When we started featuring ‘Heart to Heart’ chats here on the blog, we never knew that the girls we featured would become some of our best friends and also go on to be some of the most incredible artists and voices in our modern Apostolic movement. We’re always grateful for the chance to join our hearts with those who seek the Kingdom first, and love sharing these beautiful ladies with you!
Today’s interview is one I’m quite excited about, as it features a friend of mine with an old English soul and a mind of beauty and purity. You may see her work pop up here on the blog…in unexpected formats coming soon, so keep an eye out!
So, Jen, tell us a little bit about yourself! Let’s start with the basics, where are you from? I’ve noticed from your IG that you seem to travel alot?
If you’ve only followed me on Instagram, you probably don’t know where I’m from, or even where I live now. Since I graduated high school I’ve lived in 15 different homes and 4 different states. When I graduated college I wanted a place to cal home – when people asked me “where’s home?” I had no idea how to answer that question. Even now – I don’t quite know how to answer that. I’ve lived in one place for almost a year now, it’s a small miracle!
I was born in Gilroy, CA, grew up in Morgan Hill, moved to Salinas and have lived in the greater Bay Area (Monterey and San Francisco area) at various portions of my life. I lived in Seattle for a short period of time last year before moving back to Los Angeles, where I went to college (Azusa Pacific University) and where I now call home.
(*sidenote: We didn’t cover this in the interview, but Jen is the hyphen leader for her church, Life Church in Monrovia, CA. She also helps with web design, website maintenance, and social media at her church and is involved in other ministries helping her Pastor and his wife.)
Can you tell us a little bit about your experience at Azusa Pacific University? What was your degree and college process like? Did you stay on campus? When did you graduate?
I graduated from Azusa Pacific University in May 2016 with my BA in Communication Studies. It’s been a little over a year now and it doesn’t really feel like it’s been that long – it feels like it should have been four weeks! I lived on-campus for all four years of my college experience, but the on-campus living setup at APU is a little different than a normal dorm setup. During freshman year, all students live in a traditional dorm setup, but in sophomore year, I lived in “The Shire.” The Shire was made up of individual little mobile units – almost like little cottages, all painted different colors – and it was a really fun little community with community events and family-style dinners. For junior and senior years, students lived in apartments that were also on-campus. It was a great experience living on campus, and it was nice that the church was only ten minutes away from school as well.
You led me into my next question! Do you go to the same church now that you went to during school? Can you share a little about your life post-college?
I do go to the same church I went to then. I left Los Angeles after I graduated because I got an internship at WorldVision in Seattle, WA, where I stayed for four months. When I accepted the internship I hoped to move back to LA, so I never announced my move as a permanent one. I only told people (my youth group, etc.) that I would be gone for four months because leaving that church would have been so hard. I served in the youth ministry at my church during college, and while my Pastor would have supported whatever decision I made, they also felt like I was supposed to stay at Life Church. Now that I’m back in Los Angeles, I I live 40 miles away from church. Because everything is so spread out in LA, and the traffic is just CRAZY, it’s a 2 hour drive on weekdays and a 35 minutes drive on the weekends – which, is a sacrifice, but worth it. When you find a church with a vision you believe in and a cultural fit, it’s worth the sacrifice.
Travel is one of your biggest passions, you take stunning photos for your feed…what are your other hobbies? When we met you claimed to be an ‘aspiring writer’ and we talked about the journey of claiming to be an author (now that you have two published books) and a writer…can you tell us more about that?
Well photography is just a hobby, I don’t consider myself a photographer. I feel like it’s part of my creative, artistic side but I also feel like it’s something almost anyone can pick up.
I used to have in my bio, ‘aspiring writer.’ I didn’t call myself a writer for a long time, I would say until a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t claim that title. And then, I realized, this really is ridiculous, and started claiming it, because I really was a writer. I think I hesitated because of my education, interestingly enough. Through the course of my education, I read so much literature from these phenomenal writers and authors and I saw their work and thought “well, I’m definitely not that.” My MBTI personality is an ENFP, and one of the traits of my personality is perfectionism – so, to say aspiring writer felt like something I could identify with.
In terms of writing my books (a devotional,Through the Morning Fog, and my first novel, Unkempt Secrets from the War), my ENFP personality also comes into play because finishing a task for my personality is difficult. It’s easy for me to fixate on something, and then that fixation ends and another comes into play…and so on. I enjoy connecting with people, constant movement and constant interest, and that doesn’t work very well with work like writing – completing my novels and writing is foreign to my personality type.
Looking at your book itself, can you speak a little more on your favorite part of the process? What is your background, how did you get started writing?
When I was 8 years old, we had two services on Sunday, and on Sunday nights I wasn’t paying attention to church (like most 8 year olds), and my mom would give me paper…and I would write stories during church. People would coment “I was watching your daughter during church and she was just sitting there writing away.” Then, I would take those stories, which became short stories around 10 pages long, and make them into Christmas gifts for my grandparents, aunts and uncles and other family members. (My grandparents kept them until they passed away.) I was always a penpal with one of my best friends. Writing was just my thing. Part of it I was born with I think – how many 8 year olds are writing short stories? I don’t write in print, only in cursive – I’m an old soul – I think that shows part of my love for the tradition.
Moving forward, in high school my favorite subject was English. I did honors English, AP literature – I was terrified to take the Honors English because i had heard SO many horror stories about the teacher (it ended up being a hard class, but it prepared me for college, and she believed in me) – and these are the classes that shaped me as a writer. Because I had so many good teachers who really challenged me and believed in me, that encouraged my goals in writing.
My junior year of high school we had to write a ten page paper on The Great Gatsby. Our teacher gave us options of thesis to work with and I asked to come up with my own : I wanted to do a compare and contrast of Scripture with the Great Gatsby. I chose to do a contrast of the 1920 changing values of the era and how they contradicted the traditional values that had been guiding society prior to that time. I took the line from Gatsby that they were “drawn like a moth to Gatsby” and contrasted it with the scripture “moth and dust will corrupt.” It was incredibly difficult, and the compliment the teacher gave me was “this is a tour de force” which is such a high compliment in the writing sphere. It was this experience and compliment that sparked something inside of me that made me realize “I can write.” My AP literature course – my teacher was literally challenging me on every level. Once I got to college my professors told me I had a gift for writing and speaking as well.
In regards to my current novels, I was 17 when I first started writing “Unkempt Secrets” and I had never even thought about writing fiction until I was 17 – my junior year – that’s when it all started. The story of this book is definitely a fun one, as it’s my first published book, my first complete book. I had never written anything out before that, apart from blogging (Through my Hazel Eyes). When I wrote the book it was roughly 150 pages and I sent it around to a few of my friends and they absolutely loved it. Then I went to college, forgot about the book, four years passed and last summer in Seattle when I had time to kill I thought “Oh, I’ll take a look at this book.” And I pulled it out and thought “this is just terrible!” Of course, after 4 years of college education, that would be the case. I ended up deleting about 100 pages of the original and was left with around 50 pages. The plot itself didn’t change, and I ended up combining it with a sequel I had planned to write. Where you now see Part II and Part III collide, this is where the sequel was combined with the original. The final book is around 405 pages, so even though I started the process at 17, I finished it last year, so the overall process took about 5 years.
Can you tell us about your creative process? What was your favorite part about writing the book?
When I was a little girl, around 8 or 9, I would lay in bed at night and couldn’t fall asleep for hours on end so my parents got a radio with a classical station and I would fall instantly asleep. To this day I fall asleep with soundtrack music (switched out from classical). So when I was in high school around the age of 17, I would listen to teh Narnia soundtrack and envision the characters, the story in my head. Ideas like the entire book – continuing in my mind. That’s how it began and how I would continue the writing process with my second book. At night I would envision these things and the next day I would sit down to write almost like I had been writing it out in my head. Sometimes I’ll be laying in bed at 11:00 at night and will frantically pull out my phone and start writing as the thoughts come.
I cannot write fiction without music as a background, soundtrack music specifically. It puts you in this mode where that’s your entire world. If you don’t have this, you’re prone to so many things around you – the music holds your attention. Even being a musician, this just makes sense. Classical musical, it’s very inspirational.
The editing process is my least favorite part of the process – and it takes longer than the writing process. It’s the most tragic thing to actually delete pages – scenes and conversations that these characters had that no one else will ever know. The writing process is just a whole lot of fun – once you get halfway through the book. The first half is more difficult because it’s the character development process. But once you reach the halfway point you’re committed – that’s how it is as a writer or an author as well.
You do such a good job pulling in your reader in your writing. I’m intrigued when I read your posts, or both of your books – your work is quality and written with excellence, I’m so impressed with your writing style. Can you tell me more about the plot creation itself? Your books aren’t necessarily written from a Spirit-filled perspective, yet there is redemption in your stories.
My goal is to write historical fiction that isn’t classified as Christian. I really wouldn’t want to see it in the Christian section of the bookstore. There are spiritual undertones that are quite impactful – but you wouldn’t be able to pick up that the author is spiritual or Christian. Similar to the reader’s relationship with Narnia (CS Lewis), or the Lord of the Rings (Tolkien). How many people have had their eyes opened to the spiritual world by these allegories, without even classifying them as spiritual or religious books?
For my second book, because of the grueling process of writing the first story, I prayed and asked God for His will in whether I should finish it or if it would distract from my ministry at church and with others. And yet, God gave me the peace to continue and finish. Yet, as I explain to others, this is a form of ministry because I can talk to coworkers about my book. It’s a connection and a conversation starter. I talk about it with my family (I’m the only Pentecostal in my family), and it’s an open door. It’s not just a skill, it’s something we laughed about as communication majors “we never have tests, we just wrote,” and this writing gift, it’s just such a powerful tool for ministry. I’m ok with it never being recognized from a church platform. Maybe in the case of other books like my devotional or things of another nature – but my books are for an entirely different audience…though spoiler alert, both books do include spiritual lessons.
What would you advise for girls who feel gifted in the writing area? How would you encourage them to continue?
First, I would find out what you are gifted in. For example, I’m a musician, but my gifting is not in music ministry. I worked in music ministry for several years at my church but I knew it wasn’t my gifting and I no longer serve there. I definitely knew my ministry was in teaching and writing. I think it’s so important to find what it is that you’re passionate about, find what your gifts are and explore those. Don’t think inside the box, start to think outside the box. I could have thought inside the box in writing my story and sharing it with friends. Thinking outside the box was writing my novel and self-publishing the book for people to read wherever they want to, nationally or internationally because it’s available on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Also, I would say to never give up. Know the power of a thought. You will mess up, and you need to know and acknowledge this from the very beginning. You’re going to mess up and fall, but your mistakes will be your greatest learning opportunities. I think when we mess up, it’s easy to think “oh, maybe I’m not gifted, maybe I should explore something else.” No, absolutely not – keep trying, keep pursuing, keep chasing after those God-given dreams. Prayer will separte what are your dreams and what are actually God-given dreams for your life. God places desires in our hearts, and those are there for a reason. If we prayerfully consider those desires, it will lead to God’s path and God’s plan. If I had made music the end as my desire, and knew it wasn’t God’s desire and still decided to chase that…it would have led to a closed door.
Don’t chase your dream because it’s the popular thing to do…it’s easy amongst the millennial generation to get caught up in comparing ourselves, and yes, there are high expectations on it. Even I struggle with finding balance on social media because I hate self-promotion, yet I still have to promote my book. I never want to come across as a self-promoter in an ugly way. On instagram all people see are a face, I don’t people to make an assuption about me based on what I post. I want to encourage others to follow their dreams. As women, we are strong, we are not defined by society, and we are not defined by what the church or leaders have told us. We are simply defined by God. Our definition of who we are, our worth and our value, is in God. Once you discover that – God will lead you down an incredible path. My worth is not in my writing, my worth is in God.
In wrapping up, what is a favorite quote, scripture or something that has kept you going through personal hard times or in writing block moments?
The first thing that comes to mind when you asked that is the scripture “Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).” This quote is so significant to my life in general. My Grandfather was always very close to me. He was my spiritual mentor, my Pastor and I also had a close relationship with him as my Grandfather. I was at the house when he passed away and while I didn’t hear an audible voice, I just felt these words so strong in my spirit in the midst of my grief Be still and know that I am God. And, then, while talking to my Grandmother after he had passed, she shared with me that the day before my Grandfather had passed he had been reading the Bible and nothing was settling in his spirit and he came across the passage Be still and know that I am God, and that was the passage he had studied the day before he passed…it couldn’t be coincidence. Finally, last year when I moved into my current apartment, my other grandmother bought me a little picture frame that said “Be still and know that I am God” without even knowing the significance or the connection.
It’s such a simple reminder. He is still God. Regardless of whether the sun comes up or not, if we have God, we have hope. If we have God, we have everything – everything we ever need. I often ask my Hyphen group at church : “If everything was stripped away from you, would you still be able to say God was enough?” At times, I probably wouldn’t be able to say that. But in the dark seasons of life, when he’s all you have, you realize “Alright, He is enough.” We have to get to that place. I want to see our generation get ahold of that: God is enough. He is still God. That has been what this past year for me has been about, in my most difficult season, Jesus, you are enough. I’ve never been more intimate with God or found more supernatural joy in all my life.
And…one of my favorite quotes is actually from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables:
“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.”
Look for more news from Jen in the upcoming weeks!