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Welcome, Jeanette. Thanks for stopping by to talk about your writing and your new book. How did you get started writing for publication?
When my son was a baby, I wrote several poems for La Leche League, which they published in their international calendars. I was thrilled to see my work in print, delighted that people all over the globe were reading it. LLL offered me a job editing the newsletter for our local region, but I turned them down, since I had two small children at the time, and wanted to devote all my time to them. When they were a bit older, I started writing for a large church’s daily devotional, and then my first article, Felines: Friend or Foe? was published by an educational magazine. Since then I’ve had hundreds of columns, articles, and stories published. Several of the columns I wrote for our local newspaper are included in my book, Two Scoops of Grace with Chuckles on Top.
Please tell us a little about the book.
It is a light-hearted look at God’s enormous heart. I’ve taken 72 stories of everyday battles, brouhahas, & bliss, and added a touch of humor. My goal is to make you laugh, help you like yourself, and enable you to receive God’s love. I’ve aimed it primarily at Christians, but it has some “salt” sprinkled in it as well, to make pre-believers thirsty to know Jesus.
It sounds like a fun and inspirational read. Did you always want to publish a book?
No. When readers of my newspaper column told me, “You should turn these into a book,” I said, “NO, I shouldn’t. That is hard work!” I was having fun with the column. I knew once I began pursuing publication, that I’d be committed to seeing it through. I didn’t want to have to work at it. Not until my son suggested I should write a book did I seriously consider it. When I told him, “It could take me ten years to find a publisher and get a book on the shelves,” he said, “Well, you’re going to be doing something for ten years—why not this?” That did it. I began seeking the Lord, and He led step by step to where I am today.
Thanks for sharing that neat story. Where do you find the inspiration for your books?
Mostly from stupid things I’ve done or messes I’ve gotten myself into. I share what I’ve learned about God’s bottomless grace from my own misadventures. I also love to observe other people’s nutty behavior, and draw funny conclusions from those. Every happening and encounter in my life is a potential story to write about, and I see humor in nearly everything and everybody. So be careful if you ever hang out with me—I may use you in my next book!
That would be unique. I don’t think I’ve ever been a character in a book. Since you work full-time outside your writing career, how do you manage your time?
You said the secret word: manage. If I don’t manage my time, urgent things like finding a lost earring, perusing gourmet chocolate catalogs, and building a fence to put around my kitty litter boxes, distract me. When I first became serious about publishing a book, I decided to spend an hour a day writing. I’d come home from work, eat supper, then hide away in the computer room and write. I overrode my feelings, doubts, and distractions to stick to my plan. It is never easy to discipline your flesh, but it yields a harvest of blessing in the end. For me, that blessing is a published book.
How long did it take you to write the book and find a publisher?
You really don’t want to know that, do you? Okay. Since the book is partly a compilation of my newspaper columns, you could say it took me ten years to write it, since I’ve been a columnist since 2001. About half the stories, I wrote specifically for the book in the last three years. It took me almost a year to find an agent, and then another two years to find a publisher. I don’t want to discourage anyone by my long timeline. Everyone’s path is different.
How did you find your agent?
I went to the Write to Publish conference in Wheaton, IL. I did what they told me to do, and researched the staff ahead of time. I picked out Diana Flegal of Hartline Literary as my top choice, since she represented non-fiction writers, and she looked like a gentle soul. I had no idea she was also a pastor’s wife, like myself. When I met with her, we just clicked. It had to be the Holy Spirit guiding my steps, because she is the perfect agent for me. She gets my nutty sense of humor, and we’ve become great friends and prayer partners. But you really must do your homework on this one. It’s better to have no agent than a bad one. You can check out a potential agent on a website called Editors and Predators. Also, find out some of the authors they represent, and interview them.
Thanks for the tips. How do you overcome writer’s block?
I write. It may look horrible on the screen, and I may need to revise all but two sentences in every paragraph, but at least I am putting words on the page. Eventually the creative waves crash to the shore and it’s no longer work; it’s fun. But I have to be willing to put my booty on the chair and write, even when I feel no inspiration and my brain feels like wood. I do it by faith. Oh, that’s another essential to overcoming writers block: prayer. In fact, it’s an essential to succeeding at anything. If God isn’t in it, why bother?
Do you pattern your writing after anyone?
I love Erma Bombeck and Phillip Gulley. Both have inspired me in my writing. But I try to keep my own voice, so people won’t say, “Oh, she read an Erma book right before she wrote that chapter.”
I’m an Erma Bombeck fan too. Does the humor in your writing come naturally, or is it hard?
Mostly it slips out when I’m not paying attention. I grew up in a sarcastic family, so I have to temper my humor a bit to make it funny, not snarky. But I love to make people laugh, myself included. I laugh harder at my own jokes than anyone else does. So, even if no one thinks I’m funny, I’m entertaining myself. I especially think it’s hilarious when I do something dumb.
Why is that?
Because it humbles me, knowing that God uses me, ditzy doings and all. I know His grace is flowing through me, because I’m just not bright enough to pull off all the things that I’ve accomplished in my life. That feeling of God working in you in spite of you, is so delightful.
What part does prayer play in your writing career?
A big part. I can do nothing without Jesus. I know that. So I ask Him to open doors for me, and lead me to people that can help me, direct my steps, and give me words that will touch lives. With all the completion out there, I can’t expect that my little pea brain or my personality alone will get me where I need to be. It has to be God. I’ve asked Him repeatedly to help me achieve more than I am capable of on my own, and He’s not let me down.
What is the best writing advice you’ve received?
Three things: 1. Go to a writers conference. 2. Keep your bum in the chair and write. 3. Keep improving. Never say, “I’m as good as I’m going to be.”
What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever received?
If your husband does not understand the writing life, ditch him. That is so stupid. It’d be like a chocolate pie throwing away her crust and whip cream—she’d be foundationless and naked! Although my husband is not fond of my writing style—he prefers deep, theological studies—he loves me and believes in what I’m doing. I’d be an idiot to turn my back on him simply because he’s not my biggest cheerleader. Most of who I am as a person and a Christian is what I’ve learned from his example, or from having to put up with his annoyances. He gives me great writing material!
LOL. Do you have a favorite food and drink of choice to sustain you while you write?
Occasionally a dark chocolate or four, and I drink mostly water.
You love to laugh, but what makes you cry?
You don’t have time for the long list. But the top ones are: kids who suffer, teenage prisoners, broken lives, needless hate, and my own rebellion.
Watch a video
Can Preachers Have Sex on Sundays?(Excerpted from Two Scoops of Grace with Chuckles on Top ©2012 Jeanette Levellie, published by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)
When our son, Ron was in his preteen “girls are gross” stage, the word breast embarrassed him. For several months, I accommodated him by calling chicken breasts “chicken chests” when I served them. In my opinion, using a different name drew attention to them, but I was trying to respect his modesty.
A few people are not so respectful of intimate issues. As we were leaving a party one Saturday night, someone asked me what we were going to do the next day.
“Oh, the usual,” I replied. What do preachers usually do on Sundays? I thought.
The wannabe comedian then asked, “Can preachers have sex on Sundays?”
“Sure,” I said, “as long as it’s with their spouse.” And if the kids aren’t home.
When our kids were toddlers, the friends in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood made great babysitters from time to time. On rare occasions, we saved up for a special night in a nearby motel. Relatives kept the kids overnight, and we felt like honeymooners. When Esther and Ron were old enough to stay alone a few hours, we’d sneak off for a drive at dusk, then park somewhere to sit and talk. And other stuff.
One night we were not doing any other stuff, simply visiting. I was on my side of the seat, leaned against the passenger door, facing my husband. We’d chosen a quiet, industrial neighborhood to park in, so few cars passed.
Suddenly, a police officer stood at Kevin’s window, his flashlight targeting our faces. Kevin’s hand trembled as he rolled down the window.
“Yes?” he managed to croak.
“I saw you sitting here, and thought I’d check to see that everything is all right.” The officer leaned down, making eye contact with me. “You okay, ma’am?”
“Yes, I’m fine. We were only talking.” I said.
“Okay, just wanted to be certain. No problems? You sure?” His gaze held mine, his eyes serious but kind.
Hoping he didn’t notice my face turning the same color as the light on his patrol car, I nodded and smiled. That seemed to satisfy him, and off he roared.
The following day, I called the L. A. Police Department, thanking them for their diligence. I explained how protected I felt the previous night. The sergeant in charge was shocked.
“Most people resent it when a patrolman checks on them, and they call to complain about the invasion of privacy.”
“Well, we were parked in an industrial district. That’s not exactly private. And the officer who questioned us didn’t know we were married, and just needed to get away from our kids for a while!” He chuckled appreciatively. I’ll bet he had kids of his own.
After we hung up, I grinned in satisfaction and thought, I enjoy making someone’s day. Maybe I’ll invite him and his wife over for dinner one night. I’ll serve them my special recipe of chicken chests…
Two Scoops & a Sprinkle
It’s okay that your older kids know you enjoy an intimate relationship, as long as you set boundaries on how much they know. TMI (too much information) can be unhealthy for children and teens.
Turning off the phone at certain times is a way to show your spouse that they take priority over work and friends. If you allow calls any time of day or night, your sex life may suffer.
Finding creative ways to get off alone adds pizzazz to your marriage.
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