Please welcome this weeks guest JoAnn Durgin for The Journey. She answers the question: How have you seen God work in your writing journey?
Have I always known I wanted to be a writer? No, but I’ve been a voracious reader my entire life. Nothing thrilled me more than getting those Scholastic leaflets in elementary school. I poured over them, studied them and had a ball choosing which books to get. The days the books arrived were great. I’m really not a strange person, but even the smell of the books thrilled me (still does). A Kindle just isn’t the same (unless you’re going on a trip and can’t tote a bunch of books).
In later years, I graduated to chapter books and biographies of famous people. Not only was I learning history, but indulging in my love of reading. I devoured Louisa May Alcott’s books and secretly yearned to be Jo March. That might have been where the spark was ignited within me to write my own stories. Every Friday, I marched to the store with my allowance and bought three Nancy Drew mysteries. I still have and treasure all 50 books (plus the cookbook). Almost every night, I was one of those girls hiding beneath the sheets with my flashlight reading another adventure of the titian-haired sleuth (I love saying that!).
As I matured, I thought I was the height of sophistication when—as a high school student—I regularly read The New Yorker. I loved the short fiction, and remember writing a short story about a boy named Ollie during study hall, patterned after the prose in the magazine. I’m sure it was horrible, but to me, it was a great accomplishment. I began reading the classics and still adore Mark Twain. The man’s sense of irony, sarcasm and his great wit (bordering on caustic sometimes) was masterful. He made me laugh, and I always employ humor in my books. I also loved mysteries by Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt, and those novels fostered my interest in romantic stories.
Then came marriage (to a wonderful man I met in Dallas), a move to California and then children…three of them (kids, not marriages, just so we’re clear). It wasn’t until I was a stay-at-home mom in Philadelphia that I tried my hand at penning a full-length novel. I think it was about 150,000 words. Not once did I ever question the fact it would be a Christian romance. That book garnered the attention of an editor with the now-defunct line of Palisades romances, and she worked with me until she moved to another publisher. So, that was that. I wrote another full-length novel when my music minister husband took our oldest daughter to a church camp. Then another book, and another over the next few years, but I never sent them to another publisher. I shared them with a few friends and then tucked them away.
By the time we moved to Boston a few years later, I’d written at least six full-length books. To see what might happen, I sent a query with the first three chapters of one of them to a Christian literary agency in Colorado. Turns out, it was one of the largest agencies (still is), but I was too dumb to know they were “huge” in the industry and you were supposed to be published (I did, however, have a referral). Somehow—and I can only call it a “God” thing—my manuscript made the rounds of their agents. I still have e-mails from several agents telling me, “You’re good, you’ll get there, and come back when you’re published.” I had other agents asking for the manuscript, but I felt the Lord’s gentle nudging, telling me it wasn’t the “right” time. I didn’t even have much time to read, much less write. Note: I put aside the actual writing, but not the passion for writing.
I honestly believe the Lord honored the time (about a decade) I put aside to raise my children (Psalm 37:4). I was learning those invaluable “life” lessons. When we moved back to my native southern (stress that part) Indiana, I started to read Christian fiction again. I remember saying to my husband one night, “I think it’s time.” Of course, before then, I said that when it was time to go to the hospital to give birth. But I was ready for another type of birth. The last stand alone novel I wrote was loosely based on my love story with my husband. It was titled Awakening, about a Christian mission organization rebuilding homes in San Antonio, and I’d written it in less than two weeks. Digging out my manuscripts (in notebooks beneath the bed), I only found half of it, but looked at it through “fresh” eyes. The full story of how I recovered the missing half is on my website, but it involved going to our knees in prayer and another one of those awesome, otherwise inexplicable “God” things. I’ve never been one to look for “signs” from the Lord, but I felt this manuscript was “the one” He wanted me to pursue getting published. If you’d like to read about one of the biggest “signs,” I’d encourage you to read “And the Man Said Peaches!” on my website for more details.
I tried to get an agent. Don’t ask me why not (because I don’t know other than I didn’t feel led), but I didn’t go back to that large agency who’d expressed early interest. I gained the attention of a big-name agent, but even though he told me I had one of the best queries he’d ever read, he declined to represent me. Another lost my manuscript in cyberspace. Others didn’t respond or…you know the story. God closed a door when I was laid off from my paralegal job, but that layoff gave me the gift of time to pursue publication. I kept telling my husband, “If they’d see the entire manuscript, they might buy it.” Getting older by the minute (patience is not my greatest virtue), I googled “Small Christian Romance Publishers” one night and systematically went down the list. One of them was new, small and Canadian—Torn Veil Books. I liked the name, but they were brand-spanking new without one published title. Based on an e-mail query (not even a synopsis or sample chapters), they asked for the full manuscript, but to be mailed to Canada. It was one of the best $25 investments I ever made. I’ll never forget the date: May 1, 2010, the date I received the e-mail with the words, “We’ve decided to publish your book, Awakening. Your contract is attached.”
Torn Veil published two other books in July of that year, and Awakening was published in November 2010. It’s the book of my heart, and the beginning of what has become The Lewis Legacy Series. I joined the American Christian Fiction Writers not long before getting my contract, and it was one of the smartest steps in my writing career. When you invest yourself in a book, and it’s a good story with true heart and soul, readers sense the difference. The Lord knew the “right” publisher for me since I write “out of the box” romance. I’d rather see a couple work through problems together to bond them with a lasting love. Second Time Around released in September 2011 (based on the same real-life story as The Vow), and Twin Hearts in April 2012. Daydreams releases in December 2012, as well as a White Rose Christmas novella entitled Meet Me Under the Mistletoe.
If you think my journey to publication was easy, it wasn’t. Perhaps it was less painful in some ways, but it was long (granted, by choice) and paved with those hard-earned life lessons. But every experience—good or bad—has made me a better writer. I have a son with autism, and that has shaped my writing. So has being married to a man in ministry, being in the workforce, standing in line at the grocery…every single experience shapes me as a writer and I see it through different “eyes” from the non-writers among us.
In order to be a writer, you need to be a reader. In order to be a good writer, you need to write—and then write some more. And then again, and then edit. You get the idea. Pray every time you sit at the computer. Pray for the Lord to be your co-Author. Pray for your words to bring honor and glory to Him, and pray for your eventual readers. Have confidence in your writing and indulge in the pure passion and the love of writing. Remember this: if you write, you are an author. And—published or not—we all aspire to honor and glorify the One who gives us our words. What a sweet journey it is.
Blessings, my friends. Matthew 5:16
JoAnn lives with her husband, Jim, and their three children in southern Indiana and works as a full-time estate administration paralegal in Louisville, Kentucky. She’s a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers as well as its Indiana chapter, and the Louisville Christian Writers.
My website is www.joanndurgin.com and tells more about my writing journey, etc. I’m also on Facebook.
My books are available in paperback and ebook editions, available through all major online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Christian Book Distributors, etc. The first book in my series is currently available for only $2.99 (ebook version).