Monday, February 27, 2012

I'm looking for a Llama


I just finished working the Writing for the Soul conference put on by Jerry B Jenkins in Denver. Great conference, and I enjoyed it.

Working the agent panel I responded to a question by saying that I get over 300 submissions a month. Obviously I can't take that many, nor can editors publish that many. And don't buy into the idea that it's okay because most of them are not very good anyway. A significant portion of them are good books.

That means a good book is just not good enough. Agents and editors are all looking for exceptional books, books that stand out from the crowd and are unique and compelling. I saw what that looked like on this trip, driving to Denver. Out in a field was the huge flock of sheep, and among them, two llamas. Their tall, graceful necks stood high and proud above the sea of white fleece.

Now sheep are great, Jesus often used them as a comparable to his flock, and to himself as the "Lamb of God." The old cowboy vs sheepherder war is long over. It was the visual that spoke to me, and I said, "That's what I'm looking for, I'm looking for a llama." One girl got it. Apparently it had been talked about around the conference some because came and sat down and when I asked her what we were there to talk about she said "I have a llama for you."

I talked about this good versus exceptional think at the Oklahoma Writers Conference a while back. Afterwards I had a ton of appointments and one girl came in and said, "I'm not here to pitch my book, tell me how to make it exceptional."

Good question, and wonder why nobody else asked it? I told her about a unique story and unique voice but then I added the big one. I told her a movie is shot in scenes where everything that will happen at a certain place is shot at once, no matter where it may fall in the movie. The movie is born when the director goes into the cutting room and assembles these scenes the way he wants.

A writer does a good job of writing a story and then a good job of editing it or having it edited. That's a good book. The exceptional writer takes off the author hat and the editor hat and puts on the director hat to direct their story. When I was having the opportunity to write I tended to wrap all my scenes up nice and neat like a short story. Each and every one of them was a convenient place to put the book down. There should not be such convenient places to put the book down, but I left them for the director to fix.

The director insures the story opens and gets the reader down into the story and committed to read as quickly as possible by forcing them off the first page and having them committed to the storyline by page ten. He or she insures that each scene and each chapter does not tie up with a nice red bow but pushes the reader on to the next scene and next chapter. The director ensures there are no dead spots or places where the story bogs down with exhaustive narrative or complicated sentences where it may be put down. It isn't about story at this point, it is about flow. A compelling story and flow that drives the reader through to me is the mark of the exceptional book.

Yes, that's what I'm looking for, a llama . . . no, actually . . . what I'd really like to have is a giraffe!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Rant from the Radical Right

The radical right? You know,  the people who used to be solid church-going folks who raise families in two parent homes, were veterans, were in the PTA and voted and participated in their government. These people still exist, only now we are the radical right.

This country used to be a Christian nation, but not so much any more. How was it taken from us? It wasn't, we gave it up. Slowly but surely Satan has been taking our religious freedoms away from us and changing the fabric of our country and we have been doing nothing about it.

One of his biggest tools is separation of church and state. I can't believe the number of people that buy into that garbage. Separation of church and state is not in our constitution, not in our bill of rights, not even a law. It is a concept expressed by our forefathers, and a good one. But it has nothing to do with Christians not being involved in government. It has to do with the government not being able to establish a 'state religion' or to be able to mandate things to churches (like we're seeing them try to do more and more).

Satan's second tool is good Christians with powerful faith. WHAT? How could that be? I know too many who have massive faith but who are not going to bother to vote or speak up because they know God is in control and they are just going to trust Him to handle it. God can do that, and one day is going to return to earth and IS going to do that but in the meantime He expects to work as He always has, through His people. I've read the back of the book, I know how things are going to turn out, but God doesn't expect his people to just sit back and wait. Satan's troops are in the field and God's troops need to be there too.

A third strong tool that Satan has is apathy. "I can't affect the way things are going so I won't bother to try." Are you kidding me? When did that become the American way? That's not the kind of attitude that built this nation. Depending on what study you listen to over 80% of people in this country believe in God. Not that many are Christians, of course, and practicing Christians even fewer. But that's enough votes to turn this country around, so why hasn't it? It hasn't because the Devil's front line troops,  those little minorities we are so familiar with, sold us on 'political correctness' which is another of his really strong tools. We are so afraid somebody will whine that they are not being treated fairly that we allow ourselves to be spoon-fed change after change after change that we do not agree with, but we are Christians and we don't want to make trouble for anybody. Really? Read the old testament, do you see people there that were not afraid to take it to their enemies?

We have two weapons to use, our voice and our vote. When we with-hold either we take God's team off the field. If meeting the definition in the first paragraph makes me a member of the radical right, then give me a badge to wear and I'll wear it with honor. In November we will probably be facing the most important election this country has ever had. It is literally about what this country is going to be. Maybe we don't think we have the right person to back, but we need to get behind the one that is the closest we can get to what we want. Then we need to send a bunch of people to Congress to help. Chances are they won't be the right people either, but if our voices are loud and our instructions are clear, we can make a difference.

This is a sad old world and getting worse all the time. But when the Lord comes back wouldn't you like to see America a bright spot that is resisting all of the sin and corruption that is rampant? America has always been that and could be again. It would not be inconsistent with the predictions of the Book of Revelation for our country to still be holding out against evil when that time comes, wouldn't you like to see that? The only people who can do it are us terrible people on the radical right.

God's people.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The form Letter

"That was a very nice letter you sent, very encouraging, even if it was a form letter."

Well, yeah, but he said it like a form letter was an evil thing that showed how little I cared. Quite the opposite. Instead of ripping off a fast "Sorry, not a fit for me," a form letter is something I have worked on for months if not years. I've taken the time to get words right, to say exactly what I want to say.

I have dozens of them, but that doesn't mean they aren't personal. I select the one that says the closest to what I want to convey, then I make whatever adjustments that I need to make to it to be exactly what I want. You see, the trick is to convey something a writer really needs to hear in order to continue to grow in their craft, or to have a better chance at success, but to do it without being discouraged. I'm not in the business of stepping on people's dreams any more than I have to.

It saves a lot of time, sure, but that isn't really the purpose. Just jotting off some note probably means some things are left unsaid, or maybe something is said that I wouldn't say if I thought on it enough. A really good letter takes time, more time than I have to spend if I am working hundreds of submissions a month.

There's a downside to it. When you take time to try and give someone some input like that a substantial number of them want to argue about it or explain to me the error of my way. Putting aside the fact that arguing with an editor or agent is not exactly the best way to interest them in working with you, if a person thinks I don't know my business and they have to explain it to me, why would they want me for an agent? If you have the answer to that on let me know, because I'm still working on how such arguing is a good strategy.

Taking the time to be helpful practically guarantees further communication. I've accepted that even if it does further fill my inbox. You see, I don't look on this as a job, I do this out of a genuine desire to help Christian writers get their words out there where they will serve the Lord. I gave up most of my own attempts at writing because I thought I could do more good that way.

So don't be insulted if you think some editor or agent sends you something you think is a form letter. Think of all the time and effort they have put into getting that message just exactly right.