Guest Becca Wierwille joins us in an exploration of the importance of story, not just for our readers, but for ourselves as writers. We all connect with stories in wonderfully different ways, but one special power they have is the ability to challenge us to delve into our world, and the people in it, unearthing empathy and new understandings of relationships and faith.
About Becca Wierwille
Becca Wierwille writes stories to show kids they are wonderfully created for the unique adventures in their lives. Born with only half of her right arm, she aims to help others find beauty in what makes them extraordinary. Her debut middle grade novel, Road Trip Rescue, is set to release this fall, with a prelaunch campaign on Kickstarter running from June 20 to July 6. Becca lives in Pennsylvania with her family, where she spends her days as a mom, novelist, and editor. You can visit her online at beccawierwille.com or follow her on social media @beccawierwille.
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Karen: Hey, friends. Welcome to the deep today. And boy, have we got a show for you. Erin is going to introduce our guest.
Erin: Yay, a guest! Our guest is Becca Wierwille, and we got to know her, ironically, through this very podcast. It’s been fun! Becca Wierwille writes stories to show kids they are wonderfully created for the unique adventures in their lives. Born with only half of her right arm, Becca aims to help others find beauty in what makes them extraordinary.
Dozens of her short stories for children and her devotions have been featured in magazines, anthologies, and other publications, including Primary Treasure, Guide, Cadet Quest, and Keys for Kids. She has previously worked as a kindergarten teacher and man, I gotta give her props for that! A newspaper reporter and a writing tutor, editor by day, and novelist by not-too-late at night she wishes she could eat peach pie as often as most writers drink coffee. Despite her dreams of sandy beaches and mountain peaks, she loves living in Pennsylvania with her family.
I’m excited for her because she has a Kickstarter campaign starting on June 20 for her very first book, and you guys can check it out!
Becca: Thank you. I’m so glad to be here.
Erin: We are excited to have you, and you know we’re going to put you on the spot like we do everybody and ask you, what does the deep mean to you?
Becca: I’ve been excited to answer this question. I’ve heard so many guests answer it in so many fantastic ways.
To me, I think the deep means looking deep inside of ourselves and being honest about our emotions, about our experiences, about who God has created us to be. Instead of taking the easy way out of life, the easy way just doing things without putting much intentionality into them and without being truthful about what God has intended our days to be like.
I think of writing from the deep as the same thing: writing with honesty, writing with vulnerability, looking deep into our hearts as we craft our stories instead of just focusing on shallow topics that just kind of scratch the surface. They might be easier to write about, they might take less emotion, but they don’t really go anywhere.
I think a lot about my first college English professor. She really challenged me. I had my first college essay, and I felt pretty confident because I’d always, in high school, been fine with essays. I felt like I was a pretty good writer. She pulled me aside after class one day and said, “Becca, you’re a great writer, but you wrote nothing here.”
Becca: It was great. It really, at first, it hurt a little…
Karen: Yeah. This is totally useless, but it’s brilliantly written. Totally useless.
Becca: Yep. Pretty language, but nothing was there.
After that, I really did start pushing myself more to be like, “Okay. I need to make sure something’s actually coming out of this writing.”
I really am thankful to her for pushing me like that.
Karen: I love teachers like that.
Erin: Yeah, they’re the kind of teachers you need. My in-laws are visiting, well, my husband’s sisters, and one has been a teacher forever. She actually had a parent come, after she had to say some harsh truths to a student, she had a parent come and say, “Thank you for helping my child know that lying is not okay, that honesty is important.”
I love what you said, Becca, about honesty because I think you’re right. We don’t want to always take an honest look at ourselves. There are things we want to maybe push aside, or we want to pretend aren’t there. And those are the very things that God wants us to dig into because he wants to do something with them. To me that’s a great thought about going deep, doing that honestly, and not sweeping things under the rug.
Becca: Yeah, because it can be so much easier to just take the easy way out. Not talk about the hard things. Not write about the hard things. Not think about the hard things.
I have a writer friend who I so appreciate. Recently, she sent me an email and she said, “I love your story,” because she had read my story ahead of time for me. Then she said, “The only thing I noticed is you have one arm, your character has one arm, well, half an arm, and I look on your social media account and I can’t even tell. I had to look for a long time before I saw a picture of you with one arm.”
I realized I’d never been trying to hide that, I hadn’t done it intentionally, but somewhere along the way I think I’d gotten used to hiding my arm in photos. You know, if there’s someone else with me, I’d put my right arm around them. And so I said, “I thank you so much! I need to change that right away.”
I think I put a post up that day on Instagram. I was like, “I need to be honest about who I am and this is part of me and I don’t want to hide my arm in photos anymore. I need to be intentional about that.”
Karen: We’re so good in the church, and women especially, we’re so good at managing our image. It’s like managing our profile.
We only let people see what we want them to see, the happy faces and the happy families. We don’t want to let anybody know that we’re depressed, or that our family is falling apart, or that we’re missing half an arm, or that we’re missing half of our faith.
We want everybody to think that we are who we present to the world, and I don’t know who we think we’re kidding. It’s not like God is fooled. It’s not like God didn’t create us exactly the way we are with exactly our faults and our weaknesses so that he could refine us and strengthen us.
Erin: Yeah. Well, I love the topic that we were going to talk about today, why the stories we write and their messages matter to readers and to the hearts of writers.
Let’s maybe talk about readers first. Why, Becca, do you think that the stories we write and their messages matter to the readers?
Becca: Goodness, this is such a big question because there are so many reasons. Stories can provide healing, they can provide points of connection and hope. They can give readers a chance to grow an empathy, and so many more things than that.
I always think of Jesus’ parables when I talk or think about stories and why they matter so much. I mean, Jesus was an amazing preacher. The sermon on the Mount is a great example of that. He could have used whatever strategies he wanted while he was preaching, and he often turned to stories.
I think of the story of the good Samaritan. How easy it is for us to recite that or repeat it a lot of times, or how often we might see it in a children’s book because it’s a story that you can grab on to. It sticks with you. Whereas if you’re looking at a whole passage from Leviticus, for example, it might be a little harder to memorize.
Karen: Oh no, no. Leviticus is so easy!
Becca: The easiest one of all! But I do think stories, they stick with us and then they provide whatever it is, that healing, the connection, the empathy, and in a way that lasts a bit longer than it might if you just heard some words somewhere. Or scrolled past a meme on social media or something like that.
Karen: It’s interesting. I remember when some of the books came out in the general market where they were from the point of view of the villains in the story. Wicked came out and it was from the point of view of the wicked witch of the West, or whichever the green-faced witch was. And I think about a story like the good Samaritan, and how we so often see ourselves in the role of the good Samaritan.
But I think that we should see ourselves in the role of the people who passed him by, and in the role of the man who was attacked and left for dead. We need to explore who we are in all of the context of Jesus’ parables, because we are not the good guys. We’re the broken humans. We have failings, and we will pass by people without even thinking about it if we’re uncomfortable.
It’s an excellent way, in story, to explore those other sides of these stories that we recite so easily and so carelessly, but that have hidden meaning for us if we’ll just dig in and look.
Becca: Yeah, that’s such a great point. Developing that empathy from different perspectives, I think that’s particularly powerful when you do read a story, like you’re talking about, and you think you have nothing in common with a certain character, certain type of person. Maybe it’s a person from another culture that you’re not familiar with or someone who has a particular struggle that you wouldn’t consider yourself to have.
But when you start to read from their perspective, you think, “Oh, they’re really not so different from me after all.”
Erin: I think it’s a good way to learn to listen, also. It’s a way to get a picture into what that looks like. We’re not very patient people, we’re not very good listeners at all. But as we read from someone else’s perspective, we can’t help but listen to them.
Erin: That gives us that ability to empathize, I think is what you were saying, and just go deeper with that person and understand them. If this world needs anything, it’s people who are willing to be curious about someone else and listen and not talk. There’s a proverb, I think it’s 18:2, that says that fools delight in airing their own opinions. They don’t want to listen. It feels like we should just stamp that on today’s culture.
Karen: That could be the world’s proverb.
Erin: What other thoughts do you have on that, Becca? As far as why our stories matter for readers?
Becca: Well, along those lines, I think being able to experience from a different perspective is also giving you an experience that you’d never have otherwise. Because even if you’re very open to talking with people who are different from you, and even if you’re a good listener, which like you said, probably not many of us really are, we’re being able to actually see things from a totally other perspective. Put ourself in someone else’s shoes. We’re getting to meet different people and also to visit different settings. To go on adventures that we’d never be able to otherwise.
There’s this aspect of joy that I think is part of storytelling, too. I mean, every story’s going to bring something different, but I think that’s a really big component. We’re getting beyond what we’d experience in our daily lives and being able to see into people’s hearts in new ways and being able to see different struggles, being able to experience new parts of the world. All these things that might not always be accessible to us.
Karen: You know, it’s fascinating. I think exactly what you’re talking about is why it’s so important to not try to clean up our history. We need to remember who we are as a nation, and who we are as a people, and where we came from. I know it seems like I keep going to the dark side, but I’ve been thinking about the dark side a lot lately.
I’ve been working on a manuscript with a serial killer, so I’m in the dark side. But in every villain there is something we can empathize with. No matter how terrible a person is, there is an aspect of them that echoes to an aspect in us. We may not want to think about that, but when we clean up history, when we clean up the race difficulties, when we clean up all of the mistakes that we have made as a world and as a nation, that creates a false perspective for those who are the new generations.
They lose, like you said, the ability to empathize. But also the ability to recognize within themselves that they…well, there but for the grace of God, go I. I could be guilty of murder. I could be guilty of having slaves. I could be guilty of doing all of these things. Even though I don’t want to admit that I have that capacity within myself.
Erin: It’s so interesting, Karen, because you’re looking at this from your recent experiences as an editor, and I’ve just been looking at this in an opposite way. When Becca said joy I hit on that, because I’ve been working on someone’s manuscript that was talking about how important joy is in terms of our brain health, our body health. It’s like one of the hugest things that help our mind and body bounce back from stress.
Our brains can be rewired if we will focus on joy. It literally is, as Philippians talks about, you know, thinking on all these good things, that’s really true. Our brains are literally wired that way. So I think that’s a part of going into stories as well, just for the sheer joy.
I mean, I’m probably never going to skydive, because that’s just not me. But it’s interesting to read about it. I’m never going to be a pilot, but it’s interesting to read about it. I’m never going to do a lot of things, but it’s joyful to read about things where good stuff happens, eventually. You know, where good triumphs. These things do bring us joy and it truly is good for us and our mental health.
Becca: It’s amazing how with stories we’re talking about two totally different things. Joy on one end, and then also seeing the darkness. And that’s a good thing because we tend to think, “Oh, I’m better than that,” or “I’d never do that…” Like you were saying, Karen. It’s so good to be able to see we’re broken, too. We have our struggles, too, and we’re not that far removed from that darkness.
It’s this joy and darkness all at once. It’s great at providing points of connection. We can connect with stories in all different kinds of ways that we might not anticipate at first. We might not anticipate being able to, well, I hesitate to say connect with a serial killer, but really to connect with in any way to think we would be able to see where they’re coming from.
Becca: So to be able to experience points of connection that we’d never even expect is really important. I think part of the reason I write middle grade, stories, for ages eight to twelve, is that those are the stories I really connected with at that age. They stuck out to me and were a big part of my childhood. One of my favorite stories was Because of Winn Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo.
Karen: Oh, yes!
Becca: I connected with Opal so well. She was lonely and she felt connected with her dog, and I connected with that feeling. The book helped me feel understood. There were also characters in that book that I’d never come across in real life.
One of the characters is an ex-convict, and there’s a lady who lives alone at her house, and there’s these twins that are really irritating to Opal, and all of these characters that I didn’t have in my life. But I loved being able to read about them in this story because then I was able to connect with types of people that I just hadn’t come across in my life.
Erin: I love that because connection is in part, I mean that’s what God is all about. Relationship. We humans are created for relationship, and that happens through connection. It’s just cool to me that stories give us that ability.
So we did talk a little bit about how this matters as a reader, but what do you think in terms of writers? How do the stories and the messages matter to the hearts of writers?
Becca: Whether we’re writing a fantasy novel with a completely made up world, or whether we’re writing a memoir or blog post with stories and experiences from our own lives, we’re giving ourselves a voice when we write stories and we share stories.
I think that process of creation can be really healing for our hearts, especially talking about the brokenness and the darkness we keep seeing around us in the world. We were created by God, who is the ultimate Storyteller, the ultimate Creator, and we live in such a world of consumption. We’re always watching the news and reading about what’s going on in the world and taking things in, movies and media and social media and everything.
I think in that culture of consumption, being able to create and to put things out is really healing. It teaches us about ourselves, too. We start to see ways that God has been working in our lives, even when we might not have noticed it before.
Whether that’s by actually writing a real experience, or for me as I was writing my character Kimmy and realizing some of her character development reflected things that I’ve gone through in my past that I might not have ever considered before or put into words. I think that’s a really powerful process.
Erin: I think that’s true. I think in the process, we need to understand first the message to ourselves. What is the message that God is telling us through our own experience? I think you’re absolutely right. Sometimes it’s just in the process of writing that that we realize, “Oh, hello. That’s why this, and that’s why that…”
Without that writing and without struggling through that, wrestling through that, we might not ever get those lessons.
Karen: Sometimes for writers, when they’re writing, it’s more of a catharsis. It’s that they are sorting through what’s going on inside them and their own life experiences. Oftentimes the first thing that they put down on paper and their first draft of a manuscript, if they set it aside and then come back to it, they can see, number one, what God has brought them to. But number two, that maybe they need to take a step back from the emotions of it.
I’ve read a number of manuscripts that you could tell that the writers were still angry about the things that had happened to them. That they were still bitter about what people had done to them. They were writing the story more to stick it to those who had mistreated them than to give any insights or understanding to readers or even to themselves.
I encourage them to go back, and I say, “This is something you’ve got to work through before you can write about it because you need to understand what God is doing in this rather than just putting your anger on the page.”
The writing process is just that. It’s a process. We come from our own places where we’re dealing with these things, and there has to be conflict, there has to be tension in a book. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, there has to be something that keeps people turning the page. But you also need to understand how to bring that ultimately to resolution. Or to a creative resolution that may not have all the questions answered, but may point to understanding better.
Erin: Becca, what do you think in terms of this book—we mentioned that you have a Kickstarter coming out for this first book that you’re writing—how would you say the message in that book came out of your experience? Or how did that matter to your heart, the message you’re putting in this book?
Becca: This book, called Road Trip Rescue, is written for kids ages eight to twelve-ish, and it’s about this girl named Kimmy. She’s twelve years old, and she was born like me, missing half of her right arm.
The story opens where she’s flipping through a magazine and sees this photo of a dog that is her dog she lost two years ago. So she’s just determined to find this dog. Of course, she’s a couple years out from being able to have her own driver’s license, and her parents are oddly unsupportive, but she recruits her unpredictable aunt to take her on a road trip, and adventure ensues.
But I think the story for me started with this road trip, which was interesting. I’ve never been on a road trip to find a long lost dog, and I don’t have a pink-haired aunt like she does. But as I continued to write, I saw the themes in the story were really connected with my own story.
Kimmy is lonely, and the reason this dog matters to her so much isn’t what you think. Well, she loves her dog, of course, but it’s this deeper loneliness and feeling like her dog was her only friend at some times. That her dog was more trustworthy than some of the people in her life.
Karen: Which is probably true.
Becca: Yeah, probably. Dogs are wonderful.
Karen: Yes they are.
Becca: Kimmy has these kids making these unkind comments, and I think that’s something I connected a lot with. I know what it’s like to have kids make maybe thoughtless comments that aren’t meant to be malicious or maybe ones that are meant to be malicious.
I know what it’s like to walk into a room and feel like everyone’s staring. You might have kids kind of looking over and their parents kind of nudging ’em away real quick, so you don’t think that they’re staring. But you already know they’re staring. Kimmy and I relate to those things.
It’s still funny for me that she’s not a real person. I talk about her like she is. So even though I don’t share this experience of going on a road trip after a long lost dog, I can connect with a loss that she experiences. I can connect with her feelings of loneliness.
As I was writing her story, and as her character arc came to completion, God really worked in my heart. I pray that he would touch the hearts of readers in that same way, those who experience those feelings of loss and loneliness.
But for me in particular, I came to see how he worked in my life. It’s interesting because since Kimmy is twelve and I’m past that now, I think back to my story then, and it’s almost healing from my past. Things that I never really knew bothered me, or things that I really didn’t think had stuck with me, had stuck with me more than I realized.
In that way I think it was healing. It was insightful. It taught me about myself, and it taught me about things that God did in my life that at the time I might not have even recognized. That was pretty cool to see.
Karen: Well, this has been a delightful time together talking about story. We’re always happy to talk about story again, whatever context it’s in, because as you said, I think you’re absolutely right, Becca, that Jesus was an amazing storyteller, and he knew how to share universal emotions in a story and draw people to their best conclusion for themselves in their relationship with God.
I pray that that’s what we do as we write the books. I’ll be praying over you and the book that you’re writing and over your Kickstarter campaign. Guys, be sure to check out that Kickstarter campaign and support her.
We’re just so grateful that you’ve been here with us and that we can take time out of our days, good, bad, or indifferent, and say, “Yes. God has brought us to this place for a reason. He wants to work in us. He wants to work in those who read our stories, and we are blessed because of it.”
Erin: We are! Thank you, Becca.
Becca: Thank you so much.Your stories matter in more ways than you know! Guest @beccawierwille shares why. #amwriting #christianwriter Click To Tweet
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