I was asked how I got started in writing and where I get my ideas, after 50 books. I’ll save the idea topic until another time, but would love to share how I got started.
In the 1980’s I was teaching a class of young girls, ages 17-married. Dissatisfied with teaching brotherly love to an all-white group, I suggested we invite black girls to visit our class. A deacon’s meeting was called. One deacon approved. The pastor and other deacons were against it. I was crushed. For six months I considered leaving the church. Then it dawned upon me that I wasn’t limited by a church. God and I were a majority. I rededicated my life. Soon afterwards, I saw the ad in Decision magazine about theSchoolofChristian Writing. I realized I’d been writing about things that interested me for years and throwing them in a box in a closet. But I didn’t know someone like me, quite ordinary, could be a writer. Well, maybe not exactly “ordinary.” Writers are known for our…um…eccentricity!
However, I applied to the school and was accepted. At that time, we had 3 children and no money, but we scraped together enough for me to take a train to the school. I was introduced to an entirely new, different, and exciting world and knew I had to become a writer. And of course, what would naturally follow would be fame and fortune.
The person who won the Award of Excellence from the previous year’s students said she got the call June 12 at 3:00 p.m.I wanted to win that prize the following year so badly that I wrote & wrote, prayed & prayed, and trying to show I had faith I went to the phone on June 12 at 3:00 p.m.and put my hand on it. The call didn’t come. It came on June 17. The school paid my way that year since I won the award. On the way home on the plane Bob DeVries, editor with Moody sat between me and another student. We talked his ears off until he finally told us both to send our mss and he promised to read them. He left Moody but I tracked him down (didn’t know you weren’t supposed to chase an editor). He was getting his doctorate but promised to read it after he finished his studies & thesis. While waiting I wrote a series of weekly columns for a state Baptist paper. Each week I’d have to whittle about 2000 words down to 500, which was excellent training in editing and being concise. Eventually Mr. DeVries went to Zondervan and they published my first book, Red Like Mine, about race relations.
I had only a high school education at the time, but began taking one course at a time, learning all I could about writing and literature.
I began to realize fame and fortune might be slow in coming. I was pregnant with my fourth child, Cindy, when I received the Award of Excellence. When my first book was published, she was four years old. When my books arrived, she was the only one at home. I gathered her close and showed her my picture on the back of the book.
“Do you know who that is?” I asked.
She nodded. “You.”
“Do you know who wrote this book?” I said, so excited.
She looked bored and shook her head.
I said, “Mommy did. I wrote this book.”
She stared at me.
I said, “Isn’t that wonderful?”
She shook her head.
I said, “Why not?”
She said, “I can’t read.”
She walked away.
That was the first time my balloon was burst…but not the last.
Of course I knew that wasn’t rejection, just a touch of reality. Rejections (or returns!) have come through the years, but I expected to have to learn the craft and the business of writing, just as anyone does in any profession.
Attending the Billy Graham School of Christian Writing inMinneapolis,MNchanged my life and set me in a new direction. In those early years of my writing, there was only the School and Mt. Hermon Writers Conference. I wanted to give that same kind of opportunity to other aspiring writing in my area. I tried, but couldn’t get anyone to sponsor such a conference. After 2 ½ years, Ruth McKinney, secretary to Dr. Woody Wirt, editor of Decision Magazine & dean of the school, called and asked how things were going. I told her I had given up. She told me to pray. I told her I’d prayed for 2 ½ years. She said do it again. I did. The following Sunday Ken McAnear, director ofRidgecrestsaid he would pay for incorporation. YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly said they’d give the conference a try and see if it would be successful. Dr. Wirt agreed to come as Emcee and asked editors & faculty to come.
I’ve been asked why I took on such an enormous task. The answer is, I didn’t know any better! When all those students began to come I went to my room and hid. Thank the Lord, Dr. Wirt was there to take over. I didn’t dare try to be the Emcee for many years. God was definitely in this, otherwise it would have been a miserable failure. Many wonderful people helped me. And my being director was a great example of God using a willing person, who had no experience of running a conference. There were many people out there with more ability in that area. After 17 years, I stopped having the conference because of family needs. A few years later,Ridgecrestcalled and asked if I would plan one for them. I was thrilled to be asked.
The Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference is held atRidgecrest, in the gorgeous mountains ofWestern North Carolinanear Ashville (home of the famous Biltmore House and Gardens). If a writer is going to have a successful career, there must be training, perseverance, and work. We learn about that at the conference. We’re part of a business and not alone although writing is one-on-one between us and the computer. We’re part of a group who understands each other because we have similar goals and similar creative kind of minds. In this business, it’s almost a given that you now have to meet editors and agents at conferences.
After 25 years of directing the conference, and years of praying and thinking about it, I believed it was time to turn it over to someone else and now Alton Gansky very ably, along with his assistant Edie Melson, directs the conference. I now direct the Blue Ridge“Autumn in the Mountains” Novelist Retreat held annually at Ridgecrest. Come join us October 16-20. www.lifeway.com/novelretreat or contact me for a schedule. I’d love to meet some of you there.
I didn’t get fame, but I get joy, and I am most fortunate that God led me into writing and allowed me to provide an opportunity for other writers to learn and grow in this wonderful creative business.