An Author Interview with Michelle DeRusha {Book Club}

Cutting Back to Open Up

I love when we get to hear from authors in this space! Today I want to introduce you to Michelle DeRusha and her latest book True You: Letting Go of Your False Self to Uncover the Person God Created which came out on January 1st. I had the privilege of being on her launch team for the book and she lives in my home state, so I’m rather biased in thinking she’s pretty cool. I hope you enjoy hearing from Michelle! And check out the end of the post for a GIVEAWAY!!

Michelle, thanks so much for being with us today! Please introduce yourself to the Velvet Ashes community.

I was born and raised in Massachusetts and grew up Catholic, but by the time I was in my late teens, the church and I went our separate ways, and I ended up taking what I call a 20-year hiatus from faith and religion. I came back to faith very slowly over a period of years after my husband and I moved to Nebraska in 2001. Plucked out of my familiar environment, 1,500 miles from my family, wandering vocationally and professionally, I realized I had questions about God and about faith and spirituality that had gone unexplored for a long time. Allowing myself to ask those questions and begin the process of living into the answers was the beginning of my turn back to faith.

I became a writer at the same time I was stumbling my way back into relationship with God. The two – writing and faith – are entwined for me. Sometimes I say God brought me back to him through writing; writing was a way I wrestled through and processed some of the questions that were bubbling their way to the surface. And writing was also the way I began to understand the mystery of faith – the fact that not all questions have answers, at least in the here and now.

Can you share the process of writing True You? What inspired you?

The idea for True You actually came a few years ago, on a trip to the Pacific Northwest with my family. On our last day in Portland, Oregon, we visited the Portland Japanese Garden, where our tour guide explained a particular Japanese gardening technique called “open center pruning.” As I mulled over what she had told us about the process of pruning away extraneous leaves and branches to reveal a tree’s true essence, I began to see it as a spiritual metaphor of sorts. I began to understand that the process of moving toward smaller and less – cutting back in order to open up, so to speak – is a way for us, through God, to uncover who we are at the very center of our God-created selves.

The process of writing the book was quite slow. In fact, when I look back through my journals and notes, I can see that this book was gestating for years before the words actually made it onto the screen in book form. The fun part for me was researching Japanese gardening practices and discovering how well the metaphor held up and could be carried through the whole book.

That’s the funny thing about writing: you can know next to nothing about something like gardening, and yet find yourself writing a book in which the central metaphor is pruning!

Who did you write this book for? What do you hope they come away with in the end?

I wrote this book for those of us who struggle to know and embrace our true selves – the person God created, rather than the person we have become after years of ingesting society’s messages. We are bombarded with messages insisting that bigger, better, louder, faster and “more” are the only ways we will find satisfaction and fulfillment in this world, but the truth is, that is a false message. Heeding that message and pursuing those things in the end only creates a false sense of security.

As I write in the book, the process of pruning open is the antithesis of contemporary western culture. It is the path toward smaller rather than larger; toward quiet, rather than loud; toward slow, rather than fast; toward dismantling rather than building; toward less rather than more. And it is only in letting go of our false selves that we discover our true self, the person uniquely created by God.

How did God use the process of writing this book in your own life?

God used the writing of this book very personally in my own life to help me see, ironically, that my true self does not align well with my vocation as a traditionally published writer. Turns out, the culture of publishing is not a place I thrive. I can’t separate my self – my whole, true self — from the platform-building, from the push to attract and attain more followers and subscribers, from the Amazon ranks. I can’t separate myself from what often feels like a relentless drive toward bigger, better and more.

I have long struggled with a desire for success and recognition, and it’s become clear to me in recent months that a “public” profession as a writer is not the best place for me. It feeds my false self. And so, as a result of this realization, I’ve decided to step out of traditional book publishing. It’s been a difficult decision, but in some ways, it’s also been extraordinarily liberating as I await whatever it is that God has next for me. 

We love getting new ideas here in Book Club! What’s your all-time favorite book? What are you currently reading?

Oh gosh, my all-time favorite book…it’s impossible to say! Reading is my absolute favorite pastime, so it’s so hard to choose just one book. For a classic, I would probably pick Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. It’s a challenging read, but she was a visionary and had such astute insights into human relationships. Every time I read that book I come away with a new revelation.  I also love memoir. Two of my all-time favorite memoirs are Expecting Adam, by Martha Beck and Girl Meets God, by Lauren Winner.

I just finished reading Alia Joy’s Glorious Weakness, which I loved. She tells her story with such raw honesty and candor, and her writing is luminous. I also recently finished listening to Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River on audio. I’d read this novel ten years ago but sadly, I remember little about it (my retention as a reader is terrible!), so I figured it was time for a reread. Listening to it brought the story to life in a new way. Peace Like a River is beautifully written, captivating and poignant – destined to become an American classic (in my opinion!).

Those sound like awesome books to add to my reading list! Michelle, thanks for sharing honestly and graciously with us!

What questions do you have for Michelle? What stuck out to from what she shared?

Comment on this post with your thoughts or a question, and be entered to win a copy of True You! We’ll draw for 2 winners on Sunday, May 12th at 8:00 pm EST so make sure you add your comment before then!

Follow Michelle on Instagram

Check out her website

Photo by Charles Postiaux on Unsplash

31 Comments

  1. Sherri May 6, 2019

    Michelle, I appreciate that you know yourself well enough to know that being a traditional writer in today’s world would not be healthy for you and that you are willing to walk away from that. I hope you can find a way to use your gifts. I was talking with a friend of mine about this recently.. how publishing has changed, how writers have to promote themselves in order to get a book contract. It is so subtle go from promoting God to promoting ourselves.

    1. Michelle DeRusha May 9, 2019

      Thank you so much for your support and encouragement, Sherri.

  2. Barb Swanson May 7, 2019

    I really want to read this book!! Thanks for the intro via Velvet Ashes. I think it’s especially important to let go of what our culture asks of us and be reminded of what God is asking of us, which is truly the most important. I look forward to learning from what Michelle has written. Here’s to pruning!

    1. Michelle DeRusha May 9, 2019

      Thank you, Barb. And you are so right…our culture makes incessant demands, and those demands are loud, where the voice of the Holy Spirit is often harder to hear, a quiet whisper. But it is so worth it to really listen!

  3. Jaimee May 7, 2019

    Coincidentally, I just finished Michelle’s book Spiritual Misfit last week and loved it. So I very much enjoyed reading about her new book which I hope to read as well. Thanks for enlightening me.

    1. Michelle DeRusha May 9, 2019

      Oh wow, Jaimee, I’m so glad you read and enjoyed Spiritual Misfit – thanks for letting me know!

  4. Michele May 7, 2019

    This book has been on my list already, but this interview made me want to read it all the more. The whole idea seems to be a theme in my life these days- maybe something to do with turning 50 this year? 😉 Also, yay for more friends in Nebraska!

    1. Michelle DeRusha May 9, 2019

      Where are you in Nebraska, Michele? I moved to Lincoln 18 years ago this summer…in some ways it feels like yesterday, and in other ways, it feels like I’ve lived here my whole life. Nebraska is such a comfortable, welcoming place. 🙂

      1. Michele May 10, 2019

        I’m actually in Nepal now and go to Wisconsin, where I grew up, in the summers. But I spent six of the most formative years of my life in a tiny Bible college in Norfolk and Wayne State and still have lots of friends and partners all over Nebraska, so planning a trip this year. It is an exceptionally welcoming place!

          1. Michele May 10, 2019

            Sarah! One of my dearest friends lives in Clearwater and I am planning to spend a couple of days with her this summer for sure, which brings me through Norfolk. I would LOVE to meet you live and in person if possible!

  5. Charity May 7, 2019

    As I was reading this interview, the part that stood out was, “the person we have become after years of ingesting society’s messages.” I was reflecting just last night on how the technology and social media have “rewired” how myself and many people my age process many external and internal things. Shifting through this (or “pruning back” as you say) is something that I would love to hear more of your thoughts about. I think a book like this sounds relevant and timely! 🙂

    1. Michelle DeRusha May 9, 2019

      Pruning is a process, that much I know for sure. You “prune” away certain extraneous elements, and sometimes they grow back, and so you need to prune and then prune again (just like in the garden). God has been a gentle but firm teacher to me, revealing the areas in my life that need to be cut back in order for me to grow in my spiritual life and in my relationshiip with him.

  6. Maria May 7, 2019

    I really enjoyed learning to know you a bit through this interview, and I think your book sounds like wisdom I should read. I long to know my true self, rather than “the person I have become after years of ingesting society’s messages.” This is a message the world needs – thank you for sharing it! I’m curious what path of writing you’re planning to pursue if not through traditional publishing methods?

    1. Annalisa May 7, 2019

      As everyone else has said, this sounds like a timely book! I’m wondering whether her work draws on Thomas Merton – I believe he’s written some about “false selves”?

      1. Michelle DeRusha May 9, 2019

        Hi Annalisa, I love Thomas Merton (as well as Henri Nouwen and Richard Rohr, who also write about the false vs. the true self). I’ve read a fair bit of Merton and quote him from time to time in True You, so he has definitely been an influence on my spiritual journey.

    2. Michelle DeRusha May 9, 2019

      Hi Maria, Thanks for your kind comment here. I’m not altogether sure about the next steps for me; they have yet to be revealed, so for now I am trying to sink myself into the spiritual practice of patient waiting. 😉 I work part-time for The Salvation Army here in Nebraska, doing some writing work for them, and I love it, so for now I am focusing on that and relishing the gifts of anonymous writing for a good cause.

  7. Dorothea Guglielmetti May 7, 2019

    Thank you so much for writing this book Michelle! I am in the middle of being pruned myself and it is not easy to stay calm with all the expectations coming from Society, community and even church… I grew up in Japan until I was 19y and love japanese Gardens and love the metaphor in your book! Hope to read it soon! 🙂

    1. Michelle DeRusha May 9, 2019

      What a great picture, Dorothea – and I must admit, I am rather envious of the time you spent in Japan. I definitely want to visit someday; I’ve been fascinated with Japanese culture ever since I read Shogun as a teenager.:)

  8. Sarah May 7, 2019

    Would love to win this boom to gift to a family member who shared these exact stuggles with me. ❤️

    1. Michelle DeRusha May 9, 2019

      I hope you win a copy, Sarah! 🙂

  9. Amy Young May 7, 2019

    Once again, Michelle, we have similar reading likes. I enjoyed Expecting Adam and Girl meets God. I agree 100% that Peace Like a River is destined to be a classic. It is SO GOOD.

    1. Michelle DeRusha May 9, 2019

      If only we could chat about books over a cup of coffee in person someday, Amy. 🙂

  10. Shelly May 7, 2019

    I also reacted to the point about our true selves versus the one we have become in response to society’s messages. I feel like i am at a crossroads, and I need to decide “who I am” and “what I want to do” for the next 15 years. There is a struggle between letting this unfold in an unhurried manner and getting down to business with something, anything! The interview resonates with questions that keep rising to the surface when I have a stretch of time to reflect on more than the immediate events of life.
    On another note, it is always interesting to hear a person’s story and where God has been nudging and shaping them.

    1. Michelle DeRusha May 9, 2019

      I can relate to your comment so much, Shelly – especially now that I have decided to step back from traditional publishing, and yet I don’t have the what’s next question answered. I, too, am inclined to do something, anything!, just to feel like I have direction and purpose, but I do think God is asking me to be patient and wait right now, which is not my best quality!

  11. Jennifer May 8, 2019

    This sounds like a great book. Thanks for sharing. Michelle, I’m encouraged by your story as well because discovering traditional publishing wasn’t your fit must have been enlightening and a struggle. I appreciate the other reading recommendations too.

    1. Michelle DeRusha May 9, 2019

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Jennifer. Stepping away from traditional publishing has indeed been both liberating and bittersweet – you hit the nail on the head!

  12. Elena May 9, 2019

    Hey Michelle, I was just wondering does your book describe a litmus test that would help you discern if you were living out your true self or your false self?

    1. Michelle DeRusha May 9, 2019

      Well, I know this isn’t the answer you are looking for, Elena (and I hear you!), but there really isn’t a “litmus test” for discovering whether you are living out of your true self or not. I think rather it’s a quiet listening process – carving out enough quiet, distraction-free time in your week or even your day in which you can sit for a few minutes and listen to the deepest part of your self. I think your soul and even your physical body can give you signs and signals as to whether you are on the right path, but the key is tuning into those subtle messages and allowing yourself the time, space and quiet to discern what you might be feeling/hearing and what it might mean. A daily practice of contemplative silence (even just a few minutes) has helped me, as well as journaling. It’s a slow process but a deeply rich one.

  13. Kate May 9, 2019

    The last year has felt like a pruning season for me and my family. Some days are easier than others to trust God in the process.
    What encouragement have you received as a result of stepping out of the known (traditional publishing) in this season for you?

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