A red journal started it all. My dad gave the small ledger to me when I was eight, and I began filling it with passages about Friday night pizza and ice skating on the lake. In those early years, my family lived among rolling hills and Amish farms in the Ohio countryside. While we didn’t have a bookstore or library nearby, every Saturday during the long summer months I’d hop on my white-tasseled Huffy and peddle a mile to the bookmobile stop. Then I’d wait until that glorious bus stuffed with treasures arrived, carefully making my selections before packing each one in my handlebar basket for the ride home.
Encyclopedia Brown. Felicia Cartwright. The Boxcar Children. Nancy Drew. Stories like these transported me outside our little valley to places around the world. And the characters became the best of friends. But when I closed the final book near week’s end, when hours remained before the bookmobile lumbered back to Apple Valley, my mind still longed to step into a story. So I started scribbling down my own mysteries. Seeds of ideas as I waited for the next round of published books.
In hindsight, waiting sparked my writing.
I loved everything about words. How they brought people together and swept me away. How they could create worlds. How I could share the wanderings in my mind with a pencil and paper.
When I was nine, I typed out my dual-paragraph autobiography on my grandpa’s typewriter. In middle school, I created a short-lived newspaper for our neighbors. No surprise, I suppose, that yearbook and newspaper were my extracurricular activities in later school years.
During high school, my English teacher recognized that while I was passionate about writing, I needed some consistency to pursue my dream. Mainly, I needed to finish what I started. For three years, I submitted a daily journal entry to Miss Steinbach, a writing practice that continued through my college years in Virginia and then another decade after graduation. Words, I discovered, were also about leaving a legacy.
My journalism degree helped me land a typesetter job with a weekly newspaper in Virginia Beach, back in the nineties when cutting and pasting involved actual glue. As the months passed, I began writing a column which led to a freelance job with The Virginian-Pilot and then a leap into public relations at the Family Channel. About midway through my twenties, I started feeling overwhelmed by the possibilities in life. When I was a child, I decided to follow the way of Jesus, and I remember so clearly sitting on the grassy banks of the James River when I was twenty-five, worried about the future. As I opened my Bible, I rediscovered the words of James about the dangerous instability of a double-minded man. I began praying for clarity and direction in the midst of my messiness, asking God to take away the spinning in my head and direct my every step. A month later, a new opportunity arrived in a job offer from Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs.
I loved my years in Colorado—exploring the mountains and ghost towns, learning the book industry, helping start a church called Vanguard with dear college friends. Then meeting an amazing man named Jon when another college friend suggested that he visit our little church. Jon and I were married a year later in an old Colorado lodge. Underneath a buffalo head. It was the perfect launch for our off-the-beaten-path marriage.
The animation field consisted mostly of contract work in those days. As we moved across the country for Jon's job, I launched my own public relations company, but around the turn of the millennium, God began stirring something new inside me. Or restirring something old. I realized it was time to pursue my childhood dream of writing stories. Except this time, I wanted to finish what I started.
During the following season of writing and rejections, I wished it had been an easier road. That my first novel or any of its revised versions would have sold. Or my second book. Or my third one. But looking back, I'm incredibly thankful for the many lessons that I learned along the way. The people that I met at writer’s conferences. The seven years of researching, developing characters, piecing together words, and in spite of my fears, finishing what I started.
In 2003, Jon and I adopted our first daughter, and less than a year later, our second daughter arrived. Germany was our next move as a family, and I spent much of that year exploring Berlin's parks and playing with our sweet babies. In the midst of that exhausting, beautiful season, God gave me a new kind of story—a novel about a failed adoption that seemed to pour straight from my heart.
Kregel eventually published Together for Good, a story about mystery and faith and how God can mend broken pieces from the past. After all those years of searching, I’d finally discovered what I wanted to spend the rest of my life writing.
Our family has settled in Oregon now, and almost thirty of my novels have been published, all flowing from a deeper place. All of them about redemption and God’s incredible grace.
My hindsight is flooded with gratefulness for the barred doors in my life that led to open windows. For the quiet wind of words. For the many people who thought I could write fiction on those days when I was absolutely certain I could not.
And for the little red journal that started it all.