Last year I wrote about what I do instead of making traditional new year’s resolutions. I choose one word to guide me for the year, and I make an inspiration board that I can look at each day to remind me of my word. For my boards, I decorate a 12in by 12in piece of scrapbook paper with quotes, images, Bible verses, and song lyrics that relate to the word. I’ve done this for three years now, and my previous words have been Change, Grow, and Joy.
Only choosing one word seems like a small resolution, but I’ve noticed such a difference in my life by focusing on these words each year. Every day I see my word board next to my mirror and read something off of it, and then I feel ready for the day with my goals fresh in my mind. Last year especially, as I worked on Joy, I definitely learned to rely a lot more on God and find my joy in him. This is a great tool to increase your faith.
For 2018, I’ve felt God speaking one word on my heart for a while now: Focus.
I have a hard time focusing some of the time. I think part of that is because I work from home so I’m surrounded by distractions: my dog, housework, and all of the books I have out from the library. Another reason is because I have a tendency to feel overwhelmed, and when I see the long list of things that have to be done, I often end up sitting and staring at the list rather than doing something on the list.
But another big reason I have trouble focusing is that I always feel lost between book projects. Over the last six years I’ve written three manuscripts, usually spending one year working on it and one year staring at my computer, hating everything, and getting nothing done. 2017 was one of the off years, and I’ll be honest and say that I wrote almost nothing last year.
So that’s why Focus has become my word for 2018. But it isn’t just for my writing work. Throughout 2017 my husband and I became more and more involved in our church, and I definitely feel called by God to do even more. But I need to focus on him if I’m going to do anything important.
So this year I’m gong to Focus on my writing work, on my kingdom work, and on God. Here’s my board for 2018:
This week I’d like to introduce an independent author—Rebecca Fellrath. Rebecca is actually a friend of mine from middle school. We were in an indoor drumline together, but then lost touch when she went back to being home-schooled and my family eventually moved away. Twelve years later, we both ended up in the Dayton area with published novels. Rebecca and I recently reconnected and I got to read her debut novel, a Christian romance called A Lily at Dawn. I asked Rebecca to do an interview so she could share about her book and publication process.
Could you tell us what A Lily at Dawn is about?
The story follows a young woman who finds herself, God, and romance in the midst of unimaginable tragedy. As she walks through her healing process and interacts with other hurting people, she experiences how God weaves stories together and works all things out for good.
I don’t usually like to write in or mark up my books, but I just had to highlight a line from early on in your novel: “‘I know it hurts, son, but you have to let go of your need to see Matt saved and start letting Jesus save you instead.’” Could you talk more about this theme of letting go of past hurts and focusing on Jesus?
When Jesus taught us to pray, he said, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” The act of receiving God’s grace and forgiveness is almost always coupled with forgiving others and extending grace outwardly. I think this is a crucial story to tell because our ability to forgive and heal always starts with what Jesus did for us. How can we forgive others if we have not fully accepted Jesus’ forgiveness? And, likewise, how can we accept Jesus’ forgiveness if we are refusing to forgive others?
We forget that we are just as broken and needy as those who have hurt us. I’m not saying that we don’t need to establish good boundaries, or that we shouldn’t protect ourselves from other people’s abusive behaviors, but that we need to see forgiveness as an act of grace.
Without this act of grace, past hurts can become a miniature god that we worship in our hearts. Just like some of the characters in A Lily at Dawn, we can even allow those hurts to dictate our careers, love life, and view of God. The situation becomes even more complicated when those hurts come from people professing to know Christ. Regardless of the who, when, and how these hurts enter our lives, the answer will always be found in Jesus’ forgiveness and the way it moves us to forgive.
What inspired you to write this book?
The idea for the book came when I was twelve years old. Believe it or not, I still played pretend and even used Barbies. My Barbies didn’t go shopping though, they were getting into car accidents and questioning God’s existence. After playing through the story with my Barbies, I thought it would make a good book. Most of my early writing and short stories started by playing pretend and testing ideas out on dolls. I ended up typing the whole first draft of A Lily at Dawn when I was twelve, but then I accidentally deleted the whole thing!
Years later, I was involved in a serious car accident. It reminded me of the story I had written long ago, and it gave me a new perspective on how God uses tragedy to tell His love stories. The extended recovery process provided me with enough time to write the story again.
You deal with some pretty heavy topics in A Lily at Dawn, from the death of a loved one and theft to abortion and drug use. Why do you think it’s important to write about such difficult topics?
I think it’s easy to look at difficult situations and pretend that they are rare and unfamiliar. The reality is that evil isn’t only on episodes of C.S.I. The damage caused by abuse, theft, drug use, abortion and deception are all around us, even within the walls of church. No one will get the help they need as long as we are silent about sin. As a writer, I feel compelled and privileged to write the truth. I want to open up honest conversations about who we are and be vulnerable about the brokenness that humanity shares.
What was your writing process like?
I’m a natural extrovert, so my process usually begins by talking about my ideas. I suppose it’s the adult version of “playing the story out” with dolls. I like to brainstorm out loud and bounce ideas around. I really enjoy coming up with story ideas and beginning the writing process. Finishing what I started, however, is the challenge. The ideas are easy, but disciplining myself to do the work is tough. That being the case, I wrote an outline for the entire book and broke it up into chapters. Each day I would take the next step in the outline and write out what I planned for that chapter. Sometimes I would even tell myself, “Just glue your butt to the chair and get it done!”
How did you go about publishing this book?
When I recognized how difficult it would be to get published by a traditional publisher, I pursued getting self-published. I didn’t have much knowledge or experience with the process, so I self-published through Westbow Press. As a mom, I knew I wasn’t going to have much time to market the book, so it seemed like the best option at the time. In hindsight I wish I would have done a little more research and examined more options. I am thankful, though, that Westbow Press did provide the help I needed to “get my book out there.”
Do you have any writing advice you’d like to pass on?
Write for you. It sounds cliché, but it’s been the most helpful advice for me. It’s easy to be distracted by working to get published or by trying to craft something that will be meaningful to your readers. If you write what is meaningful for you, the authenticity will speak for itself. You will enjoy the process and actually reach the readers that need your story most.
And here’s a passage from A Lily at Dawn:
Zuriel was nervous. Her own heart was realizing that she may have spent her life believing the wrong things and living for the wrong reasons. She didn’t understand God, she didn’t even like all the things she had heard about him, but she just knew she needed him. Zuriel felt angry with herself as she sat there, staring out the large living room window. God was bad, wasn’t he? Hadn’t he made her childhood difficult and allowed her mother to leave her as a baby? Hadn’t he made high school a living hell? Hadn’t he left her alone when Suzy went crazy with her drugs? Yet despite all these things, Zuriel couldn’t escape the feeling that God was more than that. She couldn’t ignore her desire to be loved in the way that Suzy had described God’s love to her. She wondered if it was actually God who had made her life miserable after all. Was it God, or was it a mixture of her own mistakes and the mistakes of others? She wasn’t sure, but she almost didn’t care.
You can find A Lily at Dawn here and find Rebecca at her website here.
I love my desk. My husband and I never used our kitchen table as an actual table, so, since we live in a small apartment and I didn’t yet have my own space for my writing, I claimed the table as my own. And now that I’ve gotten used to my big table, I don’t think I could ever go back to a normal, small desk.
Having my big table gives me plenty of space to spread out with my computer and notebooks, but what I love most is that I have lots of room for little trinkets and things that inspire me. I thought I’d share some of the little things that inspire me and explain how they help my writing process.
Writing Textbooks: I have a lot of writing textbooks and references on my desk. Some are from college, some I’ve read after school, and others I haven’t gotten to yet. I have everything from a book about outlining to a baby name book. I don’t read from these every day, but just having them there in front of me reminds me of the helpful information they contain and inspires me to do better.
GenZ Publishing Swag: I love my publisher. If you haven’t check them out yet, you definitely should. They’re looking for young, new, and innovative writers. It is so hard to break into publishing, but GenZ is giving new writers a chance to share their stories with the world. So of course I have to have my GenZ bookmarks and business cards on my desk so I can remember how awesome they are every day.
Faith Reminders: My two wooden block signs are probably the most important things on my desk. One says “You are Loved,” which is something I need to remember every day. Writing is a very solitary thing, and often leaves you feeling alone. But God is with me, and I am loved. The other sign asks, “Did you think to pray?” Writing is also a very hard thing to do. Along with feeling alone, writing can also make you frustrated and make you doubt yourself. I keep this sign here so that whenever I get frustrated I can stop and remember to pray about it. And I always feel better when I do this.
Jacob: A few of the things on my desk are from or remind me of my husband, Jacob. He’s the most important person in my life, so I need reminders of him on my desk. I have a picture frame that he gave me for my birthday a few years ago, a stack of encouraging sticky notes that he’s left me, and a little jar of M&Ms from our wedding that have our names on them.
Les Misérables Lyrics Book: Of course I need something on my desk that reminds me of my favorite story ever, so I have a lyric book to the musical Les Misérables. This story inspires me so much and has had an influence on everything I’ve written, and so I have to have the lyrics close to me when I write.
Buttons: I have three buttons on my desk. One says “A Whopper of a Writer,” which I got back in middle school when I won a writing contest, and the other two are Wright State University buttons that I got when I won their 2014 writing contest and placed in their 2015 contest. I like having these reminders of times I’ve succeeded as a writer.
3D Printer Items
My husband is an engineer and works with a 3D printer. He gave me these little test pieces that he didn’t need. Two are butterflies and one is a rook, and all three have intricate designs. I know there’s a story in them, and so I keep them on my desk so I can one day find their story.
Somewhere Only We Know Cover: I have a framed picture of my book cover on my desk. I love to look at it and remember how blessed I am to have published this story.
I love everything about my desk. It is so important to surround yourself with little things that inspire you. I keep things that remind me of my books, my husband, my faith, and my sources of inspiration. What do you keep around you that inspires you?
On Saturday I got to go to the annual Christian music tour called Winter Jam for the third time. When my then fiancé took me to this concert back in 2015 I wasn’t sure what to expect. I hadn’t been listening to this kind of music for very long, and I didn’t know any of the artist’s songs very well. What I found then and at the subsequent two concerts I’ve gone to was amazing performances, inspiring speeches, and thousands of people standing together and worshiping our wonderful God.
I grew up Catholic, and so I thought Christian music consisted only of the boring hymns you sing in church. I had no idea that there was modern, exciting, and amazing music out there. I didn’t know that there were artists out there proclaiming the word of God and sometimes even revamping those hymns into modern songs. Now those songs are all I listen to.
Of course I still need my movie and musical scores blasting through my head phones when I really need to concentrate and get some words out. But most of the time I have this worship music playing on the radio in the background. I listen while I read, do the dishes, play with my dog. I’m listening to it now as I write this blog post.
Having this music on changes you. Even if it’s just in the background, the songs have a way of pushing God’s word, promises, and love into your mind and heart. Worship music is powerful. I can tell when I go a day without listening to it. When I don’t hear this music, I’m not as close to God and I have trouble focusing and getting my work done. For me, music has always been a big part of my life, and so worship music is the easiest way for me to spend time with God.
Across the three years I’ve gone to of Winter Jam I’ve gotten to see some of my favorite artists—Matthew West, Skillet, Crowder, Lauren Daigle, and For King & Country. I’ve gotten to sing worship songs with thousands of people. And I’ve gotten to experience all of those people proclaiming the name of Jesus. If you’ve never been to Winter Jam before, you have to check it out. See just how powerful worship music can be. It’s an experience you’ll never forget.
Most of my story ideas come from getting a line in my head or coming up with a general concept. Then, once I figure out my character’s name and find the story’s title, I am able to build a story around that line or general concept. I’m not sure why I always need the names before I begin working on something, but that has always worked for me.
My novel Somewhere Only We Know, however, was different. The idea came to me in a nightmare. I usually don’t remember my dreams and the ones I do remember don’t usually make any sense, but I will never forget the very vivid dream that was the birth of this story.
In the dream, I was a young girl (Frankie) and I was being hurt by someone. My sister and our friends were also being hurt by this person. I wasn’t sure who he was, but he appeared to be a friend of my parents. One by one the man killed my sister and our friends, and then I was finally able to run away.
Scary, right? Maybe I had watched Criminal Minds with my parents before bed, or maybe it was just a random dream. But the second I woke up the four girls’ names came to me—Frankie, Susan, Lindsey, and Miranda—and I started writing a few pages. That was back in high school so that writing was not good and I knew it wouldn’t work as is, so I put the story aside.
Though I think that nightmare was always in the back of my head. When I got to college and took an introductory women’s studies class, I learned just how prevalent violence against women is, and I made it my mission to do something about it. I minored in the subject and whenever I was able to choose a research topic I chose violence against women and rape. I took classes on social problems, sociology and gender, feminist science fiction, and fictional representations of violence against women. I rewrote fairy tales and studied books that tackled the topic of violence against women.
Then I became a Christian and I was thrown off on how I was supposed to continue writing about such a dark topic. But I knew God needed me to bring stories like these to light. And Kiera Cass helped me understand how to be both a writer and a Christian. After talking with her, I wrote Somewhere Only We Know in only four months, and had signed with my publisher halfway through that time. The final version of the book is very different from that initial nightmare, but that dream gave me the inspiration to create a story on this topic.
Not everything I write will be overtly about violence against women. I don’t think I’d be able to handle that emotionally. Writing Somewhere Only We Know involved many tears and moments of wanting to stop and turn away. But I promise that in all of my stories you will find strong women taking a stand for themselves. Frankie does that, and so will every woman I write about.