Note From Rochelle
Welcome to July!
Today’s guest post comes from author Kathy Haueisen—and reminds us that for writers, our challenging experiences bring a special gift: material for blogs, books, and more! Haueisen’s book, A Ready Hope, is available in both paper back and e-book formats. You can enter below to win a copy!
Happy Writing! -Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach
I know authors who are organized, goal-oriented, and disciplined. They commit to writing a predetermined amount of words, pages, or hours each day. I admire these traits and have aspired to have them. I’ve only been at this a little over forty years, so I might yet acquire that sort of writing discipline, but I have not yet.
My writing life is more like a river with constantly changing levels of water flowing along. At times the words flow so fast and furious I can’t type fast enough to record them all. Other times, wow—look at that—a cardinal. I sure do like the view out my window. Now what was I writing about?
My writing tends to be response focused. Typically, I experience some situation—either wonderful or devastating—and eventually write about it. Sometimes the writing is limited to my journal. Other times the experience leads to a magazine article, a devotional reflection, and on a few occasions even a book.
A Ready Hope about disaster response was like that. I got involved in some disaster response work following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita because they both wrecked havoc near where I live. I learned quickly how much I did not know about how a community recovers from a disaster. I soon also learned many of my church colleagues didn’t know either.
My bishop at the time, Paul Blom, asked me to help his office respond to the high volume of e-mails and phone calls coming in daily. People from all over the country wanted to come down to help clean up or send things to distribute to people flooded out of their homes and churches. The volume of such offers can overwhelm disaster responders.
Bishop Blom wanted to write about the storms and the power of the faith community’s response to them as a retirement project when he finished his term in office. Our church publishing house, Augsburg Fortress, wanted something released in time for the one-year anniversary date of Hurricane Katrina. He wrote. I edited. We collaborated and got God in the Raging Waters completed in time to meet the publisher’s deadline. (Thanks to my German father, I have a fear of missing deadlines that borders on obsessive compulsive disorder.)
In the course of preparing that manuscript and doing more disaster response work, I learned about the amazing faith-based organizations that come together quickly, calmly, efficiently, and compassionately following a disaster. Some individuals do this for a living; most gather as trained volunteer responders.
After about six months I returned to more typical pastoral work. I pitched the idea of a book about disaster response to Editor Beth Gaede, who was at Alban Institute at the time. The idea was that those who experience a disaster need to know what to expect for the first year. Those who want to help after a disaster need to know what they’re doing before they go. Spontaneous untrained volunteers can unintentionally add stress to an already distressed community. Since people frequently turn to faith communities for help following a disaster, I thought it a good idea for congregations to know how to prepare for and respond to a disaster when one impacts their community.
It wasn’t long before the project added plenty of stress to my life. Each person I spoke with gave me another amazing story or detail I wanted to include. Most also referred me to yet another person to interview.
Yikes! I was drowning in too much information. I didn’t want to abandon the project, as I truly believed this book needed to get printed. However, I soon realized I was in over my head. By now my daughter was working full time in the disaster response field. I asked her to help me write the book—mostly to help organize the overflow of information and to do the fact checking. Editor Gaede gave us permission mid-project to add Carol Flores as co-author.
I did most of the writing and all of the final edits. Carol helped sift through data I collected and organize the book in what we thought would be the most helpful format to learn about responding to disasters. I hit the “send” button on the e-mail containing the final manuscript at about 3 a.m. the day it was due. We did miss the original deadline though. I had to negotiate a new deadline when we stopped writing to deal with the threats and damages resulting from Hurricane Ike. The book is a fictional account of the recovery process following a Midwest disaster. Factual data we deemed crucial to know appears in sidebars and a detailed appendix.
The whole process was both the most challenging and most rewarding writing project I’ve ever undertaken. The things I learned often reduced me to tears—both because of the tragedies people had to endure and the creative ways total strangers responded to those tragedies. Through Carol’s contacts I met many dedicated, largely unknown heroes who make sacrifices large and small to help individuals and communities recover.
A Ready Hope: Effective Disaster Ministry for Congregations was released by Alban Institute in 2009. I’ve moved onto other projects now, but the lessons learned from writing this book have stayed with me.
Never in my wildest imagination could I have conceived of writing a book based on a series of natural disasters. Until I lived through three of them and lived to write about it. And that’s the way my writing life goes.
A friend once told me, “The great thing about being a writer is that no experience is ever wasted. It can always show up in a book some day.”
How true that was for A Ready Hope.
About the author. Kathy (Kathryn) Haueisen sold her first story to the Cleveland Plain Dealer while a senior journalism major in college back in 1968. She’s been hooked on writing a publishing ever since. She is now retired after thirty years serving the Lutheran church as a pastor. She and her husband live in Houston but travel often to explore the world and visit with family and friends living all over the country. When not writing, she enjoys catching up with grandkids, gardening, cooking, reading, and staring out the window daydreaming. Visit her online at howwisethen.com