Monday, February 23, 2015

A Spicy Blend of Purpose and Passion

I wrote this for Black Christian Reads and wanted to share with you :)
In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon says that the whole duty of man is to fear God and to keep His commandments. Growing up in a minister’s home, I had a great respect and love for God. I was involved in praise and worship, teaching and preaching. However, I had compartmentalized my life. There was God’s ministry and then there was my guilty pleasure—reading. I read any and everything. I remember going to my neighborhood library daily and leaving with a pile of books in my hand.
Sixteen years ago, I decided to pen my first novel, Keep the Knot Tight. I gave it to a minister friend to read. He admitted he found the story engaging but certain content was off-putting. Filled with profanity and hot sex scenes, I told him that I was keeping it real. The language and sex were authentic, I told myself. After numerous rejections, I self-published it under the pseudonym, Jasmine Stone.
Then I wrote Walk A Straight Line under Zoey Ann Rice in the space of six weeks. Right after that, I wrote Sing A New Song. I submitted both novels to hundreds of agents only to face rejection. Stumped, I could not understand why. So, I decided to put the writing ‘thing’ on hold and focus on my marriage and my young sons. I relocated in Florida eleven years ago because my family needed a change of pace and atmosphere.
On the job, I met Vivian Kehrer, and told her about my books. She encouraged me not to give up on my dream and I self-published Walk A Straight Line under the name, Zoey Ann Rice. I hid the book from my family and some of my friends. I knew they would never approve. Then, I met Jane Adams.
Jane was a teacher and gifted writer and I was drawn to her artistic nature. I opened up to her about my secret passion for writing. Jane volunteered to read Sing A New Song and share her thoughts with me. I can clearly remember the day she returned my manuscript.
We stood in the parking lot of an elementary school, and Jane’s face was deep red. Jane told me that while she was reading, she thought it was Christian fiction because the message in the novel moved her and then bam! She encountered the profanity and hot sex scenes. She said they caught her off guard. Jane went on to say how much she enjoyed the story, but I was frozen. Frozen because God used her to speak to me.
There was no secret pleasure. I couldn’t run from God and His purpose for me. God was ingrained in my life and He would appear into my work because He belonged there. Goose bumps rose on my arms. God had to be in every aspect of my life, especially my writing. That night, I revamped Sing A New Song. What I saw when I was done was a powerful work, which God could use to His purpose. I smiled. This felt right. Right for me, that is.
There was a place for me—the girl who liked writing stories with drama and messy characters but who also loved God. Imagine my joy when I discovered, I did not have to give up any part of me. Instead, I discovered a ministry fashioned with me in mind. God had brought me into the path of spirit-led women who have helped hone and shape my work so that He gets glory. His Holy Spirit constrains me and I am proud of the product I produce.

Finally, I understood.
It had taken me years to get to this realization. I'm not knocking romances and the work of others, but God showed me what I was meant to do. I can't write what I want.  I then penned my first Christian fiction novel, My Steps Are Ordered, with God's stamp of approval.
Once I aligned my will with His, doors opened.
One day I felt led to type the words faith, Christian and fiction in the Google search bar. Then, Tiffany L. Warren’s Faith and Fiction retreat popped up. And, wonder of wonders – God at work—it was being held right here in Florida. I registered and waited for the day. At the retreat, I learned a lot about writing and I rewrote my first chapter of Sing A New Song. After much prayer and fasting, I decided to pitch my work to the publishers and agents in attendance.
At the retreat, I got a chance to meet some of my favorite authors during the planned events. What resonated within me was these women were not just talented but they were real women of faith. A group of us met one morning by the water and we sang and worshiped God. I remember, Joylynn Ross, the acquisitions editor for Urban Christian, breaking out in a praise dance and I felt as if I had come home.
Before I left the retreat, I pitched Sing A New Song, and rejoiced when at the end of the session Joylynn requested I email her my first four chapters. That led to my first two-book deal with Urban Books. Now as a published author, I am proud to have my parents; siblings and church friends read my books. They see Him all throughout my work. Even as I write this, I shout, “Hallelujah!” I have since rewritten and/or re-published Walk A Straight Line and My Steps Are Ordered. I plan to revamp Keep the Knot Tight as well because there is a message there for someone.
I’m now working on my sixth novel for Urban Christian and I know God will take me higher. He has more in store for me than I can even imagine. I know it because writing is not just a blend of my passion and my purpose. It is my ministry and all I can say is, "Use Me, Lord."