FYI & FAQ
Here you will find news of my upcoming projects, writing tips, devotional thoughts, answers to questions you send me, book reviews, and anything else that tickles my fancy. Check back often to see what’s new. The most recent posts are at the top.
"The Jesus stuff..."
As I write these words, it's Christmas morning, 2023. It's early, the proverbial calm before the storm. (Grandkids will be arriving soon.)
From out of nowhere, a memory from many years ago surfaced in my mind.
I was talking to a nice gentleman about his family's Christmas plans. He was outlining all the get-togethers and gift exchanges and family meals and even the menus for those meals. Suddenly, it must have struck him that he was talking to the preacher and had said nothing about the real reason for the season. No mention of the Christmas Eve service or any such "spiritual" activities. So he hastily added, "Oh, and we do the Jesus stuff too."
The poor guy. If he'd only known I wasn't judging him, and wouldn't. Our family has big plans every year too. There's no sin in such things as long as we remember "the Jesus stuff" is the real reason to celebrate.
The phrase might be a little inelegant, considering the wonder and majesty of what God did when he gave us his Son. But I know what he meant, and I was glad he remembered. May we all remember Jesus on Christmas and every other day.
What's your best advice for an aspiring writer?
First, read, read, read. Reading is the best writing teacher you'll ever have. Take note of writing that touches you deeply, and ask yourself what makes it special.
Second, write, write, write. It's astonishing to me how many aspiring writers don't write. They think about writing and read about writing and talk about writing and ask questions like this about writing, but they don't write. Writing is like anything else: you get better at it the more you do it. Remember that most of the famous authors you love produced mountains of pages before they got their first book deal. You won't be the exception.
Third, keep it fun. Write the kind of stories you like to read. Write on topics you're passionate about. And above all, don't put pressure on yourself. It wasn't always true, but in today's world there are many great opportunities for writers, even if a publisher never offers you a book deal.
Several years ago, Outreach, a Christian magazine, asked some pastors across the country to name the one book that was the most helpful to their walk with Christ, other than the Bible. I happened to be one of those pastors.
I have owned and read all or parts of thousands of books during my lifetime, but it took me one second to come up with my answer: Moments with the Savior, by Ken Gire. It’s a gorgeously written devotional about the life of Christ that is so insightful and enriching that I often find myself blinking back tears. It’s been sitting by my recliner in my man cave for many years. I pick it up often. It’s like an old friend.
Once, at a literary convention in Denver, I ran into Ken. He was gracious enough to sit and talk with me. I thanked him for writing the book and told him how much it meant to me. He let me pick his brain about his writing process, and I felt doubly blessed.
There are thousands of devotionals floating around out there, but none better than Moments with the Savior. I highly recommend it.
My favorite book (other than the Bible).
The year was 2003. I had just gotten my first book deal (The Samson Syndrome) and had been told by my publisher to contact any famous people I knew to see if they would read and endorse the book. The problem was, I didn't know any famous people.
On a whim, I sent my manuscript in a manila envelope to the Orlando Magic's corporate office, addressed to Pat Williams, the team's co-founder and then General Manager. I'd heard he was a Christian. I didn't know what else to do.
Three days later, Pat called me.
He said he loved the book and immediately began outlining all the ways he was going to help me. He said, "I'll endorse it and I'll write you a forward if you want. And I'll send it to my friends and ask them to endorse it, too." His "friends" included John Maxwell, arguably the greatest leadership influencer of them all.
Twenty years later, Pat and I are close friends. We have written three books together and lunch regularly at the Dubsdread Taproom in Orlando. I'm still amazed when I think of how a man of Pat's stature came to the assistance of someone he didn't even know...someone who had nothing to offer him in return.
One of my heroes: Pat Williams
If the Bible says you are loved, then you are, whether you feel like it or not. In fact, Satan will do everything in his power to make sure you don't feel it. What other option does he have? He knows he can't change the heart of God. He knows he can't change the truth of the Bible. So he opts for trying to change the way you think about it all. Don't let him succeed.
Remember, the song isn't "Jesus loves me this I feel" and it's not "Jesus loves me this I hope." It's "Jesus loves me this I know."
Go ahead. Sing it. At the top of your lungs.
You have God's Promise that it's true.
And that's all you need.
The thing that makes Christians different.
This is a picture of something I saw just inside the front door of a Mexican restaurant. As someone who has gotten a lot of criticism (what preacher hasn't?), I had to laugh. Faces started flashing through my mind of people I have known that I would liked to have seen take a number!
But Jesus calls us to a better way: "If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also." (Matt. 5:39) Some say this is the hardest command in all the Bible. I don't disagree.
Here's a reminder: Real Christianity goes against the grain of our impulses. Self-control is the number one thing that sets us apart from the world.
Meet Anita Newlin. I grew up with her in the same small town, same schools, and same church. Let me tell you how she changed my life.
I was attending a secular college and hating it. I wanted to major in music, but the worldly environment was getting me down. I was the proverbial square peg in a round hole. One day, in despair, I was venting to Anita and she suggested I try the Bible college she was attending for one year, just to clear my head and figure out what I wanted to do.
I did...and found my calling. I got my degree and ended up being in ministry for 46 years.
Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket. Proverbs 25:11 (NLT)
Thank you, Anita!
What's the secret to getting published?
There's no rhyme or reason as to why one person gets published and another doesn't. Lots of lousy writers have gotten published and just as many great ones haven't. That's life, I guess.
But there are a few things you can do.
First, have someone knowledgeable and honest critique your writing. Don't ask your mother or your best friend. Ask a real writer or editor, and then buckle your chinstrap. The news might not be good at first, but you can learn and grow. Be teachable!
Second, it's much easier to get published when you have an agent. A good agent will have credibility with publishers, which will help them get through doors that would be closed to you.
Third, don't give up. J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter book was rejected 12 times. I tried for 18 years before I finally broke through. I'm convinced that a lot of writers who could've gotten published didn't for one major reason: They quit too soon.
Let's hear it for books!
In the 1400s, Johannes Gutenberg invented the moveable-type printing press and gave the world books. Current estimates are that about 130,000,000 books have been published since then. Each year, about 4,000 new books come out, if you count self-published authors.
I read around 50 books per year. They teach me, inspire me, move me, carry me away to exotic places, and allow me to have wonderful adventures. Without leaving my recliner, I can be squatting around a campfire with cowboys in the Old West or zooming through space with intergalactic travelers in the next century. Stephen King once called books "portable magic." He wasn't wrong.
If you haven't discovered the joy of reading, please give it a try. Remember, reading is endorsed by God himself. He chose a book as his preferred manner of communicating with us.
What do you think of self-publishing?
I think it's a great choice for some people, for a couple of reasons.
One, it just keeps getting harder and harder for new authors to break in to traditional publishing. With profit margins tight, publishers have cut back and would rather spend their acquisition dollars on an established author than on an unproven one.
Two, self-publishing and hybrid publishing companies have improved tremendously in recent years. The books they put out can look every bit as good as the ones the big New York publishers produce. You don't have to sacrifice quality.
Yes, there are a lot of ugly, amateurish self-published books out there. But most of those come from people who can't write and tried to cut corners on cost. Remember that just because everyone can self-publish doesn't mean everyone should.
If you can write, and if you're willing to spend the money it takes to create a great product and market it, a self-published or hybrid-published book could work well for you.
There's always disappointment on the pedestal of pride. Whatever the source of your pride, it's bound to be temporary. If you take pride in your handsome appearance, just wait; wrinkles are on their way. If you take pride in your athletic ability, just wait; arthritis is coming. If you take pride in your business savvy, just wait; a brilliant young hot shot just applied for a job with your company. And if you take great pride in your cleverness, as Samson did, just wait; there's bound to be a Delilah in your future, someone who'll come along and outsmart you. No wonder Proverbs 29:23 says, "Pride ends in humiliation."