1) How long have you been writing?
I started writing as a child. Always an avid reader, I suppose it was a natural leap to move from reading other people’s books to writing my own. My husband still remembers the day we were walking home from junior high and I announced that I was going to be a writer someday. I’ve never aspired to do anything else, career-wise.
2) At what point in your writing journey did you begin to think of yourself as “successful”?
I was excited when I won lots of first prizes in writing contests during high school, but I really began to feel successful when I sold my first article to our denominational magazine, plus I landed a weekly column in the local paper. I certainly didn’t make enough from either to bump me into the next income tax bracket, but to think that someone liked my writing enough to pay me for it was a major encouragement to keep going.
3)Kathi, you’ve had many books published over the years, but there was this one book you wrote no one would publish. Tell us about this one book.
My Son, John is a work of fiction that in the beginning I didn’t even want to write. I was actually busy with a couple of other writing projects at the time, so when I began to feel what I call this “God-niggling” to work on something else, I did my best to ignore it. When the niggling wouldn’t go away, I finally gave up the fight and began to listen, to try to get a clear direction of what it was God wanted me to do. Imagine my shock when I came to understand that I was being directed to write a novel about a middle-aged Christian woman (much like myself at the time) who learns her 23-year-old son, John, has AIDS. It is her first revelation that her son is living a homosexual lifestyle. It is also the beginning of a learning process for her, as AIDS had just begun to be openly discussed and recognized here in the States (early 1980s). I opted to tell the book primarily from the mother’s viewpoint, but interspersed it with chapters from John’s viewpoint. The problem was that I had no clue what John’s viewpoint would be, so I had to find someone in a similar position to work with me on the book. That’s when I met Mark, a young homosexual man with AIDS. One of the first things he told me was that he hated people like me—meaning Christians—because he said we had caused all his problems. He also made me promise never to “preach” to him, a promise I honored. But to say it was a rocky start to our relationship would be an understatement! But as we worked through the book, we developed a caring for one another, what I refer to as a “meeting of the hearts,” even if we didn’t have a meeting of the minds. A couple of weeks after we completed the manuscript and when he was in his last stages of AIDS, he called me one day and said, “Kathi, do you really believe all that Jesus stuff?” When I assured him I did, he said, “Then you have five minutes to tell me why I shouldn’t kill myself right now.” It took longer than five minutes, but by the time I hung up the phone, I’d had the privilege of leading him to Christ. He died less than two weeks later. And though I continued to send out that manuscript to every publisher on the planet and got nothing but glowing responses back, I found no takers. I heard “too controversial” from many of the Christian publishers, and “too religious” from the secular publishers. Then, a couple of years ago, I talked to Joan at Sheaf House about it, and she loved the basic concept. However, we agreed that we should change much of the story, simply because of the passing of twenty years, while retaining the message of unconditional love. I made the changes, and the rest is history.
4) Why didn’t you just throw your hands in the air and say “forget it!”
I might have if I hadn’t seen the results in Mark’s life. That alone made it all worthwhile! And I’ve learned a lot about God’s timing and purpose through all this. I was called by God to write that exact story at that exact time because Mark didn’t have long to live and needed Jesus before he died. (Does God care about one life? You bet He does!) But twenty years later, God’s purpose was to preserve the message of unconditional love, regardless of the circumstances of the book’s storyline. And so, in His timing, it is finally being published.
5) Is tenacity something you learned along the way? Or does it come naturally to you?
Both. I am by nature a bulldog when I get my teeth into something. I’m a firstborn, a major type-A personality, the only girl in the family, raised by a performance-oriented German father. But what I experienced and learned in the process of writing and finally selling My Son, John reinforced what was already built into my personality.
6) What have you learned from the adventure of getting this book published?
Again, I have to come back to God’s timing and purpose. Was My Son, John a failure before Joan decided to publish it and I did the rewrite to make that happen? Ask Mark when you get to heaven. The important thing in writing is to listen to God—and then obey, regardless of the results.
7) What encouragement do you have for a writer who just received a “no” from a publisher?
There is an old saying that you’re not an official writer until you’ve had at least 100 rejections. I can assure you that I am official many times over! Each “no” can easily be turned into a “yes” somewhere else, if we’re willing to listen and apply what others more experienced in the business are telling us. At the same time, remember that evaluating writing is a subjective process. One editor may yawn and toss something aside, while the next one is hooked on page one and can’t put it down—or pass you up as a writer. Writing is an adventure, and I wouldn’t trade it for any other profession. It’s not as stable as most other careers, but writing for the Lord is the most exciting privilege imaginable!
I've come to know Kathi through some organizations we both belong to, and I have been drawn in by her warmth, humor, and obvious love for God and people. She is a delight to know and writes wonderful books.
I bid you good writing.