I am honored today to interview a fellow author at Ambassador International. Her soon-to-be-released picture book, “Guess How Much God Loves You?” is sure to warm the hearts of young readers. Below, you will find heart and hope in her author’s journey, and discover insights into the process and plan behind her new publication.
Lots of research and understanding of young children’s character and development goes into writing a picture book. Did you unearth a particularly interesting tidbit, fun character or spiritual truth you just knew had to be included in the story?
As a mom, and now grandmom, with a background in K-8 education I’ve had enough experience with children to know three things that would be important for this book. I knew it had to be simple enough for kids to understand and relate to, creative enough to capture and hold their attention, and I knew it had to address two of the greatest needs common to us all, and especially important to a child’s development: the need to be loved and to belong.
Describe your ideal young reader for your story. . .
Guess How Much God Loves You is a picture book that will appeal to kids ages 4-8. Although it's intended to capture the attention of Christian parents looking for biblical (and fun) resources to disciple their children, my hope is that it will get into the hands of many, many children who do not come from Christian homes. I want every child to know that they have been created by God on purpose and for a purpose, which means their life matters.
This book is the first in a series (I have 5 other books in mind :-) that will focus on teaching key Bible accounts that are foundational to understanding the Word of God and growing a solid faith in God.
The Birth of a Faith-based Picture Book
How did you come up with the idea for ‘Guess How Much God Loves You”?
One of my favorite books to read to my girls when they were very young was Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, and I got to thinking that while it’s important for children to know that the special adults in their lives love them, how much more important for them to know that God loves them. So, this is where the title twist came in.
But I knew this book would have to be longer and more complex to cover the deep truths of the Bible, presented in a simple way. Something young readers could grow with, both spiritually and in their reading skills.
My mission was to teach Biblical principles in a creative, dynamic way, because I was disappointed with a lot of what I was seeing on bookshelves and frustrated with what seemed to be a rise in anti-Christian content.
Since this book is the beginning of a series, I figured I’d start at the beginning and cover the Creation account.
What spiritual truths do you want your young readers to understand after reading your picture book?
Three simple but powerful truths: God is the Creator of the world, God created them in His image, and God loves them. These are essential truths that will help carry children through the ups and downs, and twists and turns, of life as they grow into young adults. And I believe it’s what will strengthen their resolve to resist the worldly messages that so often present truth as relative and life meaningless.
I’ve also included a page at the end that introduces young readers to Jesus, which will be covered in more depth in another book.
Which part of your story was the most difficult to develop?
Building the characters and their backstory. Being a picture book, I could only use so many words, and I wanted this book to be more than a regurgitation of the Creation account. I wanted to introduce the reader to this new, colorful main character, Lucy Lu; and I wanted to provide a snippet of her backstory that readers could relate to, and that would explain why this topic of God’s love was so important for her. You can read all about it when it’s released. ;-)
How has God prepared you to be a writer?
Through years and years of reading and writing. I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember, and I learned how to read on my own at a very young age. But writing was another story. While I had a secret desire to be an official “writer” since middle school, I struggled with insecurity until college. I just didn’t think I had what it took to be a real writer. In college my mindset changed, fortunately, in large part due to the positive feedback and generous encouragement I received from my professors. I’ve been writing in many forms ever since, both professionally and for pleasure. It’s how I process life, and I really can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.
An Author’s Journey Begins
When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?
In 2010 when I had what you might call a career crisis. I had a diverse professional background, working in several different industries, but had grown burnt out from the traditional 9-5 scene. After being laid off from my job due to the recession, I went deep with God to see if there was another path He had for me. Something that would be a better fit. Something that I would find more fulfilling. And I kept coming back to writing. It’s a long story that you can read more about on my BLOG, but basically, I put out the fleece and God answered in a big way. It was then I knew that I wanted to be a published author. In fact, I believed it was a calling from Him.
Quite a few years passed before this came to pass when I self-published my first book, a 21-day wellness devotional, and now I’m signed on with Ambassador International for my first children’s book, which is to be released in July.
What sparks your creativity when you’re feeling drained?
Music. Worship music, primarily. Also getting outside to take a walk. There is something rejuvenating about getting out into greenspace and fresh air that is so good for my brain and body. It clears the clutter in my head and silences that inner critic that can distract and discourage. Add worship music into the mix, and my heart and mind are ready for new ideas.
What is your secret to getting your word count in with many distractions?
This has always been a challenge for me. The main reason why I’m not as far as I would like to be in my writing career is that I tend to put it last. Whenever I start to wonder how some writers can be so prolific, I remind myself that it’s all about commitment and consistency. It’s about getting those words onto the page, something I haven’t always been great about doing. For me, I tend to go through seasons where I write more consistently. There have been some legitimate reasons why I’ve written much less in some seasons - work and family responsibilities take up a lot of time and energy - and I want to keep my priorities straight as best I can. I want to put people over personal projects. I’m also protective of my time after struggling with some health issues caused by stress, so I try not to overdo it. But I also realize it can be too easy to let legitimate reasons turn into excuses. I’m working on that.
Where would be your ideal writing space? Why? Describe your present ‘office.’ What—if anything—would you change?
A beach house in Hawaii, with floor to ceiling windows and a view of the ocean. I love the sun and sand, and I love watching the waves. I find it both peaceful and powerful, and when I watch those waves ebb and flow, I’m reminded of God’s greatness, which inspires me.
I don’t have an office right now. We recently moved from Washington State to Tennessee, into a smaller house. With more family members living with us until they find a house of their own, I don’t have my own space, so I set up camp in a small corner of our bedroom. It’s not ideal, but it works.
What would I change? I’d like an office of my own, with a built-in library and a window seat book nook.
The Writer’s Process
Favorite books as a child? Adult?
I remember pouring over Archie Comics and Charlie Brown books after school when I was young, with perhaps my favorite book at that time being Charlotte’s Web. As an adult, it’s hard to choose. Honestly, I’ve read so many over the years, they all start to meld together. But I will say my favorite Christian author for the last 10 years has been Ted Dekker. I love reading suspense, and the way he writes really keeps me on the edge of my seat. Some of his books have dark themes, touching on heavy subjects, but it’s done in a tasteful way, always with the light of Christ shining through in some way. One of his more recent works that I consider a favorite is Eyes Wide Open. The plot is a real brain bender. I stayed up into the early hours of the morning with this one, which is unusual for me, because I like my sleep. ;-)
Any tips for writing faith-based picture books? Do you plan ahead, or let the story take you where it will?
This is my first picture book, so I’ve been on a learning curve this whole process.
I will say when it comes to adult fiction and non-fiction, I’ve considered myself more of a ‘pantser’ than a ‘plotter.’ Meaning I would get an idea and just start writing to see where it ends. In some ways, I believed this was the more ‘creative’ approach, not liking to be hemmed in too early in the story.
But I’ve noticed a shift over the last year, as I crave more organization in my writing. Perhaps it’s my age. ;-)
I started a novel this past year and planned ahead for the first time, starting with an outline and mapping out scenes in an Excel spreadsheet. What a world of difference! Now I recommend this approach to any writer, as it makes for a lot less clean up during that first edit.
For Guess How Much God Loves You, it went like this:
• I had a vision for the theme of the book: God’s love for people as shown in the Creation account.
• I bounced the idea off friends and family for feedback.
• I went to a writer’s conference and shared my ideas with a fantastic group of writers. I walked away with an outline and the idea for an entire series.
• I researched the children’s book market to see what was already out there on the topic of Creation.
• I read many best-selling children’s books to get an idea for the type of writing that works for young children.
• I further developed my characters and created the backstory that would make this more than a book of facts, but a real story kids can relate to.
• I sent in my manuscript and signed on with Ambassador International!
• I requested feedback from a biologist and apologist to make sure the final draft was the best it could be and, most importantly, that it stayed in line with Scripture.
The Word of God Meets the Martial Arts
Tell us one thing most people don’t know about you . . .
Hmmmmm, perhaps that I used to study martial arts. Passionately! It was a Christian martial arts school that was grounded in the Word of God, while focused on traditional self-defense techniques. Our whole family was enrolled at one point, which made the experience extra special. Although my life priorities changed, and I’m no longer a part of the school, I will always have fond memories of those years. It was a time when I went deeper into God’s Word more than I ever had up to that point. I learned to stand on His Word as a true weapon of offense, like the Bible talks about in Ephesians 6. In addition, my physical fitness improved, my mental focus increased, and I developed a lot of courage as I stepped out of my comfort zone just about every week on the dojo floor.
At the time, not everyone in my life understood how a martial arts school could be ‘Christian,’ but so long as something does not contradict God’s Word, I find it interesting how God can use anything and anyone to grow us up in Him, when we seek Him with a sincere heart.
Thanks so much, Karen, for bringing us along on your publishing journey. We pray your book touches many young lives and leads them to Christ. . .
Karen Ferguson is a freelance writer and small business owner with a background in K-8 education. A grateful wife, mom, and grandmom, she loves words and the Word of God and is passionate about writing stories that grab and hold young readers’ attention, while teaching them all about God’s unchangeable truths, and His unchanging love for them. She wants every child to know their life matters.
The first book in the Guess How Much God Loves You picture book series is scheduled for release in July.
You can connect with her on her website or on social media at Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon.
My MG Biblical fiction "The Heart Changer" debuted in 2019 with Ambassador International.