Time to Pull Weeds

I know there are people who love to garden. They enjoy nurturing seeds, planting bulbs, and planning perennial beds so that gorgeous flowers flourish in every season. My neighbor is one of them. I walk past her home (in the photos above and below) and sigh with envy at her creativity and diligence.

I am not one of those people. While I do love the end result when my garden looks pristine and welcoming, I don’t enjoy doing the work to make it so. Nevertheless, I was forced to become the family gardener when my husband pulled a muscle in his shoulder. The weeds had no pity on his injury and quickly staged a take-over. Can anyone explain to me why weeds are so hearty and fast-growing while their beautiful, cultivated cousins need pampering? Or why the deer and the rabbits ignore the weeds and munch on my plants as if they’re a salad bar?

As I tackled our overgrown garden last week, it occurred to me that the process has some similarities to the way I write. My first drafts are usually an overgrown tangle of words. My strategy is to conquer the blank page and get something down, no matter how bad, and then go back and fix it later. It takes away some of the anxiety if I don’t stop to critique my work as I write. But the day eventually comes when I have to weed out the overgrown mess. Finding weeds in the garden is usually simple: if the roots seem to go down to China, it’s probably a weed. If it pulls out easily—oops! That was probably something expensive. And when I make my first editing pass on my manuscript, it’s easy to find the weeds, especially if I remind myself of the rules of good writing.

I ended up with a large recycling bin full of weeds by the time I finished pulling them, but the garden still looked overgrown. I needed to go back with my shears and trim away some of the good bushes and plants, too. I hate doing that because I’m always afraid I’m going to cut too much and kill the plant. It’s the same with my manuscript. Even after the weeds of poor grammar have been pulled, my beautiful prose sometimes needs to be trimmed. If I’m in an especially critical mood, I can come dangerously close to chopping away too much and ruining it. But it has to be done.

The photos above and below show the results of my gardening efforts. And while I hated to sacrifice writing time for the task, when I finally sat down to write again I was able to tackle some much-needed editing with renewed fervor.

Now what about weeding my spiritual garden? Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches” and “my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” That sounds a lot like gardening and editing, doesn’t it? God is looking for fruit like love, joy, and patience—and not weeds like anger, gossip, and bitterness. If I hope to look like my neighbor’s garden in Jesus’ eyes, I think I have some work to do.

Time to Fly Away

It’s nearly time for lift off! I’m happy to announce that my novel, “Fly Away” is coming soon on June 15 in both print and ebook versions. Since one of the main characters, Mike Dolan, is a pilot who owns a small, charter airplane business, I visited a local airport with my friends Susan, Bruce, and Doug Formsma to celebrate. Doug was kind enough to let me pose in his airplane.

The first thing you’ll notice about “Fly Away” is that it takes place in 1987. That time period is too new to be a historical novel like most of my other books, but too old to be a contemporary novel. That’s because “Fly Away” was one of the very first books I wrote when I was just starting to dream of being a writer. The story came to me so effortlessly that I remember writing it out longhand on a yellow legal pad. Later, I typed it into my computer and saved it on several 3 ½ inch floppy discs. It was published by Beacon Hill Press in 1996 and has since gone out of print.

I remember very well the genesis of the story. Within a short period of time, our family struggled with a series of losses. My father, a World War II veteran like the main character in “Fly Away,” was hospitalized with a stroke and died a few months later at the age of 62. Dad had been caring for my grandmother so she had to be moved to a nursing home. My father-in-law also had a stroke and was moved to a nursing home because my mother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. Mom and Dad Austin both passed away within a few months of each other.

My husband and I and our three children drove down to Michigan from our home in Canada to take care of my mother-in-law in her final weeks so she could remain at home rather than be hospitalized. Our daughter Maya was a newborn when we left Canada and one month old when Mom died. We took care of Mom and Maya simultaneously, one at the very beginning of her life, the other at the end; one growing stronger each day, the other weaker. After just experiencing the miracle of birth, we learned that death is also one of God’s holy moments.

As you read “Fly Away” you’ll probably see how my own thoughts and emotions became intertwined with my plot and characters. The book deals with dying and loss, but I didn’t want it to be a sad book. All of my beloved family members had loved life and lived it well. They taught me that our faith in Christ gives us the strength and courage we need to face whatever plans He has for us—even when it means saying goodbye.

Telephones still had cords when I wrote “Fly Away” and hung on kitchen walls. Shag carpeting and Star Wars figures were all the rage. But I hope you’ll find that the themes of God’s goodness and love are timeless. Enjoy!

Click here to pre-order.

From Small Beginnings

I had the privilege last week of speaking to a wonderful group of women who volunteer for the International Bible League, an organization I love to support. I told them my story—how I sat down and started writing my first novel 31 years ago, even though I had no formal training, no clue how to get published, and three small children at home. I wanted my audience to know that they shouldn’t be afraid to trust God when He nudges them to step out in a new direction. He is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). I told them my story, but I also shared two other stories with them.

The first is about a Canadian mom named Fern Nichols. In 1984 her two oldest children were starting junior high school and she feared that their faith would be tested as they faced immoral values and peer pressure. She prayed for God to protect her children, and asked Him to send another mom to pray with her. He did! More moms joined them, and the group began meeting regularly to pray for their children and schools. The idea spread all across their province of British Columbia.

The following year, Fern’s family moved to California. Once again she prayed that God would raise up mothers willing to pray for their children. Again, these prayer groups multiplied, spreading around the state and across the nation.

That is how “Moms In Touch” began, now renamed “Moms in Prayer International.” Today, groups of mothers are praying in every state in the USA and in more than 140 countries. My neighbor, Marlae Gritter, joined a small prayer group years ago when her children were school-aged. She never imagined that today she would be the Director of Global Advancement for the international group. Below is a picture of Marlae and me with our new friend Kathrin Larsen from Switzerland. Kathrin also started out as a praying mom, and is now the European Director of the organization.

The second story I told my audience is about a man named William Chapman. In 1936, he became seriously ill and landed in a Chicago hospital. An elder from his church visited and prayed not only for William’s life to be spared, but that he would be led into the service of Christ.

“At the time, it seemed a strange prayer,” Bill said. “Why should God be asked to give me health and strength for this purpose? What could I possibly do for Christ? I came to the conclusion that this was a ridiculous prayer. But as the night wore on toward morning, it became increasingly apparent that my elder’s prayer could not be easily forgotten. That’s when I made my commitment to God. If God would restore my health, I would give all my strength in any avenue of service God would lead.”

William and his wife Betty purchased 1,000 Bibles and went door-to-door in Walkerton, Indiana asking, “Do you have a Bible?” If the home didn’t, they offered one for free if the owners promised to read it. From this simple beginning, William Chapman went on to form the “Bible League International,” the organization I was speaking to. Today, the “Bible League” shares Bibles and Bible study training tools in countries all around the world.

Thirty-one years ago, I laid aside my fears and excuses and started writing. Today I have 24 published books in a dozen different languages. I urged my audience not to ignore God’s little nudges. I invited them to step out in faith and to trust God, and then wait to see the amazing things He is able to do through them. I think William Chapman, Fern Nichols, my neighbor Marlae, and our Swiss friend Kathrin would all agree that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Have you felt God’s gentle nudging in your life lately?

The End


Typing “The End” at the end of a manuscript is one of my most satisfying moments as a writer. It comes after months of sitting at my desk and writing page after page of words. A few days ago, I typed “The End” after completing my latest novel, 461 pages and 141,042 words long. It felt wonderful! By the time you read this, I will have given the novel a final edit from start to finish and sent it off to my editor.

Now what? I plan to read books in front of my fireplace, visit with friends and family, watch old movies, and go on a vacation someplace warm.shoreline

But that won’t really be “The End” of this novel—although I wish it were! When I return from vacation, I’ll find a letter from my editor with suggested changes for improvement. I have to admit that I dread this stage of the writing process the most. I’m always convinced that my novel is perfect—The End! My editor often says otherwise. I’ll spend the next month or so hashing over these suggested changes with him and re-working the parts that may need improvement. Once again, I’ll type “The End.”

But it won’t be.

A few months later my editor will send me a copy of my novel showing all of his editorial changes. That will be my last opportunity to edit the book myself. I’ll see it again in the form of Page Proofs, showing how the typeset words will appear on the printed page, and it will be my job to read through it for typos and other minor errors. My novel will finally become a printed book in October of 2017. Don’t ask me why it takes so long for my publishers to get to “The End” of their job. It baffles me.

By the time I hold my novel in my hands nine months from now, the euphoria I felt a few days ago when I typed “The End” will be a distant memory. I will have started the writing process all over again—coming up with an idea, researching it, creating new characters, sitting down at my computer five days a week and writing. “The End” of that book will be months away. The author of Ecclesiastes was right when he said, “Of making many books there is no end.”GetAttachmentThumbnail

One of the most stressful times for me will come next fall when this newest novel will be published. I always pray that readers will enjoy my stories and be blessed by them, and so waiting to hear from them is agonizing. Receiving an e-mail from a satisfied reader is the greatest moment of all. Only then, when readers are laughing and crying along with my characters can I finally feel the satisfaction of coming, at last, to “The End.”

When I reach “The End” of my life someday, I imagine that meeting Jesus and hearing Him say, “Well done good and faithful servant,” will be even more satisfying than finishing a novel. In the meantime, I have a lot of writing and re-writing to do to the story of my life, and lots of changes to make. I pray that with His help, I write it well.images

Waves of Mercy

Have you ever prayed about a decision but when you followed through on where God was leading, everything went wrong? You probably asked, “Did I really hear from God? How could He allow this to happen?”waves-of-mercy-cover-1

immigrantsMy newest novel, “Waves of Mercy,” (which releases on October 4) tells the true story of the Dutch immigrants who settled the town of Holland, Michigan in 1846. These faithful Christian men and women, who suffered religious persecution in the Netherlands, prayed about what to do and felt God leading them to America, where religious freedom was guaranteed. So they left beautiful, centuries-old cities to move to the virgin wilderness of Michigan and live in crude log cabins. The first summer, malaria struck the community killing many settlers. A year later, a ship called the Phoenix, carrying 225 passengers, including 175 Dutch immigrants, caught fire and sank in Lake Michigan, five miles from their destination. 180 men, women and children died. As the bewildered immigrants buried their loved ones, they must have asked, “Did we really hear from God? How could He allow these tragedies to happen?”

gods-and-kingsI battled similar questions when writing my first novel, “Gods and Kings.” I had an opportunity to go to Israel on an archeological dig to research my book, and it seemed like an answer from God. To earn money for my trip, I babysat for three small children. My husband encouraged me to go and volunteered to take over while I was away. But a few days before I was supposed to leave, our three children came down with the chicken pox. Then we discovered that my husband had never had them, and he became extremely ill. I called the tour organizers to try to cancel or at least postpone my trip only to learn that it wasn’t refundable, nor could I re-book my flight. I would lose all of the money I had worked so hard to save. In spite of his illness, my husband still encouraged me to go—while someone from church called to say, “I think it’s clear that God wants you to stay home and be a wife and mother, not a writer.” Had I really heard from God about being a writer? Why had my family become sick at the worst possible time? I wrestled with God for answers.

It’s in these times of wrestling that we often find ourselves drawing closer to God. I think of Jacob who returned to the Promised Land with his family at God’s command. Yet before he reached home, he learned that his brother, who had once threatened to kill him, was coming with a large army of men. Jacob wrestled with God all night long, and was changed from Jacob the “deceiver,” to Israel, which means “he struggles with God.”

As I wrestled with God about my trip to Israel, the reading for my morning devotions happened to be Psalm 48: “Walk about Jerusalem, go around her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation.” I trusted God to take care of my family, and walked into my calling as a writer. The novel I researched, “Gods and Kings,” has since been translated into nine languages.fullsizerender

And what happened to the Dutch settlers in my novel “Waves of Mercy?” I won’t reveal any “spoilers” in case you’d like to read the book, but if you visit the town of Holland, Michigan today, you’ll find that the immigrants’ faith remains strong and vibrant. The town, with a population of 33,000, has more than 71 churches, including Pillar Church, built by the first settlers in 1856.pillar-church

1co15-58“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

My Imaginary Friends

An introduction to the characters in Waves of Mercy:

Released October 4, 2106

When my daughter was in pre-school she had an imaginary friend named Bareko. She talked about her constantly, and was so convincing that I made plans to invite Bareko to our house for a play date. I figured out that she was imaginary when I didn’t see her name on the class list. Later I learned that my daughter’s entire Sunday school class was praying for Bareko’s brother who had been in some sort of an accident. It’s very embarrassing when your child’s Sunday school teacher asks you for a follow-up report on an imaginary person!

But I have to confess that every time I create new characters for one of my novels, they become real people to me. That’s why it’s always sad to say goodbye to them when the novel ends. It’s like moving to a new city and making new friends, then having to move away again. Yet like good friends, they remain in my mind and heart forever. That’s the way I feel about Geesje and Anna and Maarten and Derk and Hendrik—and I can’t wait for you to get to know them, too.

I admire Geesje’s honesty, her willingness to write a truthful account of her life, including all of her faults and failures. How many of us would be willing to write down the story of our past and allow the people we love to know so much about us? I would certainly balk at the idea!

What I love about Anna is the way she questions things. Most of us would say that she lives a wonderful life of wealth and ease with a family and a handsome fiancé who love her. But Anna is courageous enough to look beneath the surface and ask if this charmed life is really the one God wants her to live.

Then there’s Maarten. I love his constancy and faithfulness—to the people he loves and to God. He is a behind-the-scenes character who fills an important role in the story and in Geesje’s life, whether she appreciates his efforts or not. Are there people like him in your life?

Derk is another one of those secondary characters, and his role is to act as a bridge between Geesje and Anna. He “wears his heart on his sleeve,” and I think his tenderness and compassion toward others will make him a wonderful minister. I’m blessed to have people like Derk in my life, people who love building bridges and bringing strangers together.

Hendrik turned out to be one of my favorite characters, even though I wasn’t too sure about him, at first. As I write my novels, I always create a bulletin board with pictures of what I think my characters look like, and this is the picture I chose for Hendrik:


I think it’s a worthwhile practice to take time to think about our real-life friends and the qualities we most admire most in each one. What lessons have they taught us? Are there ways we wish we could be like them? And when we’re finished, let’s stop and thank God for the gift of good friends!

Happy reading!

Waves of Mercy will be released October 4, 2016

Pre-order on Amazon today, click here.

Giving Back

Portland, Oregon

This week I have the privilege of coaching a group of writers at the Oregon Christian Writers’ Coaching Conference in Portland. I’m flying there today, in fact. This wonderful event offers writers a chance to meet with editors, authors, publishers and literary agents during the four-day conference. I’m really looking forward to being part of it!

Ever since I was asked to speak to writers for the first time years ago, I have leaped at the chance. It’s one of my favorite things to do, and my way of giving back to the wonderful, generous people who have mentored me along the way. I think especially of my first mentor, a dear Christian author named Alma Barkman. We first met more than thirty years ago.

S__36F4I lived in Canada back then and had just begun to write. But I was too timid to tell anyone except my husband about the novel I was working on during my children’s nap time. One day I felt God challenging me not to keep it a secret anymore. I needed to have the courage and faith to admit to anyone and everyone that I felt called to write Christian fiction. It was a scary step to take. What if people laughed at me? What if I failed?

One morning when my husband Ken was teaching music lessons at our home, one of his students, a friendly young fellow who was waiting for his turn, noticed me typing away at my desk. “Whatcha doing?” he asked.

I could have replied, “Just typing,” but I decided to be brave and admit the truth. “Well, I’m working on a novel. I want to be a writer.”

I waited for him to laugh or make a joke of it, but he smiled and said, “That’s really cool! My mom is a writer. You should meet her sometime.” When I asked what kind of writing she did, he got a little shy and said, “Well, we’re Christians. She writes devotions for a publisher called Moody Press in Chicago.”

mom and kids
Celebrating my first books with my kids

I was astounded! The next week his mother, Alma Barkman, came with him to his lesson. For the next few years, this amazing woman took me under her wing and taught me everything I needed to know about writing and getting published. She invited me to join her critique group and took me to my first writers’ conference. When my book was finally published, Alma said, “I feel like a proud, new grandmother!”

We lived in a city of some 300,000 people at the time, and yet God had brought one of the few published Christian writers right to my door! I still wonder where I would be today if I hadn’t taken that step of faith and found the courage to admit that God might be calling me to write.

quoteI understand the hopes and dreams of the writers I’ll be coaching in my class this week. And I can’t wait to encourage them to have faith, and to put their dreams in His hands, because God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine! (Ephesians 3:20).

It’s All About Story

3 Lynn at her deskI’m sitting in a comfortable chair in my living room with a cup of tea, surrounded by stacks of library books, my laptop, and some movies I plan to watch. To the untrained eye it appears that I’m loafing, but I’m actually hard at work, searching for new worlds to discover. In other words, I’m researching my next book.

Living in the Information Age is both a boon and a trap for authors. With so much detailed information available, it’s easy to get lost in the jungle of research and never find the trail home. To avoid getting sidetracked, the “compass” I use to direct my search is a simple one: I always look for a story.

Heinrich Schliemann
Heinrich Schliemann

Here’s what I mean. At this stage of the writing process, my research resembles a huge mountain of facts that I must conquer. I will undoubtedly need those facts at some point, but in these early days I focus instead on the stories I find buried among the details. I’m currently researching the early years of archaeology in the 1800s. Who were the great explorers? Where did they excavate? What did they uncover? Hidden among the facts was a story that reads like a fairy tale. Heinrich Schliemann grew up poor, reading the tales of Homer and dreaming of finding buried treasure. Beginning as an apprentice in the grocery business, he eventually became a self-made millionaire. At age 61, he set out to find the lost city of Troy, convinced that Homer’s legends weren’t myths but descriptions of actual events and places. With Homer as his guide, he uncovered ancient Troy and its golden treasures. Schliemann’s story brought the facts to life for me and offered valuable insights into my characters’ motivations.

A Light to My Path IIAt some point I will finally close the books and explore the settings for my novel. Again, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by hundreds of precise details such as a period mansion’s architecture and furnishings. As I research my settings, once again I’ll look for stories. For my Civil War novel, A Light to My Path, I toured a beautiful southern mansion, taking copious notes and pictures. The tour guide questioned my interest, and when I told her I was a novelist, she offered an exclusive, post-tour peek at the slave quarters behind the mansion.slaves quarters

plantationI knew it would take pages to describe the differences between the mansion and those hovels! But then the guide told me a story: The mansion’s owners fled when the city fell to Union soldiers. The newly-liberated slaves moved out of their squalid quarters and into the Big House, using their owners’ dishes, sleeping in their beds, wearing their clothes. Again, a story offered insight into my characters’ point of view and showed me how best to present the settings’ differences.

Eventually I’ll have to sift through my mountain of research and decide what goes into the book and what doesn’t. But the story gems I discover will provide a head start in creating my characters—and they’re the most important story element to me. I always begin with my characters. How I create them is another story . . .

Underwater Explorers

Last Saturday I attended a wonderful program by the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association—a group of divers who search for sunken ships in the Great Lakes. I attended their presentation last year and it inspired me to include a shipwreck in my upcoming novel. This is exciting stuff!

These shipwreck experts start their adventures the same way I start a novel—by doing research. They comb through piles of public documents, newspaper reports and eyewitness accounts to narrow down the wreck’s possible location. They search photos and drawings for the ship’s distinguishing details, such as size and profile. This research phase can be a treasure hunt in itself! But if they do their job well, the expedition has a better chance of success when the exploration phase begins.

Exploration involves creating an imaginary grid over the suspected area of the wreck and slowly sailing back and forth, using sonar to detect a sunken ship on the bottom of the lake. Scanning for hours and hours, days on end, sounds tedious to most people, but I sensed the experts’ excitement in this step of the search, too. It requires expertise to examine the grainy sonar pictures and interpret the findings. And when a sunken ship was finally spotted, everyone celebrated. I suppose most people would find my job tedious, sitting at a computer day after day, typing page after page, chapter after chapter until my novel is finished. While it appears to be boring, it takes expertise to create a story and get the words precisely right. And wise authors also celebrate their successes, big and small.

The last phase of underwater discovery is obviously the most enjoyable for these veteran divers. Armed with cameras and scuba equipment, the team finally has a chance to dive on the site and explore the wreck. I watched in fascination as ghostly images of these once-stately ships appeared on the theater screen, encrusted with shells, lying in their final resting places. I listened to the dramatic stories of their demise, usually due to violent storms. The divers became underwater detectives, solving the mystery of why and how each vessel sank, and where the ship and its crew came to their final end.

On one of the deeper dives, the team could spend only 30 minutes exploring the wreck before making the nearly two hour journey back to the surface, pausing to adjust to the changing pressure and avoid the deadly bends. I marveled at such disciplined devotion! Why do these divers do it? Since removing treasure from these wrecks is strictly forbidden, why make such a huge commitment of time and energy and finances to explore a sunken ship?

I suspect that the thrill of diving and solving a century-old mystery are rewards in themselves. But sometimes there are other surprises, too. In the audience on Saturday night was a gentleman who had been ten years old when he lost his father in the wreck of the William B. Davock, sunk during a storm on Lake Michigan seventy-five years ago. His father’s body was never recovered. Thanks to the work of these divers, the now-elderly gentleman was able to see images of his father’s final resting place and find closure after all these years. He sailed with the dive crew to the site on Lake Michigan and placed a memorial wreath in the water above his father’s grave.

I returned home from the program pondering why I write. There is some monetary gain, to be sure, but for me it’s also about the thrill of discovery and the satisfaction of seeing the results of my hard work and discipline in book form. Most of all, it’s about the joy I experience whenever I learn that one of my stories has touched someone’s life. I easily understood the joy those dedicated divers from the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association felt when they saw the tears of an eighty-five year old man who had waited a lifetime to find his father.

A Race to the Finish

The End Pic typewriterLife has its calm seasons and busy seasons, times when I can work at my leisure and actually enjoy what I do, and times when I’m forced to labor long into the night, fretting and worrying and racing to finish on time. Right now I’m in one of those crunch times. That’s because I’m within a few pages of finishing my newest novel and typing “The End.”

IMG_0524By now I know my characters and my plot very well. I know what my imaginary people were like in the beginning of the story and where I hoped they would end up. I’ve never piloted a jetliner but that’s what it feels like I’m doing in these final stages. I’ve been soaring high with great flights of imagination but now it’s time to land. I need to make sure all the plots and sub-plots are lined up correctly so I can touch down on solid ground and bring this enormous undertaking to a halt. If you’ve ever flown, I’m sure you remember how it feels to reach the airport terminal after a LONG journey, unbuckle your seatbelt, stand up straight, and give a sigh of relief that you’re finally home. That’s what it’s like when I type those wonderful words, “The End.”

typewriterIf I can land this novel within the next few days, I will have about a month remaining before my deadline. I’ll use that time to do a final read-through and another edit, tying up any loose ends and searching for ways to make the story even better. I can ask important questions like: Did I accomplish what I set out to do? Are my readers going to be drawn into the story and stay interested? Are they going to feel satisfied when they get to the end? … And how many tissues are they going to need? (I absolutely LOVE to read a book that makes me cry, don’t you?)

But to me, the most important part of this newly-finished novel is its spiritual content. Yes, I want to entertain my readers, but if my story doesn’t also give them a new insight, or help them through their own life journey, or remind them how very much God loves them, then my work is incomplete. I’ll be praying about this aspect of my novel too, as I read through it.

V__A7C1Once I turn in this book to my editor, I’m going to reward myself with a trip to Florida. That’s the carrot at the end of the stick I’m currently using to flog myself to finish. I have a wonderful vacation planned with my husband and our dearest friends. It includes lots of fun and laughter and good eating and bicycling. I posted these pictures from a previous trip beside my computer to keep me motivated during these final weeks of work.

But I can’t pack my bathing suit and bike helmet just yet. First I have to get back to work and get this book finished!P1030251

So how do you celebrate when all your hard work is finished?