The Turquoise and Red Mentality

Turquoise and Red. Or green and purple. Blue and yellow. Opposites on the color wheel. For some reason which I haven’t yet figured out, our culture has fallen into an all-or-nothing way of thinking. It’s all my way—and of course, my way is right—therefore every other way is all wrong. This trend is more surprising in light of the “tolerance movement,” but that’s a subject for another day.

Here I’m concerned with how this “if I like it, it’s good, it’s all good” concept affects Christians reviewing books. Because, sadly, Christians have bought into this mindset as much as or more than the rest of the culture.

After all, we’re in a spiritual warfare. Evil is real and opposes God. And there is only One way to salvation; all other roads lead to destruction. On top of which, righteousness matters.

All true. But what I think we Christians lose sight of from time to time is the fact that the world is a mixed bag.

Jesus even said so in the parable of the wheat and weeds. In the story, the landed nobleman ordered his servants to plant grain. They did, but in the night an enemy sneaked into his field and contaminated the crop with weed seed. When the plants grew, the servants realized weeds were intermingled with the good grain. They went to their lord and asked him if he hadn’t planted good seed and what were they to do about these weeds. Leave them, he said, until the harvest. That would be the appropriate time to sort the weeds from the wheat.

Here’s the deal. We’re living in that wheat and weed field. The weeds, by the way, called “tares” in the NASB, were darnel, a rye grass that looks much like wheat. In other words, telling the two apart was not an easy job. It’s not easy for us, either. What looks to us like a tare now, might in fact be a stalk of wheat.

What in the world does this have to do with reviews?

I find it a little astounding that in a mixed bag world, we can see anything as all good or all bad. Yet readers rave all the time that such-and-such novel is the best book ever written. Or that such and such other book is from the pit of hell and will bring destruction upon every person foolish enough to expose their minds to it.

I remember hearing Liz Curtis Higgs speak at Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference some years ago, and she was commenting on responses she got to her novel set in Scotland. One reader raved how this was as good a book as those by an author of classics—Sir Walter Scott, I think. The same day she received a letter tearing her and the book apart. Obviously, both positions couldn’t be true. In fact, Higgs said a writer really must believe neither.

But why do readers and reviewers write as if a book they love has no faults or a book they hate has no value? We live in a mixed-bag world, where made-in-God’s-image creatures fell into corruption. Why are we shocked to see God’s image, tarnished as it is, in those very people who rail against Him? And why do we think everything coming from the fingertips of His redeemed children will automatically be without the rust of corruption? I wish the latter were true.

But I’m as much a mixed bag as the world is. Less so every day, as God does His sanctifying work of transforming me into the image of His Son. Even if I lived without sin, however, I don’t believe that would mean that my writing would also be perfect. I could have pure intentions. My motive might be to honor God, but does that mean my writing will automatically be flawless? Not in a mixed-bag world.

And final question. Is God most honored by our closing our eyes to what might be improved or by an honest appraisal that calls writers to reach for better?

Mount Hermon Report 2008, Part 7

Saturday afternoon had two workshop slots, but I only attended the one. I planned to get coffee and figure out which seminar to attend next during the break, but instead ran into Debbie Thomas, a Mount Hermon writer friend who was in Randy Ingermanson’s Mentoring Clinic with me in 2005. We spent the hour talking writing, and it was time well spent.

Hanging out with other writers was definitely one of the great pluses of Mount Hermon. I was a little slow in getting pictures—I haven’t had a camera for a couple years, so it took me a few days to get into the swing of snapping all the people I wanted to blog about. Consequently, there are many, many omissions. But here are some notables, besides those I’ve already posted.

Katie Cushman at Mount HermonKatie Cushman, our carpool driver and author of A Promise to Remember (Bethany). You can read my review, which I posted a week ago, here. Besides being a brilliant writer, Katie is a kind, funny, interesting, organized, smart woman of faith. I would miss out on a lot if I didn’t get the travel time with Katie and the other carpoolers.

I wish I’d taken a picture of the four of us, especially because I don’t have any photos of Rich Bullock (one of the omissions I mentioned), my “twin” (we share the exact same birthday) and first carpool driver back in 2005. Just this last year we’ve also joined with a few other writers to form an online critique group. Rich has such great instincts and is a fantasy reader. Next year, I’ll make a point of getting his picture!

Caroleah JohnsonMy roommates, Caroleah Johnson and Sally Apokedak. Caroleah and I shared a cabin in 2006, one that was nearly at the top of the hill and about killed me off because after hiking the ten minutes up hill, there were some fifty stairs to climb. That was the year it rained non-stop, too. Still, it was a great cabin, with a fully outfitted kitchen, dining room, living room, separate bedrooms. During our stay, we had some time over late night cups of hot tea to get to know each other. Caroleah is an up-and-coming writer. She started in non-fiction, writing devotionals and producing a newsletter for her church. The 2006 conference gave her information about where to market her work and started her in fiction. Some time later, I came across her name in the list of Writer’s Digest Contest top one hundred. She placed there again in 2007.

Sally ApokedakI first met Sally online as the moderator of the critique group I joined. We actually met in 2004 at Mount Hermon. Since then we’ve become good friends and critique partners. She is another fantasy writer but targets children and YA. In fact, she recently became the Writing for Children editor at Bella Online.

Katy Popa/Sharon SouzaSome of these writers are ones I wish I could have hung out with. We’d see each other in passing and maybe have a meal together, but time was limited. Pictured here are Katy Popa, author of To Dance in the Desert (my review is here) and Sharon Suza, author of Every Good and Perfect Gift (my review is here). I knew Katy from her participation in Faith in Fiction but met both women in Gayle Roper’s mentoring clinic in 2006. Last year, when exchanging emails, I learned that Katy lived in a Victorian home. She gave me a fun story I was able to use to open the article I wrote for Victorian Homes magazine about blogging.

Becca/Susan JohnsonOne more picture for today. I met Becca Johnson, on the right, at a meal in 2006 when she came to Mount Hermon as a seventeen year old. Her mom, Susan, who accompanied her, claims not to be a writer, but during this past year she posted a review of one of the CSFF Blog Tour books for Becca and did a great job. Besides, since Becca is homeschooled, it’s apparent Susan knows more than she lets on. As we talked, she left the door open for writing some herself, but as it is, Becca, now nineteen and in college, is the writer of the family. I’m happy to say, she is a fantasy writer and well into her first novel.

More pics and reports next week.

Mount Hermon Report 2008, Part 6

CSFF’ers at Mount HermonBefore I continue with my MH report, I should mention that I have put up a challenge over at Spec Faith. Not an official, contest-type challenge. Just a call for renewed grassroots involvement by fantasy and sci fi fans to let readers know there are Christian works in their genre.

In conjunction with the announcement, here is a picture of four of us CSFF’ers at Mount Hermon. On the left is Mike Lynch and on the right Mark Goodyear. Merrie Destefano is in the front, and, well, you know me already. As I recall, we took this picture after a breakfast get-together for speculative fiction writers. Unfortunately, most of the others had left by the time any of us thought about taking pictures.

On to the report.

Saturday afternoon the advance manuscripts were available. I’m never in a big hurry to see the ones I send because I’m not asking for a critique and I generally have an idea what editors might or might not be inclined to consider my work.

I had sent one manuscript to Shannon Hill, editor with WaterBrook, but she was ill and unable to attend the conference. That meant for the fifth straight year, one of my manuscripts was farmed out elsewhere. Julee Schwarzenburg (Multnomah) was reading manuscripts addressed to Shannon, but Julee had already rejected mine two years ago. So no suspense there. The other was highly improbable, so again, no high expectation and no surprise when the editor wasn’t interested.

On to the workshops. In the first slot after lunch, I attended Andy McGuire’s (Moody) “Christianity vs the Arts: What Is Christian Art?” seminar.

Andy started with a definition of art, one with which I agree, but one that would not be universally accepted, I don’t think. He connected art with beauty and truth. But I can think of any number of acclaimed art works that make no attempt to be beautiful—and succeed quite well in not accomplishing it! Yet they are classics, by renowned artists.

Next Andy gave “a case for art,” largely based on Scripture. At that point, I suspect he was preaching to the choir, and he probably thought so as well, because he didn’t belabor the points. He then asked the question, Does the evangelical community believe in the value of art? He gave a yes/no answer and some rationale for the negative. Next he briefly explored the history of Christianity and the arts and asked, What happened? In other words, why aren’t Christians still leading the art parade?

In 2006 Andy had done a similar workshop, (I purchased the CD) and back then I took issue at this point with some of his ideas. This time, as I recall, his main point was that Christianity became utilitarian. Beauty doesn’t “serve the cause of Christ” so we shouldn’t waste the precious time we have. I can see that view. Not to mention that society at large became pragmatic—it’s all about “what works.” If Christians believe we are to make disciples, then we should focus on “what works.” Not that I agree, mind you. I actually see a lot of problems with a pragmatic philosophy, but that’s for later.

To be honest with you, the seminar, from this point on, became a discussion, a quite good one, but I didn’t take notes (too busy thinking up questions and processing answers). I should have sat down immediately afterward and scribbled out what I came away with.

I did jot down a few questions on the side that I wanted to ask, and I think I did. First was, Don’t you think God created beauty to reflect Him – and therefore beauty is “utilitarian”?

Next, Isn’t experiencing truth utilitarian?

From these two, I can only surmise that Andy said something about art not needing to have a purpose outside itself.

At some point he said something against the “bait and switch” approach to art—pulling in readers with the promise of a good story only to use the opportunity to preach the gospel. I followed up with a question about symbolism, asking if he considered its use as part of the “bait and switch” technique. He said no.

There was lots of participation and good, good questions. I would love to have been sitting in a circle and having a real discussion with those folks for another hour or more. It’s the kind of thing we enjoy here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, only in person!

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 4

Being April Fools Day and all, I really should post some sort of gag article. I could invent a six figure contract for The Lore of Efrathah with Thomas Nelson or something, but I think the joke would actually be on me! 😀

So I’ll eschew the opportunity and plod along with our series.

I mentioned yesterday that Brandilyn Collins introduced me to Zondervan editor Sue Brower. During the first workshop slot, Sue was teaching “Writing Popular Fiction—Commercialism vs. Craft.” I’d considered that seminar along with another one taught by agent Mary Beth Chappell, but meeting Sue tipped the scales, and I’m glad.

She gave one of the best explanations of the difference between “popular” (sometimes called “genre” or “commercial”) fiction and “literary” fiction (sometimes called “boring” 😀 OK, that was my editorial comment!)

In essence, here’s what I understood:

Popular fiction

  • follows defined genre rules
  • is the fiction of emotion
  • the purpose is to evoke feelings
  • holds the goal to entertain
  • values plot first, then character and theme

I think she also says it sells. 😉

Literary fiction

  • is the fiction of ideas
  • the purpose is to evoke thought
  • the goal is self-expression
  • values character first, then theme and plot

So as she’s talking, I’m thinking, Why do these have to be mutually exclusive? Aren’t the best stories thought-provoking, even as they make the reader laugh or cry?

But there’s more. Sue separated Christian fiction from these other two categories. I didn’t get all the points down. First, Christian fiction reflects the evanelical worldview. Last, it has been theme-driven, with characters or plot coming along in second place.

Interestingly, her next point was “Popular, literary, and Christian are not mutually exclusive.” Christian, she said, has expanded to mean a Christian worldview. This means the story might have Christian themes (ones that should not overwhelm the rest of the story), Christian characters, or Christian plot.

Much of the rest of the time, Sue talked about injecting literary writing into popular fiction, not compromising literary standards, and writing a well-crafted, creative, popular novel.

One thing she reiterated was creating a unique voice. Specifically, she said, “Never allow rules to constrain voice.”

That’s one of my favorite lines. I’ve started a private tirade against the Browne-and-King-ing of Christian fiction (called such in honor of Self-editing for the Fiction Writer, an excellent instruction manual when not turned into a rule book). We are so tied to the “rules” of fiction, we sanitize stories to death. No wonder editors jump at the new and different.

Interestingly, Sue said, “To make commercial fiction viable, write for the reader.” Later she reminded us that writing is a business, which means editors are looking for stories that will sell the most units.

None of that bothers me. I’ve said over and over (and over and over) that writing is communication. A writer ought not write a book for the sake of purging his own soul. Save that for journal writing. Rather, to put a piece of writing in the public forum should mean I have something I think the public will want to know—either because it is so interesting or entertaining or powerful or life-changing or … whatever.

But here’s where my thinking diverges with what Sue was saying. I want to write, not just “for the market,” because, as I see it, market tastes change. Instead, I think some books should be written to last. Might they be popular today? Possibly. But the key is, they’ll also be around in ten, twenty, fifty years, should the Lord tarry.

I don’t see “trendy” books lasting. Of course not every book is aiming to go the duration, but shouldn’t some?

Published in: on April 1, 2008 at 11:44 am  Comments (5)  
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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.

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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Thoughts about Mount Hermon continued

You can tell what’s on my brain. Well, one of the things. I’m finding that writing requires me to juggle several different projects at the same time. Yesterday I covered a soccer semifinal for the paper and today I’ll be working on preparing a manuscript for the ACFW Genesis contest. (No, I haven’t just started work on that manuscript! 😉 ) Then there is my critique group and the work I must submit as well as the pieces I must crit.

But in the background is an article idea, a short story contest, and Mount Hermon. Since I’ve chosen to write about Mount Hermon, though, I guess you’d say it isn’t so much in the background as I suggested. That’s partly true. At some point it will have to move to the foreground and take precedence over other projects.

There’s a deadline for submitting advance manuscripts, for instance. And there are things to prepare, to buy, to iron and pack. But until that time, I have other things on the front burner. Still, I am planning and thinking about the conference.

Why? What’s it all about?

If you’ve never been to a writers’ conference you might be wondering what the big deal is. For me, it’s a layered event. On one level it is pure fun. I mentioned last time that I first went to Mount Hermon not knowing anyone. Not so any more.

I’ve traveled with writers from my area, had roommates, met people in mentoring groups, connected with others I know online, worked with some, been rejected by others (editors, rejecting my manuscript, which has the odd effect that I then feel I can be myself around them since I’m no longer asking something of them. The truth is, editors are interesting people). Going to Mount Hermon has a little bit of the feel of a reunion, one where you really like being with the people.

Which brings me to the next point. Everywhere you look, there are writers. In every day life, most people aren’t sure what it is I actually do all day. Writers know (and some wish with all their hearts they were doing it all day, too). Mount Hermon brings us together and we can rejoice or commiserate with each other. We can talk shop and the others will understand, not just what we’re dealing with but why it’s important. We can learn from others who are in a different place in the publishing process, and we can share what we know with those coming along behind us.

And there’s the third key. Learning. Writers often talk about learning the craft, but how does that happen? Partly by reading good literature, but partly by having more experienced writers point out what it is that works and how to implement those. And of course “learning” incorporates the writing profession—the business side as well as the creating side. Lots and lots and lots to learn about the business.

Notice, as yet I haven’t mentioned meeting editors and agents as a chief reason for going to Mount Hermon. It is a reason, but by no means the chief reason or the only reason. Editors and agents will tell you they don’t take unsolicited manuscripts, but they find new clients through referrals and through writers’ conferences. Certainly, then, meeting them should be of paramount importance.

The reality is, most editors and agents have only a few slots open. They may go to three or four conferences a year looking for one or two authors. To think that I can go to a conference and come away with a contract is tantamount to spending a dollar on a lottery ticket and expecting to become a millionaire. Yes, it does happen, but what are the odds?

And besides, if, as I believe, God is able to do the impossible, He is not constrained by my attendance or lack thereof at a writers’ conference.

Yes, I will make an effort to meet with an editor or two, maybe with an agent. I’ll definitely try to reconnect with those I’ve met before, but no, I’m not looking to the writers’ conference as my ticket to a contract. Been there, done that, and learned writers’ conferences don’t supersede God’s plans.

Published in: on February 27, 2008 at 11:23 am  Comments (3)  
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