Every once in a while you get to meet an author who not only writes compelling stories, but whose life is a compelling story in itself. That’s the case with my lifelong friend Reverend Cheryl Anne Kincaid from the First Presbyterian Church of Clifton, New Jersey. We grew up in the same church in San Diego. Although we attended different schools, we both spent many hours at that city’s storied Old Globe Theatre and fell in love with Shakespeare and literature (more about that in Cheryl’s interview).
Cheryl has authored a Christmas devotional, Hearing the Gospel Through Charles’ Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and a delightful children’s book, The Little Candle That Was Frightened of the Dark, a children’s advent devotion written for children between the ages of three to six.
So, pull up a chair and get comfortable. Let’s hear more from this this fascinating, multi-talented author and pastor:
Tell us something about yourself.
I am an evangelical Christian. Since I believe this word has been overused and misused in the public arena, let me define it. The word evangelical is taken from the Greek word euvaggeli,zw which is pronounced as euaggelizo which simply means ‘good news.’ This is the term that is used when the disciples are given the charge to preach the gospel (Mark 16:15, Luke 9:6, Matthew 26:13) So by saying that I am an evangelical, I am saying that I believe in the Good News of the Salvation of Jesus Christ. It is the center piece and foundation of my entire ministry. But I also have a strong passion for social compassion and justice, which has also put me in conflict with some evangelicals. Both of these convictions come from my childhood, which has greatly influenced my writing.
In the Shadow
I grew up in beautiful San Diego, California in the shadow of poverty and despair. My father was an alcoholic and abusive, my mother was constantly depressed and passively abusive.
I had a strong desire to share my faith since an early age and I think that was the seed of my passion for writing. I was constantly trying to find limited, earthy human words to describe a mysterious wonder of my relationship Jesus. I am still amazed at how he saved me from my environment. Jesus was my sole stability in my otherwise very unstable world. In many ways my church was the saving grace of my life. But growing up on welfare in a conservative community can be painful.
Conflicts and Passions
These conflicts in my world, found a home in my writing. These conflicts also found a home in my reading as I found these themes reflected in the works of Charles Dickens, and William Shakespeare. My passion for this literature grew in a most unusual way.
The Junior High that I attended was next door to an outdoor theatre in San Diego called the Old Globe Theatre. It was a place where I could sneak unnoticed into the rehearsals. I had dyslexia and reading was not an easy task for me. While other children my age could freely read a sentence, I had to use my finger under each word to discipline my eyes to move from left to right across the page. If it wasn’t for my exposure to the spoken word of the theatre, I don’t think I would have ever developed my passion for literature which most certainly has affected my writing. Those rehearsals gave me the courage to work through ‘Great Expectation” “Oliver Twist” “King Lear” “A Comedy of Errors”. And my writing developed as my reading developed.
What inspired you to write this book?
My book is entitled, “Hearing the Gospel Through Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol” and was inspired my Charles Dickens story “A Christmas Carol”. I used to watch a black and white version of A Christmas Carol every year after our midnight Christmas Eve service at our church. I knew there was biblical theme in the story but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Later, in college, I started to use the Advent Wreath in my personal Christmas devotions. I recognized that the readings from scriptures of the themes of Hope, Faith, Peace, Joy and Love complimented the admonitions the Ghosts gave Ebenezer Scrooge. My curiosity was ignited, but while working my way through college, I simply didn’t have the time to research my theory.
In 1993, I was in a car accident which left my left leg paralyzed. It was year after my car accident. I had worked so hard to get into college and move out of the down town area into a nice apartment with my working roommates. With my car accident, all my hard work slipped through my fingers. I was once again living in an apartment with roaches and in an unsafe part of town. Walking to work was no longer an option. I was on disability, which felt like welfare, and the painful struggle with my walker and the bus was an embarrassment for me as people gave me what seemed to me to be looks of pity, that someone so young should be using a walker.
It was at that time that my sister and I went to a production of “A Christmas Carol” at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. It wasn’t safe to for me walk down stairs but the elevator wouldn’t take us down to the bottom floor. We kept going up and down in the elevator before we realized this we were never going reach the bottom floor. No one informed us that we would need an elevator key. These are things you have to learn by yourself when you have a handicap. We finally ended up gingerly walking down the stairs with my sister holding me up and the walker. The walker seemed to let out a loud ‘clang’ with each step. Everyone’s head seemed to turn with each clang.
“A Unique Take”
We finally arrived at the show. It was a unique take on A Christmas Carol. The Cratchet family lived in Harlem in this production, but the production was close to the story line. When the young actor recited the line from Bob Cratchet, I broke down in tears.
“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs. Cratchet.
“As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”
I used to view that line as corny, something that someone might mock on ‘Saturday Night Live’. But now I saw it as an honest attempt to ask God to redeem the worst of situations. I notice that Tiny Tim did not ask for healing, he was willing for God to use him where he was and whatever condition that was given to him. I wept and I knew that this was my book to write.
In seminary, while studying the Elizabethan prayer book, I noticed strong correlations between the ghosts and readings in Isaiah from the Anglican prayer book. At that time the structure book began to take form in my mind. I started to study about Charles Dickens life and faith journey to affirm or disprove my theory. I pleasantly surprised to find my theory was affirmed in his letters to friend foster and his travel diaries, it was at that time that I started to write my book
How did you choose the title?
The book was originally entitled “Around the Advent Wreath with Ebenezer Scrooge.” But I felt a great reverence as I researched serious political conditions that inspired Charles Dickens to write ‘A Christmas Carol’ and the themes Anglican Prayer Book. My original title seemed frivolous and inappropriate. I felt I understood what Charles Dickens was trying to do. He was trying to get the church of his day to ‘hear the gospel’ with their actions and hearts. So the title of “Hearing the Gospel Through Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” seemed self-explanatory to me, when I finished the book.
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
It took a couple of years to get a publisher to take my book seriously. This is very common for most writers. Persistence and resilience is a key discipline every writer should cultivate. I found the scripture in Luke 11:9, to be a great inspiration in this respect.
“And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Luke 11:9
Remember, in the Greek it is in the perfect present case, so it means, ‘keep seeking, keep knocking’
Reading Sally Stuart’s book, “The Christian Writers Market Guide” was really helpful. Reading this book should be a priority for anyone who wishes to be published.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
I never questioned that I wasn’t a writer; I knew that I was writer because I wrote. I yearned to write, at times my fingers would itch feel the gentle thump of typewriter keys beneath them. The desire to become published, however, seemed improvable from the very beginning of my journey. So I started writing for writing’s sake, understanding I might never get published. When I felt it was time for my work to be published, I pursued it like my education. I used persistence, and hardened my feelings to the amount of rejections that I received. I had other means of employment, so my livelihood wasn’t based on my publication. This gave me the luxury of time, so I continued to knock on doors until a publisher answered the door and said yes.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I need three things to write well: a cup of tea, an Oxford English dictionary, and a quiet room. Anything beyond these things are welcomed but not necessary.
Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?
I learned a tremendous amount about English history from writing “Hearing the Gospel Through Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol.” I also felt privileged to learn more about the inward storms of Charles Dickens through his personal letters and writings. I resonated with his storms.
If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?
Of course I wished that I could have written the book earlier. But even if I had the time to write the book in college, I don’t think that I was ready to write the book until after my car accident. Sometimes books, like children, have their own timetable of when they will be born.
I also wish I could have negotiated a cheaper price for the book. But first time writers really don’t have a lot of power and I am content that we are putting out a paper back in November.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
The Scriptures are on the top of my reading list. As I have already expressed, I love the works of Charles Dickens and Shakespeare. I am inexplicably drawn to Victorian novels such as works by Jane Austin, Emily & Charlotte Bronte.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
I am currently working on a book called A Hope and Future which is a twelve step devotion for incest and rape survivors.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
My first advice for any writer who wished to be published is to read Sally Stuart’s book “The Christian Writers’ Market Place.” Move cautiously if you seek to self published, it is easy to loose a lot of money on unethical predators in this market. Perfect your craft before you seek to get published, if you are writer, write. And last but most certainly not least, persistence, persistence, persistence!! Don’t give up.
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
“Hearing the Gospel Through Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol” is written for an adult devotion. Anyone who seeks to understand Scripture and get a greater sense of history of Christmas would enjoy this book. I, personally think that it would make a great gift for pastors.
“The Little Candle That Was Frightened of the Dark” is a children’s advent devotion and is written for children between the ages of three to six.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
Below are the websites associated with my book:
Find out more about Pastor Kincaid and her work here.