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Storybook setting unravels mystery of writing careers

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Springtime in the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains is a setting beautiful enough to inspire the Great American Novel. Add the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writer’s Conference, and the publishing possibilities are as bountiful as the view.

More than 270 writers from 31 states gathered at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina for the annual mountaintop literary retreat — five days of instruction, inspiration and even some humorous twists on writing.

The perennial gathering is the brainchild of novelist Yvonne Lehman, who has directed the Blue Ridge Christian Writer’s Conference for more than 20 years. The conference has been held at Ridgecrest for the past five years.

It was clear from her entrance into the lecture hall on the back of a Harley Davidson that Lehman was prepared to try just about anything to fuel the writers’ spirits.

Taking off her helmet as she mounted the stairs to the stage, the diminutive, silver-haired author of 40 books smiled mischievously and quipped: “I’m in the Heaven’s Angels. Last year I came on a camel. It’s like writing. You can experiment with different genres.”

From the basics of writing a query to the realities of publishing, to weaving Christian plots into the intricate edgy nuances that complicate a cozy mystery, established authors, editors and agents offered expertise and insider secrets on the discipline of writing.

A notable lack of self-promotion and an abundant generosity of spirit at the April 17-21 conference would be viewed by the secular world as giving away the keys to the kingdom.

Precisely the point, participants said.

“People say we’re crazy because we share so much information. We are training up our competition,” laughed novelist Deborah Raney, a second-year instructor at the conference. “But we are all about the same goal of bringing people to the Lord. We want to train up our competition.”

Alton Gansky, author of 23 books, gave the gathering many reasons not to be discouraged by a Christian writing career.

Even a poor-selling book can “touch more lives than a megachurch,” Gansky said. “If your work touches one life, then all your hard work has been worth it.

“If God has called you to write, then it is incumbent upon you to do so to meet the needs of the hearts of the people who He is touching,” Gansky said.

Instructors not only advised participants on how to refine their manuscripts, they offered ideas on how to best market their devotionals, poetry, lyrics or prose.

On the heels of the unparalleled success of “The Passion of The Christ,” Hollywood is hungry for Christian scripts, said Ted Baehr, founder of the Christian Film & Television Commission and its MovieGuide periodical.

Christian writers are uniquely positioned to get the story done right and get their scripts published, Baehr said. “There is plenty of opportunity, but you have to be equipped. Learn your craft. Good scripts are scripts that follow the formula,” he said.

Terry Whalin, a magazine writer, nonfiction author and fiction acquisitions editor at Howard Publishing, said writers should look beyond the bookstore in coming up with promotional ideas for their work.

“More than half of the books sold in this country are sold outside the bookstore,” so it is crucial for writers to develop effective marketing plans, said Whalin, creator of Right-Writing.com.

Margaret Ledford didn’t start writing until she was 70. At 74, she was attending her second Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writer’s Conference.

“I felt in my heart I wanted to write but didn’t know how to go about it,” said Ledford, a resident of Spartanburg, S.C. With stories from a 47-year marriage, she hopes to encourage military wives, mothers and grandmothers with her memoirs. She also is brimming with ideas for columns, greeting cards and children’s books and said the conference gave her tangible direction she hopes will turn her inspiration into publication.

John Riddle, a freelance writer, author of 34 books and founder of I Love to Write Day, which encourages schools to hold special writing events annually on Nov. 15, had practical advice for anyone willing to work.

The Delaware native blew his trademark wooden train whistle, tooting every time he thought a salient point might have slipped past the crowd.

Riddle’s amusing sound effects and table full of toys were a testament to the creative mind and an encouragement for writers to embrace and use their eccentric “pile rather than file” nature to their advantage.

Riddle’s unconventional, even frenetic presentation, chock full of practical tips and comedic one-liners, was designed with the serious purpose of teaching writers not to ignore the tools they have at their disposal to capture a reader’s attention. The mission, he said, is too important.

“As a Christian writer,” he said, “You have the opportunity to convey the Word to the world.”

    About the Author

  • Andrea Higgins