Trust and Enjoy. And a book.

During the first week of my master’s studies, away from home and back in Halifax, I called Brent more than once, speaking in my weary, weepy, wavering voice.

I was afraid of failure, of wasting our money, of making a fool of myself, of not making any friends (like I was back in kindergarten), and, very afraid that I did not actually have a book. This whole particular MFA at University of King’s College is based on the idea of “We’ve got your book.” When I first applied I had one idea, to write about refugee resettlement in Canada.

But finally I acknowledged to myself that part of my master’s motivation was to actually follow the writing advice that is so often given: to write what I know. As a professional writer for 20+ years, usually I am writing on assignment, and for that I am so thankful. But I never took the time I did not feel I had (or the discipline) to sit and stare at a blank page and explore my heart and head. I tell other people’s stories, not my own. And thank you for that, to anyone who let me.

So I decided to take the opportunity presented in this program of time and deadline and instruction and encouragement to write what I realized, eventually, was spiritual memoir. I was exploring themes like envy, forgiveness, parenting, prayer and others through my life and experience as a minister’s wife, and all that has entailed for me and my life.

It sounds weird, because it is weird and a little bit hard to explain.

But, as it turned out, I actually did have a book.

I had to trust the program knew what it was doing and that I was in good hands. I couldn’t believe that I would be able to do all the writing required, until I did it. I had to stop panicking and trust the process.

I would still break out into a cold sweat and swoon with each new semester and its demands for three or four 5000 word chapters. But then I’d remember how I had lived through the last one and did the kind of writing I have never had time for before.

I claimed the time out of my life, on Saturday mornings and Thursday nights and Sunday afternoons, and as it turned out, there was time enough.

I trusted my mentors and their feedback that, yes, what was forming beneath my hands and under their nurture was actually a book.

Then, as part of the program, I had a 15-minute sit down with literary agent Hilary McMahon, vice-president of Westwood Creative Artists, a champion of this MFA. I told her, “My book isn’t really about being a minister’s wife.” And she said, “Well, then what is it about?” I stammered around for a few moments until I realized, it kind of is about that.  At the end of our conversation, meant to help students fine-tune their pitches, she told me I could send her more about my project if I wanted.

So, many weeks later, after a coffee with another MFA graduate during which we dared each other to do something bold for our books, and after reading Hilary’s online bio over and over again and wondering what exactly I thought I was doing, I emailed her chapter one. To my great surprise she asked for more. I was sure that once she read the whole thing she would realize her mistake. But then she asked for my phone number so she could call me. It was beautiful. It was the kind of call every writer wants to get, where you dance around your living room while your daughter watches and cheers — after you’ve hung up of course. Hilary liked my book and wanted to work with me to try and sell it.

Another season of trust began.

We cut and tweaked and rewrote and reordered and added and subtracted to the book proposal the MFA makes you write. She began to send the book out to publishers, and the rejections began to come in, one after another. I shared each “no thanks” email with my beloved MFA cohort group, and they would pat me on the back from afar. One bright day, months in, Hilary called me. Generally she calls with good news, emails with bad. I recommend this approach. Some publishers were starting to show interest in the book.

Then, I was in LA at a writer’s workshop and left my phone in the room to charge while I had breakfast. When I returned, I saw that Hilary had called. I called her back — immediately of course. Because it was Hilary! And she had called! — and heard the amazing news that Tyndale House wanted to publish The Minister’s Wife: a spiritual memoir of difficult blessings (note: this title may change, but who cares!!). Hilary did the hard work over weeks of fine-tuning my contract as I waited to hear that it was ready to sign. Then, just before Christmas, it was.

Tyndale House sent me a beautiful bouquet of flowers to welcome me into their publishing family. I found this deeply touching. I felt valued and seen, blessing over blessing. They visited Toronto and we all had lunch together at a sweet little Italian restaurant, my agent and my future editors and publisher all eating pizza together.  I think after this lunch is when I felt a shift inside of me and realized I could now relax from trusting to enjoying.

I’m still operating out of a place of trust of course, I think that will be required the whole way, but I also want to slow down and enjoy (in a marvelling kind of way) that someone else saw the value of this work, and decided to trust it, and I guess, to trust me. And I’m very, very thankful.

21 thoughts on “Trust and Enjoy. And a book.”

  1. Patricia Darley Paddey

    I am so proud of you. I am so honoured to be your friend. I hope you will still want to be my friend when this book comes out and you become a sought-after author, with people clamouring for your autograph. Because I believe deeply that that will happen. This is a wonderful book, and I can’t wait to stand in line, and have you sign multiple copies that I plan to give to friends, because yes, it’s that kind of book and yes, it’s that good. <3

  2. Karen Stiller, you have never ceased to amaze me. I’m beyond proud of you, not only your talents but your willingness to trust in the process and ultimately your trust in God himself. Thank you for pushing through. I very excited to dig into a copy of your book my friend. Congratulations!

  3. Karen, what Patricia said is spot on. I might also do a little happy dance around my living room, for you, your risking, and your joy. Yay!

  4. Heather Grennan Gary

    This is so great. (My favorite line: “Then, I was in LA at a writer’s workshop…”) Congratulations, Karen. I look forward to reading your book!

  5. Karen – I am so, so thrilled for you!
    This is really wonderful. Your publishing story took me back to all the wonderful, unexpected things that happened with My Father’s Child a lifetime ago. Unlike you, I had no idea what I was doing – but you’ve done it all right. You’ve become an experienced writer/author before jumping out of the boat into your own work. You know what to do , where to go and to whom to speak on this amazing journey – and it’s all been put in place by God’s wonderful plan for your life – and your diligent obedience to His calling. I love your honest vulnerability within the context of your seasoned professionalism.
    But when it comes right down to it, i think you’ll have to agree there’s something in the water in that wonderful chain of Kawartha lakes! On my bucket list is making a canoe memory there with you some day -but I’m thinking I’ll probably kick that bucket before our paddles make the first dip! Lol and huge congratulations!

  6. So thrilled for you, Karen, and know the book will be a gift for the many trying to understand and name the facets of their own spiritual journey.

  7. This is well-deserved and inspiring news to read as we finish up our NYC MFA residency. Your writing is so beautiful and now can’t wait for your book to be available. In the meantime, I will continue to be moved by your blog. Congratulations!

  8. Gloria Hutchinson

    I know of you. My husband is Din Hutchinson. I am blessed to have seen this post. I am intrigued to read your book as I am a ministry’s wife as well as a minister. As you know, Don has a published book and is writing another. I believe I have one in me that is to be written ( since early 1990’s). I am mostly intrigued about how to balance all that makes up your “World” and have already been blessed that you managed to write your book part time. Congratulations. Gloria

  9. Eleanor Shepherd

    Karen,
    This is really good news. I am delighted to hear about it and look forward eagerly to the book. Thank you for daring to do something so scary and have the courage to follow through. I pray that every hurdle will be overcome and this book will bring you joy as you see the fruit that it bears.
    Warm regards,
    Eleanor

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