Wednesday, March 22, 2006

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.


Heather Diane Tipton said...

Ohhh great interview. Dang it Neen... Like I really need to buy more books to add to my TBR pile????

Julie Dearyan said...

Great interview. Thanks for sharing the story behind your novel. It is very inspiring.

Jennifer Tiszai said...

I really liked Dark Star, and I'm glad to hear Full Tilt is out this month.

I, too, was fascinated by the first/third person and past/present time shifts but thought it turned out remarkably well.

Great job, Dineen. Can't wait to read part two tomorrow.

Marilyn H said...

Great interview--thank you! It's an interesting testimony of hearing and obeying God's call. I haven't read the book, but its premise is fascinating. A "coincidence"? in my Bible study this week, we read about the medium from Endor.

Camy Tang said...

Great interview! Thanks, Creston and Dineen!

Creston Mapes said...

Hey Everyone,

Dineen is a spirited interviewer. I loved her questions and hope you can pick something up of use to you. Thanks for writing in. I hope you enjoy Full Tilt. I'm thrilled with the cover and endorsements. It's a little slower than we thought making it to shelves, but it's coming! Thanks again, Dineen.