What’s it like when the books arrive?

Terrifying.

That’s what it feels like when my allotment of soon-to-be-released books arrive from the publisher.

I can barely bring myself to cut through the packing tape and pull open the flap, because I know too well what’s underneath the crinkled packing paper.

While some see an accomplishment–and all glory to Him, that it is–I see doubt. Revisions. More doubt. Excitement over a sentence I *think* I might’ve actually written well. Mortification over a sentence that follows that I should’ve written differently. Exhaustion. Glee. Writer’s block. Relief. Not one, but two near-complete re-writes. A roller coaster of years of work all packed up in a little brown box.

It brings to mind the story of the boy in the Bible with the loaves and fishes.

I bet his stomach rumbled as He approached Jesus, terrified to let go of what was perhaps his only chance at a meal for the day. I bet he felt so awkward as the crowd stared and perhaps sneered as he approached the great Teacher. The child’s face must have flushed with the heat of inadequacy and even shame at the pitiful offering held out with hands shaky…dirt caked under fingernails from foraging for bait or from a morning of play…to Jesus.

That’s what it feels like to me when the books arrive.

I don’t know what God will do with my words. Inevitably some folks won’t like the bread and fish I bring. There’s really no telling how many will be nourished by the story I did my best to tell.

All I can do today…indeed every day…is to place the little brown bag in His hands and walk away, leaving the rest to Him.

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What about you, friend? Have you ever released something and been terrified of what would happen afterwards? Maybe you’ve released a job, a career, a child, a loved one, or your own artwork. How does/did that make you feel?

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“One of the disciples—it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter—said, “There’s a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.” John 6:8-9 (TMV)

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Interview with Nel Stewart, a main character from Then Sings My Soul

Happy Monday! I am so excited to have a guest with me today on my blog. She’s one of the two main characters in my novel, Then Sings My Soul, which releases in just a few short weeks. Her name is Nel Stewart, and she’s excited to tell you a little more about her role in the story.

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Amy: Hi Nel, and thanks for being here. Tell readers a little about yourself.

Nel: Thanks so much for having me. I’m originally from South Haven, Michigan, but I’ve spent the last twenty years pursuing my passion for jewelry design out in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’m 39-and-holding [laughs], and I’ve recently returned to South Haven because my mom passed away.

Amy: I’m so sorry to hear about your mother’s passing. 

Nel: I appreciate that. It’s been difficult for me, of course, but even more difficult for my dad.

Amy: We learned a little about your dad, Jakob, a couple of weeks ago. How is he holding up?

Nel: Considering he’s 94, I think he’s doing about as well as could be expected. But I think the next few weeks and months will be a challenge for all of us.

Amy: How’s that?

Nel: I don’t know how much time he has left. I’m learning that a lot of people find themselves in my situation, losing one parent and wondering what to do with the surviving parent. Dad’s memory loss is pretty heartbreaking to see, he was so vibrant. It doesn’t help matters that I often don’t know where my own life is headed.

Amy: You own a jewelry business…

Nel: I do. And I love creating new designs and working with gemstones. But the rest of my life is sort of a mess.

Amy: Most people wouldn’t think someone who is an artist and runs their own business is a mess.

Nel: I get that. But as people learn more about my story, I think they’ll realize I’m kind of a middle-aged mess, interpersonally and emotionally. Lots of folks look all put together on the outside, but when we get to know them, we learn they have a lot of unseen battles. We all–every one of us–fights a battle or two. Some are just more obvious than others. 

Amy: Will we learn what your struggles are in Then Sings My Soul?

Nel: [blushes] Yep. Readers will learn about my brokenness–maybe more than they want to know–and how that plays in to decisions we have to make about my dad.

Amy: What’s your favorite aspect of Then Sings My Soul?

Nel: I can’t say that I originally was–or that I am–necessarily comfortable telling my story. So much of my life has felt lonely and directionless. But I think looking back I’ve realized God was always with me in it. Even when I thought I could run away to a new place and hide behind my art, He was with me. 

Amy: What’s the one thing you hope readers take away from this story about you and your dad?

Nel: I hope folks learn that even when our lives seem purposeless, when we think that the things we go through like aging don’t matter, that everything works together for good–even death–and that God does have a plan for your life.

Amy: Sounds like a pretty hopeful story, then.

Nel: [laughs] Well, it is now that it’s all said and done. But going through it, there was a lot of pain to work through. A little mystery, too. 

Amy: Mystery? Oooo, we love a little mystery. I think readers will agree, now we can’t wait to read it. Thanks for stopping by, Nel.

Nel: Thanks so much for having me. See you in South Haven!

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Then Sings My Soul releases nationwide on March 1, 2015. It is available for pre-order now, traditional and e-book formats, through wherever fine books are sold.

 

So, you wrote a book. When ya quittin’ your day job?

The short answer:

I’m not.

The long answer:

I don’t blame people for wondering if I’m going to quit my day job.

I do blame the expatriates of the 1920s or perhaps Hollywood’s portrayal of writers for giving the general public the persistent idea that if you write a book, you’ll become not only rich, but filthy rich. And I do blame the news for making 6-7 figure book deals front page news…not because that sort of deal isn’t newsworthy, but because it’s not the norm.

Even if ginormous advances were the norm, unless you keep writing, the money will run out.

Because the money always runs out.

The creativity, however, does not.

At least, it doesn’t have to.

Last week a writer friend of mine posted this quote from Elizabeth Gilbert, the famous author of Eat, Pray, Love. I think it’s one of the most important quotes about writing, especially in the midst of the current state of publishing, that I’ve read in a long, long time. She says this (via GalleyCat):

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“Of course this is the dream of dreams — to make a living by your art — but it is a rare thing, when that works out. Or sometimes it might work out for a few years, and then you run out of money. If financial success becomes the standard by which to determine if you are successful or not, you are likely setting yourself up to feel disappointed in yourself and your work. It’s not fair to your craft, to put this kind of pressure on it. Get a job on the side to pay the bills, and learn how to live an inexpensive, frugal life.”

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Get a job, she says.

Learn how to live inexpensive, frugal, she says.

Because unless you’re Elizabeth Gilbert or John Green or Nicholas Sparks or Danielle Steele or Stephen King or a handful of others, chances are pretty good you’re gonna need a side job–if not a full-time job–if you’re a writer.

More important, though, is what she says about how putting financial pressure on your craft, your gifting, is not fair.

I dare say, it’s irresponsible.

Because a gift–and I do believe the ability to write, to paint, to craft in any way is just that, a gift–is something you give away.

Now, don’t get me wrong.

I do not believe in the current trend of free or near-free music and books, and frankly, shame on people for expecting free or near-free books and music. I fully support the actions of artists like Taylor Swift who can afford to pull their art from venues which perpetuate woefully discounted music at the expense of the artists who work damn hard to create it.

I do believe that it is the joyous plight of the artist to create in obscurity, to tear one’s heart out unnoticed, to work their fingers and pencils and brushes to the nubs so that the gift of the art remains something wholly from the soul, and not something done under the duress of expectation or obligation or, God forbid, need. 

Art is often born out of the desperation of the heart, but when done desperately, ceases being art.

When I was in college endlessly flip-flopping between majors because I couldn’t decide between the field of medicine and creative writing, my dad, the son of a calloused-handed factory worker, said with all the love he could muster, “Amy. You might want to consider choosing a profession which will allow you to eat more than just beans.”

So I became a registered nurse.

And don’t you know, I absolutely love being a nurse? I’ve been a surgery nurse, an administrative nurse, a pediatric nurse, an educator nurse, and most currently a med/surg nurse. Some of my greatest laughter and deepest sadness and gripping fears have occurred inside the walls of the hospitals in which I work. As a nurse, every day I meet people, see things, experience tragedy, and gain insight in ways I never, ever would otherwise.

So you see,

…my work fuels my writing, and my writing fuels my work.

No.

I’m not quitting my day job.

Even if Angelina Jolie comes along and wants to cast Matthew McConaughey as Solly in my first novel as I imagined him in it, I wouldn’t want to quit being a nurse. (Hey Ang, if you read this, call me? ‘Kay? Maybe?)

Is it hard to write novels and work?

Absolutely.

I, like most authors I know, give up a lot to be a writer. I care for and love on my family and my home, I work, pay the bills, write in carpool lines and sidelines, edit on lunch breaks and Saturday nights. There’s not much left of me after that. I regret that I hardly ever do lunch dates with girlfriends and parties with neighbors and volunteer at the schools.

Some people by now must think I’m either quite rude or a hermit or both.

But when I lamented to a friend about not having time to do Christmas cards this year, do you know what she said?

She said, “Amy. You words are a card to us every day.”

Writing–being an artist of any kind–is a sacrifice.

And sacrifices are worth working for.

Don’t you think?

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