WN: What should readers expect from your book?
SEXTON: Readers should expect to find themselves in the pages. Soul Bare is a collection of raw and real stories that don’t dance around so many of the things we so often avoid in polite Christian company but desperately need to be part of the conversation. We barrel headlong into personal battles with doubt, confusion, depression, addiction, fear, and other dark and challenging things. But you will not find a linear narrative here that follows a familiar formulaic equation of pain + Jesus = happy and healed. Life rarely ties everything up with a pretty bow, though this is the story we so often tell in religious community.
Instead, the stories in Soul Bare are those that mine for the joy, gratitude, growth, discovery, and unlikely beauty that is found right in the center of the hardest things we’ll ever encounter, even (maybe especially) when they aren’t easily overcome. They are about digging into the white hot middle of the moments that most reveal our humanity and letting ourselves evolve in compassion, love, and joy because of the things we’ve been through and are going through.
WN: What message are you hoping that they hear after reading it?
SEXTON: That we are all a beautiful mess, and that there is redemption here for all of us, right in the middle of the tangled-up uncertainty. I think we so often are inadvertently given the message that there is hope and healing for us on the other side of something, but we need it now, in the messy middle. Soul Bare is about learning to find sanctuary in both the ordinary tedium and the beautifully catastrophic challenges of this life.
WN: Pulling together the stories and reading through the submissions had to be a challenge? What was it like as the editor and crafting the overall message?
SEXTON: It was…heavy, but it was also life changing. We’ve been working on this book for over 3 years and I cannot tell you how many times I returned to these stories, even when I thought I couldn’t bear to look at these pages one more time (because as an editor, I have been through them so many times).
It’s been a very, very challenging few years for me personally and these stories pulled my heart toward the light over and over and over again. The team of writers was so gracious and we all poured our whole hearts into this thing for so long that we became a sort of rag-tag family from far and wide, all with our raw and broken stories, a little terrified of putting them out into the world, but also a little in awe of just how much our collective brokenness, infused with the breath of God, was able to create. And my editor at IVP, Helen Lee, was instrumental in helping deconstruct and reconstruct what we initially brought to the table to refine into the final product of its current form.
WN: What is your writing process like? (We envision large spaces with white boards, or cramped quarters with bad light. Bad or beautiful, we love to know the process and space for the stories we read)
SEXTON: My process is basically to procrastinate by doing absolutely anything other than writing until I am so amped up with stifled words, thoughts, and feelings that my husband or a friend will (wisely) order me to sit down and write something before I make myself and everyone around me completely crazy. Hah.
I’m basically a scattered mess all the time, and my writing process is no different. I wish I could say that I sit down with my coffee at 4 a.m. every day without exception and do the hard work faithfully until it gets done, but the truth is that I’m a busy mom, a full-time college student, and a general tornado of frenetic energy, so I work wherever and whenever I can.
I’ve edited Soul Bare bouncing on a yoga ball at my big Danish drafting desk below a window that overlooks a million Oregon evergreens, with bare feet on the banks of the Rogue River, with thousands of fireflies blinking on a back porch in Oklahoma, and with my fingers in my ears in the play structures at a dozen fast food joints across the country.
I am particularly in tune with the energy of my physical surroundings, so with the nature of the work from diverse voices, it feels fitting that even architecturally the book was stitched together like patchwork across several years, places, and experiences.
WN: What’s next for you?
SEXTON: Oh, goodness. Who can ever know? I’m about to graduate from Goddard College with a BFA in Creative Writing (it only took me 20 years), so that’s exciting, and I’m now looking at grad school MFA programs. My undergraduate work during my senior year has involved writing a memoir with themes of faith, chronic illness, identity, and home, so I hope to publish that and bring more of my own words into the light at some point in the near future. Oh, and I just returned to the blogging world after a long hiatus at carasexton.com.
Most relevant to the book, though, I have a sense that the journey of Soul Bare stories isn’t near complete. There were so many great submissions that we weren’t able to include in this volume, and I am totally fascinated by the healing processes (for writer and reader) that occur when we get in touch with some of our darkest and most tender places.
I would love to find more ways to continue to be a sort of midwife who helps deliver these kinds of bloody, screaming, miraculous stories out into a world that I believe desperately needs them. I’m interested to see what the Spirit has in store and I’m just so grateful to be a part of it.
WN: What question did we not ask but should have? (Every Q&A ends this way. Be as creativity as you like 🙂 )
SEXTON: Hmm. How about a question I heard in a Barbara Brown Taylor book, and one I think about often: “What’s saving you now?”
What’s saving me now is an increasingly sharpened sense of wonder, and summer afternoons with sunburned shoulders and my feet in the river. The perfect distribution of freckles across the face of my youngest. The sound of my only daughter’s laugh, and laughter in general–lots and lots of laughter. The kindness of strangers who turn into friends. The poetry of Anne Sexton and Mary Oliver and Whitman and Bukowski and Audre Lorde. Sarcasm, iced tea, and vintage dresses. Evergreens. The way the morning light hits the opalescent beads on my grandmother’s rosary that dangles from the dip in my ancient Underwood typewriter. Authenticity. Vulnerability. Grace. Beautiful tattoos, and my husband’s incredible cooking.
What’s saving me now is paying extra close attention to every little thing, extracting beauty, creating beauty, and making every moment meaningful.