In 2020, I read Jenifer Fulwiler’s Your Blue Flame. It’s about discovering and doing the things you enjoy and make you come alive. It’s not about making big changes like quitting your job, selling everything you own, and moving across the country but about making space in the busyness of your everyday life to cultivate your unique talents.
On deciding what “your blue flame” is, Fulwiler writes, “Where’s an area where I can handle the pain of the work better than the people around me? The area where you are more well equipped to suffer is the work you were made to do.”
This quote resonates with me because I recognize that I’m willing to suffer for my writing. I’m willing to scrap a lot of hours of work to start something over. I’m willing to ruminate over a single word knowing there’s a better one out there to convey my idea. In no other part of my life am I so stubborn and particular. For nothing else am I willing to fail over and over and still get back up.
Your Blue Flame helped me to recognize why the next steps with Candle’s Great Feast were so difficult. Writing the story was step one, and there were far more steps after that than I realized, none of which involved much writing.
You see, I knew publishing would break my happy little writing place which includes a couch, laptop, candle (a real one that smells like Holiday Sparkle or something), tea, and silence. Publishing involves other people. It involves research, submitting proposals to publishers, waiting, getting rejected, wondering about self-publishing, researching some more, waiting some more, and doubting the point of it all. Ugh.
But God kept reminding me about what became affectionately known as “my candle story,” and I knew I had to make an honest effort to get it out there. The next step was getting other people to read it. Friends and family enjoyed it and encouraged me to move forward, but I knew what I really needed was to show it to a few strangers, who would be more inclined to give me their opinions straight without concern for my feelings.
I discovered a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) group in Fargo and met with them. Whoever had a draft of a children’s book to share brought copies for everyone and read their work out-loud. The group then provided feedback. I brought a different children’s book I’d written first, one to which I felt less attached. The group enjoyed it, but agreed it wasn’t quite “there” yet. Their feedback was courteous yet blunt and genuine, so I knew this group was where I needed to be in order for “my candle story” to thrive.
I was a lot more nervous bringing this story for two reasons. One, I really liked it and didn’t want to see it torn apart. Two, it’s Catholic. It’s about the Mass and the Eucharist. Now I never want to be afraid to show my faith, but that doesn’t mean I’m not nervous about it. It’s also one thing to reveal your faith when someone asks or if a conversation naturally brings your faith to light. It’s quite another to launch it out there unprompted. I brought the story anyway, knowing the regret of being a coward would be worse than an hour of discomfort.
What happened next was the first of many unexpected blessings on this publishing journey. I made someone cry.
For a writer, making someone cry—or feel any emotion deeply—is the ultimate victory. Stories are fickle, and you never fully know if you land all the details right until someone else tells you. Even then, people can still withhold their true reaction, especially if they have a difficult time explaining why they like or don’t like something. Tears don’t lie.
The woman who cried shared how the story reminded her of Jesus’ pure love and how much she appreciated her church community. Someone else said the story spoke of the gift of faith. The power of hope. The joy of persistence.
Their reactions allowed me to see the story from new perspectives and reminded me that not everyone leaves a story with the same emotion. A good story allows the reader to place themselves and their experiences in it in order to learn more about themselves or the world. Knowing I managed this boosted my confidence to prepare me for more difficult tasks ahead.