Odds are good you knew what direction would be best for you as a writer. You may even have a whole plan laid out for your career, and are working it with determination. But what happens when God takes you on an unexpected detour? Guest Beth White is here to tell us why that’s a good thing!
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About Beth White
Beth White’s day job is teaching chorus at an inner-city high school in historic Mobile, Alabama. A native of Southaven, Mississippi, she holds a Bachelor of Music Education from Mississippi State University and a Master of Creative Writing from the University of South Alabama. Her family has resided in Mobile for over thirty years now. Her husband, Scott, is executive pastor at Redemption Church in Saraland, and both their children are now grown and starting families of their own. Beth’s hobbies include playing flute and pennywhistle and painting, but her real passion is writing historical romance with a Christian world view and a Southern drawl. Her novels have won the American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award, the RT Book Club Reviewers’ Choice award, and the Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award. You’re invited to visit her on the web at bethwhite.net.
Thanks to our sponsors on Patreon, we’re able to offer an edited transcript of the podcast!
Erin: [00:00:00] Hello listeners. Welcome to the Deep. We’re so glad you’re here with us because we have an interview. We’re here with Beth White and I’m going to let Karen tell you all about her.
Karen: [00:00:12] Beth is really terrific. Now she grew up in the South specifically north Mississippi, and it has a rich tradition of fostering writers, storytellers, and musicians.
She’s fond of both music and literature, so she amuses herself by teaching chorus and piano in an inner-city public high school by day.
Erin: [00:00:29] That’s brave.
Karen: [00:00:30] I consider her the bravest of the brave. She also conducts a secret life as a romance writer by night. She tends to be something of a hermit in real life, which I think is pretty normal for most writers, except in the classroom and on her computer, she’s more of an extrovert.
She loves to know what makes her readers tick, and what ticks them off, and what makes them smile. So hey, if you like what you hear from Beth today check her out at bethwhite.net. Welcome, Beth, we’re delighted to have you here.
Beth: [00:01:05] Thank you. I’m very happy to be here with you. I hope you can bear with my little southern accent here.
Karen: [00:01:10] Yeah, I was going to say, the minute you started speaking, it would be no doubt that you grew up in the South.
Beth: [00:01:17] I’m in south Alabama now, so it’s even worse.
Karen: [00:01:21] I love it.
Erin: [00:01:23] It’s the deep South.
Beth: [00:01:26] About as deep as you can go without falling into the Gulf of Mexico.
Erin: [00:01:31] So aside from deep South, what does the deep mean to you, Beth?
Beth: [00:01:36] Well, I was really interested in what you ladies explained to me and when I listened to a couple of podcasts to kind of figure out what you were doing. I like the idea that deep is both deep waters as in the challenges that hit us, but it’s also deep in to a spiritual walk with God.
That really hits me right now as I’m finishing the last ten, twenty thousand words of a book. This is where it gets really deep, you know.
Erin: [00:02:08] Draw that out for us. Why is that? It sounds like it’s hard. Tell us about that kind of challenge, that finishing challenge.
Beth: [00:02:18] Oh my goodness. Who was it that said writing a book is like shoving a refrigerator up a hill.
Karen: [00:02:25] I’m glad it was up a hill.
Beth: [00:02:28] Well up a hill. Yeah, that’s so true. The whole thing is hard.
Erin: [00:02:33] Right.
Beth: [00:02:33] But this last part where all of the balls are up in the air and the story is boiled, you know, and it’s just, everything is cooking all at once.
There are all the characters in there. Everybody’s problems have risen to the top, and now it’s my job to make everybody happy again by the end of the book. That’s not easy.
I’m praying so hard. I’m just feeling so inadequate and overwhelmed by drawing this thing to a satisfactory conclusion so that it makes sense. And so that all of the plot threads are pulled together. If not tied up in a neat bow, then at least a satisfactory ending. That’s hard.
Karen: [00:03:17] It is hard. Now when you and I worked together when I was at Zondervan and you were writing for Zondervan, you were writing romances, which was very cool. But I think your writing more historical books now?
Beth: [00:03:29] Yeah, it’s kind of interesting. I did do pretty much romantic comedies or romantic suspense for a long time, and I did write a historical or two kind of in that mix just kind of because I felt like it. Then once I quit writing for Zondervan, I took a long break–probably about two to two and a half years. Didn’t write much of anything. I thought about it a lot and I lived a lot of life and kind of planed some stories.
But then when it came time to actually pull together a proposal again, after I kind of got over the burnout thing, there’s a couple of directions––I could have either kept doing what I was doing, which didn’t seem to be selling as well as I wanted it to, or I could come take off in a new direction.
I had had an idea for a historical series that I had been wanting to do for a long time and it was based on an idea of a series that I really enjoyed when I was just a reader, before I ever published. If you’re familiar with Elswyth Thane, she was a British American writer who wrote a series of novels back in the 30s called the Williamsburg series. It was based on a family in the Williamsburg, Virginia, area and it took them all the way from the American Revolution through World War II, which was going on at the time.
I just loved that series. The idea of taking this family and the generations of that family just really sparked my own creative juice. I thought, “What if I did that on the Gulf Coast? The Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Gulf Coast? And so I developed an idea for telling the story of how the Gulf Coast was settled from the French Colonial period and that sold to Ravell about five or six years ago.
They did that series for me, and I’ve been writing for them ever since. The historical stuff has just been a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed delving into the history of the place where I live. It’s interesting. It’s different from anything else in the rest of the United States because it’s so multicultural.
Karen: [00:05:43] Right.
Beth: [00:05:43] I’ll talk about that in a minute, the whole multicultural aspect of it. But anyway, yeah, I’ve been writing historical and just kind of left the contemporary stuff behind. I’m still writing romance. That’s still my favorite thing.
Karen: [00:05:58] You mentioned that one of the things that you think about a lot and that you even talked about is how real life bleeds into fiction. Can you share some of that with us?
Beth: [00:06:08] Yeah, and I’ll kind of jump off of what I said a second ago about the cultural thing. When I became a teacher in the public school system, I had been retired for a little while while I was getting my children through their middle school years.
I was teaching private music lessons while they were in middle school and high school. When I got ready to go back and teach full-time again, by then I had gotten an English degree. Because I thought, “I’m writing, why not just go ahead and major in English and teach what I really like?”
Then the first job I went to interview for, they were looking at my background and saw all this music stuff, and the principal goes, “You’ve taught music for your whole life. What are you doing applying for an English position?”
I explained how I’ve been a writer and I thought I want to do that.
He goes, “We need a music teacher right now. I’ve got kids sitting down in the choir room with no teacher. They’re watching videos. Would you please consider coming back and teaching music again?”
I was just completely caught off guard. That was completely off my radar. And so I had to get re-certified to teach music. Long story short, that’s what I did. I wound up teaching music in this inner city high school.
One hundred percent black population. I was the first white teacher that they had had ever in that school. Not teacher, but I was the first white choir teacher, and they were not at all sure that this middle-aged white lady could sing their kind of music.
They were very well-trained children. I’m not saying they weren’t. They were wonderful singers. I mean, I went in there, and when I realized what I had ahold of, musically, I was in heaven. These children could sing the paint off the walls.
It was a difficult situation as far as being a pretty low socioeconomic status. Nobody had any money, but my goodness they could sing. So we had a really good time. And as I got to know these kids who were so different… I mean my upbringing was very middle-class blue-collar. Suburban white, you know, the whole thing. But as I got to know them and got kind of immersed in that culture which, you know, I’m not going to lie to you, was really, really different than what I was used to, but I really loved it and enjoyed the differences.
So leading to the writing thing, as I got to know these kids, I thought, “How did we get here? How did we get from my suburban white upbringing, and how did these kids get all clustered together in this one little community?”
In Mobile, it’s a really unique city because there’s really wealthy, old money in spots. It’s a little bit like Charleston, South Carolina, something like that, and then there are spots where it is so desperately poor. And the black culture is just kind of isolated. And it’s not like there’s intentional segregation. It’s just kind of the natural way the city has settled over the years.
As I began to realize that and realize that their experience of life was so much different from mine, I thought, “I’ve got to explore this a little bit. I’ve got to figure out, how did we get here? What happened to create the situation here?” Of course, I grew up during the segregation era, during the 70’s, when they were beginning to bus and desegregate high schools and all that, and so I was aware of that, but my general experience was just ignorance.
Honestly. I was just ignorant. So I set myself to trace––this is my ambitious, overachiever kind of thought process––I want to trace when the first white people got here on the Gulf Coast. How do we get here?
So I moved my fictional family that I created, the Lanier family, from the French Colonial period through the American Revolution through the War of 1812, and now I’m exploring more Mississippi, but it’s kind of the same thing.
And now I’m dealing with post-Civil War era which is, oh my goodness, reconstruction. I knew nothing about reconstruction. Nobody knows anything about it because it’s difficult. People were not very nice.
Karen: [00:11:04] Yeah, it’s ugly. It’s an ugly, brutal time.
So what do you see in all of that research, and what have you learned from the kids that you’re working with about faith and how that comes into play in the midst of all this turmoil and racial animus.
Beth: [00:11:28] That’s a really difficult question. You know, I can look at it from my perspective of what have I personally learned about faith, and then what am I demonstrating to my students about my faith and about my compassion?
I’ve discovered that I was not nearly as compassionate a person as I assumed I was.
Erin: [00:11:51] Aren’t we all not?
Beth: [00:11:54] Man. We all want to be the hero of our own story and think of ourselves as being generous and kind and thinking of the other person, and putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes. And you know, maybe to a degree, but I don’t think I ever got around to literally thinking about what it might feel like to be in a black skin. You know with coarse hair and with a different worship expression, even?
All of that is kind of different, and I’m not saying that one or the other is wrong. It’s just different and so I’ve been learning faith-wise to ask God to help me feel another person’s difficulty and experience. And that’s a tall order. When we have these political disagreements that you see in the media all the time and people on both sides want to say well you’re not being a real Christian if…such and such.
Karen: [00:13:05] Yeah, we love to throw that around.
Beth: [00:13:07] It’s just a really hard thing to read the Bible exactly like it is. And really absorb it into the expression of every day: this is how I’m going to treat people.
Karen: [00:13:21] Right.
Beth: [00:13:22] You know, I’m not there yet. Here’s an interesting thing: I’m at a different high school now, okay, so I was at this hundred percent black high school for eight years, and I thought, “Well I’ve learned enough now I can go back into a mixed-culture school and take what I’ve learned and I should be fine. Right? I should be okay.”
I have had more emotional eruptions in myself and in my students in this school, which is about a quarter white, probably 50% black, and then another quarter would be Asian or Arab and Hispanic and other mixtures. So it’s truly a multicultural experience. But I’ve seen really scary eruptions of misunderstanding and defensiveness and those kinds of things. It’s crazy. And it’s people who go to church and they consider their faith walk to be the real deal. And then somebody gets offended, and it’s just a difficult thing,
Karen: [00:14:42] The world is so broken apart. And so diverse but often in a bad way. Diverse in their stands. There is really no such thing as tolerance in a lot of the groups. It’s more either you think the way I do or, you know, there’s something wrong with you or whatever. So it’s something that we all need to think about in our lives and as we’re writing. How do we become bridges in that situation instead of someone who just exacerbates the division?
I want to jump from this. You had mentioned an idea of dreams and obedience, about being a writer, about considering where a writer’s passion for creation intersects with God’s will in that person’s life. I think you told us a little about that when you went in intending to get this job and ended up with a different job. It seems like God keeps taking you on these holy detours in your journey.
Or as you put it in an email to me, how far does one persist in pursuing something she longs to do or be, such as a writer or a musician, as opposed to pursuing things that she’s afraid of, like teaching and public speaking?
I think that those two years or three years you took away from writing––that was a courageous thing to do. Probably if you were in burnout you felt like you couldn’t do anything else, but still folks are afraid to step away from what they know and take a risk on stepping into something else.
So why don’t you talk about that for the few minutes we have left.
Beth: [00:16:16] Okay. My poor husband has put up with so many of these major shifts in, “I think I want to be this when I grow up. I don’t know. Really I don’t think I want to do that when I grow up…”
Really I trained to be a musician all the way through my 30s. I just thought I was going to be Sandi Patty and have a recording career. And that never happened. And I was really, mortally insulted that the Lord did not choose that for me.
We changed churches––my husband’s a pastor––and we made a big shift. Went from one big church to another big church. His job changed, and I moved from a choir soloist position where I was really comfortable being a soloist into this new church where nobody knew me.
And so I went from singing at least once a month, a solo, to zero. I was playing my flute in the orchestra and kind of behind the scenes and that kind of thing, a little bit of singing in the choir, but it was just a really shocking change.
At first, as you can imagine, I was just really mad. I was just angry and upset that that happened. But then the longer I stayed there, and the longer God kept His thumb on me and said, “No. Don’t move. You stay right there. And you do the thing that I’ve got for you now.”
And that’s where the writing and publishing thing kind of took off. I began to do that, and I got really comfortable with just being below the radar, writing my book, staying behind a computer in a cave, never being on the stage in a spotlight anymore. And until the point came where I looked around one day and realized, “I like this. I like this. The pressure is off. I don’t have to worry about memorizing lyrics anymore.”
That is just very freeing. It was so cool. You know, when God takes you from a point of resentment over “taking something away from you.” Well, here’s this other beautiful thing He had for you. And I have learned as I’ve gotten older that that is such a cool thing. I’ve kind of quit fighting Him over releasing the things that I love.
Honestly, listen to me y’all, that is a scary thing to say out loud because that’s like saying, “Okay God, I really like this publishing thing. But if you want to take it away from me, I believe you’ve got something else.”
And I’m sitting here crying because I don’t I don’t want that to go away. I like that. But if God says that He’s got something else? Then okay. We do that.
Erin: [00:19:13] I love that you’re coming from that place of experience. You’re coming from that place of hardship, of resentment, of difficulty, and then trust. Because you saw how He worked it out for you. You saw how He knew you better than you knew yourself. And now you can tell us all from your experience. That’s the beauty part.
That’s one of the things I love best about when we talk to other authors. Everybody’s gone through these experiences and we share them. That’s what the body of Christ is all about. So thank you for being brave and sharing that with us, because it’ll help people.
Karen: [00:19:45] We’re pretty much out of time, but you have some other topics that I really want to hear about like some harrowing experiences that God took you through so we will plan on having you back. We’ll figure that out in the schedule. It’s been great. We’re grateful for your time here and we’re grateful for all that God is doing through you, not just your books, but the way that you’re touching these young lives when you intersect with them.
So thank you. Thank you for being willing to let go and let God make you into what He wants you to be.
Beth: [00:20:15] Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it so much.
Erin: [00:20:25] Thanks, Beth!
Here’s a link to Beth White’s latest book, A Reluctant Belle, from Revell.
We want to hear from you!
Has God taken you on an unexpected detour? What did you learn?
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