In Their Words

PAMELA F. DOWD of Marshall, Texas, writes greeting cards for Dayspring, Leanin’ Tree and Warner Press. Her new card line, Cookie Jar Greetings, was introduced in January 2001. She has also written for several inspirational magazines and books including Christian Parenting Today, Pray!, On Mission and Why Fret That God Stuff? (Starburst).

THE BEGINNING
Seven years ago when I began writing, I found little on the Christian bookstore shelf to match the interest and diversity I could find in the general market, especially in fiction. I wanted to create strong stories with characters that displayed candid, growing relationships with God; greeting cards that carried God’s message in conversational tones; and articles that drove people to understand the God of the Universe in fresh ways.

THE MESSAGE
With each writing project I tackle, I spend considerable time in prayer and Bible study. I feed my creative spirit with trips to gift stores, specialty shops and bookstores where I fill my senses with the sights, sounds and conversation around me. I read great fiction and non-fiction. I pray, study, muse, ruminate, write, and then pray again so that praying and creating become a process as near to me as breathing. Lacing together prayer, Scripture, and excursions allows me to stitch my work with life-experience inspiration. Praying as I write allows me to weave God’s message seamlessly into my work one revision at a time.

THE CHALLENGES AND PERCEPTIONS
I find the greatest challenge in watching for God each day, joining Him wherever I see Him working and then helping to tell His ongoing story of how He moved through someone else’s life or mine. This requires me to stay sensitive to God’s Spirit and to others around me rather than shutting myself up in my office. Inspirational writers are sometimes perceived as Pollyanna simpleminded folk who don’t know how to write. I challenge anyone who thinks that to venture into a large Christian bookstore today and scan the fiction aisles, read the greeting cards and check out the psychology books.

THE ADVICE
Study every writing book you can get your hands on. Talk to other writers by joining an inspirational writer’s group. Attend writer’s conferences to network with agents and editors. But most important, remember, for an idea to become a greeting card, a book, a poem or an article, it has to first be written down. Then it has to be rewritten until the inspiration seems effortless!

THE FUTURE
Greeting cards remain my first love and I continue to query and add new companies. I have an assignment from Lawson Falle and am working with another company on developing a line of cards from a series of novels. I have a devotional prayer journal out on spec, a gift book circulating, and I’m working on a step outline for a screenplay.

Inspirational speaker and award-winning author MELINDA RUCKER HAYNES lives in Seattle with her husband of 24 years and their creatively naughty Airedale. Melinda writes speculative, romance and young adult fiction as well as non-fiction and is a columnist and reviewer. Visit her Web site, www.melindaruckerhaynes.com, to find inspiration, news, excerpts and publishers’ links.

THE BEGINNING
Loving parents and caring family and friends inspired me to discover and express my creative authentic self. From childhood, I’ve felt great empathy for others and discovered that I could entertain, help them feel happier even if for a moment. I’m a teacher, a writer, an inspiration guide with the desire, the personal promise to inspire myself and others to discover and express our creative authentic selves in positive ways.

The Internet has vast potential for inspiring creative positive change. In my “The Creative Life” column at www.ebooknet.com, I interview writers for their personal stories and creative process. This column’s always inspirational message is read by thousands, but our world needs all the positive messages it can get, in my opinion, so I created an Internet list where members give and receive the gift of inspiration online.

THE MESSAGE
I deal in reality inspiration&#151my fiction tells it like it is. I show life as bad and as good as it can get. When it doesn’t seem that it can get worse and any ordinary person would have given up-my characters don’t give up. They reach deep inside, have a transformational “episode” of self-inspiration and actualization. My quirky sense of humor contributes to the “freshness factor” of my work. I have fun when I write and that sense of “hoo-ha, life is crazy but it sure beats the alternative” comes through in all of my novels.

THE CHALLENGES AND PERCEPTIONS
I want to inspire people to dream bigger dreams and create better lives, but the inspirational messages of my books aren’t cloaked in traditional doctrine vestments, and so have occasionally been subject to certain criticism from those arenas. On the other end of the bell curve, some fans of hardcore speculative fiction consider my work too inspirational, even religious, and less “gritty” or “shocking” than they like. As Gilda Radner said, “It’s always something.”

THE ADVICE
You cannot inspire anyone else if you are not inspired yourself. Some time ago, this wonderful advice bubbled to the surface of my consciousness. Perhaps it’s a gift of the angels or muse, but I take the continuing inspiration and credit for it: “If you write millions of words and find you’ve only expressed the joy and freedom of your creative self, you’ve discovered the real reason to write.”

THE FUTURE
The Eternal Trust, a paranormal romance from www.hardshell.com is a finalist for best fantasy/paranormal e-book in the 2001 EPPIE Awards and will soon be released as an audio book as will A Wing and A Kiss (a fun romantic adventure). My young adult thriller Ghostly Acts is now available in paperback through Ingram and Avid Press. Avid is also bringing out my young adult adventure series in August 2001 with Book 1, The Haunting of Josh Weston followed by Book 2, Chance of Gold September 2001. The remaining series books will be released one every six to nine months. I’ll be presenting “Discover the Novel Within” creative writing seminars and “Personal Time Travel” creative development workshops around the world. Sonrisa Authentic Audio is due to release four new CDs this year of my inspirational talks and guided meditations.

JOYCE LIVINGSTON was voted 2000’s Favorite New Author in Heartsong’s 8th Annual Awards Reader’s Poll. Her book The Bride Wore Boots won Favorite Contemporary Book of 2000. Her third book, Northern Exposure, was released in May 2001. Ice Castle was her first published book; Barbour Publishing is the publisher of all three. Look for this Kansan’s articles in quilting, sewing and women’s magazines, and visit her Web site: www.joycelivingston.com.

THE BEGINNING
About four years ago, I attended my first Romance Writers of America conference in Kansas City, Mo., put on by one of its chapters, Mid-America Romance Authors. That was the turning point in my writing.

By that time I’d discovered Christian inspirational romances and loved reading them, and here was a group of writers dedicated to romance. I learned much that weekend and came home determined to be published in inspirational romance.

The first two years all I received were rejections. I decided I was going to set a deadline and if I wasn’t published by then, I’d quit trying. A few months prior to the deadline, I hadn’t sold a thing, and I thought there was no way I was going to make my it. Then I heard from (Barbour) Editor Rebecca Germany, saying she wanted to buy Ice Castle. Praise the Lord for answered prayer!

THE MESSAGE
Once you have your plot, characters, a good beginning, an exciting middle, and a terrific ending in mind and begin to type it into the computer, the inspirational element flows in naturally. It’s the inner and external conflict, the motivation, and the goal of my characters. They’re all inseparable. It’s the focus of my story. You can’t take a plot from another genre and put a few lines like “they prayed” or “the family attended church” and call it an inspirational; the inspiration element is the backbone, the theme of the story. If you take out the inspirational part, your story will collapse.

THE CHALLENGES AND PERCEPTIONS
One of my published writer friends e-mailed me after The Bride Wore Boots placed first in the Heartsong Awards, and jokingly asked me how many years it took me to become an overnight success. You may hear of “overnight success” but most of us toil for years before we hear an editor say, “I want to buy your book!” As a published inspirational author, I guess I’d have to say staying competitive in my writing is my biggest personal challenge. There are so many great writers out there just waiting to be discovered, I have to continually do the best writing I can&#151and believe me, prayer helps!

As to how inspirational authors are perceived? Not many years ago, the inspirational field was known as small and dull. Not any more! Inspiration is selling very well. It’s one of the fastest growing markets. Some, who looked down on this market, are now trying to break into it. Today, I feel I have the same respect as any other published author and I’m proud to say I’m a published inspirational romance author.

THE ADVICE

  • Read. Read. Read. Read as many inspirational books as you can.
  • Attend writing conferences where you can meet editors face-to-face.
  • Subscribe to writers magazines.
  • If romance is your interest, check out Romance Writers of America, www.rwanational.com. RWA’s Faith, Hope and Love Chapter is for writers of inspiration.
  • Network. Join local writers groups, and Internet writers groups.
  • Persevere!
  • THE FUTURE
    My goal is to have at least two books a year published by Heartsong, but I also want to try other houses such as Steeple Hill’s Love Inspired (Harlequin’s inspiration line). I’m also shooting for Silhouette’s Romance line (a sweet line with the bedroom door closed). I want to write only things that won’t embarrass my children and grandchildren. I feel I’ve been called to write inspiration. Someday, I’d like to write a mainstream mystery, a la Mary Higgins Clark. All I know is, I’ll write until I’m too old to remember what I’m writing!

    Published for 15 years, LOREE LOUGH has accumulated more than 2,000 articles, 60-plus short stories and 54 book contracts. A comedic conference speaker, this award-winning novelist loves sharing learned-the-hard-way lessons by teaching online and in person. A native of Wisconsin, Loree now lives in Baltimore. Contact her via www.erols.com/loree.

    THE BEGINNING
    After a careful market study, I learned there were far more readers than authors of inspirational fiction. Considering how competitive the writing industry is, there’s no question that because of this decision, I was about to put 36 books on the shelves in just six years.

    THE MESSAGE
    I’ve always been a bit of a rebel (just ask Sister Mary Bertina!), so “fire and brimstone” lessons never reached me, period. You might call this “Loree’s Golden Writing Rule”: If I don’t want to be hit over the head with so-called spirit-filled messages, why would my readers? I’m not “preachy” or “self-righteous” in my day-to-day life, so I’d have a hard time writing stories featuring judgmental, harsh, Christian characters. For me, it’s easier (and a whole lot more honest) to give readers stories populated by characters they can identify with. Sure, the characters oughta be Christians (at least by the book’s end), but they hafta be real people, facing&#151and solving&#151real problems in a realistic world. Anything less and I haven’t given them their money’s worth.

    THE CHALLENGES AND PERCEPTIONS
    Staying true to the story is my greatest challenge, and I can’t do that if I’m pretending to be a preacher instead of a writer. Novelists are basically enter- tainers, and as such, our job, first and foremost, is to tell good stories. Since I don’t know “nuttin ’bout soul-savin’,” makes sense to leave that job to the clergy.

    To put a twist on an old cliche, readers probably think inspirational authors “are what they write.” I can’t speak for authors whose ministry is more important than the writing itself, because I’ve always been a writer for whom the story is more important than the ministry. Reader mail tells me that when authors put heart and soul into their real-people stories, they reach more heart and souls.

    THE ADVICE
    Don’t make the mistake that you can take a novel, mix in a few Bible verses, add some hymns and prayers, and cook up some tasty inspirational fiction! The spiritual elements must blend into the story gently, naturally; they must belong in the story. So to anyone who’s hoping to break into the inspirational market, my advice to you is: Write from your heart; if God lives there, it’ll show in your work … without your having to work very hard at it.

    THE FUTURE
    Of course I’ll keep writing articles, short stories and novels for kids and adults that fall into the secular category. But I’ll also continue writing inspirational fiction, because it’s gratifying to know that my stories make a difference. Example: A 13-year-old Pennsylvania girl wrote to tell me that she held out little hope for “true love” in her life … until she read one of my novels. “I can see now that if I make God the center of my life, everything else will fall into place …” How could I not keep writing inspirationals after receiving a letter like that?

    SISTER MOLLY MONAHAN entered her religious community after graduation from college in 1953 and has been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous since 1983. Although she has previously worked as an editor, Seeds of Grace: A Nun’s Reflections on the Spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous (Riverhead Books) is the first book she wrote.

    THE BEGINNING
    I thought more of myself as writing in the area of spirituality. I believed that I had a message to carry, that sharing what I have learned about spirituality in AA might be of value to others even though they were not alcoholics. I wanted to make both the disease of alcoholism and the deeply spiritual character of AA better understood than they are. And I wanted to show that spirituality and religion need not be seen as in opposition to each other but can be complementary.

    THE MESSAGE
    The link that AA makes between faith and one’s own lived experience is at the root of AA spiritually, as I have come to know it. Both at meetings and in the AA literature, that link is forged by telling and listening to and reading one another’s stories&#151stories of desperation and of recovery, stories of “a faith that works.” You can’t get any closer to experience than stories; there is no abstraction in them. So, in the book I weave stories into the text&#151my own and those of others. They serve to ground my reflections (inspirational message)&#151give them flesh and blood and heart and soul-and make my reflections, I hope, interesting and relevant to the reader&#151fresh.

    THE CHALLENGES AND PERCEPTIONS
    The challenge facing all writers is to figure out what they want to say, and to work as hard as necessary to find the best way of saying it. When what you want to say concerns the things of the spirit; it is very hard work, indeed. You have to dig down into your personal depths, find out what is really there&#151often intuited and unarticulated&#151and then express it as honestly and clearly as you can.

    I’m sure that various inspirational writers are as variously perceived as writers of fiction are, producing books that cover a range from the sentimental and cliched to works of real human value, depending on who is doing the perceiving.

    THE ADVICE
    As a plaque displayed at some AA meetings has it: “To thine own self be true.”

    THE FUTURE
    I have a work in progress about spirituality and reading.

    SUSAN BALLER SHEPARD, 37, a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister and social worker, lives in Bloomington, Ill., with her husband and two sons. She writes sermons, poetry, and essays, which have appeared in denominational publications and newspapers. Recipient of the Ellen and James Taylor award in preaching, she now facilitates the Spirituality Book Club at the Bloomington Barnes & Noble, which has its own Web site, www.spiritualbookclub.com and includes readers from across the country who participate in the book club online.

    THE BEGINNING
    I find this genre a ready mixing bowl for blending my interests in social justice, religion, and creative writing. My grandmother used to recite poetry for me in her kitchen after all the supper dishes were washed and put away. Words came to me that way, with the scent of freshly baked bread, the smell of dish soap, and her starched dish towels&#151and infused with her sense of faith. As I went on to college, seminary, and graduate school, the sense of those words remained with me. How to make the Holy tangible? How to try to conjure God&#151who cannot be confined&#151and hope that God will appear on the page for others to read? This is a mighty task that isn’t easy, but I think is so visceral and worthwhile in the end.

    THE MESSAGE
    The book of Ecclesiastes (1:9) says, “there is nothing new under the sun.” So, how do we attempt to make something new, forge new ideas on paper that will capture the hearts and imaginations of our readers? Find rich symbols or metaphors; find ones that ring like a Tibetan bell … loud and long and far. A theologian friend of mine, the Rev. Dirk Ficca, used to tell me that symbols will speak to all people, no matter their education or experience. As a mother, I see in my children that symbols speak to them from very early on, even if those symbols may come to mean something quite different to them in adulthood. Sometimes I think I’ve got a really crisp, fresh image that goes to soup way too quickly. How to keep the writing fresh and inspirational? I try not to preach. Most folks I know are not looking for dogma. I trust that “the message” will get through, and that I don’t have to hit people over the head with it. I try to be mindful that we are all coming to issues of spirituality from various angles and that your angle may shed light for me, as mine might for you. Fine inspirational writing, I believe, leads readers to questions, rather than neat answers.

    THE CHALLENGES AND PERCEPTIONS
    How do you write the truth with the shades of light and dark it contains? How do you write these shades of light and dark in a way others are thirsty to receive? What is going to make your writing powerful enough to change another’s view of life? When reading books for our book club, we ask&#151has this book given me a new insight? Is it giving me something I haven’t expected, taking me to a new unpredictable sense or place? Has this writing changed my mind about anything? What a challenge these questions are, and what an honor if you as writer can indeed aid in the process of leading someone to new understandings. Inspirational writers are often perceived as sappy and that their writing is in no way “literature.” I think inspirational writers are perceived as folks you might meet and greet politely, but you’d never find them interesting enough to sit down and have dinner with them. I think there is real tension now in inspirational writing between “making it real” and “keeping it real” to avoid a contrived world, and having inspirational writing as a sort of escapist writing where the grass is always green, the lawns are always mowed, and the children are all clean, good, and respectful. You know the Hebrew word for spirit is ruah, a word with a feminine gender which also can mean “wind,” and connotes a sense of “inspiration,” in the breathing sense, in the Bible. So what is giving your writing breath? Life? Wind? Who or whom is breaking into your writing as you sit and stare at the blinking cursor on your computer or as your pen writes the words on your yellow legal pad? In the Hebrew Scriptures, God tells Moses that God’s name is, “I am who I am,” or “I will be who I will be.” Let the “Inspiring One” into your pages; let this One breathe in there.

    THE ADVICE
    Be true to your writing voice(s). What is new and different about your writing? You are what is new and different. Write out of your sense of “knowing”&#151about the world, about people, about what is holy. Don’t forget your Source&#151your book and your words will wither if you do. Don’t write in this genre if your heart and soul aren’t in it. I think the Holy Spirit gives us gifts, plunked down from the heavens sometimes like shiny yellow lemon drops. The writing, then, is there for the taking, as easy as breathing. Sometimes the writing is more laborious and the images don’t come. That’s when the going is harder. And be willing to write without always wrapping your stories up with a neat, tidy ending. Life doesn’t always present those to us nor to your readers. It seems there is an openness now to things spiritual. Now is a great time to be writing in this market, mainline bookstores want “spiritual” books and Christian book sellers want to offer more “mainstream” writers. There is, then, this new healthy hybrid coming forth that has the potential to be a strong, and vital plant.

    THE FUTURE
    I am now completing a chapbook of poetry and a collection of essays. Also, I continue to work on a mission project our Presbytery has in drought-stricken northeast Brazil, starting preschool programs for children there. I mention Brazil along with inspirational writing because my writing always has to have some sort of grounding, some place to put its roots, and this ground happens to be the fine, gray soil of the interior of Brazil. For me, what’s next is hopefully that I can be true to following where the Holy Spirit calls me, in word(s) and deed.

    BRIAN SHIPMAN, 34, lives in Glenn Heights, Texas, with his wife, Jennifer, and son, Ryan. He writes Christian inspirational works for teens and adults, including WWJD Today?, winner of the 1999 Gold Medallion Award for Best Youth Book.

    THE BEGINNING
    I’ve always been fascinated with the life of Jesus as presented in the Gospels. While serving as a youth pastor, I longed to share more about Jesus with teenagers than I could in the hour I had speaking to them every week. So, I began writing weekly study sheets on Jesus’ life that my students could take home and use each day for inspiration. I eventually compiled the devotions into a book and submitted it for publication. I received rejection notices for well over a year before Broadman & Holman decided to give it a try. In 1999, the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association awarded it the Gold Medallion award for best youth book.

    THE MESSAGE
    The message comes first, followed by freshness as a vehicle to drive it home. It’s not as much new material as it is new perspective. Writers have expounded on the life of Jesus for 2,000 years, but the points of view are endless. Why did Jesus give nicknames to his disciples? What would the daily entries in the diary of Jesus’ father read like? I love to imagine and write about things like that while still remaining within biblical parameters and my understanding of 1st century history and culture.

    THE CHALLENGES AND PERCEPTIONS
    The dry well&#151which can go much deeper than ordinary writer’s block&#151can render an inspirational writer ineffective. We all have moments of despair, where encouragement and hope seem out of reach or even meaningless. We should expect these seasons and manage them by surrounding ourselves with God, friends, family and other sources of strength and renewal. My wife and one close friend always seem to have a way of getting me back on track.

    I think people look at us in the same way as a favorite camping spot. Sometimes they get so busy they don’t even think about us nor have time to visit, but we’re always in the back of their minds. Eventually, the stresses of life or an unforeseen need for solitude and restoration drive them to seek us out and spend time with our words of hope. And we’ll be here, ready to help.

    Write out of the overflow. Immerse yourself in what inspires you until it fills your soul and demands an audience. Do your best to avoid formulas and sentimental cliche. Share what inspires you.

    THE FUTURE
    I’ve shifted my primary focus away from teen audiences and toward adults. I’m working on a book entitled At His Feet, a journey through the minds and hearts of a handful of Jesus’ followers. Each of them has a unique and inspiring story to tell about encounters at the feet of Jesus that inspired a new and closer walk with God.

    Maria Altevers is an assistant editor at Writer’s Digest.

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