Last week, we talked with author Ann Voskamp about her book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. In Part 2 of the interview, we talk to Ann about writing in general, the farm where she lives with her family, her journey to publication, and readers’ response to the book.
Glynn: Ann, the writing you do for your blog, A Holy Experience, is the kind of writing we find in your book. When did you know you were a writer?
Ann: I am not sure that I know that yet, Glynn. Maybe for some of us there is never a knowing of this. Chesterton self-identified not as a writer, but a "scribbler." Maybe that is all I can stumble into. Yes, the writing of the book came out of the blog, this space where I net and catch the days.
I only come to see that which I scribble down. It's a handicap, this scratching it down. Some folks understand their life in the living it—I can only see it, understand it, in the second living of it: the writing of it. Thus, why I keep blogging.
You tell stories of the farm, wonderful stories as well as ones that can leave us gasping, like the fan accident with one of your younger sons when you had to rush him to hospital. How does your life—your family’s life—on the farm influence your writing?
When we find our authentic voice, we speak out of our spiritual geography, our physical landscape, our familial topography. Stories have roots, and my stories return again and again to land, not only because this is who I am, dust to dust, but it is the essence of who we are as a family. We are dirt, and we are farmers, and I cannot find words apart from the soil we keep treading here. Glynn, I believe God placed each of us uniquely into a community—and He gives us one-of-a-kind stories wherever we find our feet.
How did your book come to be published? I understand there was some concern for a time when the acquiring editor left the publisher but then his replacement remained committed to publication (which I would say was a good idea on the part of the editor). Can you describe the publishing journey?
I confess—it wasn't a journey I quite intended to take or understood much about. Two readers (one of whom is a contributing editor here at TheHighCalling.org, Laura Boggess) were friends with an agent, and unbeknownst to me or each other, they both contacted this agent, Mr. Jensen, within 24 hours of each other. They gave him my contact information, which led him to offer to help develop a book proposal.
As the homeschooling dad of four with 35-plus years working in publishing in the CBA, Mr. Jensen was very sensitive and respectful to the callings of my life and to my uncertainty that this was the season to consider writing a book. My husband quietly asked that we step forward until God closed a door and we would pray that He make His way clear.
As I wrestled to write the proposal that needed to include three chapters, and eventually posted what would emerge as the thread of the first chapter of the book, High Calling contributing editor Gordon Atkinson reached out with a link and words of encouragement. The community at The High Calling was used of God to cultivate the very beginnings of One Thousand Gifts, and I am humbly indebted to the wisdom and grace of this place.
Mr. Jensen sent out the proposal in mid-October, 2008, and Andy Meisenheimer, the acquiring editor at Zondervan, took a crazy chance on a farmer's wife from Canada who wrote a bit slant. It was a ridiculous risk. As I wrote through 2009, Andy left Zondervan, and I was what they call in publishing "orphaned."
But Zondervan was committed, and the associate publisher, Sandy VanderZicht, graciously and expertly adopted the project. I wrote throughout 2009, submitted the manuscript in January 2010, and the book was released according to schedule, January 2011.
Thirty-one weeks now on the New York Times Best Seller list a year after release, translated into 14 languages, and a new gift book featuring photographs from the farm here, Selections from One Thousand Gifts: Finding Joy in What Really Matters just releasing—I am laid low throughout the whole process. It's obviously in spite of this woman and her words. It is His own unexpected global movement of thanksgiving, transformation and joy in Him.
The response to One Thousand Gifts has been extraordinary, Ann: best seller, glorious reviews (I know because I wrote one), readers blogging their own lists of a thousand gifts. Did you anticipate or expect this kind of reaction?
Simply, definitely: no. Glynn, I never anticipated anyone reading it—at all. I genuinely thought that no one would read it and that the book was just God's quiet gift to us, because of what God was doing in us through the writing of the book.
The book is written in its own idiosyncratic language—prose meeting poetry, a strange kind of language. Throughout Scripture, when a person came into the presence of God, the only language they had to stammer out anything was a different language than their vernacular. The only way to communicate their encounter with God was often through lyrical language. I didn't think a book written in that "prosetical" God-encounter language would ever find a real home out in the world.
But maybe that is exactly what we're all hungry for—a powerful, personal encounter with God in a language all of its own?
So what’s next? Are you working on the next book? (And how are you finding the time?)
John 3:27 has long been a life verse: "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven." Any words are a gift from Him: I can only faithfully wait for what He alone gives. Honestly, writing words for me is this startling experience of meeting the Word. I am excited to be waiting on Him every day—and watching Him slowly shape the next story in me and on the screen. Exhilarating! Sometimes instead of considering what is next, I have to simply consider what is—and He is and He is always enough.
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Read Part 1 here.
Image by Molly Morton-Sydorak. Used with permission. Interview by Glynn Young.