Interview: Em Humphries of Simply Stories Podcast
I've been looking forward to this day for a long time -- one of my favorite podcasters agreed to share about the amazing work she's doing! Em is a delight and her podcast conversations with authors strike that perfect balance of "whoa, that's GOOD" with entertaining good times. (And wait till you hear her reason behind starting Simply Stories -- wow.) Plus, we both nerd out over Hamilton/Broadway and history, so she's my kinda person. Without further ado, Em Humphries, everyone!
Caroline: Could you share a bit about yourself -- where you're from, a couple fun facts about you, and what your life looks like right now?
Em: I’m Emily Humphries, but most people call me Em. My husband and I have been married for almost 15 years, and we have two hilarious kids Nora Beth (9) and Jacob (almost 5- the almost is key here), and we have the world’s best dog, Marshy. Life at our house is never dull, I’ll say that!
There are always muddy footprints that lead from our backyard through the kitchen, music, laughing, and sooooo many words at various volumes. We are surrounded by book stacks, someone is always in the middle of reading something, water bottles from whatever adventure or activity one of us just got home from, and unfinished cups of coffee because I forgot where I put it down. Again.
The podcast nook is nestled into a corner of our bedroom where I get to talk with all kinds of people about their stories, and their offerings to the world, and just hear about all the ways people are wrestling with God right now. It is a truly fascinating and faith-growing work. My desk used to live in a university library where I grew up and it has moved through my family over the years. I kind of love that it used to live surrounded by words and books and students learning, and it lives and serves in a similar environment in our little world.
Caroline: Simply Stories podcast came into my life at a time when I was searching for interviews with some of my favorite Christian authors. I was so pleasantly surprised by the lineup of brilliant authors on your list of episodes! What prompted you to start Simply Stories?
Em: I love that! Thanks for sharing that with me. I was fortunate to co-host another podcast from 2018-2019 and that experience opened my eyes to this medium and how incredible it was to hear more deeply from people about why they do what they do. When we decided that we needed to close out that season, I still felt very pulled to the idea of a podcast. As I was working through the posture mine would take, the story of the two men on the road to Emmaus kept coming to me. Ironically, I grew up with a painting of this very story in the dining room of my parents’ home. It depicts a moment that captures Jesus coming alongside two men who are incredibly confused about life, what they thought they believed, the potential for hope, and uncertain about what to do now. Jesus meets them as they’re walking and His response to their confusion was this: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was written in all the Scriptures about Himself.” (Luke 24:27) It's not until after He’s shared His story, and they sit down around a table to have a meal together, that the men realize they’ve been with Jesus all along. They say “were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (24:32).
Jesus intersects their story with His own. That’s how He comforts them and helps them to grow in their understanding. He does this other times too through His parables. I have always loved that Jesus is a storyteller, of His own experiences, and also of fictional tales that can help the person who encounters Him grow. Scripture also says in Psalm 107, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.”
That’s kind of our motto around here. We’re called to be storytellers. Whether we have a lick of talent to write or produce art or film or whatever, we are called to be storytellers with our lives. So that’s what we try to do, we simply tell stories.
Caroline: What are your favorite types of books to read? What's your "must-have" in order to fall in love with fictional characters?
Em: Gosh, I love so many types of books, and this podcast and my exposure to so many authors have broadened my horizons in a significant way! With fiction, however, I do tend to lean towards historical fiction. I have a history degree gathering dust on a shelf, and I think the stories I find always help me unearth yet another perspective I didn’t know before. It has given me such a sense of compassion for parts of history I don’t understand, people who experienced pain or joy that I can’t relate to, but can empathize with, breathed life into characters from Biblical times, and just put skin on places, times and peoples we’ll never see, but can see remnants of now in the present.
Characters that appeal to me are willing to do the personal growth. I get so frustrated when a character stays stagnant and holds on to what holds them back tighter than anything else. I love cheering characters on to beat back the dark, and step into the light.
Em: Evvvvery once in a while I dip my toe into suspense because from the podcast I’ve gotten to hear from some amazing authors who share what’s behind these stories they’re crafting. Lynette Eason, Lynn Blackburn, Rachelle Dekker, all of them shared about how the stories they write point to hope and the human experience of how we respond when we’re afraid or when it's all on the line. I also love a strong female heroine kicking butt, and then growing the strength of her heart as well. However, once I finish one of those, I probably will throw myself back into a safe and easy Regency romance or something to level my heartrate out!
4. Love what you said about characters and personal growth! That's huge for me too. So what has been the best surprise of coming into this podcast space and starting these conversations with the authors behind the stories?
Em: I don’t think it's a coincidence that this journey began in the late summer of 2019. The temperature of the nation, let alone the world, was rising. We were on the edge of unprecedented personal and communal grief. Stories are tools of compassion. They equalize human beings and help us realize we all know grief, joy, pain, relief, and longing, it just looks unique in each person. Every conversation I have had over the last 3 years, during such a time of turmoil, has pointed me to the faithfulness of God, our constant need for Him, the desire everyone has for His mercy and for the world to know some kind of redemptive healing, and for people to be better at people-ing. Every conversation. Without fail. It's fascinating how different people are, and yet, under it all, we’re all the dry bones in the valley longing to be called back to life by our Creator.
Caroline: Is there a most memorable interview (or 3) that you could point us to?
Em: Oh boy. There are 128 currently out in the world, and more we’ve recorded but haven’t been released yet! We’ve had 3 seasons though, so I’ll try to pick one from each season. Season One - There were so many conversations that first year that moved me, grew me, and helped me to appreciate the Lord and His creative work in the lives of His creative people. I think I have to say though, my first conversation with children’s book author Dorena Williamson literally changed my life. She took me (and the listeners) under her wing and graciously walked through her experiences as a woman raising brown-skinned babes and what it means to be a bridge-builder in Jesus’ name and the power that books have to aid in that journey. Season Two - I have so many favorites from this season so that’s hard, but fiction author-wise, I think the most fun to me was getting to talk with Roseanna White. I’ve loved her books for years and some of her characters are like friends that come back for a visit because I re-read them so often. She’s a fellow history nerd, who wants to always get to the heart of why people do what they do and call them to grow. She’s my people. Season Three - I guess the answer can’t be every episode, but truly this season has been so incredible, and the Lord has personally met me so often in the pages of the books I’ve needed to read, and the conversations with the creators. If I narrow it down to fiction authors, I loved unpacking Jody Hedlund’s “Waters of Time” series with her because she got to do such fascinating research, but I also REALLY loved my conversation with Tessa Afshar. Her personal story of growing up in a Muslim home and (literally) encountering Jesus and how she speaks and writes about Him now is breathtaking.
Caroline: What is the common theme you've heard from authors on how we can best support their work? (Besides buying their books of course!)
Em: Reviews and pre-orders. I never understood how important these things are, but I hear it time and time again. These things help others find the book, encourage the publisher to promote the book, and create more supply, and it gives a book a more evergreen lifespan for readers.
Caroline: What's next for Simply Stories Podcast?
Em: More episodes! We’re working through some episodes right now that were recorded over a long period of time, but as they come about, I can see the story God is telling with them. They’re all about moving forward. Whether that’s from experiencing incredible loss and learning how to keep going, moving forward in life after the pandemic in the middle of a lot of hard relationships, pursuing God’s peace, learning to press into being more empathetic to people who don’t look like you or who disagree with you, the Lord is totally doing a thing and its really incredible to watch it unfold. The month of July will be alllll about the fiction authors and summer reading fun. There’s some debut authors and seasoned veterans who will be coming on to share, I can’t wait for y’all to hear it! One big thing happening is we have launched a Patreon family. This work is so rewarding, but it is HARD work. I’m pretty much a one-woman show, with some major assists from my husband (World’s Best Editor!) and sometimes some of my best friends step in and lend a hand, but otherwise, its me handling it all. I absolutely LOVE it, but for us to be able to keep doing this work and adding more to it and offering some things I think the Lord has laid on my heart, we need financial support. My hope is that what I’m able to give back to this Patreon family also blesses each of them as patrons bless this ministry! If anyone is interested in checking that out, the link is family.simplystoriespodcast.com
Caroline: I've always been enamored with the concept that we are children of a God who tells stories. Often, fiction can be looked down on as frivolous or unnecessary, but I believe that because Jesus shared the gospel through so many parables, there is such power to be unlocked through the telling of imaginary stories that live the gospel. What are your best tips for finding and unpacking those gems that point us to the gospel?
Em: Amen to that, sister. You know, I honestly believe that the Gospel is alive in every story because ultimately, love defeating evil is the greatest story. I think it's what you tune your heart to. God said through the prophet Jeremiah: “seek me and you will find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:13). Look for Him in the books you read over your children. Look for Him in the battle being waged for king and country. Look for Him in the longing for things to be restored in a broken family. Look for Him in how a hero and heroine love one another, imperfectly, because only His love is perfect. Once you find an author that speaks to your heart in that way, read more of their work! Some seasons of time for me it's more overtly spiritual than others. That’s the beautiful thing about stories. They’ll speak to us where we are, and the Master Storyteller can and will use any story to speak to us because you matter to Him.
Your story matters.
Emily Humphries is a woman who loves Jesus, her family, words, and coffee (all though things don't honestly always run in that order.) She loves sharing about the activity of God in her life, learning, and creating space for others to gather around the table and share their experiences and stories too.
You can hang out with Emily over on her blog, or her podcast "Simply Stories with Emily Humphries, or on Instagram, @simplyemhumph / @simplystoriespodcast