f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 4 of a New Writers Group – Bits and Pieces, Odds and Ends

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Day 4 of a New Writers Group – Bits and Pieces, Odds and Ends

Some random thoughts, often picking up on things others have said on the boards.

I like the idea of regional conferences and, even more so, I like the idea of small critique groups even better. I think at first they’re going to need to be run online. In time, if it makes sense, it’d be great to be able to sponsor groups geographically.

In terms of an annual event, I think your work has mostly been done for you. There are two biennial events that really hit the very heart of the vision for this group. There’s the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing. And there’s the Baylor Art and Soul Festival. (Which I technically haven’t been to, but have been told it’s Calvin Festival in Texas.) I’ll be there next year, though.

The faculty, the workshops, the atmosphere—there’s simply no need to recreate the wheel. That they are in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Waco, Texas, may not be as convenient as say, Chicago or Kansas City, but when all is said and done I think it’d be foolish (at least at first) to overlook these events.

Both Festivals run Thurs-Sat and I think it’d be possible to add either a day before or after to devote specifically to the group. But always in conjunction with the scheduled events.

Seal of Approval
I know this is art and passion and God’s calling and all, but I spent enough time in marketing to know, well, not much, but enough. Anyway, whether we like it or not, there’s power to be had in something like a seal-of-approval especially if it’s a rarity. If Oprah picked a book a week, how long would it be before they stopped making the bestsellers list?

One way the group can eventually extend its brand will be to offer a “Featured Selection.” It can’t be bought, it can’t be begged for, it needs to be earned. And I think it should be for books as a whole. Forget this CBA stuff. If Leif Enger comes out with another beauty, choose it. The goal is to actually have these mean something so that publishers will want to—say, sticker a book or something. That’s a pipe dream in a lot of ways, but it’s a solid goal, too. (Who gets to choose or vote is a talk for another day. As they say, “Details-smetails”)

Writing Reviews
There’s been some hesitancy about this one, including some self-examination about what qualifies you/us to review. To me, reviews are self-qualifying. If you write a good, fair, honest critical analysis of something that validates your opinion. I’m not talking about bashing books for the sake of it, or pitching darts at CBA in general. (I’m not even talking about choosing books that you know you’ll dislike.) More so, I’d like to see us pick up any CBA book and talk about what works, what doesn’t, and where it fits. Ideally, there could be two reviewers looking at the same piece so there’s some balance. I can’t do that on my site because I work for Bethany. It’s career suicide to criticize our authors, and a conflict of interest to praise my authors or criticize a competitors’. (I will, however, praise a competitors’ if I think it’s valid.)

I think I may have been unclear when I spoke about focusing solely on “craft.” Or perhaps naïve, too. Anyway, my intention was never to leave God out of this. Everything we do, everything I do (in theory) is done within the context of my faith. As Christian writers when we talk about craft one of the ENORMOUS concerns we face (and it’s one I think I tackle at F*i*F) is how do we honestly talk about faith in our books. There is tons of craft wrapped up in that question. And tons of theology too.

What I’ve seen happen, elsewhere, is that the craft is cast aside. It’s easier to talk philosophy and big issues because they’re built for discussing and as Christians we often have very strong opinions on whether there needs to be a conversion scene there or what kind of baptism this character should receive. We just can’t let that be the only talk that goes on.

Different, Not Better. But Better, Too
Finally, I want to take a moment and say that we need to focus on simply making this writers group all it can be. Anytime comparisons are made there’s a risk of setting yourself up or denigrating something else. That’s not all that necessary. We can work toward something great without belittling anyone else.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with trying to be “better.” Better by covering areas that have previously been ignored.

Tomorrow we'll talk a tiny bit about affiliations with other groups, some options for me and Bethany House, and the big question of who is going to do all this work.