Richard T. Vander Vaart has served as a minister for more than twenty-four years. He is married to Carolyn and they have three adult children, three children-in-law, and two granddaughters. Writing two sermons a week for more than twenty years has helped him hone his writing skills. As you can imagine, however, writing a series of short stories is quite different than writing sermons.
Richard and Carolyn’s ministry work has taken them to such varied places as Grand Rapids, Michigan; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; Escalon, California; southwestern Ontario; and as far away as Moncton, New Brunswick. They have been foster parents for more than ten years. More than thirty-five children have been in their care; some stayed a night or two, others for a year or more.
Richard also serves as the First Vice President of the Canadian Police Chaplain Association and finds it is a great treat to meet people in so many places.
He started writing stories as a way to hold onto memories. After a car accident on January 5, 2009, Richard discovered he had lost many memories. Thanks be to God, some have returned. Sometimes the return is fleeting, and writing is a good way of capturing them.
When establishing Sh’ma Christian Ministries (www.shmachristianministries.com), Richard chose the word sh’ma (Deuteronomy 6:4), which is Hebrew for “hear” and carries the sense of both listening and obeying. That is the challenge of our faith, to hear the voice of our God above all the din of daily living and to follow our Shepherd.
Q: What do you owe the people in your stories?
A: The characters in my short stories are composites of people who have crossed my path. Some people will say “That’s me” or “I recognize her.” Of course the characters are somewhat recognizable, in that all people have foibles and familiar quirks. I owe people respect. Though the characters in my books contain superficial similarities to people alive now, and some who have gone to glory, it is important that someone reading the book feels that no character is mocked or belittled. It is hard sometimes to balance finding humour, writing about things that have happened, and honouring the people who are or have been in my life.
Q: How do you begin a short story?
A: Sometimes a single word will capture my imagination. I’ll scribble it down in my day planner and on my to-do list each day for several consecutive days and a story will begin to form. Other times it is the fleeting glimpses of a memory just on the edge of my brain. As I am aware of it, I’ll rehearse it in my head and the story forms.
Q: Do you have any advice to offer new writers?
A: Read voraciously. Read different kinds of genres. Be a keen observer of the world. When you’re standing in line, turn off your cell phone and look at the people around you. What are they wearing? What are they saying? How do they use words or phrases that are out of the ordinary? All of these things you notice will contribute to your writing.
Also, be prepared to explain things. When writing, I automatically fill in the gaps of my story. For example, I’ll note that a couple is getting into a car. What I may forget to include in the first draft of the story is the important fact that he is expecting to go to one store and she has a list of stops on the way to and from the one-store shopping trip her husband expects. I know what I mean and expect others to know what I mean, even though they don’t know me and couldn’t possibly know what I mean to convey. I find it helpful to write a story, put it away for a day or two, and then review it. Doing so helps these “gaps” to become more obvious to me and I’ll fill them in.
Richard T. Vander Vaart has served as a minister in various congregations for more than twenty-four years. He is married to Carolyn and they have three adult children. Over the last decade, they have fostered more than thirty-five children. Richard has served as a volunteer police chaplain for more than ten years and currently serves as First Vice President on the Executive of the Canadian Police Chaplain Association.
Facebook: Still Can’t Help Myself
Richard is in the process of planning book signings. Check out his website, and the Word Alive Press website, for details. Richard is available for speaking engagements!