Please welcome this week’s guest Elise Stone for The Journey. She answers the question: How have you seen God work in your writing journey?
I was raised a Christian. I went to Sunday School and church every Sunday, sang in the choir, attended the youth group.
I wrote my first story in kindergarten. I suppose “wrote” is exaggerating a bit. I drew a series of pictures, cartoon panels, and my mother wrote the words underneath.
Both God and writing were very important, albeit separate, parts of my life as I was growing up until I reached my late teens. Those are tumultuous years for most people. They were more so for me. My father was an alcoholic, a binge drinker, who often lost jobs, leaving us without money for heat or food. Insecure and self-conscious, I was mortified when, if he made it home in the car without incident, he passed out on the front lawn half-way to the house where all the neighbors could see.
Naturally, I prayed for my father to stop drinking. He never did. Like most children of alcoholics, I assumed his drinking was my fault. No matter how often I promised to be better, God didn’t make him stop. I got angry at God. Furious.
I went away to college. My mother wasn’t there to force me to go to church, so I quit going. I wrote less and less as I went through my degree program, writing nothing after graduation.
Decades went by. I became one of those Christians who sometimes went to church on Christmas or Easter, more for the tradition of it than any real belief. I always figured that “some day” I’d figure out what I believed. There was no hurry. I had a child and a career keeping me busy, and plenty of time to think about God when I got old.
Then 9/11 happened.
I was born in New York and living in Boston on that fateful day. It hit very close to home, both literally and figuratively. I cried off and on for months afterward, for the people who died, for the families who lost loved ones, for the selfless first responders who tried to save them. The one thing 9/11 impressed on me was that you never knew when your last day on earth would come. Thousands of people had headed off to work that day or gotten on a plane for a business or pleasure trip, certain it would be just like any of hundreds of other days before or after it. Just as I had gotten in my car and driven up Route 128 to my job, gone to a staff meeting, and sat at my computer to do the day’s work before my boss came into the room and, with a stunned look on his face, announced that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
When I could, I asked myself what I would regret not doing if today were my last day? If I got on a plane and a band of terrorists flew it into a building full of people? What should I do now so I didn’t have those regrets?
It didn’t take long for the answers to come to me. I needed to reconcile with God and be sure of what I believed. And I’d regret never publishing a novel.
I began my two-pronged attack. I started going to different churches, trying to find a home. While I believe there are many paths up the mountain, many ways of knowing God, I knew that my path was Christianity. But there was still too much anger at the church I was raised in to go back to that form of Christianity. Eventually I found a church in Massachusetts, and then a second one when I moved to Arizona, that felt right to me, that nurtured me and inspired me.
I decided I wanted to write murder mysteries. After all, that’s what I read most often. I had to learn how to write all over again. I was a beginner from so long without practice. I started taking classes and reading craft books. I found Sisters in Crime, joined, attended meetings and conferences. I wrote a novel and ran it through a critique group. After several revisions, I figured out it was unfixable. It was my “under-the-bed” novel, the one everyone writes for practice but should never be seen. I wrote a couple of more novels, getting better, but not coming up with anything publishable.
Then, one day, I got this new idea for a mystery series. What if my amateur sleuth was like me? What if she was a member of a church where she felt like she belonged, but still had doubts and questions to explore? And what if the members of the church were major characters in the book?
I was excited, to say the least. This was something different and yet something familiar. I won’t say it was easy to write the first book. I had many doubts and many struggles. The only Christian fiction I’d read was “Left Behind.” I had no idea what the conventions of the genre were. When I learned that my story wouldn’t fit the mold, I had to decide whether to abandon it, change it to be more conventional, or go ahead with my vision. I chose the last. When I finished it, I realized it was a good story. One I wanted to share with the world. Finally, I self-published “Faith, Hope, and Murder,” the first in my Community of Faith mystery series, in January, 2013.
I know that story could never have come from me. My only explanation is that God inspired me to tell it. I’m more comfortable saying that now than I would have been a year ago, because now it’s not an isolated incident. It happened again just this past week. I was struggling to come up with an idea for a short story I wanted to write using the characters from my series. Days went by and my mind stayed blank. Finally, awkward as it felt to do so, I prayed and asked God to help me. Within an hour, an idea came to me and started to open up like the petals of a flower. It’s clear to me that God is working in my writing journey.
“Shadow of Death,” the second book in the Community of Faith mystery series, was released in November, 2014.
When Faith Andersen goes on a church retreat, her biggest problem is rekindling her romance with the handsome pastor—until the ranch foreman is found murdered, and the primary suspect is her best friend’s husband.
Elise M. Stone was born and raised in New York, went to college in Michigan, lived in the Boston area for eight years, and not too long ago moved to sunny Tucson, Arizona, where she doesn’t have to shovel snow. Her first degree was in psychology, her second in computers. She’s worked as a pizza maker, library clerk, waitress, social worker, programmer, and data jockey. Now retired, she writes realistic Christian murder mysteries.
Ann Ellison says
Enjoyed reading your testimony and your path to becoming a writer. Thanks for sharing.
Elise M. Stone says
Thanks for stopping by, Ann.
Kristena Tunstall says
Elise, we just never know how God is going to work in our lives until He show us. As 9/11 impacted your life in such a profound way, the loss of my daughter did the same for me. Just as you thought about how we never know when our last day will be, I too realized that after a sixteen day period of literally watching my daughter slip away before us to where she took her final breath in my arms on July 16, 2008, that life is so short. We never know when that last breath in our own lives will be taken. It’s almost as if things became clearer, in a way. It was through the loss of my daughter that God showed me He wanted me to be a writer. I’d never wanted to be one and to be honest I had no interest. In fact, I fought it with even calling myself a writer until about three years ago. It’s amazing how God works in our lives and the plans He has in store for us. Thank you again for sharing your journey on my site. Kristena