Monday, October 23, 2006

One Story's Journey & A Writer's Take Away

It's out! His Forever: Stories of Real People Finding Jesus is on the shelves and it contains my piece "Like Son, Like Father." Well, at least it's on the virtual shelves of Amazon,, and the like. I haven't yet found it in a bricks and mortar store. But then it's only been out a few days.

I am so humbled, so amazed at how God has used me to get my friend Frank's story out there for everyone to read and know about. Years ago, I heard Frank tell how he prayed for God to open his dad's mind when Alzheimer's had caused the elderly man to be able to do nothing more than breathe and sit chin to chest for hours on end. The family hadn't had a lucid conversation with him in months. For a few moments Frank's prayer was answered, and Frank was able to lead his father to Christ!

From the day I heard about this God Miracle, I knew it had to be written. I wrote the story, thinking in my ignorance it would be snapped up without question. I envisioned it on the pages of Guideposts, or maybe The Beacon, my church denomination's magazine. All the editors would have to do was read it and they'd be begging me to print it. Boy was I wrong! I received so many rejections I'm sure their weight alone threatened to give my mailman a hernia.

One of the magazines I queried was Decision, the Billy Graham Association's magazine. Like all the others, they sent one of those form rejections. You know the drill:
"Thank you for submitting to our magazine. We're sorry we cannot use your story at this time. We either have already purchased a similar story or, perhaps in your case, the writing is lousy and the topic stinks. Please don't ever write to us again!"

Ha! Not exactly, but isn't that what so many of us writers tend to see when we get a form letter instead of a personal note explaining exactly why the piece is being rejected.

A few months after the Decision rejection letter was papered to my wall along with all the others, I attended the Write to Publish conference. I was excited to see that Decision's editor , the very man whose name was on that rejection letter I received a few months earlier, was on the faculty. What was even more amazing was that he had appointment slots open since I arrived at the conference two days after it had begun. A God thing?? Seemed that way to me. Since I was commuting, I was able to print out the story that evening and bring it to the conference the next day for my appointment.

That editor appointment was an eye-opener for me. I handed him a copy of my story, gulped, and asked him why it had been rejected. He read the first paragraph and said, "I remember this. A wonderful miracle of God." Of course, the second question out of my mouth was, "If that's so, why did you turn it down?" His answer? "There's no take away."

Take away? Huh? For years I'd been leading Bible studies, always making sure everyone learned to make application in their lives for what we'd just discussed. I never realized that in article writing we had to do the same thing. Telling the story wasn't enough. The closing should draw the reader to making application in his own life. It doesn't have to be in-your-face, but it has to be there. Well, duh! Since then I've heard that little "jargon" phrase many times. Everything we write needs a take away. In articles, it can be the summary paragraph restating the lessons already expressed in the story. In fiction it's the story goal. What do I want my story to achieve?; what will my characters learn in the story?; how will my character's growth help the reader at the same time he or she is being entertained by a page-turning story they can't put down? (A girl can dream!)

Long story short, I'd queried so many magazines for Frank's story already, I let it languish in my computer files for, um, five years maybe? During those years I focused on fiction--learning the craft, practicing the craft, and seeking publication. To this day I've not yet sold a fiction story, but I have learned a lot about writing.

Last November I heard about the His Forever Project and Frank's story came to mind. I pulled it out of the file and dusted it off. One read through showed me more reasons why it probably didn't sell other than the needed take away. I went to work, applying the fiction writing techniques I'd been learning over the years. Not changing the story, but enhancing it. And...of course, I made sure to add a "take away."

The rest is history as the saying goes. In a few days I'll be holding the book in my hand. I don't know if the byline will say "by Frank Coppaletta as told to Pam Meyers," or just "By Frank Coppaletta," or maybe there's no byline at all. It doesn't matter. It's God's story, not Frank's and not mine.

What has been my take away in this experience? Last month when I presented the ACFW Mentor of the Year Award to Lena Nelson Dooley, one of the quotes attributed to her says, "God is never early or never late. He's always on time." This was God's time for Frank's story to be told and for me to have the honor of seeing something I wrote in a book. God wasn't going to let it be printed until I'd learned my craft enough to write it well. That is my take away from this experience. That is what keeps me going to writers conferences, attending writing workshops, reading books about how to write well, and reading well-written books to learn how published authors write. God can use all of that. There's a song I learned way back when I first became a Christian that says, "He makes all things beautiful in His time." I can't ask for anything better than that!

By the way, as you can see, I've been messing with the design of my blog. It's not finished yet. Chances are by the time you check back again, it will have been tweaked a bit more. Change is always good. Today I have a new look and a new book, along with a new attitude about being useful to God through the words I write.

1 comment:

Tina said...

Congratulations Pam! And your site looks fabulous!