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Monday, March 13, 2006

Author Interview ~ Mary DeMuth

Mary DeMuth began her writing career as a newsletter editor, then novelist, columnist and freelance writer. She lives in France with her husband and three children.

What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

Watching the Tree Limbs
is released March 15th with NavPress. It’s my first published novel, although I’ve written two other nonfiction titles. I’m particularly excited about this book because it deals with an impossible situation—childhood sexual abuse—and the redemptive hand of God. When the two collide, something beautiful happens in the life of the protagonist. I’ve been blessed by some really fun reviews, particularly a huge surprise from Publisher’s Weekly.

You can read it here.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

I started writing when I was a wee one. I was bolstered by a kind comment from my second grade teacher. She told my mom I had a creative mind. I graduated with a degree in English. I taught squirrelly seventh and eighth graders English for a few years before settling down and having some children. After Sophie, my first, was born, I decided to write a for-profit newsletter about how to manage your home well with the view of giving. I had been reading these tightwad publications, driving my husband absolutely crazy. When he asked me whether I was going to save his belly button lint and knit a sweater, I realized I had gone overboard. I needed to manage what I had well in order to give. So, I published The Giving Home Journal for three years in the early nineties. That lead to several stints as a newsletter editor in the churches we attended.

We moved from Seattle to Palestine, Texas in 1998—our first cross-cultural experience! There, I started writing short stories and articles, but none of them were published. We moved to Dallas in 2000 so my husband could get his ThM at Dallas Seminary. There, I met my dear friend and writing mentor Sandra Glahn. She helped me craft my first query letter, and when I eventually sold a piece to a Christian magazine, I took her out to lunch. Soon after, I started writing a novel.

I had researched the life of my great grandmother during the Great Depression. Her husband died in a rock quarry accident, leaving her with seven children. I fictionalized her life in what now is a book entitled Crushing Stone. I brought that to my first big writer’s conference (Mount Hermon) in 2002. That book helped me secure Chip MacGregor as my agent. When I got his email, I screamed and jumped up and down! My kids thought I was dying!

Chip helped steer me to write two parenting books because he had read my weekly newspaper column. Those books are: Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God (Harvest House) and Building the Christian Family You Never Had (WaterBrook). The latter book released this year, and the novel just coming out has a sequel entitled
Wishing on Dandelions that releases in September. I don’t recommend having three books release in one year. It’s way too crazy.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

To use a French-ism, OUI! Yes, of course. I’m writing a parenting book about parenting in a postmodern context right now and it’s slow going. I write a chapter and think, “What in the world am I doing?” Thankfully, I have a great critique group called Life Sentence who have been gracious to say the book will be good despite my self doubts.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

I submitted entire articles without querying because I didn’t know any better. I have a rejection letter from Marriage Partnership ten years prior. When I do a query workshop, I hold up the rejection letter and then hold up a “we’ll publish this article” letter and tell my students to never give up. It took me ten years to sell an article!

Another mistake: I probably bother my agent too much. (I’m now agented by the lovely Beth Jusino at Alive).

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

Write from your passion. You are stuck with a book for several months. You need to be in love with it. That passion will carry you through the down days.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?

I can’t recall any right now. I’m kind of a writer-advice junkie. I love reading writing books!

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

Trust yourself. I’ve changed some bits of prose out of fear because I hadn’t yet developed confidence in either my voice or craft.

Do you have a scripture or quote that has been speaking to you lately?

“Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). The Lord is teaching me much about abundance, about giving and ministering from His abundance instead of my lack. I want to write, live, love and give with cheerfulness because of His great treasures He’s given me.

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?

My first novel, Crushing Stone, has yet to sell. Publishers like the writing and the plot, but they’re freaked out that it’s set during the Depression.

I also HATE bad reviews. They make me want to slink under the covers and never emerge again. I need to work on this!

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

This recent novel, Watching the Tree Limbs, because it is based on personal experience (unfortunately). Many, many, many kids are sexually abused in the world. It’s a pandemic. I wanted to offer hope to the many struggling victims—that God can redeem it. Using the vehicle of story, I believe, helps convey the message better than a didactic textbook.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

Yeah. The image-drivenness of this biz. I could barely handle going to ICRS last year and seeing all the huge posters of people’s faces and all the Jesus junk being sold.

When I grow up (if that ever happens!), I want to be like Randy Alcorn. He said this in a letter he wrote to me: “The issue you raise is critical, and most of us fail the test of prosperity and popularity. Christian publishing and other aspects of the evangelical sub-culture really feed into the celebrity mentality and it changes people for the worse, often derailing them from the genuine ministry God first entrusted to them. I appreciate you and your desire not to drift off course. Your opportunities can be used for the Lord, but they could also undermine your character, family and walk with Christ. You are right to be concerned.”

Before I met my agent, I recounted to Jesus all the pain and heartache in my life. He said to me, “You have endured many, many trials. But will you withstand the trial of notoriety?” I pray that if notoriety comes, I will withstand that trial. I pray I will serve and be gracious and teachable. I pray I will welcome edits, no matter how many books I sell.

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?

I wake up at 7, try to run for a bit, then get ready, eat, and walk our kids to school. (We live in France, so I do a lot of walking!) I write all day until 4:30 until I pick them back up. But there are several times during the week where I have to attend to church planting things. I am in charge of worship and publications, and am one of six team members. We have our first public service April 8th, so we’re all really busy with that right now. I’m having a hard time squeezing everything in.

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?

The graciousness of Randy Alcorn, as well as his eternal perspective.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

I want folks to finish a book of mine and be changed. I can’t think of a better feeling than that.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

No. I love it. Unless God told me not to, I’ll keep doing this until I’m crossing over to heaven.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?
Favorite: getting to write, as well as all the amazing friends I’ve made because I’m in this business. Least Favorite: I fear what getting published may do to my heart for Jesus.

How much marketing do you do? Any advice in this area?

I do what I can from France. I blog. ( I guest blog. I do blog tours for my books. I have done a lot of radio. I speak at conferences. I respond quickly to my readers. I joined Amazon Connect (a great thing!). I’ve tried to be very responsive and professional.

Parting words?

Love Jesus first. Then write.


  1. Mary, thanks for sharing your journey. I just finished Peace Live A River (your former agent suggested it) and it was amazing!

    I think most of us share your burden to not let our writing get in the way of our relationship.

    In the business we're in that can be hard. You're the first interviewee who's mentioned that side of things.

    Congratulations on your first published novel. I hope the first one finds a home soon too.

  2. Thanks for your gracious words, Gina.

    Peace Like a River is like brain candy for me.

  3. I devoured your words and wisdom, Mary. Thank you for sharing. I love the journey God takes us on when He calls us to write. I pray we all handle the notoriety with grace and pass the glory on to Whom it belongs.

    I haven't read Peace Like A River yet, but I've heard such wonderful things about it, I'm anxious to get it now.

  4. Thanks for a great interview, Mary. And thanks, Gina, for giving it to us. I see your posts, Mary, on ACFW and always enjoy reading them.

    Matthew 6:33 is one of my life verses (sorry, I have many; I was raised in the South on the Bible and Nana's layer cakes and not necessarily in that order!), and it says, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and then all these things will be added to you." That goes along with what you said about not letting our writing come before our relationship with Jesus. We need to put the Lord above everything else, and the neat thing is, if we do that, He WILL add good things to our lives.

    Thanks for that reminder.

    BTW, I love your photos. They always show you laughing. What neat poses. Who thought of that? How did that come about? I laugh a lot, too, and since seeing your photos, I want to get some of me laughing!

    God bless you, Mary.

  5. Wonderful Mary:

    1. As long as you retain some of that "I'm published" fear regarding what it will do to you heart, you will be fine. My prayer since before I was published has been, "God, don't let me be more successful than I can handle." You'll be amazed (said with a wry smile) at the ways He'll find to humble you along the way, whatever your level of success.

    2. Building on #1, large photos of authors up at ICRS--which symbolize success in book sale numbers--isn't really the problem, I don't think. Hey, if you're selling lots of books, you're getting your message out to lots of people. That's God's blessing. Again, it's what you do with your heart along the way. And with prayer and the right focus (which you clearly have), you will be fine.

    3. First time I see your photo up at ICRS, I'm gonna have a joyous laughing session with God. He'll be pleased with all the changed hearts because of your message; I'll be pleased. And again, don't worry. He'll keep ya humble. (Remember there are always those bad reviews.)

    Lotsa love,

    ~ Brandilyn

  6. Your interview brought up some great pondering points. Thanks.

    Love your husband's comment about belly button lint - great idea for a chick lit - don't you think?

  7. Ane, you must read PLAR!

    Kristy, It just so happened that I've been selecting laughing photos. The one posted today is my new photo taken last week by a good friend of mine in Holland. Perhaps it's my desire coming out to be more playful.

    If I get a big blow up of me at ICRS, I'm hoping you and I can sneak in at night with ladders and draw nerd glasses on me, or at least a villain mustache. Are you game?

    Kelly, hmmm, good idea!

  8. Mary,

    As always, you make me smile. Thanks for letting me tag along on your life and publishing journey.

    Your fellow Life Sentence-er.

  9. Waving to you D'Ann! We're in this crazy thing for life, aren't we?

  10. Wonderful interview, Gina and Mary.

    Mary, I am desperate to find the time to read WTTL.

    Soon is too long a wait. :-)


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