I asked Christine Eberle to write this guest blog “Go Write That Book” after I read the book she published through the same venue I’m using to publish my forthcoming Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures. We met through the Vermont When Words Count writing retreat center. I read some portion of her Finding God in Ordinary Time almost every day. I hope you enjoy reading about how this book came to be.
“Go Write That Book”
I was on a Philadelphia bus one cold afternoon in college, standing next to an elderly woman bundled in a colorful hat and scarf. When we reached her destination, she turned to me and said, “Goodbye, dear. Now, go write that book!” Her words came out of the blue. I don’t recall even exchanging pleasantries; I’m sure we did not discuss my authorial aspirations.
She was right, though. I’d been yearning to write a book since I was old enough to read one. My father preserved my earliest effort in a folder in his filing cabinet. The Story of Tommy Carrot was a terribly-spelled, brief tragedy about a root vegetable that I wrote at age six. I have my own folder of subsequent attempts and false starts from grade school, including a short story about a widower who dies of a broken heart when his son’s letter turns out not to be the anticipated invitation to move in, but a recommendation for a retirement facility. Clearly, the joy, sorrow, and brevity of life have been persistent themes for me.
In my freshman year as an English major at Saint Joseph’s University, I channeled my inner Dickens by publishing a serialized “novel” about my high school boyfriend in the campus paper. (Don’t ask.) The next year, I got involved in campus ministry, and in junior year picked up theology as a double major. I earned a graduate degree in pastoral ministry at Boston College and never looked back, spending 26 years as a college campus minister.
If It Delays, Wait For It
I continued to write. Once bitten, I don’t think the writing bug ever leaves a person. I wrote seasonal meditations, fundraising appeals, blessing prayers and brief remarks for the university president. I even published four articles on spiritual topics in Liguorian magazine. But I never carved out time to go write that book.
In 2016, the resignation of a colleague pursuing her own dream jolted me out of assuming I had to stay with my beloved but all-consuming day job forever. When I received an invitation to a retreat called “New Life Directions for Women over 50,” I registered in a heartbeat. On that retreat, I shared my dream of becoming a “freelance me” and committed to taking concrete steps to move my dream forward. That led to beer and pizza with someone who later forwarded me a Facebook sweepstakes announcement for four nights at When Words Count, a Vermont writers’ retreat. I went—which may be one of the few recorded instances of Facebook’s changing a person’s life for the better!
When Words Count (WWC) provides the space, time, and encouragement writers need to get serious about their work. Sitting in a comfortable couch overlooking the snowy Green Mountains, I fleshed out my idea for an Advent devotional. Each evening, WWC founder Steve Eisner invited us into the den and encouraged us to read samples of our work aloud for feedback. I noticed that my writing seemed to touch people regardless of religious affiliation, whether Christian, Hindu or even “Jewish agnostic.” My new friends urged me to broaden my audience beyond those likely to shop for an Advent book. That is how Finding God in Ordinary Time got its name, and its message.
A Two-fold Audience
At WWC, I realized my target audience is twofold: I desire both to feed the faithful and to offer spiritual nourishment to people skeptical or weary of religion. I come from a deeply beautiful religious tradition with lamentably cerebral ways of expressing things, so in my book I strive to make faith more accessible. I do this by sharing four weeks of daily meditations based on true stories, highlighting places we can experience God’s presence, hidden in plain sight. Each chapter has a relevant Scripture quote and concludes with questions for personal reflection.
It occurs to me I have always gravitated toward the practical. That’s why I chose pastoral ministry over theology for graduate work. Now it is summed up in my tag line: Connecting Scripture, Spirituality, and Everyday Life.
It Will Surely Come
In February of 2017, I left Vermont committed to finish this manuscript in time to enter WWC’s Pitch Week. This is a writing competition in which a panel of judges determines who will be selected to have their work professionally published. The Pitch Week was coming up in October. Preparing for it required a significant investment of time and money, but without it, my dream would still be only that. Through the Pitch Week process, I got to work with Peggy Moran, an incredibly skilled editor, and Asha Hossain, a talented cover designer. I was forced to think through things I had never considered, like a marketing plan and elevator speech. Although I did not win the competition, one of the judges was Dede Cummings of Green Writers Press (GWP), who loved my book enough to publish it anyway. Dede was a book designer before founding GWP, making the finished product lovely to behold.
Finding God was published in September of 2018—47 years after I wrote Tommy Carrot and almost 35 years after that mysterious bus passenger uttered her prophetic message. This reminds me of the words of the prophet Habakkuk: “For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it. It will surely come; it will not be late” (2:3).
My advice to aspiring writers is simply this: keep writing and rewriting. Whatever the literary task at hand—be it fundraising appeals or brief remarks for a president—work to make it sing. God wastes nothing. When you finally carve out time to write what you really want to, you will have been honing your voice and perfecting your craft all along.
Ten months after Finding God in Ordinary Time was released, I finally left my day job to become a freelance me. Now I’m facilitating retreats and leading evenings of reflection. I’m teaching an online seminar for my former employer, Gwynedd Mercy University, helping students reflect on their spirituality and work on their writing. And, of course, I’m pondering my next book. I am profoundly grateful to be able to explore this new way of being in the world.
My ordinary days are extraordinarily blessed . . . and so may yours be!
You can follow Christine or see more information about her book at Christine Eberle