On May 12, 2017, my newest novel Suburban Dangers will be released through Pelican Book Group. It will be published under their Watershed imprint, which is YA—a slight departure from my usual women’s contemporary genre. Originally the novel had too many POVs, one of which was a sixteen-year-old girl. She was only meant to be a backstory, but she became the main story. Steven James says to write what the story needs not necessarily what was written in your original plans (or something like that; I’m paraphrasing).
Suburban Dangers carries the same theme as Captives—sex trafficking. Here is the cover (I really, really love this cover!)
Back in May, I attended the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference in Black Mountain, North Carolina. I attended for the first time in 2015, and it was life changing. It was no different this time. But this year Captives was a finalist in the women’s contemporary category for the Selah Award—an incredible honor and such a surprise.
It was Tuesday, the third day of the conference, and I was having a low spell. No particular reason, I just began to doubt what I was doing. Should I write Christian fiction? Or maybe I should just write for a secular audience. Maybe my subject matter was just too gritty. Or maybe I should write love stories and forget it. Frankly, I felt a little depressed about it. I skipped a class and sat out in the gorgeous mountain sunshine on the backside of one of the buildings, and I prayed. And I listened. And I didn’t hear anything. OK, no problem. Moving on to listen to the key note speech for the evening.
Eva Marie Everson gave the keynote speech that night. The message was that every writer has their “place in the wall,” and she used Nehemiah as her biblical illustration. When Nehemiah, the king’s cupbearer, began to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem, he was ridiculed. Bystanders told him his wall was useless and that he should come down and give it up. Nehemiah’s words: “I am not coming down from the wall. I’m doing God’s work.” Eva Marie asked all of the conference attendees (some 450 of us), to line the walls of the conference room in an illustration that each of us, no matter what sort of writing we were doing, all had a place in the wall in which we did God’s work.
The illustration was powerful. It was what I needed to hear. But the message didn’t stop there.
Later that night during book signings, I asked a well-known writer to sign a book for me (I won’t divulge her name as I do not know if she wishes this to be public knowledge). As I held up my name tag so she could write my name in the book, she suddenly said, “You’re the one that wrote the sex trafficking novel, right?”
Completely floored, I assented that I was.
“Well, thank you for writing that because my daughter is being trafficked.”
If the walls of the building had tumbled down around me at that moment, I wouldn't have been more surprised. She went on to say, “I couldn’t have written that story. I haven’t seen her in five years, have no idea where she is, and the only way I can deal with the pain is not to allow myself to have any feelings about it.”
Right then, I knew God was speaking to me. I have asked you to write this particular subject matter for a reason. It was one of the most powerful moments of my life. It may not be a pretty or fun topic, but it’s real and it’s happening and the stories need to be written.
The next night was awards night and the final evening of the conference, I did not win the Selah Award. That was fine with me. Cynthia Ruchti (a Christy Award finalist for the same book) won for As Waters Gone By, and I was very happy for her.
Near the end of the evening Edie Melson, director of the BRMCW Conference gave out the Director’s Choice Award. I wasn’t even paying attention; I was fiddling with something on the table or with my phone, so when my name and the title of Captives was read out as the winner in the fiction category, I nearly fainted. I fought tears all the way to the stage to accept this most unexpected award. When I stood on the stage with Edie, she whispered to me, “I could not get this book out of my mind, and that’s why you won.”
God hugged me. I felt it. It was truly as though God reached down and grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “Do not come down from this wall. You’re doing My work.”
So when Suburban Dangers turned into a YA novel, I figured that was God’s work too. He alone knows who needs to read it.
Have you ever felt like you received confirmation that you were on the right track?