Mount Hermon Report 2008, Part 5

Debbie MacomberThat official opening night of the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference, we heard from the first of our keynote speakers, Debbie Macomber. As she mentions in her blog post about the conference, she neglected to pack clothes. Books, yes; knitting projects, yes. But clothes? Well, not a sufficient number for a four-day conference. Pictured here, she’s wearing a borrowed outfit, from agent Janet Grant, if my memory is correct.

Debbie’s three talks centered largely on her venture into publishing. She had grit and determination and desire. Above all, desire, it seems to me. She mentioned that she never went to college and had not been a good student in high school. But she loved stories.

The most memorable part of her experience for me was the culmination of her first writers conference. She had attended with high hopes, as so many of us do, then had her manuscript shredded by a reputable editor, one with whom she had so hoped to publish.

With that dream dashed, she managed to ask what she could do to fix her manuscript, one she had labored over for five years. This editor put a hand on her shoulder and said something to the effect that all she could do was go home, take that cherished story, and throw it in the trash.

I don’t recall that she got any encouragement in that conference, or any direction. Maybe someone else who was at Mount Hermon can correct me on that. The point I got from the story, however, was that no one can know ahead of time just where God will take us. Debbie pursued her passion, certainly, but without any assurance that she would ever publish or ever make money publishing. (She related how her writing claimed a chunk of the family budget, and she and her husband made a lot of sacrifices to allow her to continue. By the way, her first sale earned her $10.)

Gayle Roper, Mount Hermon 2008So the next morning, after breakfast, we met with our Major Morning Track, mine being the Mentoring Clinic, as I mentioned before. Gayle Roper, seen here at the book signing with one of last year’s Mentoring Clinic menbers, Valerie Fentress , was our instructor. She puts in so much work to help each of us. And she did a good job of keeping us on task. It’s easy for writers to get carried away sometimes, and Gayle minimized those occasions.

First, we, who have read and critiqued and commented on each other’s manuscript before the conference, go around the table and give our comments. Then the author gets to explain points, ask or answer questions. Finally, Gayle tells us what she thinks, and she has good instincts and a great deal of expertise from which to share.

She then hands out to each of us sheets she’s prepared to illustrate particular points of instruction. She took the time to re-write sections of each manuscript. I know some writers cringe at that idea, but Gayle isn’t trying to take over our story. She’s merely showing what she means by POV shift, or whatever. So if her point is to cut adverbs or give details or make dialogue more believable or have a character react appropriately, her examples make the instruction clearer.

Valuable, valuable time! A great way to improve as a writer.

Published in: on April 2, 2008 at 11:51 am  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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