Last week I was at the America Christian Fiction Writers Conference. There were so many great things that happened at the conference that there’s no way I could share them all. Here are a few highlights.
I got to spend time meeting people I only know from the Internet and from the books they’ve written. I also got to spend time rooming with my critique partners and getting to know them better. You never really know someone until you share a room with her.
James Scott Bell’s early bird session was better than I expected, and I expected a lot. I loved how he described the different kinds of heroes, anti-heroes, and villains and showed us how to be more adept at writing them.
Tim Downs spoke brilliantly about “What is Christian Fiction”. Here’s an overview and a few thoughts about what he said.
Jesus spoke in parables (fiction). Most of the time, he didn’t explain his parables. He told the disciples why in Matthew 13:13. “This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” He expected those who were allowing God to deal with their hearts would find the hidden messages (the Christian worldview), but those who didn’t care would enjoy the stories, and maybe at a later dates, the message would sneak up on them. Jesus occasionally explained the parables to the disciples but only when they asked. He allowed his stories to be a puzzle and mystery that needed searched out.
Downs talked about how when we hide Easter eggs for children. At the age of 2, we lay the eggs on top of the ground and stand near them telling the children “look over here”. But when they get a little older, they would be angry that the eggs were so easy to find. So we do a better job of hiding them to make it more fun. Some eggs aren’t hidden that deep, some are hidden so well they won’t be found for weeks. But we resist the temptation to make the eggs too easy to find.
Sometimes, because the message is so important, we are tempted to preach (to lay the eggs on top of the ground) to make the message easy to find. But Jesus didn’t do that. He buried the message deep within the story disarming the audience enough to listen and to search it out. He didn’t worry they wouldn’t find it. That’s was the Holy Spirit’s job.
Downs also talked about David and Bathsheeba. When Nathan confronted David, he told a story using images that resonated with David (sheep and injustice). He disarmed David with the story so when he said “You are the man” David’s defenses weren’t up. He readily confessed.
So Christian fiction has hidden in it the message of Jesus Christ. Sometimes the message is so hidden, we don’t even see it and wonder why it’s called Christian fiction. The message may not be found until months of years later after it germinates in our hearts. Sometimes the message is a little easier to find, but not so easy we don’t have to search it out. It’s not a sermon, it’s a story – a story that glorifies God even when we don’t see God in the story.
The question is can we avoid the temptation to explain the message and just tell the story so those who have ears can hear and those who have eyes can see.
I also enjoyed meeting some of the greatest authors in Christian fiction and having some of them sign novels to me. Among them were Julie Lessman and Jill Eileen Smith who have written some wonderful novels I’ve reviewed. I was honored to hear Jeanette Oake speak about her Love Comes Softly novel and how it got published. She is a pioneer in Christian fiction.
Chip MacGregor, literary agent, spoke one day about the definition of success. Success in Christianity is not meeting your goals in publication. Success is obedience to what God is telling you to do.
The Christian atmosphere was prevalent at the tables at lunchtime. The room was too noisy for anyone to pitch to editors unless he or she was sitting next to them. At one meal, we played musical chairs so each writer had a chance to pitch to the editor from Tyndale.
I also loved the spiritual aspect of the conference. The prayer room was a time of blessing. And the choir sang beautifully. The worship was uplifting and powerful, and we all remained grown-ups allowing everyone to have freedom to worship the way they wanted.
Overall this has been the best writer’s conference I’ve ever attended. I look forward to next year.