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Posts Tagged ‘Christian novels’

Jo 17It has been an interesting experience these past few weeks to pick up my novel writing again, after completing two non-fiction books. While I love writing non-fiction, it is such a joy to feel I can let loose and create a whole new story from scratch.

Novel writing can be a slow, exhausting process, but it can also be so fulfilling, as the various characters develop and the strands of the story come together. And for me, it can easily become all-consuming too. I relate deeply with my characters. I feel their joy and pain and confusion. I immerse myself in their world. I ache for them and hold my breath at times in the hope they will make good and right decisions.

With my current novel, I felt relieved when I completed the first five chapters—always the hardest for me. The story seemed to be taking shape and gaining momentum. But because I knew I was approaching a very sad section, I baulked. I did not want my main character to endure such grief, yet I knew that was where the story needed to go. I put it aside and wrote other shorter pieces for a while, but eventually, I decided to take the plunge again.

Yet as I wrote, I became sadder and sadder. You see, without giving too much away, a little boy drowns in this novel—and his death is intrinsic to the plot. I had to describe the actual event. Then I had to portray the family’s grief and anger and lack of forgiveness too from one family member towards another. As well, I had to visualise the lasting effects of such a tragedy on my main character and begin to help her work through these in a realistic way.

At that point, I felt exhausted, as if I had struggled through those raging floodwaters myself. My earlier chapters, while being so fulfilling to write, had taken much perseverance—and now that I was on the other side of this difficult part of the plot, I wondered if I had what it took to unfold the rest in a sensitive way that would touch readers’ hearts. Had I perhaps forgotten how to write a novel, after living in the world of non-fiction for so long? Was I capable of allowing the story to develop as it needed to?

With these questions bombarding my brain, I soon descended into a morass of self-doubt and self-pity—until I remembered how helpful the Psalms had been to me during past writing struggles. I began reading them yet again and eventually came to Psalm 18:16-19:

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. … He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.

While that dear little boy in my novel might not have been rescued from actual deep waters, I knew God would rescue me. At other times in my life when I felt things were all too hard, I have experienced that loving hand grasping me firmly and helping me stand on solid ground again. God has drawn me out of many deep waters—and I know God will delight to do that for you too.

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Jo 17I have embarked on a new writing project. At least, it’s not actually new—it has been hovering around on my laptop for a couple of years, patiently awaiting my attention. Whenever I find time, I open the relevant files and try to work out where I’m up to. One contains a chapter outline for the whole novel, while another is filled with notes about the characters. A third contains the beginnings of the first chapter, which has morphed several times, as I have reflected on it further.

One thing that has kept me from becoming fully launched into this novel is my concern about how best to spend my time. What does God want me to do now? Since 2007, I have had six novels and two non-fiction works published, with many resulting opportunities to speak. Could eight books perhaps be enough?

As I prayed about it, I sensed God’s green light either way, as if God were saying, ‘Jo-Anne, I will be so delighted in you if you write this novel—but equally delighted if you don’t!’ What a wonderful, gracious, freeing message to hear! I could be at peace about it all. I could write it—or not write it.

The months passed and that novel still did not grow at any great rate. Then one day, I read Isaiah 26:8 again:

Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.

These words seemed such a good, timely reminder to me to check my motives in continuing with my novel. Was I writing it merely to get my name out there again? Did I want to be known as this prolific author who keeps producing books? Did I hope this novel would bring me greater personal kudos or renown? Or did I truly desire to write it to honour God and to share God’s amazing love and grace once again in story format?

My heart said a fervent ‘yes’, in response to this last question. Furthermore, I felt a strong urge deep inside to create the sort of novel I personally want to create this time around, irrespective of current writing conventions or literary fashion or whatever! Yet I was still wary about it all. Already, my life is full—would I ever be able to find the necessary time?

I read on in Isaiah 26 and came to the following verse:

Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us (12).

I know this was written in the context of Israel’s finding peace as a nation. But what a good, personal reminder to me to be at peace and allow God to shape this future novel—and its time frame! After all, it was only through God’s strength, guidance and inspiration that I was able to write my other eight books, when I initially thought it would be impossible to write even one. Truly, whatever I have accomplished has all come from God.

So I plan to trust God to guide and inspire as I write—and be at peace in the process. Surely that’s the best perspective to have in it all? And, whether you seek to serve and honour God through writing or something entirely different, I hope and pray this will be your perspective too.

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Jo 17There are some great perks in selling my books at a school Mothers’ Day market each year. One definitely is watching the children try to decide what to buy their mothers and grandmothers. The youngest students tend to have only five dollars at the most to spend—although this year, I saw one girl waving a fifty dollar note around! Yet, whatever amount they have, each one comes hoping to find something they are sure their mother or grandmother will love—and it is all quite heart-warming to watch.

I couldn’t help but smile as I saw one class sitting together, waiting for the stragglers to finish making their choices. Almost all of them were pulling their prized purchases out of their bags and proudly displaying them to their friends. Some had bought special cards to write in. Others had found sweet smelling candles or soaps. Still others had decided on some jewellery or clothing item. One little girl held up what looked like a rather large, garish, bright red satin cross on a ribbon, complete with white crocheted edging. Hmm! Her face was pink with excitement, as she lovingly stroked her precious gift. In my heart, I hoped and prayed her mother would be delighted when she received it—or at least pretend to be! I could not imagine any mum wanting to wear it, but I hoped this little girl’s mum would think of some special use for it.

Now I go to these markets with other hopes as well. Yes, I hope I will sell a good number of my books. But beyond that, I hope that the books I do sell will be read and enjoyed by the mothers or grandmothers who receive them and that they will draw them closer to God in some way. Can you imagine how lovely it was then when a young girl came bounding up to my table early on with a beaming face and pointed to my latest novel, The Inheritance.

‘Oh, I bought that book last year for my grandmother and she really, really loved it! So she wants another one of your novels!’ she told me, almost breathless with excitement.

Not long after, a staff member came by and pointed to my first non-fiction book, Soul Friend.

‘I bought that as a gift for a friend in Canada last year—and she thought it was wonderful! She’s now in the middle of lending it around to all her friends there.’

How encouraging both these conversations were for me—as I know they would be for any author. We write in the hope that our books will strike a chord with people, but we never know if that will happen. After all, our readers have different tastes and needs—and that’s okay. So I have learnt to be grateful when I receive such positive feedback, but not to set my hopes on such things. Instead, I know I need to keep my eyes focussed firmly on God, the best encourager of all, and trust the One Who gives me deep and lasting hope—hope that will never disappoint.

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. Psalm 62:5-6

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As an author, I discovered a few books back that you can’t please everyone. Not long after my first novel was released in 2007, I remember standing with a group at church while one lady told me in a loud voice that she had been unable to get past Chapter Two! A few moments later, her daughter came up and said: ‘Oh, I loved your book so much! When is your next one coming out?’ This event armed me well for my writing days ahead.

Four novels followed. No doubt some who bought these were unable to persevere in reading them, but I am aware others have devoured them, because they bothered to write and tell me. Now quite a few authors I know are plagued by self-doubt—including me at times. It is something God has had to work on with me for a while, but I’m learning! And I must admit that positive comments about my books have helped. I don’t think it’s just because these nice, encouraging words feed my ego. I prefer to see them as little messages from God, saying to me: ‘You see—you are on the right track! Your writing is getting better and achieving what you hoped it would achieve. Keep touching people’s lives through your writing!’

But this past week has been a very interesting experience in receiving comments about my first non-fiction book Soul Friend: The story of a shared spiritual journey. I am finding I care even more about these than with my previous books, since this book is about my own journey with my spiritual friend and mentor Joy. Already I can see how careful I will need to be about taking any negative comments too much to heart. After all, didn’t I learn back in 2007 that you can’t please everyone? So when I received an email informing me that a review of Soul Friend had been taken down from a particular website because some of the ‘broader methods’ mentioned in the book could not be seen to be endorsed by the group whose website it was, I tried to laugh it off. I didn’t know I was that heretical! I wrote back, trying to be as gracious as possible. I am not sure I succeeded, since I discovered I was also quite annoyed.

But then two things happened. Firstly, I stumbled upon 2 Timothy 2:23:

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he (she) must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.

Secondly, I began to see God’s gentle grace in action when three encouraging emails arrived from different readers in quick succession. ‘Your book, Soul Friend, is a wonderful story’, the first one began. ‘Soul Friend is everything the blurb says and more. I really congratulate you, Jo-Anne. We need books that are honest and for real and I am sure it will help many’, the second one read. Amazingly, she went on to warn me I might experience some opposition as a result of some things I had included in the book! The third email ended with the following: ‘Jo-Anne, you have such a beautiful way of articulating things. Thank you so much for being brave enough to share your story. And thank you to Joy also for your words of wisdom.’ Then and there, I endeavoured to take all this encouragement in and not let the one negative comment outweigh the positive.

May you too, writer or otherwise, find the right response to those whose opinions impact your life and may you be strengthened by God’s grace as you do.

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If there’s one thing I have a slight reputation for, it is being a bit of a workaholic. Now I don’t always see that, but I must admit that when I get my teeth into a job, I do like to finish it. Why leave things half done? Why not have the satisfaction of seeing a job completed and knowing you have done your best? Not that I’m a perfectionist or anything – but that’s another label altogether!

I’ve discovered in my writing journey in particular, that being a workaholic can come in very handy at times. In the past few weeks, I have been working on re-editing not one but two of my manuscripts. A potential publisher suggested both needed quite extensive revision, which caused my heart to sink at first. But then my fighting spirit cut in – for a while at least – and I decided I would do it, come what may! I managed to knock over one revision, but not far into the next, I received various forms from the publisher to complete, which took me many hours all up. Now I knew this information was needed, yet I found I wasn’t quite in the right headspace for such tasks. My mind was still in my novel, trying to work out how to put the required changes in place. By this time, I had again become well and truly embroiled in the lives of my characters, wanting to do justice to them and not mess around too much with their thoughts or words or emotions. So I began grumbling. Were these changes really necessary? Would my potential readers care – or even notice – if I left things as they were?

Right at that point, an even worse thought snuck up on me. What if I do all this work and one of these manuscripts or – horror of horrors – maybe even both are rejected by my potential publisher? What about all the hours I will have wasted, not to mention the emotional energy expended, trying to work out how to put things better?

And then I read Colossians 3:23-24:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for men, since you know that you will receive and inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Straight away, this made a big difference to my attitude. You see, these words caused me to step back and remind myself of the bigger picture. I believe God called me to write – and I believe God can touch people’s lives through my books. In essence, I am not working for any particular potential publisher or any editor. I am working for the Lord. And that changes my perspective entirely.

But these words and the timing of my reading them also reminded me that God knows about all this editing and is right in it with me. And one special, delicious little touch that shows me this is that the novel I am editing is entitled – wait for it – The Inheritance! Now I know Paul is talking in this verse about our heavenly inheritance. Nevertheless, I like to think these words are a lovely, gentle, humorous promise from God about my own novel as well.

What do you think? Do these words of Paul’s change your attitude to work?

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What drives me to keep writing? I ask myself that question quite often these days, as do others from time to time. Surely, with five novels published and a sixth waiting for acceptance, I must have used up all the ideas I have in my head for plots?  Sometimes I look at all the effort involved, not only in writing a novel but actually getting out there and promoting it, and am tempted to think that maybe I’ve written enough. But then something happens—and I’m spurred on yet again to keep at it.

This past week saw my husband heading to Canberra for the funeral of a colleague who has spent many years in ministry. When I saw the order of service my husband brought home, I realised this gentleman was around the same age as I am. There was something quite stark and almost shocking, I quickly discovered, in seeing the same year as I was born printed on this order of service. I am mortal, I found myself thinking. There will be an end to this life I’m living and this writing and speaking and editing – perhaps even sooner than I imagined.

Now I did already have an inkling this was the case, of course. But somehow in being so focused on the tasks at hand, all needing to be done in a certain time frame, I had lost sight a little of the bigger picture. This salutary lesson was then quickly followed by another a few days later—something I find God is very good at when it’s necessary to get my attention. There I was, happily reading through 2 Corinthians 4, when I came across the following verses:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (4:16-18).

Hmm—so all these books I’m spending so much time creating won’t last forever. Yet if God has called me to write them, then they are definitely important.

It seems to be a matter of balance, don’t you think? We are called to work with all our might at what God has given us to do, but at the same time, we are to remember they are not an end in themselves. While we have to deal very much with the ‘seen’ in our lives on a daily basis, we are nevertheless to focus on the ‘unseen’ through it all—even the troubles we have along the way. For me then, this means I am to live and write and speak for God to the best of my ability, knowing it’s for God’s glory and not my own, and also knowing I could step into eternity at any time. I won’t be here forever, but while I am, I am to work for the things that truly will last forever.

So I hope I’ve taken God’s gentle reminders to heart.  Right now, I reckon the gentleman whose funeral my husband attended is enjoying that eternal glory with God in heaven. And that’s where I want my focus to be too. I want to write for eternity.

How about you? Where is your focus?

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Recently, I discovered that my fourth novel Jenna has been shortlisted in a competition for Christian authors. Now I’m very happy about that, of course. Even if I don’t make the finals list, at least I’ve succeeded in getting this far. Yet as I read the names of the other authors whose novels are on the shortlist, I began to have second thoughts about the whole idea. You see, I discovered I know some of the other authors personally – and that raises some issues for me. I expect each of them entered this competition in the hope they would at least be shortlisted. And I also expect that they, like me, are now waiting rather nervously to see if they have made that finals list. But if my novel makes it and theirs doesn’t, how will I feel then? I’m not sure I want to be involved in bringing such disappointment and perhaps even discouragement to a fellow author.

On the other hand, however, no one forced me to be part of the competition in the first place. Rightly or wrongly, I was the one who filled out that form and sent my books off. Perhaps I should have put more thought into it then and emulated a good friend of mine who does not even like to play board games because of their competitive nature. She became quite distressed on the one occasion I suggested we play a game of Scrabble together and simply could not find it within herself to try to trounce me – something I suspect she could easily have done. Perhaps her strong dislike of such competition is rooted in the heated arguments she and her siblings had over such games in the past, but whatever the cause, she finds it very hard to think of gaining any satisfaction from winning over someone else.

There were several reasons I decided to enter this competition. I believe in my novels – I feel they contain good stories, interesting characters many people can relate to and also clear messages about God and faith and related matters. I would not spend a large part of my time writing them if I did not feel they were worthwhile. Secondly, there is the publicity aspect to be considered, as mentioned. And last but not least, like any Christian author I know, I would be very grateful for any monetary prize this competition offers!

So what’s to be done? Perhaps the best way forward in it all is to trust God with the results, whoever makes that finals list and ultimately wins, and leave it at that. But also, I suspect this might be a good opportunity for me to take on board a little more of that humility Jesus showed in making himself nothing, coming to this earth for our sake and giving his very life for us that Paul writes about in Philippians 2. Come to think of it, Paul’s earlier instructions wouldn’t go astray either:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil 2:3-4)

So however competitive or non-competitive we might be in life, let’s make sure we have the heart attitude God would want us to have. Let’s be glad when others succeed and gracious in defeat. And above all, win or lose, let’s learn to be completely humble, just as Jesus was.

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