For Allison Gappa Bottke, creator of the God Allows U-Turns series, writing is more than a creative release. It is a spiritual art form in the most endearing sense. And it is a reflection of Bottke's undisputable love for the written word and her faith in "something bigger" than herself.
"My life has been so full of rocky times that often writing was my only way out of the insanity of any given moment," she says. "I know my ability to write saved my life ... often."
A former freelancer—her work appeared in the likes of Woman's World, Cosmopolitan, Weight Watchers and Ladies Home Journal—and plus-size fashion model, Bottke now hopes to inspire both writers and readers with volume one of her new Christian inspirational series, God Allows U-Turns, Stories of Hope and Healing.
The book debuts this month at the CBA (formerly the Christian Booksellers Association) convention in Atlanta, followed in October by volume two, God Allows U-Turns, More Stories of Hope and Healing. With each book featuring 100 or more true stories—including Bottke's own account in volume one of overcoming abuse, divorce and abortion—the series is creating a new avenue for inspirational writers.
The first inkling of God Allows U-Turns came a decade ago when Bottke wrote a book by the same name as her "own testimonial." The problem was, no one would buy it. So she put the book aside. Then, two years ago, Bottke was inspired.
"I call it a 'God thing'—when something happens this easily," she says. "I was on vacation with my husband, and it just hit me: God Allows U-Turns as a series of short stories."
The switch from personal testimonial to inspirational compilation proved to be a smart move. In February 2000, Bottke issued a call for "short stories of faith" through her Web site (www.godallowsuturns.com). While she had no agent or publisher at the time, her devotion to the project spread to would—be contributors who—not knowing when or if their stories would ever be published—began not only submitting, but spreading the word about the project as well.
Just two months later, armed with a "business plan" that covered everything from the series' purpose to product placement, Bottke landed representation with the well-respected Alive Communications, Inc.—the same company that represents Tim F. LaHaye's and Jerry B. Jenkins' Left Behind, the Christian blockbuster series. That same month, she was approached by Promise Press, an imprint of Barbour Publishing, Inc., based in Uhrichsville, Ohio.
"Susan Schlabach, the senior editor for Promise Press, had heard about the book project through someone else and, after visiting the Web site, she contacted me with great interest in the project."
Wanting to consider all possibilities, Bottke held out while her agent, Chip MacGregor, spread the word about the project. By August 2000, 13 publishing houses were interested. In the end, it was Barbour that earned Bottke's trust. "Thanks to Susan's tenacity and vision, and all of the other wonderful elements Barbour brought to the table, we ended up selecting Promise Press and Barbour," she says.
Though the publisher originally signed on for only one book with the option for a second, it didn't take long for everyone involved to see the project's full potential. And on Jan. 5—just one month after completing the first volume—Bottke got the call she'd been hoping for from Barbour.
"They said, 'You know what? We absolutely love this. We want volume two right away. We want to make it a brand name, and we want to get volume two out by next October. Can you do that?' And what am I supposed to say to that—'I'll think about it?'"
Once an agent and a publisher were secured, Bottke was free to focus on other aspects of the book, like the flood of submissions that had been pouring in—she received more than 1,600 stories from around the world for volume one alone.
"What's wonderful is that these are stories that are coming from women and men who have never done this before," she says. "It's wonderful to watch creativity blossom ... to see the human spirit do something it's always wanted to do."
The goal of Bottke's project is to promote "a relationship with God," not a religion. And she credits this key phrase with drawing such diverse interest.
"I think there's a real misnomer out there about religion," she says. "To me, it's not so much a religion that's missing but a relationship, and I think there's a basic fundamental belief that there is something bigger than ourselves out there."
As a writer, Bottke says she feels compelled by this belief to use writing as a medium through which to "touch everybody's life." And it's a call others are responding to as well. With stories of loss and rebirth, pain and its ultimate ability to release people into the arms of pure awareness, the series is opening up a creative wellspring of comfort and inspiration.
"Writing has brought me closer to God," she says. "In challenging times, writing is what I've always turned to and learned from. Writers have this special power to touch people, and this gift is an awesome responsibility."
It's a responsibility many fellow writers clearly share. Even before the release of volume one, the number of visitors to Bottke's Web site soared to 18,000 hits per month, and she receives "hundreds of stories" each week. And true to her belief in each story's own innate beauty, Bottke says she reads every submission.
"I see each story that comes over my e-mail—believe it or not—and there are thousands of them," she says. "There may be a point where I might not be able to—I hope not because I love it."
Bottke also holds such deep admiration for her contributing writers that she never throws a story away. Instead, she holds on to stories not selected, saving them for future volumes or, sometimes, just saving them—recognizing each for its own honesty and truth.
As interest in the series grows, so too do plans for future volumes. Depending on the success of the first volumes, two new books are expected to be released each year. Volume three, tentatively scheduled for release in 2002, is God Allows U-Turns, Especially for Women. Themes for additional volumes depend on the type of stories submitted, says Bottke, adding that senior citizens, children and medical miracles are likely candidates for future volumes. Bottke is also in "serious negotiations" with two gift and specialty companies for a line of merchandise ranging from greeting cards to Bible covers.
And though she now finds herself in a unique position to inspire others, Bottke says it's important for every writer to recognize the beauty and strength of his or her own potential for creative greatness: "Creative people are entities all on their own. We have such tender psyches and tender egos ... just never give up—I never gave up."
This article appeared in the July 2001 issue of Writer's Digest.