Greetings from the Sunny South!
As I stated in my short blog post on January 7, introducing my new blog series, The Author Behind the Story, I wanted to get to know better the authors behind the stories I read or heard about from someone I know. I also wanted readers to either get a chance to strike up a deeper relationship with these authors or get to know a new author they've never read before. It's all about the relationships here. Ones that will move forward long after the last page is turned.
So, with that little preface, I want to introduce to you to author Kristin Neva!
Welcome, Kristin! To get us started, give us a quick glimpse, in fifty words or less, of who is Kristin Neva?
I am a mother, caregiver, speaker, and author. My husband, Todd, and I wrote a memoir called Heavy, Finding Meaning after a Terminal Diagnosis. He and I have a blogging and speaking ministry focused on finding meaning in the midst of suffering. Between running my kids to various activities and caring for my quadriplegic husband, I write small-town, inspirational fiction. My first novel Snow Country was published in December 2016, and the second novel in the Copper Island series, Copper Country, will be published June 2017.
Before you ever got a notion of becoming a writer/author, how old were you, and what were you doing in that time of your life?
Starting the fourth decade of my life, I was living in Racine, Wisconsin, with my husband and baby daughter. I was a bit stir crazy, having shifted from full-time ministry work to being a stay-at-home mom. I needed a creative outlet, something to keep my brain growing. I started taking writing classes at our local community arts center and wrote some short pieces. I’ve always been a reader, and I’ve kept a journal since I was 12. I even took extra English classes in college just for the pure joy of it, so writing was a natural fit for me.
What educational background do you have?
I graduated from Moody Bible College with a degree in Youth Ministry. When I went on a college tour and visited Moody as a seventeen-year-old, I knew it was the college for me. I loved the excitement of the city, and I wanted to make a difference in the world. As a college student, I got involved in inner-city ministry to teens. I went on to coordinate a tutoring program and help lead a youth group in Milwaukee, WI.
So, you already stated you are wife and mother. How many children do you have, and what are their ages?
I have two children. My daughter, Sara, is ten and my son, Isaac, is seven.
I’m going to give you a shotgun list of favorites. List your favorite in each category and then tell us why it is your favorite.
Favorite Food: Fresh-picked Upper Michigan blueberries.
Favorite Drink: I’m a new coffee drinker. I had never liked coffee, until our pastor changed the church coffee over to a high quality, micro-roast brand. I took a sip, loved it, and realized I had only tried bad coffee.
Favorite Song: Our God is a Great Big God. I play the guitar and lead music for kids at church. They love this one, and I love watching them do the motions.
Favorite Non-Fiction Book (other than your own & besides the Bible): Story Trumps Structure, Steven James. I didn’t know how to apply much of the writing advice I had heard until I read James’ book. He cuts to the essence of what makes a story work.
Favorite Bible Verse: John 11:35 “Jesus wept.” I love that this verse embodies the incarnation. As I live with my husband’s terminal illness, I find comfort in Jesus having experienced suffering and the same emotions that we experience.
Favorite Movie: I like the classics like The Sound of Music and Bringing up Baby. I just introduced my kids to Bringing up Baby, and it has been fun to find occasions to quote the movie with them in our daily life.
Favorite Actor or Actress: Again, I love Julie Andrews as Maria. I have grand visions of myself running through fields with my guitar—though I think Julie Andrews probably didn’t have a guitar in her case in the scene when she was running. It’s awkward to run with a guitar, which I know well because I’m frequently running into the church on Sundays to be on time to lead music for the kids.
Favorite Novel (other than your own, of course): Any of Jan Karon’s novels that are set in Mitford.
Favorite Novelist (other than you, of course): Jan Karon. She created the charming world of Mitford with a lovable characters like Father Tim and Cynthia. They are my friends, and I delight in the details of their life.
Favorite Sport: Hockey. Up here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we embrace winter and with it, hockey.
Favorite Team (Can be any sport, any level): The Michigan Tech Huskies—our local college hockey team.
Favorite Subject in School Growing Up: English.
Favorite Subject Now: English
Favorite Teacher in School: Mr. Smith—he was—of course—my high school English teacher.
Favorite Time of the Year: Summer. I love living in a place where we have four distinct seasons, although I admit by March, when we have many weeks of winter left, I am weary of the snow. Summer is all the more glorious after a long winter and a cold spring.
Favorite Place to Vacation: Vacations are too difficult today, given my husband’s complete quadriplegia. I don’t like to leave home. We have all the equipment necessary to make life manageable right here at home. But in our pre-ALS days, I loved our escapes to warm winter destinations. California. Florida. The white sands of Siesta Key.
If you had one person you could meet (think outside the Bible for this question) and could spend as much time as you wanted with that individual, who would it be?
I would have a glass of raspberry cordial with Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of the Anne books. Montgomery was not a stranger to suffering and she wrote to escape the hardships of real life. I think we’d connect, maybe even be kindred spirits.
Funny you should mention Anne of Green Gables. I lived in a house full of "women" (a wife and three daughters). It was Chick-flick central for years. And I have to say, some of them weren't that bad, and the Anne movies were some of the best, IMHO. I guess I should read the books sometime, huh?
If you had one person you could meet (think ONLY Bible characters for this question) and could spend as much time as you wanted with that individual, who would it be besides Jesus?
Peter. I love Peter because he was so gung-ho about following Christ, then he failed so miserably, but yet he was reinstated. Even with all his failings he was “the rock” upon which Jesus would build the church.
Besides the usual things authors face, has there been an unusual event that changed your perspective about being an author?
Just over six years ago, my husband was diagnosed with ALS, a degenerative neuromuscular disease that results in complete paralysis and eventually death, usually within 3 to 5 years. Todd was just shy of his 40th year, and I was in my early 30s. We had a four-year-old daughter and a nine-month-old son. Todd had a good job, and we lived in a 1925 bungalow, which we were renovating room by room.
Life didn’t change much right after the diagnosis, except our dreams died. Career advancement. Family vacations. Reaching old age together. We just hoped he’d live long enough for our children to remember him.
I read a number of books at the time about suffering, but most were written by people who had made it through the hard times and reflected on the ordeal with perspective that I wasn’t able to find at the time. I couldn’t relate to them, because I didn’t think it was possible to come out of the miry pit.
Todd and I began to blog (NevaStory.com), and then our blogs turned into a memoir, Heavy. We dealt with the raw emotions of the first year after a terminal diagnosis when there doesn’t seem to be any hope. The book has received positive feedback from people who feel that we’re with them in their suffering.
And now that my husband is disabled and it’s impractical for me to work outside the home due to his need for 24-hour care, I’ve turned to writing what I love to read—small-town fiction. I explore life issues and spiritual themes with quirky characters on Copper Island. Todd is my chief editor, and I bounce ideas off of him. It’s good for our marriage. Grief needs action. Writing’s a way we’ve been able to build something good from the life we’ve been given.
What’s the craziest thing you have ever done?
This won’t shock my fellow Finns, but it does surprise others. Growing up, on New Year’s Eve, my dad would fire up the sauna and then break a hole through the ice in our pond with his backhoe. We’d warm up, and then jump in the freezing pond. Again and again.
That is crazy. I've never understood the Polar Bear Plunges people do for sport. I think even polar bears only jump in when they need to eat, right?
Why do you live where you live?
Why do you live where you live?
After Todd was diagnosed with ALS, he said, “We need to move by your parents. We cannot do this alone.” He had known a family friend with ALS, and he knew it takes much support from friends and family. We moved from Racine, Wisconsin, to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where I was raised. We purchased a few acres on the side of my parents’ property, and then built a house where the old barn used to sit.
I’m thankful daily for the decision to move here. My mother is a saint who helps keep me sane, helping run the kids around town, taking them for nights now and then, and giving my husband massages and range of motion nearly every night. My father had been very supportive, too, until his untimely passing last March, and I’ve also lost other local relatives over the last few years. Aren’t all deaths untimely? Though death is certain and inevitable, it always feel wrong. Our souls long to be in heaven.
But even with the passing of so many family, we’re still surrounded by many friends in this community where neighbors help neighbors. We have a few volunteers who take shifts some nights to help turn Todd so that I can sleep. The climate is harsh here — averaging over 200 inches of snow per year — but hearts are soft.
We know “Readers are leaders, and leaders are readers.” Is there a book you’ve read in the past five years or so that has helped you become a better you? If so, which one was it, and how did it affect your life?
Philip Yancey’s Disappointment with God. Yancey reflects on the questions I have as I experience on-going grief and sleep-deprivation as a caregiver for my husband: Is God unfair? Is God silent? Is God hidden? Yancey is one of the few authors I have come across who resonates with me as he explores this subject with depth and thoughtfulness in multiple books. I touch on similar themes in both my non-fiction and fictional works.
When you look for a new home, what are the things that are important to you?
Todd and I designed our home to meet his needs. He was still walking at the time, but we knew a day would come when he’d be in a wheelchair. We have an attached garage, something that is surprisingly not common in the Upper Peninsula, but absolutely necessary to load and unload him from our accessible van. Our house is built on grade with in-floor radiant heat, so his toes stay warm in the winter. He has a roll-in shower, and tracks are mounted on the ceilings for an electric hoist to transfer him.
Our house is located on the Keweenaw Peninsula, which juts out into Lake Superior and is cut-off from the mainland by a canal. Cold winter winds blow across the lake and pick up moisture, depositing a couple inches of lake effect snow nearly every day from the middle of December until the end of February. Every house must be designed to account for snow removal and prevailing winds. Garage doors must be placed on the gable ends, and roof trusses must be designed to hold over 120 pounds per square foot of snow load.
When you look for a new car, what are the things that are important to you?
In the Keweenaw, four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive is a big plus, but the most important thing for us is accessibility. My husband is in a wheelchair, so our vehicle must have a ramp to load him. I do have an all-wheel-drive Toyota Sienna that I use to run errands, but when Todd is with us, we need to take his accessible van. With snow tires, it does all right as long as the snow isn’t too deep.
When you are looking for a book to read, what are the things that are important to you?
I’m a voracious reader. I enjoy small-town fiction and read just about anything of that genre that comes into our library. I like books with strong character development, and that’s what I want to write. The characters should be my friends, and I should care about what happens to them.
What Bible scripture has impacted your life the most, and why?
It’s a verse from Romans 8 that one of my characters quotes in Snow Country: “Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?” Sometimes my life feels like an Upper Michigan winter—spiritually, emotionally, and physically—and I feel like spring will never come. But just as our two hundred plus inches of snow will eventually melt and we’ll enter a glorious summer, I have hope in Christ, hope that one day there will be an end to all the suffering we experience here.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers about you, or anything we didn’t cover?
My husband and I are Finnish-Americans—third-generation Americans, yet we retain a slice of Finnish culture that is prevalent in the region where I live and write about.
The old Finns called this place Kuparisaari, Copper Island, and it was the favorite destination for Finnish immigrants from 1870 through the early 1920s. Many Finns escaped abject poverty for the promise of fortune to work in underground mines that supplied 90% of the country’s copper.
Since Finns once made up 20% of the population in the Copper Country, they had a noticeable impact on the local culture. My fifth-grade daughter told us the other day that her teacher asked for a show of hands of who has a sauna—every hand was raised. The streets in town are named in both English and Finnish. Many families retain Finnish names for their favorite dishes.
The mines have long since closed. Once glimmering shaft houses are now rusted, empty shells or tourist attractions. Sandstone walls of roofless buildings enclose mini birch groves. A dredger from a reclamation plant is pulled up off the shores of Torch Lake, listing lifelessly to its side. And the Portage Lake lift Bridge, built in 1959, carries snowmobile traffic on its lower deck that has been stripped of its railroad tracks.
These remnants are proud reminders of the past golden years—or shall I say copper years. Though incomes are low and the housing stock is old, it would be inaccurate to describe the area as economically depressed. People choose to live here, in spite of the harsh climate and low wages. Copper Island has a natural beauty that nourishes its residents.
In my writing, I attempt to capture the essence of the culture, climate, and creation. The region almost becomes a character in itself. So much is already been written about Italians in Brooklyn, or the Irish in Boston. I hope to introduce the world to the Finns in the Keweenaw.
Kristin, it's been a pleasure having you here and getting to know you. Our prayers are with you, your husband, and your family. May God help you find time to write for Him! And stay warm!!
If you wish to connect with Kristin further, you can visit her @ www.kristinneva.com or read about her journey with her husband @ www.NevaStory.com.
May God bless you all, and may you bless God!