Interview by Nathan Spurgis (PWR class of 2014)
What inspired you to start writing devotionals?
I needed to dig deeper into the Word. I began writing devotions to deepen my relationship with God. That was it, plain and simple. Before I dared write FOR God I knew I needed a deeper relationship. Since we are responsible to the Father for what we say and teach, I wanted to be sure I my doctrine was sound. I needed to learn and grow in spirit and in knowledge. Devotions were the perfect way to study the word. My early devotions were only meant for me. As I grew in my conviction to be a Christian writer, devotions became the perfect outlet to learn to write well. Devotions required me to write tight, concise, within a word count, and to convey a full story and application of the scripture within that word count. I still teach at conferences, that if you want to learn to really write well, learn to write devotions.
Currently, you are the co-founder of ChristianDevotions.us and the executive editor. You are also the managing editor for Straight Street Books and SonRise Devotionals, which are imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, a publishing company you founded as well. How did all of those writing opportunities come about?
Well, first of all, I only served as very small part of the founding of these things. They are the brainchild of Eddie Jones. Eddie and I met at the Blue Ridge Conference and became friends. We never imagined God would call us into a ministry together. So, along with our spouses, we simply said yes to what we felt God was calling us to do.
Christian Devotions came first and through that desire to spread the Word of God and open doors for new writers to gain their first publishing credits, God blessed the work. In 2008, when the publishing industry began to crash alongside the economy, Eddie and I made the announcement we would begin a publishing company. Large publishers told us to our faces we were crazy. Houses were closing; editors were out of work. The industry was crumbling. But for us, God continued to impress the importance of obedience. With a bold trust, we responded to those individuals, “God never calls us to retreat. He calls us to advance.” And so we did. In the midst of professionals shaking their heads and waiting for our demise, we advanced in faith, launching the first three small devotionals out of Christian Devotions. (Just an FYI, that first little 30-day devotional sold, and sold, and sold for five years. It still sells — which to us is confirmation of the task God called us to do.)
As the work grew, we felt it best to separate the publishing from the 501c3 of Christian Devotions, so Eddie and his wife, Bennie, took charge of Lighthouse. Though the two ministries are now separated, we still consider LPC an arm of the ministry of Christian Devotions.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Outside of writing, I’m an encourager. If I can follow this dream, so can others. My special love is to encourage others. My belief is, regardless of who you are, if you feel the burning passion to write, then that is probably a gift God has blessed you with. It’s up to you to develop the craft and skill. Learn to write, be patient, and realize that even for the best of writers, this is a slow industry. Genres and their popularity appear to be attached to a large “wheel of fortune” wheel that slowly spins. Today may not be your day, maybe not tomorrow, but if you persevere, your slot on the wheel will work its way to the top — your time will come.
And it’s important to remember, your arrival may not be as a published author, rather your work may be meant for the person sitting next to you. Writing is deeper than being published. It’s about changing lives with the words you are guided to craft. When you wait upon the Lord, He will give you wings as eagles — and you will soar.
You have also published a best-selling fictional book, Mercy’s Rain, and have a second book being published soon. How did your experience as a devotional writer impact your fiction?
Without a doubt, writing devotions has taught me to write tight and concise. I believe every writer should learn to write devotions. They require you to find strong words, keep within a word count, and make a clear and concise point in a very short space. Writing devotions prepared me by teaching me to tell a story precisely. When I began fiction, the story fell into place much easier.
Is there any specific type of book you will be looking to acquire at the Taylor University Professional Writing Conference?
I’m looking for deeper devotionals, something other than a niche devotional. I want devotions that take us into the Word without preaching and without TRYING to force them into a niche. Think the depth of Oswald Chambers and that great little devotional Streams in the Desert. There’s a reason these books are around 30 or 40 years later. It’s because they address scripture with an application that can apply daily and to everyone. I want a devotional like that — one that gets us back into the Word the way we need to be. As far as Christian Living books. I want a good story. Good directional material. No memoirs, and we have enough books on cancer and autism. We’re looking for good work that addresses current issues from a strong Christian worldview and again, without preaching. We’d love to see it cross the lines from Christian Books to secular and guide non-believers.
In a nutshell, what knowledge or skills do you want to pass on to conference attendees?
First, I want conferees to approach their writing with a teachable spirit and a willing heart. I want them to learn that writing is a gift and not an entitlement. It requires hard work and practice. I want them to learn to wait on the Lord rather than rush into self-publishing out of desire to be published over using good business sense. Second, I’d love to pass on the importance of practicing and honing the craft. Our first works are rarely our best, and we don’t achieve best by writing one piece and assuming it’s perfect. If I can teach writers that the work is what makes the piece good, then I’ve taught them something valuable and something that will help them not only push to publication but keep moving through manuscript after manuscript.
What books have influenced your life?
On learning the craft: Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. Bird by Bird: Some Instruction on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.
Influence on life: Red Letter Prayer by Bob Hostetler. Experiencing God by Henry and Richard Blackaby
In fiction: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
Please name a book, nonfiction or fiction, that is not directly about writing but has taught you something about it.
The Pawn by Stephen James (talk about telling a story — Stephen can weave a story with characters that leap from the pages. I learn tons about storytelling from reading his work.)
Cindy will be teaching two sessions at the conference:
Say What? Knowing the Lingo
Turning Personal Experience into Parables