Wednesday, November 28, 2012

guest post by client Linda Yesak

Who Do You Write For?

Are you a Christian Fiction author? If so, who do you write for? Do you know?

I didn't realize who I wrote for until I took a course author/agent Terry Burns taught at the East Texas Baptist University's Christian Writer's Conference called "Writing for the Unbeliever." He started the class by revealing something I've never heard from anyone else: There's a difference between being called to write and offering your writing to God. A calling, according to Terry, can be for one specific book which He will not let you publish until you've written it His way--and until you're His way. He has a specific purpose for it which you yourself may not recognize. Out of the forty or so books Terry has published, he can point to only one he was called to write, Mysterious Ways. That novel has garnered more response for the Lord than any of his other books. After the first few emails from folks he'd reached, he had to find the passage God used to reach them and reread it through their eyes. He was astounded at what he'd written.

Mysterious Ways is intended for unbelievers, and the format relies heavily on story to induce the reader to finish the book even after the salvation message is being presented, which is considerably later in the book. And it makes sense--if you bombard an unbeliever with Christian jargon and principles right off the bat, they're going to put the book down. They're not interested. Terry believes they're afraid of being convicted by the truth. He may be right.

Writing for unbelievers, then, means developing a story so intriguing and hooking the reader so securely that she can't put the book down. She'll continue reading through the salvation message because she wants to know how the story ends. But the story itself is vital. The author can't stop writing once the main character is saved, because it's too contrived, too "in your face," and it can turn off the reader. The story must continue to its natural end. The best story for a salvation theme is one in which you can yank the salvation thread out, and the story still stands. The salvation message has to be woven in carefully and has to evolve naturally as part of the story.

The other audience Terry mentions in his course is the believers, those who want the faith issue right up front. These readers want to delve immediately into what the Christian main character faces, then watch his battle and his victorious outcome, which leaves him closer to God. This isn't a salvation-message kind of book. It's a faith-building, giant-facing, walking-with-God kind of a book written for people who want to know they're not alone in their struggles and want the affirmation that God will see them through. This book is opposite the one for the nonbeliever--if you yank out the faith issue, this story will collapse.

But what if you don't write for believers or nonbelievers? What if you write for the backsliders, the nominal Christians, the ones who are Christian by heritage and tradition only? Or what if you write for seekers, the ones who are hearing the call, but aren't ready to accept?

These other two audiences weren't covered in Terry's outline, but by the time his class was over, we'd analyzed them. Some  write for backsliders, nominal Christians, etc. That message is basically, "Come back, He still loves you," and hits on the issues that keep Christians from seeking a more fulfilling relationship. Others write for seekers. In a large way, this gentle message is "Come on in, the Water's fine!"

Writing for backsliders is similar in format to writing for nonbelievers: hit the story hard and wrap the reader up in it before presenting the Christian theme. Unlike novels for nonbelievers, the message isn't salvation, but "return to your first love," and can be presented through one of the multitude of reasons people don't seek a personal relationship with God. Like books for non-Christians, the goal is to convict the reader and bring (or return) him to Christ. The story structure is the same, but you can present general Christian principles earlier--as long as you don't harp on them--because you're writing for people who consider themselves Christians. The story is key here, too, but if you yank out the Christian message, you'll have some serious tweeking to do.

The author who writes for seekers would follow the format of writing for believers: hit the faith issues early. The issues here aren't the same as the ones for Christians. These are the challenging, "If there's a God, then why . . . " issues. Seekers have, to a certain extent, accepted that there's more to life then the temporal, but something is holding them back from taking that final step to recognizing the one true God. The plot is derived from that "something," whatever it is, and the theme is a gentle calling to take that step in faith. In these stories, like the ones for believers, if you yank the faith thread out, your story will completely unravel. The writing difference between these books and the ones written for unbelievers lies entirely in its audience. Unbelievers have either a belligerent disbelief or a complete lack of knowledge of anything spiritual. Seekers realize there's more, but have to be convinced God is the answer.

So, here's the recap both of Terry's outline and how the class amended it:

For nonbelievers, you need a strong story in which the Christian message is delayed until the reader is thoroughly hooked. The theme is salvation.

For believers, jump immediately into the faith issue, without which the story will crumble. Themes include God is sufficient, all things work together for good--anything that strengthens the Christian through trials, and is presented through any temptation or pain a Christian faces and has to respond to/overcome within the confines of her faith.

For "backsliders," write a strong story in which Christian elements are presented early, but the message is delayed until the reader is hooked. The theme, "Return to your first love," is presented through any issue that can separate the believer from his faith.

For seekers, hit the faith issue up front, without which the story collapses. The theme is generally "I am the Way," and can be presented through any issue that keeps a seeker from taking that final leap of faith.

Keep in mind, the story always has to be strong, it doesn't matter who you're writing for. Give any reader a poorly written story, and the message will never get read. The difference is where in the story the Christian message is presented.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Where my heart goes on Thanksgiving

I can’t help it.

When it comes time to give thanks one of the things I am most thankful for is family. So it makes sense that’s where my thoughts go on this special day.

When I was young Thanksgiving (not to mention Christmas) meant a mandatory trip to Mamaw’s house in Electra TX. There was no choice . . . but we didn’t want a choice. That’s where all of us wanted to be. The aromas that would come from that kitchen were torture, and it seemed to take forever before it was time to eat. How that many ladies managed to be involved in that small a space is something I can’t wrap my head around today, and as to where we all slept in that tiny house? I have no idea.

I was the oldest of my generation, the only one slightly ahead of the baby-boomers which meant I presided over the second table. The men were around the first table and the women would eat later. (I presume they were able to do this because they did a lot of sampling as they cooked) Whether that was true or not, that’s how Mamaw decreed it would be and that diminutive little lady was the queen. The year there would have been an opening at the first table was also the year Mamaw died so I never got to get one of those coveted seats.

After her death Mother became the Mamaw of her own tribe, and we were all just as loyal. No matter what was going on in our lives Thanksgiving and Christmas were mandatory appearances there in Pampa TX. Wonderful, wonderful times and it often seems that the happiest times of my life centered around the gatherings in the two towns.

My father and my brother passed on within months of each other, my brother actually at Christmas. By some unspoken assent Christmas and Thanksgiving passed to my wife and I although mom was with us and clearly still presided. I loved these gatherings and the happy memories continued.

Finally, Christmas shifted to my son’s house. It just made sense to have it there as they had the room and it was much less to try to pack and carry the things they need to carry with three kids. Thanksgiving became just mom, Saundra and I with an occasional guest or two. After she passed, we began just inviting a couple of people over, the last couple of years the pastor and his wife. Much smaller, but still great memories.

My life seems to be summed up in these rites of passage measured by the passing of the baton for hosting these joyous events. All are special to me and the memories flood around me at this time of year. Each definitively mark a period in my life, and perhaps the passage of time make each more dear, particularly those early days at Mamaw’s house.

I do hope your Thanksgiving is every bit as special and your memories just as dear. When it comes time to count blessings, these are some I count without fail.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I missed some submissions

I left the note up on my website for some time alerting people that I had experienced an email problem and lost a lot of unworked mail. I believe the underlying problem is resolved now and that will hopefully never happen again.

There weren't that many in the file that I hadn't gotten to, or that I had at least acknowledged receipt on but had not handled, maybe fifty or so. But I don't log items in until I have taken them out of that inbox and start the process on them so I have no idea who those people are to ask them to re-send. I haven't had that many re-submit so it pains me to think there are some people out there who just won't hear from me at all. I'm not one of those people who considers no response a response, I know that's not that uncommon these days, but mama raised me to be more polite than that.

I suppose some of them may follow up after a period of time to see why they haven't heard back. I hope so. I really don't want anyone thinking I just chose not to answer.

When you get several hundred submissions a month it's not that hard for things to drop through a crack. I do have systems in place trying to keep that from happening, but it does on occasion. But my inbox is like the in-basket that used to sit on my desk that mail went into. It sat in that basket until I pulled it out, opened the envelope, and did something with it. If it was something I could deal with right then I would do so. If not, I would acknowledge receipt and suspense it for whatever action it required. Nothing has changed except now the basket is electronic.

Maybe I need to change the point in the process where it goes into the log - I'll have to think about that one.