What Writing My First Novel Taught Me

My thanks to Donna Winters for inviting me to guest blog for her at Great Lakes Romances. Visit her blog to find great books by Michigan authors.

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Hallie stuck her head of tangled red curls around a corner of my mind when I was twenty-two years old. She was just fifteen, and for the next ten years she refused to leave me alone until I finally sat down and told her story in my first contemporary Christian novel, Hallie’s Heart and the sequel, Morningsong.

Hallie blames herself for the drowning death of her little sister. She accuses God of being a monster who watches his children suffer. After struggling for two years with her guilt, she steals her father’s Harley and heads off to the scene of the tragedy–her Aunt Mona’s Lake Michigan beach house to face her demons. What unfolds is her story of confronting God in the rubble of her guilt, anger, and feelings of abandonment.

Why did I write Hallie’s Heart and the sequel Morningsong?

I grew up in Muskegon, Michigan, alone the Lake Michigan shoreline. I wanted to write a novel that incorporated places and experiences that had influenced my life. The book is set, in part, on the grounds of Maranatha Bible conference and in other locations in the West Michigan area, such as the Cocoa Cottage bed and breakfast.

I was attacked by a serial rapist when I was nineteen years old. I wanted to write a book that honestly confronted questions about God’s goodness and sovereignty in tension with our suffering.

What would you like readers to take away from your book?

God is good, all the time–no matter what circumstances look like to us. Life is hard and sometimes just plain awful, but God’s love never fails, and his goodness never changes.

What did you learn writing Hallie’s Heart?

This book was my opportunity to ask God tough questions about my own abuse and horrible circumstances my dearest family members had struggled through. I found hope and strength through my characters. I learned it’s okay to question God and bring him our anger. That’s not something I was allowed to do when I was growing up and that I felt I was allowed to do even as a young adult Christian.

I also learned that faith often grows in the darkness and the silence, when we may not sense the presence of God at all.

What was your favorite scene in the book?

Hallie's Heart cover smallerIn one critical scene in the book, Hallie and her Aunt Mona are having an argument on the breakwater at Pere Marquette Park in Muskegon as a storm comes in. This key scene changes the course of the book. And I found that at the end of the chapter, I’d written a scene totally different from what I’d planned. Sometimes your characters simply take on a life of their own and surprise you.

What’s the toughest test you’ve faced as a writer?

Although I write fiction, I also write nonfiction. My writing always flows from my own conflicts and personal and spiritual growth. I’m a consultant on post-traumatic stress disorder. This means that my “research” has included painful trauma and PTSD treatment for a number of kinds of traumatic experiences. I’d rather do research that takes me to the south of France, but I love knowing that my writing has impact. Check out PTSDPerspectives.org. In June Love Letters from the Edge: Meditations for Those Suffering from Brokenness, Trauma, and the Pain of Life will be release with Kregel Publishers. I wrote this book with my best friend and colleague Wanda Sanchez.

Where do you write?

Typically, in my living room. Our house is small. I do have an office, but it’s crowded with bookshelves and office equipment. I prefer sitting in my living room so I can look out the front window at the bird feeder and the horses across the street.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hallie’s Heart won the Christy Award for contemporary Christian fiction. I’m the author of ten books and co-author of a number of others. I served as managing editor for the Hope in the Mourning grief Bible (Zondervan 2013) and contributed to the Holy Bible Mosaic (Tyndale), as a contributing editor to David Jeremiah’s study Bible What It Says, What It Means, What It Means for You.

I’m a co-founder of two Christian writer’s conferences: the Breathe Christian Writer’s Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Cedar Falls Christian Writer’s Workshop in Cedar Falls, Iowa. I’m also an expert consultant for Caring.com, writing to an audience of two million caregivers across the nation.

I have two adult children and live with my husband Dan in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. shellyI can often be found in the nation’s prisons speaking to women with Daughters of Destiny women’s prison ministry with my friend and colleague Wanda Sanchez or consulting on post-traumatic stress disorder as the co-founder of PTSDPerspectives.org.

I’m also a proud Harley-riding grandma in search of the nation’s best cupcake and looking for the next place to tell someone about my great God.

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