Some soybeans spoke to me one day. Actually, it wasn’t the soybeans, but rather a cornstalk growing smackdab in the middle of them. That lone plant told me to keep pressing no matter what the world looks like around me, to do what I do, write what I know.
What do I know? Well, I’m a southern-born, black homeschooling mom of seven who loves everything Jesus. So my characters don’t dance in blue suede shoes; wear Victorian garb; strut through western backdrops; look mysterious, medieval, beachy, or Dystopian; or use cutting-edge technology to time travel. My stories don’t scare or eat flesh. They provoke and encourage people to live out their faith in a faithless world. The love I write about is passionate, true, and often emotionally, physically, and spiritually painful–there’s nothing gratuitous about it. You can tote it to any book group or Sunday school…as long as you stick to an adult class.
But life’s not all sunshine, marigolds, and Vacation Bible School. Rest assured I stick to coloring my books with four-syllable adjectives like “coquelicot” and “amaranthine,” even though when I’m pressed (but not crushed, mind you) I might pepper my language with a spicy word or two. I don’t drink or smoke, and I only know the steps to the latest praise dances, but I do eat bacon more than once a week, I enjoy watching television, and I avoid gluten-free foods like the plague. As a true southern gal I prefer “Mama” or “Mrs. Pearson,” depending on the bloodline of the little people in question. I must admit, however, that my halo gets a little greenish when I hear about the success of other women’s fiction writers, some of whom I count friends, mentors, and sistahs in Christ, that field of writers thriving around me.
That field… the promised land of represented authors. I’ve tried to prune myself so I, too, can fit today’s “publishable” mold–Do I mention Jesus too much? Maybe my characters should pray more? Is it too Southern? Too diverse? Is my voice active, or am I actively telling and not showing? Does my preachy side come through or is my final message weak? How do I change what I know, who I am, and what I love–and then write about it with any authority or creativity?
I don’t. I can’t.
I wonder if the prophet Jeremiah could identify with that cornstalk. Set aside by God, he didn’t look, sound like, behave, or preach as his contemporaries. As a whippersnapper, Jeremiah questioned his ability to be God’s messenger, but God reassured him, “Do not be afraid of their faces, For I am with you to deliver you…Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.” (Jeremiah 1:8, 9). And God continued to bolster Jeremiah later when he despaired, promising, “And I will make you to this people a fortified bronze wall; And they will fight against you, But they shall not prevail against you; For I am with you to save you And deliver you…” (Jeremiah 15:20).
Writing solely what’s marketable or what worked for someone else is like hiding our unique lights under borrowed bushel baskets. They might glimmer, but will they shine? And if they shine, do they light His way? As writers called by God we, like Jeremiah, can only share His message, tell the story He’s inspired us to tell, and use His gifts to convey it. And eventually, prayerfully, we’ll blossom in whatever field, genre, or time period God plants us.
My editorial career started 20+ years ago with Houghton Mifflin Company. Today, I write about faith, family, and freelancing on Mommy, Concentrated and in fiction like A Long Time Comin’. If you need me, find me with my lovely husband, homeschooling our seven little people, or nuzzling our poodle, Oscar.