Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Some Most Excellent News!

Congratulations to my dear friend Camy Tang, who just landed a three-book deal with Zondervan, thanks to her immense talent and her amazing agent, Wendy Lawton. Camy plans to blog about this wonderful experience just as soon as her feet touch ground long enough for her fingers to hit a keyboard.

Congratulations Camy!!!!!!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Part II of Creston Mapes' Interview

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of writing?

CM: I’ve written professionally for more than 20 years and, after writing novels, my other freelance writing comes SO easy now. Writing comprehensive works (novels), is grueling, lonely work. It requires so much energy and time thinking about the story, even after the work day is done. I don’t like how I get distracted by that when I’m with my family in the evenings. It’s not like writing a brochure and putting it down at the end of the day. The novel stays with you as you try to figure out what’s going to happen next, and where your timelines may be messed up, etc. Some days you think you’re in the midst of writing an earth-shattering novel and other days you feel like you may just need to throw in the towel and start over. By the way, that’s one of the worst parts—chunking pages of copy you spent days on!

My favorite part of writing novels is when an idea really comes together and you realize you’ve written something very emotional, funny, touching, or potentially life-changing. That’s the sweet part. Also, to see that book in print is a pretty good high. We just received FULL TILT and it seems to make all the sweat and tears worthwhile.

DM: I’ve heard other Christian authors talk about how sometimes Christian fiction is perceived to be preachy. I’m sure that’s true sometimes. DARK STAR gives the salvation message in great detail several times in your book, yet I didn’t find it preachy at all. Of course, I’m one of the choir! What feedback have you gotten along those lines?

CM: Early, early when I was trying my hand at fiction I was accused of being way too preachy. Then something happened in my personal life where God suddenly allowed me, and my wife, to begin understanding his grace and mercy. I realized at that point that I’d been a self-righteous Christian. I thought I’d actually done something to save myself. Or, that I could somehow take credit for my belief in God. When Christ started to reveal my own total depravity, that’s when my mindset began to change. He helped me realize we needed to write a remarkably thrilling story, and have the Christian message simply rise up from the grass roots. You can’t plan it. You have to create the characters and turn them loose. Let God come up when He would naturally come up in their lives.

DM: The sequel FULL TILT is available now. Tell us a little about this new story.

CM: Everett Lester has decided to use his musical talent for God by creating a free concert tour called The Living Water tour. The problem is, Satan is not going to give up on Everett that easily. Everett’s extended family members lure him into a world of ruthless mobsters and psychotic meth users. So, while he is trying to live for God, he is being attacked by Satan physically and mentally. It is a rough road for he and his new wife. At times, he’s tempted to chuck it all and hit the bottle again.

DM: What do you believe to be the most critical factor in Everett’s new journey as a Christian? What lesson does the character learn and how will this impact your readers?

CM: Loving the unlovable. Everett and Karen are faced with the challenge of loving and embracing his brother, who is addicted to gambling, and his nephew, who is hooked on meth and hearing voices that are telling him to avenge his brother’s death by murdering Everett. How do we love people who are unlovable? The Bible says when the people were hitting Jesus and spitting on him, He said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” His love is a radical love. That’s one of the main messages. The other is, there is only one way to the Father, and that is through Jesus Christ. Everett’s brother, Eddie, refuses to believe that…

DM: I understand there will be a third book in the Rock Star Chronicles. Did you develop the entire series before you wrote DARK STAR or have the characters shown you the direction the series needed to go?

CM: No. The characters have shown the direction all the way. I don’t like to plan much at all before I write. In fact, I do as little of that as my publisher will allow, because I believe we get a much more exciting, spontaneous story when we don’t plan it all out ahead of time.

DM: What’s your greatest goal in writing this series?

CM: To write thrilling books that readers do not want to put down, and to draw readers, both Christian and non-Christian, closer to Christ.

DM: Will there be a fourth book or do you have other projects in the works?

CM: Actually, here’s what’s going to happen. I’ve started book three, WAR, but it’s been put on hold. My publisher has come up with the idea that they would like me to do something totally different for my next novel. In fact, they sent me to Las Vegas on a research trip and that’s where my next novel will take place. It will be another spiritual thriller. We plan to come back and do more in The Rock Star Chronicles soon, and that could be one more book, or two or three more. I think reader demand will help us plan that. However, I think a third book may conclude that series very nicely.

DM: What words of advice and encouragement can you give to those of us striving for that ever-elusive book contract?

CM: Here it is. I know you want that contract, badly. But having that contract is not the be-all, end-all. Because, once you get the contract, there are a bunch of new hurdles you must cross. If you feel God nudging you to write novels, close the door and get to it. Set a word count that you must achieve each day and get the story down on paper. Pray God will pour out His stories through your writing. But mainly, do it to glorify Him, not to make a name for yourself or to become a millionaire. Keep the proper perspective. Don’t get too caught up in it, or in yourself. And try not to get your sense of self-worth from the good or bad things people say about your writing. You have an audience of One. Please Him and all will be well, published or not.

DM: Creston, thank you so much for this fantastic interview. (I’m putting this in because I know it will be fantastic. LOL!) I’m anxious to start FULL TILT and continue reading about Everett Lester’s continuing journey.

CM: You have been great, Dineen. Thanks for enjoying my books and for your kind words. I’ll look forward to doing this again in the future. Until then, peace out!

Be sure to check out Creston’s website and don’t miss out on this terrific series.

From Coca Cola to Multnomah, One Man's Publishing Journey

After working several years as a journalist, Creston Mapes discovered his need for Christ and was led to put his talents to work in Christian ministry. In 1990, he became creative director for Dr. Bruce Wilkinson (Prayer of Jabez) and Walk Thru the Bible Ministries in Atlanta. Creston and his group created, wrote, edited, and produced monthly, color magazines for clients such as Ligonier Ministries, Biola University, and Coral Ridge Ministries.

His next foray was freelance writing, which put him to work doing marketing and magazine copy for clients such as Coca-Cola, The Weather Channel, Focus on the Family, Johnson Controls, Haggai Institute, The Southern Company, Oracle Corporation, In Touch Ministries, BellSouth, Stein Communications, Mission to the World, and many others.

He is still actively writing for many of these fine organizations and is especially enjoying creating inspirational fiction. His debut novel, DARK STAR: CONFESSIONS OF A ROCK IDOL, was published by Multnomah Publishers in June of 2005, and its sequel FULL TILT has just been released this month.

DM: Creston, I’m so thrilled to have you here. After reading DARK STAR and your encouraging emails, I think your faith is truly inspiring. Would you tell us a little about your faith journey and what God is showing you through your writing career?

CM: As you may know, back in 1999 my freelance writing slowed and I felt God nudging me to write a novel. I’d never had that desire before. We’d made a good living freelancing, so when this new desire began to burn in me, I believed it was God. The trials came in the months and years ahead when that book didn’t get published. Although it was seriously courted, especially by one publishing house, ultimately, there were no takers. I was saddened and depressed by that and the many other rejections. I questioned whether I’d really heard God at all.

During the next five years I tried other novels, built relationships with senior fiction editors at all of the best houses, and got more rejections, but also some positive feedback. So, there was some hope along the way, positive comments, requests for more. Then, by chance, DARK STAR fell into the hands of an agent who liked it. We decided to work together. But still, it was another eight months before we hooked up with Multnomah for a three-book contract.

To be honest, it’s been difficult for me to find the balance between the ministry and business parts of this equation. I got into it for spiritual reasons, to draw others to Christ through creative story. But once you get published, you begin to see the business side of things. Your flesh is tempted to worry about marketing, promotion, sales, and making a big name for yourself. Frankly, I’ve found it difficult not to get bogged down in all that stuff.

After almost two years in this business, and two novels, with a third on the way, I think God is showing me that I simply need to write for His glory. Let Him write what stories He wants, through me. Write quality stories, and leave the rest up to Him. Let His will be done, not mine. If I’m not a best-selling author, I can still rest-assured that our books touched who He wanted, when He wanted them to. We’ve heard some powerful testimonies, and I’m happy with that.

DM: What do you feel is God’s calling on your life? Is it through your writing that you fulfill this calling or do you find it branching out in other areas also?

CM: One of the gifts He’s given me is encouragement. I like being around other people, listening to others, and inspiring them. I guess I like to help other people feel good, and be positive, and find their hope in Christ. I hate to admit it, but being a new author, you need to get the word out about your books. Well, during the past several years, I’ve found myself talking more about me and my books than I have about other people. So, to answer your question, I’m learning I just need to let go of the success of the books and be others-focused, like I used to be. There are difficult challenges! Why? Because once you’re published there is suddenly a ton of pressure to sell books and build your reading audience. But lately I’ve been thinking, “You know what? That is God’s responsibility.” Yes, I want my books to touch millions of lives and I would love for that to be my “ministry,” but if that doesn’t happen, I want to be okay with that, and with simply being an encourager.

DM: I thoroughly enjoyed reading DARK STAR. The premise is great, the book is a page-turner, and the ending was very satisfying. The book also packs a strong salvation message. What led you to write such a book? What was your greatest challenge in writing it?

CM: As a teenager and young adult, I loved rock n roll. KISS pictures plastered my bedroom walls. I went to many wild concerts and read a ton of rock magazines. So, I knew a great deal about rock stars and, when I sat down to write a unique book that a publisher would want to buy and that would have the potential to grip believers and unbelievers alike, I began writing in the first-person, from the point of view of this wild-child rocker, Everett Lester, whose garage band hits it big. I relished getting into Everett’s head and writing in the first-person. The toughest part about writing this story was, we went back and forth from the present to the past in each chapter. The whole time I was writing I was thinking, “How on earth are these two stories, the past and present, ever going to come together?” Well, God worked it out marvelously. I can tell you, I wouldn’t want to even try to pull that off again. And it’s cool, because now that DARK STAR is out, I can say, “Yes! It’s finished. The story worked out great. It’s out on shelves. And nothing can change that.” I truly am thrilled with DARK STAR and the impact it’s had on people’s prayer lives. It’s been nominated for Best First Novel in the Christy’s. I know it’s a long-shot, but we would love to bring that award home.

DM: How did you come to choose two simultaneous formats—one a first person memoir and the other third person current?

CM: Believe me, back then I wasn’t studying much about first-person, third-person, and what a long-shot it would be to pull that off. What I was studying were mentors who said, “Turn up the heat. Put the protagonist in trouble. Flabbergast your readers. Make the story get more thrilling with each new page.” So, I didn’t really even plan that back and forth thing, it just kind of happened. And I found myself falling into a good rhythm with it.

DM: What really impressed me was how you handled the burden of guilt that the hero Everett Lester had to deal with. You didn’t just make light of it or let him get off easy. Any comments about that?

CM: My editor, Julee Schwarzburg, forced me to deepen Everett’s character. Julee is great about saying, “How would Everett feel after this happened,” or, “What is he thinking during this part.” Julee deserves so much credit for DARK STAR. She was one of the first true believers and really had a hand in making it realistic and emotional.

DM: I was very intrigued with the character Madam Endora Crystal. How did you come up with her?

CM: I dreamt up Endora after reading about the town of Endor in 1 Samuel 28: 1-10. There was a notorious, mystique medium from Endor who Saul called on to try and communicate with the dead (Samuel). The Endora in DARK STAR does the same thing, holds séances to communicate with the dead. She also wants to lead Everett’s millions of fans to believe he is a god, and that there is no heaven or hell. I really enjoyed creating her character and developing that mega battle of evil versus good.

Come back tomorrow for part two as Creston tells us what his favorite and least favorite parts of writing are.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

At the Feet of Jesus

As I sat in church today, this poem flowed out of me. It was an amazing morning in worship, prayer and service.

I have walked the line of fear,
My spirit trembles within.
'Tis life that awaits me,
Eternal and free from sin.

What chills my weary heart?
Shall I awake in the midst of power great?
My soul longs for eternal rest,
My Lord sets my path straight.

Bring me life! Joy and Peace!
My Lord, my Savior, my King!
Thou wrought in me a mission divine,
In this my spirit shall sing!

Humililty and awe are the mantles I shall wear,
None can take this honor from me.
I'm the daughter of a Mighty King,
Tis my destiny, my strength. I am free.

Be blessed...

Friday, March 17, 2006

Unexpected Blessing

Where have I been? Well, let's see. I went to Florida for a week to visit my parents. As I get older, I've come to realize how precious time is with them, because they are getting older, too.

Almost two years ago I got an unexpected call from my dad. His cancer was back, and this time it was inoperable. The doctor gave him about a year. Needless to say, time suddenly became very precious. I won't forget what he asked me to do when he first told me. "Pray that I don't lose my faith."

Dad persevered through some pretty rough experimental treatments. He lived most of that first year as if he were coming down with a severe flu due to the experimental treatment. Then the question came. Is it worth it?

He said no. His quality of life had gone down so far. He wouldn't continue treatment, unless he found another method. Which he did, thank goodness.

While I was in Florida last week, he got the latest report for his last round of tests, which seemed to even surprise the doctor. The tumors were the same size but the density had dropped. The doctor could only surmize that the tumors were dying.

This was his news to me as I got off the plane just over a week ago. I won't forget that moment. Nor what I said.

"Praise God."

For those of you who have prayed for my dad, my deepest gratitude and thanks flow forth. I know prayer has been key in his healing and this latest treatment. He does suffer some side effects, but as Dad says, "It's a small price to pay."

Dad didn't lose his faith. If anything, I see Christ in him even stronger. He prayed over our meal once when I was there and when he said the word "Jesus," it sounded like love ought to sound. Dad's not a man of many words, but in that moment, he said a lot.

I can only imagine what he's gone through this last year. He told me he never believed the doctor when he told Dad he had a year. Dad never gave up hope. Nor his faith.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Much Ado About Nothing

Spinning wheels spinning
The march of life is racing,
Time has turned the corner
My reality lacks pacing.

What's a person to do?
How can I fix this breach?
Heart and soul at war,
The lesson serves to teach.

Ever present, ever struggling,
Fight, win, fight, and lose.
The pattern is ever persistent,
Redundant in its constant cruise.

I've left the realm of reason,
Words no longer have real presence.
Distant and relevant issues plague,
Nonsensical in essence.

Why this tortuous mangling?
My mind has wrangled far too long.
Body tired and thought weary,
I finally find refuge in a song.

Uplifted, hope renewed,
Once bleak, now restored.
Refeshed, blessed, urged,
Reason now firmly moored.

My God, my God, have I strayed so far?
His gentle whisper hushes.
Spirit turns to praise the Creator,
Free once more from Evil’s clutches.

What journey is this,
That rips apart my sense of being?
‘Tis urgent in its plea for presence,
Yet is simply, much ado about nothing.