148 – Using the Stories in Our Lives with Guest Laurel Thomas

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Using the Stories in Our Lives with Guest Laurel Thomas Write from the Deep Podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungSo often writers wonder how to find themes for their books, but our guest this week, Laurel Thomas, has good news! God has planted rich themes in your own journey and life! Come listen in as Laurel gives us guidelines and tips for not just finding those themes, but understanding what to do with them.

About Laurel Thomas

Laurel Thomas loves words and their power to convey remarkable stories. She’s written for inspirational magazines including Guideposts and Mysterious Ways, as well as ghosted nonfiction. Her novel River’s Call was published by Wild Rose Press and boasts five-star reviews. In her position as general administrator for WriteWell, SellWell and WriterCon 2021 in Oklahoma City, she teaches and supports other multi-published industry professionals who equip writers for success through national conferences and weekend intensives. Find out more about Laurel Thomas at her website: laurelannthomas.org.

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

Karen: It’s another day at Write from the Deep, and we are so delighted you’re here to join us. We are also delighted to welcome a guest. Erin, tell us all about her.

Erin: Her name is Laurel Thomas, and she is a dear friend of mine. Laurel Thomas is a former high school English teacher who loves words and their power to convey remarkable stories.

She’s written for inspirational magazines, including Guideposts and Mysterious Ways, as well as ghostwritten nonfiction. And her debut novel River’s Call was published by Wild Rose Press. She’s also a writer’s coach and a chaplain to the Oklahoma state bureau of investigation. How about that?

She’s a general administrator for the conferences and writing intensive of WriteWell, SellWell and Writer Con 2021 in Oklahoma City. Aside from all of that, though, Laurel is one of the sweetest, most gentle-spirited women I have ever met. I’m telling you, her love for Jesus and for others actually radiates out of her whenever you get like within five feet of her. It’s like this wave. Laurel, I am just so delighted to have you here with us today. Welcome!  

Karen: Welcome. 

Laurel: Well, it is wonderful to be here and to see Erin’s face. I’ve missed her since she moved away. Thank you, Erin, and thank you, Karen, for inviting me today. I’ve been so excited. 

Karen: We were, too. 

Erin: Yes! So our first question as always, Laurel, what does a deep mean to you? 

Laurel: For years and years, I wrote nonfiction and loved nonfiction. What I would do was in the morning, when I had a quiet time, the Lord would show me something special. And so when I first started writing, I thought, I think I’ll just practice blogging. So I would take those little mini revelations and I would apply them to real life and get them down on the blog.

That’s how I started really getting my writing out there. ‘Cause I had written, ghosted nonfiction for pastors and you know, lots of different venues, but I really had never gotten my work out into the universe. So, that’s kind of how I started.

I have learned over the years that our Father is the Creator, and he has incredible insights into people, into life, that really need to be communicated. So when I think of write from the deep, I think of that scripture, and I told Erin this, from Psalm 42, that deep calls to deep. There’s something about the wooing of the Spirit who calls to our spirit. There is such joy, such riches, such treasure there. That’s basically how I would translate the deep. 

Karen: That’s wonderful. I like that.

Erin: Yeah, and it really ties in with the things that we wanted to talk about today, because we wanted to talk about how our journey with the Lord offers those rich themes and how we find those themes. What do we do with them? This is something that you’re doing well. So talk a little bit about how you do this. 

Laurel: Thank you. You know, I made a big shift in 2013 into fiction. It was funny. As a writer, I thought, how hard could it be?

Well, it turns out, it was difficult.

I was like, “It’s still writing…” Well, the learning curve was incredible. When I started, I wasn’t very good, but I started anyway. I really have realized something so important as a writer, and really it’s true for life, too, that growth really means going into those uncomfortable, new places that we are not familiar with, that we’re not really totally comfortable with, and really we don’t have mastery over.

But the Lord beckons us into those places. And if we will humble ourselves and be willing to go with him in those new places, it’s just kind of amazing how he will expand us, and what he’ll release in us that we maybe didn’t even know was there. If that makes sense.

Karen: It does. That’s what I really love about God when he draws us into this task of writing. I don’t think I’ve known any writers in all the years I’ve been in publishing who’ve come into this task and said, “I can do this,” and didn’t have a sense of, “What the heck am I doing?” Yet what I love about it is that God knows where we’re at every stage. And at every stage he draws us deeper, not just into him, but into our own selves and to understanding who we are and why we are and what it is that motivates us and what it is that stirs us.

I remember a lot of years ago, I loved to read romance novels, but reading the Bible, wasn’t all that appealing to me. So I actually prayed for God to give me a love and a desire for reading scripture. When I went to read scripture next, there was such excitement inside of me. The words were living water that came into me and refreshed me and gave me new insights. That was my first step into the deep with Jesus. Then that informed the writing and the work that I did. So, yes, it makes absolute sense. 

Erin: I love also what you said about going into a place that’s uncomfortable, which we don’t want to go into, obviously. I mean, we know we’re not good at it. We have no control over it. The only way for us to do that is to be humble. Humility is the key. 

It reminded me of the Israelites wandering through the desert. Why did God give them manna, like over and over and over again? It says in Deuteronomy 8:16-17, by the way, Deuteronomy one of my favorite places to find verses because they’re so good.

So it says this: “In the wilderness, he fed you manna, which your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and that he might test you to do good for you in the end. Otherwise, you may say in your heart, my power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.” 

I love that because if we’re not humble, we’re not acknowledging that it’s God who’s doing the work. It’s God who’s getting the glory. So that’s my favorite keyword there. 

Laurel: I love that. Of course, it’s true for probably any career that we really feel called to. I mean, there is a certain amount of equipping. I had to learn the craft of storytelling. That meant that I had to humble myself to begin anew. To go to conferences, to study craft books.

And then to actually write fiction and actually get it out there and let other people, like in critique groups or writers intensives, see it. It had to have eyes on it. It had to have readers’ eyes. It had to have published novelists’ eyes. That was a venture again into the deep where you just kind of have to practice.

I remember, Erin, the first time that I went to Mount Herman. You were there. I got all of the recordings. All of them. When I got home, of course, technology was different then, but I listened to all of those recordings. Over and over and over. I prayed, “Lord, is this going to be like osmosis? Is this going to be like immersion therapy? I hope so.”

I mean, it was great for getting me started. But still there was so much practice and there was so much that I needed as far as feedback. I’m grateful that I’ve had really kind people around me. I haven’t had people who really have shot me down.

Well, I entered a few contests. I might have been shot down a little bit…

Erin: I’ll tell you, I’m a fan of getting the recordings of conferences. I can’t tell you how many conferences I bought the full set of recordings for. I learned so much that way. It’s just a crash course. 

But let’s circle back to talking about how our journeys with the Lord give us rich themes for writing. You probably have some examples or stories from your own life where you’ve done that. 

Laurel: This is one of my favorite things, Erin. I get so excited. Years ago, I had a dream and my husband and I were in the dream. We were living in a mountain chateau, and we had a whole bunch of children around us. It was pretty unlikely. We have never visited a mountain chateau. But anyway, all of these children were there. When I woke up, I was like, “Lord, that is…it was such a vivid dream.”

I had this sense that the children were in danger, and that the reason they were there was because we were supposed to protect them. So I started researching about hidden children. Sure enough, I got all kinds of information about Jewish children who were sent away during the Holocaust for their own protection, because the Nazis considered them useless eaters. They were less than the least. 

I was like, “Oh, this is amazing!” I tried to create a story from that dream about these children who are hidden away in a mountain chateau. But setting it in World War II was just too much. I couldn’t get a handle for it. So I put it on the shelf for a long time.

Erin: Right.

Laurel: One morning, I was thinking about the magi. I had studied the magi, and what the Old Testament calls cities of refuge. It was interesting, both of those concepts. Let me just go back real quickly to cities of refuge. The cities of refuge were put in place early on. They were fascinating because the path to a city of refuge had to be lined out very clearly. Those refuge cities were built in white limestone. They were placed on top of the mountains so that if anyone was accused of manslaughter, they could run to that city of refuge, and they would get a fair trial at the city of refuge, if they made it.

If they didn’t make it, there was a blood avenger, usually a family member. So if they didn’t make it to the city, then a blood avenger could kill them legally for that manslaughter, which was, of course, accidental. Anyway, the long and the short of it was I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to write kind of a fantasy about a city of refuge? And who would the enemy attack? Maybe magi children? And magi children who were gifted in ways that would impact their world in a way that really was supernatural, but was supernaturally natural?” 

As I had done a little bit of research on the magi, I found out that Daniel was actually the chief of the magi during his time with the kings. When he worked with, I think, four or five different kings.

But anyway, the magi kind of got this, I don’t know, this bad reputation. But really they were known kind of in our culture, our Christian culture, as magicians or occultists. But that’s not really what they were, especially during Daniel’s time. 

They were influencers of culture. They were often spiritual counselors to kings. So they were known for supernatural wisdom. So when we see the wise men coming to meet the new King, Jesus, they were not occultists. They were learned wise men who came from a different culture, but who were recognized as counselors to kings. So the fact that they came to see Jesus is very significant. 

This is convoluted, but I’m just showing how a story arrived and evolved out of two things the Lord showed me, which were the cities of refuge and also the information about the magi. 

Karen: It’s funny. I’ve talked with a lot of writers over the years, and I’ve heard a lot of stories where they say, “You know, God showed me this X number of years ago, and I just didn’t know what it was for, so I just tucked it away.” Then at some point down the road it’s as though that thing just hits them again. Because of the current circumstances, or what they’ve learned since then and their relationship with the Lord, suddenly it’s so clear to them, and they build this whole story, fiction or nonfiction, around what they learned.

One of the things that we can learn from this is that we need to be focused on what God is telling us. We need to be focused on what he’s speaking to our own hearts and why, and what we’re learning about him. Not so much focused on getting published, but focused on growing in him. 

Then when he gives us the tasks that he does, whether it’s writing, or whatever creative endeavor it might be, we’re prepared to go in. He enlightens us so that we can enlighten others. I love that about him. 

Erin: I like what you’re saying, Karen, because we can get so focused on what’s happening externally. We can get so focused on goals and so focused on, you know, finishing the book. We forget to pay attention to what’s happening inside us, our own internal journey and how much we, in our relationship with God and what he teaches us, how much of that we can put in the story. Instead we’re just like, “Oh, I got to, you know, do all these things, I don’t even have time to spend time with God today. Sorry.” That’s not going to make it work. 

The other thing I like, Laurel, is that you did not hold that vision, that dream as sacred. Like, “I can never change it. It must be a mountain chateau and all of these children.”

I love how you held that loosely. How you were like, “You know what? That’s just sort of an ingredient in my crockpot, and it’s going to simmer, and it’s okay if it comes out as a fantasy that has nothing to do with the chateau.” Nothing to do, even, with your first exploration of the Jewish children. That whole transformation. You were so free and willing to let that transform. 

You know how difficult it is when a writer has something in their mind, some vision that they can’t let go of and they can’t let it morph and grow and bloom and transform to meet who they are today and what they’re growing into, and to have all of their experiences coming to a head at one point. That’s just a great example of how you let that simmer and stew and transform into something great. 

Laurel: That’s such wisdom. So you haven’t read these, but actually, there’ll be two books out of that idea. The one right now that is under consideration is called When Stars Brush Earth. 

Erin: I love that title.

Laurel: I wanted to say, too, Erin, that this is very personal, but you’ll find it in River’s Call and you’ll find it also in When Stars Brush Earth and The Stones of Promise, is that there’s always a heroine who really has no clue who she is and who struggles basically with an orphan spirit. You know, not being able to connect, not recognizing love when love is all around her.

That has been a personal journey that I know well, and so that has really been inscribed into my protagonist and really it’s in all of my novels. In some aspect, there is a main character who really has no clue who she is. Yet, who she is is shouting to her, all around her, to the people who truly love her. 

You see a little bit of that in Missy. That’s where I began to investigate that in River’s Call. So that would be like a major theme. As far as, like, how do we take a personal journey and then communicate it in a way that is engaging in a story, in story form and in our main character. So it’s been interesting. 

Erin: That’s cool. 

Karen: Laurel, believe it or not, our time is almost up. As you think about all the things we’ve talked about, and you think about those who are listening to this podcast, do you have any final words of wisdom or encouragement? 

Laurel: I always say trust that the Creator who created you loves to create through you. 

The journey of creating through words… I have a scripture, real quickly, that I read this morning. It’s Psalm 33:9 in The Passion Translation. It says, “He breathed words and worlds were created.”

I just thought, “Oh, my goodness. Some thoughts from God are so big.” 

I think that in a way, what I see, Karen, is that I would love to understand and to really communicate to other writers that the bigness of God can be imparted into a craft. It’s kind of a dance, and it’s kind of a playground, and it’s kind of a discovery that is so delightful that it—if as Erin said earlier we’ll take the pressure of pride out, and the pressure of ego out—it becomes this really delightful journey with the Lord that is rich and that blesses other people. It doesn’t get any better than that. 

Karen: That’s a, win-win. Thank you so much, Laurel. It’s been wonderful to have you here. 

Erin: Thanks, Laurel. 

Laurel: Thank you so much. I enjoyed talking to both of you.

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Have any themes from your life made their way into your books?

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Book by Laurel Thomas mentioned in the podcast

River's Call by Laurel Thomas

River’s Call by Laurel Thomas

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What’s the best source of themes for your writing? Guest Laurel Thomas gives us guidelines and tips for not just finding those themes, but understanding what to do with them. #amwriting #Christianwriter @karenball1 @LaurelT84325053 Click To Tweet
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