How I got started:
If you are a beginning writer, perhaps you can draw encouragement from my story. You may have more experience than you realize...
Someone recently asked me, "How long have you pursued writing?" I only paused for a moment before I gave this answer--"In kindergarten, when I started reading."
The quickest way to become a good writer is to develop your reading skills. Bury your nose into a variety of genres. Find those authors who inspire you, and study their techniques. Devour writing books (Will soon be posted under Favorites/Lists).
Besides my love affair with reading, I didn't spend much time writing except as dictated by my studies in literature and a few dog-eared college blue books filled with either very maudlin or very dark poetry. When did I seriously pursue my present profession? It involves a story...
In the fall of 1995, when our family moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, one of my new Hoosier friends talked me into cochairing a book discussion group, which met in members' homes. After one such meeting, a woman who has since become my best friend, an Irish woman I'll call Mary, lingered in my den after everyone else had left. I thought Mary just wanted to pick at the leftover hor d'ouevres, but she was still there even after the food had been put in Tupperware containers and set in the fridge.
I asked Mary if she wanted tea, and she said she didn't touch the stuff but would like a glass of water. We sat on my front porch, surrounded by trees blazing with red, brown, and gold.
"What is your first memory?" Mary asked me, in the middle of a conversation about our children.
"I don't know. I've never had to think about it."
"How pretty, not to think about it. My memory is etched so deeply into my mind, how could I not think of it?" Her eyes misted up, and in an odd way, I felt like Mary had left me and had gone somewhere else.
Then she started talking again, her voice not much more than a whisper. "It's a round oaken table, moon-shaped faces guzzling bitter tea. Cup after cup of the steamin' stuff. Asking what's to be done with the little eejit."
"What's an eejit?"
"An idiot," Mary answered, her tone implying that I was an eejit.
"They called you that?" I asked.
"What they called me wasn't the worst part. It's what they did with me that hurt so much."
We sat there until the sun dropped below the horizon and Mary had finished an amazing story. Of course I had no inkling then how much those few hours would affect my life!
For four years, I prayed about the Irishwoman's story. In 2005, God led me to capture on paper the essence of what Mary told me. With God leading the way, Mary and I traveled to Ireland. What happened on our trip, combined with Mary's memories, provides the basis for my first book, An Irishwoman's Tale .
Mary's story inspired "Kaleidoscope," a collection of Christian women's fiction texts. "Kaleidoscope" celebrates the bond formed when friends of different ethnicities and experiences tell how God has reassembled the shattered pieces of their lives.
My stories begin when a mental image grabs hold of my imagination: A young Irish girl's first dreadful memory ( An Irishwoman'sTale .) Two little girls, one black, the other white, sticking toys through the holes in a chain link fence because they're not allowed in each other's yards ( What the Bayou Saw .) A lively young girl whose name is changed against her wishes, not once but twice. A teenaged mother, in the span of an eight-minute cab ride, trying to give her baby enough love to last for a lifetime ( My Name is Sheba .) When the image begins haunting me night and day, I commit it to a computer file, begin gathering stories, and see if a pattern develops. It's kinda like working a big jigsaw puzzle!
1. An Irishwoman's Tale chronicles Mary's quest to understand why she was torn from her homeland. All she remembers is an oaken table, moon-shaped faces guzzling tea. Cup after cup of the steaming stuff. Asking what's to be done with the little eejit. No matter how hard she tries, the memory stains Mary's relationship with everyone including God. It takes the crisis of her daughter's substance abuse and the urging of a new friend to propel her back to the rugged cliffs of County Clare. There, in spite of the dark secrets she uncovers, Mary experiences God's healing and glimpses His sovereign plan. An Irishwoman's Tale, published by Kregel, is now available in many fine bookstores and websites, including www.barnesandnoble.com and www.christianbook.com.
2. What the Bayou Saw explores the memories of Sally Flowers, a gregarious Midwestern community college instructor. When her student is raped, Sally must decide whether to uncover secrets long buried under the murky waters of a Louisiana bayou. Fragments of hymns, spirituals, and gospel songs and images of a post-Katrina New Orleans are woven into the text. What the Bayou Saw has been released! Visit the Event Calendar as more signing and teaching appearances will be posted SOON!
3. The Rhythm of Secrets After writing two books by the "W.H.I.M." method, I followed a more structured approach with this third novel. The stories of Sandy Sperrazza, a woman sent to the Catholic Infant Home in St. Paul, Minnesota, have been incorporated into the narrative as well as the stories of a grizzled Vietnam veteran and a Thai woman sold into prostitution by her family. Rhythm spans a time period from The Great Depression to the 1970s and takes the protagonist from New Orleans to the Midwest and eventually on a quest to Thailand.
4. In October of 2011, Bethany House published my fourth novel, Reclaiming Lily , the story of two women, two cultures, and one child. A brave Chinese doctor who gained admittance through Harvard's ivy-covered gates...and now longs to gain access to the heart of the sister whose perfect oval face she cannot forget. Reclaiming Lily contrasts Christian and secular notions of roots, of sacrifice, and measures the tension between God's dream and the dream of the individual.
In the fall of 2012, an amazing family hired me and my writing partner, Sara Richardson, to capture the memoir of their mom, Jessie McCornick. Three generous brothers have agreed to share the heart-rending journey of a sharecropper's daughter through the belt-tightening Great Depression, the calamatious Second World War, and the roller-coaster 1960s. Before her time, Jessie juggled work and family and carved out a niche in Monroe, Louisiana's, board rooms, church sanctuaries, and volunteer gatherings. An inspirational story of a woman who learned to seek God over the temptations and traps of this world! Look for Jessie's Pearls in the late summer/fall of 2014!
Tattooed by Jesus
Step into the west-side world of Bonnie Kae Lentz, co-pastor at Bloomington-Normal's Jesus House. Though Bonnie only knew Jesus as a cuss word, He pulled her from the mire of addiction, witchcraft, and sexual sin. A story of transformation, sanctification, and God's special love for those who've been robbed of innocence and dignity. Look for Tattooed by Jesus in the summer/fall of 2014!
Below Normal, a three-book series:
When wealthy Evelyn Sechrist is unexpectedly widowed, God unites her with Jamie Sue Cooke, a foul-mouthed but witty grocery store bagger. Soon the unlikely duo dreams up plans for a soup kitchen ministry in Normal, Illinois. When a shocking secret devastates Evelyn, will she retreat into her gated neighborhood or alter her perceptions of God and the good life to find fulfillment and joy beyond her piles and piles of stuff?
(Update, 2012) Team of Rivals , Doris Kearns Goodwin's epic and life-changing Lincoln-era biography, has inspired me to consider penning a Civil War romance, and savvy agent Natasha has given the go-ahead! Dare I tackle a novel that would involve prosaic changes and vault me into an entirely new genre?
Hold onto your end tables! I'm also laying the foundation for the creative memoir of a real-life Jesus Freak, right here in my community of Bloomington-Normal, Illinois!
What else am I doing? See the list below!
Across the Border --Una chica fuerta risks her promising academic future to become one of the thousands who illegally crisscross the United States' Southern border.
But The Levee Was Dry: A Southern White Woman's Stories
Kaleidoscope: A Memoir in Fragments
A Note to My Readers:
Through my writing, I hope to inspire you to commit your own priceless, God-given memories to paper, whether they are smooth as polished gemstones or jagged as potsherds. Through the blood of His precious Son, Jesus, God can take both types of materials and create a beautiful work of art, unlike no other in the universe. It will be your story, His gift to you.