A spunky, sometimes reluctant pastor's wife of thirty-plus years, Jeanette Levellie, released her debut humor devotional, Two Scoops of Grace with Chuckles on Top in April. I've had the pleasure of reading Jeanette's blog for the past couple of years and know today's interview will be a treat. So get ready to share in a good time sprinkled with lots of laughter!
Maria: Welcome, Jen! Thanks for stopping by. Tell us how you got started writing for publication:
Jeanette: When my son was a baby, I wrote several poems for La Leche League (LLL), which they published in their international calendars. I was thrilled to see my work in print, delighted that people all over the globe were reading it. LLL offered me a job editing the newsletter for our local region, but I turned them down, since I had two small children at the time, and wanted to devote all my time to them. When they were a bit older, I started writing for a large church's daily devotional, and then my first article, Felines: Friend or Foe? was published by an educational magazine. Since then I've had hundreds of columns, articles, and stories published. Several of the columns I wrote for our local newspaper are included in my book, Two Scoops of Grace with Chuckles on Top.
Maria: You're an inspiration! Please tell us about your book:
Jeanette: It is a light-hearted look at God's enormous heart. I've taken 72 stories of everyday battles, brouhahas, and bliss, and added a touch of humor. My goal is to make you laugh, help you like yourself, and enable you to receive God's love. I've aimed it primarily at Christians, but it has some "salt" sprinkled in it as well, to make pre-believers thirsty to know Jesus. I'm honored that Two Scoops hit the #1 slot on Amazon in the Christian Humor/Family/Parenting category, which makes it a bestseller!
Maria: Wow, a BIG congratulations for achieving bestseller status, Jen! Did you always want to publish a book?
Jeanette: No. When readers of my newspaper column told me, "You should turn these into a book," I said, "NO, I shouldn't. That is hard work!" I was having fun with the column. I knew once I began pursuing publication, that I'd be committed to seeing it through. I didn't want to have to work at it. Not until my son suggested I should write a book did I seriously consider it. When I told him, "It could take me ten years to find a publisher and get a book on the shelves," he said, "Well, you're going to be doing something for ten years - why not this?" That did it. I began seeking the Lord, and He led step by step to where I am today.
Maria: Kudos to your son for encouraging you to publish your book! Where do you find the inspiration for your stories?
Jeanette: Mostly from stupid things I've done or messes I've gotten myself into. I share what I've learned about God's bottomless grace from my own misadventures. I also love to observe other people's nutty behavior, and draw funny conclusions from those. Every happening and encounter in my life is a potential story to write about, and I see humor in nearly everything and everybody. So be careful if you ever hang out with me - I may use you in my next book!
Maria: Thanks for the warning. How long did it take you to write the book and find a publisher?
Jeanette: You really don't want to know that, do you? Okay. Since the book is partly a compilation of my newspaper columns, you could say it took me ten years to write it, since I've been a columnist since 2001. About half the stories, I wrote specifically for the book in the last three years. It took me almost a year to find an agent, and then another two years to find a publisher. I don't want to discourage anyone by my long timeline. Everyone's path is different.
Maria: I appreciate your honesty. How did you find your agent?
Jeanette: I went to the Write to Publish conference in Wheaton, IL. I did what they told me to do, and researched the staff ahead of time. I picked out Diana Flegal of Hartline Literary as my top choice, since she represented non-fiction writers, and she looked like a gentle soul. I had no idea she was also a pastor's wife, like myself. When I met with her, we just clicked. It had to be the Holy Spirit guiding my steps, because she is the perfect agent for me. She gets my nutty sense of humor, and we've become great friends and prayer partners. But you really must do your homework on this one. It's better to have no agent than a bad one. You can check out a potential agent on a website called Predators and Editors. Also, find out some of the authors they represent, and interview them.
Maria: I love how the Lord works! Sounds like He led you to just the right agent. Since you work full-time outside your writing career, how do you manage your time?
Jeanette: You said the secret word: manage. If I don't manage my time, urgent things like finding a lost earring, perusing gourmet chocolate catalogs, and building a fence to put around my kitty litter boxes, distract me. When I first became serious about publishing a book, I decided to spend an hour a day writing. I'd come home from work, eat supper, then hide away in the computer room and write. I overrode my feelings, doubts, and distractions to stick to my plan. It is never easy to discipline your flesh, but it yields a harvest of blessing in the end. For me, that blessing is a published book.
Maria: Time management IS super important! I'm glad you elected to write your book rather than build that fence for your kitty litter boxes! On a more serious note, what part does prayer play in your writing career?
Jeanette: A big part. I can do nothing without Jesus. I know that. So I ask Him to open doors for me, and lead me to people who can help me, direct my steps, and give me words that will touch lives. With all the competition out there, I can't expect that my little pea brain or my personality alone will get me where I need to be. It has to be God. I've asked Him repeatedly to help me achieve more than I am capable of on my own, and He's not let me down.
Maria: I love hearing how you rely on the Lord! What goals do you have for the future?
Jeanette: I am always dreaming, and I'd like to do some different types of books. One I've written about half of is entitled, When You Need a Prayer: Spirit-led Prayers for Friends in Crisis. Another is Humor Helps, funny stories interspersed with facts about the benefits of humor. I'm talking with a friend about collaborating on a devotional on building confidence. And I even have a couple of ideas for novels!
Maria: Wow! Those titles and descriptions sound fantastic. We'll keep a look out for your next release. One final question: what words of wisdom would you like to leave with our readers?
Jeanette: When I've prayed and sought the Lord, He's always smoothed my path and opened doors for me. If I put Him first, he goes above and beyond my wildest dreams and dearest prayers. All my manipulations are nothing compared with a dab of His favor. So, that's my first word of wisdom: put God first and He will make sure you succeed. My second is, help others succeed. As you plant seeds of kindness and time to promote others' dreams and plans, your own dreams will sprout and grow a bountiful harvest.
Maria: Great advice, Jen! Thank you so much for joining us today, and I pray the Lord continues to bless you abundantly as you write for Him!
Good news! Jeanette has graciously offered to give away a signed copy of her book, Two Scoops of Grace with Chuckles on Top:
*Leave a comment to this post, include your email address in the following format: morgan(dot)maria(dot)i(at)gmail(dot)com. Entries without an email address are not eligible.
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Please be sure and let me know you did so in your comment.
*This is open to US residents only. My sincere apology to those followers outside the US.
*Deadline to enter is midnight Eastern Standard Time, Tuesday, August 28, 2012. Winner to be announced in Thursday's post. The winner will be notified via email.
Connect with Jeanette and purchase her book:
Jeanette grew up in Los Angeles and San Jose, California. As a former history/government teacher with an Associate's degree in English, Jeanette enjoys speaking to church and civic groups, offering mirth and worth in every message. She is also a trained vocalist, has recorded two records with her family, and written several songs. Her hobbies include reading, cats, traveling, and finding ways to avoid housework.
She and her husband Kevin relocated from Los Angeles to Paris, IL, in 1999. They are still trying to adjust to the frigid winters, but they love the warm country folks. Jeanette and Kevin are Mom and Dad to two adults, grandparents to three children, and servants to four cats.