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Letters to Literary Christian

  • Tim Farrington, May 25, 2007: Author of The Monk Upstairs >>read more
  • Kris Christensen, July 19, 2004: New Journal >>read more
  • Ursa, March 28, 2004: How to be a writer? >>read more
  • Albert Haley, July 3, 2002: Promoting art is an uphill battle to gain an audience among Christians. >>read more
  • Albert Haley, June 18, 2002: I've been teaching creative writing at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas, and the Literary Christian website is something I can definitely use with my classes. >>read more
  • Jim McClelland, April 16, author of a book about his baby son Loren’s transplant. >>read more
  • Mary Stafford, December 4, 2001: I have written approximately 20 articles and devotionals. >>read more

Web Master

Judy Alexander is the author of the novel Desert Medicine, webmaster for the Literary Christian web site, and a photographer.


Dear Ms. Alexander,

I happened upon your Literary Christian website while tracking Vinita Hampton Wright, whose work I love. (I was honored that my blurb of her recent novel, Dwelling Places, was placed on its back cover.) It is not my usual practice to reach out in so presumptuous a fashion, I am actually pretty severely semi-monastic, but your site struck a chord. Faith in quality fiction feels very close to the heart of what I am about as a writer. My work is rooted in my own faith, a saturation which God willing comes through somewhat. But I often feel completely invisible at that level.

Probably the most immediately accessible of my books in this sense would be The Monk Downstairs, a sort of love story between a single mother and a guy who flees his monastery in the midst of a crisis of faith after twenty years. I have recently published a sequel to it entitled, shockingly enough, The Monk Upstairs. Both books are on the razor's edge of the tension between the two sisters of Bethany, Mary and Martha, the contemplative and the active--the epigraph to the first book is from Luke 10, when Jesus' visits their home and chides Martha for begrudging her sister, who simply sits at Jesus' feet and doesn't help with the hospitality, her devotion, for "Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her." The book's working title for years, indeed, was That Good Part, but I couldn't get it past the marketing people at HarperSF.

I don't know where I'm going with this. I just wanted to say hello, and thank you, for your immensely heartening work in creating a forum and context for voices crying in the wilderness with a certain degree of art.

Tim Farrington

Washington Post, May 27, 2007, book review of Holy Matrimony by Tim Farrington

Hi Judy,

Shortly after deciding to co-found a new literary journal, Rock & Sling, I was pleased to find your site. The essays on your site deal directly with many of the concerns that led my co-editors and I to found Rock & Sling.

Our goal with Rock & Sling is to provide a place for writers and readers to share literary poetry and prose, as well as art, that nudges up against Christian faith. I've attached our letter of introduction and our submission guidelines. (Please let me know if you have any trouble opening them). We are excited to have funding that will see us through our first two issues, and now we are actively seeking submissions of writing and artwork. I hope you'll consider submitting work and passing this information on to others.

You can also view our website at www.rockandsling.org . Here, you'll find more information about our vision, guidelines for our upcoming poetry contest, and subscription information, as well as biographical information on the editors. We would love, with your permission, to add literarychristian.com to our links page.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

In faith,

Kris Christensen
Editor, Rock & Sling

March 28, 2004
Subject: Writing help

Where do you start? I admit most of my writing is poetry, I have a few short stories. How do you know if you're any good! Also, I'll admit most of my stuff is not Christian....not bad mind you, just no reference to Christianity. I will look at the webpage.

Thank you for talking to me!

March 29, 2004
Subject: Writing help

Dear Ursa,

I had encouragement from a fourth-grade teacher, but after that I didn't do much creative writing for years. I'd dabble now and then, but "real life" would intervene, and I'd try to get back to a more practical life. I did discover that there was a practical way of using my writing talent, so I became a business writer.

But how did I get into creative writing? I'd always had this nagging feeling that that's what I was supposed to do. In my first marriage, my husband thought that I was just wasting time, and wasting my MBA degree, so I set my creative writing aside. But when that marriage ended, I re-evaluated my desire to write creatively. I took a community college course in short story writing. The instructor of that course really encouraged me and convinced me that my talent was worth developing. I joined a writing critique group that was formed by some members of that class. I wrote short stories (none published.) Then I attended a writing conference and found out that few editors buy collections of short stories: novels are what they want. So I decided to write novels. And now I'm
working on my third one.

I wish I could make my writing career be more inspirational, by telling you that I've seen my writing published in a slew of literary journals and by New York publishers. I've had a couple of novel excerpts published in some very small journals, but I have yet to sell a novel.

Yes, the rejection has hurt, and sometimes had laid me flat out on my back in bed, and yet, I still feel that I'm doing the right thing. I can see improvement in my fiction writing. I've taken other community college courses and attended other writing conferences, and each time I learn something that helps me improve as a writer. I'm convinced that someday I'll write well enough to see my words published.

And I've learned to be both artistic and practical: I set aside an early morning hour or two almost every day to write in my journal or work on a novel. The rest of the day is devoted to family (I have a husband and one son at home (my older son is in college)) and to earning a living (I have two business writing clients which generate a good income). And church and volunteer work. I have a full life, but when I start feeling overwhelmed and practical concerns start to cut into my fiction writing time, I know it' s time to reevaluate my priorities and cut back in some area, so that I can still maintain that early morning writing time.

Every writer you talk to will have a different system that works for her. The biggest step is not trying to come up with a schedule - the biggest step is to take your God-given talent seriously and commit the time, effort, and money necessary to develop that talent.

The most disturbing thing I found out about my creative writing was, despite that first creative writing teacher's encouragement, I was NOT very good at writing, and had so very much to learn. This was a terrible blow to my ego, and I was disgusted with God for awhile, because I'd naively thought that if God gave me a gift, it wouldn't take the world very long to see that fact. Instead, I found out that God gives some of us the rawest possible talent, and it is up to us to work and work at developing that talent into something useful. I'm 15 years into writing seriously, and just recently discovered
that I know close to nothing about plot development, one of the building blocks of novel writing, so I took a screenwriting course to learn how to write a tighter story. I learned so much in that class, but I also came away feeling depressed, because I was disgusted with myself for not knowing something so basic earlier. Now that my disappointment in myself has lifted, I can begin to apply this valuable knowledge to my current writing.

That's pretty much the writing journey for me: feelings of grandeur alternating with feelings of disgust with my amateurishness. If you can keep writing despite your vacillating moods and periods of self-doubt, I believe you can learn to be a wonderful writer.

If the creative life is such an emotional roller coaster, why do I keep writing?

1. I feel that I'm called to write. I still feel this even despite the lack of concrete evidence, such as an agent's or editor's interest.

2. Writing is therapeutic for me. Many times I don't know what I think or feel until I write it down.

3. I feel closer to God when I write. Sometimes writing is like prayer, and I feel God's presence.

4. Writing helps me mature and grow as a person. After all these years of refusing to quit my creative writing, I deeply understand concepts like perseverance and faith.

So, my blessings on your writing life.

Step one: Dare to be a bad writer. If you're willing to write pages and pages of truly terrible, amateurish dribble, then you have what it takes to learn to be a great writer.


July 3, 2002

Dear Judy,

Don't feel too discouraged by what might seem like a lack of interest in the essay contest. Here are a few thoughts about that:

I wager if you had been sponsoring a contest for best story, you would have received many entries. Lots of people have stories in their drawers waiting to be sent out. Few write essays – especially ones reflecting on their art. Of course, that's the whole point. They should do a little thinking about the why and wherefore of their writing.

I've noticed in many things I've undertaken vis a vis promoting art that it's an uphill battle to gain an audience among Christians. Part of the problem is that such endeavors are foreign to them. Another problem is that like all Americans, Christians are extremely busy and there are a host of competing (usually less demanding) entertainment options (the let's stay home and watch a video syndrome). Now that I'm aware of this struggle for their attention, I've decided I'll have to work harder than I'm normally inclined to with such things as advertising and individual invitations. Just one example of this: every year the Conference on Christianity and Literature sponsors a writing contest for undergraduate writers. The only way I can get my best writing students to enter is if I tell them that I will mail their work in for them. Even after that, on average I have to nag each student 2-3 times to bring the story or poem by my office before it actually comes to pass.

I used to think that because I was undertaking to do something to enrich and deepen the Christian faith that this meant "God is on my side" and that automatically meant "I will see bountiful results." I now realize what a naïve set of assumptions I was working from. I think about how even Jesus's popularity ebbed and flowed. Most of the crowds who followed him apparently were sensationalists who wanted to see a trick or a cure and then were gone. I've decided that trying to be a literary Christian means struggling on the basis of faith (not evidence or tons of positive reinforcement). I do it because it's the right thing to do. God will decide how to use it and maybe it won't be in my lifetime. Another example from my recent life: I just taught a workshop on creative writing called "Matters of Spirit" in Ouray, Colorado. I was the fiction writer; Scott Cairns was the poet. Scott is the best or close to the best Christian poet in the country. He had three students. I had two. Now that looks pretty demoralizing, doesn't it? But I had to decide that this game is not about numbers and so did the woman sponsoring the workshop who took a loss on the whole thing. I told myself I'm going to do my best for my 2 students and give them all kinds of attention they wouldn't receive in a normal workshop of 12-15. And nothing changed the fact that I was in a spectacular setting (in the San Juan mountains), teaching what I loved, with a chance in the afternoons to pick Scott's brain and learn more about poetry.

I think your website is valuable and needed. The hardest concept I have conveying to my students isn't anything about writing technique. It's that there's such a thing as genre writing and then there's writing for the ages which we call "literary." The students tend to be skeptical of this distinction as if it's some elitist plot. One of the huge drawbacks of postmodernism is a "leveling out" (Kierkegaard's phrase for it) of everything. It's all "whatever", as if all creative expression because it's sincerely meant is equally good and who am I to judge? Your site can help students and others see the light: that there is writing by writers who invest MORE in every way in its production (time, energy, soul, originality) and therefore this writing has more staying power than the latest Danielle Steele opus.

I will promote literarychristian.com wherever I can. As I mentioned, I'll start this fall with my Fiction Workshop and have my students visit, read, and respond. I'll also be going to a regional meeting of the Conference on Christianity and Literature in Tulsa the first weekend in October. If you have a flyer with the latest info on the site, I can hand them out to that audience (about 100 will attend). You could send the flyer to me by e-mail and I can print the copies myself.

By the way, I assume you were at the Calvin Festival since that's where I found your flyer? The first time I went to the Festival it was the greatest a-ha experience of my writing life. That's when I thought there are others like me and also that I was for the first time finding writers who could serve as role models. That was back in 1996 when Madeleine L'Engle and Annie Dillard were the featured writers. My second a-ha experience was finding Image magazine on a rack at a Barnes and Noble around the same time. Who knows what other surprises may be further down the road? It is a journey worth making, and it's good to know that we're not doing it alone.

Blessings - al

Albert Haley
Writer In Residence
Assistant Professor of English
ACU Box 28252
Abilene Christian University
Abilene, TX 79699

June 18, 2002

Dear Editor:

I have deliberately waited until after the June 15 deadline to send you my essay below as I do not wish to be considered for the contest prize. I already own and have enjoyed Ron Hansen's Faith and Fiction and would rather not compete with someone else who might like to acquire the book.

I do want to convey to you that I am very grateful and excited about your website (I picked up your handout at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing in April). For the past five years I've been teaching creative writing at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas, and the Literary Christian website is something I can definitely use with my classes, having them explore the site and discuss what they find there.

I am also very happy that you have provided through the contest an opportunity to encourage thinking about how the fiction writer who is a Christian should proceed. I've been considering this issue for 20 years, which is how long I've been a Christian. When my conversion came my writing changed nearly overnight but not necessarily for the better. Everything was so easy before: I just wrote dark stories of hopeless, emotionally stunted people and my agent and the editors she dealt with loved it and printed the stories in large circulation magazines. When I changed (and I was clumsy about it, I must admit), I no longer found much interest from the literary establishment in publishing my work.

Over the years, I've tried to eliminate dogmatic presentation, and I have crept back into publication, though its mostly been at high quality Christian literary journals such as Image and Mars Hill Review. I am satisfied with this, especially since I am now able to have a part in training a new generation of writers,. These young people may be the ones who go out and write the stories and novels that have a larger cultural impact. In the end, I think one has to say being a Christian writer isn't about mega-sales and appearances on Oprah. It's about doing the work prayerfully and to the best of one's ability.

Thanks for this opportunity to share my thoughts.


Al Haley

Albert Haley
Writer In Residence
Assistant Professor of English
ACU Box 28252
Abilene Christian University
Abilene, TX 79699

04-16-02, Jim McClelland, author of a book about his baby son Loren’s transplant:

“Loren was born April 6, 1998, and almost immediately was sent to Arkansas Children’s hospital. More on than off, Loren spent the next 4 1/2 months in the hospital....Loren was diagnosed with Hurler Syndrome, with a life expectancy for 5 to 10 years. From the start, Kim referred to Hurler Syndrome as a termial illness. I didn’t really think of it that way because of treatment possibilities....My stupidity was pointed out on Friday, September 17, 1999 when Kim informed me that Loren had rejected the transplant...Strangely, I’m not blaming God for this one.... We were allowed to make it to the finish line, only to be harshly slapped back to the beginning again. If the current course of treatment is unsuccessful, we will be forced to make decisions no person should be required to make.”

To read more about baby Loren, go to:http://www.crystalisland.com/loren/journal.html

12-04-01, Mary Stafford: I have written approximately 20 articles and devotionals over the past eighteen months. I have my own website www.daybreakmsm.org where my work can be reviewed. My focus now is how to go about getting my website and my writing exposed more effectively.

posted July 27, 2007
Judy Alexander, webmaster