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Writing "Welcome to Triumph"

Writing "Welcome to Triumph"


Brittany Kooi and Kendra Joyner-Miller
Brittany Kooi and Kendra Joyner-Miller and Chalice Stories celebrate the January 30, 2024, launch of Welcome to Triumph: Seasons of Triumph Book 1. They shared how writing captured their curiosity, a bit about the writing process, and what they hope readers will take away from their  collaboration.


How long have you been writing fiction? And/or What was the first fiction you remember writing?

Kendra: I come from a family of storytellers and my earliest memories are of us gathered around the table or snuggled in bed at night hearing stories of my Dad’s family farm in southern Virginia, or my mom eating Maryland blue crab as a girl in Baltimore. I have even wondered if some of my earliest memories are truly my memories or things constructed from the stories I have been told. I have always been an avid reader but my own writing has followed in my family tradition of non-fiction (which might occasionally bend toward fiction). Writing “Welcome to Triumph” was a beautiful invitation to write about a place, people, and events that felt true even though it was all completely fictional. 

Brittany: Since I could write in complete sentences, I’ve been writing fiction stories inspired by real-life so that I could better understand and explore experiences. The first fiction I remember sharing publicly with others was a short play I wrote in high school. It centered on a college freshman’s fish-out-of-water experience her first few days at college as people from her past reappear. My high school staged it, and besides an enormous amount of nerves at sharing it, I mostly remember the sense of community it brought: others connected to my fictional characters and their situations. It’s that same hope for unity that keeps me writing fiction today. 

What’s the biggest challenge of writing fiction?

Brittany: The biggest challenge is sharing my characters’ mistakes and flaws with the audience. Just as it’s hard to be honest and vulnerable with others in our own lives, it’s extremely hard to share the faults of beloved characters. I want to present each character in the best way possible; when they go through a hardship or make a rash decision, there’s a risk the reader will reject the character. And yet, how realistic is it to have a character who always behaves as expected, never messes up, and doesn’t struggle in their life? To be honest to the heart of fiction, which is the making sense of our own realities, is to have full and flawed characters. 

Kendra: I really wrestled with the limitedness of writing. You are showing people, these characters, in these snapshot moments of time but in our minds the complexity of these characters felt so much bigger and beautiful. I felt a responsibility to do them justice in the ways that their lives were tapestries of so much more than what a reader might see in a scene.  I also took really seriously that we were writing fiction about clergy women, a population that is not often reflected in the genre and I wanted to do my colleagues and peers justice in writing characters and their experiences.

What was your biggest surprise writing Welcome to Triumph?

Kendra: Honestly, that we did it. When we agreed to write this book I was just a couple of months postpartum and had been asked to interview for a position across the country. Life felt so full and a little wild. It turned out to be the perfect time to write. I’d be up feeding the baby at night and an idea for a character would pop into my head. As I celebrated this new life in our lives, the lives of these characters also came in beautiful spontaneity and in daily diligence. I am eternally grateful for Brittany, our beautiful creativity, our love of Google Docs, and the slightly manic schedule that we were able to keep with one another. I was worried we would regret this project by the end and I’d never want to talk to her again but she has been an amazing partner full stop. We lifted one another up, held each other accountable, and I know she brought out the best in my writing. 

Brittany: How much of the book and its events are pure fiction! I worried that we would end up writing our lives and experiences too much into the book. Kendra and I have both lived in pastor circles for over ten years. We know the community and the experiences. It was easy to bring that perspective into everyday life in a smaller town. The ease of writing with another author was also quite surprising. We joked that this would either go well or it’d be the worst group project ever. I think the way we divvied up the story and then still had the other person go over what we’d written really helped maintain continuity. 

Which character did you most enjoy writing for?

Kendra: Picking a favorite character would be like picking a favorite kid, you might have favorite moments with each, but it is constantly shifting with moments and time. I loved writing Birdie’s character, her grounded steady way, her appreciation of a good cup of coffee and a morning on the porch. Birdie felt like writing my best-self pastor.  But, I loved feeling the truth in all the women’s stories. Writing about Ara Grace’s grandmother’s garden, or the struggles of seemingly impossible demands of family, ministry, self in Nel.

Brittany: Johnny Tae was really fun to write, as he embodies existential angst. Who doesn’t have that? I thought I’d most relate to writing Ara Grace’s life, the new pastor in town who happens to be Lutheran, like me. However, I found myself drawn to Nel’s relentless insistence that everything is fine despite her family life crumbling. To be clear: my personal family life is healthy, fine, and stable. But I have chaos-- how can there not be when kids are involved? And I found myself relating to Nel’s instinct to diminish or cover up problems. The root of Nel’s instinct comes from her sole identity as a pastor: she wants to present the Gospel in such a flawless way that the message of God’s love and grace isn’t obscured by her reality. I found myself doing the opposite, though: God’s love and grace are made most evident in the messy chaos of life with kids. 

What do you hope readers will take away from Welcome to Triumph?

Brittany: My hope is that readers realize pastors are people, too. I hope there is an embracing of our shared flawed humanity, with an equal reliance on God’s divine love. All the characters are doing their best with what they have-- the teens, the pastors. And ultimately, they realize the way forward is only through the community they choose to create and participate in. I think that’s true for all of us. 

Kendra: I want folks to see the beauty and struggle that these women face in ministry. I want folks to see the ways this is universal for all clergy and the ways it is beautifully specific. Other than The Vicar of Dibley, which I loved watching in high school, there are not a lot of portrayals of women and ministry. I wanted to show the diversity of that experience: the humor, the anxiety, the struggle, the earnestness, the joy.  The ways these women might feel true to the reader’s life.

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