Friday, September 14, 2012

Please Welcome Our Guest Cathy Gohlke

Cathy Gohlke
Julie here, and it is my privilege and pleasure to welcome back one of my favorite authors and friends, Cathy Gohlke for another challenging and thought-provoking post that could very well change how you write ... and how you live. Without further ado, I give you my good friend, Cathy.

I was ten years old when my mother tucked Charles Sheldon’s bestselling novel into my Easter basket, along with Barbie clothes, jellybeans and a chocolate bunny.  The jellybeans and chocolate bunny disappeared by sundown.  The Barbie clothes faded, as did my passion for them.  But, after my Bible, I’ve read that novel more times than any other book.  Like my Bible, that novel changed my life.  And it was all because of the question that formed the novel’s premise.

            Sheldon’s 1897 bestselling classic, In His Steps, first coined and made popular the question we’ve seen plastered on billboards, woven in bookmarks, and worn on colorful stretchy bracelets—“What would Jesus do?”

            In the novel, the Rev. Henry Maxwell’s faith walk is challenged by an impoverished, dying man.  Regretful and repentant, Rev. Maxwell determines to ask himself before each future action, What would Jesus do—what would He really do?—and act upon the answer—no matter the consequences.  He challenges his congregation to join him in this quest, for one year.

             Those accepting the challenge find that their lives are turned inside out and upside down as they alternately suffer and celebrate the consequences of their actions.  Some lose the love and support of family and friends in the process.  Some gain friends and purposes they’d never imagined.  They begin to look at life and their own gifts from new perspectives.  Ultimately, each one is transformed as they follow in Christ’s steps, living intentionally, and sacrificially as they understand He lived.

            One powerful, mind-bending, mind-stretching question shaped a novel and transformed its characters in their most vulnerable places.  And the power of that one question has changed the lives of countless readers. 

            All of that is to say that I’m star struck with the power of questions—as long as they are powerful, as long as they’re questions that open and stretch our minds.

            What if we, as Christian writers, posed that question in our work?  What if, before each project, we asked, What would Jesus do—what would He write—right here, right now?  What has He prepared and gifted me to write?  How would He portray this scene, this chapter, this conflict?  What is the point He’d want to make?  How would He make it live and breathe?

            Jesus told stories to convey deep truths.  He crafted tales and parables of farmers and fishermen, housewives, employers, knotty family relationships—all characters with relationships and occupations just like the real people He addressed.  He showed characters using the same props His hearers used each day—lamps, oil, banquets, weddings, mustard seeds, yeast, dough.  He showed them frightened or confused, in conflict with themselves and others—losing a coin, losing a pearl, their wheat fields riddled with tares, their children ungrateful.  And he showed them in resolution—finding a coin, bundling wheat and burning tares after harvest, wayward children stumbling home while overjoyed parents go out to meet them.           

            Behind each of those stories is a question:

*What does a father do when his ungrateful child takes his inheritance and runs?

*Do we really need to remain diligent?  Can’t we just wing it and ask for help later if we’re not prepared?  Isn’t it the duty of good people to help me?

*What’s faith?  What good is it?  How much do I need?  Does it remain the same, or if I exercise it, will it grow?

*Isn’t it enough to be tolerant?  Do I have to be holy?  What’s the difference and what difference does it make?

Oh—the power of a well phrased question!  It can set us off and running.

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Think about the stories you’ve read or the stories you’ve written.  What questions do they pose?  I’d venture to say that the deepest questions posed are things the author has asked or struggled with at some time in some form.  At least that’s true for me.

My first novel, William Henry is a Fine Name, is an Underground Railroad story.  Robert, the main character, struggles with issues of slavery—caught in the middle between an abolitionist father and a mother born and bred in a slave holding family.  Robert’s question, ultimately, is “Where do I stand on the issue of slavery?  Do I help slaves escape or do nothing?”  In trying to untangle that web he asks, “Does God hate slavery—or is He for it?”  That sounds mighty like What would Jesus do? to me.
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In I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires, Robert is frustrated that he can’t join the Union Army before turning eighteen. He’s frustrated that he can’t control his family—his mother deserted him to return to her childhood home in the south; his father is off drawing maps for the Union Army; the cousin he loves is caught behind enemy lines.  Ultimately, Robert asks, Can I surrender control?  Is surrender to God defeat, or is it victory?  I don’t know the answers to my life; I need God.  What’s the right thing to do?  Those questions embody the question, What would Jesus do in this situation?

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In Promise Me This, Michael struggles to carry out the promise he made to Owen while aboard Titanic, to help Owen’s family in New Jersey and bring his sister, Annie to America.  Years, finances, hard feelings and war all stand in his way and convolute his journey, but Michael can’t let go of the promise he made to the man who blessed him with life, a home, a family, a purpose—a future.  He asks, repeatedly, as he traverses the rocky terrain of his life, “What would Owen do in this situation?”             

In Promise Me This, Owen is a portrait of Christ.  Once again, the main character essentially asks, What would Jesus do?

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My newest novel, Band of Sisters, was born of a desire to end modern-day slavery and most of all to ask, what can I do to help in a need so desperate?   Despite all my research, I couldn’t answer that—not until I opened Charles Sheldon’s novel, In His Steps, and read again the all-important question:  What would Jesus do?

What would Jesus do about human trafficking?  What did He do while here on earth that would give me clues?

As I contemplated those questions and Jesus’ actions and the principles by which He lived, I wrote my characters’ responses.  New possibilities for the fight against modern-day slavery opened in my mind—ways to help in the real world that I’d never considered.  Those led to connections with individuals and organizations—one spring boarding to another—most of which I’d never heard or known.

 You can see some of those on the resource page  on my website—a hotline for help; organizations offering help and hope for healing to victims; others who prosecute predators; art and media forms, including novels and nonfiction books, that raise awareness of modern-day slavery.  The list continues to grow, showing we can all do something, no matter our circumstances.

Before I knew it things were happening not only in my story, but in the lives of others who’ve read Band of Sisters, and other books by other authors written to raise awareness of human trafficking and to enlist warriors of every kind—including pen warriors—in the fight for abolition.

One reviewer (Christian Fiction Addiction) wrote, “Band of Sisters is a powerfully moving story, one that proved to be even more than I expected. I picked up the book expecting to be entertained - and I was. I picked up the book expecting to encounter a well-written read - and I did. But I did not pick up the book expecting my faith to be so challenged, to feel so moved to ask myself what Jesus would do, how I should respond in the face of social injustices, in the face of need. This book is not simply a poignant story, but a call to band together as Christians to confront the evil in this world, one person at a time.”

Little steps—but what a journey!  I cried for joy when I read that review.  The reader got—she really got it!  And it began with a question posed by an author over one hundred years ago.

Try it—with your story.  Ask, what would Jesus do?  What would He have me write?  What story has He prepared me (through experience, environment, passionate interest) to tell?  How would He tell this story?  How would He respond to the fundamental question of the story?  The answers will knock your socks off.

And then leave it all with Him.  See where He takes it.  Be amazed.

Leave a comment for a chance to win Cathy's latest release, Band of Sisters. Be sure to leave your e-mail address in a spam-free manner such as susieseeker(at)seekerville(dot)com.


Cathy Gohlke is the two-time Christy Award-winning author of the critically acclaimed novels Promise Me This, William Henry is a Fine Name and I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires, which also won the Carol Award and was listed by Library Journal as one of the Best Books of 2008. 

Band of Sisters released September, 2012 from Tyndale House Publishers.

When not traipsing the hills and dales of historic sites, Cathy, her husband, and their English Springer Spaniel,  Reilly,  make their home on the banks of the Laurel Run in Elkton, Maryland. Visit her website at


  1. I am so glad to see Seekerville back up--I was beginning to suffer from serious withdrawal symptoms!

    I enjoyed your column greatly Cathy. I enjoy romance, but I also like books that make me think. I certainly feel that your approach could help me to write those same kind of books that I enjoy. I have two of your books on my TBR list and the post that you shared today will help those move forward. Thank you.

    I am sure that Helen will show up soon with the coffee so , I have brought pumpkin bread. I usually make three kinds: with walnuts, dried cranberries or raisins. There is also a tub of cinnamon spiced cream cheese for a spread. Enjoy!

  2. Good Morning. We have no idea what the blog was up to this morning, but it seems to be back now.
    PHEW! Piper, you think YOU suffer from withdrawal? WHAT ABOUT ME????

    Oh, I guess I could write a book!!!

  3. Good morning, Cathy!

    (I'm glad Seekerville is back up and running, too - Mary must have called the uber-tow truck!)

    What a powerful post. It makes me look at the stories I have in the works and wonder what questions they are asking, and what questions they should ask.

    And a good reminder of why we write.

    There's a reason for the quote "the pen is mightier than the sword."

    On another note, I used to live in Topeka, Kansas, where Charles Sheldon lived and preached. I used to drive by his little church weekly (still a church, but times and neighborhoods have changed) and think about this man who has changed so many lives in the last hundred years because he wrote a story. That little book started a whole movement within the evangelical church.

    Pretty powerful words, right?

    It's a good reminder to start every writing day with prayer...

  4. Mary,

    Yeah, there is that writing thing to do too, lol! Playing in Seekerville is my reward for ticking off my word count goals--it helps me to get something done!

  5. Cathy, what a beautiful post! You've inspired me to look at my wip with different eyes.

    Thank you so much for being with us again today. I can't wait to read this new book!

  6. So it crashed after I brought breakfast?????

    HOW STINKIN' RUDE!!!! I brought coffee, too, with creamers! And the Keurig!!!!


    So anyway, Cathy, I called you brilliant and insightful or something equally nice this morning... because this post was both.

    Thank you for being here and I blame Connealy whenever something goes wrong... even though she CLAIMS to have fixed it, clearly she may or may not have mucked it up to begin with.

    We'll see, won't we?????


    Except for the parts that are, of course.
    The earlier version of this was invisible to a lot of people, now I can see it but can anyone else?

    But many people COULD see it and there are a nice bunch of comments on it which I have deleted which is NOT FAIR because of the giveaway.

    So I copied those comments and am pasting in here.

    Then I will crawl under my desk and suck my thumb.


  8. So glad you stopped by today. You gave us lots to think about. Thanks. Jackie L. joyfuljelatgmaildotcom on GUEST BLOGGER CATHY GOHLKE: The Power of a Good Question (and Giveaway!!)

  9. Amazing Mary dove in and rescued the post! And I'm doubly impressed because she tends to avoid technology when possible. I guess I should admit I'm still waiting for something to blow up.


  10. Thank you Cathy for reminding me why I write the things I write.

    Can one book really change lives for the better?

    Yes!!! Yes it can.

  11. Oh, what a sluggard I am!!! Ruthy's here before me with coffee and muffins -- THANKS, you earlybird, you!! Of course, Ruthy's husband hasn't made her bike over 80 miles this week, I don't think, so that should account for SOME sleeping late, right??? Gosh, at this rate, I can eat ALL the muffins and still be okay ... ;) A HUGE SEEKER WELCOME to my dear friend Cathy Gohlke, one of the few writers I automatically pick up and read because she is just THAT good!! Beautiful post, Cath, as always, from the perspective of a truly beautiful mind and faith. Hugs, Julie on GUEST BLOGGER CATHY GOHLKE: The Power of a Good Question (and Giveaway!!)
    Julie Lessman
    at 7:25 AM

  12. I would love to be entered in the drawing for Band of Sisters. I read Promise Me This in February as part of Tyndale's blog tour and I loved it. One of these days I'll get around to reading the other books. My email is dawn(dot)janis(at)gmail(dot)com Those apple cinnamon muffins look wonderful. Especially so early on a Friday morning where if I didn't have to go to work, I'd still be sleeping. on GUEST BLOGGER CATHY GOHLKE: The Power of a Good Question (and Giveaway!!)
    at 7:19 AM

  13. My agent told me I should read this book, so I ought to put myself in the drawing, no? :) thanks for the kindle link to In His Steps, haven't read it. on GUEST BLOGGER CATHY GOHLKE: The Power of a Good Question (and Giveaway!!)
    Melissa Jagears


  14. That's too deep for 1140 at night ;). I think I picked up Promise Me This when it was free in April but I haven't read it yet. It looks sooo interesting though!!! So does this one. Would love to be in the drawing! carolmoncado at gmail dot com

  15. Cathy, what a brilliant and moving testimony of letting Christ work through your writing. Brava! Thank you for being our guest in Seekerville today! And Melissa, yes, you should read these.... Heartfelt books. Gohlke. You rock. Coffee's on and I brought the Keurig, peeps!!!! Any flavor you want. And there's a bevy of creamers to the side. Informal Friday, so wear your jeans and t-shirts. Grab a muffin. I've got pumpkin spice... with cream cheese frosting just because.... apple cinnamon.... bran and corn muffins. Fresh butter. Oh. Yum.
    Ruth Logan Herne
    at 5:59 AM

  16. Wow, what an amazing post! You wrote "Oh—the power of a well phrased question! It can set us off and running." Well your writing today has impacted me and set me off and running! I love the way you have used the question "What Would Jesus Do?" in your novels. I've decided to read "In His Steps" for myself and the good news is that the Kindle version is free at Please enter me in the book draw. ruthdell (at) mweb (dot) co (dot) za
    Ruth Ann Dell

  17. RUTH ANN, you sweetheart, you -- THANK YOU for including that Kindle link for a free download of In His Steps!! CHRISTY ... your "Write it Christian" directive in church gave me goosebumps, girl!! I had a similar experience, only not as spiritual -- it was in a beauty salon in 2001 when I was reading a Newsweek cover article that Christian books, music and movies were on the threshold of exploding (that was right before Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ). Anyway, I heard the words, "Now is the time to finish your book," which I took to mean the book that I started writing at the age of 12 after reading Gone With the Wind. I started the next month and within five years, that book debuted as A Passion Most Pure. Sure can't discount those spiritual whisperings, can you??? Hugs, Julie Lessman

  18. Years ago when I was writing my second romance I was sitting in church waiting for the worship service to begin and a voice said "Write it Christian." So I did. I wasn't even thinking about the story. I never submitted that mss because it was full of beginners' mistakes. It's the only inspirational mss I've written, though I've since written several sweet romances. I just downloaded In His Steps from Project Gutenberg (free). Maybe it will speak to me, too. christy at christy olesen dot com
    Christy Olesen

  19. Welcome to Seekerville, Cathy! I want to read all of your books, as well as In His Steps.

    Your post challenged me as an author and impacted me powerfully, even bringing tears to my eyes. Two of my seven books showed characters doing what Jesus would do. I will ask your list of questions before plotting the next story. Thanks!!


  20. Thank you, Cathy, for the words of exhortation this morning.

    In His Steps is a book and message that has stuck with me since I first encountered it as a teenager. We read through it in Sunday School a year or so before the WWJD bracelets began to be a big thing. When I would see someone wearing one, I wanted to grab them and say, "Have you read the book? Do you really know what it means to ask that question?" But I didn't. I was too shy. :-)
    After the Bible, of course, In His Steps and Pilgrim's Progress are the two books that have had the most impact on my life. Thank you for reminding me to apply those simple but powerful words, What would Jesus do?, to my everyday writing decisions,too.

  21. Cathy, thanks for this post. I can see how In His Steps molded your own writing and no doubt brought depth to it. I love the idea of asking questions before and during writing. What Would Jesus Do, is an especially good question to ponder.

    I'd love to be entered in the drawing: wetalk2biz at q(Lower case Q) dot com


  22. Cathy, what a message on a day when I needed to hear it! Those questions are going to impact my writing. Thanks!

    Mary, good job getting the car up and running this morning! ;)

  23. Wow -- powerful post and it explains why inspirational fiction has such an impact on me. As a reader I seem to gravitate to those questions and live out the answers along with the characters. My faith has grown in unexpected ways as a result.

    Loved Promise Me This. It's emotional impact on me was profound. I was shell-shocked by the end. :-) Looking forward to reading Band of Sisters as well.

  24. Cathy, thanks for joining us in Seekerville today . . . and pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain.

    Oops, that was Mary!!!

    Really, what an inspiring and thought-provoking post! You got me thinking more deeply about the central story question of my wip, which is exactly what I need to be doing right now so I can figure out what the characters will do next.

    Yep, you guessed it. I'm a pantser, not a plotter. . . . sigh . . .

  25. I really want to read Band of Sister.
    the reviews sound great.

  26. Cathy, I think every christian writer who reads this post will be affected by it. I know my writing will be positively changed because of it.

    Thank you!


  27. What a completely awesome review!! YOu're a great writer. I also loved that book. I read the original and a modern day one and both were powerful.

  28. Mary thanks for copying and pasting the comments. I was going to have to attempt to remember what I wrote at 6-something this morning.

  29. Wow, Cathy, Jan is right. Totally powerful post.Welcome back to Seekerville, and thank you for the glimpse into these story questions.

  30. You read In His Steps as a CHILD?

    I didn't discover it until I was a young mother.

  31. Thanks for being here, Cathy. And for the inspiring insights.

    All I could see last night was the heading of this.

    Bless Ruthie's heart, she provided coffee. But, since I'm so late in arriving today, I'll set up a fresh pot. Gotta help her out so she, Cara Lynn, Julie, and Sandra will take care of y'all and let me be erratic in attendance next week.

    Plan to take my laptop to Dallas, but don't know how much I'll get to use it. :)


  32. Helen, we'll keep things going for you while you schmooze your way through Dallas, honey-pie!

    You know, Cathy's post was always visible on Chrome... I was in this morning between you guys who couldn't see her.

    Do you think it was browser related? Tina's the one who hammered into my head...

    oops, strike that, "TOLD ME GENTLY"...

    that sometimes just changing browsers fixes things. What IE sees isn't always what Foxfire or Chrome sees. I use Chrome all the time now. Fewer problems with viruses than when I used IE and much better interaction with all things Google...

    Which should make his arch-rival Mr. Amazon happy.

  33. I've never read any of Cathy's books before. They look really interesting!


  34. Thanks for this post!
    GUEST BLOGGER CATHY GOHLKE: The Power of a Good Question (and Giveaway!!!)

    ~Camille M.

  35. after a month off of the internet, i am thrilled to be back on. No, this wasn't on of those deliberate denying myself of internet deals, but a family crisis. Although mom is still very close to death's door, she has come a long way in the last 4 weeks, and we praise God for the miracles.
    Any way, i just read Cathy's Promise me This, and loved it, now i am looking forward to the Band of Sisters. i would love to win, thank you for the chance.


  36. I'm still thinking about this post and trying to figure out how Jesus would act if he was in Japan and how the samurai in my stories would react to them. It's hard to cast Christainity when you're character's POV is Buddhism or Shintoism.


  37. Did something happen to the comments?

    Anyway, I Loved what you had to say. Very thought provoking. This is similar to what I ask my self when I'm writing a book. I try to show the way people usually behave in certain situations and how God would want us to behave. And how things always turn out better when we do things God's way.

    I really have to get your books, Cathy!!!

  38. Cathy--this is one of the MOST powerful blog posts I've ever read. WOW, you've given me much to think about, so thank you. I confess I haven't read your books yet, but do intend to (of course I've heard they're all wonderful). Thank you so much for sharing with us today, AND for your powerful message. Blessings from Georgia, Patti Jo pattijomoore(at)yahoo(dot)com

  39. Such a wonderful blog post! I believe this book will have a huge impact for good. Thanks for sharing more about your journey to write Band of Sisters. I am inspired to dig deeper as I work on my next book!

  40. Your post convicts me. My writing is sporadic, and I know that's not what God wants. It reminds me of how easily writing flows from me when I do pray "Jesus, what do you want my story to be."

    I would love to be entered for the book.

    andeemarie95 at gmail dot com

  41. Great ideas, Cathy! As writers we must continue to go further with each sentence we write.

    EvaMariaHamilton at gmail dot com

  42. A wonderful selection of books. I would love to read BAND OF SISTERS thank you.


  43. My apologies and to Cathy and everyone else who tried to leave a comment -- we have NO IDEA what happened!! The post was working fine this morning when a bunch of us left comments (with our names), and then last night late I checked it again and was shocked to see the blog had disappeared for a while and comments were missing -- YIKES!!! Thanks to Mary Connealy for righting it!


  44. I'm so thankful to know what happened, Julie! And I'm so sorry to be late in joining this party!!!! I wasn't able to see the post until now--don't know why that was, but I'm so thankful to be here with you all!!! This is the most amazing, fun-filled, faith-filled group! You've all encouraged me tremendously, and I'm so glad if this post has encouraged you.

    There's nothing more wonderful than lifting one another up--iron sharpens iron--and we are blessed!

    I'm going to ACFW next week--a rare treat for me, and only my second ACFW Conference ever. If any of you are there, I hope you'll look me up and say "Hi!"

    God's blessings for you!

  45. Hi, Cathy! This is my first Seekerville post. I just had to post after reading your article. I think you are so right that compelling questions are what draw me to read. If there's a good question, then I want to see how the answer plays out. I didn't know the origin of WWJD, so I definitely plan to check out In His Steps. I am also very interested in reading your new book, Band of Sisters. Human trafficking has long been on my heart. I look forward to seeing what I can do to help from reading your book.

    Blessings to you!

  46. Cathy,

    Thank you for your beautiful and thoughtful post today. I want my readers to see Christ in my writing more than anything. But it's always a struggle to stay out of the way and simply let Him shine, isn't it?

    Thank you, Seekers, for sharing Cathy's passion for Christ. What a blessing you all are.


  47. Lisa--You will love "In His Steps!" It's an old-fashioned read, and the wonderful thing is that the story message is entirely relevant. I'm so glad you stopped by!

  48. I agree entirely, Becky. It's so easy for "me" to get into the story. As soon as I realize that's happening, I back up, pray my way through the scene, and ask God to show me what HE wants in the story, what matters. He shows me in so many ways--through others, through His Word, through His still, small voice in my heart and mind. I love that journey, and can tell that you do, too!

  49. Hi Cathy, wonderful post, insightful and inspiring. And so are your books. See you in DFW. Melissa, now you are getting an idea of why I recommended that you read this novel. :-)

  50. Hi Natasha! So glad to meet you here in Seekerville! Thank you for all your support, encouragement and guidance through the writing of this book--what a difference that made to me!!
    Looking forward to seeing you in Dallas!!

    Melissa--if you're working with Natasha on a story you're working with the best! She'll challenge and encourage you in all the ways that matter, and the journey will be worth the effort. God's blessings!