147 – Letting Go of Control with Guest Cara Putman

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Letting Go of Control with Guest Cara Putman Write from the Deep podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungIt’s a fact: control is an illusion! And nowhere is that more true than in publishing. Yes, we can control what we do and how hard we work. But the results? That’s all in God’s hands. Cara Putman—a talented writer, professor, and mentor—with a definite A+type personality—shares the wonder and joy found in giving up control and trusting in God.

About Cara Putman

The award-winning, best-selling author of more than 35 books, Cara Putman graduated college at 20 and completed her law degree at 27. FIRST for Women magazine called Shadowed by Grace “captivating” and a “novel with ‘the works.’” Cara is active at her church and a full-time Clinical Associate Professor on business and ethics to undergraduate and graduate students at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management. Putman also practices law and was a second-generation homeschooling mom for twelve years. Putman obtained her Master’s in Business Administration from Krannert and her J.D. from George Mason University Antonin Scalia School of Law. She serves on the executive board of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), an organization she has served in various roles since 2007. She lives with her husband and four children in Indiana. You can connect with her online at: caraputman.com.

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

Erin: Welcome, listeners. We are so glad that you’re here with us today. We have a guest. Yay! We’re going to let Karen introduce our lovely guest.

Karen: I am delighted to welcome Cara Putman here to the podcast. I met Cara years and years and years ago at one of the writers’ retreats that we both attended. They were so much fun, and Cara was so much fun. She has, I kid you not guys, the most beautiful smile you’ve ever seen. She and I had an adventure on one of these writers’ retreats where we got these marvelous sundaes that were out of this world. I still have pictures of that. They were so good, and she’s this little skinny thing and I’m not, but it was okay because we shared a love of hot fudge.

She’s an award-winning, best-selling author of more than 30 books. You’d never believe it because you look at her and you think she’s 13, but she’s written 30 books. Since the time she could read Nancy Drew, she’s wanted to write mysteries. In 2005, she attended a book signing at her local Christian bookstore, and the rest they say is history. There she met Colleen Coble, who has mentored so many writers in this industry. With prompting from Cara’s husband, she shared her dream with Colleen and since those infamous words, she’s been writing books. And I tell you, she writes amazing books.

In addition to that, get this guys, she’s an attorney, a lecturer at a big 10 university, and she’s active in women’s ministry, and she’s an all-around crazy woman, which she has to be to take on all of that. She’s crazy about God, her husband and her kids. She graduated with honors from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Oh, and she says, “Go Huskers.” Which for me, that means go Huskies from Washington! She went to George Mason Law School and Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management. That’s her MBA. You can learn more about her books at caraputman.com. Cara, welcome.

Cara: Thank you so much for having me. Karen, one of the things I first remember about meeting you at one of those writing retreats is I had my two-month-old with me…

Karen: Oh yeah.

Cara: And you were the Baby Whisperer! I’m sitting between James Scott Bell and Randy Alcorn, feeling like such a fraud. I had like two books out at the time. It was 2008. You just, Rebecca could be a little fussy, and yet you would just take her and love on her. And I thought, this is a woman who has a heart of gold and loves Jesus.

Karen: The funny thing about that, she came to me and she called me the baby whisperer. And I said, “You know, I just did with Rebecca the same thing I do with puppies, when they’re fussy. It worked really well.”

Cara: It did! I was so overwhelmed and intimidated walking into this room of all of the Christian authors that I have so respected and admired. And you know how sometimes Satan will be like, “You’re a fraud. You don’t really belong here.” I so felt that, especially since I was showing up with this newborn baby. Yet you and everyone else just were so welcoming and that’s one of the things I love about Christian fiction authors. We’re just the best.

Erin: Let’s start off here with our question we love to ask everyone. Cara, what does the deep mean to you?

Cara: I love that question. Here’s what the deep means to me when I’m thinking particularly about faith. I think that there are two ways that people approach it. Some people get content with the shallow end, where, you know, they’re getting their toes wet and maybe they attend a Bible study or something, but it’s not one that has them like pulling it all apart. They’re what Paul would call content with milk.

Then there are those of us who are like, “I am so past that. I want steak. I want to cannonball off the diving board.” Although you’d have to drag me up to do like that two-story one. The Olympics are coming, so I’m imagining the platform. You would have to throw me off that thing.

But I want all that God has for me, and that’s what I think of when I think of the deep. It’s just going in where you can’t stand anymore. You know, Hillsong had that song that everybody was singing for forever about oceans. And just that idea that God’s crashing over us. Sometimes it’s painful. It’s not always fun, but we just want everything he has for us, so we are risking it all and going into the deep.

Karen: Oh, I love that. You know, we were talking before we started the recording about you being a type triple-A control freak and how God decided to put you in that personality into a career where we have no control. So I’m sure that there are many of our listeners out there who understand implicitly the idea that this is a tough thing to do, because there really isn’t a lot that we can control. Why don’t you talk about that a little and about your own journey into being able to let go and trust in God’s control?

Cara: I think one of the things that a lot of people can look at, like my bio that you were reading, and say, “Oh, she started writing in 2005. She got her contract in 2006. First book comes out in 2007. It wins a major award in 2008. It’s all been butterflies and rainbows. The occasional unicorn shows up.”

It’s easy for people to look at it and go, “That’s her journey. It’s been this piece of cake.” And yet, publishing is so far out of our control. I mean, I like being an attorney.  My other hat is I’m a university professor and there’s control. I control my classroom. I control what my students are learning. I control how fast we learn it and when we learn it. Then you look at publishing. It’s the complete opposite.

There are things that we control as writers. We control whether we’re going to sit down and do the work. We control whether we’re going to write the proposals that feel like slitting our wrist and bleeding all over the place and going, “Is anybody going to like this?”

I despise proposal writing. By now, haven’t earned the right for them to just be like, “Hey, we know she’s going to write a great book, go for it”?

Yet I’m not there. There has been so many times I’ve gone, “Okay, God, why am I in this industry?” And he’s like, “Because you can’t control it.”

I can do everything perfectly. And I am an Enneagram three perfectionist, first born, type A. I mean, hello? Is there any more of a person who’s like, “Just give me a job, I can do it and I’ll do it great, and it’ll be perfect”?

It doesn’t matter in publishing. You can do everything absolutely perfectly, and one of your books releases two weeks into the pandemic, and guess what? The libraries and bookstores are closed, so print sales are tanked. There’s nothing I can do about that. In that process my publisher said, “No, we’re not going to offer you another contract.”

I wanted to be like, “Excuse me, this is a pandemic. Really? You’re going to hold that against me?”

But then I’m thinking about all my friends who rely on their writing income, and who are releasing at the same time and going, “Oh, God, this is not good. Help us!”

Fortunately, that book has completely recovered since then. Those are the things that we can’t control. You can write the most beautiful book and nobody finds it. So I’ve learned it has to be about going, “Okay, God, just help me have a heart for whoever the readers are that you want to read it. Help me to focus on being obedient and doing what I can do.” Then holding it open-handed.

I had to do that with the dream since I was 14 and was like, “I can write books and Janette Oke isn’t writing fast enough. I can do that.”  Yet God didn’t say go until I was 32, and then it was really fast. But the dream actually started a lot earlier.

Karen: That’s amazing.

Erin: What steps do you think you took along the way with God to get from the point of, “But I can control it. I can control it”? I mean to get from there to where you’re like, “It’s cool. I’m laid back. God’s got it.” You know, that didn’t happen overnight, obviously. So what do you think were some keys that helped you move from one place to another on that journey?

Cara: I would say it’s still a journey. I mean, remember the type Enneagram three. It’s all about looking successful. So there are times… like one of the gals I kind of mentor, and now she’s almost a peer, which is so fun, but she was calling me last week, going, “What does this mean?”

I’m like, “Oh, it means you’re getting offered a contract from the publisher that just told me no.” And being able to celebrate with her when that publisher was my dream publisher from the beginning. And I got there and I got five books. And I’m like, “But I could name an author, and at five books… she wasn’t always the best-selling author that she is today.” But publishers don’t give you that kind of time.

I say that to say, it’s still a journey. I had to really watch my heart because publishing can feel very unfair.

Erin: And it is.

Karen: It is very unfair.

Cara: I can look at it and go, “Uh, wait a minute. Why are you pouring all of this into someone who’s brand new when I’m doing everything you asked and more?”

Those are the moments where I then have to go back to God and go, “Okay, I’m trying to have my heart in the right place, but I’m starting to see that it slipped out of alignment.”

So I don’t want anybody to think that I’ve got it dialed in and made. I think where there’s been progress is that now I can see that and I can go, “Okay, God, this isn’t where I want to be. I want this to be surrendered. I want this to be open-handed.”

Like when I got the answer from my current publisher, that there wasn’t going to be another contract, part of that journey was actually going, “God, does that mean I’m done?” Because I don’t want to keep pouring energy and emotion and effort into something where the grace has lifted or where it’s like, “You’ve written the books I had for you to write.”

What I think I’ve heard from him is that I’m not done. There’s been some really cool encouragement that’s happened, but I’m still waiting for the next contract. Where I’m taking encouragement is that I haven’t gotten nos. Nobody has said no. So then I’m like, okay, is it because we’re in the pandemic and they’re still waiting to see what’s going to happen?

But if it were a no, then it’s a closed door. Where it is, it’s still maybe an open door. I don’t know. So it’s that journey of just being able to, in some ways I guess, really trust God’s timing more.

One of the things that I have been able to see by looking back, and that’s one thing I’m really big on is don’t forget to stop and look back so you can see God’s hand and see the progress, because sometimes we get so focused on the future that we forget to see his provision in the past. And if we don’t see his provision in the past, it’s really hard to trust him for the future. By looking back, I could see if I had been under a deadline this spring, so spring of 2021, I don’t think I would have been able to meet the deadline—and I’ve met every deadline ever, and that’s 36 books—because I was teaching full time at a major university in COVID.

By the end of May, I was so fried. I didn’t have anything left to give anybody.  I don’t want to write under those conditions. I had to take like the rest of May and June to kind of get back to where I was like, excited to write. Then the novella I wrote that’s coming out October 1st, my editor was like, “This is the best thing you’ve written.”

It was fresh. It’s funny. It’s a new voice. I couldn’t have done that if I hadn’t been able to give myself May to just kind of decompress and go, “Okay, that was hard. It took a lot out of me.” But even being able to say that is huge for me, versus just plowing on to the next thing.

Karen: The beauty of that is God had you where you needed to be to minister to the kids who were in that school setting and to be able to help usher them through their own difficulties and what they were facing as they were studying.

Like you said when we were talking earlier, you were like the only actual physical face of a professor that they saw, and you were there for God’s purposes, and he knew how much energy you needed to put into that and how much energy you couldn’t afford to put into writing. We’re so focused on the immediate, and we’re so focused on saying, “Well, that makes no sense whatsoever.”

But God’s like, “My will, my wisdom are so far beyond anything you have.” So learning to say, “This doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t seem fair, but Lord, where else am I going to go?” And following down that path with him.

Cara: It’s so true. I tell people, I feel called into two spaces and I don’t want to go where there’s not a call.

Karen: Right.

Cara: I still feel called to writing. It’s good because I always, I keep checking with my husband. Because sometimes I get so focused on it, I can’t stop. I can’t give up. Whereas I know it’s not giving up. It’s a, “Is this where I’m supposed to be right now?”

So I definitely feel called to writing still, which is fun. But I also very much feel called to the students where I teach. I mean, we literally have the largest international student population at a US university, and a lot of those students come through my classrooms and, you know, being that face, being someone that they know genuinely cares about them and whether or not I’m shouting from the rooftop, “Hey, I’m a Christian,” I’m loving them.

I’ll pray or walk campus, and I’m like, “God, help me to love them like you love them.” Because there are days where some of them I want to knock upside the head and go, “Come on. Get it pulled together.”

But at the same time, I just want to love them like Jesus does because it’s tough for everybody. So making sure I’m showing up in that way.

Karen: I think all of us who’ve been through college and whether it’s just undergrad or on into graduate work, we all remember the emotional ups and downs and how unbelievably difficult those times were in our lives. To have somebody who can be an emotional, and even if we’re not aware of it, a spiritual anchor for us, that’s life-changing.

Cara: Absolutely.

Erin: You know, it’s interesting because you talk about this publishing industry being out of control and we all would agree, but one of the things that we can also control are our thoughts. That seems to be something that you’ve really taken hold of. You can control what you think about, and you can control how you frame what’s happening in your mind. And you can control that you’re going to trust in God for this, because that’s a choice. I love that that’s part of your journey.

Karen: Yes, absolutely.

Cara: I think that that’s one of the things that it can be so easy to lose track of. There’ve been so many great books coming out lately about that from Get Out of Your Head by Jenny Allen and just there’s a whole host of them that are focused on that idea of taking every thought captive.

That’s when I can actually tell, “Okay, my spirit’s not in the right place, because my thoughts are out of control.” That has really become a place where I then stop and go, “Okay, God, what’s your perspective on this? Because my perspective on this could be that everything is out of control and you’re not showing up. Why is this happening for that person when it’s not happening for me? And that’s not fair, and why aren’t you taking care of me?”

Just being honest and transparent. I can check the status of my heart and my relationship with God in my ability to celebrate with my friends, versus going, “Why not me?”

And there can still be an element of, “God, I would love that to happen for me, too,” but I always want my posture to be one where I’m celebrating the victories that other people get and able just to really be that safe place, whether it’s at the university or with my writing friends. You know, to be able to be that place where they can come and know that they’re going to be celebrated.

Karen: Right. It’s so important to know that we have people who are rooting for us. That regardless of what’s happening with them in their own careers, that they’re there for us and supporting us and celebrating with us and weeping with us. That is a ministry so far beyond just writing. That’s a ministry that speaks to the hearts of not just the writers, but of everyone around us.

We had a friend once who used to hold so hard to what she wanted that she would miss so many opportunities that God had for her. I told her, “Here’s the image I have: you’re in a lifeboat on the ocean, and you are in this boat with friends who love you, and you get frustrated because you’re in the sun, and there’s no water. So you jump into the water because you think that’s going to be better, that you’re going to get what you want there. But there are sharks all around. People are looking at you saying, ‘Come back into the boat. Come back where we can keep you safe.’ But if you hold so fast to where you think you should be and what you think you should get, you can’t reach out to the hand that’s seeking to draw you back into safety, seeking to draw you back into love.”

When we get so focused on ourselves, we miss what God wants to do in us and in those around us.

Erin: It’s interesting to me that clearly Colleen Coble was a mentor to you. Now it sounds like you’re mentoring others. What put that on your heart? How did that come about? I love that you’re doing that.

Cara: I think it’s just part of how God’s created me. In a lot of ways, I kind of have that shepherd personality where I’m always looking for people. There was a period of time, oh gosh, it must’ve been about… I’ve been writing a while now…yikes!

Karen: Never mind how long ago it was.

Cara: I was a baby when I started writing. A baby!

There was this group of writers who had gotten their first contracts, and they were starting to get second contracts.  I remember I was doing mentoring appointments at American Christian Fiction Writers, and Melissa Tagg sat down with me. I was like, “Why would you waste an appointment with me?”

She was like, “Because you’re a few steps farther down the road. And I don’t know how to do this. I watch what you’re doing.”

At that moment it was like God said, “I want you to be pouring into people and helping them.”

That was when Sarah Ladd and Kristy Cambron and Beth Vogt and all these people had like one or two books out, and I pulled us all together in what we called The Grove, and we became this really tight knit group, just cheerleading for each other.

Then I could answer questions when they had questions about the business side or the legal side. That was about three years. Then there was another group that got brought along at about that same level. It’s just part of my heart.

There have been a couple of times when I’ve been like, “Okay, God, why do you have me here? Why am I still in this?”

It’s a lot of work. I sell books, but I don’t think I’ve ever jumped quite out of mid-list, which is, in the writing world, that is the desert. It’s better to be debut or best-selling. But the fact that you write consistently and well, and like Flight Risk, the book that released during the pandemic, took second place in two very different awards. One was a mainstream thriller category and the other was the Faith Hope and Love Reader’s Choice for thriller. And it’s just two totally different types of words, but that’s what I do.

So, I mean, I write these great books, but God was like, he just kind of dropped in my heart: what if I’m here to be that encouragement and to be that mentor for others? Maybe it won’t be until heaven that I see all the people who stuck with it and their books might’ve been on the bestsellers list all the time, but I helped get them through that point that might’ve derailed them.

I was like, “I can be okay with that.” I may not ever be really like on fire excited about it, but I can be okay with it if that’s how God’s using me. Even as I continue to write books to the best of my ability. I hope that someday I might get to where I’m consistently on those bestseller lists. But it’s been incredible the people he’s connected me with and, you know, even being able to tell my friend who’s about to get the contract, and she’s in such a good place about it, but being able to tell her, “No, that means they’re…You’ve got a contract coming. That’s exactly what that means.”

It’s just fun to be able to walk people through that. Or they’re like, “What does this mean that my agent said this?” I’m like, “Oh, this is what that means.” And just being a translator. I think my calling is to translate whether it’s for students in the law or authors and contracts. I’m just here to help on the  journey.

Karen: I love that about God. He takes what he knows we have as abilities because he put them inside of us, and then he lets our experiences refine us and shine us up, or rough us up so that we can speak from wisdom, and then we’re there to help others on the path. Then they get roughed up and shined up and they can help others on the path.

Isn’t that what discipleship is about? Isn’t that what it is to just share our faith and our life with each other and be able to draw others into this amazing fellowship, not just of Christian writers, but this amazing fellowship of trusting in the Lord and being able to let go of control?

Cara, thank you so much. I can’t believe our time is up already, but it’s gone so fast. We have just loved having you here. Thank you for the wisdom that you’ve shared.

Cara: Thank you so much for having me. This is so fun and it’s always great to see you, ladies.

Erin: You, too. Thanks, Cara!

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

What has God been asking you to let go of lately?

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