In Ruby Shoes, Michele Zumwalt invites readers into her struggle to overcome prescription drug addiction. Michele gives readers hope that they too can overcome the stronghold of addiction. Her story is a powerful testimony of what God can do with a surrendered life.
Maybe you have a very personal story you need to share with the world, too. Maybe your testimony can help pull others from despair and defeat. I hope this interview with Michele will nudge you to get your story written and published so it can bring hope and healing to readers.
Addiction to prescription medications is all over the media lately. How big is the problem?
Let me start by saying how much I appreciate the chance to talk with my friends at Inspire Writers. I have so much respect for what you do and I’m truly honored to talk with you.
Prescription drug addiction has recently been called an epidemic in America by the Department of Health & Human Services. Americans are only 4% of the world’s population and yet we take 80% of all narcotic prescription medications. More people die every year from prescription drug overdoses than from car accidents. Every 19 minutes, someone dies from a prescription drug overdose and as a Law Enforcement Chaplain in Sacramento County, I know. I’ve done far too many death notifications and witnessed too many preventable deaths just in our county alone. Since 1999, the number of narcotic prescriptions in the US has quadrupled. That’s why I wrote the book, Ruby Shoes: Surviving Prescription Drug Addiction, to bring hope to a hopeless situation.
How did you become addicted to prescription drugs? How long were you addicted?
Like almost everyone who becomes addicted to prescription drugs, I was caught off guard by the addiction. Most people become addicted because of an injury or some type of chronic pain problem. I developed headaches in college and started on opiates to treat the pain.
There’s nothing social about prescription addiction. No one goes to a bar to take some prescriptions. It’s all very benign and clinical. The doctors prescribed it, and so it’s safe, right? The problem is that prescriptions are taken at home alone and when we get in trouble with these powerful drugs, we are alone with the problem. I became addicted very quickly and struggled with this addiction for years. It almost killed me.
At what point did you know there was a problem with your prescription drug use?
There were several ominous warnings, but I can remember one time in the hospital when they were preparing to run an MRI. I had developed a fever, which I later learned was drug fever from chronic use of opiate medications. That day in the hospital, they gave me a heavy dose of Demerol on top of what they had already given me. I overdosed and had a grand mal seizure. When I awoke, the doctor said they would do the MRI the next day, but if there was nothing on the scan, they would have to consider that perhaps all these medications were the problem. At that point I said a prayer. I asked God to let them find something, anything, on the brain scan. As absurd as it sounds, I would rather have had six months to live with the drugs than to consider a life without them. By that point in the addiction, it was as if they were going to ask me to live in a world without oxygen. That day, deep in my heart I knew that I was in real trouble.
My family intervened and put me in a treatment facility in Orange County; but honestly, it took years for me to come to terms with this problem. I didn’t feel like I fit anywhere. I was angry and resentful. I spent many years in and out of recovery. In Ruby Shoes I tried to provide the reader details about this life-and-death struggle. I believe every prescription addict faces it before they finally surrender. My final surrender came when I almost died in the ICU at Mercy Folsom Hospital. God saved me, even from myself. Chapter Eight, “What a Gift – Those Ruby Shoes” describes the turning point for me. I needed to know how much God really loved me. In my most broken and sinful place, He loved me completely. Just like Dorothy from Oz, no one could save me. My family couldn’t do it for me. I had to surrender this problem myself. I had to find and wave my white flag.
What advice do you have for someone reading this interview who realizes their use of prescription drugs is out of control? What can they do to escape the tornado of addiction?
The first word in the First Step is “We.” We can’t make it alone. Alone, is how we die. Together, is how we get better. Reach out and get help. Call any 12-Step support group, church, or hospital. You can even call me. My number is 916-439-7775 and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org
How will reading Ruby Shoes: Surviving Prescription Drug Addiction help readers who struggle with addiction?
The Wizard of Oz is used as a metaphor to help readers relate to being lost in the strange world of addiction. That feeling of being trapped in another world with no way to get back home is the very essence of addiction. Ruby Shoes is my story about a devastating prescription addiction tornado, being lost in a foreign world, chasing brooms for fake saviors like Oz, and finally remembering the precious Gift that takes us HOME.
This book offers a personal account of the horrors of prescription addiction and a biblical, 12-Step, life application solution to the problem. Ruby Shoes takes the reader on a discovery journey that leads them to a much better place than where they began. My prayer is that those tormented by prescription drug addiction would discover they do not have to suffer alone any longer. They don’t have to die and become another sad statistic of prescription drug addiction. After reading Ruby Shoes they will know, if I can get better, anyone can.
Since my book launched a few months ago, I’ve been talking with people all across the country with similar stories of desperation. We don’t have to continue to die in record numbers from this problem. Together, we can find our way HOME to Him.
Was this a hard book for you to write?
Yes, but two things made all the difference in keeping me strong, motivated, and what I’d call “writing with a purpose.” First, I had so much love and encouragement from my family. And second, I knew that this was what God was calling me to do. My mother, Dr. Donna Perry wrote the foreword. You would love my mom. She has helped a great deal in the editing process, but more importantly she encouraged me to share my story and inspired me to do it for the Glory of God. My entire family, my husband, father, mother, and children have all been involved in everything from proof-reading to book signings. We all see this book as a ministry to help people and God has a role for each of us to play.
In a 12-step program, you had anonymity. No one outside your recovery group needed to know what you were battling. Was your decision to go public difficult? Were you ever concerned about “coming out” about the topic?
No. After so many years of working as a Law Enforcement Chaplain and seeing so many senseless deaths from prescription addiction, each year more than the last, I knew this story of hope needed to be told. The loss and devastation of so many lives gave me the courage I needed to trust God completely and not worry so much about what my husband calls, “the look good.” We just decided to use this book to speak the truth, trust Him, and love and serve all His children.
Tell me about your writing process.
Writing begins and ends for me with prayer. So, I started by asking God about the idea of telling my story. There’s a short story in Chapter One about how He, very directly, answered those prayers for me one day. Then, I began a process of intentionally praying for the audience. This was years before the book was finally published, but God already knew who would read it someday. It’s comforting to know that long ago, I spent so much time praying for each person reading my book today. God has a plan and a purpose for each life.
Next, I prayed for an approach to tell the story in a way that people, some of whom have never been addicted, could relate to the struggle. The idea of using The Wizard of Oz as a metaphor came to me during one of those prayers. The actual writing of the book was done in much the same way. I would pray about a story or an idea and then write it. Usually, I didn’t even know where it would go in the book. At some point, God began to help me see the chapters and how the stories fit into the chapters. There was great deal of writing, perhaps a whole second book, which didn’t make the final cut. All of those stories, I collected into a folder I called, “Cut from Ruby Shoes.” I don’t know what God wants to do with all that writing, but I know He is the Master of taking our messes and making them messages. So, don’t ever throw your writing away. You never know what He’s up to next. J
How long did it take to write this book?
The whole process from the beginning prayers to final publication took about six years. It’s a small book, only about 40,000 words, but it’s my first book and, as you know, it is a very personal story. This was my journey with Jesus and He didn’t rush me.
What obstacles did you overcome while writing Ruby Shoes?
Mostly, I just had to get myself out of the way. I keep trying to make the story more general in nature, trying to be inclusive. For example, talking in general terms about my higher power. But in the end, my mom reminded me that I needed to tell my story, even if it’s not for everyone. So, I wrote it true and now I know, that it is for everyone. We all get lost sometimes, lost in food, spending, shopping, even Netflix or Facebook. We all wander away from God. Sometimes we feel trapped or so lost that we know we might never get back home. But, we’ve all been given a free gift–Jesus. He died for all of us. No matter what happens, He has given us a precious gift which takes us Home.
Were there any surprises along the publication journey?
If you feel that your book is God-Inspired, never take no for an answer. For months after my manuscript was complete, I approached many agents and publishers. I heard nothing at all. So, we took the self-publishing leap of faith and I’m so glad we did! I was surprised that Ruby Shoes launched as the #1 Hot New Release on Amazon in all three categories. As I write these words, four months since the launch, Ruby Shoes is the #3 book on Amazon’s Best Seller list in the Christian Recovery and Counseling category and in the top 10 Best Seller books for Substance Abuse Recovery. The self-publishing world has opened the doors for every writer to reach his or her audience.
If you have a passion for what you are doing and you love marketing, which I do, (it was my major in college) then you have the opportunity to write a best-selling book! I’ve also been amazed at how, when you are called to write, God puts all these other people who are called to write around you. I’m pretty sure He does that because He wants us to love and encourage each other as we seek to do His will through writing. (See 1 Thessalonians 5:11) It’s the we thing again.
What advice do you have for an aspiring author who has a deeply personal story to share?
Pray. Seek His will in this and in everything. If you have a deeply personal story to share, it is very important to have people in your life who keep you honest and who support and encourage your writing. Surround yourself with other Christian writers who are trying to do the same thing. Finally, remember that our broken world NEEDS your story. We need more Christian writers to demonstrate how it’s done…not perfectly, but with perfect forgiveness and love. I’m praying for my fellow Inspire Writers as we seek to demonstrate God’s love and mercy for this broken world. May our works inspire others to seek and do His will and may we always remember to give God the glory. (see Matthew 6:33)
What questions do you have for Michele? Join the conversation in the comments section below.
Elizabeth M. Thompson hosts weekly Open Studio writing times in her home because she loves to write in a quiet house filled with other creatives creating. When she’s not reading, writing, or serving the Inspire writers, she can be found along the American River, pedaling her bike, paddling a kayak or walking hand-in-hand with her husband Mike. Elizabeth blogs about overcoming on her website and can be found on Facebook and Twitter if you’d like to connect with her.
We’re excited to announce the arrival of Inspire’s 2015 anthology, Inspire Forgiveness.
Saturday, December 12th
10am to 1pm
2168 Sunset Blvd. 105 Rocklin, CA 95765
Authors will be available to sign copies! Coffee, tea and pastries are available for purchase at Origin, where all proceeds go toward ending human trafficking.
It’s time to Get Inspired!
Our guest speaker for this month’s Get Inspired workshop is award-winning author, Susanne Lakin. Susanne will teach fiction and nonfiction writers how to use cinematic techniques to enhance our writing. Join us for this informative and fun workshop! Free for Inspire members. Non-members pay only $15 at the door.
Join us for the Get Inspired Workshop
Saturday, October 17th
9:30am to Noon
Oasis Christian Mission Center
10255 Old Placerville Rd #1, Sacramento, CA 95827
Do you have days when you can’t make yourself sit in your chair to write? I sure do. The solitude of writing at home can be productive, but some days, household chores and an endless to-do list distract me.
Shortly after a cross-country move last December, I connected with Inspire Christian Writers and met founder Beth Thompson through email. She invited me to her home for Friday morning writing sessions. Different than a critique group, this weekly gathering offered a sanctuary for writing with others.
Friday morning writing is now one of my most important calendar items. About the time each week, Dee Aspin says, “I like having writing time set aside on my calendar. It brings a sense of ‘going to work.’ By leaving my house to write, I see writing as work rather than a hobby.”
Knowing I have the writing appointment forces me to prepare ahead of time. I put my notebook and favorite pen on the kitchen counter Thursday evenings, but even before that, there’s work I must do. What resource materials will I need? Will I need my Bible? My iPad?
More important than the prep work is the knowledge that even if I fail to sit down to write earlier in the week, I will get words on paper Friday morning. Writer Joanne Butterfield says, “During the week, whether I have written as much as I could have, I know that I can spend the two hours doing what I might have avoided all week: writing.”
Butterfield and I are both new to the area and have enjoyed getting to know other writers through the writing group. Plus, working together on our own projects creates a companionable quiet time that fuels and energizes us.
The silence may be unsettling at first. Chrissy Drzewiecki says, “We all went about our business of writing. No talking. Just writing. This was hard for me at first. I like to talk about writing. But soon I realized what an awesome time it was just to write.”
Want to form your own writing group? Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Reach out to writing friends in your community to form a group. Not sure where to look? Facebook, the Inspire site, and Twitter are all great resources for finding your local writing community. Sacramento Meet Up also has writing groups. You may also put up flyers at coffee shops.
- Pick a time, day, and location to meet. My group meets Friday morning, usually at one of the member’s homes. If you don’t feel comfortable hosting each other at home, try a coffee shop or library where you can write together without too many outside distractions.
- Decide whether you will have food. Will there be coffee? Snacks? A meal? Who will provide these? Our hostess usually prepares coffee, tea, and light snacks to get us going. After two hours of writing, we share a light lunch together.
- Build in time for socializing. Decide whether to chat first and then write or catch up after your writing session. Dedicating a time to talk with one another will make the quiet time easier to maintain. My group usually opens with prayer, gets straight to writing, and then talks nonstop during lunch.
- Enforce expectations, but also be flexible. If you have trouble focusing and staying quiet, be prepared with a gentle reminder (to yourself or others). Aspin says, “If we have too much fun talking, it distracts from the writing time. Everyone in the group has to be intentional, or it becomes something other than what it is intended for.”
Also decide whether you will share any of what you’ve written for feedback. I’m in a separate critique group, and having the two unique groups removes any anxiety I might otherwise feel on my writing days. Not that your critique group shouldn’t feel safe, but a writing-only group can be the safest of places to get words on paper or screen without worrying about what readers may think.
Nothing feels better after battling a vacuum of solitary days or the lure of the vacuum cleaner and a dirty carpet than to sit down with friends and accomplish God-ordained work. The promise is true in writing groups, too: “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20, NASB).
Do you have tips for a writing group or other ideas for escaping the vacuum? Please share them in the comments below.
Hope Squires is the author of The Flourishing Tree (Lulu, 2014). She and her husband are adjusting to life in California after living in the Southeast their entire lives. They and their exuberant dog are learning to deal with skunks, rattlesnakes, and “a dry heat.” Hope blogs about nature, faith, and the flourishing life at theflourishingtree.com.
If Jesus is your Senior Editor, He expects you to get your writing to the people who need to hear the message He’s leading you to share. Becoming known is one part of reaching those people.
Writers are often advised to blog as part of their process of becoming known. But not everyone has the inclination or the time or technical ability to set up a blog and keep it going. The blogosphere, however is still open to you. Even if you already have a blog, you should still consider expanding beyond the cyber boundaries of your own little URL.
One way to expand your world is to guest post on other folks’ blogs. Unless you’re a New York Times bestseller, you might not snag a spot at the hottest blog on the web. But chances are, you will still be able to find guest posting opportunities that will allow you to get your message (and your name) in front of others.
- Look at blogs you read. Would a message you have to share be a fit with that site? Check to see if the author has submission guidelines for guest postings. If not, she might still welcome them. Send an email or leave a comment with an idea for a post you might contribute.
- Look at sites in the genre you write. If you write Christian novels for women, find sites that have blogs for those readers. If your novel is set in a particular locale, is there a blogger who focuses on that location? If your protagonist rides horses, are there Christian cowboy church blogs that might like to hear from you? Brainstorm and Google ideas where what you have to say might be welcomed.
- Look at your personal associations and memberships. Does your church online newsletter post articles from its members? Does your writing association have a blog or newsletter that is looking for articles from its members? (Hint: for Inspire Christian Writers, the answer is “yes” for both the blog and newsletter).
When you find a blog where you would like to guest post, write up a one or two sentence summary of your message; indicate a word count and when you would be able to submit your piece. Make sure you follow the blogs guidelines for guest posts. Then…ask.
Managing a blog is time-consuming. Many bloggers welcome a guest post that will give them a break in their blogging schedule. The key from your end is to think how you can be helpful to others in a way that not only provides something of value to them and their readers but also helps you practice your craft and inches you out into the world.
Work to become known in your own little sphere and then make your sphere bigger.
This series on becoming known has looked at:
Why becoming known as an author follows the example of Jesus.
How to tackle the technical aspects of creating an Amazon book review.
How doing book reviews for other writers can help you become known, too.
Carol Peterson is a Christian woman who can’t stop writing about God, His great big, beautiful world and our place in it. Carol writes for women and children and blogs at: http://carolpetersonauthor.com
She writes to educate, entertain and inspire–children, their teachers and parents, other writers, and readers of all genres.
POV – Point of View. Three little letters are the bane of every new writer’s journey. If we were writers forty or more years ago—now that would have been a completely different story. In the ‘good ol’ days’ we could write from everyone’s point of view at any time. Now—it is a big No-no.
Readers want you to pick a character and crawl in their skin, their thoughts, their motives, and their goals. You are allowed to change your POV character—but not without appropriate warning to the reader. Start a new chapter or create a scene break so readers will know you’re switching points of view.
So how do you do it? How do you keep in one POV consistently? Fellow Inspire writer, Loretta Sinclair describes it this way:
“If I am a character in your story and a fly lands on the back of my head, I can’t know it.”
1. The POV character can’t know anything that happens while she is not present until someone tells her about it. If she doesn’t know it, you can’t write it.
First Draft: She didn’t know he was in the room until he spoke.
Final Draft: When he said hello, she jumped off the couch with a yelp.
Example: King Edmund threw his tankard across the room, not knowing Mariamne had slipped into the room.
If he didn’t know it your reader can’t either. Try this instead:
King Edmund threw his tankard across the room.
He spun—heart pounding, hand on the hilt of his sword.
(With the second version, you have pulled your reader in and have them turning the next page to see who yelped and why, and what’s going to happen next.)
2. Stay in only one character’s POV at a time. Otherwise, you’re head-hopping and it’s not considered good writing. Your reader needs to be in only one character’s head at a time in order to relate to the character.
First Draft: A shiver ran down Jane’s back when she realized Greg had been spying on her. That made him feel awful.
Final Draft: A shiver ran down Jane’s back. “You’ve been spying on me haven’t you?”
Greg looked at his feet and said nothing.
Example: Shawn glared at Meg. She hated him. His stomach knotted as she plotted his demise.
Try this instead: Shawn glared at Meg. Her lips were drawn in a thin line, and her breath rasped through her throat. Her finger flexed and moved toward the axe leaning against the wall.
Ready to go deeper?
3. Your characters can only experience life through their own senses. You can’t see your own face (or back) without a mirror, so neither can your POV character. They can’t know if their mascara is running, whether their tears are making muddy trails in their face, the look in their own eyes, or what color their face is turning.
First Draft: Alexis’s face flamed as bright as a fire engine. Her eyes flashed with rage at the detective.
Final Draft: Alexis narrowed her gaze on the detective blocking her path. Heat crept up her neck and pooled in her cheeks. She held his stare unblinking, fisting her hands until her nails dug into her palms.
4. Alert your readers when you’re changing POV characters in the middle of a chapter.
First Draft: Aria rose with slow purpose and left the king with his steward. She wandered to the outer bailey, letting the clop of her boots on the paving stones drive all thought from her head.
The king turned to his steward rubbing his hand over his neck, trying to work the knot free. “Should we keep her secret?”
(There is no way Aria, the POV character, can know what is happening in the king’s chamber. If you insert a POV shift (* * * or ####) between the above paragraphs and remain in the king’s for a while this works fine.)
Final Draft: Aria rose with slow purpose and left the king with his steward. She wandered to the outer bailey, letting the clop of her boots on the paving stones drive all thought from her head.
The king turned to his steward rubbing his hand over his neck, trying to work the knot free. “Should we keep her secret?”
5. Don’t tell your readers what your character is doing, just have him do it.
First Draft: Drew wondered what Alexis would do if she knew he had been in her apartment.
Final Draft: What would Alexis do if she knew he’d broken into her apartment?
Example: She felt scared.
Try this instead: A floorboard squeaked behind her. She clenched her breath, her heart pounding in her ears.
Tip: Do a search for the following words: thought, knew, wondered, realized, speculated, decided, wished, felt, saw, and other similar words. These words are all telling the reader what your POV character is feeling for thinking. Instead show the reader these same things in deeper POV. Draw your reader in—and don’t let them go.
Be patient as you master POV, it won’t happen overnight. With practice, you’ll get it.
Here are a few sentences with POV violations for you to fix:
- Rachel waited for Bryce to knock on her door, but he was busy tying his shoes.
- Max felt powerful surf threaten to overturn his boat. Jackson gulped hard on the shore, fearful for his friend.
- Roxy stepped out of the ladies’ room, toilet paper trailing from her left shoe.
- “I’m sorry Dillon, but it’s over.” Marissa punched the button on her phone. Dillon was frantic, punching her number as fast as his thumbs would fly.
- Justin felt angry.
Add your favorite fix(es) in the comments below for a chance to win Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View, by Jill Elizabeth Nelson.
Michelle Janene writes Christian Fantasy and Bible curriculum for students and adults. She teaches Middle School and leads a thriving Inspire Christian Writers critique group. She’s passionate about the Word of God and medieval history. In the summer of 2014 she founded Strong Tower Press to publish her own works with the first novella coming soon!
Michelle also serves as the Inspire Anthology Coordinator and oversees the selection, editing and distribution of our annual anthologies.
The cell phone alarm beeps me into consciousness at 5:20 am. Yes, it’s o-dark-thirty and I’m waking up to go to spin class. Why? That’s a great question. Every day I ask myself the same thing.
Spinning is the equivalent of being forced to walk uphill for sixty miles, through the two feet of snow, barefoot.
Circuit training is on the days when I don’t spin. Lifting weights is like, well, lifting weights. They’re heavy. ‘Nuff said.
Writing is a lot like working out. I love it, and I hate it. It’s difficult to get started, but I feel much better when I’ve done it. Like exercising, writing is a discipline.
Here are some things I’ve discovered through my writing journey:
It takes time. When I began writing in 2008, I didn’t know ‘come here’ from ‘sic-em.’ I needed to learn the craft, study, and practice. Getting better is a long discipline. As in life, I didn’t put on the twenty-five pounds overnight, so they aren’t going to burn away in a year.
It takes a tribe. There’s a core group of women who go to the same gym I do. We encourage each other when we’re flagging, we nag each other into coming back, we follow up when someone has missed more than a couple of days. A few years ago, I discovered the Inspire Christian Writers critique group that meets in Sacramento. We not only help spur one another to be better writers, we’ve become close friends.
It takes discipline. Some writers like word count goals, others page or chapter goals. I write a little differently. I sit down at my computer almost every night, setting my timer for twenty minutes. When the timer dings, I get up and stretch, or get a snack. Then I set the timer for another twenty minutes. Often I’ll find myself ignoring the timer. When I feel like I’m done for the night, I’m done. Sometimes I only write for that first twenty minutes. It’s the same with working out. Without the drive to get healthy, lose weight, or stay fit, it doesn’t happen with discipline.
It takes a good instructor. My spin and workout instructor tells me when I’m lifting incorrectly. He helps me make subtle adjustments to my posture. He reminds me to keep my shoulders down when I’m on the spin bike. In writing, it’s crucial to read books on the craft. Writing conferences are a fabulous place to learn from the best of the best. Take notes, make one-on-one appointments, and make the adjustments so that you can improve and grow.
How do you stay motivated to write every day? Join the conversation in our comments section.
Jane Daly is the author of Because of Grace (Hallway Publishing, Feb. 2015). She lives in Citrus Heights with her husband, Mike, and a very spoiled cat named Phoebe. Jane writes fiction and nonfiction.