Who’s Holding Your Trampoline?

Mike’s stories have appeared in Relief Journal, Forgotten Worlds, Alienskin, and Dragons, Knights and Angels, with articles in The Matthew’s House Project and Relevant Magazine. He was also one of ten authors picked for Infuze Magazine’s Best of 2005 print anthology. Mike is an ordained minister, has led numerous small groups and developed discipleship-training curriculum for several churches. He and his wife Lisa live in Southern California , where they have raised four children. Mike has written an unpublished novel entitled What Faith Awakes and is currently at work on a second. You can visit him at www.mikeduran.com.

By Mike Duran

It is not a coincidence that some of the greatest words ever written were chiseled. While on a mountaintop. Alone. Of course, Moses had some assistance. But if he’d stayed at home with the missus and the incessant bleating of his tribesmen, it’s doubtful that the Ten Commandments would have ever been penned.

For most writers, our best work is done away from others. We bring our laptop to the mountaintop, for it’s there that, on occasion, the heavens open. Seldom do the muses compete with the TV or iPod. “Writing is a solitary occupation,” said Jessamyn West. “Family, friends, and society are the natural enemies of the writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking.” Of course, convincing our “friends” and “family” that they are our “natural enemy” could get a bit sticky.

But while we create in isolation, we advance in community. Good writing communicates, which is the least solitary of endeavors. To communicate is to commune, to interact with other intellects. Likewise, a writer has not really succeeded until she has readers, someone who will “commune” with her material. Without the eyes and ears of others, our work is incomplete.

These two sides of writing—the “alone-ness” and the “together-ness”—are equally important, and I think, becoming a good writer means cultivating both halves. Even Lewis and Tolkien, now luminaries in the literary pantheon, yoked themselves to the Inklings. Who’s to say what Narnia would have looked like had not the maker of Middle Earth cast a keen eye on the beloved tale. Could Aslan have acquired some genteel feature from someone other than Clive? Yes, we need a quiet place to develop our skills and sift ideas, but we also need Inklings, people who will read what we have written, encourage, correct, affirm, and ultimately propel us back to our quarters with renewed vision and vigor.

Donald Joy is Professor of Human Development at Asbury Theological Seminary. He’s written numerous books on human relationships. The first chapter of his book Bonding is entitled, “Who is Holding Your Trampoline?” The basic concept is this: If you were trapped on the third floor of a burning building and only your closest companions—your most intimate, authentic relationships—could gather below to catch you, who would be there with the safety net? How many proven, reliable, unflinchingly honest friends do you have? Who’s holding your trampoline? Joy suggests that the “healthy” individual should have at least twenty such people in this healing, supportive circle.

I wonder that writers have a unique need for “trampoline holders”—a band of people who will understand our quirks and passions, read our material and bring insight, get our creative juices flowing, lift us during times of depression and deflate us when our pride swells. And, maybe most of all, simply pray for us.

The day after I arrived home from Texas, still buzzing from last year’s ACFW conference, I received a call from a very good friend whom I shall call V. Her story is a heartbreaking one, filled with tragedy and loss. But for the last 18 years, V has been “called” to intercede for me. I didn’t solicit her prayers or swing a deal, make pacts or promises. Yet God prompted something in her, which I greatly covet. V is one of my intercessors; she has followed the arc of my spiritual life and graced me with her prayers. Her phone call was more than coincidence.

At the aforementioned conference, I attended Mary DeMuth’s terrific workshop entitled Inside Out Fiction. In it, Mary mentioned the need for intercessors in a writer’s life. She currently has 48 people committed to praying for her writing ministry and encourages Christian authors to nurture their own intercessory circle. I have to admit, until then I hadn’t spent much time recruiting trampoline holders. In fact, I found myself wrestling with the rationale.

It seems odd that a “storyteller” needs so much prayer support, doesn’t it? I mean, fiction is make-believe; the spinning of yarns is anything but seriously spiritual, right? Now if I was writing about theology, apologetics or the mafia, I would need prayer. But the author of fiction hardly seems in need of such formidable backing. Sadly, many see the novelist as nothing more than a glorified jester, employed only for diversion, laughs or philosophical musing. No wonder the concept of prayer warrior seems incongruous with fiction writer.

The Bible does not maintain such distinctions. In fact, some of the most powerful stories in Scripture are fictional. The Good Samaritan. The Rich Man and Lazarus. The Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Unmerciful Servant and the Wedding Banquet. Jesus was a storyteller, and His tales were both entertaining and hauntingly relevant. He affirmed the unique power of story, the force of simple narrative, and the uncanny ability of common characters to wheedle themselves into our psyche, to spirit us away or stop us in our tracks. Maybe the fiction writer wields more possibility than, at first glance, we afford her.

As such, the most vital tool of the Christian novelist may not be the dictionary, thesaurus, or plot planner, but the intercessor. This is not to suggest we should neglect craft in favor of prayer, but that we balance both. No warrior is beyond needing a good blacksmith. In like manner, the stories that cut the deepest are often those that have whetted longest on the grindstone of prayer. Perhaps the writing life with its peculiar need for isolation, its roller coaster of emotion, its intangible spiritual drain, demands much more than just good grammar and a novel idea. As much as we want readers, we may need pray-ers and, just maybe, we can’t have one without the other.

So the next time you find yourself stuck in rewrites or barraged by self-doubt, creatively dry or administratively overwhelmed, frozen at a career crossroad or meandering toward a dead end; when you’re sitting on the mountaintop waiting for lightning to strike or standing on the ledge of a burning building preparing to jump, I’ve got one question: Who’s holding your trampoline?

Sunday Devotion: Bull-headed? Me?

Cindy Sproles

We’ve always remained true to discipline in our family. With four boys all fifteen months apart, we had no other option. The odds were against us from the beginning. Since we were a combined family we had to be especially careful to maintain the same standards for all four kids. Therefore, we opted to use the counting method.

You know, “I’m going to count to three and if you haven’t done what I asked you’re going to…” Well, we modified the theory a bit, but before we refined the process my husband and I came to a mutual agreement. Regardless, we would stick to the plan. Discipline was as much an issue for us as it was the kids because we had to remain true to the agreement.

We agreed that three was the magic number. We’d count to one and explain the issue. Count two – the ball was in the boys’ court. They would be the deciding factor in whether they would obey or be punished. Count three – we executed the punishment, no exceptions.

We realized early on (since both of us owned a strong-willed son) that we couldn’t deviate. The hardest part of discipline for a parent is follow-through. Strangely enough, it only took a couple of incidents before our kids understood that mom and dad should never reach the third count because they would carry through. We rarely had to spank our boys because early on, they figured out we were parents of our word.

1 Samuel 15:23 guides us by saying, “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” Of course, this scripture refers to King David but the point is the same. God maintained a sense of discipline with His people. He forewarned them, and then He counted to three only to execute the discipline if His children refused to listen.

Obedience has always been a problem for the human race. Like small children we continue to test the waters God has told us to stay away from. Very few truly comply – even down to us. We know lying is wrong, still we lie. We know gossip is wrong, still we continue to gossip. When disobedient children continue to misbehave, then they must be disciplined.

As writers we sometimes have difficulty sticking to the task; for that fact, listening when God calls us to write. Our desire is to write the burning story on our mind but it may be that the Father wants us to write the burning story He places on our hearts. When we fail to follow His instruction, He gently disciplines us. Learning to lay aside our own will and bow to that of the One who has the plan takes a little practice. Thank goodness we have a loving God who understands us and knows our hearts.

We think discipline is only for our children, when in fact, it applies to all of us. Just as God continues to impress upon us the right way to do things, He also rewards us for the good that we do. And believe me; the rewards far out weigh the punishments.
One afternoon, we met head on with one of our strong-willed boys. “Son, don’t be so bull-headed about things.” His response was simple.

“Bull-headed – Me?” A grin parted his lips as he turned to perform the task he was asked to do. Unfortunately, we all harbor a little bull-headedness and God still has to discipline even His adults.

Would you like to know something funny? All four of our sons are fine adult men now. They all tower over the top of me in height. But you let me point my finger and say, “One!” They generally lean back and roar in laughter – but not until they’ve done what was asked of them.

Prayer: Precious Lord, discipline hurts but I am grateful You love me enough to follow-through.

DISCLAIMER: For the record, we were never mean to our boys. I know someone out there will think we were, but it’s simply not true. Our discipline was always fair, provided privately for each son, and followed up with great love and compassion. We never once pinched off a head! As they say down south, “Facts is facts!”

Some Happenings in the book world . . .

Novel Journey is pleased to announce that fellow-blogger Mark Bertrand has picked up his first book contract—(Re)Thinking Worldview Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in This World. This book will be particularly appealing to those interested in writing from a Christian Worldview. Keep tract of the progress of the book (and read some awesome endorsements) at: http://www.jmarkbertrand.com/worldview/

I’m reprinting the e-blast sent out by Library Journal with permission. I hope our readers will choose to take part. As someone who worked as a publicist and now as a book clerk, Book Critics and Book Reviews play a big part in noteworthy book and noteworthy newcomers gaining attention.
National Book Critics Circle Launches Campaign to Save Book Reviews

April 23, 2007
For immediate release

Last week, the Los Angeles Times folded its book review section into an opinion section, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution eliminated its book review position. Not a good week for book criticism, but not a surprising one, either: in the past few years, newspapers from the Chicago Tribune to the Dallas Morning News to the Village Voice have seen book coverage shrink.

The National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) is not taking these developments lying down. This week, in an effort to support book reviews, book editors, book pages, and book culture, the NBCC is launching a Campaign to Save Book Reviews. During the last week in April and throughout the month of May, the NBCC is asking authors and editors, journalists and publishers—and in fact anyone interested in literary culture—to speak out on the value of books and book reviewing.

The campaign’s launch pad is an effort to save the book review position at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, held until last week by Teresa Weaver. Explains NBCC president John Freeman, “Teresa has the opportunity to apply for a job within the company, but it’s not clear what the fate of the book page will be—whether it’ll be reassigned to an existing editor, whether it will go entirely to wire copy, or whether it will be removed altogether.” A petition to save Weaver’s job has already secured nearly a thousand signatures, including those from luminaries as varied as Michael Connelly, Richard Powers, and Ian Rankin. Those interested in signing should go to http://www.petitiononline.com/atl2007/petition.html.

Throughout the campaign, Critical Mass, the NBCC’s blog, will feature Q&As, posts by concerned writers, and advice on petitioning the media to assure continued book coverage. Current posts include a lengthy Q&A with David L. Ulin, editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Check out http://bookcriticscircle.blogspot.com/ to join in our efforts and to track developments in this ongoing and important campaign.

The National Book Critics Circle, founded in 1974, is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization consisting of nearly 700 active book reviewers nationwide who are interested in honoring quality writing and communicating with one another about common concerns. It is managed by a 24-member all-volunteer board of directors. For more information, please go to www.bookcritics.org.

For questions, contact Barbara Hoffert, hoffer [a t] reedbusiness.com or 646-746-6806.

Interview with Tish Cohen

Tish Cohen is the author The Invisible Rules of the Zoe Lama, a middle grade novel forthcoming in July, 2007. She has edited an online women’s magazine and contributed articles to some of Canada’s largest newspapers, including The Globe and Mail and The National Post. She grew up in California, but currently lives in Toronto. Town House is her first novel. Visit her website at http://www.tishcohen.com/.

What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about? My debut novel, Town House, is coming out May 8th from HarperCollins. It’s about the son of a legendary rock star who is too crippled by panic attacks to leave his Boston town house.
Tell us about your journey to publication. How long did it take before your novel was published? It took me about three years to get published. I’d secured agents for two books prior to Town House, but neither book sold. The second one came close. I probably received about twenty or thirty rejections from editors for those two novels. Town House sold in a bit of an unusual way. My agent sent it out to editors, who then sent it off to literary scouts, who took the manuscript to Hollywood studios. By the time I found out what was happening, about a dozen studios had it. The film rights sold a week after the manuscript went out, and the book sold a week after that. The film interest was so unexpected, it launched me into panic attacks of my very own!

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication? In the tough times, believing the odds in this business are insurmountable. What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication? Keep moving forward. As long as you take the next step, there’s hope. What is the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard? Many new writers get bogged down by the rules – for queries, for manuscripts, for sentence structure. If you write the way you speak your natural voice will surface and your writing will be seamless and compelling. I did everything wrong in my query letters—from comparing my book to others to repeating what my mother thought of it—but I made sure my voice was heard. And the query letters brought in requests.
What is something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business? That the industry wants something different—but not too different. What are a few of your favorite books? A Prayer for Owen Meany by John IrvingThe Accidental Tourist by Anne TylerWater for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Sideways by Rex Pickett
I am Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?

I write every day, weekends included. Typically, I get up and do yoga, eat and sit down at the computer by 9:30 am. Other than a quick lunch break, I work until about 7 pm. If I’m working on a first draft, I may work after dinner—until my eyes get scratchy or my hand cramps. I have absolutely no balance in my life. I’m working on that.

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?

I’d love to have Alan Hollinghurst’s sense of social subtleties.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

My dream is for my characters and stories to really affect my readers, and to see some of my characters brought to life on the big screen.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

The best thing about being a writer is being able to make up stories all day long. The worst thing is the angst that goes along with exposing your soul.

How much marketing do you do? Any advice in this area?

I do a ton of marketing, everything from a MySpace page to website with interactive “What’s Your Phobia?” section, I blog with other debut authors on TheDebutanteBall.com, and I’ve hired an independent publicist. Another thing I did was contact as many sites that deal with anixiety or phobia I could find, and ask them to highlight Town House. Many did and my website gets quite a bit of traffic as a result.

Parting words?

The publishing world is made of ups and downs. Don’t let either distract you from what it’s all about—the words you’ll write today.