By Debbonnaire Kovacs, Sept 9, 2015
I recently read a novel called What You Want, by Canadian author, Trudy Morgan-Cole. It is her first self-published novel (though not by any means her first novel), and I found it completely engrossing. I felt I’d gone on the road trip on Route 66 with the heroine and her friends. It gets into some pretty controversial territory. There are things in this book that some conservative Christians would find quite threatening. Morgan-Cole describes herself as “a Christian who loves Jesus, but finds some of his followers scary,” and “a Seventh-day Adventist who doubts, questions, and loves my church passionately.” I asked her if I could explore her writing life in a feature, and she agreed.
Trudy Morgan was nine years old when her first poem was published. She was a Primary herself, and so received Primary Treasure, but she sent her poem, “Seasons Four” to the younger children’s magazine, Our Little Friend. It was published, not in a children’s corner, but as a Real Poem with a full-page illustration, which Trudy says was “wildly exciting!”
“As a child,” she says, “I was always a storyteller, and even before I was able to write things down, I used to narrate life in my own head.”
This early success with her poem led her to continue submitting things to church magazines throughout her growing up and teen years, and some were published.
The summer after her sophomore year in college, Review & Herald advertised a writing competition for new writers. Trudy won second place with a novel that was later published as All My Love, Katie.
The Writing Bug had well and truly bitten her. At 20, before even graduating from college, she was a published author.
Over the next few years, besides devotional books and young-adult stories, she tried short stories in an attempt to be more “literary.” (“I didn’t even like reading short stories. I thought that was what you were supposed to do!”)
By now she was Trudy Morgan-Cole, and while writing was not her way of supporting herself—she was a teacher—she was becoming quite prolific.
During seven years when she was at home with small children, Morgan-Cole did freelancing. She enjoyed being able to supplement the family income, but she also found it frustrating; “Most of my writing time was going on stuff other people were excited about, not stuff I was excited about.”
During this time, though, she also continued to write for R&H: a series of novels based around the lives of Biblical characters—Esther, Deborah, Lydia, and James the brother of Jesus. She found these much more enjoyable and satisfying—and so did her readers. Morgan-Cole has an enormous gift for portraying the ancient world in such a way that when the reader finally lifts her head, she feels she’s been time-traveling.
“Church publishing,” she says, “was a rich and wonderful place for me where I was mentored by gifted editors—people like Penny and Gerald Wheeler and Jeannette Johnson whom I was fortunate to work with for so many years at the old Review and Herald Publishing Association. But I’ve always had the urge to write for a wider audience, too.”
Morgan-Cole tried fantasy and historical fiction, the latter being her favorite reading material. The fantasy went nowhere, but she was working, in between freelance jobs, on a historical novel about a woman on whom she had written a paper in college. In 2003, she found an agent who helped her get signed by a fairly large publisher (Arkana), and in 2006, The Violent Friendship of Esther Johnson, the lifelong friend and inspiration of Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, was published.
Morgan-Cole thought she’d arrived. Or at least begun to arrive…
However, the publisher of Violent Friendship did no marketing to speak of, and the book did very poorly. Morgan-Cole describes herself as reaching a low point in her writing career, and becoming very discouraged.
But she didn’t give up. She lives in Newfoundland, where she is an adult-ed teacher and says, “My students are the bravest people on earth.” So she tried her hand at a series of novels (By the Rivers of Brooklyn, That Forgetful Shore, and A Sudden Sun) which she says “grew out of the history of women’s lives and stories here in Newfoundland,” and which were published by a local publisher. She met new people in her own region, found readers who loved her work, and got to go to a lot of book clubs. This might have been as satisfying as writing the proverbial best-seller would have been, if not more so.
Then came What You Want. Morgan-Cole describes it as being “about a young woman who takes a road trip to figure out where she’s heading in life. It’s about losing your faith and finding your path, and like all my novels it explores religion and spirituality as part of the complex pattern of our lives.”
Losing your faith and finding your path? But—doesn’t finding your path always lead to finding faith? Doesn’t God always tie up all the loose ends? Somehow, Christian publishing, Adventist or not, seems to expect that, which seems odd, when we all know from personal experience life is not that way.
Morgan-Cole says she doesn’t see herself as moving “away” from anything. She would still publish with traditional publishing, including Christian publishing, especially if someone wanted another novel about a Bible character. So why the turn in the road? I’ll let her speak for herself.
“I will confess there is a greater freedom, in some ways, in writing for audiences outside the Adventist, or even the Christian bookstore market. With a ‘Christian book’ that’s marketed as such, there’s a strong expectation that you’re going to offer clear resolutions and answers. (This isn’t always the case in Adventist, or Christian, publishing. The best book, in my opinion, ever released by an Adventist press was June Strong’s novel Mindy, which deeply impressed me as a young reader with the author’s willingness to leave the ending painful and unresolved in many ways. No easy solution there!) But often, the expectation in a Christian novel is that you may raise tough questions, but loose ends will be resolved and a Biblical solution will be presented by the final pages. I’ve never found that real life works that way—and outside Christian publishing, there’s not necessarily the expectation that books will work that way either. There are more questions than answers, and the answers aren’t always as easy to apply as we’d like. Life—even life with God in it—is messy, and I like to read and write books that reflect that messiness.”
AToday readers may applaud that courage.
Find Trudy Morgan-Cole’s website here.
Watch her YouTube channel here.
Especially watch this video, in which she draws her writing life in less than five minutes, and from which some of the quotes above were taken.
And try her books. If you like them, tell her so. Writing can be a lonely business, especially if you’re trying to do it to the glory of God.