Several months ago I had the pleasure of sitting down to discuss books and writing with Jaquelle Ferris, the author of This Changes Everything and podcast host of Age of Minority. It was a pleasure to talk with her. I hope you enjoy what she had to say as much as I did!
Tell us a little about yourself! What do you do? What’s life like for you right now?
Sure! I am a servant of the Lord Jesus. I am married to my amazing husband, Joe, who is a carpenter. I have one daughter, Lucy, who was born May of 2020, and I am pregnant with my second baby due in March. Work-wise, I am a writing coach, a podcaster, and a writer. I don’t do a lot of public writing these days, but I did write a book when I was a teenager titled, This Changes Everything. I do occasionally still write for a few websites, but most of my day-to-day work now is caring for my daughter and working with the Young Writer, a company I co-founded focused on mentoring young Christian writers.
What are some books you are currently reading?
I believe one of the great things about reading is that there are different purposes for it. I tend to read several books at a time, but I do so strategically. I read for different purposes, to be entertained, to be informed, to be spiritually edified, and to become more thoughtful. I like to give that as a caveat because it is reflected in what I’m reading. So, yes, I’m reading a lot of books at one time, but they’re different and I’ve chosen them all because they fill those categories. I also love to read books with people. Three of the books I’m reading right now, I’m reading with others. I read those ones a lot slower and it’s wonderful.
To begin, I’m reading Glimpses of Grace by Gloria Furman with my Mom. Since becoming a mom last year, I’m pretty much always reading a book on motherhood or parenthood and I regularly read books with both of my parents. I’m reading A Secular Age by Charles Taylor with my Dad (two very different books with my parents, just reflects them well! Haha!). We’ve been on this one for awhile, but we’re nearing the end with only three chapters left! I probably understand about 30% (that’s a generous estimate, actually), but it is stretching the reading muscles.
I’m reading a book called School Education by Charlotte Mason with a friend of mine. Mason is a 19th century British educator with a lot of wisdom on both parenting and educating children.
For entertainment, I’m reading two novels right now. I’m reading Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers, which is so good. It’s the first Dorothy Sayers book I’ve ever read, and I feel bad about that. She is brilliant. Then I’m reading Lisette’s List by Susan Vreland. I saw Glenna Marshal recommend it, I really trust her recommendations, and so I checked that one out.
I’m reading two more books. I know this sounds like a lot, but they’re all for different purposes! I’m reading one for work called The Thinking Toolbox by Hans and Nathaniel Bluedorn. It’s a fun resource about logical fallacies and critical thinking. The last book is one I’m reading aloud to Lucy, Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. I love this story, and while I know Lucy can’t understand most of it, I firmly believe in reading aloud to kids as much as possible, and even beyond their understanding. It will help them!
What are some of your favorite books from the past? Or, if you need to narrow that question down, ones that have influenced your outlook on life and/or the way you write?
I definitely had to narrow this down and I appreciate the way the question is worded, because my favorites list is way too long. I don’t know about you, but my reading life has changed as I’ve gone through different seasons of life! Books have ministered to me and blessed me in different ways. For instance, some books that I needed at one time in my life, may not necessarily be a favorite today. So, in terms of books that have influenced me in life and as a writer, Desiring God by John Piper first comes to mind because I read that book as a young teen and it massively shaped me. I read it with my Dad, and that book opened my eyes to a new understanding of God, this idea of delighting in Him. Another one that profoundly shaped that understanding was Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves. For a church kid that grew up with the abundant blessing of getting to hear the Word of God faithfully taught, there is the danger of familiarity. There’s a temptation to boredom or apathy that both Desiring God and Delighting in the Trinity spoke into and challenged in the best way possible. They both came at a critical time when I was really seeking to grapple with my own faith, making that important distinction between “is this my faith or my parent’s faith?” Those books pointed me to God’s Word, reminded me that true faith involves loving God, and that’s what motivates obedience and fuels right theology.
Another theology book that impacted me was R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. That book helped me understand God in a bigger way. Again, with the traditional church kid problem, it’s easy to put God in a box. You get familiar with the facts, and even though you’re seeking to love God, in your immaturity, you feel like you understand Him. You’ve read the Bible a couple of times, and it just feels like you get it. The Holiness of God gave me that wonderful, needed vision of how vast and incomprehensible God really is. It helped me understand holiness in a way that has been extremely influential in my understanding of the character of God. I miss R.C. Sproul so much. What a wise voice and gift to the church.
In terms of both life and writing, the next book is Do Hard Things by Brett and Alex Harris. Brett is now a mentor to me and someone I get to work with, but I read that book for the first time when I was ten or eleven. It was my first glimpse of young Christian people doing big, good things for the glory of God and I caught their vision of God using faithful teenagers in powerful ways. Not necessarily even in big ways, but it just helped me see how I could use my unique gifts for the glory of God as a young person. That is what motivated me to start writing more seriously, and it was probably within a year of reading that book that I started a blog and writing more consistently.
Another book is On Writing Well by William Zinsser, which is my favorite non-fiction writing recommendation. I fell in love with that book as a teen! I read a lot of books on writing and On Writing Well is still the one I come back to all the time. I appreciate Zinsser’s clarity and his practical and pithy advice. Since reading that book, I’m always looking for clutter in my writing and trying to sharpen it. This is hands down my absolute favorite book on writing.
Now, how could I not also add The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis to this list? My daughter’s name is Lucy! Lucy Pevansie was very much an inspiration in choosing her name, too. If my Lucy can have the wonder, curiosity, and tenacity of sweet Lucy Pevansie, I’d be a very happy mom. The Narnia books influenced my spiritual life, my writing life, just all of my life. Lewis was a master that I am constantly learning from.
The last book I’ll mention has significantly influenced my perspective as a writing coach, mentor, educator, and mother. It’s For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer McCauley. That is what first introduced me to Charlotte Mason, and the way I want to raise my own children. It gave me this bigger vision of what child-raising and educating could look like drawing from biblical principles. That book has been very informative in my work and parenting lives, specifically.
What would you say is something God has been teaching you through writing lately?
I’ve been learning that God will never put you in a situation where faithfulness is impossible. In the last year, I have had some massive life shifts, and struggled a little bit to understand my place in new seasons of life, new contexts and roles. Over the last year my writing has grown much more personal. For example, I’ve journaled a lot this year. I’ve spent more time writing for my students online, and not as much for the public. I’ve just spent a lot of time thinking about the fact that God will never put you in a place where you can’t be obedient, even if you don’t know what to do, or you feel inadequate in the role He’s given you, in weird transition stages, or through big learning curves. I’ve been considering lately what God wants me to do with my writing in this new stage of life, and it’s been a great source of comfort to me that God is sovereign and good, He knows me and loves me, and that He has not put me in this place by accident. He isn’t making me pick my best guess on what He wants me to do, but He’s given me clear marching orders and what I need to follow. The situation I’m in today, the one I’m in tomorrow, and ten years from now, I will always be able to do what I’m called to do, and that is to be faithful. He will never put me in a place where faithfulness is impossible.
What is a word of encouragement you would give to other writers who are seeking to share Christ in the writing world?
Good writing starts with good thinking and good living. You can’t write if you don’t have something to say. That’s been a huge comfort to me lately, because I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, and a lot of time seeking to live faithfully in the last few years… but not a lot of time writing. The good news is that writing is just good thinking on paper. Writing is good living fleshed out in words. So, if you’re in a season where you can’t write as much as you wish, if you’re in a season where you’re struggling with what to say, or if you’re in a season like me where you’ve got young kids at home, and you’re trying to figure out your path forward, just know that good thinking and good living are the fuel for good writing. That has been very freeing for me. Yes, writers must write, that’s what we do, but you also can’t say something without having something to say. Stay in the Word. Read good books. Serve your family well. Be faithful in the context God has placed you. Then you will have something to say, you will have a way to glorify God, you will have an opportunity to bless the church, and you will be equipped to do good in the world through your writing.
Links to Jaquelle’s writing:
Links to books mentioned in this article: