It’s hard to let go of our expectations when we embark on this journey of writing God’s truth. Whether the path we’re on is to write fiction or nonfiction, we think we have an idea of how it will go. Then reality smacks us between the eyes. Guest Tim Shoemaker reveals how it all makes sense when we look through God’s eyes.
About Tim Shoemaker
Tim Shoemaker has authored sixteen books, is a popular conference speaker, and serves at his local church. His latest book, Easy Target, released in March, 2021, with Focus on the Family, and Escape From the Everglades releases in July. Tim has been happily married for over forty years to Cheryl, his high school sweetheart.
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Karen: Hey guys, it’s time to enter into the deep and we are so glad that you’re here with us today. And with our guest, Tim Shoemaker. Erin will introduce him.
Erin: I will. Tim Shoemaker is the author of sixteen books, and he writes both fiction and nonfiction. His latest book, Easy Target, is a middle grade thriller that just released with Focus on the Family. For all you people looking for middle grade stories out there, that’s a thriller that your kids might like.
Tim also speaks at schools, churches, conferences, and para-church organizations like Focus on the Family. He’s happily married to the love of his life, and he has three grown sons. On his website he lists several of the things he’s passionate about, but I think this one is my favorite. He says he’s passionate about being a man of integrity who loves God and others with all his heart.
Tim, we are so glad to have you here with us. Thank you and welcome!
Tim: Erin, Karen, thank you so much for having me. Happy to be here.
Erin: Tim, let’s just jump in with our first question that we always give. What does the deep mean to you?
Tim: Well, I think, we were talking just a moment before we got on the air, and here in the Chicago roots, I would have to say deep dish pizza is certainly a big one there. And I would be a Giordano’s guy.
Erin: Me too! We all have Chicago roots here. Now we’re all wanting pizza.
Karen: Yeah, that’s right!
Tim: No, but really I think the deep to me is about those deep places in your heart. When you’re writing, it comes from those strong passions that we have that are deep down. Our deepest convictions. It’s these core things, these foundational beliefs that we’ve got.
To me, I think that’s what the deep is about it. I feel like—you’ve seen this too, right?—when you’re reading fiction, can’t you tell about an author you’ve never met before just by reading their fiction? Because if they’re writing from their heart, you’re going to find out what they’re really about and what makes them tick. To me, that’s it. It’s definitely about those deep places of our heart.
Erin: I love that. Tim, you’ve been a full-time author and a speaker for quite a few years, more than fifteen years now, I think. But tell me, how did your writing career start?
Tim: Well, it started by just telling stories to nieces and nephews and my own three sons.
I love telling stories. Seeing their eyes get wide, you know? And if you think, “Okay, maybe I’m going a little bit too far here, we’ll tone it down.” That type of thing. I love doing that. But I would keep hearing, “Dad, you’ve got to write these stories down.”
I will tell you, I had zero interest in that. None. You know, you’re just sort of making things up. I figured I’m never going to remember what I just talked about anyway. But one time I tried, and I found out I loved it.
I could not believe it because that had never happened to me in school. Maybe because everything was so regimented, it was so formulaic in school. But just to be able to write like this? I loved it. I was actually in the photo business. I had a one hour mini lab.
Erin: Oh, cool. Way back when those existed.
Tim: Yeah, exactly. I had that mini lab and studio, and I was starting to write on the side then. My dream was that someday that business would do well enough where I could hire somebody to do part of what I was doing so I could have more time to write. But that was not God’s plan.
But that’s how it started with me. Just telling stories to kids, and kids encouraged me to put it on paper.
Erin: What happened then with the photo shop?
Tim: In 2004, we had to close. Digital was taking over where people weren’t making the prints. That’s how we made our living. Making pictures. We just saw I was losing my shirt, for one. My wife and I were in it together. So we just felt this was it. That God was making it so clear that we had to close the store.
We closed it in June of 2004, and that was it. I felt that was God’s nudge to try writing full-time. I had some books out at that point, but it was all nonfiction. It was that elusive fiction that I was trying so hard for.
Karen: What kind of struggles did you face at that point? Did you struggle with feeling like a failure? And don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying you were. Or were you excited because you felt as though God was saying this activity is done, now I’m asking you to go down this path?
Tim: I think there was a little of both. But there was a lot of that when I was there at the store, you know, working late into the night and things like that, there was very much a feeling of failure. I would say that was an attack of the enemy in so many ways.
You know, everybody ended up losing their stores. For the most part, all the independents, they went. Everything was changing, but there was this sense of supreme failure. “Wow, I couldn’t even do this right. And you’re going to go into something different?”
Erin: And risky!
Tim: Yeah. We left on, oh, it was June, I want to say 25th. I may be a day off on that. But we closed the store, and I took the money from the register, you know, like our change, the backup change you have. $300 in change in singles and fives, and all this. We took our $300. We drove from Chicago down to Atlanta where the Christian booksellers convention was.
We left right from there, from closing the store. Because I had a book that was going to be coming out at that point. It was a devotional for boys. So we were going to be there and do whatever we could to publicize it. The crazy thing was there was a little glitch and the book didn’t even make it to the convention. You know, these are great times.
Erin: Wait, I’m seeing what people might be tempted, in your shoes, to think: failure upon failure upon failure. How did you react to that?
Tim: I think in a very real way, my faith was strong. Fantastic wife. Incredibly encouraging and supportive of this. Which, I mean, as big of a step as it was for me, look at what a step that was for her, right?
So I was surrounded by family who were very supportive, which was huge. Strong connections in our church, so we had all of that. But I will still say the enemy, you know, he did his best. There were times there was this thought. Not a voice, but a thought. It did come to my mind. “You know, you need to do it. You failed. It’s over. Put your house in order. You’re done.”
It scared me. It’s like, “Oh my goodness, I don’t love that.” It was this attack from the enemy. I took it as that. He kept saying, “You failed. You’ve blown it. You’ve let everybody down.” It was like one of those Jimmy Stewart things, right? It’s a Wonderful Life. You’re worth more dead than alive. You’ve got a good insurance policy.
Karen: You’re looking around for Clarence.
Tim: I don’t think I was at risk, but it was a thought that was like the enemy was trying it out. “Let’s see if this works on him.”
I think that all stopped when we actually closed the store and left. That was it. It was done. From that point on it was the new career.
Karen: God took you off the cliff, and you just sailed on from there.
Tim: Well, it was not all flying. There was still a lot of bumps. But it was good.
Erin: I know you said that first book was nonfiction, but you wanted to get into fiction. How did that become a passion and how did that lead you into wanting to write that kind of fiction for your kids?
Tim: I think again going back to that storytelling, and I’ve got a love for kids. I’m trying to think where that started. I’ve got two older sisters, two younger brothers. But my two younger brothers, one is nine years younger, one is twelve years younger, so it was like a whole different family. I did a lot of babysitting and stuff for them, and we had so much fun.
I mean, there were broken bones and stitches and stuff, so, uh, we just had a ride. That’s where my love for kids grew. Then of course, I had kids. But in the meantime, I taught junior high and Sunday school and all kinds of things. I really loved the power of a story and wanted to get through to them that way. I was also trying to connect with my kids, like in family devotions and all that. So some of those early books, they were family devotion type books.
By the time we closed the store, I probably had four or five books at that point. But everything’s nonfiction. I wanted to write fiction. The short stories were beginning to go. They were starting to get picked up by Focus on the Family Clubhouse magazine, things like that. But I just couldn’t get that fiction. And that’s where I was just living for that fiction.
Erin: Well then how did that happen? How did you end up sticking with it?
Tim: I guess I just always thought it was to happen and was going to happen. I had some great encouragers that felt I should. They’d point out it’s just a bad time in the market. Your writing’s good. Keep going. You know, all that type of stuff.
But it was years of that. I also heard from some very wise people that it takes a lot of time for fiction to break in for traditional publishing.
But I didn’t always have good advice, either. I can remember I was at a Christian writers’ conference, and I was teaching by this time. Another faculty member came up to me and said, “You know, you really need to stop writing for kids. You need to write for adults. You can write that good. You should be writing for them.” And their closing comment is what sort of sealed it for me. They said, “That’s where the money is.”
Right at that point, I’m not thinking that this is necessarily a word from the Lord. I ended up rejecting that. My passion was this: My heart is for kids. There’s a bazillion things written for broken adults. I want to write for the kids. I want to write to them. I want a chance before they’re broken. Let me try to inspire them there.
I want to bring friends to kids that don’t have friends in the characters of these stories. I want to help show a path to these kids who are smart, but they lack experience, so they’re going to make dumb mistakes. How can we show them traps that are out there, but all wrapped into a good story that they can be involved in? Because we learn from experiences, right?
So I kept with it. Again, God’s grace, just God’s grace that he kept me knowing I was to do this. And finally it broke open.
Erin: What’s so interesting about this to me is that here you are needing to help support your family and the money temptation would be super strong. I love that you recognized that that was simply just a temptation, simply just not suited to your passion. I love that.
You and I had talked a little bit before and you talked to me about some waiting times in your career, and you were telling me about the sled. I love that story. Share that so our listeners can hear how waiting can sometimes come to fruition. Or often, or always, in God’s plan.
Tim: When the fiction finally broke, it ended up being first a one book contract, and that turned into a three book contract. So that was great. That was with Zondervan. We completed that contract in June of 2014. Now my editor had left, so I’m a bit of an orphan author here. So, I’m gonna pitch another idea, and they really wanted to see how the series would do. That was going to take time, right?
As it turned out, things changed in the publishing industry. Sometimes people are more into one target market, or not, depending on where things are going. Suddenly here I am with no contract.
I wasn’t so worried at first, but as time goes on, I did get some nonfiction things going, and God had led me to speaking. Oh my goodness, that was another whole thing where when you are so dependent on God, you are so desperate to do it right. I learned to say yes to just about anything if I felt it was out of my comfort zone, but I felt this was an opportunity God was putting there. That opened up so many things. I never saw the speaking. That was a huge thing.
But yeah, I’m waiting and that goes into two years. And then three years. June of 2017, it had been three years. I had a complete novel done. I had started another one. I had four proposals out with our agents. Let’s see, two were nonfiction. One was the standalone fiction I just finished. And one was another book that I’d hoped would start into a series. So I’ve got four proposals out there.
Karen: You’re definitely doing the work.
Tim: But nothing’s happening. So, it’s a June day. Picture Chicago, June. It’s 80 degrees, and I’m walking a couple of miles, which is my practice to walk a couple miles and think and pray and different things like that. So I’m walking and I’m kind of at the place where I make my turnaround.
It’s garbage day in this neighborhood that I was walking through, and I see these four sleds by the curb. Now, they were in terrific shape and they all had ropes. I mean, they’re great. Obviously somebody is cleaning out their garage and they’re saying, this is it. No more. The kids are grown.
But they were good sleds. I thought to myself, “You know what? My sons would like these. They’re starting families themselves. They’ve got young families. They’d like these, but in winter, not right now.”
Well, you know, I could walk home, I could get the car and pick these up, but I knew the garbage truck would be there. They’d be gone, and I would be kicking myself, come winter, that I didn’t get these sleds when they were available.
I thought, “Okay, I’m going to look like an idiot.” But I picked up these four sleds, slung them over my back, and started my walk home. I was, I don’t know, maybe a half a mile from home. I’m walking, and I hear this voice, and here’s this guy on this porch. I don’t know who he is, but he says, “Mighty fine collection of sleds ya got there.” Just real sarcastic.
We’re joking around a little bit because obviously I look like this complete idiot. As we break up that conversation he says, “Hey, I’m going in to get my skates. You know, you’re probably right. The weather’s going to change. I’m going to be ready, too.”
As I left there, I don’t think I’d walked ten steps before this thought popped to my mind that this was representing my life. I felt as out of place right then, an 80 degree day, carrying sleds, something that was definitely not needed now, but it would definitely be needed in the future. And here I was with four proposals just weighing on me. Just weighing on me daily that I’ve got four proposals and nothing’s happening. But in that moment, I thought, “They are going to be needed. When that time comes, you’re going to be ready. Just keep on the course.”
It was a huge moment. And you know what? Erin, when we were talking about this, I pulled up my journal and I was looking at that just a little bit. In my journal, before I went on that walk, one of the verses that day, in my journal, I’ll just read it here from Psalm 71.
It goes, “Since my youth, oh God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I’m old and gray do not forsake me, oh God, until I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.”
That’s my deep. That’s what I want. I want to impact this next generation. So that’s what I was praying that morning that I ended up walking with four sleds. And God gave me the encouragement to keep walking.
So that was three years I’d been without a contract for fiction. Now, as it turned out, I don’t know, in the next six months or a year, I think one of the nonfiction ones did get picked up, and that did very well, so that was terrific.
But it was two and a half years after the sleds that the fiction all went. Easy Target was one of those books. Escape from the Everglades, which comes out in July, was the one that starts the series. Those were those other two proposals. So three of the four proposals have gone. In fact, one of them, they expanded from a one book deal to a three book contract.
God gave all that. But it was a long haul. But I’ve got to say this: I changed in five and a half years. My writing deepened in five and a half years. I mean, by deepen, I don’t know if I would say, you know, it got better. I mean, we all want to say that it got better. But it was deeper. There were things that were more important that I wanted to get out.
I think even the publisher, that was Focus on the Family, I think they went through things. So it all came together at the right time. But yeah, five and a half years. I mean, talk about doubts. I’m teaching fiction writing, but I don’t have a contract. What is this?
Karen: I absolutely love what you’ve shared because my life verse is Habakkuk 2:3 but I’m going to read Habakkuk 2:1-3 because your life and all that you’ve been through, and in what you’re saying, it is the perfect example of this.
Habakkuk says, “I will climb my watchtower now and wait to see what answer God will give to my complaint. And the Lord said to me, ‘Write my answer on a billboard, large and clear, so that anyone can read it at a glance and rush to tell others. But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair for these things will surely come to pass, just be patient. They will not be overdue a single day.'”
And we see, you know, as you were telling the sled story, I’m thinking, well, surely the week or two weeks after he got the contract… No. Two and a half years! But they weren’t overdue a single day. God knew exactly how long it needed to take. God knew exactly what he needed to do in you.
For those of you listening, God knows. He knows exactly what his vision is for you. Nothing will keep that from being fulfilled. We don’t know what God’s plans are for you in what you’re writing. Maybe for publication, maybe not. But whatever it is, if you’re obedient to the task that God has given you, slowly, steadily, surely the time will approach when the vision will be fulfilled. Do not despair, friends. These things will surely come to pass. Just be patient. They won’t be overdue a single day.
Tim: That’s good.
Erin: Amen.Guest Tim Shoemaker helps you see your writing journey through God’s eyes. #amwriting #christianwriter @karenball1 @TimShoemaker1 Click To Tweet
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
Are you waiting for God to bring something to pass? What helps you be patient as you wait?
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Today we’re covering commandment number six: Thou shalt own thine own platform.
You only need to look around at what’s happening in the world today, where a social media platform can cancel you in a heartbeat, and you lose access to the readers you may have spent years growing. Or those platforms can make you pay, anytime they want, for anyone to see your posts. And this has happened. That makes growing your platform on those types of ground an unwise investment.
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BOOKS MENTIONED IN THE PODCAST
Easy Target by Tim Shoemaker
Escape from the Everglades by Tim Shoemaker
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