I’m often asked about my choice of writing genres. Strike that. People express shock, dismay, and a great deal of puzzlement upon learning of my passion to write what I characterize as faith-based thrillers. My journey as a writer followed a crooked path with lots of disappointments that led to the ultimate creation of the Jo Oliver Thriller series.
I completed what I thought of as my first novel around 2010. At that time, I fancied myself a murder mystery writer and I wanted to write a series about a hard-boiled female detective making her way in a man’s world while battling her own demons from the inside out. I was interested in painting a picture of the power of community as well as showing the commonality of human frailty and failure as a route to freedom, peace, and growth.
The old ‘write what you know’ adage led me at first to consider and attempt writing about a crime-solving female superintendent (my day job.) You may not be shocked to hear that it was pretty dull—and fatally contrived. The machinations I was driven to explore in order to insert a realistic thread that allowed my heroine to solve murders from the superintendent’s office—well, it’s all best left in the trash bin.
The voices in my head demanded attention, insisting that I release protagonist Jo Oliver into the role of a small town police chief and I finished a passable first draft of her story. After a grueling round of feedback at my first fiction writers’ conference—an invaluable experience—I took the criticism that my novel wasn’t ‘cop enough’ and began to rewrite anew. An interesting thing happened. While I found I could ‘cop it up’ and did (by adding a harsh police edge to my writing) I discovered I didn’t want to write a book about a female cop. At all. So I stopped writing. For about a year.
Months later I reread my novel under the summer sun, surprised by how much I still loved Jo Oliver and her merry band of misfits and their harrowing adventures. Flashes of brilliance muted by way too much police-oriented detail inspired me not to give up. I allowed myself to be led by joy, to write what I liked, to pay attention to what sprung from the heart.
I had another epiphany. My story was, always has been, always will be, about a woman going through the challenges of life and trying to find her way. That my woman was a cop was secondary to the story. My story was about the heart, about what tears it up and how the pieces can fall back together far more beautifully as a result of pain. I loved the notion of packing enough trouble into the lives of my characters to create tension for my readers. Would the tough personal and professional circumstances my characters encountered cause them to become better, or bitter? Which choices cause which result, and why? Now that was something I could write about.
Authentic stories springing from my heart could not come forth without an element of faith being intimately entwined—because that’s who I am. Writing a compelling character arc in isolation of spiritual issues, challenges, and questions was unimaginable. In the heat of this ‘aha moment’ I passionately reworked my story yet again. I energetically embedded a strong strand of faith with religious overtones—and once again, I found myself stopped dead in my tracks. Adding ‘religion’ made my writing seem stiff and schmaltzy. The edge and the grit I so loved about my protagonist melted into boredom and disillusionment. Once again, I shelved my work for another year.
That little niggling voice prompted me to pick up my manuscript and read it through in the light of another summer sun. To my delight, I was still very much in love with the story. I realized again that what I cared most about was writing stories about a woman we come to love who is far from perfect, but whose foibles, failures, and experiences make her perfect for the world she encounters. That was the day the Jo Oliver Thriller series was born—the day I began to trust my own voice, trust in the mystery and majesty of The One Most High, and listen to the leanings of my heart.
A scene involving Jo Oliver and a colorful antagonist rolled out of me that introduced the notion of God through a gritty spiritual warfare scene—and everything clicked. I rewrote my first novel for the umpty-umpth time and published that work as Alabaster Vases in 2015. A journey with a new publisher ended with rebranding the first novel as Cleansed By Death in 2016 shortly before publishing my award-winning sequel Shattered By Death weeks later. Anchored By Death, book 3 of the series, hits the shelves in June 2017 (Elk River Publishing, Inc.)
There are two things I did not expect to occur in my life as a result of my writing—and both of them make all the sense in the world. The first is that God meets and develops me personally through my writing. I believe I have a calling as a faith-based fiction writer and following that call makes me happy. It also helps shapes me into the woman I was created to be, and to become. The second surprise is that my writing improves with every book. The work does not get easier—it’s still the daily grind of getting in my word count—but the joy continues and my personal mastery improves with every hour clocked, every word penned. All in all, my personal journey coupled with the continuous improvement as a writer makes for much better books
Catherine Finger loves to dream, write, and tell stories. Recently retired from a wonderful career, she celebrates the ability to choose how to spend her time in new ways during the second half of life. So far, she chooses to write books, ride horses, serve others, and generally find her way into and out of trouble both on the road and at home. She lives in the Midwest with a warm and wonderful combination of family and friends. Anchored by Death is the third novel in her Jo Oliver thriller series. Learn more at CatherineFinger.com.