Julie Carobini

Best-selling author Julie Carobini writes seaside novels filled with faith, flip-flops, and waves of grace. Her fifth novel, Fade to Blue, will be released by B&H this month. Julie is the recipient of two writing awards from the The National League of American Pen Women, and her books Truffles by the Sea (2008) and Sweet Waters (2009) were ACFW Carol Award Finalists. She is a member of ACFW, RWA, and CAN. Julie and her husband, Dan, have three children and live on California’s central coast. To learn more about Julie’s books, visit her Website: www.juliecarobini.com.

Writing at the Crossroads

I don’t start off intending to write issue-driven stories. By that I mean that I don’t think of a charged issue like, say, abortion, and then decide to write a story around the topic. Instead, the issues that crop up in my novels come about organically from the lives of the characters. (Kind of an artsy, overused word, but you get the picture, right?

There are all kinds of approaches to writing, but my favorite reads have always been character-driven. So when writing my own books, it’s natural for me to start with the heroine and/or hero. Just today I was thinking about a character, when a torrent of words that describe her came to mind so quickly that I had to find the closest crayon—and get that info down on paper!

You write fiction, too, so I’m sure you can relate.

So about those issues that crop up in novels … in my last book, a supporting character Suz continues to pray for her soon-to-be ex-husband, even as he sits in jail for committing a felony. In the next novel, Fade to Blue, Suz is the heroine. I already had a strong sense of her character, so I began the process of asking, “What if …?” and applying those questions to this very real person in my mind.

What if …

But just when she does …

What if …

And at about that time …

What if…

Ah … a story had begun! I started planning that novel with the hope of finding out what happened next for single-mother Suz, and as I followed her, it quickly became apparent that one aspect of the story—her divorce in the midst of faith—would become an issue. So I continued to write and plan, to follow Suz on her path of finding out what she wanted to do, and to learn if her desires matched up with her faith.

Inevitably, my heroine found herself at a crossroads.

Can I be honest here? If faith wasn’t a thread in this story, I could let my character do or say whatever pop culture dictated. The issue of her divorce might not have been an issue at all and some other conflict would have risen to the top of the plot point chain. (And it probably would have been a lot easier for me to navigate too.) In Suz’s case, however, her faith is the point on which she pivots, so how could I ignore her struggle?

As Christians who write, we have to be so careful, though, don’t we? The last thing I’d want to do as an author would be to steer someone wrong, or as the Bible says, “cause my brother to stumble.” Yet I have no interest in sermonizing either. Instead, I want my characters, no matter what the issue, to struggle with their decisions the way we all do. And that means that as writers we too have to press in to those corners we inevitably find ourselves.

The answers don’t always come easily. Maybe you’re like me, and you often find yourself listening to voices other than your muse. There are readers, of course, but also reviewers, editors, and marketers—even critique partners—who all have opinions about what our characters should or should not do. Daunting, isn’t it? But in Jeremiah 6:16, the Lord gives this advice to savor: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls” (NIV).

To writers, this verse suggests standing at the crossroads with our characters. It suggests contemplation, prayer, and continuing to show up and write, even through the tough patches.

With Fade to Blue, after I prayed and wrestled to the point of a nearly giving myself an ulcer over my heroine’s decisions, my pastor “happened” to deliver a sermon that provided the perspective necessary to taking that first step out of her crossroads—and I was ready with pen in hand. Don’t you love it when that happens? No peptic medication necessary!

I love what Donald Maas says in Writing the Breakout Novel: “Some say success as an author requires a big ego: I say that it requires a big heart.” So true. Not only that, I believe that those big hearts must be softened by our experiences with God’s grace.

Next time you find yourself at a crossroads in your novel, don’t shy away, instead press in. Pray hard. Shut out the voices for a while. Instead, think about what it’s like to hold a seashell; turn it over in your hand. Though they’re often tossed into the sea with nary a glance, seashells are intricately beautiful—even when broken. The more you examine your characters’ lives, no matter how shattered or sinful they may be, the more beauty can be found. Why? Because it’s in those dark places where God’s grace shines brightest.


All For One