Mount Hermon Report 2008, Part 3

It’s taken me a while to get back to the report, but that’s because there’s been so much to discuss, what with a hot blog tour, a book to review, a meme to answer.

As I remember, I left off with arriving at MH and meeting L. L. Barkat (who just so happened to be the one who tagged me with the Odd Job Meme). For the life of me, I can’t remember what I did that Thursday night. There was an early bird workshop led by Tim Riter called something like “Maximizing the Mount Hermon Experience,” but I didn’t attend.

The next day, however, I do remember. At breakfast I sat at the same table with freelance writer and conference speaker Louise M. Carey who “just happens” to be working with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Guatemala and knows some of the missionaries I worked with years ago when I did a three-year teaching stint there. How cool is that?!

Brandilyn Collins at Mount Hermon, 2008After breakfast, I went to the central lounge (Common Ground) to work on the critiques I still had to complete for my mentoring group. I scanned the crowded room (with fire in the fireplace and coffee flowing into cups) for a vacant seat. I thought to pull an unused chair against the wall or somewhere out of the way, and work off my clipboard. I approached the table where Brandilyn Collins worked and asked if the available chair was in use. The other woman at the table said something like, it was free but at that table, they were working. In other words, no chit chat. Well, that worked for me, so I plopped onto the chair and went to work right there.

Only later, when there was a break in the action, did Brandilyn graciously introduce me to the other woman—her editor, Zondervan’s Sue Brower. On top of the introduction, Brandilyn said very nice things about me and my writing. To which Sue replied, We’ll have to tell Andy about her. And then I had to say, Uh, Andy Messenheimer? He’s already rejected my proposal. Bummer!

One of the good things about being around for a while is you get to know people, but on the negative side, they all get a chance to reject your work.

It’s interesting how I look at these things now. Once, I would have considered sitting at that table with Brandilyn and Sue as a divine appointment that was opening a door for me to be published at Zondervan. I still believe it was a divine appointment, but I’m no longer presuming to know why God put those women in my path (or me in theirs). I do know I decided to attend Sue’s seminar later that day, in large part because of our conversation. And I’m glad I did. But that will have to be for another post.

A Real Saturday Post – The Odd Job

Yes, I am actually departing from the norm and blogging on Saturday, but there’s a reason.

As regular visitors may have noticed, on Tuesday I was tagged. At the time we were in the middle of Andrew Peterson’s blog tour, and the conversation that post generated spilled out through Thursday. I could easily have continued talking about Christian fiction and theme on Friday, but wanted to get that review of A Promise to Remember up (I have a friend waiting to borrow the book).

Then I plan to get back to my Mount Hermon report next week. I have the pictures out of my camera (yes, my camera. My kind neighbors who lent it to me for the conference said I could keep it. I consider it on long term loan—if they need it back, it’s theirs. But meanwhile … I’m going to have fun!) and onto my computer, so it will be fun showing you some of the Mount Hermon folks and walking through the week.

All that to say, if I’m going to participate in this meme thing, well, a Saturday post is necessary.

Marcus Goodyear and Me It’s an interesting kind of meme too, not one that seems so purposeless, as many of the just-for-fun ones seem. This one was generated by friend and senior editor of , Marcus Goodyear (pictured here with me at Mount Hermon during the autograph party).

So what is the task?

1. Write about the Strangest Job I Ever Had and tell what I learned from it.

2. Link to other “Lessons from Odd Jobs” posts.

3. Tag my post “Lessons from Odd Jobs”.

4. Tag other bloggers, in or out of the HC [High Calling] network.

5. Link back to the Lessons from Odd Jobs page and and email this month’s host at “Marcus AT highcallingblogs DOT com”.

As I read my tagging friend, L. L. Barkat’s post, detailing her struggle to think of an odd job she’d held, my thoughts clamped onto mine.

It was the summer between my junior and senior year in college, and I was back in Denver with my parents. My dad knew a guy (who probably knew a guy, I don’t even remember), and lo and behold, before I knew what hit me, I was interviewing for a factory job. Yep, factory job. The main sticking point seemed to be that I was temporary since I’d be returning to California for school in the fall. Still, I got the job.

The work involved sorting phone cords. For those of you unfamiliar with old fashioned technology, phones all used to have cords, and the one attaching the receiver to the base was a coiled thing allowing it to stretch. My job, for that first week, was to sort through piles and piles of such used cords and discard the ones with obvious problems—tears in the outer plastic or distorted color (usually from dyeing). The rest went through a washing process.

After that first week, I was promoted to inspection. During this phase I sat at a cubicle and checked over washed cords and their connecting wires for smaller tears we missed in the first pass and ink spots.

Later, after another week or two, our supervisor reorganized the process, putting us in an assembly-line of sorts, where one of us would check the coiled portion and another the wires.

But here’s the thing. By the end of the summer, I had seniority and was in line for promotion to group inspector. At first my co-workers couldn’t understand why I didn’t get the position—until I told them this was just a summer job for me.

What did I learn? Non-Christians are people too. 😉 Seriously, I really liked a number of the women I worked with and went back to visit the plant on my Christmas break. Thing was, most of them weren’t working there any more.

Which leads me to the next lesson. Part of working hard is showing up, regularly, continually, faithfully.

The third lesson was key, I think. Yes, I felt the need to do a good job—it’s why I was hired. But the work was tedious, repetitive, uninspiring. So we played games. Not real ones (though we did have a few water fights—don’t ask). Mind games (mostly). And we told stories, recited nursery rhymes, discussed … life. Nothing too deep, mind you. We still had to concentrate on those cords, keeping an eye out for holes or ink spots, and we had a quota to meet, as I recall. But work should be about doing the job and developing relationships with co-workers, I think.

Of course, now I wish I’d been bolder and talked to my co-workers about Christ. That would have been ideal, but I was pretty immature in my faith and only by the grace of God were any seeds planted for eternity during those three months. I think the job had a bigger impact on me than I had on the job.

Now, as to others posting on Odd Jobs, check out David Zimmerman, Shalene at A Proverbs 31 Woman Wannabe, and Marlo Boux at The Joyful Christian Wife. I don’t know any of these three, but found their stories and lessons really gratifying. It’s a picture of God at work in individuals’ lives.

So I think that’s it, except for the part about me tagging (an unspecified number of) other bloggers. Who will play this game? I think I’d love to hear from Brandilyn Collins who has a blog tour coming up with CFBA, Wayne Thomas Batson, and Christopher Hopper. The latter two are off retreating somewhere, I think. Hopefully all three writers can take time away from their schedule to share lessons from their oddest jobs.

Published in: on March 29, 2008 at 1:01 pm  Comments (15)  

A Promise to Remember

This is sort of a transition post. We’ve had wonderful discussions about theme and Christian fiction, stemming from a comment Andrew Peterson made in answer to a question that came up in another blog.

Ironically, I was reading in Jerry JenkinsWriting for the Soul (Writers Digest, 2006), given out to all conferees by Mount Hermon at the Christian Writers Conference. In the forward, Francine Rivers wrote “We know it is one thing to be a Christian who writes, and quite another to be a Christian writer.”

I thought, Uh, we do? And what are the differing characteristics of the two? No disrespect to Ms. Rivers, who I know little about, but I tend to believe it is a good thing, a very good thing to wrestle with what it means to be a Christian (who we are) who writes (what we do) and/or a Christian writer (a writer informed by the change Christ has made in my life)—in short, this whole “what is Christian fiction” discussion we’ve been having.

But I’m getting sidetracked. What I really want to talk about is a book that illustrates what good Christian fiction is. I’m referring to Katie Cushman‘s debut novel, A Promise to Remember. Christy Award winning author John Olson, remember, touted this book as “flat out brilliant.”

I have to be honest. I purposefully slide this one down on my to-be-read pile after reading Sharon Souza’s Every Good and Perfect Gift (a book I reviewed here.) Understand, my delay had to do completely with my wanting to be in the right frame of mind. Knowing the premise of A Promise to Remember, I expected to be crying a lot.

The back of the book gives hints: “Two wounded women,” “the accident that changes everything,” and from James Scott Bell, “A beautifully written and heartfelt novel about loss …” Well, there’s more. But I knew what caused the wound, what was the loss. As you may remember, Katie was the driver of our little carpool up to Mount Hermon from Santa Barbara these last two years. And of course we talked about our writing. So I knew.

What I was ignoring was the rest of Jim Bell’s quote: “… about loss, love and forgiveness.”

Long story short, I got home from Mount Hermon and started in on Promise. By Monday, I knew I wouldn’t do anything else until I finished the book. It was gripping, real, tragic, triumphant, hopeful, engaging.

The story begins after loss has already occurred, and this had an odd effect on me. I didn’t feel the grief I was reading about. The book wasn’t really about that. It was about the repercussions of the grief, and those I entered into with my heart as well as with my head. But it was such a tangle. There was conflict, conflict, conflict, but who was the antagonist? Lots of people to root for, but if one came out ahead, it seemed the others would lose.

Wonderful tension. Great characters. Engaging from page one. Never coming across as succumbing to the victim syndrome, though certainly that would have fit the circumstances. But these characters really were larger than life, even as they felt so shrunken by their grief.

Powerful story. Now I want to talk to Katie about her theme. I did ask which she starts with when she writes a novel (her second is in the editing process, I believe), and surprisingly she said, Plot. (Score one for Jim Bell in his debate with Nick Harrison—and I’ll tell you about that next week when I get back to the Mount Hermon Report).

Recommendation? Must read. A Promise to Remember is one of those books that can touch a reader no matter what your preferred genre. Yes, the main characters are women, but men play a prominent role. It’s not a shoot-em-up story, but it is ripe with real life drama. Men will “get” this book, too. And readers who don’t pick it up will miss out.

Themes in Christian Fiction

So many comments, so much great discussion. Again, I appreciate everyone who took time to enter into the dialogue these last two days. I believe it informs us all, as it sparks further thought and gives rise to examination of our own philosophy and/or theology.

I wish I could respond to each point, but that would be an all-day post (and one so long, it’s doubtful anyone would read it). Here are a few issues I’ve selected.

First, Ben. You are welcome to comment here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction any time. I love dissenting opinions as much as I love well-articulated statements with which I agree. I’m not big on sound bites or regurgitated quips culled from the famous and influential, and I certainly did not see any of that in your comments.

I would like to comment on one part of what you said:

To me that’s closer to what should define whether or not a book has been written by a Christian. There should be no agenda. The truth of the belief inherent in the Christian should just naturally be present in the book, a living mystery. Those who experience it will know it’s there, and no one will feel manipulated or as though anything has been rubbed in their face.

Part of my “mission,” if you will, is to call Christian writers to an understanding of what makes story worthwhile, timeless, universal. Theme is the biggest component in writing of that caliber. But in the effort to wean Christian authors away from writing sermons in story form, some instructors have bunched theme in with message and agenda. Those three are not the same.

Consequently, I completely agree with you when you say, “There should be no agenda.” But the next line, I don’t believe is true. There is no “naturally” about my expression of my faith. I have chosen in real life to refrain from speaking of Christ, from loving my neighbor, from spending time in the Word, and on and on. I also refrain from sharing my faith in my newspaper articles and in other freelance writing, even in some short stories. Yes, without a doubt, non-fiction requires different technique from fiction, but the choice to write about the world from a Christian point of view is one I need to make in either case.

I will agree that God can make Himself known in our stories in spite of us. But I believe it is presumptuous to assume it will be so. That would be tantamount to believing I will always speak kindly of drivers that cut me off on the freeway because I am a Christian. I wish it were so!

And finally, your implication is that an intentional theme, by its existence, is either manipulative or will slap the reader in the face. This is the crux of my argument. Poorly written stories may have themes that do those things. Well-written ones won’t. Probably the most important thing I believe about writing is the need to craft themes as carefully as we do the other elements of fiction, and perhaps more so since theme needs to be nearly invisible. It should be the beams of our dwelling—indispensable and unseen, certainly planned, carefully built, not haphazardly added or left to the whim of the architect, or to his fundamental belief that houses should have beams.

But what are these themes? Does each story that is “Christian fiction” have to have a theme of redemption?

In the early stages of fiction produced by evangelical publishing houses, I believe that was true. I’d like to see the acceptable themes expanded. I think there are lots of themes that are consistent with Scripture, that glorify God, that furrow the soil of a pliant heart. Why can’t Christians write those stories and Christian publishing houses print those books and Christian book stores put those novels on their shelves?

I’d like to see “Christian fiction” be more about theme and less about the externals—what the characters can or can’t do or say or where they can or can’t go. In my pipe dream world, I’d like to see publishers care less about the complaining customer and care more about whether or not the books they produce glorify God. Don’t get me wrong. I understand publishers have a bottom line they are responsible for, but in a perfect scenario, with God owning the cattle on a thousand hills and all, wouldn’t it be conceivable for a publisher to trust Him to bring the sales?

But that’s seriously off topic. And lo and behold, this post is already way too long, and I’ve only addressed one comment. 😮

You all, continue. I’ll be interested in reading your responses and dialogue.

Published in: on March 27, 2008 at 11:33 am  Comments (13)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, Day 3

I so love a good controv … uh, discussion! (Emoticon here, rubbing hands together with look of satisfaction glinting from its eyes).

Seriously, I feel like I learn so much from the give and take of dialogue, even about my own views and certainly about what others are thinking and what makes them tick.

I’m referring, of course, to the stir resulting from my last post in which I quoted Andrew Peterson, author of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, in his comment on another site answering the “Christian fiction” question.

Those of you who visit here frequently know I have an ongoing discussion with Mike Duran about this subject. And here’s the crux of the issue. Some people define Christian fiction as (mostly preachy) stories in which one character becomes a Christian.

My argument has long been (contrary to what Mike may think – 😉 ), Christian fiction isn’t that alone, and no stories should be preachy. That’s just bad fiction.

In the discussion yesterday, Mr. Peterson (thanks for taking the time to comment, by the way) added something new to the mix: stories that unintentionally tell the truth, are they also Christian? He cited C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, Les Miserables, Gilead, Peace Like a River, and one or two others (and I admit, I question whether all those authors were unintentional about the redemptive elements of their stories). Commenter Travis then mentioned an extension of this idea: “the gospel sneaks itself into stories by non-Christians.”

So the question is, are all stories that show redemption, intentionally or unintentionally, overtly or subliminally, “Christian”? And where precisely does a story with a “Christian worldview” fit in?

To answer the first, I would have to say, No, stories by non-Christians, no matter how much they may remind us of Christ’s redemption and no matter how God may choose to use those stories to bring people to Himself, aren’t “Christian.”

I plead for the same definition in fiction as in life. In simple form, “Christian” refers to a person who belongs to Jesus Christ, who follows Him. A non-Christian’s story may reveal a struggle between good and evil, with good winning out, and Christians understand that Good is God, that He wins through the death and resurrection of His Son. But I suggest a story that is open to good being interpreted as “The Force” or Mankind’s own positive energy, or whatever else non-Christians understand as good, can’t be considered “Christian.”

On the other hand, I don’t think Christians are limited to retelling the redemption story. There is a significant need for “seed planting” stories. These, in my view, fall into the category of Christian worldview stories. They are true and consistent with Scripture, but make no attempt to portray Christ’s redemptive sacrifice. It doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t point to Him.

What’s the difference between the former and the latter? I’d have to say it’s the intention of the author. Here’s where I pull out my bullhorn. What we’re talking about is writing a story that has a theme. Some refer to it as a message and others as an agenda. I disagree. A theme is a theme. It is neither a message nor an agenda if it is woven with care into the fabric of a story.

And that careful weaving, I contend, is next to impossible unless some thought—some intention—is given to it.

Can a non-Christian stumble upon truth? Certainly. The myths C. S. Lewis fell in love with eventually pointed him to Christ because he finally came to realize there was a True myth. Perhaps they are imitations of reality, perhaps they reflect the hunger for God in every human heart. Nevertheless, those myths are not Christian.

And why is “proper labeling” important? Perhaps only for the sake of identifying truth. How many Christian parents embraced The Lion King because it was cute and clean—never mind that it was full of false religion.

Christian fiction, in my opinion, should not be about the trappings of Christianity, but somewhere along the line this seems to be what it has become in the minds of many.

Who can change this if not writers? Not by writing “less” Christian works or by eschewing theme. Not by assuming our worldview will surface without our intention. No. Christian themes, Christian worldview themes need to be crafted into our stories. And that takes work. Just as much work as crafting a world or a character or a plot.

Bullhorn down! 😉

You might wish to read what people are saying about the delightful book that started all this conversation, so check out the other posts by these fine bloggers:

Sally Apokedak/ Brandon Barr/ Jim Black/ Justin Boyer/ Jackie Castle/ Valerie Comer/ CSFF Blog Tour/ Gene Curtis/ D. G. D. Davidson/ Jeff Draper/ April Erwin/ Beth Goddard / Marcus Goodyear/ Todd Michael Greene/ Jill Hart/ Katie Hart/ Michael Heald/ Timothy Hicks/ Christopher Hopper/ Jason Joyner/ Kait/ Carol Keen/ Mike Lynch/ Margaret/ Rachel Marks/ Shannon McNear/ Pamela Morrisson/ John W. Otte/ Deena Peterson/ Rachelle/ Steve Rice/ Cheryl Russel/ Ashley Rutherford/ Chawna Schroeder/ James Somers/ Donna Swanson/ Steve Trower/ Speculative Faith/ Robert Treskillard/ Jason Waguespac/ Laura Williams/ Timothy Wise

Highlighted links are bloggers I know have posted already.

CSFF Blog Tour – On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, Day 2

Did I mention yesterday that I wrote a review of Andrew Peterson‘s On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness last November? At the time, I thought the book was due to release in January, so it seemed like the perfect time to start generating some talk about it. Lo and behold, the book didn’t come out until this month. Plenty of time for people to forget I ever mentioned it.

I bring this up now because every once in a while people ask me what I thought about the book. I am certainly not shy about voicing my opinion, as I’m sure you know by now, if you’ve stopped by A Christian Worldview of Fiction before 😉 . Rather than regurgitating my opinions, however, because we’re doing a tour for the book, I’d rather give you something else to think about.

Thing is, this book is fun, well-written, well-liked—from everything I’ve read—which doesn’t leave anything particularly controversial to discuss. So my next thought was to post an excerpt and let you see for yourself the quality of writing. I still might do that tomorrow, though Beth Goddard beat me to it in her post for the tour.

In hopes of settling on a particular angle to discuss the book, I decided to do a bit of touring before I wrote this post. Usually I operate in the opposite order—post, then read—but having posted late yesterday, I figured any early visitors would be occupied with that post anyway, so … more than you want to know, I understand. Getting on with it!

In my ventures into the blogsphere, I came upon a review of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, thanks to Brandon Barr, by Fantasy Book Critic who runs a site not dedicated to Christian fiction.

The response was incredibly favorable—glowing, you might say. Which is great, great, great. But then one of the commenters asked why it was considered Christian fiction. The site proprietor said it was because Andrew Peterson is a Christian and WaterBrook Press is a Christian publishing house. Then the author himself left his response to the question:

Thanks for the kind words, Robert.

To chime in on the “Christian Fantasy” question, it’s true that I’m a Christian and that WaterBrook publishes Christian books, but I want to be clear that I didn’t set out to write a “Christian novel”. There’s no Aslan/Jesus character. There’s no overbearing moral to the tale.

My goal was to tell a story that, ultimately, would make you want to keep turning the pages. I tried to, as Madeline L’Engle put it, “serve the work.” One of the quickest ways to turn me off to a story is to have the story itself take a back seat to some point that the author’s trying to make. Sure, there are aspects of the story that I hope shine light into the reader’s imagination, and perhaps into his soul, but that was never at the front of my mind while I was writing.

I’d be curious to hear whether or not someone who didn’t know I was a Christian would suspect that I am one upon finishing the book.

Once again, thank you for the gracious review, Robert, and I hope the rest of you enjoy it too. I’m off to the bookstore tomorrow (release day!) to stealthily rearrange the shelf placement of a certain, ahem, book.

Well, this writing with no clear intent to write a Christian novel has a tendency to set me off. Is he saying, therefore, that the book is NOT Christian? Or that it turned out that way by accident?

I’m sorry. Writing is such an intentional activity. I make choices all the time. And if the direction of the story heads somewhere I don’t want to go, then I change it, via my characters’ choices. Or I change my character if I think the desired direction and the character are somehow incongruous. Writing is not accidental.

That leaves “intentionally NOT Christian.” No Christ figure, though I certainly wouldn’t say there is no picture of redemption. And is such a “Christian worldview” appropriate in fiction? Of course. In fact it should be applauded, celebrated. Why is it we have to hedge around the subject? Jesus told lots of parables that didn’t picture Him dying a substitutionary death, and none of them were devoid of purpose. All of them were important in understanding what He came to accomplish.

I think our understanding of “Christian fiction” may be way too narrow.

OK, see what others have to say about On the Edge:

Sally Apokedak/ Brandon Barr/ Jim Black/ Justin Boyer/ Jackie Castle/ Valerie Comer/ CSFF Blog Tour/ Gene Curtis/ D. G. D. Davidson/ Jeff Draper/ April Erwin/ Beth Goddard / Marcus Goodyear/ Todd Michael Greene/ Jill Hart/ Katie Hart/ Michael Heald/ Timothy Hicks/ Christopher Hopper/ Jason Joyner/ Kait/ Carol Keen/ Mike Lynch/ Margaret/ Rachel Marks/ Shannon McNear/ Pamela Morrisson/ John W. Otte/ Deena Peterson/ Rachelle/ Steve Rice/ Cheryl Russel/ Ashley Rutherford/ Chawna Schroeder/ James Somers/ Donna Swanson/ Steve Trower/ Speculative Faith/ Robert Treskillard/ Jason Waguespac/ Laura Williams/ Timothy Wise

Highlighted links are bloggers I know have posted already.

CSFF Blog Tour – On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, Day 1

When I was teaching junior high, I decided I should write a book. After all, there was so little on bookshelves aimed at tweeners.

That was actually my first motivation to begin writing, but upon delving into the business, I learned no publisher was interested in producing books for that age level. That was then.

Now, in the golden era of YA, Christian publishers are at last courting authors who write for youth, including those writing for tweens—the not-children-and-not-adults crowd. Or more precisely, the not-children-and-not-young-adults crowd.

Andrew Peterson, perhaps best known for his music, is one such author. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of DarknessHis debut novel, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, is a delightful, fun fantasy aimed at youth but certainly written to tickle adults as well.

I have to say, I really do enjoy the CSFF blog tour, as I may have mentioned from time to time in previous posts ( 😉 ). I find the participants honest, thoughtful, and interesting. Still, when I run across a review that is not associated with the tour, I pay special attention. Will their opinions clash with ours? Is our love of the genre coloring our opinions?

This weekend, I came across two reviews I thought were notable, one from an entirely independent source, the other from a writer I admire greatly. So I’ll let you be the judge. See what these two reviews say: Taran at Coffeespoons and Jonathan Rogers at The Rabbit Room. Then check out what the CSFF’ers have to say and see what you think.

Highlighted links are bloggers I know have posted already.

Published in: on March 24, 2008 at 1:52 pm  Comments (6)  

Mount Hermon Report 2008, Part 2

Fun, exhausting, a lovely experience, and yet a blur. I agree completely with the four Mount Hermon Christian Writers conferees who commented on yesterday’s post.

Fun. I love hanging out with other writers, editors, and agents. The writing business is unique—creative, artistic, yet sales oriented; solitary, yet collaborative. And other writers know this, experience some of the same oddities I experience. Have some of the same questions I have—or had. Giving back by helping a newer writer is another part of the fun.

But so is reconnecting with writers I’ve met before, who I’ve stayed in touch with online.

For me the fun started on the trip up the coast to Mount Hermon on Thursday. For the last four years, I’ve carpooled, and each year that has been a memorable part of the conference experience.

This year I went with Sally Apokedak, 2007 ACFW Genesis winner in Fantasy, who is a good friend, from Whittier to Santa Barbara where we transferred into author (A Promise to Remember, Bethany, 2007) Katie Cushman‘s SUV and proceeded to Atascadero. There Genesis judge Rich Bullock joined us.

At each stage we had introductions to make and catching up to do. Katie, for instance, had just completed a book tour with three other writers, so there was lots to learn from her experience. She also had stories about the celebrity auction luncheon she attended earlier this month.

When we arrived, I no sooner stepped from the SUV and headed for the administration building than I heard someone call my name. There was LL Barkat, whom I had not met before. However, she recognized me from the picture you see in the right hand corner. As you may remember, she was to teach the blogging seminar in which I had a small part.

Soon to join us were Bryan Davis and his wife Susie, and before you knew it, there was a little group chatting away, while my carpool friends headed on up to register. When I saw them returning, I pulled myself away and scrambled along up to collect my key and name tag. Now I was officially there.

The rest of that first night is a blur. Really. At some point, Sally and I found our cabin, and I introduced her to our other roommate, Caroleah Johnson, a relatively new author (you can read one of her devotions for The Upper Room here. She’s a fast study and has already placed in the top 100 in the Writer’s Digest Competition the last two years).

I know I met Mark Goodyear, spent some time talking with him in Common Grounds (I think it used to be called Central Lounge) before a nice fire, as Sally and Katie checked their email. Then came dinner. I think we sat beside some interesting people, but I don’t remember who. I think we went back to the cabin and worked on mentoring clinic manuscripts, but maybe not. But for sure, the fun had begun.

– – –

CFBA is running a tour this week for the very same author CSFF Blog Tour is featuring next week: Andrew Peterson and his debut novel, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (WaterBrook, 2008). Obviously you’ll read more about the book starting on Monday, but if you’d like to check out my review, you can find it here on Spec Faith.

Published in: on March 21, 2008 at 12:31 pm  Comments (4)  
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Mount Hermon Report 2008, Part 1

Sometimes I’ve wanted to attend an event, but for whatever reason have been unable to. In that situation, I live vicariously through the feedback from those who could be present. Maybe there’s a similar interest in the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference … and maybe not.

I’ll give a brief sketch of the event and fill in details as I see fit.

The conference provides two formats for instruction and several for inspiration. One method for learning is through hour-long workshops on a variety of subjects. The other is through “Major Morning Tracks.” The latter totals eight hours of instruction with one teacher about one particular subject. For example, Angie Hunt taught the Fiction Track.

As I mentioned yesterday, I once again took Gayle Roper’s Fiction Mentoring Clinic. From right to left, starting with the first row, the members this year were as follows: Tammy Tilley, Anngaylia O’Barr, Gayle Roper, Kimberlee Mendoza (who sent the picture to me—thanks, Kim!), Mesu Andrews/Dennis Conrad, Midge de Sart, Sally Apokedak, Patty Brubaker, Michele Nordquist, and me. Spending concentrated time with a small group to discuss writing (and in part to discuss my writing) is truly one of the best parts of the conference. It’s feedback every writer needs.

The inspirational parts of the conference come in actual worship gatherings: a Palm Sunday service which is always meaningful and a daily prayer and praise time, which I’ve never attended. The latter meets at 7:15 a. m. and I am either having my own quiet time or finding coffee! 😉 However, those who do participate always have good things to say about this time.

The other inspirational aspect has more to do with writing and comes from the speaker(s) of the general sessions. This year we had two. The first was ABA romance writer Debbie Macomber, who spoke three times (and who was featured in the April issue of Writer’s Digest). She was funny and inspirational as she shared her own journey to publication. The second speaker was Jerry Jenkins, who spoke twice and attended the autograph party. I was struck by his humble spirit and his humor (he had me laughing harder than Debbie had). His messages were succinct. In the first, if you want to be a great writer, read great books. And the second, pray ceaselessly and be in the Word. Not new, but good for a reminder.

I still plan to post the pictures I took, but first I have to learn how to get them off the camera and onto the computer. Consequently, I’ll probably be writing about Mount Hermon for a few more days. Hope I don’t bore you silly. If that’s the case, please leave a comment and tell me to get on with it already! 😀

Published in: on March 20, 2008 at 11:18 am  Comments (5)  
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Back from Mount Hermon

Special thanks to those of you who commented these last few days. I’m playing catch-up with mail and laundry and critiques and all after being away at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference since last Thursday.

I’ll have a more thorough report to give and lots of pictures to share. (My friends and neighbors, Gil and Regina, lent me a digital camera, and I had a blast taking snaps I thought A Christian Worldview of Fiction visitors would be interested in.)

For now, I’ll pass along perhaps the most memorable thing I learned … or reviewed, since my source had shared this same information a previous year. I’m speaking of my writing mentor clinic instructor, Gayle Roper. The subject? Christianity.

She said Christianity is best seen as a group of concentric circles. 2The inner circle contains essential doctrines that define our faith—things like belief in one triune God who created heaven and earth and belief in the coequal and co-eternal Son’s blood atonement for the forgiveness of sins. Basic stuff, defining stuff, that all Christians hold in common.

Circle number two holds the distinctives. These are the things contained in Scripture about which Christians disagree regarding their interpretation. This would include such particulars as baptism, communion, eschatology, and the like.

Circle number three contains variables that are cultural. Type of music during the worship service, choir dressed in robes or not, pulpit centered or off-set, acceptance of casual dress or not, drinking in moderation, smoking, ad infinitum. I grew up in a church that discussed such weighty subjects as whether women should wear a head covering or not and whether a piano was appropriate for the church. Actually, these cultural issues may have some overlap with the distinctives category because some found their way into the church because of a particular interpretation of Scripture.

Here’s the key point, though. A church—and a writer—should never confuse the variables with the essentials. Gayle also pointed out that centering themes on the core set of defining elements lets a writer appeal to the largest readership.

What hit me was this idea that some Christians do in fact confuse the cultural with the essential. And some writers—Christian or secular—portray Christians and/or the church as focused on the cultural, not the essential. “Good” Christians are those who don’t do XYZ cultural taboos and who DO do ABC culturally approved Christianly behaviors.

Understand, I am about as conservative as a Christian comes these days, so I am NOT making a critique on anyone’s list. What I think we all must agree on and make Sparklets-distilled-water clear is that adherence to a Do-or-Don’t list does not define Christianity. Above all, a Christian is a person bathed in grace, standing before God on no merit of his own.

Granted, coming before Almighty God changes me, my focus, my purpose, my desires. My life is forever altered. But not in the same way as the Christian down the block or the one across the street or across the country or across the Pacific.

Consequently, in my writing I must not portray that being a Christian means something cultural.

What does God call me to? To love Him with my entire being; to love my neighbor as myself; to take up my cross and follow Him. What do those things look like? How can characters live out those mandates?

Now those are stories I’d like to read. And I don’t think very many of them would look alike.

Published in: on March 19, 2008 at 3:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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