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Jesus is Just Alright With Me

September 03, 2012

This is not about a song by The Byrds. It’s not about a trunk novel. Believe me, I have a good number of those, along with a trunk short story I’m thinking I ought to re-name “Humble Pie.” Several months back, I needed some money really bad because my daughter was getting married, and as it happened, one afternoon, my daddy dropped by the house with a page torn from a woman’s magazine. “Your mother sent this, gal,” he said. It was a short story contest and the prize was three grand. I was certain it was by divine appointment, as I’d been praying hard for some income. Never mind that I’ve only written two short stories in my life (I’m almost 50). I was confident I could knock out 3,500 riveting words in a couple of days and rake in the needed cash. So I wrote a short story and sent it off with absolutely no doubt I’d win. I watched my in-box like an eager vulture on the day the winner was to be notified.

I did not win. I didn’t even get second or third place. After some despondency and espresso and fried onion rings, I returned to writing my novel. A few days ago, I steeled myself and decided to read that brilliant and compelling work. “Aaargh, this is pathetic!” I screamed. I had a strong desire to fling the story into a metal can, pour gasoline over it and toss in a lit match.

I realize now that I did a lot wrong. I wrote hastily, I sent my story off without letting it rest and looking at it with fresh eyes. I didn’t edit it one little bit, and after seven novels, believe me, I know that good writing is re-writing. Thus, I’m a little chicken to dig out one of my trunk novels and confront myself just now. I figured I’d use this post to come clean with you about something else – Jesus is in my novel “Twang” which releases today.

My first published books were written for the general market, meaning they did not have to have any intentional spiritual component. In fact, seems my editors at Simon & Schuster and Penguin discouraged that kind of plot thread. Though, in hindsight I see I was incorporating the faith elements all along, in a way my current agent calls ‘organically spiritual.’

I was happy when I decided to jump the fence to the inspirational market with the release of I’ll Be Home for Christmas in 2010. I said to myself, “Now I can write the way I want!”

But after I read my new publisher’s guidelines, I had a whole new concern. I worried this market would be too restrictive. Therefore not like real life, which I am living, and like to write about. Plus, when I mentioned to my pastor that I was writing an Inspirational Romance, she laughed! “What’s that?” she asked. “When he rips her bodice off and discovers she’s got on Long Johns underneath?”

I was scared she was right. I didn’t want a pious little story, churchy and dull. I didn’t want to deny very real feelings. I wanted edgy and gritty, a book which showcases human frailties. I wanted my stories to expose souls, which we all know aren’t always pretty.

My soul wasn’t very pretty way back when I had my first ‘encounter’ with the supernatural. I was in college and it happened when the bicycle I was on collided with a car. Some of you may’ve read my mini-memoir about my accident, the accompanying head injury. That was when I met Jesus. This was a brand new, earth-shaking experience that blew the door wide open to my soul. I started asking a lot of questions. I’m sure you’ve heard people say it was their suffering that drew them closer to God, that it was while in the depths of despair they discovered God was all they needed. This was true for me. While undergoing therapy, visiting various neurologists and seeing folks sitting in wheelchairs, staring vacantly with drool running out of their mouths, I knew, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Today is the official birth of Twang, published by Abingdon Press in Nashville, Tennessee. Jesus appears in the book, but so do gritty people and themes, because happily, my new editor gave me lots of creative license and not many constraints as long as I made sure the heart of my story is full of grace and hope and healing and peace and joy and all those other good things.

What amazed me when I went to Nashville for research is that there are many so-called ‘gentleman’s clubs’ there, and then someone told me that a lot of wanna-be female singers work there to pay their rent. So I put that in, and I added a lecherous father, a beautician with a tattooed past, as well as a manager who’s hungry for blockbuster hits at the expense of his client’s emotional health. In other words, real people.

A lot of readers who got an advance copy of Twang have commented on the surprising grittiness and power of this ‘inspirational’ story. Several wrote “Bravo!” in their endorsement. I don’t know what’s brave about the story except that I did wrestle with some thought-provoking, controversial issues. I wanted to show how God can redeem the seemingly unredeemable things in a person’s life.

Today, as my story is released, I wonder, did I get it real enough? Will even non-Christians appreciate Twang? If you like spiritually daring stories and you’re not turned off when Jesus shows up, I hope you’ll consider checking out Twang.

Truly, Julie

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