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…

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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.

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 an 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.

For example, if an author, while writing in the POV of a baptized Christian, has the character repeatedly encountering the Word of God while also engaging in louche behavior but never has the character experience any spiritual conflict between the two actions, then the author, inadvertently, characterizes 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.

 

 

He Restores My Soul

Dearly beloved readers,

Emmanuel Press and I have been working hard on a little project the last few months. It brings me great pleasure to share with you — Finally! — that we are collaborating with a host of experienced female writers to bring you a new book, He Restores My Soul, set to release in October of 2018.

He Restores My Soul is primarily a book of empathy and encouragement for the cross-bearing Christian woman. Utilizing the timeless, rich comfort permeating Psalm 23, each chapter applies the theology of the cross to a particular kind of suffering, pointing the reader to a firm faith in God’s promises and a resounding joy in His mysterious work of conforming us “to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29).

Various topics addressed within the pages of He Restores My Soul include living the Christian faith in the public arena, carrying a child in the womb who is not expected to live, mothering while working, regretting an abortion, struggling against same-sex attraction, caring for aging parents, children leaving the faith, living with mental illness, suffering from depression and chronic diseases, and raising children apart from one’s own upbringing.

Who are the other writers, you ask? Follow Emmanuel Press and me on Facebook in the months ahead to learn more.


About Emmanuel Press

Established by Rev. Michael and Janet Frese in 2004, Emmanuel Press is a publishing house dedicated to producing works essential to confessional Lutheran theology, including theological books, liturgical and catechetical resources, and ecclesiastical greeting cards. Emmanuel Press brings together treasures of Christian literature, exceptional artwork, and a clear confession of faith. Learn more at www.emmanuelpress.us or contact directly at emmanuelpress@gmail.com.

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Dear Cookie

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Dear Katie,

I just finished reading your 3 wonderful books. They are very hard to put down. I’m hoping you will take Emily to her baby’s birth. She was due in February, so I thought the book would tell the exact date. Are you planning on writing more about Pastor Fletcher and his flock? I just wondered where you came up with the names of your characters.

A sister in Christ,

Cookie


Dear Cookie,

Cynthia Irene was born on February 18, 2017. She is a delight to her parents, though her sister Becky is still deciding whether or not to keep her. Regardless of affection, the entire family calls her “Thia.”

Some of my character names come from my imagination, some come from country graveyard tombstones, and some come from my heart. If you happen to recognize a surname in Bradbury, it is my attempt to pay homage to a family name that I hold dear. For example, the “Compton” in Mrs. Arlene Margaret Compton Scheinberg is my own personal stamp on my favorite character (Compton is my paternal grandmother’s maiden name), and “Alwardt” is a surname from my hometown that I happen to like very much. “Ebner,” however, I chose simply because of its meaning — “judge, arbiter” — and it helped me remember Evan’s personality and function in the story every time I wrote it.

Whatever the reason I chose a particular surname, I tried to keep the balance of etymology exact to that of a small Methodist town in south-central Illinois that inherited a bunch of German Lutherans toward the end of the nineteenth century.

At this point in time, I have no plans to write more books in the Anthems of Zion series. The residents of Bradbury showed me such generous hospitality over the last eight years, and I hate to overstay my welcome. I do hope to write more fiction books down the road, but that road most likely will not lead me to south-central Illinois. But wherever the road does lead, I sure hope to meet you on it.

Gratefully yours in Christ,

Katie

 

A helium balloon

There is a mild panic that grips the waking moments of an author in between writing books. I suspect it has something to do with living outside of a long-fought-for habit. Writing is largely a self-driven occupation, and an author spends months writing day after day to train the subconscious to perform. It feels wasteful suddenly not to be writing a book, as if the subconscious is a helium balloon held precariously between forefinger and thumb. It constantly pulls at the fingers, trying to evade any grip and catch a ride on the wind, never to be grasped again.

But five books deep into the matter, I know that this feeling is just a feeling. Writing another book is simply a matter of work — of stacking word upon word, hour upon hour, day upon day — until an entirely new balloon is inflated.