Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A librarian for over twenty-five years, Judy Gann reviews/selects Christian fiction for a large library system in Washington State. The author of The God of All Comfort: Devotions of Hope for Those Who Chronically Suffer (AMG Publishers), she strives to provide encouragement and hope to others through her writing and speaking. When Judy isn’t writing, speaking, or playing matchmaker for books and readers, she enjoys cheering the Seattle Mariners, collecting children’s books of the 1940s and 1950s, and taking long walks—even in the rain. To learn more about Judy, visit her web site at http://www.judygann.com/.

When did you decide to be a writer?

Words and books have been a part of my life since, at age five, I stood on tiptoe and checked out Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey at the Ocean Beach Public Library. When I wasn’t reading, I was scribbling stories in notebooks. My favorite instructions from a teacher were, “write an essay.” My first published piece was a character sketch of a six-year-old, published in the county high school literary magazine.

For many years I put writing aside for careers as an elementary school teacher and later a children’s librarian in a public library. Then in 1988 a severe allergic reaction to an anti-seizure medication impaired my cognitive abilities. Bedridden for nearly a year, I couldn’t even write a memo when I finally returned to work. My writing dreams crumbled. Slowly over the next seven years my cognitive abilities—including writing—improved, though I still sometimes struggle with word order when writing a sentence. God is the God of second chances. He gave my writing ability back to me, and I have a responsibility to use this gift for Him.

At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?

A timely question. After years of writing nonfiction, I’m writing my first novel. A major difference between nonfiction and fiction critiques is that fiction critiques tend to be more subjective. God’s blessed me with a wonderful online critique group with three published novelists. At first I felt I needed to make every change they suggested. Now, although I value their opinions as much as ever, and pay close attention to their comments regarding errors in the craft of writing fiction—POV, dialogue, etc., I’m beginning to trust myself and weigh their suggestions for plot and character changes against my “gut” feelings about my characters and plot.

Are you a disciplined writer or do you just write when you feel like it?

I’m a fairly disciplined writer. My chronic illnesses mimic a roller coaster ride—I can feel great one day, and be in bed the next. This means I have to be disciplined about writing on my “good” days because I never know how long they’ll last. But my biggest obstacles to being a productive writer are my fears, doubts, and the internal editor who continually shouts in my head. I’m a slow learner, but lately I’ve been practicing “splatting,” critique group member Bonnie Leon’s word for spilling the words out on the page.

What kind of activities to you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?

An avid reader, I collect children’s books. When I meet a writing deadline I reward myself with an afternoon of browsing through a used bookstore. I also enjoy crocheting, gardening, and taking long walks when I’m feeling up to it. Playing the piano relaxes me and feeds my creativity. Writing is such a solitary activity that I take care to schedule time with friends.

What is your favorite novel and what made it special?

The librarian in me hates this question. How can I choose only one? But, since you twisted my arm, Christy by Catherine Marshall is my favorite novel of all time. Although I’d wanted to be a teacher since age eight or so, Christy inspired me to pursue my dream. I never made it to Appalachia, but I thought of Christy Huddleston many times during my five years of teaching.

How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?

I believe so strongly in the importance of writers being readers that I teach a workshop on this topic at writers conferences. Good writers are our master teachers. We learn by doing (writing), but we also learn by watching (reading). I glean so much about character development, transitions, creating a sense of place, and other writing techniques by reading well-written books. Consciously and subconsciously, a learning process occurs when we read. Off my soapbox!

Tell us a little about your latest release:

The purpose of The God of All Comfort is to draw readers into God’s Word in order to find the comfort, strength, and hope for coping with chronic and life-threatening illness. Each devotional includes a Bible verse, anecdote, application and a relevant quote, all dealing with an issue those with illness face on a daily basis. A message of hope permeates each devotional. I purposely kept each devotional short. When you’re battling illness it’s difficult to read lengthy passages at one sitting.

The God of All Comfort also gives family and friends of those with chronic illness insight into and understanding of what it’s like to live with chronic illness on a daily basis.

The greatest compliment a reader can pay me is to say, “You’ve been there, you know just how I feel. Now I don’t feel so alone.” I hope readers see themselves in the anecdotes and feel less alone in their pain. It wasn’t easy to be vulnerable, to pour my pain and struggles on paper for anyone to read. But, if my book ministers to one person, it’s worth all I went through in writing it.

Where did you get your inspiration for The God of All Comfort?

Several years ago a friend asked me, “Which scripture passages comfort and encourage you when you’re battling poor health? I’d like to share them with a friend.”

To answer her question I read through the journals in which I’d chronicled my struggles with chronic illness along with the Bible verses that most encouraged me. I saved the list of verses I gave to my friend. Her question stayed in the back of my mind long after I gave the list of verses to her. Years later her request motivated me to write The God of All Comfort. Most of the Bible verses in the devotional were taken from the list of verses I’d compiled for my friend.

This book is aimed toward people who suffer from chronic suffering. Do you deal with specific kinds of suffering, or does this book have a more general view?

It takes a more general view of suffering from illness. To broaden the relevancy of the book I interviewed seventeen other people with chronic and serious illnesses and wove their experiences as well as my own into the anecdotes in the devotionals. In addition, I discuss the issues faced by all those with health challenges—pain, weakness, identity, depression, loneliness, loss of independence, etc.

As an author reaching out to people who are in the midst of suffering, you must have some specific experiences upon which to draw for wisdom. Can you share some of them?

I’ve had autoimmune system disorders all my life. My parents were told I was “allergic to my own system.” That’s how doctors viewed immune system problems in the ‘50s and ‘60s. About fifteen years ago I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I’ve also survived breast cancer.

What is the main thing you hope readers remember from your book?

My prayer is that readers will come away strengthen, renewed, and trusting in the “God of all comfort” for each step of their journey with illness.

What kinds of things have you done to market this book? Have you found anything that works particularly well?

My book released before Twitter, Facebook, and the other terrific social marketing opportunities that we have today. At that time I had a web site with resources for those with chronic illness and information about my book. Today I have a new web site, a blog, and I’m active on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve also done several guest interviews on other authors’ blogs.

I’ve become known for my “drive-by” book signings. Whenever I travel, I visit bookstores in the area. I present the staff with a “Comfort Mug,” a sheet protector containing information about me and my book, with the book cover on the front side of the protector and the publisher’s one sheet (with ordering information) facing out on the back, and often a copy of The God of All Comfort. I’ve visited 138 bookstores in thirteen states. I have an index card for each store I visit and write comments about the visit on the back of the card. I follow-up on my “drive-bys” and have found the bookstore usually orders my book.

My most successful book signings have been bookstore events rather than just a book signing. I usually try to team with other authors to present an event. For example, some other members of the Christian Authors Network (CAN) and I presented a successful “homeschool” event at several bookstores in the Minneapolis area. Each of us presented a segment of the program based on our areas of expertise.

Many people with chronic illness are unable to visit bookstores. It’s usually friends and family who purchase The God of All Comfort at bookstores and give it as a gift to the one who is ill. I’ve had to go beyond the bookstore to reach my audience. I’ve marketed my book to hospitals, doctors’ offices, and hospice, as well as illness support groups. I met a physician at Mount Hermon who gives copies of The God of All Comfort to her patients.

When my book first released I worked with a publicist to schedule radio and television interviews. I’ve done more than thirty-five radio interviews and three national television interviews—an additional way to reach my sometimes “homebound” audience.

It’s been five years since The God of All Comfort was published. I’m awed by the ways the Lord continues to place my book in the hands of those who are suffering from illness.

Tell us what new projects you’re working on.

As I hinted earlier, I’m working on a women’s fiction project. An article in an American Library Association newsletter triggered a series of “what ifs” and sparked the idea for this novel.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

For those of you with chronic illness, I highly recommend Rest Ministries, an international Christian support ministry for people with chronic illness and chronic pain. Founded and directed, by Lisa Copen, Rest Ministries includes a wealth of resource materials, support groups, and a newsletter—all with a Christian focus. The web site is http://www.restministries.org/ I so wish this organization was available when I was first diagnosed with a chronic illness!

For those of you who write about your own difficult experiences in order to encourage and offer hope to others, I love the words of author Karen O’Connor that I’ve taped above my computer:

“Write from the perch of God’s healing rather than the pit of despair and self-pity.”
Judy is giving away a copy of her book The God of All Comfort. Be sure to stop by The Borrowed Book on Friday for your chance to win!


  1. Judy is an amazing lady! I just purchased another copy of God of All Comfort last week. (I lent out my previous one and it never came home.)

  2. Jenni, I can say the same thing about you and your amazing ministry to women dealing with infertility issues. I love the truth in 2Cor. 1:3-4: God takes our deepest darkest times and out of them enables us to comfort and encourage others. Blessings, my friend!

  3. Sounds like you both have some amazing ministries! Thank you both for stopping by The Borrowed Book.

  4. Judy is an amazing author with equal parts grace and wisdom. Thanks for this great interview!

  5. First of all, such a beautiful blog!

    Judy's book is one I've given to family and friends so many times. Judy's faith comes through so strong and blesses.

    I'm looking forward to reading your novel, Judy! And I pray for you on a regular basis.

    Thanks so much for hosting Judy. I enjoyed coming by and I learned a little, too, on marketing. Wow!

  6. Katy & Crystal, you made me blush. :-) Thank you for your kind words.


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