Saturday, November 12, 2016

real women. real inspiration -- meet rebecca stevenson

i've dedicated this month of november to celebrating the fabulous women around me. through one woman after another, God keeps revealing to me how He has divinely gifted and beautifully ordained us to influence and inspire others.

in my series kick-off post (november 1st) i encouraged y'all to look around and take note of the inspiring women in your life. are you doing that? and even more importantly, are you telling them? please do! they will be blessed, and believe it or not, friends, you will be blessed! seriously, sometimes it takes a little extra work to compliment or praise someone else, but when we authentically go there---we find joy! i liken it to the act of serving: maybe hard at times to get up and going, but somewhere in the middle of our serving we stop and think, "wow, this actually feels good. i might be blessing others, but truly, i am also being blessed!" does that make sense?

so, with that said. let's move on to my next introduction ----

please meet, my friend, rebecca stevenson!

i knew her when.

a couple of freshmen girls, we met at grove city college up in pennsylvania many (many) moons ago. rebecca and i moved in similar circles--sharing friends, interests and the same triple major. with both of us marrying before our senior year of college, we also shared the novelty of having our M.R.S. degree before our B.A. degree!

as you can tell from our college picture, we might have shared a penchant for big hair as well -- gotta love the late 80s!

rebecca stood out. not just for her big hair, but because she had this way about her: she kind of sparkled. oh so smart and sincere, but she encompassed an energy and enthusiasm which captivated those around her. that was rebecca. we haven't spent any time in the same place since those college years, but i have no doubt she still sparkles. it's evident even living in different states these past several decades. (thank you, facebook).

and it's absolutely no surprise this old college friend is now a published author. i believe it was in dr. stansberry's creative writing class when rebecca first shared something she had written. though i can't recall the exact topic, i do remember somewhere in the middle of her prose thinking, "hot dang, this girl can write!"

we are now middle-aged women, decades removed from those big-haired college girls sharing snatches of writing in dr. stansberry's class: wives and mothers; lunch-makers and laundry-doers. but when september 2016 arrived, rebecca brewster stevenson's first novel, healing maddie brees, hit the shelves and she added author next to her name.

and i'm so proud of her.

this summer she asked if i would read and preview her book ahead of time. can i just tell you how much fun it was to sit with a brand new novel written by a dear old friend? that's awesome stuff, people. and the best part: it reads beautifully. pouring over her novel on my back deck this summer i had the same feeling as listening to her read portions of her writing back in college -- hot dang, this girl can write!

the reviews have been enthusiastic. "Rebecca's writing has been called "exquisite" (Stephen Chbosky), "thought-provoking" (Barbara Claypole White), and "gorgeous" (Kirkus Reviews)."

barnes and noble offer this overview:
"A debut novel from a promising new voice in fiction, Healing Maddie Brees is the story of a marriage and the memories that pit themselves against it, of the uncanny power of the body in both disease and desire, and of whether true healing ever really happens.
Maddie Brees has been given bad news: She is seriously ill. But she also has an old friend, an ex-boyfriend who might be able to heal her. She was witness to Vincent Elander’s so-called miracles in the past. But that was a long time ago, a memory that she would rather stay buried."
whether you find it on the shelf of your local bookstore or order it off amazon, i'm going to encourage you to get your hands on this beautiful book which has been aptly described as, "A gorgeous meditation on broken bodies, fractured faith, and the soul-wrenching path to serenity." - Kirkus Reviews

recently, i had the chance to ask rebecca some questions about her book ...

1. tell us a bit about your new book and your main character, maddie brees.

Maddie is a thirty-something wife and mother who isn't quite in touch with herself. She doesn't realize this because she is deliberate in attending to her marriage, children, life; and she is honest regarding hardship, unwilling to pretend that life isn't difficult sometimes. But when it comes to her history, she has been dishonest--not just with herself, but with her husband, Frank. The novel is the story of a year in their marriage, when the couple is confronted by cancer. Because of Maddie's dishonesty with herself and Frank, what should have been a time of mutual support and new intimacy becomes a season of isolation, imbued with memories--for Maddie--of an old boyfriend who seemed to be able to heal people. Given that context, what loving spouse wouldn't want to seek out this ex-boyfriend for his desperately ill wife? But, for reasons both spoken and unspoken, Maddie doesn't want that contact. The novel's conflict arises here.

2. rebecca, of course the breast cancer diagnosis hits especially close to home with me, but i'm curious, with all the illnesses maddie could have, why did you choose breast cancer?

As with certain other cancers, breast cancer is both physical and sexual. It taps into who Maddie is as a mother, as a sexual partner--and these realities intersect, too, with what Maddie slowly recalls and, in a way, re-lives over the course of the book. In writing about the body and marriage, I was intrigued by the words of Jesus in Mark 10:8, in which he speaks of marriage as two becoming "one flesh." This is a profound idea, one that hints--I believe--at a truth our culture is blind to: that our bodies are far more significant than we realize; that what we do with our bodies matters on both the physical and spiritual planes. For this reason, I wanted to work with the idea of one member of a marriage union becoming ill, and I wanted that illness to have specific ties to that character's sexual (and physical and spiritual) identity. In addition, sadly, breast cancer is not an uncommon experience. I have friends who have fought and won battles with the disease and were willing to share their experience with me. To the best of my ability, I wanted to express an honest and believable fight that honored those who have been through it.

3. though not classified as a christian novel, you've thoughtfully woven elements of the gospel into maddie's story. please discuss.

Yes! And I alluded to this in my response above. In writing this book, reflecting on Christ's words about our bodies and His sacrifice--which was a devastation both spiritual and physical-- I couldn't escape focusing on the connection between our bodies and souls. While Maddie is decidedly suffering from cancer, she is also suffering from sin. It was a natural extension of her physical illness to the spiritual. Moreover, I remain fascinated by what we believe we "want" from God. As Christians, we believe Christ to be the Incarnate God, the Son sacrificed in payment for our sin. When confronted with suffering, we rightly ask to be delivered. We also know that, ultimately, the sacrifice of Christ satisfies every longing. This story of physical and spiritual need naturally lent itself to the power of the Gospel. Making those connections were the most difficult and rewarding aspects of writing this book.

I wanted very much to write a book that discussed these things while being accessible both to Christians and non-Christians. As with any like-minded group of people, Christians have terms that serve as short-hand for our shared experience. It was exciting--and essential--for me to write about Jesus in language that I hoped would invite outsiders in.

4. avid readers often identify with a character from a compelling story. so much so, they might even find it hard to shelve the book and move on. you've obviously been living close to maddie breed for some time--creating, developing and launching her. i'm curious about how you, as an author, now separate a bit and leave her?

Ha! What a great question! The truth is that I don't think I've left her at all. I often wake in the morning "worrying" about the outcome/future of the book just as I might (and do!) worry in a similar way about one of my children! But I think you more thoughtfully mean my connection with the character herself, and the truth is both that I am satisfied with where I left Maddie, and she will always, in a way, be "in process" for me. Despite the book's being *out there* now, I frequently pick it up and read select passages, almost as if I'm checking on her!

5. i think women - really all readers - would like to know a little bit about the writing process for you as a mom/wife/busy woman. how does that happen in the context of busy living?

For years, I did all my writing in stolen time. During the years I was homeschooling and in graduate school, I only wrote during the summers--and then it was after the kids went to bed or on occasional "writing days," when my husband took the kids off on an adventure for the day so I could write. Later, when teaching full-time, I took evenings once or twice a week at a local bookstore. But the best work came after I left teaching, in the one amazing year that my children were at school all day and I was at home. I had been working for six years at that point and wanted desperately to take care of things around the house, but instead I wrote almost all day, every day, often at the library. The the only way to get writing done, I've found, is to skip everything else and write. The dishes and dust, as we well know, will wait.

6. in addition, how has this publishing process impacted your family?

My family are enthusiastic supporters of me as writer. They have longed encouraged and supported me--and my husband has zealously championed me and my work. I'm incredibly grateful for him. The publishing process itself hasn't made a large impact: I've had to travel a time or two, but for the most part, it's been a quiet experience. I'm with an independent publisher, and they are incredible, but we lack the power of one of the big five publishing houses. My hope and prayer is that attention to this book will grow--and then we'll see how it impacts us.

7. what is next for you?

I'm at work on my next novel and also have a children's book underway. I'd like to continue this writing thing in the hope that my work asks important questions that help us to consider truths we might otherwise overlook. Perhaps the greatest compliment I've received thus far for Healing Maddie Brees came from a non-Christian reviewer who said the novel made her reconsider the church in new and good ways. In truth, just that one comment is more than enough. Christ's church is a beautiful, if flawed, body. If I can help open eyes to her beauty, then I am satisfied.

8. so friend, i know how to find you on facebook, but where can we find you on the internet?

I'd be delighted for visitors to my blog, "Small Hours," which can be found on my website:

rebecca, dear friend,  thank you for sharing your gifts with us --- and for inspiring!


Barb Hayes said...

I'm looking forward to reading her book and thank you for honoring Rebecca in this way. As I am elderly, I spend a lot of time reading and like good novels with Christian messages.

Rebecca said...

Barb, I hope you enjoy the book!