Month: August 2021

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?

THE NOVEL MARKETING PODCAST

We have a sponsorship from the Novel Marketing Podcast with host Thomas Umstattd Jr. It’s the longest running book marketing podcast in the world. We don’t take a sponsorship like this lightly. We agreed because we know and trust Thomas, and his podcast is full of great information and advice.

Not only does he talk about book promotion and marketing, but he also covers various aspects of business. For example, one of his recent episodes was An Author’s Guide to LLC’s. This is something many writers have questions about. And if you don’t, you probably should, because it’s important to be knowledgeable and wise in all aspects of the writing industry.

This episode covers issues like: What is an LLC? Why you may (or may not!) want one, and how LLC’s tie into estate planning. Remember, as writers, you’re creating intellectual property that has value for years. You need to understand how to be a good steward of it. For more book promotion and platform help listen to Novel Marketing in your favorite podcast app or at NovelMarketing.com.

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 Share on X
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Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast P.S. for their fabulous sound editing!

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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!

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