Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Hope of Heaven with Erin Keeley Marshall

When I met Erin at a writing retreat several years ago I took an immediate liking to her. I was drawn in by her stories and knew I wanted to stay connected with her. I’m so thankful we’ve stayed in touch. Today I’m excited to introduce Erin to you and her latest published work, The Hope of Heaven…

Wendy: What inspired you to work on your newly released book, The Hope of Heaven? Please share what it’s about… 

Erin: The Hope of Heaven is Al Hallene’s story of finding his oldest son, Alex’s, body after Alex committed suicide. But more than focusing on suicide, it is a wake-up call to the realities of depression and even more so about the close care of God in the painful parts of our lives. 

The story struck a chord in my heart because its themes of family, loss, hope, eternity, and deepening understanding of God resonate with a widespread audience. All of us want to know that our loved ones and ourselves will be okay; we crave a measure of control in a world that denies us that comfort. However, our Creator is also our Savior for eternity and our Sustainer for now, which means we have hope in him; he remains in control and utterly good as he meets us at our need. The Hallenes’ story put me in awe of their pain but in deeper awe of the Lord. I looked through hundreds of family pictures, watched hours of family movies, visited their roots in the Quad-Cities of Illinois, at the University of Illinois, and in Naples, Florida, and marveled at what a normal family they are. Any of us—actually, all of us—face losses in life, and we need to know that Someone holds us and even redeems our brokenness. There is a heaven and there is reunion coming in Him.  

Wendy: What is your advice for writers who find themselves shying away from deep topics for fear of being vulnerable?

Erin: Our vulnerable places are where our most meaningful connections with readers happen. I’m convinced that writers write to help process our own “stuff,” and readers read to connect with others who have similar questions of life. We’re in this gig together, more or less, and growth and unity happen when we understand together. Being ready to share is a personal journey, but take the risk and share a bit more than feels comfortable as long as there is purpose in it. Share the growth, share the question, share the hope. Share the confusion. Someone out there needs the blessing of knowing she is not alone in her junk, and oftentimes a second someone who comes to understand that truth is the writer herself.

Wendy: How many years have you been writing and what are some of your greatest lessons learned?

Erin: If I really get technical about the years, I have been writing since I was ten. That’s when I wrote my first Young Authors’ book. (The Mystery of the Jellybean Factory won that contest, BTW, so I guess it made me an award-winning writer!) I wrote a bit for my college newspaper and literary journal, and then after graduating I wrote bits for some of our team’s publications at Tyndale House, where I was a Special Sales editor. We specialized in selling to crossover markets. The bulk of my writing began eleven years ago after I married and moved to Arkansas. Having to leave my in-house, full-time job was both daunting and exciting. I had to find my own work, but I also had time to pursue it. It was sink or swim, and it’s been a fun job to have while settling in to a new place and then while my kids were tiny. We’re finishing up our first year with both kids full-time in school, and it’s been another learning phase for me as I find new definitions for balancing work and family life. My heart needs both, and both can be lovely and demanding at once.           

My greatest lessons learned? Wow, that’s a good question. I’ve been in publishing for two decades now, and there are projects I wish could redo. I was tenacious and accurate—to a fault sometimes in the early years. I’ve learned grace in many areas of life, and work is no exception. I’m always learning to release perfectionism and to delight in knowing that sometimes when I struggle with feelings of inadequacy, those times often are what yield the most encouraging comments from readers and editors. Writing is definitely an area where the Lord has provided in just the right way and time, over and over again. The art has become its own faith language I’ve come to know with God.   

Wendy: What are you hoping readers feel after they’ve read your book, The Hope of Heaven?

Erin: Awe at the love and majesty of this God who is beyond us yet cherishes us. Hope in the truth that this life is not the end. Grace that our weaknesses are held but don’t have to be held against us. Joy despite loss because we can know the Bridge in this life who will carry us to forever, when we believe. Beauty in healing. Mercy in depending. Deepening love for the other souls we live among on earth.

 Wendy: What are you working on now?

 Erin: I’m 30K words into a novel that keeps trying to kick my butt. It’s going to come down to sheer stubbornness to get this thing done. Love the story but my brain is drowning in details to make all the loose ends work. It is a romantic suspense that begins in a filthy Nazi barrack then journeys to New York’s Hudson Valley. Both places fascinate me.

As for nonfiction, I’m waiting to hear back about a kids’ devotional opportunity and for just the right editor for a collaborative narrative nonfiction proposal that I can’t say more about for now. I am excited about both.



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