Using the Power of Story to Promote an Agenda

Dan Walsh is the award-winning and bestselling author of 10 novels, including The Unfinished Gift, The Dance and What Follows After. He has won 3 Carol Awards and 2 Selah Awards. Three of his books were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year. Dan is a member of ACFW and Word Weavers. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach area where they love to take long walks. Click here to connect with Dan or check out his books.

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Why do people read novels, or watch movies for that matter? Is it simply to be entertained? To unwind, to check out, to escape the pressures and hardships of life for a little while by getting lost in a good story?

Maybe. I’m guessing most people would not answer this question with things like: 

  • To be persuaded to think differently about something controversial.
  • To be emotionally manipulated into letting go of a strongly held opinion and be willing to embrace a totally different view.

But what if that’s the authors goal in writing the story, to accomplish that purpose? To use the power of story to promote an agenda that really matters to them. Does that ever happen?
I think it happens all the time. I’m guilty of it myself.
I believe the entertainment industry has known this for decades and has used the power of story to change the minds of an entire generation of Americans on a host of controversial topics. They like to say, and would like us to think, they are not out to change public opinion. They merely create entertainment that reflects the views and values of the culture. In other words, they’re giving “We the people” what we want to see, hear and read. 
But they know that’s pure baloney. They were, and still are, using the power of story to promote an agenda. Let me offer some examples. When I was a kid, the prevailing view in America was that premarital sex was morally wrong. So it wasn’t allowed to be shown on TV, and when it was depicted in movies it was shown as something morally wrong. Even sex within marriage, though obviously approved, was never seen, and rarely talked about. I remember watching episodes of the Dick Van Dyke Show that had the main couple sleeping in separate twin beds.
Throughout the 70s and 80s more and more movies and TV shows began depicting premarital sex as perfectly normal and acceptable behavior. Nowadays, it’s actually hard to find stories that show anyone willing to wait until marriage to have sex. People are shown to engage in one night stands all the time, and to talk about their sex lives with their friends as casually as they talk about the weather.
We’ve seen the same trend followed with a homosexual lifestyle. Ten to fifteen years ago, it was rare to find a homosexual character depicted as healthy and normal in a popular movie or TV show. Now, it’s rare to find a show that doesn’t have a main character who is a practicing homosexual. The agenda now includes a new message: Anyone who has a problem with this is homophobic.
The point of my post is not to point out how wrong it is to use the power of story to promote an
agenda. Quite the opposite. I’m saying the power of story is one of the most effective means to promote an agenda, and always has been. 
Gary Smalley and I hope to use the power of story this way in our just-released novel, The Desire. Although you can’t tell from the cover, we’re hoping to encourage the pro-life message in our story. In addition, we hope to draw attention to the often overlooked members in our churches who struggle with the heartbreak of infertility (more than 1 in 8 couples do). And we want to encourage people to seriously consider the adoption option (including unwed moms facing an uncertain future). Both of my children were adopted, and Gary has two adopted grandchildren.
Are we wrong to use fictional stories to promote an agenda? I say…absolutely not. I think it’s just the norm, whether we’re admitting it, doing it deliberately or unintentionally.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Have you used the power of story to promote an issue you care about? Can you think of books, TV shows or movies that have effectively used fiction stories to persuade others to see something a different way?

Queen of the Slush Pile: Rachel Allord

Rachel Allord’s debut novel, Mother of My Son, won Novel Journey’s Out of the Slush Pile
contest in the contemporary women’s category in 2010 and is now available for pre-order through
Pelican Book Group (release date May 24). Rachel grew up as a pastor’s kid, vowed never to marry a
pastor, and has been contentedly married to her husband, a worship pastor, for
seventeen years. Privileged to be both a biological and adoptive mother, Rachel
resides in Wisconsin where she avidly consumes coffee, sushi, and novels–
preferably at the same time.

Sometimes it’s a long journey from idea to publication. What was your winding road like?
Writing a novel began on somewhat of a whim. As much as I loved being a stay at home mom, I felt like my creativity was drying up and I couldn’t shake this story brewing inside of me. So in a rather feverish way, I began to write. 
I soon realized, however, that even though I could write, (didn’t my English degree prove it?) I had no idea how to write a novel.  After attending a couple of conferences and establishing myself as a freelance writer (Chicken Soup for the Soul books, MomSense and other publications) I kept writing, kept improving the story. Then ironically, providentially, I began experiencing some of the themes compelling me to write—namely infertility and adoption. 
After adopting our precious baby girl from China, and after not looking at my manuscript for almost three years, I brushed it off and read it with fresh eyes. Did it need work? Oh yes. Was it redeemable? I thought so. So I rolled up my sleeves and dove back in, equipped with clarity that comes from shelving a project for so long, and experience. 
From first draft to publication the process took twelve years, with lots of starts and stops and rejections. But I guess that’s how much time I needed to find my voice and get the story right.
Tell about your new release Mother of My Son.
student Amber Swansen gives birth alone. In desperation, she abandons the
newborn, buries her secret, and attempts to get on with her life. No matter how
far she runs, she can’t escape the guilt. Years later and still haunted by her
past, Amber meets Beth Dilinger. Friendship blossoms between the two women, but
Beth’s son is a constant, painful reminder to Amber of the child she abandoned.
When heartache hits, causing Amber to grapple with the answers to life’s deeper
questions, Beth stands by her side. Yet just when peace seems to be within
Amber’s grasp, the truth of her past and the parentage of Beth’s son comes to
light and threatens to shatter not only their worlds, but the life of the
teenager they both love.
Where did you get the idea for the story?
evening I caught a news story on TV about a high school girl who gave birth in
the bathroom during prom, put the baby somewhere, (I don’t remember where) and
went out to dance again. Being a new mom myself, the birth experience was still
pretty fresh in my mind and I thought how in the world does someone do such
a thing?
What kind of home life does she come from? What was her mindset?
What would become of her? I also began to grapple with questions like: Is God’s
grace sufficient to cover all sins? How do we rid ourselves of the guilt from
the past? This story haunted me and prompted a lot of questions—a great place
to start for a writer.
Where do you find time to write? How do
you juggle everything in your schedule?
son was a baby when I wrote the first draft so naptime equaled writing time.
Now he’s thirteen and no longer naps, (nor does my eight-year-old daughter or my
husband for that matter) but I still tend to write in bursts. This isn’t advice
really, just my reality. My goal is 1000 words a day, a mediocre goal for many
writers, but I can’t stop myself from editing along the way. Truthfully, some
days I write for eight hours other days, ten minutes. The key is, I love to
write, and we somehow manage to find time for what we love. 
What’s one word of advice you’d give to
someone just starting out on the writing road?
Listen to writers who’ve gone before you and listen to their stories. Listen to
conference instructors and agents and editors. Listen to the news. Listen to
conversations around you. Listen to what’s stirring in your heart. Listen to
the whispers of the Holy Spirit. Listen to the word of God. Should you listen
and heed every voice? Of course not, but still, listen, listen, listen.
Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest…what’s
your favorite social media and why?
leaves me feeling like an ADD homemaking disaster, Facebook has definite perks
but also plenty of drama, so I guess that leaves Twitter. Short, simple, direct,
Twitter. Does face-to-face over a cup of coffee count? If so, I’ll take that.  
Where can readers keep up with your
writerly exploits?
At my website: Rachel Allord
And be sure to check out the Mother of My Son book trailer HERE or purchase a copy at Amazon.

Author Interview ~ Joy DeKok

Joy and her husband Jon live on 35 acres of field and forest. Joy loves riding the land on her John Deere Gator with her husband and puppies, Sohpie & Tucker. She also wanders the land, journal in hand, ready just in case the words are ready to be written. Joy is the author of a devotional (soon to be re-released!), and three children’s books. She is an author coach, and professional speaker. Joy and Jon travel in their recently purchased RV to visit family and friends or sit by Lake Superior for writing inspiration.

Joy, Rain Dance is an amazing book with deep spiritual truths in it. How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?

I was cleaning house and the idea whispered across my heart and mind and lingered. I told God I thought it was a great idea and I hoped He’d find someone to write it. I resisted putting my heart and soul on the page for a year. Finally, I knew God had an author – me.

I loved how you portrayed Jonica’s spiritual journey. Her emotions were so nakedly honest. Tell us how you developed her character and Stacie’s.

Once I opened my heart to being the author of this novel, I realized the characters were completely fleshed out in mind. I knew them inside and out. I recognized their voices and let them tell the story.

Jonica is me. I know that’s against all the writing rules for the author to intrude this way but when I tried to give her another voice it came out stilted and fake. I confess, one of my fears was if the readers didn’t like Jonica, it meant they didn’t like me. As the story grew, I realized it didn’t matter. I had to be true to the story I’d been given and to the characters.

Stacie broke my heart as I released her to the page. I prayed readers would like her best. They do. I also prayed I wouldn’t hurt anyone who had chosen abortion and regretted it. The abortion chapter is intense. I ached writing it and wondered if I should take it out. After asking a couple of the “Stacies” in my life, they told me, “Keep it. Please tell people what it’s like.”

Did anything strange or funny happen while researching or writing Rain Dance?

One of my closest friends is post-abortive. I was writing the chapter where Stacie needs her friend and when Jonica says, “Where are you?” Stacie answers, “In your driveway.” I had no sooner written those words when my friend called and we had the same two sentence conversation. I opened the door with goosebumps skimming over my skin.

You’ve written a non-fiction book and two children’s books prior to Rain Dance. Why fiction? What sparked the change?.

Well, I wrote Rain Dance before the kids books and self-published it. I’ve always wanted to write for children and was at the point where I thought I was ready when Rain Dance made itself at home in my heart. When I was finished the kids books flowed like melted butter over hot corn.

Do you consider yourself a visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use?

Interesting question. I’m a visual learner so I expected to utilize visual aids in my writing. I spent time looking for the faces of my characters online and in magazine ads. No one came close. Once the novel was finished, I was at lunch with friends and a woman I’d never met before joined us. She sat down and we met and I nearly started crying. She was Stacie in the flesh. Everything about her. Although Jonica is me, she is not me physically. I’ve not met her in person yet.

All my visuals are alive in living color in my imagination. It’s like a constant movie up there. I can fast forward or rewind whenever I need to. I can see every detail in their homes, their closets, and pantries.

What was the most difficult part of writing Rain Dance you?

Putting all that pain out there. I’d pace my office and try to talk myself out of it. I wanted to write for fun. This was hard. I was also afraid of rejection from publishers and there was a lot of that.

How do you overcome it?

I got the thing written and I sent off proposals. I got lots of form rejections but a few personal ones that made all the difference. Two editors from large houses and two agents encouraged me to self-publish. Jon wrote a check and I said yes to yet another hard thing. Then, as part of a small online writers group, I asked my cyber friends to read the book and consider reviewing it for me. I forgot Joan Shoup had started Sheaf House Publishers – she contacted me saying she loved the book and wanted to publish it. Suddenly, all the fear of the pain and rejection were for a purpose.

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?

I love my office. I spend a lot of my writing time here. However, when my life of solitude gets too quiet, I head for Applebee’s, Dunn Brothers, or the Apache Mall food court for lunch.

I love observing people (some call it eaves dropping – I call it research!). They inspire me and sometimes make me laugh out loud. If I chose the food court, Barnes & Noble is right there and a brief walk through is always inspiring to me.

You do a lot of speaking. What does a typical day look like for you when you’re writing?

I used to be a night owl. I tried diligently to change that for years. It took getting two of the cutest puppies in the world to make it happen. They wake us up at around 6AM. After taking them out, Jon fixes our coffee and we’re up.

A normal writing day includes marketing my books as well as getting new projects moving ahead. If I have a speaking event, my day also includes either prepping new material or reviewing my current topics. I’m also an author coach and have clients throughout most days. I’m learning to write in the spaces between. I’ve always had a really hard time concentrating if I’m distracted – however, I’m retraining myself to fall into the writing if I get a few minutes here and a few more there. I say it’s a little like learning to be a Navy Seal – they are trained to sleep when they can – deeply. I am attempting to train myself to go deeply into the writing without any notice and return to it the same way when interrupted. It’s not easy but it’s working.

Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Did the scenes in Rain Dance flow freely from your veins or do you have to wrangle each word out?

Once I started writing, it happened fast. Two full chapters a day were my norm and sometimes four. I didn’t let myself do too much editing until I was done although I always read one or two of the previous chapters each day to prime my writing engine. I wrote four to five days a week. Then, I edited. Some chapters (this is not bragging because no one is more surprised than me!) are exactly the way they came out the first time. Others took more time in the refining process.

Will we see more adult fiction from you?

Yes. I’m working on what I thought was a novel and appears to be a series. Most of book one is written.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

Write from the heart.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Write the story or stories you’ve been given as they are given to you.

Learn from reading – go ahead and read the best and what some consider the worst.

Enjoy the editing process – this is when you can play with the story . . . chat with your characters and flesh out details.

Most of all believe this: Sometimes you really can trust yourself.

Rain Dance

Jonica and Stacie meet in a doctor’s office at a critical turning point in each of their lives. Jonica is ending unsuccessful infertility treatments and accepting the death of her dream of having children. Stacie has come to schedule the termination of her pregnancy so she can further her dream of a career in law.

Tentatively the two young women reach out to each other. Can they forge an uncommon friendship that will forever transform their future?