Here I Write on the radio

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Thank you to Mrs. Sarah Gulseth and Mr. Andy Bates of KFUO Radio for hosting a mini Here I Write Conference on “The Coffee Hour” these next couple of weeks! Catch the conference speakers live on the air Tuesday and Thursday mornings 9:00 AM CST. You can find archived interviews here.

First up: yours truly on how to decide what to write and the importance of the author-reader relationship. Listen to the interview here.

Alas, we must desist…

Here I Write Website Banner

I spent some time on the phone yesterday with the Sangamon County Department of Public Health, and after talking the matter over with our conference sponsor this morning, we are all in agreement that it is in the best interest of everyone — conference registrants, presenters, volunteers, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, and the town of Sherman — to cancel the Here I Write conference in June.

I am stunned by the development of this plot, even as I can see that all foreshadowing from the past couple of months points to this climax. In reality, Illinois has yet to peak in this pandemic, and we cannot foresee which parts of our nation will be hotspots for COVID-19 in June. We currently have registrants from 23 different states planning to convene in Sherman, IL, this summer, and it is simply not wise to create a situation that could lead to further spread to any of the communities represented.

I am sorry to have to cancel this inaugural gathering of Lutheran wordsmiths, and I deeply apologize for any inconvenience this cancellation causes to our presenters and registrants.

It is measly compensation, for sure, but I do hope to chat with you via Facebook live sometime in the next week. I may not be able to deliver my conference presentations to you in-person as I had hoped this summer, but I will still share with you what I know about the craft of writing. Look for information on that in the days ahead, and be sure to write your questions in the comment lines below. I will do my best to answer them during the live chat.

I pray that you and your loved ones are well and thriving during these difficult times.

Is the conference still a go?

Here I Write StampDear Katie,

I was so looking forward to June. The Here I Write conference was a dream come true for me. I have wanted to see this for years. I registered immediately so I would be sure and have a place. But then Covid-19 became a reality no one could have expected.

I am in my 7th decade of life and am counted among the high-risk people. Now, even if the country is completely back to normal, which looks doubtful right now, I will not desire to get on a crowded plane and hurry through a busy airport to get there.

My only hope is that you could somehow schedule it for the following year when things may have more of a normal tone. I would love to come as this has been a wish of mine for many years.

Blessings to you there and hope and pray for this pandemic to go away soon.

Betty


Dear Betty,

Certainly, a pandemic is a situation I never imagined would factor so heavily in the planning of a summer event, yet here we are, wondering if our humble writers’ conference will lose its legs before it has the chance to take its first step. I completely understand your concerns regarding travel, and I think it is important that you do what is best for your health and the health of those around you.

It is still too early for me to make a decision regarding whether or not to cancel the Here I Write conference. Our host congregation has encouraged me to wait until May before making a final call, and the presenters have expressed a similar desire to keep the conference on its feet if at all possible. By next month, we should have more specific directions from the municipal, state, and national governments regarding public gatherings in June. I will be sure to let everyone know our decision — one that I hope will serve the best interests of everyone involved — as soon as one is made.

In the meantime, it may be helpful to consider the fact that our conference registration is currently around 100. If local or state governments mandate the limiting of gatherings during the month of June to a number below that, we will need to cancel the conference. Also, mandated social-distancing (individuals remaining 6 feet apart from each other at all times) will be difficult for us to achieve given the size of our breakout session rooms as well as our specialized small-group agenda.

Thankfully, whatever happens, God makes our path straight, and we can rejoice and be content in any situation, trusting in His promise to work all things — even a legless conference — for our good.

I wait with you in prayer over these matters.

Christ keep you this Holy Week and always,

Katie

Fiction Writing Tip #22: The Characterization of God

Be careful how you characterize God.

I recently picked up a Christian fiction book to read but set it back down without finishing it. It wasn’t because the writing was bad. The writing was very good – consistent in voicing, even in tone, well-edited, etc. – but I got hung up on an irreconcilable problem: the author’s mischaracterization of God.

What do I mean, exactly?

I mean that, when an author writes a story dealing with matters of faith and the Christian doctrine, God is an actual character in the book. Granted, He may not be given lines to speak (more about this temptation below), but God still lives and moves and acts in the story in very specific ways. If the author is wise and well-catechized, then God moves and acts in the story only in ways that God moves and acts in our own, real, very-much-nonfiction lives. In other words, no matter how fictional the plot and setting of a book may be, God still acts and speaks in that fictional world only as He has revealed He will do so in Scripture: through His Word (Isaiah 55:10-11; Romans 10:17), in Baptism (Acts 2:38-39; Galatians 3:26-27), in His Holy Supper (Matthew 26:26-28), through His Spirit (John 16:8-11; 1 Corinthians 2:10-14), and through the hands of everyone He calls to take care of His people (John 13:14; Ephesians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 12:27).

This means that the author of a story has a responsibility never to give actions or words to God that go beyond His true character as revealed in His Word. God Himself is very much alive and well today, and we authors would be bearing false witness against Him if we have Him, in our books, behave in a way that is contrary to His own Word.

And here is where I think the matter gets tricky for those of us trying to incorporate a living God into a fictional world.

How a Christian character reacts to sin – both to his own sins and to the sins of others – is part of the characterization of God in a story. 

In other words, when an author is writing in the point of view (POV) of a baptized Christian, the reader is now living in that character’s head – in his very conscience – and is privy to all that happens there, including the character’s sins of thought, word, and deed. (And sin that character will, for all humans sin.) The author should be careful never to leave the Christian character unaffected by the sin, for the baptized Christian has been given the Spirit of God (Acts 2:38-39). This means that the POV of the Christian must reflect the spiritual conflict (Romans 7:19-25) that inevitably arises when encountering sin, whether it be through revulsion or a stricken conscience or actual repentance or, tragically, a hardened heart.

If an author writes the Christian’s POV without such conflict, the author is, in the end, mischaracterizing God, for God is neither absent nor silent in such conflict. Instead, He promises to convict the Christian of his sin (Romans 3:9-20), to relieve his conscience through the forgiveness of sin (Psalm 30), to provide a way out of every temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13), or to give him over to his sinful desires (Romans 1:18-32). For this reason, and whatever the outcome for the Christian at the end of the conflict, the author must write the conflict lest he mischaracterize the righteousness and salvific intent of God.

This is why I closed the book I was recently reading. The author, while writing in the POV of a baptized Christian, had the character repeatedly encountering the Word of God while also engaging in louche behavior, but the character never experienced any spiritual conflict between the two actions. This, inadvertently, characterized God as having no conflict between the two.

Do you see what I mean?

Now, a quick word about giving God dialogue in a fiction book.

If you are tempted to give the Creator of the universe actual speaking lines in your story, please let me stop you right here: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV).

Be careful never to give God words that are in conflict with what He has already said through His prophets and His Son. God remains the Authority on all things that have to do with Himself and His creation. If the book you are reading adds to or takes away from what God has already clearly spoken for Himself (Revelation 22:18-19), close the cover and set it down for good.

May God help us to write stories that characterize Him faithfully for the good of His Church.

iu

 

 

Advice, please. For writers.

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Hi Katie!

What advice do you have for writers? I minored in English in college, and I love to write stories and would love to write Bible studies, but am unsure how to branch into that. Of course, I’d want my doctrine to stick to Lutheran doctrine and would want it to be thoroughly vetted. Any insight is appreciated. Most of my career has been focused on using my major (History) as I’ve worked in the political and governmental realm.

Sarah


Hi, Sarah!

First, you might find the following resources helpful in your writing quest.

Posts:

Podcasts:

Second, a bit about branching into the profession of writing books.

At this point in time, any legitimate publisher will want to see a completed manuscript from you before considering investing in your name and product, so write that book. Get it done. Yesterday.

The publisher also will want to know that you have more than just one book in you, so be ready to share with him ideas for the next 3 to 100 books you plan to write. If you have an online presence with a substantial following, that probably won’t hurt your chances any.

But it is also safe to say that, even with a completed manuscript in hand and ideas for a thousand more books in your back pocket, a publisher is more likely to take you seriously if you have an agent. How do you find an agent? The same way you find a dentist. Ask around. Look at the teeth in the mouths smiling in your community and, upon finding a set you admire, ask who works on them. You can also search the web for “literary agents” and have a heyday surfing the results. One way to narrow your search is to look for agencies that already represent authors writing and publishing books in your preferred genre. Then, hand those agencies your completed manuscript and ask them to represent you.

Self-publishing is also an option, and while this can lead to success, it also can lead to your having to be a salesman for the rest of your life of a little-known product competing in an already oversaturated market.

My honest-to-goodness advice? Write a book if you have to, especially if it serves your neighbor. But if you don’t (and it doesn’t), then spend your time and talents writing letters and stories and poems and whatever else you love for the people you love. A postage stamp, in my humble opinion, remains the best publisher in the world.

 

 

Mondays with Michael

That’s what we called them.

Monday is my husband’s day off, and when the rare Monday came around that Michael’s pastoral vocation allowed him to be home with us, he would. Just the three of us: me, Michael, and Boo Radley.

IMG_1063“It’s Monday with Michael!” I would holler as I trotted down the stairs, unlocking Boo’s cage and setting free five pounds of furry fluff. Boo seemed to understand what those words meant, for he would kick up his heels in a series of adorable binkies at the announcement and race around his rug.

Then would ensue some of my favorite in-home sensory memories: the sight of my husband on the couch with a book in hand and a rabbit on foot; the earthy smell of barns mingling with living rooms as my husband replenished the rabbit’s stash of Timothy hay; the ridiculously soft feel of Boo’s fur against my cheek and the simultaneously sharp sting of one of his fine hairs landing behind my right contact lens; the loud, staccato rim-shot of my husband’s laugh reverberating up the stairs as Boo hopped, flopped, and plopped his way around the room; the gentle, muffled bass line of my husband’s murmurs as he told the rabbit what was on his mind.

IMG_5888Pets are confidants. They are keepers of our secrets. They listen attentively and love unconditionally through tear-storms, shouting matches, and fits of skulking. They snuggle us when we smell, kiss us when we have bad breath, greet us when we are grouchy, celebrate us when we don’t deserve it, and wait by the gate for us to come home.

Pets are gifts from a merciful, loving God.

And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good (Genesis 1:25 ESV).

IMG_2861God saw that Boo was good, and we are so thankful to have been able to share in his little life.

For this past Monday with Michael was Boo’s last. 

Our sweet bunny had been declining for months, but by yesterday morning, Boo was no longer able to stand upright for very long on his own. He kept falling onto his right side and was unable to get up without our assistance. We had thought perhaps he had an ear infection, and though the medicine was keeping the infection somewhat mild, his mobility problems were getting worse and worse. The vet confirmed that it was time, and my husband held Boo while he died.

We are sick from missing that little buck, but we are also grateful. While we were his caretakers, he in turn cared for us. He also managed to inspire a book, snuggle entire communities of people, comfort hundreds more, and bring laughter and cheer to thousands. If you are one of those thousands, then I am so sorry for your loss. xo

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Boo Radley (2012 – 2018)

Wondering why Alice…?

choir-featuredHi Katie,

I am contacting you with a question about something I read in one of your books.

First of all, thank you for your books, they are very engaging. I enjoyed reading The Choir Immortal, especially (as an LCMS member and choir member) your inclusion of relevant Scripture references!

On page 190, two characters have a conversation about faith and its testing. When Rebecca asks her mother, “God will never give us more than we can handle, right?” Alice replies, “…God never promises such a thing.”

I read the conversation a few times and then looked up one of my favorite Bible verses in 1 Corinthians 10:13 where Paul writes, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

As a fellow Christian, I have always taken great comfort in this and am wondering why Alice does not share this with her daughter?

Carla


Dear Carla,

First of all, thank you for your kind regards. I am blessed beyond measure that you read my books, let alone find them engaging. I pray that they will continue to be a source of encouragement for you as you turn their pages.

Second, what a thoughtful question!

If it helps, here is why I did not have Alice reference 1 Corinthians 10:13 when talking with her daughter about the burdens of illness and suffering:

Notice that the Apostle Paul, in this verse, is speaking particularly about God’s promise to give us a way out of every temptation. That is a promise to give us a way out of sinning, not suffering, and suffering is what Alice is specifically addressing on page 190 of The Choir Immortal.

If God never gave us more than we can handle, then we would never die. The mortification of our flesh is, literally, our being given more than we can handle. We cannot keep ourselves alive, and we cannot raise ourselves from the dead. So, we trust in Christ to handle the matter for us. We trust in His promise to raise us from the dead on the Last Day.

Alice knows this, and so, rather than encouraging Rebecca to put her faith in the work of her own (Doomed to fail!) hands, she encourages her daughter to put her trust in the sure and certain work of Christ’s hands — His pierced flesh, mortified for her salvation and risen for her justification.

Jesus tells us that we will have tribulation in this world (John 16:33), but we are to take heart — not because we can handle what the world gives us, but because Jesus has overcome the world. Thanks be to God!

In hindsight, I do wish that Alice had referenced one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians during that conversation with Rebecca, but it is the second epistle that perfectly applies to their (and our) plight:

“[W]e were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

May God give us faith which trusts in His promises!

Yours in Christ,

Katie

Getting to know . . . me. Anticlimactic. Sorry.

HRMS front coverYours truly is a contributing author to He Restores My Soul, so I interviewed myself.

I know. I’m still debating whether or not it was a good idea.


Describe a normal day in the life of Katie Schuermann:

  • Dutifully stretch my plantar fascia before getting out of bed
  • Stand to pray certain prayers and recite certain creeds while looking out my bedroom window
  • Ride a bike or take a walk down the middle of our small-town roads
  • Try to do a pull-up and fail
  • Prepare a substantial amount of calories for my husband to eat and consume most of them myself
  • Spend the next several hours trying my absolute best to live up to my husband’s explanation for our life on this earth: “What are we here for if not to create things and take care of people?”
  • Mark three things off my to-do list
  • Add five things to my to-do list
  • Feel guilty for all of the ways I fail to care for people
  • Overanalyze something that is best forgotten
  • Stand to pray certain prayers and recite certain creeds while looking out the living room window
  • Dutifully stretch my plantar fascia before getting back in bed
  • Read until the drool begins to run down my chin

What three words best describe your personality?

Observant, organized, oversensitive 

Who do you go to for advice?

God in His Word, my husband, my parents, my pastors, my friends

What do you like to read?

Hymns. I also enjoy reading books about music history, composers, opera singers, nutrition, cooking, exercise, and the theology of the cross (not necessarily all in the same book) as well as stories that make me laugh and cry (namely, anything by James Herriot, L.M. Montgomery, or Bo Giertz).

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Forgiven and forgiving. Someone my husband likes and admires and enjoys. The author of a stand-alone novel that is worthy of a spot on your shelf.

Beverage of choice?

Kombucha

Mac or PC?

I am not sure which activity has taken up more hours of my life: driving a car or running updates on PCs.

Also, PCs try to kill manuscripts. My books have the scars to prove it.

Mac. all. the. way. There and back again. Like a good hobbit.

What do you want to eat when Mom is cooking? 

I want to press my fork into a crispy whole-grain waffle topped with pools of butter, a steady drizzling of Maple syrup, fresh blueberries and raspberries from the garden, semi-sweet chocolate chips, and newly whipped cream. No, it’s not too sweet.

Confirmation verse?

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

Which song do you hum the most?

“I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb”

If you could name the heroine of a fiction book, she would be called:

Emily Duke. Or Arlene Scheinberg. Or (you’ll have to wait and see).

What is your superpower?

Noticing you. Knowing you. Understanding you.

And putting together jigsaw puzzles.

What is your Kryptonite?

An open bag of kettle chips sitting next to a pint of French onion dip

How do you use hymns in your daily life?

I study them devotionally for comfort, I memorize them for edification, I sing them aloud as warfare against the devil, and I attempt to compose them for the joy of bringing good order to chaos. 

What scenery do you want to be viewing?

I am happiest gazing upon the farmland that lies west of my parents’ house in central Illinois or the coastline that lies north and east of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse in Maine.

Shoe of choice?

Alegria with an orthotic (That pesky plantar fascia!)

Favorite movie villain?

Microsoft Word. Oh, wait. That’s a villain from real life.

Which Psalm do you pray the most?

Psalms 13 and 51

What is your part in this book?

I served as the content editor for He Restores My Soul.

I also wrote two chapters: Chapter One is about how the Good Shepherd sometimes uses suffering to keep me in the fold, and Chapter Five is a story that considers how best to care for our sisters in Christ who regret their abortions.


To preorder He Restores My Soul at 10%-off, visit EmmanuelPress.us.

Getting to know . . . Rebecca Shewmaker.

HRMS front coverA book is more than just the sum of its title page, chapters, and appendixes, you know. The cover art gives the reader her first impression of the book as a whole. It sets the tone for the words that follow, and in the case of He Restores My Soul, it introduces the main characters of the book itself.

For this reason, you don’t want just anyone painting the cover art. You want someone thoughtful and intentional. You want someone theologically minded. You want a professional. You want Rebecca Shewmaker.


Describe a normal day in the life of Mrs. Shewmaker:

My schedule is very flexible these days since I work from home: Up around 7. Drink coffee. Let the cats outside for a bit so they can eat some grass and roll around on the patio. Think about doing some work. Answer emails/make lists of things to do. Start work around 8:30 in my studio. Eat breakfast. Work a bit more. Eat lunch. Exercise a little bit. Shower. Work a bit more. Start household chores around 4. My husband gets home from work sometime after 5. Eat dinner. Knit or watch brainless TV. Bed around 9 pm.

What three words best describe your personality?

Introverted, bossy, diligent

Who do you go to for advice?

When polling my two sisters, my mom, and my husband, I can usually get 5 or 6 differing opinions on things.

What do you like to read?

Anything that is British/set in Britain, not too serious, and a series. I recently finished Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles. I’m always up for Terry Pratchett’s witty insights or P. G. Wodehouse’s absurd quandaries.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I want to keep doing what I’m doing. I love being able to make art that is beautiful to me.

Beverage of choice? 

This is tough. My husband does the dishes in the evening, and usually he finds a half-finished cup of coffee, an empty teacup and saucer, an almost full bottle of beer, an empty hot chocolate mug, and a half-full ice tea glass sitting in the sink. For my birthday this year, both my mom and husband bought me several types of tea and coffee. I need there to be a variety of beverages in my life.

Mac or PC?

Mac. Always.

What do you want to eat when Mom is cooking?

Anything as long as it is served in her nice china. She has the most beautiful setting, and I feel special and all grown-up when she uses it for special occasions.

Confirmation verse?

Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Which song do you hum the most?

My husband is constantly amused by my singing little ditties that I make up myself.

If you could name the heroine of a fiction book, she would be called: 

I really have no idea. Something alliterative.

What is your superpower?

Organizing things into bins and boxes.

What is your Kryptonite?

I get trapped in stores that sell multiple flavors or scents. I have to smell/taste everything and need to buy samples of at least half the store before I can leave. This is especially a problem in tea shops. See above regarding beverage choices.

How do you use hymns in your daily life?

My husband and I discuss hymns a lot. We are always interested in hymns that have a good text-tune pairing. My husband is the music director and organist at our church, so there is usually practicing, playing, singing, planning, etc regarding hymns in my house.

What scenery do you want to be viewing?

At long as it is cool and rainy, I don’t care. Sunshine and heat get oppressive where I live.

Shoe of choice?

Cozy socks

Favorite movie villain?

I don’t watch a lot of movies, but I do remember thinking that the raptors in Jurassic Park were pretty amazing.

Which Psalm do you pray the most?

I always hum Ralph Vaughn Williams’ O Taste and See. And “The Lord redeems the life of His servants; none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned” speaks comfort to me.

What is your part in this book?

I painted the cover image.


To preorder He Restores My Soul at 10%-off, visit EmmanuelPress.us.