My Hopes for My Readers

I just received word that my publishing company is working on the cover art for Where She Was Going. We’re still not quite published, but it’s another step in that direction. Again, I’m hoping for sometime this fall–fingers crossed!

As I await publication, and while it’s summer break and I’ve got M down for a nap, I want to reflect on and explain my hopes for my readers. As much as I felt I slacked on my writing and took way too long to tell this story, there was a very real intentionality in my work. Yes, I hope that my book can be an enjoyable read, but I also wrote with a higher purpose in mind.

The story follows a teenager who gets forced into going to a Christian camp for community service hours. She’s pretty anti-Christianity. My goal is for the reader to be able to walk alongside Leigh and the other girls in her cabin. The reader gets to participate in Bible studies, listen to lessons, and ask questions alongside the characters. I hope that it will be as though the readers themselves were sent to camp to learn about Christianity. Through that, I have a couple goals.

First of all, I want teenagers to know that they can ask really hard questions about their faith. When I was in high school, not understanding this nearly drove me away from Christianity. The church I grew up in didn’t have any sort of youth program. Plus I was constantly busy on weekends with basketball or volleyball tournaments. I didn’t have anywhere I could go to hear that questioning our faith is an important part of Christianity. I mean c’mon, Jacob literally wrestles with God. All throughout the Bible, our characters and heroes are questioning God. Through that questioning, comes spiritual growth. 

As a teen, I thought that asking a question meant I didn’t have faith. But if I’d actually asked someone those questions I had, I may have gotten some answers and started to grow. It was randomly one of my aunts who told me that I was in a great place to be asking all those questions. That casual conversation was so major for me. Ever since then, in my conversations with my campers, students at school, and students at church; I have made it a priority to emphasize that questions are good. In the book that I wrote, I sought to do the same. I hope that as teens or adults read this book, they’ll be reminded and encouraged that questions help make a faith strong. Questions are a great thing to have.

Another hope I have came from interactions with specific students. I have heard teens share reasons they left their faith. So often, it was for a reason that had nothing to do with Jesus and everything to do with Christians. Students would point to the hypocrisy so rampant in our churches. Or they would point to the hatred that some groups spew in the name of God. I hope that through the conversations that the girls in this story have with their counselor, the reader can come to see how yes, Christians are broken people. We misrepresent Jesus all the time. But, Jesus is a perfect and loving savior. I hope through the dialogue, the reader might be able to get a better picture of Jesus.

For example, towards the second half of the book, Leigh and her counselor Belle are having a one on one conversation. Leigh describes how,

“There used to be this dude that would stand in front of the Van Andel Arena before hockey games shouting about how everyone is going to Hell and how–”

“Ohhhhh, I see.” Belle stopped Leigh by holding up a hand. “Yes, I’ve heard those people too. Seems like a pretty bad way to talk to people about Jesus, huh? Yelling that they’re going to Hell–I mean who would stop to genuinely listen to that?” Belle paused and glanced out over the water.

“I think what frustrates me the most is that so many people know more about what Christians are against than about what we are for. When I read the Gospels, and I look at the words and actions of Jesus, I just can’t imagine that that would be what He wants. It shouldn’t be us against them, it should be us for them.”

It kind of feels prideful to say that the goal of my book is to turn people to Jesus. Ultimately that’s always the goal, but I don’t think I can really represent Jesus all that well on my own. So you better believe there were numerous prayers during this writing process that the Holy Spirit would be doing His thing working through me. I made a very human attempt with this, but I hope that the words I used might inspire someone to dig a little deeper on their own and pick up a Bible to read more about Jesus.

And there it is. That’s a description of my hopes for my readers. I’m still praying that God is with my little Book Baby and that He’ll be able to do immeasurably more with her than I could ever imagine. If she can help even just one teenager, then my time and effort will be totally worth it.

OMG I Wrote a Book

Wait, whaaaaat?

I didn’t share this with too many people during the process of writing–mostly because I’m awkward at self-promotion, and didn’t want the accountability if I ended up giving up before it was done. Is that embarrassing and vulnerable to admit? A little bit. So here’s to catching everyone up on what I’ve been doing.

A while back (further back than I’d like to admit), I had an idea for a book that I could write. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to write a book and be a published author. I have always loved writing, so I just needed a good idea and then to take the time to get it done. So I came up with what I figured was a good idea, got started, and then totally slacked on it.

Then COVID hit.

In all of the confusion and unprecedented-ness of a global pandemic, schools closed down for the last two and a half months of the 2019-2020 school year. When we closed our doors, I spoke with so many coworkers about how productive we were going to be. I was going to go for a run every day, finally try those pinterest recipes, and finally sit down to write my book. Then the emotional reality of a pandemic hit, and I was not quite as productive as I’d planned. I did run, but not consistently. I tried a few new recipes, which was kind of fun. And I did open up my novel and get writing. I actually made a ton of progress.

And then I slacked on it again.

To be fair, as teachers, we spent a lot of that spring and summer meeting and trying to figure out what the next year looked like. So I did keep myself busy with other things. But if I’m being honest, I should have been able to finish my book that year. Instead, it sat in my Google Drive, gathering figurative dust.

And then last year J and I found out we were pregnant! 

This was by no means a surprise, and we were so grateful and feeling so blessed that our family would be growing. Our little girl would be due at the end of April 2022. As we began all of the prep and planning for life with a baby, my unfinished book popped up in the back of my mind. I’d heard about the craziness of life as working parents, so started thinking that if I didn’t finish writing my book, I might never finish it. And if I never finished it, I would always wonder what might have been.

So now I had a deadline. 

With renewed motivation, I got to writing. I worked at it. I Kept my husband updated on my progress (forcing myself to have a little accountability), and I started researching publishing options.

In 2022, the option to self-publish is always there. There are also companies I discovered who will help you self-publish (for a fee of course). Then again, I could just send out unsolicited manuscripts to publishing companies who would accept them and see what happened. Or, I could look for an agent to represent my book to publishing companies. 

I decided that self-publishing would be a decent option if I couldn’t find a publisher to pick it up. It was a solid back up plan, though I was worried that it would take a lot of extra effort and time–which I wouldn’t have a ton of once M got here. I didn’t necessarily want to find a literary agent because that sounded expensive (honestly, not sure it is. I didn’t research that option enough). So I started by trying companies accepting unsolicited manuscripts. I literally googled “companies accepting unsolicited YA manuscripts” and “companies accepting unsolicited Christian manuscripts”. (honestly, my book is kind of niche. Not too many people looking for Christian YA novels out there). After finding some companies, I searched through websites, followed various instructions for submissions, and sent my book off to like a dozen companies.

And here’s the thing about my type-B self. I hadn’t actually finished my book yet when I did this. I was close! But I wasn’t done. Most of the submission requirements ask for the first few chapters, but require that your book is done. I sent off my submissions when I wasn’t yet finished, which then required me to wrap it up. See how I force myself to get motivated? It might not be pretty, but it totally worked.

In February, we had a mid-winter break, which is when I officially finished typing my book. Within a couple weeks, I received one response from a publishing company who was not looking for YA books, one response from a company saying ‘no thanks’, and one response from a company offering to publish my book! As the kids say–I was shook. If you do that math, you realize there were like 10 companies who never responded, which is the equivalent of a “not interested”. But 10ish rejections and one offer of publication is not too shabby!

The company I went with is called Wipf and Stock. They’re a smaller company out in Oregon, and I just loved their mission and vision. Their website explains who they are as “Without agenda, we are shamelessly unapologetic about what we like: relationships, good beer, fine books, and enough coffee to keep us moving.” So relatable right? I do need to pay a typesetting fee–close to $500ish, but once it’s typeset and finalized, I’ll have a real book available on their website,…all major book sellers. Like, y’all, my book already has its own isbn number! 

So what the heck did I write?

Well, I pulled from what I know. I wrote a YA book, since those are the books I’m constantly recommending and trying to get my students to read. There’s a Toni Morrison quote I once read that said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,” So, pulling from my experience as a camp counselor, a teacher, and a student ministries leader; I wrote a book that I haven’t seen on the shelf yet. Here’s the synopsis I wrote and used for my many unsolicited manuscript submissions: 

Paisley (or Leigh as she prefers to be called) is a high school junior living in Grand Rapids and facing a variety of challenges. Her father left her family, her mom tries to escape her hardships through drinking, and Paisley has had to shoulder much of the responsibility of caring for her younger sister. With a broken home, rejection from the church, and a lot of tough questions, faith has never been an important part of Paisley’s life. That all changes the day she accidentally punches a cop.

With court-ordered community service at a summer camp in northern Michigan, Leigh embarks on a journey of discovery. Thrown into a cabin with seven other “hardened-criminals” and an overly-bubbly camp counselor named Belle, Leigh gets stuck going to Bible studies and talking about her past. With her strong skepticism and deep hurts, Leigh has a lot of questions about Christianity. Alongside her enthusiastic mentor and seven other questioning, new friends, Leigh begins to learn who Jesus actually is.

This novel seeks to address some of the deepest faith questions teenagers struggle with, encouraging and empowering readers to explore their own challenges to faith. An inclusion of racially, sexually, and socioeconomically diverse characters was an important priority because for Generation Z, inclusion and social justice are moral issues. Diversity also reflects the beautiful and creative aspects of God and our world so were representative of Leigh’s world.

Is your interest piqued???

If not, that’s totally fine. You can just order a copy of my book and add it to your bookshelves for fun 🙂

In all seriousness, I’m super excited to share my novel with my family, friends, students, and strangers. We’re currently in the last few stages of the publishing process. I don’t have a publication date, but it should be soon-ish. I’m hoping by the fall? I’ll definitely keep you all updated.

Besides seeing my book on Amazon, want to know what I’m not-so-secretly most excited for? As an official author, that kind of makes me a public figure. Like, you’ll be able to google me and find my book. SO…this means I can legitimately petition Instagram to give me a blue checkmark! 

Not even kidding. Crossing my fingers for that verified account. But yeah, OMG! I wrote a book.