Monday, January 07, 2008

Write What You Cannot Not Write About

In the United States on Sundays most Christian families do not worship together, not because of denomination challenges, but because of race. When you drive along an American neighborhood one may see 2 Baptist and 2 Methodist churches, one black and one white, both on the same block, neither working together toward Kingdom Building. It is 2008. Almost 40 years after the death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet very close to the realization of one of his dreams, an America that sees beyond color. Look at Senator Barack Obama's emergence as a democratic party presidential candidate front leader. Race is beginning not to matter. But why does it still matter in Christiandom and how has that blot affected Christian publishing?

Today CFB talks with Moody Publishers' author, Linda Harsgrove, who created a blog to address her personal journey in reconciling race and faith. The blog is called 17seeds.

Why 17seeds?

The title of my blog points back to a pivotal chapter in the Gospels: John 17. In the chapter Jesus is praying for the oneness of his future followers. I think the Lord has called me to be a hand that sows many kinds of seeds in the Kingdom.

One of those seeds deals with oneness in the Body. It's my prayer that the blog is a source of seeds of enlightenment, education, inspiration, and action in the Christian community around the topic of racial reconciliation. Maybe it's a lofty goal, but I've tried to ignore it for a while and God keeps bringing me back to it.

What's the story behind the blog and the project?

I don't know if I'd call what I'm doing a project really. It's more like the blog tagline says, "one author's reflections on biblical racial reconciliation, writing, and adoption." So I don't really like the idea that what I'm doing now with my blog and my writing is a project. It's what I feel called to write about.

We've all been called to the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5: 11-21). In my life that ministry has taken the form of volunteering in urban ministry for more than a decade, being a leader of racial reconciliation discussion groups for most of that time, speaking on topics of race in the church while being part of a large predominately white congregation, and writing novels and blogs about race. To what end? That our oneness be John 17 strong. So until our oneness as a church starts to draw people to Christ, I will continue to do all these 'projects.'

What are your expectations?

Let's see. My expectations? I really have to be honest here and come clean. The only explanation I have is that people will start talking about race in Christian circles. It is my belief that by talking, certain doors will open and certain walls will come down. Our race talk has got to be loving and honest. And it's got to be God-led and Spirit-filled. If God leads and fills something, no matter how simple (or difficult), it will not be in vain. It can change the world. It can draw men to Him like He prayed in John 17.

What have you discovered about CBA while during this project?

Since I started blogging again in October, I don't think I've discovered anything new about the Christian Booksellers Association.

You see, I sold my first book (with all its racial themes) to Moody Publishers in 2006. In the decade before that I'd learned a lot about many CBA publishers by reading market guides, blogs, magazines, and by attending conferences. I had a sense for the style of writing published and the CBA crowd, so to speak.

The crowd, as I quickly found out, was mostly white and middle class. Not many darker-hued southern gals like myself. But that didn't bother me. I'd learned to navigate that scene for most of my decade at college getting two degrees in engineering while rubbing shoulders with what many would call 'good ole boys.' I'd also been an active member of a 3,000 plus member mostly-white congregation for more than seven years. For many years my husband and I were the only 'colored people' in roles of service and lay leadership in that church.

By the time I did the survey and the blog series on race, I'd been around the block and seen some racial issues in Christendom already so I can't really say that my blogging has shown me anything new in or about the CBA. What does seem odd is that this discussion about race in CBA publishing hasn't been discussed publicly before.

What advice would you give to new authors wanting to enter CBA?

You're asking me for advice. Good gracious. I think I need some. Okay, let me serious. I think something many would-be authors rush past is the reading part. Or rather, the reading widely part.

Get wild and eclectic with what you read. Read old stuff and new experimental stuff. Read westerns and romances and even horror (if you can stomach it). Read or re-read all that stuff your high school English teacher made you read. If you can only make it through a couple chapters that's okay. You'll read more next time. Take notes about what you read. What made that other person's novel work? What didn't?

Don't listen to people who say, 'write what you want.' I say, 'write what you can't not write about.' Write your passion and write it well. In other words, learn the craft. One way to do that is by reading widely. Another way is by taking classes. And then write out of the heart and soul that God gave you.
  1. Which post has gotten the most response? And why? The most popular one so far is Dave Long's interview. Even before I posted his interview I knew the responses were coming; I was just surprised that it took so long.

    I think part of the reason that one got so much attention is because of the strong reaction from the first two comments. But strong is okay as long as it moves us closer to a solution and healing.
  2. Why the survey? I did the survey to get answers to some questions. You see, maybe I'm just too stupid to know any better but where I come from when you have a question or see something that is broke, you raise your hand and ask a question or you put your hand to it. Not to sound rude or anything but I saw something that raised a question in my mind. And although I'm not the type to go looking for trouble or bossing folks around, I felt the need to get my questions answered and to see some positive action. Not a whole lot of whispering in the vestibule.

    I have to admit that some of my curiosity was because I had some issues that I needed to resolve before I wrote my second novel (an inter-racial love story that has a racial reconciliation theme, incidentally). For instance, I wanted to know why folks, especially black folks, bought books. Was it the cover that drew them in? Was it the presence of characters that looked like them? Or just characters they could relate to? Would an interracial romance scare them off? Would strong black-white friendships turn their stomachs?

    I needed to get a little closer to answers before I started pushing the racial envelope some more. I'm not out to shock folks. Or make people mad or alienated. Like I said I just want Christian folks to start talking about race. For too long it's been the pile of poop in the middle of the proverbial sanctuary.

    The survey is only one part of my focus on race in CBA publishing. I also conducted interviews with two black CBA authors (Sharon Ewell Foster and Cecelia Dowdy) and two interviews with two CBA acquisitions' editors (Cynthia Ballenger and Dave Long).

    The responses to the survey and the interviews have helped me get closer to answers and I pray the entire process has helped this little corner of the church start talking constructively about the poop.
How will this survey be used in the future?

I will discontinue the current survey on December 31. I'm really surprised that people are still sending in their responses. It may reappear at some other time. Or another survey (revamped, of course) may appear in February.

What's next for you?

Well, I do have another novel to hammer out. And a bunch of revisions on the second manuscript. And a couple short how-to children's books. But as far as the blog is concerned, I will continue it.

I plan to do a prayer series in January. I'm calling it 'Writing Great in '08' and I'm inviting writers and would-be writers to send in their prayers for their writing in 2008. And then in February I'm doing a series on interracial romances in Christian fiction. I'll be interviewing two CBA authors who have written books with bwwm storylines. bwwm: black woman/white man

What would you like to say to Christian Fiction Blog readers that I haven't asked?

I am so grateful to you Dee for extending this invitation to me and for your feedback on some of my interview questions. I'm so happy to have had to chance to share about 17seeds and my writing.

I want to end by encouraging your readers to push past their race weariness and read more about biblical racial reconciliation. There are several wonderful ministries and authors that have been information on the topic. Google biblical racial reconciliation and you'll come up with some excellent Web sites. A nonfiction book called More Than Equals by Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice is a great start.

Thanks, once again, Dee for inviting me to be here today. Blessings of grace and peace.

Yahoo! News Story - Simon says Hollywood snub a blessing - Yahoo! News

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Personal message:

I am a fan of the Wire. I don't understand why they don't get the recognition they deserve. It's nice to know that the show's producer isn't bothered by it.

Simon says Hollywood snub a blessing - Yahoo! News

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