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Posts Tagged ‘Jenna’

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 23One day, I think I might write a book about all those funny experiences I have had in my writing journey. A good sense of humour is something every author needs to have, I’ve decided, so we can simply laugh and continue on our merry way, writing from a full and free heart.

I remember the first time someone told me they had found one of my novels in a second-hand bookshop. As a relatively new author, I was a little offended. How could someone throw away my precious book I had laboured long and hard to write? What an ignominious end for it! I remember too how I felt the first time I saw one of my early novels for sale on e-bay for some paltry amount. To rub it in, the accompanying description said: ‘First edition—signed by author!’

As I thought about it more, however, I realised there could be all manner of reasons why my books were being re-sold in these ways. With that inventive author’s mind, I could think up all sorts of interesting scenarios. Their owner had died and the relatives needed to clear out all those books so the family home could be sold. Someone had ended up with two copies. Someone had no more room on their bookshelves. Someone had loved it and just wanted to share it with others. Someone had hated it so decided at least to try to make a little money on a bad deal!

Last year, I received the following email via my website:

Just wanted to say I found ‘Jenna’ in a second-hand shop and have just finished it. Thoroughly enjoyed it—a ‘couldn’t put it down’ kind of book. I’ve mostly read Amish fiction for the last couple of years, and it was so nice to read an Aussie book. I live in the Barossa in SA and could identify with the towns you mentioned. That was fun. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful gift. I’m off to the library now to see if I can find any of your other books. Cheers and God bless

Now how did Jenna find her way into that second-hand shop in South Australia? I’ve no idea. And did poor Jenna get read before she ended up there? Who knows? Whatever her journey, I’m so glad my cyber friend found her and enjoyed her.

Then only last week, I received a lovely postcard from a lady in southern New South Wales, along with a cheque to purchase my second novel. She wrote:

Could you please send me a copy of ‘All the Days of My Life’, the sequel to ‘Heléna’, which I enjoyed very much. Bought it at our church’s book fair!’

How did my lovely Heléna find her way into those second-hand books at that book fair? Again, who knows? But how encouraging to receive that feedback—and make another sale!

You know, I don’t really mind whether my books are read first-hand or second-hand—or third-hand! Now I rejoice in it all, exercise that sense of humour and praise God that somehow my writing that has definitely come first-hand from my heart is reaching others and hopefully blessing them in the process.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Phil 4:4

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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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I have to say I am feeling a mixture of both excitement and slight trepidation as the release date for my fourth and latest novel ‘Jenna’ approaches. You see, this novel is a lot closer to home than my three previous novels.  It is not my story – and yet there are more than a few situations in it that either I or friends close to me have experienced.  And the local church featured in it is not the church I was part of for many years – and yet at least one or two events described in the book actually happened there.  For those who have not heard already, here is a brief synopsis of ‘Jenna’:

Jenna Ramsey believes God is calling her to fulltime ministry training, so steps out in faith, determined to overcome her self-doubt and to grow in her gifts of leadership, teaching and encouragement.  But some disapprove – are theological studies and ministry truly something women should undertake?  And while Jenna grows in confidence and many come to value highly what she has to offer her church and community, some, including close colleagues, are not so supportive. Will she be able to stand firm and continue serving God as she desires? Will she find true fulfilment in both her ministry role and her personal life?

Who can say exactly where the novelist gets his or her ideas from?  They are a mixture of so many things – experience, hearsay, research, observation of the world around us, long held beliefs, sheer imagination, and even perhaps inspiration from God at times. All that has gone into the writing of ‘Jenna’.  And I hope my readers will hear my heart in the ‘mix’ they find on its pages and follow Jenna’s journey with empathy, thoughtfulness and grace. 

Should you wish to join in the release of ‘Jenna’, I will be speaking during the morning service on Sunday 1st August at Telopea Christian Centre, 16 Shortland St Telopea here in Sydney at 9.30am and also be interviewed.  Signed copies of ‘Jenna’ will be available afterwards, or you may wish to take up one (or both!) of the following options:

  • SPECIAL DEAL:  Up until the official release date of 1 August, ‘Jenna’ will be available from my website for the special price of AU$20 including postage (within Australia) – that’s a saving of $5.00. Please visit www.jo-anneberthelsen.com for more information and to place your order. 
  • You can invite me to speak or be interviewed at your church or group! For further information, please visit www.jo-anneberthelsen.com/speaking. You will find there some suggestions for possible speaking topics, a list of my current speaking engagements and also a few testimonials.

 

Thanks so much to those of you who have continued to buy my novels and encourage me in my writing and speaking journey. My three previous novels are still available in Christian bookstores such as Koorong across Australia and NZ and my fourth will soon join them.  My fifth novel, ‘Heléna’s Legacy’, is now complete and I am approximately half way through my sixth, ‘The Inheritance’, although progress on this has been slow, largely because of preparing for speaking engagements. Finding the correct balance in all of this is a challenge, but I am very grateful for the amazing opportunities that have come my way to speak in a variety of settings. I feel very privileged right now – as well as excited and a little nervous!

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My eyes are bulging. My shoulders are aching. Everywhere I look I see words in front of my eyes.  You see, I am almost at the end of a final edit of my fourth novel ‘Jenna’ before it is published next month by Ark House Press.

My editor has worked hard on the manuscript too, typing her suggestions in red. My job has been to check all these and change them into black if I agree with her suggestions. But it is often not as straightforward as that. If I want to change anything else or give an alternative to her changes, then I am to type in bold blue.

Now on some pages there is a veritable ‘sea’ of bold blue – especially at the beginning, where I have written a whole new first chapter and altered the second to tie in with it. What will my editor make of all these changes, I wonder? After all, she has already thrown some ‘curly ones’ at me. For example, which is correct – ‘She was one of the few who were still single’ – or ‘She was one of the few who was still single’? And what about the phrase ‘for a while’? Should it be written ‘for awhile’ instead? Is ‘any more’ written as two words or one? And is it better to use double quotation marks around direct speech, with single quotation marks for anything else needing quotation marks within those – or vice versa?

All these things are important, I guess. But in the end, how many people will notice? More than that, how many people will really care?  Of course it’s hugely important to write an interesting beginning for a novel – after all, I might lose my readers before they even get past the first page! But in the end, it may simply come down to a matter of preference.  So how much more time and effort should I put into playing with the words on the screen before me, putting them this way and that, cutting some out and adding others in? I guess until I’m sure that what I have written will draw people into the story and not inhibit their experience or enjoyment of it in any way. I know, as the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it, that ‘of making many books there is no end’ (Ecc 12:12), but ‘Jenna’ is my novel!  I believe in its potential to challenge people and change lives – in short, it has important things to say.  ‘Jenna’ is my ‘baby’ – and I want to see her brought through this birthing process with the minimum of pain or damage to both of us!

I also believe with all my heart that God has called me to write at this stage of my life – so if that involves hours and hours of editing and rewriting, then so be it! The birthing process is never without pain – and my eyes will no doubt eventually recover.  Besides, Jesus told us the path would not be easy, didn’t he? In John 16:33b we read these words:

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

I know Jesus is right there beside me with every word I write – or edit out. And he will help me, whatever the challenge – he has overcome the whole world, as he has said!  So I will ‘take heart’. I will turn on my computer yet again and apply myself to the task before me. And in a few weeks’ time, God willing, I will joyfully welcome ‘Jenna’ into the world!

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