Interview by Nathan Sturgis (PWR class of 2014)
As a former editor for Wesleyan House Publishing, what is something you have learned as an editor that has affected your writing?
The greatest lesson was that authors have to write for readers, not for themselves. So often we write what we want to say, but readers buy books because they want to learn something or solve a problem for themselves. You think of the reader’s needs first.
How has being a pastor and a pastor’s kid affected your writing?
I think being a pastor has given me a greater insight into the struggle people have to live the Christian life. It’s made me more compassionate. Many writers gain that insight through other means, but for me it came by seeing and hearing the problems that people face every day in their work, marriages, raising kids, and facing illness. I try very hard to be helpful and encouraging as a writer, never judgmental or didactic.
What was your first byline–the first piece of writing you had professionally published?
It was a brief article, maybe 600 words, for a Sunday school take-home paper called Vista. It took me weeks to gather the courage to submit the article, and I was fortunate to have my very first submission accepted. That really encouraged me to keep writing. I had a long dry spell after that, but that early acceptance kept me going.
What is your favorite book that you’ve published?
Of the books I’ve written, it’s Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering. There’s a good deal of my personal journey in the book, and it was an opportunity to think through some of the difficult experiences in my life. Of the books I acquired at Wesleyan, my favorite is The Ultimate Blessing by Jo Anne Lyon. She writes about such interesting exploits in directing a global relief organization, and powerfully makes the point that God himself is our ultimate blessing — not the things he provides.
What books have influenced your life?
I really have a hard time narrowing this down to a small list, but among the most influential have been C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, The Scarlet Letter, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, and The Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke.
Name a book, nonfiction or fiction, that is not directly about writing but has taught you something about writing.
I love the Father Dowling mysteries, and anything by Ralph McInerny. Few writers have a clearer, simpler voice paired with such an expansive vocabulary. I think reading McInerny’s work is what finally made the concept of voice clear to me. His stuff seems breezy, but it’s actually very clever, erudite, and tightly written.
As an acquisitions editor for DustJacket Books, what kind of books are you looking for?
We’re a publishing services provider, so we help authors in any genre get their books into print. I’m interested in authors who have a very clear sense of their message, their audience, and have at least the start of a platform–because I think they’re the most likely to be successful in the publishing venture.
In a nutshell, what knowledge or skills do you want to pass on to conference attendees?
I hope conferees will come away with a stronger sense of who they are as writers. Not everyone will be — or needs to be — an NYT best-selling author. But if you know what you’re trying to say and to whom, you can do something meaningful with your words.
Lawrence will be teaching two sessions at the conference:
Write Grace: Impacting Others Through Your Words
Write from the Heart: Finding Your Voice, Refining Your Message, and Moving Others to Accept Truth