July's Author of the Month: Rachel Kerr
Back in March, Innovative Editing began its “Author of the Month” program to highlight engaging writers who deserve to stand out for their skills and/or messages as presented in fiction or non-fiction, whether self- or traditionally published.
If you'd like to be considered for an upcoming Author of the Month spot – or if you have a story idea burning a hole in your brain – then shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with details about you and your book. Either way, I’d love to hear from you!
As for this particular beautiful summer month, I have the honor of interviewing an author with a very unique book. This non-fiction story shows how life’s most frustrating or even tragic circumstances can work out for our good and God’s glory.
June’s Author of the Month: Rachel Kerr Featured Title: Stage Direction Genre: Christian Non-Fiction Age Appropriate: All
Bio: Rachel Kerr is an author and blogger living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She has a degree in English and biblical studies from Toccoa Falls College, and is an active member and women’s ministry planner in her local church.
Rachel spends the majority of her days caring for her three young children and trying to match their energy. She gets excited about psychology, great landscapes and natural health. Moreover, she’s a longtime lover of creative non-fiction and recently has fallen in love with well-crafted short stories. Currently, she’s at work on a collection of original short stories to be published in 2018.
Jeannette: Thanks so much for doing this, Rachel! Obviously, I read your Stage Direction – and found it so encouraging – but I’m not even going to bother trying to describe it in my own words here. I want Innovative Editing readers to hear it straight from you. So how do you define your book? What’s it about?
Rachel: In May, 2013, there was a revolutionary sort of Passion Play performed on the downtown streets of Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, with thousands of people gathered to watch. Amateurs from nearly every church in the area – 33 different ones, to be exact! – worked together to create this major production from scratch.
Stage Direction is 10 snippets of biography from some of those amateurs. The actors, directors, seamstresses, stagehands and musicians all had such good stories to tell of how God led them and helped them, both on the day of the play and also in the months they spent preparing. Their stories are real-life examples of how God works in both subtle and miraculous ways. And they’re incredibly faith-building accounts!
Jeannette: I completely agree with that last statement especially. One of the aspects I found particularly comforting was how God brought so many different denominations together to work in harmony.
The very fact that you acknowledged the Church’s tendency to bicker or avoid each other was a bold move. I feel as if we try to ignore that problem overall. And then the exact way you addressed it was phenomenal too.
Rachel: I think anyone who’s spent time in Christian circles can attest to the division between different denominations that hold the same beliefs on Jesus and his death and resurrection – yet have different views on less important things. It’s unfortunate. So I think it was a really beautiful picture of the Kingdom when people from all these different churches worked together. Without being forced to!
In the process, they grew to love, respect and pray for each other. Talking to them about their experiences with the play, it was clear how convicted they all felt about Christian unity. And they’ve really made me think how, really, it’s the Cross that matters.
Everything we need is there, and none of our secondary religious opinions matter much after that.
Jeannette: I suppose that’s the main theme in Stage Direction, isn’t it? But then there are so many sub-themes throughout it, a number of which were captured in each individual “snippet,” as you put it.
For me, the most poignant story was the one about the woman who lost her son 10 years before the Passion Play was held. I can’t even imagine having to deal with that kind of loss. Yet she allowed God to use it so beautifully in the end.
What was the part that impacted you the most as you compiled all these individual accounts?
Rachel: Deb’s chapter is a powerful one, for sure. I’ve never lost someone in that way, so I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to communicate her grief. I really wanted to do her story justice and prayed over the writing of that chapter so much! And when I finally emailed it to her to review, it was another one of those moments when you just know God was involved.
She told me she’d been nervous to read it too; but after she did, she cried with gratitude for an hour. For her, it felt like her story had finally been told the way she’d always wanted to tell it. She was thrilled, and I knew God had blessed both of us.
Another of my favorites is Ed’s chapter. Ed seems to know God on a level most people don’t. To quote the book, “Ed’s lived what seems like too many miraculous stories for one man.” And since getting to know him, I know he isn’t making any of it up!
I think it’s important for Christians to always keep a friend or two whose spiritual lives make them crave a deeper one as well. Time spent with Ed definitely makes me feel that way, and I think the chapter’s description of his back-and-forth with God will make readers want that too.
Jeannette: He did seem like quite the person to know in Stage Direction. And there were a lot of really interesting people mentioned in those pages.
I did notice, however, that a lot of those really interesting people shared a common journey: In the beginning, they felt overwhelmed by just the thought of doing the Passion Play, either because of serious stage fright or because they already had so much going on in their lives. Yet they found themselves led, pushed or pulled to go for it anyway.
I don’t think God calls us to be overwhelmed. I mean, there are times in the Bible where even Jesus took some time to himself. And I never once got the impression that Stage Direction was pushing us to do more for the sake of doing more. But it was still beautiful to see how God provides what we need when we need it in our walk with him.
Rachel: Provision is a huge theme throughout. For example, the people on the play’s script-writing team weren’t writers at all. They just kept a prayerful attitude whenever they met to work on the script. And they ended up doing an excellent job with God’s help!
It’s wonderfully ironic that Brian, the man who played the role of Jesus and had more lines than anyone else, was extremely shy and afraid to perform – yet God helped him. The book overall is definitely a story of God using the weak and ordinary, and providing whatever His people lack as they trust Him.
Jeannette: That might stand out best on pages 93 and 94, where you write, “Ministering to these people had been their sole focus. All along though, God had also been ministering to the people already part of His Church, who need discipleship and love just the same.”
As the author, did you find that was true for you too while you went about gathering all these stories?
Rachel: Yes. I jumped at the opportunity to write this book because I wanted to hear everyone’s stories for the sake of my own faith. I knew it wouldn’t be just a fun exercise in creative non-fiction; it would also be a perfect opportunity to expand my view of God – what He’s capable of and, more importantly, what He’s willing to do through regular people. The process of learning and writing these stories really felt like an act of devotion for me.
When I picture my ideal reader for this book, I see someone who has a church background but is struggling with their faith. I’ve been that person for seasons of my life, and one of the things God has used to lift me out of spiritual angst is real-life stories. I remember reading Jim Cymbala’s Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire and Corrie ten Boom’s Not Good if Detached. These were tremendously helpful for me, and I like to think that Stage Direction is the same sort of book.
Jeannette: I’ve never read either of those other books, but I do agree that Stage Direction is a great reminder that we serve a loving God who knows what he’s doing. And I love that you got as much out of it as the cast and crew did.
Speaking of your part in this presentation, I’ve got to admit I’m really curious about your pre-writing phase. When I do research for my novels, it’s a nice and neat process in the sense that I simply buy reputable material to look over. But I imagine you had to work with actual people, face to face or at least over the phone. How did you handle and sort through all that?
Rachel: It was tricky, for sure! I interviewed and audio recorded about 20 different people who were willing to share their personal experiences related to the Passion Play. Then I narrowed those down to the nine whose stories felt most powerful to me. But since my goal was to tell their stories less like a journalist and more like a storyteller, I had to do several follow-up interviews with those nine people.
It’s funny. Some people tell their own stories with all these specific, concrete details, and you have to work to draw out their emotions and implications. Other people tell their stories in a more conceptual, emotional way, and you have to drill them for the concrete details.
I was often saying things like, “I know this is a weird question, but do you remember what exactly you ate for breakfast that morning?” Or “What was the weather like?” It was a fun challenge filling in the gaps, but it took some time. I was determined to make their chapters colorful and still stay accurate. Biography is a tough genre to write!
Jeannette: I can only imagine. More power to you in it, because I don’t think I’m going to try it anytime soon. I’ll leave that to the experts.
That reminds me: Where can Innovative Editing readers find you and your authorial journey online?
Rachel: You can find my blog at rachelkerr.wordpress.com. I’m also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rachelkerrauthor, and Stage Direction can be purchased on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.
Jeannette: Thanks again for sharing all this, Rachel. It was great having you on here, and I hope to hear more about those short stories of yours someday!