137 – Writing from the Heart with Guest Nadine Brandes

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Writing from the Heart with Guest Nadine Brandes Write from the Deep podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungDoes it feel like every word you write lately is a challenge? When guest Nadine Brandes wrote her award-winning Out of Time series, her writing flowed from her heart and passion. Then came a book that she wrote mostly from the head. She shares that difficult part of her writing journey and how God used it to teach her about creativity and obedience.

About Nadine Brandes

Nadine Brandes is the three-time Carol-Award winning author of Fawkes, Romanov, and the Out of Time Series. She’s an adventurer fusing authentic faith with bold imagination and her first reader is always Jesus. Nadine, her husband, and their Halfling children are building a Tiny House on wheels. Current mission: paint the world in shalom.

Thanks to our sponsors on Patreon, we’re able to offer an edited transcript of the podcast! 

Erin: Hello, listeners, and welcome to the deep. We are so glad to have you here with us. And we’re doubly glad we have a guest! Nadine Brandes here with us. Yay! Karen is going to introduce her.

Karen: Nadine Brandes is an amazing person as well as a gifted writer. I’ve got to tell you, when I edited her book A Time to Die for Enclave, I was so drawn into the story that half the time I would forget I was supposed to be editing.

Erin: I can understand that. I read that book!

Karen: It’s an amazing book, and it was an amazing debut novel. She has gone on from there to author four more books. Her Out of Time series has won all kinds of awards, deservedly so. But what I love most about Nadine—and yes, I was her agent for a little while—but what I love most about her is her smile.

She has the most brilliant smile that just wraps around you and warms you up and makes you feel as though you’ve known her forever. She has an adventurous spirit. In fact, if you go onto her website, her about page is something along the lines of:

“I’m the author of five books. I’m an adventurer. I’m a Harry Potter super nerd who has been known to eat an entire package of Oreos, family size, by herself,” which you would not know to look at her. She’s just a little stick of a person. “I watch Fiddler on the Roof at least once a year. Wait, you don’t? I love the word bumbershoot.”

And I do, too. I just saw, again, the Frasier episode where they’re talking about bumbershoots. It’s hysterical. Nadine has this marvelous sense of who she is, who she is in God, who she is as a wife and mother, and we are just delighted to have her here with us today.

Nadine: Thank you so much for having me. I am honored to even be on this podcast because it ministers to me every time I listen to it. I love chatting with you amazing, inspiring ladies.

Erin: Oh, thank you! If you’ve listened before then you know what’s coming. What does the deep mean to you?

Nadine: I feel like I could take this a lot of different ways, but I wanted to go with my gut reaction. Every time I hear you guys ask that question, I think through it, and to me it means this intentional pursuit of God, and the reward that comes from that has been promised to us in scripture.

It makes me think of Jeremiah 29:13 where it says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” I feel like to me the deep is those three words: you will find me. I guess that’s four words, but…

Karen: You’re a writer not a mathematician.

Nadine: Math is not my strong point. But finding the Lord after that obedience of pursuit and the beautiful communion and relationship that happens when I’m in that place. Especially as a creative person entering into that communion with him, the ultimate creator who has given me my joy for creativity, there’s a freedom found in the deep. Not only just in the deep relationship, but in everything else falling away or being set aside intentionally, just so that he is my sole focus.

That is what the deep means to me. I’m sure I will reference that mentality a lot more just throughout this podcast episode, because it’s so tied to how I am able to write.

Erin: Well, yeah, that’s what we wanted to get into today is how your writing process goes.

I loved what you said in an email to us. You said, “I’m passionate about talking about writing from the head versus writing from the heart.” What is the difference there and how does that work for you?

Nadine: It’s a difference I wouldn’t understand unless I had to do it, which I did. Karen mentioned my first series, the Out of Time series and A Time to Die. That series was born out of such a personal place in my life. I processed so many big life things while I wrote that series. I started it without even thinking of publishing. It was just, I processed through stories. It has gone on to be published, and it’s ministered to a lot of other people.

After that series, when it was time for, “Okay, what’s next?” I didn’t really know where to go. I had this inquiry from a large publishing house that said, “Okay, what do you have next? What are you writing?”

I had this fantasy idea that I pitched to them. I was really excited to write it. They said, “No, we’re not looking for that. How about something historical?”

I countered with, “Well, what about historical with a fantasy twist?” And they agreed.

So my next book was agreed upon. It’s called Fawkes and it’s this retelling of the son of Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plot in England with a fantasy twist. At the time I’d kind of gotten caught up in this, “God has opened these doors to this bigger publishing house.” There was God in there every step of the way of him opening the doors and how I connected with them and how he gave me the idea for that story.

But it wasn’t an idea born from my heart or really anything passionate. It was just the right idea that they were looking for. I ran into these roadblocks as I started writing it because there wasn’t emotion behind it. Coming from a series that was so emotional to me, it was just fighting tooth and nail. Fawkes was hands down the hardest book I’ve ever written.

But as I was writing that book, I listened to a talk by Allen Arnold, who wrote the book The Story of With, and he just talked about how your reward as a writer is communion with God while you write, and while you create. It’s not the finished product, not the book in your hands, not the advance that you get.

I just had to cling to that. I have always prayed before writing. I try to do it before every writing session. I was doing that with Fawkes and just praying, like, “Okay, God put something in this that reflects you,” because everything I was writing felt so flat and uninspired, and I wasn’t excited about it.

It was just so many tears. I felt like I was just writing this book for the market. I was writing it for the publisher because that’s what they wanted. I still knew God wanted me to do that, but there just wasn’t any feeling behind it. As a creative, and I know a lot of other writers will relate to this, we thrive off of that inspiration and being excited to dive into this story and discover the characters.

All of that was missing. I was questioning, “Can I even be a writer anymore?” And the Lord was saying, “Yes. And you have to write this book, whether you feel like it or not.”

I had the security knowing he told me to write it, too. It wasn’t just the publisher. Knowing that, I knew that I could push through any lack of emotion to write it. Finally, after a long year of deadlines and editing, I got to this point at the very, very end, when I was reading back through the copy edits, the final stage, and for the first time I took a breath and looked at the story and I thought, “I’m proud of this piece of work. I see something in it.”

But it wasn’t until all the way at the very, very end that anything in my heart connected with it. Since then, I’ve seen how God has used it for readers and to open doors for other books.

But not just that, it has transformed how I write books now going forward. The goal of writing is to commune with the Lord and not just to get a book contract or a book published, and it drastically changed me. It’s a message I’m so passionate about. If you can’t tell by how I’m just talking and talking!

Karen: We love that!

Nadine: That is, in a nutshell, writing from the head versus the heart, but how you can still do both with the Lord.

Karen: How did you go then after Fawkes and after going through all of that, where did God take you next? And how was that decision and what you wrote influenced by what had happened?

Nadine: Actually, my contract was for two books. So, I already had another deadline looming after that, and they wanted another historical fantasy. This one was for Romanov, that’s what I pitched them, which is a retelling of princess Anastasia with a fantasy twist, of course.

It was neat to see that shift because I actually had an idea for the story that I was excited about. My entire life, I have been so passionate about the people and the language and the country of Russia. My dad did ministry in Russia for a really long time. And I got the chance to go to Russia to do research for that, where we also connected with a pastor and his wife and were able to do ministry. It was so neat seeing the Lord bring these two passions of writing and Russia together in a book.

Even though my deadline for that book was much, much shorter than what I had for Fawkes, and I am not a quick writer, I was able to enter in right from the beginning into this healthy mindset with the Lord and with writing that allowed me to write without the barriers of constant self doubt. I mean, I still have days where I struggle with self doubt, but it’s like, I know the formula. I go to the Lord, and he will remove that.

Even though the strain of writing that book, you know, it was exhausting just from a creative perspective, it wasn’t spiritually exhausting. I was in this new place of being able to write it and it came out beautifully.

Erin: I love the benefit that you had. Circling back to when you started Fawkes, you said that you were confident that God wanted you to write that book, that you were sure about that. Since we just did a podcast recently about how people hear God and how people listen to God, how would you say that you knew that? Like, how did you hear that? That that’s what he wanted?

Nadine: Well, I pray a lot over every decision in writing. That’s a big one, but I’m trying to think.  I meant to listen to that podcast, but I didn’t get to before our interview!

Something in my walk with the Lord that made a big impact to me, I can’t even remember the Bible reference, but it’s a Proverb and it says, “The King’s heart is like a stream of flowing water in the hands of the Lord, and the Lord directs it which way he desires.”

That has always been a driving verse for me when it comes to taking actions and taking steps forward. I know so many people who freeze up because, “I haven’t heard from the Lord yet, so I’m not going to take any action.” Then you’re being a puddle. You can’t redirect a puddle because you’re not moving.

So I cover my steps in a lot of prayer and I ask him to redirect me. And he directed me to this publishing house, and he directed me to someone who gave me the idea for Fawkes and then, you know, just constant direction covered in constant prayer.

I feel like I hear his voice through redirection and trying to be in his presence and surrendering those decisions to him as often as I can. If I’m taking action with the heartset of being willing to be redirected, I know that he is respecting my faithfulness to him, and he will be faithful to put me on the path that he wants me.

Karen: Okay, now here’s my question. I noticed this when we first started working together, when I was editing your book and then when I became your agent, it had a profound impact on me: the level of wisdom that you bring to your life, that you bring to your writing, that you bring to your life with your husband. It’s amazing.

I know I keep using that word, but I do know what amazing means, and it’s amazing because you’re young. Here I am at 63, and I learned wisdom, and God granted me wisdom through the course of a lot of very difficult things over those 63 years. But you have this wisdom already. As you’re coming in, you have this wisdom to submit your decisions to God.

You have this wisdom and you have this joy in everything. The look on your face when you talk about your husband and your kids and your writing, it emanates from you. How did that happen?

Nadine: I don’t feel wise.

Erin: The wise people never do.

Karen: Yeah, that’s exactly right.

Nadine: Oh, man. I think it’s just happened from seeing the Lord open doors for me through surrendering to him. I think back to when I first realized I wanted to write, but I was in college for speech therapy. I cried in my first class, thinking this isn’t what I want to do, but I was sticking to it. You know, I’m in college, I’m going to get my degree and be an obedient daughter.

But the longer I was in college, year after year, I realized, “No, I actually really don’t want to do this. I want to be a writer.”

I talked to my dad about it and he said, “Okay, well then switch majors or switch colleges.”

I was so surprised that I had that support and I thought, “Oh great, well, I’ll do that.” Well, the Lord closed every single door, every single window to doing that.  I remember when I realized, “I have found my identity. This is who I want to be.” According to Disney, every door is supposed to open now.

Karen: And birds will sing.

Nadine: Yes. I’ve found my path, so I’m supposed to be able to go walk it. And the Lord said no.

I had this choice before me, where I realized God’s no meant years more of college for me in something I didn’t want to do. Was I willing to obey him and trust him with this desire to be a writer?

I decided yes. I wasn’t very happy about it, but all the doors were closed, so saying no would have been really hard anyway. In that process, God grew me as a person. That’s how I met my husband. Then when I graduated with a master’s degree in speech therapy and everybody expects me to go become a speech therapist, God whispered, “Okay. Now you can be a writer.”

I thought, “Everyone’s going to look at me like I’m crazy.”

But once he said yes, he opened every single door. My author journey is one that I’m actually very hesitant to share a lot of times because I have encountered very little rejection. I know that’s not the common story, but God made me wait seven years before he said yes.

Seeing that faithfulness, even when I was—I feel like I was very immature and ignorant in college—but I, at least, thank the Lord, chose to obey him in that one thing. And I saw the follow through. It impacted me so greatly, not just in the course of my life, but in understanding how faithful he truly is. It made me want to seek him more and more in every single decision. Every time I do, there’s just so much of him to see in every aspect of my story that I don’t want to miss it.

Understanding how faithful God truly is made me want to seek him more and more in every single decision. @NadineBrandes #amwriting #christianwriter @KarenBall1 Click To Tweet

Erin: That is a great quote. You know what I’m catching? I jotted a note down while you were talking. Obedience in your case, and probably in everybody’s case, leads to wisdom. It leads to these experiences and this understanding about who God is and what he wants you to do.

If we don’t stop and be obedient, it’s exactly what you said: we’re going to miss it. We’re going to miss the life growing and the maturing and all of those steps. So I love that.

Nadine: Thanks.

Erin: The other thing I like is that, we were talking earlier, before we started the podcast about your tiny house, talking about how you’re an adventurer here. I love the tiny house idea because you said it’s going to be something in obedience. Talk a little bit about that.

Nadine: Yes. Several years ago, I think about five years ago, my husband and I were living in Idaho, and I can’t even remember the origin of the idea, but God placed it on both of our hearts: hey, I think we’re supposed to build a tiny house. My recollection is different than my husband’s. I remember bringing it up to him saying, wouldn’t this be a cool idea? And he was like, no.

What he remembers is that God gave us both the idea at the same time, and we were both on board immediately. It’s funny because I don’t know whose recollection is correct, but then my husband was not just onboard, but like, okay, let’s research, let’s figure out how to do this. And he was all in, and I was all in.

I’m a very spontaneous—impulsive, sorry, the correct word is impulsive—person. Sometimes to my detriment. But I’ve learned that about myself so I can try to tone it down when it gets too strong.

I thought, “Well, is this an impulse? Are we being crazy? Are we being wasteful of our finances?” It’s five years later, and we are even more excited about building and living in this thing. Even now that we have two kids, then we were, when we first had the idea. We’ve just been chipping away at it. Every year, my husband can only work on it in the summers because of his work schedule.

We hope that it’ll be done in a couple of years. We don’t really know why the Lord has told us to build it, but we know, I mean, I know there’s a purpose. Someday we’ll move in and maybe we’ll move right back out again and we’ll learn the purpose. I know that we’ll see the answer someday.

Erin: What I love is that there’s a lot of writers out there and I want them to picture your tiny house. They’re writing this book because they think they should. They think that they’re called to do this and they’re being obedient and they’ll find out when they’re done, maybe, what it was all about and maybe along the journey. For me, it just feels like a great metaphor.

Karen: Tell our listeners, what you’ve named your tiny house.

Nadine: It is called Tiny Teva. Teva is the Hebrew word for ark. Tiny Ark. We are building it like Noah, just being obedient and we’ll see what sort of flood comes.

Karen: Well, I don’t think you’re going to be able to fit two of every creature. Settle for one. They’re what? Like 300 square feet?

Nadine: Yeah, I think a little bit less than that.

Karen: Well, it’s been a delight, Nadine. It is so much fun to just watch your face as you share what God has done in your life. I hope that the readers have caught on to your enthusiasm and excitement about the importance of presenting all of our decisions to God and trusting him with the answers. Even if the answer is no. That’s really hard to do. Too many of us try to forge ahead anyway, thinking we heard him wrong. But it’s not that we hear him wrong. It’s that we respond wrong. I pray that we gain the wisdom on our journeys, that we can make God our reward and not anything else. So thank you.

Nadine: Amen to that, and thank you so much for having me.

Books mentioned in the podcast

The Out of Time series by Nadine Brandes

Out of Time series by Nadine Brandes

Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

Romanov by Nadine Brandes

Romanov by Nadine Brandes

The Story of With by Allen Arnold

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