Today’s feature is a little different than most of the books we have talked about on our porch lately, but it was such a joy to read! Michelle DeRusha penned 50 Women Every Christian Should Know and I soaked up every page. If the title sounds familiar, you may be thinking of the great Warren Wiersbe’s book 50 People Every Christian Should Know. I thought is was so awesome that he endorsed the work by saying, “This book is rich in inspiration and information. Reading it opened my eyes, broadened my vision, and challenged my faith. I highly recommend it to both men and women!” What a privilege as an author to hear those words!
This book is filled with vignettes of 50 women, heroines even, throughout the last 900 years of history that have had indelible marks upon our Christian history. The book included the women we would expect it to such as Susanna Wesley, Lottie Moon, Corrie Ten Boom, and Dorothy Sayers. There were other well-known women of the faith like Hannah Whitall Smith, Amy Carmichael, Madeleine L’Engle, and the precious Ruth Bell Graham. But the book also includes bios of women I had never heard of, like Saint Birgitta, Jarena Lee, Pandita Ramabai, and Gladys Aylward. I cannot imagine the hours of research that went into this project! This book did not get too deeply into theology, but instead told the story of these women and at the end of each chapter showed ways these women related to me. I loved it! I loved learning more about the heroines of my faith and what strong women they were. If you are a history buff, love Jesus, and are inspired by strong women this is a must read for you!
Without further chit-chat from me, welcome Michelle!!
Tell us a little about your book.
50 Women Every Christian Should Know is a compilation of short biographies of women in Christian history, beginning with some of the saints and mystics and covering 900 years, all the way up to the 21st century.
How long did it take you to write the book?
It took about eight months to do the research and write the first draft of the book, which was then followed by three more months of revising and editing.
What was your favorite chapter or part of the book to write and why?
It’s so hard to choose only one woman out of fifty! But if I had to pick, I’d say a woman by the name of Mary McLeod Bethune. She was an African-American woman who lived during the late 19th century and early 20th century. As a black woman in post-Civil War America, she faced overwhelming obstacles (for example, she trained to become a missionary in Africa, only to be told when she completed her schooling that “Negroes” were not allowed to do mission work in Africa), but she persevered in courage and faith. When a door closed, instead of succumbing to defeat, she simply turned her attention to another avenue. After being barred from overseas mission work, Bethune founded a school for young black girls in Daytona, Florida. That school is still thriving today – now known as Bethune-Cookman College. “If I have a legacy to leave my people,” she wrote in her will, “it is my philosophy of living and serving.” Mary McLeod Bethune lived out that philosophy to the fullest.
What was your biggest challenge or hurdle in writing and publishing your book?
The research for this book was particularly daunting. More than once, I wanted to give up, convinced I could not condense a person’s life and contributions into just a few pages! It was a good challenge, though, and I think it strengthened me as a writer. Writing this book helped me realize the importance of getting to the heart of a story, and it taught me how to make ruthless cuts, which in turn made each chapter more powerful.
What is the one thing you hope your readers will walk away with after reading your book?
I wrote this in the introduction of the book, but I’ll repeat it here: The stories of these fifty women are our stories too. In their stories, we observe our own struggles, flaws, desires, and joys. Just because they are our “heroines” of the faith doesn’t mean they were perfect and infallible. They struggled, they persevered, they made mistakes, they triumphed – so much of what was relevant in their lives is relevant to our lives too.
If you could go back through the writing, publishing, and marketing experience would you do anything differently?
I would try to trust the process and trust that God has a plan for who he needs to reach with my words. I worried a lot about this book because it’s quite different from my first book, which is a memoir, and I was anxious this book wouldn’t find its audience. But 50 Women has been successful (in terms of sales), and I have to say, its success has had little to do with me. Not that I didn’t work hard to try to get the word out, but 50 Women took on a life of its own and reached people I never expected it to. Looking back, I wish I had trusted God more in both the process and the outcomes.
Do you have any suggestions to help others become better writers? If so, what are they?
Well, this sounds like a no-brainer, and you’ve probably heard this advice before, but write when you can. I think sometimes we assume we need large blocks of time to “really write,” but that is a myth. I do some of my best writing on the fly: when I’m sitting in the mini-van with the laptop on the seat next to me, dashing out a blog post during my son’s soccer practice; when I have 20 minutes to spare and I use them to jot down a few thoughts; when I carry a journal or notebook with me and whip it out to write a paragraph or two.
The other thing I would suggest (and this one is harder) is to write as vulnerably and authentically as you can. People relate to personal story, and even more, they relate to real, authentic personal story – stories in which they see themselves. Anne Lamott said it like this: “If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Don’t worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it.”
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I love photography (I’m a total amateur; I’ve never even read my camera manual), reading, running and being outside, whether that’s sitting on a lounge chair on my back patio, puttering in the garden, or listening to birds, or hiking in a new place. I’m happiest when I’m outdoors.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I thought I wanted to be a teacher…until I went all the way through a secondary education program, including a semester of student teaching in a high school classroom, and realized I hated it! Then I went to graduate school, because I had no idea what else to do with my life at that point.
Chocolate or Vanilla?
Chocolate! No contest!
Are you a person who makes their bed in the morning, or do you not see much point?
I make the bed every day. My husband calls me “Triple Type A,” so that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about my bed-making and other cleaning habits.
Where can we buy your book?
50 Women Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Heroines of the Faith is available on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com – as well as in some Barnes and Noble stores.
Where can we connect with you?
Anna Smit says
What a wonderful interview. Thanks so much for this, Jen and Michelle. Sounds like a great book. I’m pretty sure I read a book about Gladys Aylward’s life as a kid (remember that name!). I devoured books about missionaries as a preteen- the stories were powerful.
I’ve passed the advice for writing on to a friend as well: such useful advice.
That’s awesome Anna. You would love the one as well 🙂