163 – Follow Your Dreams with Guest Debbie Macomber

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Follow Your Dreams with Guest Debbie Macomber Write from the Deep podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor Young

Guest Debbie Macomber is a firm believer in following your God-given dreams. Why? Because everyone told her, from an early age, the dream God gave her—to be a writer—couldn’t happen! But she kept going until the dream God gave her was a reality far beyond her imaginings!

About Debbie Macomber

Debbie Macomber is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and one of today’s most popular writers with more than 200 million copies of her books in print worldwide. In her novels, Macomber brings to life compelling relationships that embrace family and enduring friendships, uplifting her readers with stories of connection and hope. Macomber’s novels have spent over 1,000 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Fifteen of these novels hit the number one spot.

Debbie serves on the Guideposts National Advisory Cabinet, is a YFC National Ambassador, and is World Vision’s international spokesperson for their Knit for Kids charity initiative. A devoted grandmother, Debbie and Wayne live in Port Orchard, Washington, the town which inspired the Cedar Cove series.

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Erin: Welcome listeners. We are so excited to have you here with us in the deep. We have a guest and Karen gets to reveal our surprise mystery guest and introduce her!

Karen: Our mystery guest is the amazing Debbie Macomber. You know, the first time I became aware of Debbie, it was on a family vacation. I was with my parents, and we were driving somewhere that was a long trip. I had picked up a book that looked so fun. Debbie, I think the title may have been My Funny Valentine. It was one of her Valentine books.

I was sitting in the backseat reading it, and I was laughing out loud. My mother finally reached back and plucked the book out of my hands. She started reading it and then she was laughing out loud. Then the two of us, we just had a grand time on this trip trading the book back and forth and talking about the characters. I thought my dad was going to pull over and put us out of the car with the book.

Sometime after that, I was at a writer’s conference and Debbie was there signing books, and I was signing books. I screwed up my courage, and I went over and thanked her because my mom had passed before we met. I told Debbie how much that memory meant to me, that memory of shared laughter and just being able to play and have fun, and it came through her book. Debbie was so gracious and so kind, and so we became friends.

I absolutely love this woman, not just for her amazing talent at writing. I mean, if you think about it, she’s phenomenal as a writer. She’s a number one New York Times bestselling author. One of today’s most popular writers with more than 200 million copies of her books in print worldwide. In 2022, she has all new hardcover publications coming out. One called The Best is Yet to Come in July and The Christmas Spirit in October. And of course, a new Christmas book.

Debbie’s Christmas books are legendary and several of them have been crafted into Hallmark Channel movies.
She’s also the author of the best-selling Cedar Cove series, which the Hallmark Channel chose the basis for its first dramatic scripted television series. We are so delighted to have Debbie here. She is a legend to anyone who is a reader, and she is a servant to anyone who knows her and her heart and her love for God. Debbie, welcome!

Debbie: Oh, thank you, Karen. See, I’m just downright friendly.

Erin: Well, we are delighted that you’re here with us. We want to ask you first, what does the deep mean to you?

Debbie: Well, that was such an interesting question. And I gave it a lot of thought. I’m thinking about the writing process itself. The deep means to me to connect with my Savior with every story I write. I mean, long before I ever get an idea, I ask God for the idea. Then as I write the synopsis, I ask him to help me to make this book special in different ways.

Now, I don’t know if I’ve shared this with you before, but I have a way of deciding which books I write, because I’m a storyteller. That’s the gift God gave me. It has to be relevant to my reader. It has to be provocative. It has to be entertaining because I’m not here to teach anybody anything. It has to be realistic. And it has to be believable. If the story idea aligns with those words then I know I’ve got a good idea.

So when I dig to the deep it’s when I start the writing process, first with the synopsis and then every day with every chapter in every scene, and that’s digging in, connecting with my Savior to guide my writing.

Karen: I love that. I don’t think anybody’s ever made that definition before. That’s great. But it doesn’t surprise me. I saw that you were talking on something called the Anchor Gathering. Can you tell us a little about the Anchor Gathering?

Debbie: The Anchor Gathering was started by my friend, Katie Robertson, who lost her daughter. As a result of the death of this child, she wanted to reach out to as many women for Christ as possible. So she started this gathering. It was first all together in person. But with COVID, this is one of the benefits of COVID, it’s broke out into Zoom meetings and it spread all over the country.

Karen: That’s outstanding. What’s the primary goal?

Debbie: The primary goal is to introduce women in a friendly and fun atmosphere and to share anchor moments. That means the moments that you really felt you needed something in your life, and that something was Jesus Christ.

Karen: Amen. That’s cool. Did you already do that talk? When I saw the announcement about it, it was upcoming. Have you done it already?

Debbie: Yes, I did. It actually aired in February.

Erin: We’ll have a link to that in the show notes for people who want to listen.

Karen: I would really like to do that. You were going to talk about writers and faith and how God gives us dreams and then uses those dreams in our life and in our writing. How about if you unpack that a little for us?

Debbie: I can tell you that I always wanted to be a writer, even from the time I can remember. But I have such an unusual background because I’m dyslexic. I didn’t learn to read until the fifth grade. I can remember the third grade teacher telling my mother, “Debbie’s a nice little girl, but she’s never going to do well.”

I lived to fulfill that in school. I mean, I really didn’t do well in school. I struggled. I was always nearly at the bottom of my class. I feel fortunate to have graduated from high school. The only time I ever told anyone I wanted to write books was the principal of our high school.

Right before I graduated, she did an interview with each one of us girls. It was a Catholic girls school. She asked me what I wanted to do for my future. I told her, “I want to write books.”

She had this kind of pitying look in her eyes. She didn’t say the words, but the message I got was, “You need to think about something in line with your intelligence level.” And in fact, she sent me home for the rest of the day for me to think about this.

Erin: Wow.

Debbie: But that dream would not go away. When I talk about this at writers conferences, I talk about how, if you hurt yourself or burn yourself, that pain will throb. But when I thought about writing books, I throbbed with joy. That happy anticipation would come over me and story ideas would pop into my head.

I just couldn’t let go of that dream. But I was afraid. I was very afraid, because I’d had nothing but failure in my life. I mean, I married as a teenager. Wayne and I had the four babies and, you know, here was this dream. It was only after I met Jesus Christ that I had the courage to do it.

Karen: Do you know what? It’s amazing to me. I mean, I sit here and I’m thinking about all the lives you’ve touched through your stories. You say you’re not here to teach anybody, but God teaches through the words that you put on the page. God takes those stories—which you tell so well, that draw us in and immerse us in those characters—and he uses those stories to show us ourselves and to show us our need for him.

That’s the beauty of writing, like you said, with Christ at every angle. And you know that those people were placed in your path, those naysayers, were placed in your path by Satan because he knew what was coming. He knew what God wanted to do with you. Satan made every effort to kill that dream before it could ever come to fruition. How good of God not to let that die. That is just so amazing.

Debbie: You know, that’s so true that God did prepare the way for me. As I look back on my life, I can see it in every step. I could tell you, I shared this story at writer’s conferences, that one of the propelling reasons that I started writing was that there was a death in our family. A cousin that I had grown up with, whom I was very close to, died of cancer.

When I visited him at the hospital, I got lost and I asked a doctor, “How do I get from here to there?”

He said, “Go down the hallway all the way to the end, take the first right, and walk through the door marked: Absolutely No Admittance.”

That’s what we have to do when we’re following our dreams. We have to be willing to walk through that door.

Erin: And not just that, but I cannot believe that you were so brave to tell that principal what your dream was and what you wanted to do, and she stomped on you!

Debbie: She lived long enough to see my published books, which is great.

Erin: But I’m just, I’m so impressed. That’s just a testimony, I think, to God and the dream that he gave you. But just that kind of overcoming the discouragement. I know that there are untold amount of listeners out there who are going to hear that and say, “You know what? Somebody did that to me, too! My husband, my kid, my neighbor, my whoever, made me feel like I couldn’t do this. I was brave, and they squashed me.”

And look at you. You’re the encouragement for them to stand up and move forward.

Debbie: Oh, I wish I could say I’m just so incredibly talented that I sold right away, but it was five years. I joke around and I say the rejections came so fast that they hit me in the head on the way home from the post office.

Erin: But what kept you going? Was that the dream? Like how did you really know? Some of our listeners might be feeling like, “Well, I don’t know if it’s just me or if it’s God telling me. What if it’s what I want, but not what God wants?” What do you think about that?

Debbie: Well, I don’t know, because I’ve met so many writers who say, “God wants me to write,” and who am I to say? You know, you have to have that passion and that dream that just won’t let go. You have to be willing to continue besides rejection besides discouragement. If God really told somebody to be a writer and to write, he will show you the way.

I read a book, a Norman Vincent Peale classic. I would force myself to sit down and read a chapter after every rejection. There was a saying in that book that I said every single morning. It was my prayer. “I believe I am divinely guided. I believe I will always take the right turn in the road. I believe God will make a way where there is no way.”

Then I would start to write.

Erin: You know what I love? That you’re absolutely right. You were divinely guided. What I want our listeners to catch on this is that you were divinely guided through five years of rejection. Sometimes that’s the path. It’s five years or ten years or twenty years of rejection. But that doesn’t mean that he’s not guiding you. It’s just the path.

Debbie: Oh, there were a couple of times that were really dark moments before I published, too. One was when we were a single income family, and Wayne had been laid off. He came to me and he said, “I can’t make the car payment this month. I need you to get a job.”

Well, I knew I couldn’t do it all. I couldn’t be a writer and, you know, the kids were in sports and scouts and church and music and dancing, you know, all their different activities. I knew I was going to have to give up that dream, and I couldn’t even sleep that night. Wayne woke up and he said, “Are you awake?”

I said, “You know, I believe I really could have made it as a writer, honey. I do.

And he said, “Do it. Go for it.” I mean, you know, it was another two and a half years before I sold, but I had that wonderful support and the belief.

Erin: Wow. So how did you pay for the car?

Debbie: I started selling articles. I had to at least, because I was taking a hundred dollars a month out of our family income. And then right before I sold, this was the darkest moment. I had made enough money writing—I sold dozens of articles—I made enough money writing to attend my first writing conference. At this point I had never met another author in the world.

Two of the editors that I had been submitting to we’re going to be at this conference. One of them had agreed to read my manuscript. When I attended the workshop, she said that of the five manuscripts she had read, one showed promise. I was sure it was me, because I loved this story. I really, really loved this story.

It wasn’t. She had the whole room laughing at what she called the “infeasibility” of my plot.

Erin: Oh dear!

Debbie: Yeah. I’m a storyteller. I knew I had to learn to be a writer, but if my story wasn’t any good, then there was no hope. When I went up to her afterwards, I said, “If I rewrote this, would you be willing to look at it again?”

Even now, all these years later, I can remember that look that came over, and she said, “Throw it away. Throw it away.”

Erin: Wow.

Debbie: I went home and sat up all night. I was praying, and I was reading my devotion. The devotion for the day was John 14. Talk about divinely guided! Do you know what the first verse is? “Let not your heart be troubled.”

Okay, Lord. Funny, funny, funny. And then the last verse: “Arise. Let us go from here.”

I went back to the writer’s conference to collect a refund and they wouldn’t give it to me. So I attended a kids workshop because everything I’d sold at this point had to do with the kids. Everybody got up and said that this is a terrible time in publishing. Nobody’s buying, nobody’s taking new clients, don’t bother to send.

But an author got up and she said one thing I remember: Don’t leave a rejected manuscript on your desk.

With that itty bit of hope, that one itty bit, I wrote up a query letter to another publisher and waited and waited and waited.

Now if I’ve ever seen God’s hand in my life, and I have so many times, this is probably the most profound moment. I kept waiting for the answer to that query letter and every day, all of those negative voices I heard growing up, you know, those ugly voices. I couldn’t stand it. I thought, “I don’t care if you request this manuscript or not, I’m mailing it off.”

Well, again, Wayne was out of work. He was up in Alaska waiting to go out on the pipeline. The kids and I were living on his unemployment check. I went to the post office and I had mailed off that manuscript thinking, “Oh, I hope I’m doing the right thing.”

I get home, and there was a letter in the mailbox. The answer to my query letter. In a Sharpie pen right across my letter the editor wrote: Do not mail us your manuscript. We are not buying at this time.

And I had just spent ten precious dollars. Three weeks later, New York called and bought the book! If I had waited a half hour, I would never have mailed off that manuscript.

Karen: Oh, my gosh.

Erin: Well, there’s a very good witness for how God works in our lives. That’s just stunning. We’re going to have to sit here for like thirty seconds to take that in.

Ten dollars. That’s a lot of money. Like, that could buy a lot of macaroni and cheese. What kind of sacrifice was that for your family?

Debbie: That was a huge sacrifice because we were living on $150 a week, which was Wayne’s unemployment check. And, you know, he had to have money to live up in Alaska, too. So it was a huge sacrifice. I mean, I couldn’t afford the shoes for kids for school that year. And here I was spending ten dollars.

In fact, when I went home, I just said to the Lord, “I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t do this.” It was such a dark moment. And yet, you know, God was the one that said, “Hold on, hold on.”

Karen: Sunday’s comin’!

Debbie: Yeah. And the advance I got for that book got us through the winter. All winter.

Karen: Did they buy just that one book?

Debbie: They did, but they then asked me, “Do you have anything else?”

Well, I just so happened to have three other manuscripts that had all been rejected. They looked at them and they said, “We’ll buy them.” And they did one at a time, but I had to rewrite every single one of them because it was a learning process.

It was a four book apprenticeship.

Erin: I’m thinking that they also just really loved the story, you know? They were willing to hang with you through that. And again, there’s God. There’s God making a way when there is no way.

Debbie: This is the same manuscript one editor told me to throw away. Another editor saw the story ability. She saw that and had the trust and the faith that I could produce and good book.

Karen: That’s a good reminder to us that publishing, it’s not about formulas. It’s about the right gathering of the right people. I purchased manuscripts that other editors turned down because I loved them and I saw the potential in them.

Okay, true confession time. As an editor, I turned down the Mitford series from Jan Karon. But that’s because I knew that her series had a character in it that the publishing house I was working for at the time would not have been willing to have in the published book. So I let it go. And then it went on to become the big thing.

People always ask me, “Well, don’t you regret turning it down?”

I say, “No, because number one, it wasn’t right for our publishing house. Number two, our publishing house would never have done with it what that other publishing house did.”

God knows exactly where it needs to be. God knew when that person told you to throw it away. God was just standing there and smiling and saying, “Debbie, I’m glad your eyes are on me and not on that editor. And not on circumstances. You stay focused on me and you’re going to be okay.”

Debbie: Well, it was hard to hear that at the time.

Erin: Well, you’re plucky. I’m a little bit curious now that you’ve gone on, you’ve written all of these books and it sounds like you’re doing a magazine now too: Welcome Home. What led you to do that? Tell us a little bit about that.

Debbie: First of all, I love magazines. I have many subscriptions. The turn phrase that identifies Welcome Home is: Wherever you are, Debbie takes you home.

As I ease into retirement now, this is a way for me to introduce my readers to other writers. So we have lots of interviews with other writers, and articles. My daughter says that I was social media before there was social media, because I had learned valuable lessons about being a business woman from my father, who had his own business.

I knew I had to keep in touch with my readers. From the very first, from back in the 1980s, I was mailing out newsletters to my readers. This is just the growth of the newsletter that has been expanded to include recipes. I’m a frequent eater, so I love recipes. So I share recipes with my readers. I share do-it-yourself projects, and I have a whole team of excellent, excellent, editors that craft this together. It’s been a really wonderful experience.

Karen: It sounds wonderful. In fact, I’ll be subscribing!

Well, Debbie, we’re coming to the end of our time together. Do you have any final words of wisdom or thoughts that you want to share with our listeners?

Debbie: Well, I do want to say, remember, you are divinely guided. You will take the right turn in the road, and God will make a way where there is no way.

Karen: Amen.

Erin: Amen is right!


Do you have a God-given writing dream? How do you keep up your courage to follow it in the face of disappointment?


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  1. I relate to Debbie’s story so much! I was the first visually impaired student at almost every school I attended at a time when teachers didn’t know what to do with kids like me. My mom still vivid remembers my kindergarten teacher telling her, “Maybe she just isn’t very smart.” Like Debbie, I didn’t do very well in school but always felt drawn to stories and creativity. Writing for publication has required shutting off the voices and memories that told me I wasn’t smart–that a visually impaired girl can’t be a writer (unless she wants to write about overcoming the challenges of being visually impaired). My journey to writing books and articles and devotions has been long and difficult, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.

    Thank you for your point that Satan puts naysayers in our path knowing what God has planned. I am so thankful that I didn’t listen to them.

    I miss both of you so much. Thank you for this perfectly-timed episode.

    • Erin Taylor Young says:

      Miss you too, Jeanette! Seems like it’s been forever since we’ve all been together!

      I am SO glad you stuck with your dream! Praise God for how he gives us fortitude to press on even through the most difficult of circumstances!

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