Answer the Call: Writing True-to-Life Christian Fiction with K.L. Gilchrist
In this episode, you’ll also hear:
- How K.L. strives to write Christian fiction that doesn’t gloss over real-life problems, but offers hope in the midst of them
- How to improve your writing craft when you receive critical feedback
- How to juggle writing and a busy home life without neglecting either
- The importance of having a solid writing community, even as an independent author
- K.L.’s advice for the writer who’s struggling with their manuscript
Be sure to read all the way to the end for important information, links, and a special offer for Publishing Secrets listeners!
When some people think of Christian fiction, they may think of dry, boring stories with no literary value. But what if we could change that perception? What if we could somehow show the world that Christian fiction can be just as entertaining as secular fiction? Imagine a world where Christians are the ones leading the charge in providing captivating, thought-provoking stories.
K.L. Gilchrist is here to do just that. She reminds us that we have the power to change people’s perception of our faith and show them that Christianity is about far more than just rules and regulations. Rather, Christian fiction can be used as a tool to share the gospel and make the Bible come alive for people who might not ordinarily read it. So if you’ve been thinking about using your creative gifts and talents for fiction, K.L. has just the word for you.
Christian Fiction Means Writing with God in the Mix
Novels have always been a big part of K.L.’s life. Her love of fiction didn’t change after she became a Christian at the age of 23, but she knew that, if she did write novels, her faith would have to be involved in some way: “I wouldn't just write a thriller for the sake of writing a thriller, or a mystery just for mysteries, but God would somehow be in the mix.”
Still, the exact vision of what it would look like to partner with God as a novelist didn’t come to K.L. right away, much to her surprise. Instead, God took a few years to mature her in her faith first. Now, K.L. writes Christian fiction – or, as she says, “Stories that have Christians in them.” She wants to present an accurate view of who Christians really are, not how Christians are often portrayed.
Real Christians struggle with real-life issues, and so do K.L.’s characters. But they also gain strength and hope from God. “My mission is to have stories that show that God is still very much here,” she explains. “That He's still very much moving in our lives – in our contemporary lives. He has not gone anywhere. He is still on a throne and He is moving… So if you look at any of my books, in the middle of any circumstance that someone is struggling with, God is right there. I wanted to have a way to let God work through me and be in these characters and be around these characters, and show that He's still in the mix.”
K.L.’s stories fill a gap for many Christians. Especially as young Christians, we are often given the message that being a Christian isn’t a lot of fun. That there are too many rules, and you have to make sure to do everything right.
But a piece that’s often missing, even in a lot of Christian fiction, is how to deal with real-life struggles – and how to address those struggles in a way that’s honest, clean, entertaining, and shows how God is present in all of those real-life issues. And that’s exactly what Christian fiction like K.L.’s novels can do.
The Journey to K.L.’s First Novel
However Christian fiction isn’t the only thing K.L. writes. Even before she started publishing her novels, she was earning money as a corporate technical writer through marketing communications. But she’s learned that technical writing and novel writing are two very different skills.
What K.L. thought would be a smooth transition from her previous writing (and reading!) experience into writing her first novel turned out to be a reality check instead. She thought she knew what she was doing, but she soon realized she still had a lot to learn.
“When you read a lot of different authors, you feel like it's easy,” K.L. says. “You think, oh yeah, I can tell a story. And you can make a story with just a beginning, a middle, and an end. But that doesn't necessarily mean that you're telling the story and hitting the beats the way that you need to so that people stay engaged in a novel.”
After submitting that first novel to a few publishers and receiving feedback, K.L. had to take a step back, humble herself, and do some more learning. She asked herself, “What do novelists really do when they really want to make a good project? What they do is they go to conferences, and they get books, and they become humble, and learn. And so that's what I did.” K.L. put in time and effort to learn how to effectively structure a novel, ultimately repurposing much of the content of her original book into a new one.
Even then, it wasn’t as easy as just submitting the book and getting it published. K.L.’s new first novel received better feedback, but it still wasn’t exactly what the publishers she spoke to were interested in. Discouraged, K.L. sought God’s guidance on her next steps. He led her to self-publish, filling her with assurance that her talent would not be wasted – and it certainly has not been. Even five years later, K.L. is still seeing sales for that first novel.
K.L. gives God all the credit for her success, and trusts that He will continue to guide her: “He impressed in my spirit that I should continue to do what I'm doing: continue to write to His glory and continue to to put products out as professionally as I could.”
K.L.’s story reminds us that just because you’ve been called to something doesn’t mean there isn’t a process you’ll have to go through first. You might receive critical feedback, or things might not turn out exactly how you thought they would, but that doesn’t mean your call is invalid. Just as a fiction writer has to develop a character for their story, God works on us to develop us into the people He wants us to become.
It’s Not About You
Part of that character development authors must go through is learning that writing a book isn’t about you – it’s about the person who will read your book and be impacted by it for the better. Publishing is a very competitive field, and there’s constant pressure to jump on whatever trend is happening at the moment. While K.L. admits it’s tempting to follow these trends, she also holds fast to the mission and stories that God has given her.
“God is at the forefront, and I go with what He impresses in my spirit to write,” K.L. explains. “Now, if I happen to get on trend, as a part of what He has for me, that's all good. But I don't think I'll ever be the type of person who chases trends, because I am here to have that mission of there's a story that somebody needs to read, because they're going through something.”
Despite the pressure and competition, K.L. has seen firsthand that following God’s calling instead of just writing what’s popular comes with its own rewards. For example, she was once contacted by a woman who had read her novel and felt as though it had been written about her exact experiences. “She said, ‘I went through this, and how this novel ended helped me,’” K.L. recalls. “And I said, “That right there: that's why I'm writing. That's why I'm here – to provide some hope. Someone's going to see themselves in these pages.”
That’s why K.L. continues to write about characters who struggle with real-life problems. Everyone deals with things like relationships, grief, jealousy, and so much more, and K.L. is committed to helping people find a glimpse of hope in the midst of all of that.
But that’s not to say everything K.L. writes about is serious – she also enjoys injecting her stories with light-hearted humor to help people enjoy life and look for rainbows after the rain.
Ultimately, writing with her audience in mind helps K.L. stay humble and grounded. “All of us who are artists for the Lord, it hits us that this is a labor of love,” she says. “He's working through us; we just allow our hands, our heads, and our hearts to be used by him.”
Balancing Writing & Family as a Busy Mom
Author isn’t the only hat K.L. wears. In addition to her Christian fiction and nonfiction writing, K.L. is first and foremost a wife and mother. That’s a lot to juggle during ordinary times, but she says it got even more challenging during the pandemic.
Instead of having long hours of silence to work in, K.L. had to focus on her family’s needs – like homeschooling her daughter – and let some of her writing goals slide. “That was a growth experience,” she admits, “just being humble and saying, God is first in my life. My family is second, and I come after that. So does that affect my projects? Absolutely.”
Now that her daughter has returned to in-person schooling, K.L. has more time to herself for writing again, but she’s still ready to put it aside at a moment’s notice if any family members have an urgent need, “because people are ultimately more important. God puts us here for each other. That doesn't mean I don't have a responsibility to the projects and things that I'm writing on; it just means we're here mostly for each other. But when everybody's taken care of and everybody's good – I’m back in the office.”
In this way, being a writer requires a constant rebalancing of work and family life. It can be challenging to fit everything into our busy schedules. But if you’re serious about writing the message God has given you, you have to make time for it – even if that means getting up before anyone else is awake, or staying up after everyone else has gone to bed.
For K.L., that has sometimes meant writing between the hours of 4:00 and 6:00 in the morning before her baby woke up. Other times, it has meant putting her writing aside for a while so she can go dancing with her daughter.
“I want her to look back on this time,” K.L. says, “and not think that Mom shut her out because Mom is trying to build an audience for writing. I believe that it will come. I believe that God doesn’t allow His words to return void; He will always bring fruit through when we listen to Him. So I don't mind saying, okay, God is going to work this out. And I'm going to turn away sometimes from what I'm doing as a writer to make sure that my family, my friends are taken care of. We're here to love each other, here to keep each other. That's number one.”
This is where the rubber hits the road, because lots of people say they want to write. Lots of people say they want to be published authors. But it's going to take some sacrifices to make that happen. This publishing journey is full of unexpected plot twists – but it’s also very rewarding.
The Value of Community
K.L. has already seen publishing success, but she’s still on a journey. One recent action she took to get in front of a wider audience was to join our Christian Authors Network Podcast Tour. Through this process, she’s sharing the story of how she’s learned to navigate the different storms and adversities of her life, both as a writer and as a wife and mom.
She says the opportunity to join the tour came as an answer to prayer, because it gave her a community of fellow Christian authors to walk alongside her. “As an independent author, I felt like I was totally alone,” she explains, “until one day God kind of tapped on my shoulder and said, ‘No, you aren't.’ And if anyone wants to come along, and be a part of the Christian Authors Network, I would say do it, definitely. We're not meant to be alone in any work that we have to do for the Lord. We're not called to be by ourselves.”
K.L. is absolutely right. It can feel lonely at times as an author, especially when you're independent. And that's why having a community is so helpful: because you get to share the highs; you can have somebody to pick you up when there’s a low moment; and you're able to be inspired by others that are experiencing success, knowing that if God has done it for them, then He can do it for you too.
Because she values our community, K.L. has a special offer for Publishing Secrets listeners. Look for a “Publishing Secrets” tab on K.L.’s website, where you can download a free book.
God Is With You on the Journey
Maybe you, like K.L., feel God calling you to share the message He has given you – but at the same time, you’ve had your share of closed doors. Maybe you weren’t picked up by the publisher, or you received critical feedback on your manuscript. Or maybe you’ve hit other roadblocks and you simply don’t know how to move forward.
If that’s you, K.L. wants to encourage you to answer the call anyway: “God put a talent inside you that you’re not supposed to bury.” If you’re struggling with your manuscript – whether you’re working on Christian fiction or nonfiction, whether your story isn’t ready yet or you’re having trouble with pace, voice, character, or any other writing issues – it can be fixed. You can still improve your craft and improve your manuscript.
“The good news is this: God works through all things,” K.L. reminds us. “And anything that He has for you is for you.” You might have to be humble and willing to learn, but if God has called you to do something, He can and will equip you to carry it out.
K.L. concludes, “Accept where you are in the journey, and that God is right there on that road with you. So whether you're publishing independently or traditionally, He's right there, and He's never going to leave you. So answer the call.”
K.L. Gilchrist is an author of contemporary Christian fiction for women who want to be entertained, challenged, and inspired by stories that are true-to-life.
A graduate of Temple University and Palmer’s Eastern School of Christian Ministry (ESCM), K.L.'s career as a technical writer led her back to her first love: writing fiction books like Engaged for women who enjoy reading about faith in the midst of life's challenges.
She lives with her family in suburban Philadelphia, PA, and is known to dance whenever and wherever she can.
Connect with K.L.
Connect with Fellow Authors and Learn about the Podcast Tour: http://christianauthors.net/fbgroup