” in the sad parts. They also gave me valuable feedback and  on sections that didn’t make sense or needed stronger words. I left that critique session  energized about my project and encouraged that maybe I could indeed – possibly (really, Lord?) be a novelist.

Two weeks later, I brought another chapter. Again – the same reaction. Honest feedback with great ideas, encouragement and genuine enjoyment of my story. So the first meeting wasn’t a fluke. I might actually be a fiction writer and God was right all along. Surprise. Surprise.

For the next several months, I met with the critique group and brought pieces of my soul to the table. As every writer knows, when we type our words into the computer and then spit them out on the printer – those words are not just a story. They represent the heart of our existence and the reason we call ourselves writers. When the words come fresh to us, inspired by the God who holds the entire idea in his marvelous mind and we obey by transcribing what He has given us – we hold a precious piece of literature. Then when we rewrite and improve it to the point that it’s ready to publish, we send it out and hope our souls’ fragments will influence someone else.

So I brought my tremulous soul to the table and trusted the other writers with my words. Throughout those months, they helped me hone the story so that it spoke the message it was meant to speak. They encouraged my writing and prayed for me. They never, ever condemned my attempts, but held me up so that I could breathe the fresh air of creativity.

Critique groups help writers stay focused and give us the accountability we need to write with excellence. Then those same writers rejoice with us when we publish our words or grieve when we’re rejected. But most of all – they help us stay in hope as we reach for the next step.

The Journey of a Novel – Step 2

In many ways, 2010 proved to be a difficult year for me. I was unemployed, downsized out of my job right in the middle of the recession. In fact, this blog began as a plea for all of us to stay in hope – no matter what the circumstances. My unemployment taught me several things about trusting in God’s provision, about the miracles that still happen in the 21st century, about giving when there’s nothing available to give. But right smack in the middle of that scary time, God interrupted my life with Step 2 of the novel journey.

For 40+ years, I wrote and published in the nonfiction genre. Tell the facts. Teach the reader. And even though God had whispered a different direction in my ear and provided me with a textbook (see the blog post about Step 1), I was not ready to change my entire focus for a mere fiction mindset.

But one morning, still without a job and wondering how in the world to buy groceries that week, I woke up with an idea. Floating in the middle of my forehead was a character, then several ideas about that character, then more ideas and a setting, then some conversation and a story line.

Not quite sure what to do, I sat down and started writing. This action, in itself, was completely out of character for me. As an organized, Type A personality, I never start writing without an outline or research or some idea of the topic I wanted to pursue. But I could not escape from this fascinating character in my head. It was almost as if I needed to move my fingers over the keyboard in order to discover more about her – like reading a book via my hands.

After a few hours, I stood up and stretched. “What am I supposed to do with this, God?”

“Save it,” he said. “Keep going.”

So I did. The next day I woke up with more ideas, more conversation and more of a story line. I kept going, sometimes laughing at my character and what she did – sometimes grabbing a Kleenex because I was so moved by what had just happened on the computer screen. The next day and the next and the next. No outlines. No research. No idea about what was going to happen until I woke up, turned on the laptop and started moving my fingers.

When an interview or a job fair interrupted the writing, I missed my characters. I wondered what they were doing that day and longed to get back to them, to peek into their lives, to hear their conversations. Definitely hooked by the process, writing fiction totally surprised me yet delighted the heck out of me.

I had no idea fiction could be so much fun. Writing fiction just wasn’t me. Yet, it seemed that writing fiction indeed was me. I was so engrossed in the story, I couldn’t imagine going back to the same old nonfiction facts. I wanted to find out more about Reverend G and Chris, about Jacob and Jessie, about life at Cove Creek.

After six months, I read my 53,000 words with no idea what to do next. Was this just something that God gave me to do, to survive the emotional trauma of long-term unemployment? Or did God have a more expansive plan? What did he want me to do with this novel idea?

The answer began to take shape in Step 3.