RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Sherry Carter’s excuses for not writing ended with her layoff from Lockheed Martin.
A biomedical engineer, Carter trained the Space Shuttle Columbia astronaut crew for three years to test their physical responses to space. In 2003, she watched in horror the day she worked the ill-fated shuttle landing at Johnson Space Center.
The next year, her mother died of cancer and then her father-in-law died.
Carter drew from those tragedies to write “Sheltered during the Storm” and to help many others in her church who were dealing with tragedy.
But Carter, of Baytown, Texas, was stunned when it won first prize in the Bible study category at the 2007 Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference May 20-24 at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.
“I never wrote anything before!” Carter said in a trembling voice.
“All I can say is, These are God’s words, not mine. He dictated so fast, I couldn’t type fast enough. I’m His workbench, and that’s all I ever care to be,” she said, her humble and grateful acceptance delighting the audience.
At least one publisher was eager to meet with Carter after her piece also rose to the top among 200-plus entries in all categories, from novels to non-fiction, for overall excellence.
About 370 writers from 33 states and Canada attended the conference -– some of whom might consider a trip to outer space more likely than being pursued by a publisher.
Leonard Goss, senior acquisitions and development editor at LifeWay’s B&H Publishing Group, struck the recurring theme of the importance of excellence amid trends even among Christian publishers to adapt content to a culture contemptuous of Christianity, as well as rising illiteracy with fewer people reading books.
“All is not lost -– not yet,” Goss said, noting that God chose the medium of books to proclaim His Kingdom.
“God spoke creation into existence, and this is the very first demonstration we have that words are very powerful things,” Goss said. “[All of] the cataclysmic movements of human history have been led by words.”
For Christian screenwriters, media pundit Ted Baehr noted that only 300 of the 300,000 scripts written each year in Hollywood become films -– but the ones that succeed are more likely than ever to have positive Christian content because that’s what the public wants.
Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission and its Movieguide publication, said each week 83 percent of theater seats go empty, while four out of five churches are full. And top industry executives are doing the box office math that movies featuring biblical values make the most money, he said.
Disney Chairman Dick Cook has said the studio would be removing all cursing and sexual content from future films, Baehr said, quoting Cook as saying, “You’ve shown us that it’s not only morally responsible, but it’s financially beneficial.”
Baehr arrived at Ridgecrest directly from a month-long European tour speaking on family values and ways to protect children from the media.
Invited by diverse groups, including the European Parliament, the World Congress of the Family, filmmakers in Munich and a group of conservative Muslims, Jews and Christians, Baehr said he saw an unprecedented European drive to redeem the media.
En route to Ridgecrest, Baehr received a letter from DreamWorks chief Jeffrey Katzenberg asking for more “of these” scripts with uplifting themes and clean content.
It is a chance for the church to reclaim its roots as the leader in the theology of art, Baehr said.
Author Jim Watkins, acquisitions editor for Wesleyan Publishing House, shared biblical encouragement in the face of fewer publishers hiring fewer authors for fewer projects.
“I … am … a giant killer,” Watkins intoned in a David and Goliath spoof, with David in the role of a writer.
“We need to slay some of the giant misconceptions about editors,” though they may seem to be “bloodthirsty Philistines,” Watkins cracked as he passed out stones as a tangible reminder.
“There is a desperate need for humor that heals and redeems rather than hurts and demeans,” he said.
Watkins’ facetious take on the Bible story paralleled the title of his latest book: “Communicate to Change Lives.” Writing, he said, is “just too hard” for it not to have an impact.
For participant Barbara Wheatley of Chesapeake, Va., the conference gave her confidence to tap her other gifts and begin the daunting task of a speaking ministry alongside the book she is writing, despite some overwhelming obstacles.
“I have dyslexia and ADD, which have prevented me from ever writing,” Wheatley said. “And finally, two years ago at age 48, I was tested and I have a very low IQ and a seventh-grade reading level.”
Conference founder Yvonne Lehman, author of 45 novels, dressed in theatrical prison stripes, complete with a ball and chain, said, “We all feel shackled, like we’re in prison.
“I want you to give all that to the Lord,” Lehman said. “You are here to learn, and become, and do what He wants you to do.”
The next Christian Writer’s Conference sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources will be Oct. 7-11 at Ridgecrest and is intended for writers who have attended writers’ conferences (not just at LifeWay) in the past and have a novel in progress. For more information, contact Ron Pratt, national event planner for LifeWay Conference Centers, at 615-251-2065 or by e-mail at [email protected].