This past week I was honored to win the Genesis Contest in the Mystery/Suspense/Thriller category for my novel, Assault on Saint Agnes. I was an overnight success after a mere 5 years of working on the book. Seriously, it has been a great experience and I am humbled to win the award.
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Because these contests take a very long time to judge, and a lot of things can happen during them, I have been prohibited from talking about the book since I sent the entry in to the contest to avoid a judge linking my name to the book. They are judged anonymously. It killed me to keep my mouth shut. So, Whooooooooooooooooooooooooooooopeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!111!!11!!1!111. Etc.
Christian fiction is a strange bird in some ways. We compete, but do it in a more-or-less healthy manner. I had the privilege to read both of my final round competitors’ novels before the contest. They were gracious enough to send me a copy of the manuscript, and I sent mine to them. With that in mind, I would like to thank both Janice Boekhoff and Don Brobst for sharing their works. Any one of the three books would have been a worthy winner with a good story to tell. I am very blessed, in that both are fine people as well. I have met them both, and Donald is actually a friend of mine. I wish them both great success in their future writing! I’ve linked their blogs above. Please visit their websites.
Did I mention that while I was writing this Donald announced he’s got a publisher for his book and it’s due out in 2016? Way to go, Dr. Brobst!
I gave a very nice speech at the banquet, and managed to thank a lot of people. But I saw the bouncers coming and had to skip a few that deserve my thanks.
Before I deliver those additional thanks, I have some very sage and completely free advice for the writers who attend any conference and are stunned by what they hear the experts say in class, are unpublished, unagented, fearful, and pitching to editors and agents in hopes that they get that first big break.
The advice comes in pieces. Here we go. (Warning notice: I’ve been told I’m a bit of a heretic so be forewarned that these are only my opinions and do not represent anyone else, any organization, or association in Christian writing other than the lunatic at the keyboard.)
Nobody knows everything. For every agent/publisher/teacher that tells you that your work/idea/concept/manuscript is a raging river of rancid rat renderings, there is likely another who secretly wishes someone would finally write a book about an alcoholic bartender from Atlanta who falls in love with a former stripper in Connecticut. The plot goes that the two of them fall in love at an AA meeting and find a life together because they have similar issues, and they are both Christians who let God guide their lives since they’ve been redeemed. Love blossoms, no explicit sexual content, and no bad language. The agent/publisher/teacher tells you that it will only work if you make the protagonists a chaste pair from Lancaster who just happen to both be named Yoder, and meet at a barn raising. They eat organic apple pie. And have funny neighbors and farm animals they talk to like the children they are planning on having once they are financially stable.
I’m willing to bet there are lots more bartenders and former strippers who have accepted Christ than you would imagine. Wouldn’t it be nice to write a book that comforts/entices/entertains those of us with pasts we’re not all that proud of? (I’ll get docked for that last grammatical item…) Is your story engaging and ultimately moral? Does it provide entertainment that shows we are all redeemed by the Blood of Jesus? Don’t let your story get ruined by keeping inside that box. Don’t let someone who doesn’t want you lessen your worth as an author.
Point of fact: if you’ve written anything longer than a paragraph that’s intended for others to enjoy at some point, you’re an author. You are not an aspiring author. You may be an unpublished author (me) or a bad author… well, no fingers pointed there, thankfully. But you are an author. That includes those of you who haven’t finished your manuscript. It includes the guy who just puts out a funny blog. I’m going to go out on a limb and include the people who write epic Facebook posts that get passed around over and over.
Don’t hide your light under a basket. I know one author who writes on the edge of the Christian market and took a huge blow from a “professional” when they presented the concept and work at the conference. This person was so flattened by the verdict rendered by someone they idolized that they rushed to their room, redid their proposal/one page and then hurried back for the next appointment. That appointment loved the original pitch material. Uh, really? Yes. I refer to the stripper and the bartender above. It’s all a matter of what you like.
I like smart-alec humor, Swedish novelists, violent action thrillers, and speculative works. I also like an awful lot of what is being published in the Christian market today. We have some excellent authors. Strangely, I seem to like the edgier ones better than the ones who play by all the rules. You see, I identify with people who struggle to make it through every day. I’m one of them.
Don’t be discouraged. Write some more. If you can’t get published, can’t get an agent, can’t get the dog to look at your face when you read this out-loud to her, you may need to work on basic skills. Write crisp sentences. Engage the reader. Jeff Gerke tells one and all: DON’T BE BORING! (He didn’t use caps, but his voice was really loud when he said this to us.) Don’t dump back story. As a matter of fact, read Jeff’s most recent book, upon which he based the class I took this weekend, The Irresistible Novel. I am planning on reading it, but I think Jeff gave the good stuff away at the conference so I have a day or two before I must come up with the money.
Last wisdom nugget/road apple for the day: Ask God. If you really don’t know where to go with your writing, ask Him. He knows the real rules, He knows our hearts, He knows what you’re supposed to be doing. I trust Him much more than someone I meet for three days at a conference. After all, don’t most of us talk to Him every day? Be of good cheer. Read those craft books everyone was talking about (My favorite is Writing The Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. You have to read the whole thing and then swallow your pride. But it’s a heck of a starting point.)
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Now, we return to thanking people following the blog hosts little rant.
First: the judges. Wow. I cannot imagine reading all of those submissions, scoring them, including comments, and getting it done under the time restraints. The work was superb – and not because I won. I got very good feedback, great comments, and I would consider one of the judges for a paid gig editing my next book – incredibly insightful comments!
Second: my victims. I mean my legion of beta readers. I have inflicted some of the raw swill on these willing victims and they have been brave enough to give me honest answers. Great guidance. Powerful encouragement. Many of them were people I’ve never met outside of Facebook. This group also includes my long-suffering coworkers. I am bringing cookies in this week to apologize for bending your ears about people that don’t even exist outside of my slightly bent (maybe more) brain.
My wife. I mean, she puts up with me? Sainthood in a short instant.
To all those who have played a part in this victory: I thank you.
Now it’s up to some lucky publisher to contact me, hand over the cash, and publish this thing as quickly as possible.
Let’s just say that there’s been a knock at the door but we haven’t handed out any roses. Yeah, I hang out with romance writers too often.
Be encouraged, authors. You just have to work hard and take some kicks to the teeth to perfect that smile I’m wearing tonight.
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I have a favor to ask of my readers: would you kindly share this blog with your friends, family, and colleagues? We hit a million views in 2014, and while the readership continues a nice growth trend, it could be a lot better. Just hit the Facebook like button, share it on your timeline, tweet the blog with a link, and tell that person at the next desk that there’s this lunatic who writes about all sorts of stuff that they might like.
I appreciate your help. When we hit 2,000,000 readers I will give away something cool to a drawing from the subscribers (that’s the box on the right toward the top) who have helped promote this mess. No used sheets, probably not honey, more likely gift cards. Be a part of it. I’ll update from time to time where we’re at in the count. Thanks.