Jan Ackerson is no stranger to the FaithWriters blog, nor recognition for her writing on the site. Because of past writing accolades, she has already had interviews on this blog THREE times. And now, here she is again, as the winner of the 2018 FaithWriters Writing Challenge Best of the Best (awarded to the highest ranking Writing Challenge entry for July 2017-June 2018), for her expertly written Almost Happy. Join me as we learn about how this story came together, Jan’s passions, and more.

JOANNE SHER: Congratulations on winning Best of the Best! What was your reaction when you found out your piece was at the top this year?

JAN ACKERSON: I was more than a little surprised, especially since I hadn’t entered the Writing Challenge in several months. FaithWriters wasn’t really forefront in my thoughts, so seeing that announcement on Facebook was kind of stunning. I actually had to go back and read the story; I’d mostly forgotten it.

JOANNE: This isn’t your first time interviewing with me for a FaithWriters recognition, and I know you are absolutely not someone who likes the attention. But humor me – share one thing that you are fairly certain you haven’t shared here before, and that you think is at least somewhat interesting about yourself.

JAN: Hmmm. Well, I do a bit of freelance work to supplement my retirement income, and my most recent gig taps into both my love of literature and my enjoyment in finding errors and pointing them out. I work together with a fellow who produces award-winning audiobooks, listening to his audio file “rough drafts” and noting where he deviates from the text. Another use for my metaphorical red pencil!

JOANNE: Oh – I’ll bet that IS fun- and good for people with eagle eyes (and ears). Your winning entry, Almost Happy, feels so real-to-life. Is it based on a true story? What do you think motivated you to approach the topic the way you did? I also noticed that you used the topic phrase (back to the drawing board) in your piece – which I believe is something you generally don’t do. Was this purposeful?  Did this piece turn out how you wanted it to?

JAN: It’s not based on a true story, but there are elements taken from my life. The opening paragraphs were set in Disney World because I adore that place, and Keely, the 8-year-old stepdaughter, has some characteristics in common with my sweet granddaughter. And who doesn’t love homemade lemon meringue pie?

I used the topic phrase because I was concerned that maybe the topic wasn’t apparent in the story. You’re right, though—that’s not something I usually did in my Writing Challenge entries, and in fact, I usually advised against it. I guess I was feeling rebellious against my own advice that week.

I like this story quite a bit, but there’s a word I intended to put in italics that I missed, and that will always annoy me. I do love the imagery of the last sentence: She turns away from me then, but her back isn’t radiating animosity like it did in the amusement park—just the heat of a sleeping child.

JOANNE: I agree about the last sentence – my favorite part of the story. Tell us a bit about your family and life away from FaithWriters.

JAN: Ben and I will be celebrating our 43rd wedding anniversary soon. We’re saving now for a trip to Scotland, probably for our 45th. We enjoy traveling within this country, too—sometimes to visit our Florida daughter and granddaughter, sometimes to check out museums and national monuments in other areas of the country. Other than that, it’s the quiet life of retirees: BINGO, scooter races, putting tennis balls on our walkers, and mastering the nuances of phrases like “Get off my lawn, whippersnappers!”

JOANNE: Somehow, that ISN’T what I picture when I think of you, Jan! What are you most passionate about? Tell us a bit about it (either why it is your passion, what you are doing about it, or both).

JAN: The plight of disenfranchised groups of people—all of whom are beloved children of God—is a constant tug on my heart in these troubled times. I’m well aware of the privilege of my own upbringing; that awareness has, in recent years, made me conscious that there are many groups of people who are still struggling, even in this great country, to enjoy those same rights and privileges. As you noted above, I’m a quiet person who doesn’t seek out attention, but I’ve recently learned to use my voice—literally—in a small, local protest against forced family separations, and will be looking for more ways to do the same.

JOANNE: Praying you can find those opportunities, and follow His leading and direction in sharing your passion. How can people connect with you?

JAN: I’m on Facebook (Jan Worgul Ackerson). You can also find a (mostly inactive) page on Facebook for Superior Editing Services. If you’re looking for a developmental editor for your work of fiction, contact me on one of those pages.

I recently started up a little, bare-bones blog that chronicles my search for a new church home after my small church closed its doors. If you’re interested in that search, check out The Search.

Not really an answer to this question, but copies of my collection of micro-mini fiction, Stolen Postcards, are still available at Breath of Fresh Air Press. It has sold literally dozens of copies, so hurry to get yours!

JOANNE: I still need to pick that book up! Is there anything else you would like to add?

JAN: There may be a person or two wondering why I’m not entering the Writing Challenge any more. Here it is:

I have a Christian friend who likes to talk about being created in the image of God. Since God is a creator, she says, anything creative that we do shows a reflection of God’s image, however pale. With that in mind, there are writers who write specifically Christian content—which is wonderful, for them—and there are writers who write the stories of all sorts of people who are demanding that their stories be written. God is honored in the writing of those stories—in the act of creation—whether His name is specifically mentioned or not.

In recent years, I was more comfortable being one of the second kind of writers, while FaithWriters was leaning more toward nurturing the other kind. You’ll notice, I think, that God isn’t mentioned in Almost Happybut I believe that God was present in the reconciliation of Keely and her new stepmother, and that He was honored in the desire of Jack and Stephanie to make Keely feel loved and nurtured, and to acknowledge her grief over her mother’s death.

But it became apparent that some of my God-less stories were distracting to readers who prefer more overtly Christian material. It felt like a good time for me to make way for them to grow and excel. I’ll always cherish my time at FaithWriters, and I wish everyone who is still finding a writing home there the best of luck.

JOANNE: I completely understand your decision – but you should know (if you don’t already) that your writing is already sincerely missed by many in the FaithWriters family. Again, congratulations on your win, and we are ALL praying God’s blessings on your new endeavors!

Watch for interviews with the two runners-up, Kate Mackereth and Lucy Steel, here on the blog soon!

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