Mustard Seeds and Water Lines | Author Interview
August 12th, 2016 started as a slow rainy day - perfect for books. But by lunch, businesses were closing early and our country road filled so fast that my dad's pickup truck barely made it home. My parents live on a hill, so we weren't concerned for our house.
But then the most surreal events started unfolding.
Friends were cut out of their attics and boated to safety with the clothes on their backs. Churches hastily set up shelters. Highways became waterways lined with boats. Rescuers worked through the night. Animals died. Church members lost everything. My dad's office flooded and we couldn't reach friends to make sure they were okay.
I'll never forget the inspiring Cajun Navy stories. I woke up early to serve biscuits at a shelter and learned to tear out wet sheetrock and sort through mountains of soaked belongings. The level of devastation and loss gave me a new perspective on life. I felt part of something very BIG.
That was my experience.
But Karen Milioto experienced something far more traumatic and life-altering.
She shared her story with raw, gritty honesty in her memoir, Mustard Seeds and Water Lines. I encourage you to read it, whether you experienced the flood or not.
This week I had the privilege to ask Karen some fun questions about her writing journey and the importance of telling our stories!
Me: I'm so thrilled to host you on Cosmos and a Cuppa! Today is the 4th anniversary of the flood that inspired your memoir, Mustard Seeds and Water Lines! What is foremost in your mind as you look back at that time?
Karen: I can’t believe it’s been that long already. As I look back, I think it's powerful to be able to see how far we have come from the devastation of that event. One thing that motivated me to write that story down was the hope that I wouldn’t forget just how bad it was. Because I think when we are able to remember the extent of our pain and injuries, and connect with how devastated we were, we see God’s redemptive work more clearly and don’t lose sight of Who He is as we move forward.
Are there any takeaways from the way our community responded to the 2016 flood crisis that would be wise for us to consider in 2020?
I think something that the flood did beautifully was to encourage us to really look beyond ourselves. There is so much out there that encourages us to think and relate in a very self-focused and isolated way. But in 2016 you saw so much reaching. People were moving so far beyond themselves to help others and that is a really good reminder in this year when we have to work harder to not be isolated during this pandemic.
Has your writing journey changed since you released your memoir in 2017? If so, how have you grown and changed as a writer?
When I look back at the writing process for Mustard Seeds and Water Lines, I see myself writing with a lot of apprehension. I really didn’t trust myself to write, if that makes any sense? I kept second-guessing myself and questioning whether I had any business writing anything at all and it made the whole process a bit disjointed. There is actually a place in the book itself where I figure out that I am writing with these two very different voices. One is my authentic voice that is just telling the story. And another is this false-self voice that is trying to sound the way I think I need to sound in order to write a book. You know scholarly and educated and worthy of putting words on a page. And eventually, I wrote about how I deleted all the stuff that was written in that other voice, which was honestly about half of the book at first, and then I went back and rewrote in my real voice as I was. Since then the memory of that moment has been like guardrails in a sense for my writing. As soon as I start noticing myself slipping into some voice other than my own, or trying to be someone I am not, I stop and get re-centered. And I think over the last few years I have gotten much better at just staying in my own lane in that regard.
Which part of the book came to you first? What was your "I have to write this book" moment?
Something really funny about this book is that is actually started out as a thank you note. I sat down to say thank you for two gifts I received shortly after the flood and I just kept writing. It was the funniest thing. But the last part I wrote was actually the first three chapters. Originally, I had some line in there that was like, “I don’t watch scary movies and I don’t tell scary stories.” And I may have even had a suggestion for anyone reading to google the flood itself so that I didn’t have to explain it. But eventually, I went back and it took probably four or five passes to get that whole horrible part down and the whole process just slayed me. I would sit there typing away and just ugly crying the whole time as I relived it. But it was also incredibly healing.
Do you have a theme word or phrase for 2020?
I think one word that has returned to me over and over again throughout this weird year is rest. There is really nothing in creation that is made for constant production and perpetual growth, and yet somehow many of us have been attempting to live that out year after year without pause. We keep adding, and growing, and increasing, but both nature and Scripture indicate that God is a God who made us to rest. And I think in some ways we are all being given an invitation to stop and really rethink how we spend our days.
Just for fun, what's your favorite coffee shop order? :)
I drink my coffee straight up. No cream. No sugar. Just black. Half the time when I go to a coffee shop they think they heard me wrong and give me cream and sugar anyways.
Do you have any advice to a writer who feels they have a soul story they must share with the world?
First I would say that our stories are incredibly powerful. Our stories are part of our own unique power and when we find the courage to tell them we share that power with others in a way that heals more wounds than just our own. But I think telling our own story has to start with simply writing it down for ourselves. Looking at what it has to say to our lives and where it might be pointing us towards next. When we engage our stories in this way, it becomes so honest and so real and that’s what other people need.
We're both mamas, with little hearts to nurture. Why do you think it's important to tell our stories to our children?
Stories locate us. They are like points along a map. And they have a way of leading us, too -- especially little kids. It's super interesting to see how children accept narratives about who they are and what is important and valuable about them and to them, from a really young age. We all have a story that is running in us and through us and it's subconsciously leading us in a specific direction. And when we tell true stories about being cut down and built back up, about losing hope and finding it again, and about seeking God and finding Him, those stories become part of our kids. And in the future when they might feel weak or afraid, they have this story committed to their memory that they know is true. Even if they don’t realize it at the time, they will know on some level that even when they might feel weak or destroyed, that through Christ they are incredibly strong.
Finally, I'd love for you to tell us about your podcast and book club!
I would love to! So the Back Porch Book Club is a podcast and an Instagram book club that I co-host with a friend. When we started it, we were both thinking about how books can really point people to Jesus, and encourage us to seek God, in a more intentional way, but also realizing from our own lives how hard it is to find the books that do that. At the time, I had this massive stack of titles that I had started and not finished and I was reflecting on how it is hard enough to find time to read, but then to stumble through so many books that weren’t quite right was frustrating. So we definitely wanted to help connect people to books that we thought pointed people to God, but there was also an element to it where we were specifically thinking about people who were searching for God, but who had possibly turned from Christianity or the church and who might not be ready to say, walk up to a worship service or join a Bible study just yet. We wanted to function like a porch to the church, offering an inviting and hospitable community where people could slowly come back to Home to God.
Thank you so much for joining me today, Karen!
Born and raised in Wayland, Massachusetts, Karen attended Northeastern University in Boston. After her so-so performance in the land of academia, she found her niche as a cocktail waitress in the Back Bay. When her customer-turned-boyfriend, Brad was transferred to Louisiana for work she decided that, though she could not locate the state of Louisiana on a map, it seemed like a solid life choice to follow him there.
Now married, Karen and Brad still reside in Louisiana, and together they are raising a smart, tenacious, and somewhat hard-headed daughter named Ruth.
The Milioto's live on a small farm north of Baton Rouge. Karen is a mediocre gardener with a soft spot for her temperamental little plot. She hates math, loses her keys at least three times a day and her favorite outfits always involve mud boots. She thinks the Bible is the most compelling book ever written and will never be done reading it.
Shop her book HERE!