Kathleen Bostrom sees parallels between shoes and writing.
“Sometimes we writers have to try on a lot of shoes until we find the ones that fit,” she said Thursday during the Presbyterian Writers Guild lunch at the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), adding that it took some years for her to find her niche as a writer.
Bostrom, whose works have been translated into 17 languages around the world, received the Guild’s 2014 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award.
Bostrom said she first tried on “the soft leather shoes of a poet.” She tried the running shoes of a short story writer, then the hiking boots of a novelist, and then the “sensible sturdy shoes of a nonfiction writer.” None of these felt right.
“The shoes I ended up going back to time and time again were the playful shoes of a children’s book writer,” she said. After four-and-a-half years and hundreds of rejection letters, Bostrom finally had her first children’s book accepted for publication.
“Once I found the shoes that fit best, I poured my energy into writing for children.” When writing for children, she said, “I become like a child myself.”
Bostrom confessed that at various times in her career she had the audacity to wish she could be the next Frederick Buechner, or the next Katherine Paterson or some other writer she admired. But a woman in her congregation gave her some advice: “You don’t have to worry about filling someone else’s shoes. Your own fit just fine.”
Bostrom challenged listeners: “Go out and do a little shoe shopping. Experiment with a variety of styles. But remember, your shoes fit just fine.”
The distinguished writer award is named for the late David Steele, Presbyterian poet and essayist best known for his “Tuesday Morning” column in The Presbyterian Outlook. The award is given biennially to a Presbyterian writer who blessed the church with his or her writing over the course of a career.
Previous winners include Katherine Paterson, Fredrick Buechner, Ann Weems, Eugene H. Peterson, Gustav Niebuhr, Marj Carpenter, Gayraud Wilmore, Eva Stimson, Kathleen Norris, Bill Tammeus, the late Vic Jameson, John Buchanan and Doris Betts.
Bostrom, who served as co-pastor of Wildwood, Illinois, Presbyterian Church for 22 years, has published numerous articles and more than three dozen books, most for children. Her book Who is Jesus? was a finalist for the 2000 Gold Medallion Award and What About Heaven? was nominated for the People's Choice Award.
Bostrom’s books have sold several million copies in the 16 years since her first book was published. Sales of her “Little Blessings” series total more than 3 million in the U.S. alone and have been printed in 17 languages, the most recent of which is Indonesian. Italian translations of her books can be found in the Vatican bookstore in Rome.
At its luncheon, the Presbyterian Writers Guild also honored Robert John Andrews, a pastor in Danville, Pennsylvania, as recipient of this year’s Presbyterian Publishing Corporation First Book Award for Nathaniel’s Call, his novel set during the Civil War. The award honors the best first book by a Presbyterian author published during the calendar years of 2012–2013.
Andrews’ book, self-published in 2012, was selected from among 17 entries in a variety of genres to receive the biennial award. His novel is told from the point of view of a Presbyterian chaplain and a physician attached to a Pennsylvania regiment during the Civil War.
Andrews has been the pastor of Grove Presbyterian Church in Danville since 1989. He has been moderator of Northumberland Presbytery and writes a weekly column for the Danville News.
Accepting the award, Andrews said, “I love fiction, could be because I’m a preacher.” He said what he enjoys about fiction writing is “the power of truth being conveyed and getting into the minds and hearts of characters and influencing their motives.” He added, “My aim in fiction is to have readers put the book down and exclaim, ‘That was religious!’”