Recently, Susan sat down with a writer-friend to answer these questions:
Why a book about China?
"Well, this particular story began to be written in the summer of 1992. My friend, David, gave me the keys to his beach house in Pebble Beach and it began pouring out, as I walked along the ocean and typed in his massive kitchen. At the end of the summer, I returned the rented computer, put all the pages into a plain cardboard box and shoved it into a closet. It wasn't until five years later, in 1997, that I realized the story was not going to rest quietly, just gathering dust. It was almost as if it had a life of its own, and refused to be forgotten...so I took the box to China with me and kept writing...for the next ten years. I wrote between classes, on long snowy northern Chinese weekends, on Chinese trains and sitting in plastic airport chairs. It seemed to evolve into a book that is really a combination of two lives: my life in California and my life in Asia; two very different worlds.
I think it seemed very natural at some point, to write of a remarkably poignant journey that met in a healing point while living in a crumbled country, broken by its own history. My life at that point seemed very much the same - broken, falling apart, and dark.
So, this is a story that combines two different worlds, then?
Absolutely. And it is remarkable how those two worlds are really very much the same. I can't help but think that we are all the same, really. Asians living in a third world country and Americans living in a first world country - we all want and desire wholeness, beauty, and meaning. And that's what this book is about - the struggle to find those things we once knew, no matter where on this globe we happen to be. People everywhere need something fundamentally hopeful and truthful, especially once their basic emotional scaffolding has collapsed.
What was the biggest challenge about this project?
Probably finding long blocks of time to write while holding down demanding teaching jobs! Being single helped a lot with that...coming home in the evenings meant being able to write without interruptions. But harder than that, deciding what to tell, what to keep private was agonizing. I discussed it with my best friends and with my brothers...how does one decide these things? Each person's reality is slightly different than the another's...and I kept changing the book to reflect the state of my parents' current emotional well-being, especially in light of the fact that my Mother has a chronic terminal illness. I don't think anyone really wants to add more pain to an already heartbreaking situation.
In the end, I finally reached a comfortable position by omitting some of the most painful events, deciding to leave those for a future book of some sort. I mean, the journey I walked through along with my brothers was indeed complicated and excruciating and - certainly valuable in bringing me to a surprisingly deeper place with God. I can look back on some of the issues in my family life now with an awed appreciation at the way God works it all together for His purposes...alcoholism, gambling, early abuse...and while I have not chosen to go into some of that in the detail I might have, all of that has made me into a stronger and more whole and sensitive person. They have informed my writing, surely, and it remains to be seen to how much an extent. I do know that eventually I will share most all my journey - it just has to be the right time.
But you did share extensively about your marriage...
Yes, I did. And that was with the permission of my former husband. Long ago, he gave me his verbal go-ahead to feel free to write anything I felt might be part of a larger story, anything that might help others along their way...and that's what I did in this book.
And you also included a devastating event that happened to you in your church...
To some degree, I did share that, yes. But again, I held back to make sure I wouldn't offend some of my readers. I spoke more about the patterns and conversations that led up to the catastrophic events that occured in my life when I worked at a large California church. These were pivotal in the temporal break down of my spiritual hope and It took a long time to recover - to realize that God's plans and God's promises had never changed, even though I had failed Him.
Susan, what do you hope to give readers through this book?
There is so much I hope to offer through this book. Not only a factual glimpse into everyday life in China as I found it unfolding in 1997, but a story of ultimate hope. The fact that once God writes His words of love into our hearts, He will not give up on us...no matter what. I think of so many who have experienced the church at its deepest levels, especially the families of ministers who have turned away, and who are honestly feeling...well, lost. These are the people I wrote this book for, I think. I want to say, "I know how it feels to suddenly have nowhere to go, no church to call home..." And I want to say, "God will keep you close, next to His heart, He hasn't gone anywhere and is still the same." No matter what.
Now what's next in your writing endeavors?
Other than a few articles published in magazines, this is my first published piece and it's exciting and scary all at the same time.
I have another book mostly completed - a book about the lessons and joys teaching has given me...and ideas for a novel have been outlined...other than that, I will be open and patient and sensitive to the leading of God, who is intimately involved with every aspect of my life. His call to me for decades now has been a quiet, consistent, "Write, write, write..." So that's what I will do - every single day.
Susan Elaine Jenkins's