A Yada/Yadah Journey by Neta Jackson

Neta Jackson’s award-winning Yada Yada books have sold well over 500,000 copies and are spawning prayer groups around the country. She and her husband, Dave, are also an award-winning writing team with over 1.5 million in sales. They live in the Chicago metropolitan area, where the Yada Yada stories are set. Learn more at www.daveneta.com.

When I wrote the first Yada Yada Prayer Group novel, I was scared to death. Even though I’d been writing (and publishing) for years, this was my first crack at writing a full-length adult novel, and I wasn’t at all sure I could do it. (What??? A hundred thousand words???) I loved writing, but for years I mostly wrote articles growing out of the life journey God had us on—marriage, parenting, Christian community, racial reconciliation.
Then my husband (also a writer) and I began to write non-fiction books together, again about “issues” close to our heart, as well as doing quite a bit of coauthoring—i.e., coming alongside an expert resource person with “something to say” and offering our writing skills to bring their books to life.
And then my husband—Mr. Idea Guy—came up with the idea to write a series of historical fiction novels for young readers about great Christian heroes. We both fell in love with researching the history and storytelling! Together we wrote forty Trailblazer novels (Bethany House Publishers) for the eight-to-twelve age group, realizing the “power of story” to communicate. And fun! Writing fiction—even historical fiction—was addictive, learning how to make the characters come alive, learning how to communicate important truths in the middle of human struggles without preaching.
By this time, I was in a comfortable writing rut, content with being half of the Dave-and-Neta-Jackson writing team, letting Dave come up with the ideas and I’d jump in and off we’d go. Because the other part of me was immersed in a new adventure, a multi-cultural women’s prayer group that God was using to turn my prayer life and spiritual life upside down—or more accurately, right-side up.

And then . . .
I woke up one morning and the other side of the bed was empty. I should have known right then that my world was about to shift, because I was always the first one up! I wandered about the house . . . no Dave. But there was a note on the table. “Got a great idea for a book. Gone for a walk. Tell you when I get back.”

When Dave came back, he handed me a tiny tape recorder where he’d been talking through his idea. “Now you go for a walk and listen to this. Because you’re the one who has to write this book.”

Uh oh.

Dave’s idea: to write a novel about a fictional prayer group similar to the group of women that met in our home. He had witnessed some of the powerful stories, answers to prayer, and dynamic relationships growing out of this group and the impact these sisters had on my life. “It’d make a great story!”

Uh uh. No way. I’d never written a full-length adult novel. I liked writing for kids. I didn’t have any ambition to write novels for grown-ups. In writing circles I was considered a writer-for-youth, not a novelist—and it’s not easy to change genres. Plus I was sure my prayer group sisters would say no, too close to reality, don’t do it. But—as I’d been learning to do in our prayer group—I reluctantly prayed about it, and asked my prayer group sisters to pray about it.
God said yes. They said yes.Finally I said yes.Well, at least I’d try. It would give me a chance to share some of the amazing things God was doing in my life without having to have all the “answers.” All I had to do was take my readers on a journey along with my characters, all of whom were at different places in their spiritual lives, all of whom had faults and weaknesses and wisdom and strengths—just like me and the women in my prayer group.

Looking back at the start of this journey, I feel very much like the little boy in the Gospel story who had five small loaves of bread and two small fish for his lunch. Not much for a lunch. But he gave them to Jesus . . . and whoa! Jesus multiplied them and started feeding people! Was it the little boy? No. Was it his bread and fish? No. It was Jesus, who took what little he had and did a God-thing with it.

That The Yada Yada Prayer Group became, not one, but a series of seven novels is totally a God-thing! (I was quite naïve, thinking I could put twelve feisty women in one novel and expect them to stay there!) But once you give God your “five loaves and two fish,” you never know what He’s going to do with them. I began to hear from readers who said the novels challenged them in their prayer lives and gave them a heart-hunger to worship the way the Yada Yada sisters did. And then we began to hear about “Yada Yada Prayer Groups” forming all over the States, in Canada, in Australia, and elsewhere.

I never dreamed the novels would have this kind of impact. Only God . . .

The meaning of Yada

A lot of people wonder why I named my fictional prayer group “Yada Yada.” Like you, I’d heard the expression used to mean something like, “whatever,” or “and on and on and on.” Then a friend told me that yada is actually a Hebrew word used in the Scriptures. Sure enough, it appears 944 times in the Old Testament, a root word with varying nuances, but basically meaning, “To know and be known intimately.” I began looking up the Scriptures where it appeared and came across Psalm 139, which uses the word with variations numerous times to express how intimately God knows us! And I thought, “What a fantastic name for a prayer group that wants to know God in the intimate way God knows us, and to know each other that way, too.”

And so the “Yada Yada Prayer Group” was born . . . and reborn in the real Yada Yada Prayer Groups forming in the wake of the novels, a sure sign of the hunger and thirst of many women—many of them church women—to go deeper in their relationship with Jesus, and to develop intimate relationships with other “sisters,” not simply for their own sake, but for spiritual support and digging into the Scriptures.

What genre?

But where exactly did The Yada Yada Prayer Group fit in the tidy genre boxes of the publishing industry? I thought of them as “women’s fiction,” but I began reading reviews that classified them (for better or worse) as “Chick Lit.” Chick Lit?! I’d barely heard the term before, but I certainly didn’t have “Chick Lit” in mind when I wrote the novels. The definitions I’d heard usually categorized Chick Lit as “dealing with issues affecting single working women in their twenties or thirties in a lighthearted way.” Huh? My twelve Yada Yada “sisters” were all over the map age-wise, several were over fifty, as well as the fact that my main character was married with teenagers. Humorous, yes. A lot of my readers say they laugh and cry their way through the books . . . but the issues I tackle (self-righteousness, forgiveness, racism, spiritual warfare, the lure of gangs and drugs, gambling, even dog-fighting—just to name a few) are hardly “lighthearted.”

It must be those neon colors and wild crazy socks on the covers.

But I can’t complain. A lot of readers pick up the Yada Yada novels expecting a light read, and discover that God has something deeper for them between the pages. Maybe a lot of readers who otherwise wouldn’t bother to read a book about (shhh) prayer.

But as the novels multiplied, I realized the series was actually what you might call “Episodic,” similar to Lost or other television series that continue a story over several seasons while developing multiple characters. Or “Urban Fiction,” set in the Big City, which becomes almost another character, essential to the story—unlike many other novels in the Christian market, both historical and contemporary, which are set in rural areas or small towns.
Okay, so the Yada Yada novels are hard to classify. It doesn’t matter. The cover artist, the promo people, the marketing teams—they’ve all worked hard to “get the word out” and I’m grateful. (But the best promotion in the world is word-of-mouth, and I have my readers to thank for that!)

The spin-off series: The Yada Yada House of Hope

I tried to end the Yada Yada series, I really did. But in the last two novels of the original series, I introduced a homeless shelter . . . and while volunteering at a local shelter in Chicago as part of my research, I began realizing how many amazing stories walk through its doors. And so Manna House, the fictional homeless shelter, became a primary setting for a spin-off series. I took the titles from the gospel song, “I Go to the Rock,” by the late Dottie Rambo: Where Do I Go? (Book 1), Who Do I Talk To? (Book 2)—both of which are in bookstores now—and Who Do I Lean On? (Book 3), due out in June 2010.

In the House of Hope novels, I introduce a new main character, a privileged woman living in a luxury penthouse along Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive, who stumbles (literally) over an old bag lady . . . and in “helping” the old woman get to a shelter, she discovers she’s the one who needs to find Shelter when her life falls apart. Several of the original characters from the “prayer group” series weave in and out of the new series, so faithful readers will make new friends while still on the journey with the old.
Parallel novels—what’s that?
With this new series, my husband and I are trying something new! Dave realized that one of my secondary characters—a doorman in the luxury highrise named Harry Bentley—had a story of his own. So he wrote a parallel novel titled, Harry Bentley’s Second Chance, which coexists in time and space with Book 1 of my new series (Where Do I Go?), sharing some of the same characters and some of the same events, but giving readers a glimpse into Harry’s world as an ex-cop, forced to retire because he blew the whistle on some rogue cops in the Elite Gang and Drug Unit, who discovers he has a grandson he didn’t know about . . . well, you have to read the novel. Check it out on our web site: http://www.daveneta.com/!

I hope you will join me on the journey.