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Special Guest — Kersten Hamilton

I discovered Kersten Hamilton’s books when a writer friend suggested them to me.  Tyger, Tyger and In the Forests of the Night are the two books so far in the young adult Goblin Wars series–a tale of goblins and a mythical, magical place called Mag Mell. It is a story of the battle between creatures who strive to become what the Almighty created them to be and those who strive for the opposite. What struck me the most about Hamilton’s writing is the organic way she has woven her faith into the story. It’s inherent in her characters and never, ever forced.

I asked her to share her journey to publication because I see in her writing the things I respect in a Christian author. She’s never preachy, but her faith shines through. Her characters are likable and realistic. She does some rockin’ world-building. Oh, and there are goblins and ghoulies and magic and mayhem :).

So, here with her own personal tale of becoming who the Almighty created her to be is Kersten Hamilton….

Becoming a writer doesn’t happen all at once, and it isn’t isolated from the wonderful tangle of life. I’ll pick out one thread to start with—something I shouldn’t have done; something that almost crippled me. I had been submitting stories for a few years, written novels and novellas, and gathered hundreds of rejections. The stories burned in me, and it was painful not to publish. One day I decided that I wanted to be published too much…maybe more than I wanted God. So I sacrificed my dream. I promised God I would never write again.

And I didn’t, for four whole years. Not a word. Then one day, not a birthday or a holiday or an I’m–sorry–I–forgot–our–anniversary–day, just a day, my husband brought me a present. An electric typewriter with a spell checker.

I had given up my dream before we were married. He had no idea that I wanted to write. He had no idea that I’d given it up forever. Under fierce interrogation, he admitted that he had no idea why he’d done such a terrible thing as bring me a present.

The next day, I was left alone with that typewriter. I set it on the table and circled it. I discussed it with the Almighty, but the discussion was one sided. I poked the typewriter with one finger. I sat down, breathed a prayer of repentance—whether I was repenting of making that stupid promise, or repenting of breaking it I wasn’t quite sure—and began to write.

One story. I allowed myself to write one story, and told myself that if it sold that meant God wanted me to write. I chose to retell a Bible story I’d never seen in a magazine. One with zip and zing. I slapped it in an envelope and sent it out. Then I didn’t touch the typewriter again. For two whole weeks, because that’s how long it took for the acceptance letter to arrive.

At this point, I probably should mention that the Creator of writers and Forgiver of young fools has a terrific sense of humor. The story I’d never seen in a magazine before? The one that sold to a national Christian children’s magazine in record time? It was about a eunuch—a man who had been intentionally maimed so that he could never have children. The way I would never have had book children if I hadn’t repented of my foolishness. God had never asked me to give up writing. I’d never even asked Him if it was a good idea. I’d just done it in a sudden fit of religiosity. I didn’t know the Creator of creation nearly as well then as I do now. I was passionate, religious, and just starting to learn of the love a Parent has for a child.

But life is a tangle. Because by the time the gift I had thrown away was handed back to me, They were on the way. The children. These particular children were fond of setting beds on fire, shaving off their eyebrows, breaking their noses in various ways, putting vehicles in reverse and ripping off the driver’s side door against a fence as it rolled into the street. I loved them to pieces, but I was pretty sure life wasn’t big enough for both children and a writing career. Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire) felt the pleasure of God when he ran; I felt it when I wrote. So, in stolen moments between fighting fires and visits to the emergency room, I found time to write. For five years. And nothing else sold. Until the day a friend told me that she had heard that a local publisher was looking for musical scripts. I wrote one, and it was first sale in five years!

I called my husband at work. “Come celebrate!” “Can’t,” he said. “I have meetings all day.”

I ignored the children, who were carrying what looked like homemade hatchets toward the tree in the back yard, took half a quart of chocolate chunk ice–cream out of the freezer and started my own celebration. Then, I was going to sit down and write a best–seller. Have I mentioned that the Almighty has a sense of humor? I was scooping out the last spoonful when the phone rang.

“I know how important this is to you,” my husband said. “I’ve cancelled my meetings. I’m going to take you and the kids out for lunch.”

“Wonderful,” I mumbled, wiping a drip of chocolate chunk from my chin. We went to El Patron, and I cleaned up spilled drinks and talked about my best–seller dreams for at least an hour. When we finally asked for the check, the waiter said, “Oh, he didn’t stop by your table? The older man who paid for your meal, I mean? Well, he said to give you this when you left.” It was a note written on the back of an El Patron menu—single sheet of blue paper with selections printed on one side—and it said:

“Your oldest boy looks so much like my oldest son used to look—that I just want to bless you a little. May God bless you also, and give you the wisdom + patience to raise your children the way He wants. From a servant of His, with love.”

I looked across the table at my son’s curly head, and realized that those little grubs were teaching me spill–by–spill what the love of a parent was really like. Tuning my heart to the heart of the Almighty. We celebrated a little more, and I didn’t even fuss at my oldest son when he took the menu and drew a tree (or possibly an atomic explosion. I like to think it is a tree) beside the stranger’s note. Then I took them home and did my very best to live out the stranger’s advice.

The funny thing is, my writing started to sell very well after that—everything I’d written in the last five years sold in a matter of months, and I found a little more time to write now and then.

The children are grown now, and off pursuing passions through tangles of their own. The son who drew the tree grew up to be an artist; my daughter is a photographer; and my youngest a rock climbing guide in the Garden of the Gods, at least for the moment. He leans toward wild adventure. And me? After twenty years, I still carry that note with me in my computer bag. Occasionally I look at it and wonder if God is pondering my early stories and trying to figure out whether they are trees or atomic explosions.

And when I meet people who tell me that they have given up writing because they think they love it too much and God would not approve (or would be jealous) I take them by the shoulders and lovingly shake them until their teeth rattle. Then I say “Throw out the religion, kid. The Creator of Creation delights in you and your dreams. Live big. There’s time.  Love lots. And write your heart out in every spare minute!”

J Kersten Hamilton

Visit Kersten’s site, and find her books at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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About Kat Heckenbach

Kat grew up in the small town of Riverview, Florida, where she spent most of her time either drawing or sitting in her "reading tree" with her nose buried in a fantasy novel...except for the hours pretending her back yard was an enchanted forest that could only be reached through the secret passage in her closet... She never could give up on the idea that maybe she really was magic, mistakenly placed in a world not her own...but as the years passed, and no elves or fairies carted her away...she realized she was just going to have to create the life of her fantasies. She shares that life with her husband and two homeschooling kids. Kat is a graduate of the University of Tampa, Magna Cum Laude, B.S. in Biology. She spent several years teaching, but never in a traditional classroom--everything from Art to Algebra II. Her writing spans the gamut from inspirational personal essays to dark and disturbing fantasy and horror, with over forty short fiction and nonfiction credits to her name.

13 comments on “Special Guest — Kersten Hamilton

  1. Wow…that’s an amazing story! Just what I needed to hear this morning! Thank you, Kersten and Kat.

    • You’re welcome, Heather–glad you enjoyed the post! And knowing your taste, I think you’d enjoy Kersten’s books :).

  2. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Kersten! And thanks for introducing her to us, Kat! Reading this gives me hope that there may be light at the end of the tunnel for my writing days too… ;-)

    • Tell me about it, Krysti! We see these authors *after* they hit their stride and it looks from our perspective like they just stepped into it from the very beginning. I love seeing the stories behind it all, and knowing that it’s *normal* to struggle–not just with getting published, but with whether I should be writing at all. Stories like Kersten’s are so encouraging.

  3. Oh, this is a lovely story, Kersten. God does have a wonderful sense of humor.

    I’m currently reading Tyger Tyger…on the repeated recommendation of Chicky…and loving it. When I read through the chapter that told of the family dinners I thought to myself that the writer of this story had been to my house during dinner time. :)

    Thanks for sharing with us at NAF and God bless your dreams.

  4. Confirmation is a beautiful thing indeed.

    Kersten it is wonderful to meet you. I absolutely agree with and love all of this, especially the line, “Throw out the religion, kid.”

    Brilliance.

    Thank you, Kat!

  5. Thank you Kat for allowing me to tell my story. :) I’m glad it was what you needed to hear, Heather. Krysti, there is hope. I promise. Diane! I’m so glad you are loving Tyger Tyger. Timothy: Yep. Just yep.

  6. Beautiful story! Thanks for sharing. Isn’t it wonderful how all of our journeys are so different, yet so similar as to build up a strong kinship. Love it!

  7. Oh wow, thank you so much for the encouragement. It’s exactly what I needed to hear. My munchkins are too small for me to think about publication, but I’m writing a little every night just the same.

  8. That is a powerful story. Thanks.

  9. I certainly have struggled with these issues – the questions of God’s approval and feeling torn between family duties and writing. It’s a tough balance.

    So thank you very much for this story. I guess I’ll keep at it then (and thank God mine haven’t set fire or shaved off anything yet…)

  10. Very inspiring story. I’m continually going back and forth over writing–wondering if it’s “worth it”, analyzing it, trying to figure out “the mission”–that I forget how much I enjoy it. I’ve felt a huge pressure to “be a success,” to “go out there and make something of it,” that I had no joy. Every time I sat down, I felt like there was this huge weight of responsibility to Be Productive.
    So over my Christmas break from teaching, I went back and worked on some old story for a few friends–something that I knew would never come to anything. And there, I found freedom and words flew once more.
    Now that I’m back in the saddle of riding, I feel the old weight of pressure on my shoulders. It’s good be reminded that God delights in our running of the race.

  11. Grace: isn’t it? :)
    Kessie: the funny thing is, raising munchins takes the same creative energy as writing books. Only…the munchkins will last forever. All books will someday be gone.
    Ren: it is tough. But worth it. :)
    Janeen: He delights in His children being like Him, too…and He is a creator.

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