I had the honor of spending a few hours with Tom Kaden and Michael Gingerich last week. I was immediately struck by their openness and their willingness to share their fears and challenges with writing. This honest vulnerability informs their work with Someone To Tell It To, an organization dedicated to giving people a safe place to tell their stories. Enjoy their interview, and be sure to follow their work.
Our first big project was co-writing Someone To Tell It To: Sharing Life’s Journey, a book of 50 short essays about certain significant events in our own lives and relationship, as well as stories about some of the people with whom we’ve connected in our ministry – Someone To Tell It To. The book explores our belief that all of us are created by God for deep, meaningful, and more emotionally intimate relationships. The stories explore how we can begin to create those kinds of relationships with those whom we trust to offer us unconditional love, grace, and compassion. They also illuminate many of the challenges, often painful, that all of us at one time or another experience in our lives. The book reminds us that we need one another for support and affirmation.
In addition, per numerous requests, we have recently published a discussion guide as a companion for the book. It can be used by book discussion groups, churches, and other small groups or even individuals for further reflection and exploration of the themes in the book and how they may relate them to their own lives.
Our current project is our second book, with the working title, Someone To Tell It To: Living an Authentic Life. This book will also share essays about our lives and relationship and stories about those who have allowed us to share their experiences with a larger audience. This book will focus more on how the church can be more supportive and caring toward those who live with loss, loneliness, fear, abuse, and so many other of life’s challenges. But while it will have a focus on how people of faith can be more compassionate and present in others’ lives, we also hope that it will resonate with anyone concerned about living more authentically and lovingly.
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
We are both avid readers. It was very important to our growth and development. Tom especially loved to read the Choose Your Own Adventure series, which enabled readers to create their own ending to each story. Those books appealed strongly to the adventurous side of him. Michael loved the Hardy Boys series of books, baseball history, and American history books, especially those about U.S.presidents. Neither of us ever considered ourselves writers as we were growing up. We don’t remember writing much at all other than work we were required to do for school. We each did have teachers who helped to develop our writing skills, and we are grateful or those teachers who encouraged and affirmed our abilities. We believe that being able to write well and clearly is a vital skill in one’s life and work.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
We make intentional time weekly, and increasingly daily, to write our newest book. If not entire days at a time, we schedule partial days to write together on our joint effort. We spend significant amounts of time talking through the things we want to share and helping one another on every piece we include in our book or on our occasional blog. The time we share in exploring our ideas and individual stories is very vital to the development of our books. Tom also journals on a daily basis, often using his journal entries for essays we include in our books.
4. Who are you reading now?
As partners in this ministry, we are always reading something together that enhances our work together. Currently we are reading David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell and Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life by Glennon Doyle Melton. One of the favorite authors we share is the late Dutch theolgian Henri Nouwen. We have read several of his books together.
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
Tom – I have always loved books about adventure and the excitement and possibilities that adventure can bring. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, and Into Thin Air by John Krakauer are my absolute favorites. The books that have constantly challenged and helped me with my spiritual growth are: the Bible, Irresistable Revolution by Shane Clairborne, and George Muller’s Autobiography by George Muller.
Michael – I love true stories about people who have lived adventuresome, impactful lives, especially those who have overcome great odds to do it. My favorites are: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Open by Andre Agassi. Books that have had the greatest impact on my spiritual and personal development are Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey, the Bible, and anything by Henri Nouwen.
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
We’re not certain if we are interpreting the question as you mean it to be. But here’s our shot at it: All of our writing parallels our the work we do in our non-profit, Someone To Tell It To. We are committed to expressing our own vulnerability in sharing our stories. By doing that, we hope that we are creating a safe place that allows others to do the same.
7. What is a typical day like for you?
Every single day is different for us. It depends on who requests to share with us. But we do spend the bulk of our time sitting with and listening to people in pain. We also network with as many people as we can, as we have time, who may be able to support our ministry financially. As we write our second book, we have committed to scheduling at least an hour to write each day and to choosing one full or half day each week to accomplish major writing for it.
8. Describe your dream writing space?
There are several dream scenarios for us – a fireplace, somewhere quiet with no distractions, comfortable chairs, a place in which we can talk freely about what to write and to share with each other what we each have written that day. We also love to be somewhere that gives us good access to a place outside where we can walk – to process and discuss what we’ve written or hope to write. Just yesterday, we sat outside on the deck of a cabin that we sometimes have access to, as it was a warm enough day to do that. Nature inspires us greatly. The other place is the beach. Last fall, we spent three days at a beach house (owned by Tom’s parents) on the Atlantic Ocean, to begin work on this new book. It gave us a great start and a plan of action. It also enables us to take walks on the boardwalk and on the beach, which filled our souls and gave us motivation to do the work that we needed to do.
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
Tom – I had several college and seminary professors who just seemed to judge my writing far too harshly and critically, They always found something wrong and rarely affirmed anything as good or right. They made me feel terrible about my abilities and inhibited my writing because of it. But there was one high school teacher who was also critical and demanding. Yet she, as opposed to the others, conveyed a sense that she cared about us. We knew that she valued us and because of that we actually trusted her critiques. She made me a better writer.
Michael – The hardest critique for me came when I was a high school senior and a teacher commented on a major paper that my writing was “banal.” That was withering to me. It also made me self-conscious and reluctant to share. It took other teachers’, professors’, and mentors’ affirmation over the course of college, seminary, and in the church to convey the message that I actually had some writing ability and that my work was not “banal.” There is also nothing like having to write a sermon each week to sharpen one’s writing abilities and the skill of capturing people’s attention with one’s words. We are both grateful for the many, many people who have been advocates for our writing and whose words have motivated and given permission to us to continue writing and sharing our stories.
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
Write what you know. Write what you live. Write from your heart.
Tom Kaden graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary and Messiah College. He has been actively involved in the church for several years as a lay leader and a paid staff youth minister and associate pastor. He is a gifted communicator and counselor to people of all ages and has an uncanny ability of taking surface level relationships to a much deeper place in a short period of time. His heart’s desire and his deepest passion is to connect with all types of people in a way that makes sense to them. Tom is married to Sarah and they have been married since 2006. Sarah is a registered nurse. They have four young children, Lillian and Luke, and twins, Madelyn and Mya. They live in Mt. Holly Springs, PA.
Michael Gingerich is a graduate of Lancaster Theological Seminary and Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He has served his career in United Methodist churches and the non-profit world. He has provided thousands of hours of counseling internationally on all aspects of integrative cancer care, especially the psychosocial and spiritual aspects – in-person, through tele-support groups, Facebook™ and email communications. Michael is married to Katherine Walton Gingerich, who is a breast cancer survivor and an advocate for people with developmental disabilities. They are the parents of three sons – Adam, David and Matthew – and the grandfather of three – Lilyanna, Emma and Emmett. Their son Matthew lives with severe intellectual disabilities and autism. They live in Hershey, PA.