Pet Oceans

crab-with-pet-oceans2015

My stuffed crab with her pet oceans.

Yes, those little bottles contain actual sea water from the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Harvested a splash of the Pacific from Santa Cruz, CA, and a swig of the Atlantic from a beach on Tybee Island, GA.

Just thought you should know, in case something like this shows up in one of my stories. Then you can smile and say to yourself, “Hey, I’ve seen that crab!” You’ll be in the know, part of the “in crowd”, the inner circle.

Yep, ’cause you’re my peeps. And that’s how writers roll.

Is Christianity fundamentally at odds with speculative fiction?

I came across an article that made the indirect point that religious readers want stories that reinforce their belief systems, and several elements of speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror, etc) are at odds with that.

In his post Religion in Fiction, David Farland recounts his experience with a writer who wrote a science fiction story for the Mormon market. But the book failed miserably. Why?

By setting his tale in the future, he was hoping to create a sense of wonder. But I suspect that such tales too often challenge the reader’s own views of the future, and religious readers usually don’t want to be challenged.

Religious literature is comfort literature. It reinforces, strengthens, and builds up the reader’s own belief system. That’s the draw. So anything that negates that will tend to disenfranchise readers.

Farland has worked professionally analyzing stories in Hollywood, finding those that would appeal to the most people and bring the most commercial success. I expect his observation is accurate, so far as it goes.

So Where Does That Leave Us?

If the needs and desires of Christian readers are at odds with the heart and soul of speculative stories (wonder, imagination, horror, the gritty reality of human nature), then is Christian speculative fiction doomed? Will it ever attain the success seen by some Christian fiction in other genres?

The conversations I’ve heard and participated in on the topic of Christian speculative fiction often revolve around this dilemma of “religious people don’t want spec fic (or don’t think they’d enjoy it)” and “religious people who like spec fic don’t know good Christian spec fic exists”. Some of us still haven’t given up on the long-term goal of teaching mainstream Christians to embrace spec fic, but the challenge remains: How exactly do we do that?

If religious people want to read entertainment that comforts them and reinforces their beliefs, what does that look like? Is it possible to make this happen with speculative fiction?

Jeff Gerke, original founder of Marcher Lord Press (now Enclave Publishing), often uses the example of stories like “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” to point out the popularity possible for Christian spec fic. Those stories are heart-warming and transformative, yet they contain speculative elements — angels, ghosts, time travel.

Perhaps this is a hint of what is possible.

Divergent movie poster

Divergent movie poster

Personally, I look at some recent dystopian hits like The Hunger Games and Divergent, and see strong, moral characters who rise above dark (and speculative) circumstances despite temptation and fear.

While these stories do not have overt religious themes, the overall values portrayed are often moral ones. I consider this a win for our culture, overall. Books and movies that glorify self-sacrifice, honesty, determination and love will shape society in a more positive direction than those that glorify murder, rape, seduction, manipulation, deception and betrayal.

Your Thoughts Are As Good as Mine!

So share them below! Do you write speculative fiction with a Christian worldview? What are you doing to write things that you think Christian readers would enjoy?

There are examples out there of Christian writers making big success with their books. Which ones have you read? What patterns do you see? Is there a book in you that might fit that pattern?

Hack and slash — for a better life?

A guest post from J. R. Blansett, editor and story collaborator extraordinaire.


Cutting, pruning the plant

I got all active the day before yesterday and tackled my plants. With a knife. For real.

Whacked some in half, whacked off the bottom third, ripped chunks of plants apart, then re-potted the little guys. They look good now.

It’s been said before, many times, many ways

SPotted plantsometimes things are repeated and become cliche because they’re common experience. Because they’re true. “Short-term pain leading to long-term gain” is a concept true of many disciplines. Strength-training. Martial arts. Life-saving surgery. Garden plants.

It looks like it would hurt.

We put down roots, develop connections, grow, fill our pots and look good.  God comes along with a knife and cuts us up, cuts our connections, rips away our old dirt.

It hurts. But we can’t keep growing in that small pot. There’s no room. We’ll  fail and stop thriving eventually. Plants don’t understand that, of course. Sometimes we don’t either, in the moment.

But you need new dirt, re-potting or transplanting, to be that centerpiece fern or that stately ficus. You’ll be leggy and spindly unless someone cuts your trunk and forces you to branch out around the stump.

It doesn’t occur to us, while we’re weeping sap, that God is sitting back and saying, “This is gonna look GREAT!” And even if someone happens to point it out as a possibility, we don’t appreciate it. But we should.

My plants are already snapping out of the shock and redirecting toward the light.

That’s the trick, I guess. Redirecting toward the Light.

Reaching towards the light

Friend of God
Surveying the land - valley overview

Surveying the land from the hilltop

I love that God is so personal, so relational. When asked who He is, He tells Moses:

“Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob…’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.” ~Exodus 3:15

That’s not to say He didn’t collect other names along the way… But He wanted it known that He was the same one that gave a 100-year old man and his 90-year old barren wife a son. He was the same one who took a destitute thief from nothing to wealthy livestock owner. He was the one who showed a man a rich, fertile land and said, “See all of this? I’m making this your inheritance, and one day your descendants will populate the whole thing.”

Hey, What About Me?

At least three times in the bible, Abraham is called the friend of God (2 Chronicles 20:7, Isaiah 41:8, James 2:23). What a concept. To be a close, personal friend of the deity that created the universe.

Relational. Personal.

I think sometimes we overlook that this also means… biased. He loves his friends. Just like you and I are biased towards our friends and tend to stand up against anyone who threatens them. Some people say that makes God a bad guy. But I say that’s silly. You don’t hate your friends for preferring you over your enemies. You love them for it.

I say there’s a simple fix — get to know Him, become His friend. Problem solved.

Pondering the view from the top. What does God have in store for those who love Him?

Pondering the view from the top. What does God have in store for those who love Him?

New Addition for Your Writing Library by James Scott Bell

James Scott Bell is one of the few authors that I collect. While I enjoy his fiction, I especially watch for his how-to books on the writing craft. He’s done his homework, put in the years, tested the waters — you name the metaphor, he’s got it under his belt. (Ha!)

Book Review: “Super Structure: The Key to Unleashing the Power of Story”

Super Structure by James Scott BellWhen I’m writing and get stuck somewhere, I need something to jog me out of the hole. And it varies: I may get stuck at the beginning, the middle or the end. Or even during the process of brainstorming an idea just to determine if it’s got enough story potential to bother with. Now, I’m more of a “pantser” than a “plotter” (if you write fiction, you know what I mean), but even I like to have a general bare-bones structure to guide me. I may scrap it and re-work it as I go, but if I don’t have something to shoot for, I end up bogged down in the Dead Marshes with no way out.

Between JSB’s Plot and Structure, Write Your Novel from the Middle and this newest, Super Structure, I’ve got the tools to get me going again. He packs these books full of examples from real books and movies. Seeing examples helps me a LOT. I also have in my library an array of his other books for specific issues like Conflict and Suspense, Dazzling Dialogue, Revision & Self-Editing, but I reach for these books on structure during the whole process.

Super Structure zooms in on the very essence of what about the shape of a story makes it engaging for readers. You’ll want to earmark the chapter where he strips structure to the bare bones (the five “tent poles” as he calls them) and then describes each piece. On the Kindle version, the table of contents is perfect for jumping right to the spot I need help with. I may yet also pick up the paper copy, as I do like to leaf through them in ways my Kindle doesn’t accommodate.
James Scott Bell - Author Photo

Hey, I’ve actually met the guy

I can’t recommend Jim highly enough. I’ve been in his classes, and he’s fantastic in person, too. Friendly, warm, knowledgeable and with a great sense of humor. Widely read in his preferred genres and many of the classics across the board. Encouraging and an excellent story coach. It’s a treasure when you find someone authentic, and Jim’s the real deal.

Pick up your own copy

Interested? Get a Kindle sample or purchase a copy by clicking on the book covers below.

Super Structure by James Scott Bell Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell How to Write Dazzling Dialogue by James Scott Bell Conflict & Suspense by James Scott Bell Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell

“Evergreen Content” – Myth or Reality?

Evergreens and mountain peaks

There’s a company called “Curata” that puts out some excellent data on the topic of content marketing. Their article Evergreen Content: How to Choose the Best Blog Topics by Sujan Patel (@sujanpatel) was too good to keep to myself.

Content Marketing? I’m Not a Business, I’m a _______

Whether you’re an artist, photographer, author, filmmaker, retail store owner, coffee shop manager, thought leader or any other Internet citizen (Netizen, as we called them back in the day), if you have a blog or social media account, you are in the business of content marketing.

Surprised by that? Think about it.

Every post. Every blog. Every tweet. Every comment you leave on someone else’s blog or Facebook thread. Every photo. Every video.

That’s your content.

And whether you want it to or not, your content is branding you. tweet this

Your content is telling the world who you are, what you stand for.

Your content is marketing you. Now. Today. It’s not just in Soviet Russia anymore.

(That’s a joke. “In Soviet Russia, content markets YOU!” Okay, never mind…)

Key Concept: Your Content is You

Once you embrace the fact, the unavoidable reality, that your content is saying something about you, then you ought to start making some conscious decisions about what you want it to say.

By all means, keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t stop.

But you might get a little strategic about it, ya know?

Try to include some content that will stand the test of time. If you have ANY goals at all (selling your books, artwork, or widgets; landing new clients; spreading your ideas; etc), then this matters. It’s going to make a difference. Maybe the difference.

Start including at least one piece of content each week that has “evergreen” potential. The potential to continue drawing in more potential buyers, sharers, customers, believers in your ideas — day after day, month after month, year after year. Something that won’t be old, out of date, yesterday’s news and last semester’s fashion.

Evergreen.

Evergreen hillside

How do you pick the right evergreen topics for your blog?

Curata’s article says it’s as simple as answering three questions:

  1. Who are your customers?
  2. What topics are your customers interested in?
  3. How can you make those topics stand the test of time?

Who buys your products and/or services? What age are they, what industry are they in, what hobbies do they have, what demographics do they fit?

Think about the conversations you have had with your customers. Think about the things people buy from you and why they give you money. What problem do your products solve for these people? What other problems might they have that you could offer tips or advice about?

What problems do you hear about over and over and over? Those are the topics you can write about that will be relevant long-term.

Those are the things everybody wants to know.

Authors, artists, creatives — what about us?

If you’re a non-fiction author, it’s pretty easy to come up with things that every new reader might want to read, topics that stand the test of time. If you write about productivity, then you would include tips on how to get more done, how to establish more effective habits, and links to the top productivity apps.

That’s easy.

But if you are a fiction author or an artist or other creative type, how does this translate? What is it your fans would enjoy?

If you’re not sure, then here’s your homework assignment:

  1. Start searching. Figure out where your potential fans hang out. Online, in person, find them. Libraries, bookshops, concerts, movie theaters. Websites, social media groups, online forums. Find them. If you have a mailing list or contact with existing customers, readers or fans, use that, too.
  2. Ask questions. Get to know them. What are their favorite things? If you’re an author, don’t only ask them about their favorite books. Find out what TV shows they watch, what music they listen to, where they like to hang out with their friends. What frustrates them the most about life? What do they wish was different? What are their hopes, plans, dreams?
  3. Analyze. Think about what you’re hearing from these people. Is there something you can write, or draw, or create that would touch on something that’s important to them?
  4. Create, and be generous. Make something and start putting it out there. Give some of it away. See what resonates. Do more of that. Keep trying new things.
  5. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Look at the folks who are doing it well. Think about who you enjoy online and what it is that you like. Here’s some of my favorites:

The sky is the limit, friends. Blast off!

Evergreen sky

 

Well, go on! Do your homework, create some evergreen content, and start making new customers and fans!

Do You Self-Edit Reality?

Leadership and Self-DeceptionYes. Yes, you do.

And so do I.

We all look at life through filters. You’ve probably heard the phrase “rose-colored glasses” used to describe people who are looking at life optimistically.

Well, not every filter is as innocent and positive as that. Sometimes, we filter reality in such a way that it gets distorted. We start seeing others — and ourselves — in ways that aren’t realistic, aren’t positive and aren’t healthy.

I won’t get into the psychology of things. There’s a ton of great info out there, and it’s a huge subject. I bring it up because if we start looking for this, we can catch it and make better choices. I will mention one book, simply because it opened my eyes in a big way to one aspect of this phenomenon. Leadership and Self-Deception is an excellent resource, whether for business, personal improvement, or even in the context of church and faith communities.

Case in Point: Feeling Superior on Facebook

Do you know how easy it is to self-edit your own experience so you feel superior to others?

This just happened. Yeah, to me — even me! (Go ahead, look shocked. I’ll wait.)

I discovered an article on a topic of interest. It was a good article, very informative, but there was an obvious piece of information missing. There were many hyperlinks in the article to other sites, but none were obviously linking to the missing info. I guessed at one and found the info I was looking for.

I shared the article on Facebook.

facebook-thread-swirl

Someone commented on my post, saying they wished the article author had included certain information. Somewhere, faintly, I heard, “She’s criticizing the article you shared.”

I wanted to defend myself. I started typing a response:

“The article links to that information.”

As if to say, “There’s nothing wrong with that article. I always post wonderful articles. If you’d read it carefully and followed the links you would have found the information you’re looking for. That’s what I did. You must be lazy. Unobservant. Nothing like me. I thought it was obvious and noticed it right away.”

Now, all this runs through my mind in a tiny sliver of a split second as I type those six words. I almost posted the comment.

And then grace and truth slipped in, and His gentle voice reminded me: “Teddi, you had the exact same experience she did. You looked for that info and was disappointed that the article didn’t have it. Are you really going be terse with her? Possibly make her feel silly for not having figured it out? Imply that it was obvious?”

That convicting whisper went on, “Why don’t you help her instead? Why don’t you admit that you had the same trouble finding the info that she did and share the link to it so she doesn’t have to search it out?”

I edited the comment:

“Hey, I thought that, too. Her article links to a page with that info, but she doesn’t label the link very clearly. It goes here (scroll down a bit for the missing info)…”

And I pasted the link so she wouldn’t have to go look it up herself.

Easily Missed, But Worth Looking For

This behind-the-scenes look at the thoughts that flash through my head isn’t shared to make me look good. I don’t think it does, really. I mean, it’s great that I was nice after the fact, but my first instinct was to selfishly try to look superior and defend what I’d shared.

That’s the first instinct of all humanity.

There are things, deep things and subtle things, that flash across our minds all the time, informing our decisions and influencing what we say and do to others.

Moment by moment, we are choosing who we are. With every word we say. Every deed we do. tweet this

Choose wisely, my friends. Choose wisely.

love-heart

Web Publishing Advice from Teddi Deppner? Who’s She?

teddi-mischief-crop-grayscale

Sure, I understand. I feel the same way.

There are a million million voices talking about online marketing and web publishing and e-publishing out there.

Why listen to me?

Street Creds

I’ve been online for a long time. Had email back in the early ’90s.

Made my own websites from scratch (learned HTML and such) in the mid-’90s. Started building websites for small businesses back in 1995 or so and have done that professionally ever since.

Although I call myself a “geek”, I’m not hardcore. Married to a true geek (programmer, ham radio electronics guy, system admin, LINUX server guru, IP networking, video-over-IP, voice-over-IP, G-E-E-K), I’d say I’m more of a geek by osmosis than by training.

If you want to hear what my clients say about me, you can take a peek at the testimonial page on my web design portfolio site.

What You Can Expect From Me

River, with small boatInternet marketing is a river that I’ve gone fishing in for the past 20 years. I’ve watched the waterline ebb and rise, seen the flotsam and jetsam pass, observed the fish and frogs and insects that inhabit the waters. Seasons have come and gone and come again.

That’s where I’m coming from whenever I pipe up with a comment about trends in online commerce, Internet marketing or general online topics. It’s a world too big for any one person to “know everything”. I only know my little stretch of the river.

But bear with me on this analogy, because it fits: a lot of the things I’ve seen in my corner of the river apply to rivers all over the world. And the longer I watch the patterns, and the more rivers I visit over the course of my life, the more I realize which things I’ve seen are lasting principles — and which things floating by are likely to disappear forever downstream.

I’m a big picture person who notices trends and shares insights about what’s been working and will continue to work.

I’m a mix of perfectionist and pragmatist. I won’t pull any punches about the excellence and effort needed to succeed, but I’m also a big fan of “ship it, already.”

And yes, I like to ramble. And this is my blog. So sometimes, I’m just thinking out loud or sharing the things I love.

All the Standard Disclaimers Apply

Test me out, see if what I say bears out in real life. Your mileage may vary. This website does not constitute professional legal, medical or any other advice and I’m not liable for anything that happens to you while reading it, after reading it or the next time you climb on your roof to clean the gutters.

Still, it is my very earnest hope that you will find information and insights here that make your life better. Even if I can’t and won’t claim any credit for anything that happens.

The world is a very interconnected place. I’m glad to be living on the same planet as you are, at the same time as you, and I hope you have a life journey of purpose, adventure and big dreams come true!

So get out there, and go fishing!

Peaceful river

How to Make a Bad Impression as an Author

Worried fish

This is the last straw. When it happened the first time, I shrugged and kept my mouth shut. Then it happened again in the same week, and I thought, “Wow, that’s too bad.” But when it happened again, I barely curbed the urge to turn to a close friend and rant about this frustrating trend.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about wonderful, earnest aspiring authors with really bad book covers, writing samples and abysmal marketing savvy. Actually, that’s not accurate. It’s more like zero marketing savvy at all. Or perhaps negative 20 on the scale of marketing savvy, because they aren’t just ineffective, they are making a bad impression, and that’s worse than making no impression at all.

My Dilemma

Why am I even talking about this? Why not just keep silent, let these folks stumble about in the dark and find their own way? That’s a good question. It boils down to this: I love people. I love writers. I love artists. I want to see creative people succeed.

There is a great community of writers out there. The variety of people is staggering. Some are highly polished, some still have a lot of writing ahead of them before their work is professional grade (even by my relatively relaxed standards). Some have resources for getting book covers done, some are scrambling to create their own with online graphics generators. Some have money to spend, others don’t. Some have great editor friends, some don’t.

In the wild, wild west of the new publishing world, the new way to go is forward. Onward and upward. Write something, publish it, and see what happens. I get that. I’ll be doing that, too. Making my mistakes and putting out imperfect work, improving as I go. And yet, I feel there is a threshold. A minimum level of quality that is necessary for people — other than your family and friends — to make the decision to buy your product.

An Example: Three Strikes and You’re Out

Here’s an example of how to make a bad impression that goes far enough to lose you a potential customer. This actually happened to me, and it lost me as a potential customer. It lost me as a follower on Twitter.

First, I get a tweet out of the blue from someone I don’t know, inviting me to try their book for free and follow them on Twitter. This was okay. They seemed to have done enough homework that at least they had a book in one of the genres that I read. And they were offering it for free, so there was no financial barrier to giving them a try.

So I clicked the link to the free book on Amazon.com.

Bad impression number one: The book cover was illegible.

bad-impression-book-cover

I’d like to protect the identity of the person I’m talking about here, so I won’t be using any names. Also, this may or may not be the actual book cover of the person I’m talking about, because I’m not trying to single anyone out or hurt anybody’s feelings. But it is representative of the type of issue I’m talking about, because you can’t read the writing on it! At least, not at the size posted on the Amazon book page.

The art was pixelly and amateur, though not as terrible as some. Still, it was obviously not a professional-grade cover.

Strike one.

Bad impression number two: Two punctuation errors in the first sentence of the Kindle sample.

“[Protagonist name] sat in his saddle looking out over the river as his horse quietly drank from the waters edge, it was a serene view.”

Five punctuation mistakes in the first paragraph. It is obvious that if this trend continues I will be cringing and wincing my way through every paragraph of the entire novel. This author does not understand the difference between periods and commas and appears ignorant of the existence of the possessive apostrophe. Ouch.

Strike two.

Bad impression number three: The author’s entire Twitter feed is “Will you try my book?”

The feed of this person, for as far as I was willing to scroll, was entirely full of invitations to others to try the book for free. I went back to check on this, thinking I might have been impatient and given up too early. But no, I rolled my mouse scroll wheel 50 times and did not reach the end of it.

Why would I want to spam my own newsfeed with this? I want to follow people who have feeds full of interesting and entertaining and useful information. Things that inspire me or alert me to new art or stories that I already enjoy. I want to hear funny things that happen to people and see pictures of the places they visit. I want to hear behind-the-scenes info about their stories. If your Twitter feed is all about selling your book, it’s a bad feed.

Strike three.

You’re Out and We Both Lose

When you, as an author, have surrounded yourself with unqualified people who tell you that your work is “good enough” or even “amazing”, you are selling yourself short. Who is unqualified? Anybody who does not know the difference between professional grade work and work that will lose you the very customers you seek. Family members, friends, and fellow aspiring authors are among the worst offenders. Really sweet, gentle professionals who don’t have the heart to tell you that your work needs improvement are a close second.

Again, I’m not saying your stuff needs to look like it was traditionally published. I’m not saying it can’t have a few typos. I’m not saying you have to spend thousands of dollars on editors or book cover designers. There are ways to do this well even while doing it cheap and simple. I’m saying this:

There is a minimum threshold. The competition is fierce. Bad impressions can kill your reputation. tweet this

You need to do this right to make headway.

Is That It? Game Over?

No, it’s not all bad news. I have a few tips to keep you out of the woods, if you fear that you might be headed towards making a bad impression.

Find a trustworthy opinion. No, find three. This may not be the easiest thing in the world, but you can do it. Find someone who knows what they’re talking about and get their honest opinion before you publish. If they’re not available to spend tons of time with you, that’s okay. Ask them for a few minutes of their time once or twice a year. Find someone who is willing to look over your first page or first scene — the beginning of your story is vital to hooking a reader. Find someone who can tell you if your book cover is good enough. This doesn’t have to be a famous author, just someone who has an educated, informed opinion.

Do your homework. There are a thousand and one blogs out there giving excellent tips on publishing good quality work. A few that I’ve found useful:

Never give up. Teach yourself to enjoy the bitter taste of constructive criticism, the sour tang of suggestions for improvement. Even when it comes from people you trust and respect, it may take a while to get past the sting of the improvement process. But this acquired taste is an asset that will serve you well for the rest of your publishing life. Learn to distinguish between the taste of utter garbage (negative opinions that aren’t well-founded and don’t matter) and the taste of qualified and accurate criticism.

Your Turn

Have you ever struggled with what to say when someone asks your opinion of their work?

Have you ever launched something knowing that it was less than perfect, but satisfied that it was “good enough”?

How do you describe the difference between “good enough to publish” and “this might make a bad impression”?

Please post your thoughts in the comments below, or start a discussion on my Facebook page. I’m always looking to refine my thinking about these issues.

Photos: Santa Cruz Surfers

December weather is no obstacle to surfers in Santa Cruz, California. They have their wet suits, their boards, and they’ll get to the water and find the waves.

 Start ‘em Young

We were on a promontory watching some surfers out in the waves, and this kid — maybe 12-14 years old — comes padding up barefoot with his board and starts climbing down the steep cliff to a rocky shelf. He continues out to the end of the shelf, times the approach of a wave and leaps into the ocean. Obviously, he’d done this before. He was completely comfortable doing something fantastic, like it was no big thing.

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No matter your age, no matter your size or shape, there is something you enjoy doing that could become an inspiration to those around you. And with practice and experience, one day you may be doing something that’s no big thing to you, but which others find amazing. What’s your thing? Don’t have one? It’s never too late — or early — to find something. And once you find it, and you get out there doing it, you’ll find that you’re not alone.

There’s a lesson in here somewhere. No matter the weather, no matter the rocks, or the leaps of faith to get where you’re going, do what it takes to follow your dreams.

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Bonus: Free Facebook Cover “Take the Leap”

Free Facebook Cover - "Take the Leap"

(Right-click and save to your computer*)

 

* All images copyright © 2015 Teddi Deppner. All rights reserved. Free Facebook cover download for personal, unmodified, non-commercial use only.

Interview with Atheist-turned-Christian Michael Minot

michael-minot-the-beckoningA few years ago, I came across this fascinating fellow who had the most interesting story. He was an atheist living a successful life as an attorney, enjoying the best things in life, when something happened that turned his world inside out. The shift in his thinking was so dramatic that he says, “It felt like I had been transplanted into a whole other planetary existence but yet I was in the same place I’d always been.”

I hope you’ll enjoy the transcript of the interview below. It is long for a blog post, but Michael has a great story. If you prefer, you can listen to the MP3 audio version (50 minutes).

If his story intrigues you, check out Michael’s book, The Beckoning, which is all about his journey.

The Interview with Michael Minot (transcript)

TEDDI: This is Teddi Deppner, writer at large, interviewing Michael Minot, who is the atheist lawyer turned Christian. I am intrigued by his story and want to hear more. Part of this is for character research for writing fiction and just for general interest purposes. Hi, Michael.

MICHAEL: Thanks for having me.

TEDDI: We’ll jump right in. My first question is what did you think about God before your conversion? How did his existence or non-existence affect your lifestyle?

MICHAEL: Well, in my adult years, and I would consider that to be from college, through law school and a few years beyond, I really didn’t have much of an opinion of God. My focus was not on anything that had to do with spiritual matters. I was focused first on education, and there were other activities, social activities, things I was doing to prepare myself for when I was out of school. So my focus really was not on spiritual matters at all.

I did have a few challenges, people who spoke to me, particularly when I was in college as opposed to law school. So I can’t say that I never thought of spiritual matters, but it was certainly not a focus at all and I dismissed any invitation to think in those terms. I did not grapple with the issue of his existence or non-existence, or whether I was a created being with much intensity at all. I was doing other things.

I had certain things that I wanted to accomplish, and I guess when you have so many minutes in the day and so many days in the week, then when those issues come up, and you think, “Well, if I spend time investigating these type matters (meaning spiritual matters) then that will take away from my ability to do something else. So my decisions were almost always that I made the decision to do the something else, rather than investigate my spiritual background, whether I had one or not, I just wasn’t focused on that at all.

TEDDI: So, did you know Christians at that time? What was your opinion of Christianity as a whole and were there any individual Christians in your life that you knew? And what did you think of them?

MICHAEL: Again, going back to college, I entered college rip-roarin’-ready-to-go as far as doing what you do at college. And I thought that was classes and at the time I was a scholarship athlete. I played tennis before I went to college. I was a nationally ranked player and so I was recruited to go to college on a scholarship. And I was ready to do both of those things as well as other things you do on campus.

And so when I came to school that’s what my focus was and that’s what I thought I would be doing. Those doors were open to me and I went through them. But as a result of being on a campus, there were student ministries. I knew nothing about what a student ministry was, but there were representatives of those student ministries that would occasionally find me and even come out to the tennis courts and want to talk to me after practice. This happened over a four year period maybe four or five times. It wasn’t often at all but there were a number of folks I did meet in that way.

I had some quick responses for them – nothing that was disrespectful or anything – but I just let them know with a few responses to the questions that they had that in the end I had a temporary opinion of all that, at least something that satisfied me for the moment. I didn’t have time or desire to revisit that. So when you ask me my opinion of Christianity as a whole that would be one part of my answer, which is that I really didn’t have much of one.

My second answer is that, not investigating on my own but simply hearing what other people had to say. The hypocrisy of those that were in the news, for example, in 1979 while I was in college Jonestown occurred. It was a disaster where hundreds and hundreds of people died as a result of the actions of a gentleman by the name Reverend Jones. He had the designation “Rev.” in front of his name and that “Rev.” was something that I associated with spiritual matters or Christianity. So there was a degree of fear that I had about Christianity because of instances like that, but especially that. There were other things that were not nearly as severe but they were points of hypocrisy and the media loved to jump on that. So given these instances… my opinion was that I didn’t want to get very close to that because if these were the actions of their leaders, then I didn’t want to be one of their followers.

TEDDI: That’s understandable. So you didn’t have Christians that you knew individually that really changed that opinion of what you were getting from the news?

MICHAEL: There were a few folks. Again, going back to college. I’m not speaking to law school because that’s almost a complete void. I can’t think of any thoughts, I can’t think of any discussions, any people that came to me regarding a discussion about creation or Christianity. It was almost a three year period of time where nothing happened regarding this. I was just pursuing my education. So I go back further than that, to college, because there were some things that happened there.

So when you ask me if there were some individuals, yes. There were some that I didn’t know, which I’d mentioned, people that were representing these student ministries that were on campus. There were a few. In fact, one of them invited me to what’s called an FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) monthly meeting and I ended up going. And it was only because of the invitation of this person, who I highly respected on campus. I was very active on campus with lots of groups and things. And this other person was as well. And I highly respected her and she specifically asked me to go to this. But I only went to that, only went to a few.

But I can recall a couple of things that were said that reminded me of things that I’d heard in the news and I just didn’t want to get close to that based upon some of the prejudices that I was forming.

TEDDI: If you had this void of time when you were in law school, what eventually was the catalyst for your change of thought? How did you come to Christianity, to God?

MICHAEL: I had passed the Florida bar exam a few months after graduating from law school. And a few years after law school, I met someone and we stayed in touch. We didn’t live in the same area but we stayed in touch. He was married and had a few young kids. I enjoyed his family and we spoke on the phone occasionally and on lesser occasions we would meet somewhere and do something fun. He was keeping track, loosely, of how my life was going.

As far as I was concerned, life was better than I ever expected it would be, as far as what I was going to be doing with my law degree. The trajectory of my life was going up at a steep angle. I had money in my pocket, I had the keys to a new convertible. I was really enjoying what I was doing in life. And I was also learning a lot about the profession of law and how to practice law. That kind of stimulus was great, I enjoyed that as well. Things were happening very quickly and all of it was in what I considered to be a positive thing for me.

I was also back home where I had grown up, so I could jump right into the social life. But a few years later, this gentleman gave me a call. First time he had ever been, I’ll say, sheepish. This was a very confident guy. But on this particular phone call he didn’t sound confident and I realized very quickly why. Because he was going to ask me to do something where he didn’t know what my response was going to be.

So he told me that these scriptures had been very influential in his life. He thought that because I was no longer in school and I didn’t have those time pressures involved, and I was not married. And he knew from our conversations that I was not dating someone specific. I wasn’t having to invest my time into someone on a daily or weekly basis. So he’s kind of throwing it up to me, and said, “You’re in a unique period of time in your life. I don’t know if you’ve evaluated what’s in the scriptures and taken a strong look at that and at your own life. You might be able to glean some things that might be helpful now that you’re moving out in this professional career of yours.”

I thought this was a very strange request, but I also liked this gentleman a lot. I thought a lot of him and I respected him. He’s a very bright individual. So I hung up the phone and thought about it. And I couldn’t disagree with him. He was right about this unique time. If I went back in my life, I was always trying to accomplish short-term goals. Always trying to do something. Whether it was back with tennis, practicing for tournaments and attempting to get rankings and things of that nature. And when it came to school, I was always studying for tests and trying to complete courses and obtain degrees. He was right, all that was behind me and I had this time that I could invest if I wanted to. So I called him back and I said that I’ll take up this challenge. And he also challenged me to attend a church.

So I did attend a church and I did start reading the scriptures. I also bought some material – scientific material, some philosophic material, books, articles, things of that nature. And I decided to start reading. And I started enjoying my reading. Not only the scriptures but also the other material. So I did this almost every night, for hours at a time. And on weekends, even longer periods of time. And I was shocked at what was going on with me. Because these thick-walled prejudices that I had, I started questioning. And I came to the conclusion after almost two months that I thought it was more likely than not that I was a created being.

It was a week or two later, something like that, that I made a determination that the God that is spoken of in the scriptures was the one responsible for my creation and everybody else’s and the world and the universe and everything that we know and we see. And I asked him if I could be his son and if he could forgive me for all the blasphemy that I’d conducted on him for all the previous years of my life. And I told him that I wanted to do anything that he wanted me to do.

So that is the story of the catalyst of my change. Since my late twenties I have since joined a church. I also met my wife a few years after joining the church. We have had the privilege of having five adopted kids. That’s the follow-up from what’s happened since then.

TEDDI: Wow. That is so cool. It’s interesting, hearing your story. It’s neat how you seem to be the type of person who likes to study and is very intellectual and God reached you in that way. Somebody just challenged you to read the scriptures, and then you read them. That’s neat. I think everybody probably gets drawn in ways that are unique to their personality. The fact that someone can just sit down, read and study, and come to that conclusion… You don’t have to be convinced by someone else or see a miracle happen. That’s fascinating.

MICHAEL: It’s interesting that you say that. It was a unique fit for me. Not only that time that I was talking about, that point in my life, but I wouldn’t say it was just the study of law in law school and a few years of practice. Even before that there was a decision I made early in life, even as I was going through elementary, junior high and high school. I enjoyed learning. I adopted an attitude which I felt assisted me in my desire to learn. Truths seemed to build on each other. That’s what school does. You take certain truths and then those truths are instrumental in you learning new things. I enjoyed that process, number one. But secondly, I didn’t want to ever be the type of person – and I saw some of them around me – that when there was an absolute truth that’s almost impossible to deny, would deny it anyway. And I saw that in my life. And I told myself, I’m not going to do that. If there is anything that hits me square in the eyes, I’m going to take that particular truth and incorporate it into the multitude of other truths that I know and make that part of my personal philosophy and I’ll move on.

And so, these things that I learned during those two months that I sat down and read and started seeing how many individual points started all lining up in a way that I’d never seen before. It was shocking to me. Maybe I didn’t even want it to be true. There were all kinds of things that I was saying, even pacing around the house because I lived by myself at the time, mumbling, “It can’t be true, it can’t be true.” But I wasn’t going to deny it, if in fact there was some great weight of evidence behind it. Testing it in every way that I thought I could, at the end of that two month process I capitulated. I said, “I don’t think that I can deny this any longer. I believe it’s more likely.”

I wasn’t absolutely sure. I wasn’t like, it is a vision that is true. It is that there was so much that was amazing and orderly and just lining up with what I thought must be true based upon the totality of it all. The great weight of it all. So I wasn’t going to sit there and stiff-arm it any longer. I wasn’t going to push it away just because I had never agreed with that previously.

TEDDI: Could you name the top 2-3 shifts in your thinking? Some of these things that you were pacing around saying, “That can’t be true.” You had some things that you thought before you became a Christian. And then afterward, what things really shifted for you when you realized, “Wow, there is a God. He knows me, he loves me, he wants me with him.” What were the big shifts that came about from your conversion?

MICHAEL: There were many, so I’d have to narrow it down to get to 2-3. And that’s all fine. But one thing leads to another, so to speak. One point, once it seems fairly well clarified starts clarifying other points as well. So I can categorize a couple of things for you. The whole idea of nature… I had not put what I had learned in school into the context of the amazing order. I was more just learning what was there. In my classes it was mostly memorization. The periodic table. The assignment of parts to a body, all the biological systems and how they worked together. But in preparing for tests, I didn’t do a good job of standing back from all that and looking at it from a really big picture. I didn’t put it together that all these pieces had a relationship.

In fact, I started seeing, without being a scientist myself, how not only a few but many, many more than a few pieces started looking like they’re interrelated. There were relationships between most everything. Then the further down I went, that is, studying what is very, very small, what’s in the cell and how cells work together in a living being, I saw how cells duplicate themselves and how living beings duplicate themselves. DNA, RNA, all those types of things biologically, all those things I consider the small part. Then I’d go to the biggest of the big – the cosmos. I learned about how perfect and balanced the solar system and the galaxy and the universe are. All of that was completely amazing to me.

In fact, when looking at our solar system alone, let’s look at the theory of gravity. We all know gravity, we can drop anything out of our hands and it falls to the ground. But how it actually occurs, no one knows. But the fact is, it’s there. And these planets all circle around this gigantic sun – gigantic compared to the planets – but their distance and their movement is perfectly orchestrated so that they all maintain their circular motion around the sun. And they’re also fine-tuned by the small amount of gravity they have on each other. Without this perfection of distance and math and gravity and speed, these things shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. They should be going off in different directions, either falling into the sun or falling out into the rest of the galaxy. It’s just too much.

And some of the very early astronomers I was reading about and what they thought about that. They were just completely taken aback by the order and perfection. They didn’t know what we know today, that there are more than seventy moons that are part of this orchestrated event that’s going on in our solar system. And the earth itself happens to be the perfect distance from the sun in order for us to have our biology and it goes on and on and on and on.

So here would be one set or grouping of information that caused the shift in my thinking, getting back to your question. And just to finish that off a little bit: Even from a little boy, I had this lingering or gnawing thought about a number of things about myself. Like, loving my mom so much. I really, really loved my mom. Where does that come from? How do I have this love thing that just pounds inside of me?

How can I see? How can I hear? They tell me when I get into elementary and junior high that I came from a little itty bitty cell. And now I’m doing all these things. Running, talking, hearing, seeing. That’s just too much. It’s just too amazing. These things started crashing back into me. And the order and perfection of it all was just beyond amazing.

So when there is so much perfection, how did all that occur? Is it a random collision of things that caused this to occur? Well, nothing in my life that is just random, like throwing a handful of sand somewhere or shaking a box full of toys. Nothing seems to have greater order, or even great order to begin with, if it’s random. So big question mark: how did all that occur?

Second big shift was reading the scriptures themselves. I’d had the opportunity in times past. And they were read to me and even discussed with me back in college and maybe even a few times before. I had heard the salvation story about Jesus, for example. I had heard that in college. But it just didn’t stick with me. It didn’t cause me to be overly interested in it. Nothing that would cause me to set aside time against everything else so I could go investigate this. It never came to that point with me.

But when I finally did that, I started seeing an order and perfection in the scripture as well. I started seeing this big picture story that I’d never seen because I’d never read the scriptures before. And although there’s not a seamless story like you and I would write a story, but I started seeing as I read these pieces that I could put together in my mind. And I started seeing the big picture of what scripture was trying to do, trying to say and how it did that through different authors at different times.

Those are the two big shifts. I mentioned there are others, and there are, but if you limit me to two or three those are the two that I’d pick.

TEDDI: Can you name one that might have to do with how you saw other people? Was there a big shift in your thinking? You saw the big picture of nature and the big picture of the scriptures. Did you have a shift in your thinking related to the nature of humanity or the relationships that you have with people?

MICHAEL: When I came to the point at the end of my investigation where I decided that it’s more likely that I’m a created being, at that point – and this is going to be very difficult to describe, very few people have asked me about this point of time – when I’m in my late twenties and I get the feeling that all this formal education is virtually meaningless against these incredible new truths I’ve just learned. It completely obliterated my way of thinking. In other words, there wasn’t a lot of tug-of-war between what I now understood myself to be: in relationship to this loving God. And that he made everybody else around me as well. Everybody. Everybody who was in the same situation I used to be in, which was denial or unbelief or skepticism or whatever you want to call it. He loves and made everybody. And so my perspective of not only myself but everybody else changed in the biggest of ways.

In fact, it felt as if I was not even on the same planet any longer. And things were so different. I remember walking some of the same sidewalks that I had walked when I was going to lunch in this downtown area that I’d worked in. And I just remember looking around and having this thought, “These buildings don’t look the same, the sky doesn’t look the same, nothing seems the same.” Everything shifts, but it was even bigger than that. It felt like I had been transplanted into a whole other planetary existence but yet I was in the same place I’d always been. I know that doesn’t make sense, but I’m trying to give words to something that may be impossible to describe.

TEDDI: That is awesome. It is so cool to think of that. To be in the same place, and yet everything is different. It’s almost cliché, and yet the experience of it is phenomenal.

People talk about this “God-shaped hole”, how there’s a void in your life that you don’t necessarily know is there, consciously. And God is the only thing that can fill that hole. Would you say that there were holes in your life or in your heart that God filled once he showed up?

MICHAEL: Well, certainly, but the perspective that “he filled me” is simply the fact that we, as his creation, cannot be fulfilled without putting our arms around him and accepting the fact that he wants to wrap his arms around us. And when that occurs, then the way he made us, the way he has structured who we are by creating us in his image and giving us so many of these talents that allow us to have great love for something and make choices on who to love, how to love, what to love, you know, all those things – we can’t be, it’s impossible to reach the heights he has made us to reach without finding him or agreeing with the fact that he’s our father and to completely put ourselves into his arms.

You asked me about a hole that was filled. I don’t think of it in those terms. I thought, before I came to this understanding that I had a spiritual father and I had someone who created not only me but everybody else in the world around me, I didn’t think I had any holes. As I mentioned, this was not a “pit of life” experience. I was going the complete other direction.

I thought things were fantastic. And my calendar was full with all kinds of things that I wanted to do. To the extent that I had room within one day of my calendar, I filled it up with more stuff. There was always stuff to do that I enjoyed and I was situated to do a lot of it. So I didn’t feel like I had holes. The only holes I had were hours on the calendar that I didn’t fill up with either the day-time work or socializing very hard during the other hours. So I thought the combination of the two didn’t leave any holes. I was the orchestrator; I was the concierge of my life. I was going to make sure that I was well-entertained and well-fulfilled with my professional life. But that wasn’t the right understanding about who I was. The right understanding is that I am a created being.

TEDDI: That’s awesome that God applies even when everything is going right. Even when you have no conscious awareness of your need for him, you can wake up and notice and realize that he’s meaningful to your life. That’s significant. I think sometimes we act as if people aren’t going to turn to God unless they hit rock-bottom. But your life is a living testimony to the fact that that’s not true. You can turn to God even when everything is going right and he has something valuable to offer.

MICHAEL: Just to give you a tiny bit of insight with respect to that. I may have already done this but let me just go back to that one situation regarding the solar system. That was one of dozens of situations which, as I said before, my personal philosophy of life is that if I find a truth I’m going to incorporate it into how I think about everything. So the perspective of finding that and finding many other points of physical phenomenon that were so orderly that I had to find a way to incorporate that into all the things that I had thought before.

And that was very difficult. It was like trying to put a size 15 foot into a size 2 shoe. It just didn’t work. Square peg, round hole kind of thing. In doing that, the incorporation process gave me great angst. If you can’t put the foot in the shoe, maybe you have to find another shoe. And that’s what I was left with. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to find a way to keep my shoe the way it was. But eventually, the more these things stacked up, every one of them would cause me to have a problem maintaining the way of thinking that I’d held all my life. And when they just kept getting larger and larger as far as the number of them, then I needed to find another theory of life.

And the theory that went along with not only the scientific issues that I was reading about and coming to an understanding about like I’d never had before, but also the scriptures and just melding all of this together, it started to fit. So that’s the process that happened with me.

TEDDI: Do you look back over your life, and you mentioned some of it as you were describing your childhood and how you felt about your mother and things in college, but do you look back and see the hand of God moving the whole time? Do you see moments when he was planting seeds and kind of presenting himself to you in some way, even if you didn’t recognize it at the time?

MICHAEL: Yeah. I remember when I was a kid, and I’d look at butterflies. You learn about these things pretty early in school, that butterflies come from caterpillars, and you’re left to wonder how in the world does that happen? And something that eats plants and kills them, or I don’t know about killing them, but they eat plants, is now drinking the nectar off their flowers and flying around with these beautiful wings on. That didn’t make sense. And so many other little things. You learn how the water would come out of the sky and then fill up ponds and then evaporate and go back to the sky again. We could just go on and on. There are lots of those things that I just had to wonder about.

Rainbows was another thing that I remember specifically as a child looking at and going, “That’s just like a cartoon. You’d almost have to draw that. It’s a caricature but it’s really there. Or it’s really appearing and the person next to me seems to be seeing it just like I am.”

So yeah, there were lots of little things like that. And there were people like I mentioned on occasion. But I pushed it away, beginning in a more strong way in junior high because I started developing a philosophy of life. We’re taught in school that you need to do well in school and each year it gets more difficult, there’s more assignments and there are more complex things to learn that build on what you’ve already learned and you’ve got to pay a lot of attention to that. And so I did. Just to be able to do well in school.

But also I was told that those things are going to play a large part in the rest of my life and that the rest of my life is a building process as well. You don’t leave whenever you finish school and then that’s the end of learning. Learning is always going to be this thing. And so I just got in a pattern that “learning’s the way to go”. And I learned the way the schools told me to learn. And these issues that you and I are discussing now were not part of that process.

The process I learned was: “Get ready to go work. Earn something for a living. Bring it home. Find a nice wife and go have kids. And that’s life. Period. End of story.”

TEDDI: Shifting the focus a bit from your conversion story, from what you said on your website it says you’ve done some prison ministry. It got me curious about your experiences in talking to a variety of people that maybe have a different background from you. How have you found their reactions to be as you’ve shared the gospel? How do you approach sharing the gospel, given the experience you’ve had? What’s your focus when you are telling somebody about God?

MICHAEL: Telling somebody in the prison context?

TEDDI: Yeah, I’m curious about that specifically because – and this could just be a stereotype or a misconception – but my idea would be that people in prison are more aggressively rebellious or not interested in hearing somebody say, “God loves you.” So I’m very curious what their reaction is and how you present it.

MICHAEL: My experience is very different from what your presumption is. A few years out of school, there was a pastor that knew my background and also knew that I’d had a lot of alcohol consumption when I was in college and before I came to understand what you and I are talking about right now. So he thought that my background would be conducive to creating connections with the guys that were in jail.

And I had great apprehension. I’d never thought about this before, but I told him that a few years before when I came to understand that I do have a heavenly father, that I’d do whatever he asked me to do. And when someone asked me, I considered that to be a possible invitation from my father. So I said, “I’ll try and we’ll see what happens.” It ended up that I did it for 15 years. It was wonderful.

There was also a great distinction. I did not only the prison – prisons are where people are sentenced and they serve time for periods of time, usually years – I did that, but the vast majority of what I did was in a jail context. And in the jail, people are waiting for trial. They can’t bond out either because they’re not offered bail or they can’t make bail or there’s a few situations where they’ll actually be carrying out short term sentences, usually just a few months because of something they did on a misdemeanor basis.

Now the reason I make that distinction between prison and jail – and that I was in the jail most of the time – is that I found that there’s a unique point in time in people’s lives when they are arrested and suddenly their civil liberties are all taken away from them. Even their clothes are taken away from them. And they’re put in this facility where they’re told everything on what they can do and who they can be around and those different things. They are basically warehoused as human beings in a building. And everything is restricted.

That sudden change of life, which is so dramatic, causes not anything that they would want to happen but it causes them to think about and question things about their lives. How did I get here? Why am I here? Do I want to rethink life in ways so that I will never be back in this place that I can’t stand? And other things like that.

So when they come to a class of mine, I find that they’re very interested. I don’t want to say they’re hanging on every word I say. They’re putting me to the test. They’re putting what I say to the test, as opposed to me. But that pastor, once upon a time when he invited me to consider being involved in a jail ministry, knew I could say things about my life. I could say things about my extreme consumption of alcohol and in a very short period of time – we don’t dwell on it at all, but in a very short period of time – everybody in the room and I, we all know that we have either have been or are in the same situation.

Most people in jail are drug and alcohol abusers. And they have other things going on in life as well. But almost always, very few exceptions, one of those two things or both of them are going on. When you inebriate yourself and handicap yourself in that way, and then someone says “I’m here to say I’ve found something, the truth” – and they know that you’re going to talk about scriptures, they know they’re coming to a bible study – I’ve found that the combination of my past and what I’m able to say about that and their interest because of the point in time of life that they’re in, that that was a very unique and positive thing as far as them being able to be open to the truth.

So as far as my experience in jail and how I approached them, I asked them to do what I did. Put the truth to the test. I would explain things that were – I wouldn’t say necessarily that this was influential with me – but I recalled that, and there were so many things that I could draw from and use repetitively when speaking to them. I’d challenge them to make sense of these things. Why are there certain things that we find in life? What’s more likely?

They’re familiar with court situations, where the juries will weigh the evidence, that’s what they’re doing. If they’re charged criminally they’ve already done that before or are about to do it. So they can imagine very easily if they haven’t done that before. I invite them to do the same thing. Put the facts as we see them around us, as well as what we see in the scriptures, and determine for yourself whether you think the scriptures are actually words breathed into man and given to us from God. You decide. I give them certain things to think about.

In the end, though, when you mentioned your presumption is that they’re very hard to that, I find that it’s the opposite.

TEDDI: Wow. Now, is it because they’re in that time of transition, kind of vulnerability, where their world’s been shaken up?

MICHAEL: That is a big part of what primes them to be able to possibly hear in ways that they haven’t seen before. So it’s the shaken part as well as they’re not thinking very much about what they’re going to do on the street the next day because they aren’t going to be on the street. When you’re on the street, or in my case planning for a test or doing something for the next party or whatever it was, I was always planning. Planning for things that I was going to do and doing things for myself.

And when you’re in jail, there’s nothing to do. Except think and read. Or look at the TV. They do have TVs. One TV for a large pod. So if someone else isn’t watching what you want to watch or you don’t want to watch TV at all, there’s almost nothing to do. Play cards, checkers, that kind of thing. But for anyone who is remotely serious about their life, I mean in any way serious, then reading is something that invigorates them. Reading about anything – and there’s a lot of self-help books – they think, “Well, hey, bible study can’t hurt. I’m in here doing nothing anyway.” And they’ll come and listen to me talk about it.

And the combination of that experience of having nothing to plan for the next day and not doing anything the next day plus having their life all shaken up… those two things and then the sheriff’s office which runs the jail allows me to come in, I guess you can call that a three-pronged attack on their callousness to the truth. And it works. There are a lot of positive responses that come from that.

TEDDI: When you’re in there and you’re sharing about God with them in the context of a bible study, can you tell me what’s the focus of the study or what you’re presenting to them to think about. I know a lot of evangelical Christians boil things down to a certain presentation of the gospel or a certain way of saying things. “You need to admit you’re a sinner. You need to see that Jesus is the answer,” or whatever. They have this way of going through things.

What was your approach? What did you find to be effective in presenting the God story to these guys?

MICHAEL: That’s an interesting question. I did not repeat myself week after week. I relied upon going through the scriptures and having different points that are illustrated by the scriptures themselves. Just like when Jesus taught, he did not use the same illustrations and did not speak over and over repetitively about the same point. Sometimes he did revisit points with different crowds. But there’s a lot to tell when it comes to the love of God and how that is manifested in our lives.

The scriptures speak about that in many different ways. Both in the Old and New Testament I would pull scripture verses and we would focus on a reading. We would read a passage and we would discuss that. And then at the end of the discussion or towards the end what I would try to do is tie that into a big picture. I was so influenced by the big picture that I wanted to incorporate that as to where the piece that we were studying that night fit in. And I would do that rather summarily, or quickly, and then occasionally – occasionally would be every few months – we would take one night and all we would do is go through (as best I could in an hour and a half) the entire recitation of what I thought the big picture was.

And those were the nights that routinely had the greatest responses. These guys, point by point, they could – just like I did – shove it off and say “That’s not persuasive enough.” But when points start lining up and truths start penetrating because they’re linking together, not because they’re stand-alone points, that’s when things got persuasive. So I tried to do that each week without using the same point. Just over and over go through different points. And then occasionally try and wrap them all together and say, “Here’s what I see the big picture as and how we get there.”

TEDDI: I know you said that you’d take an hour and a half and try and put that big picture together for them and lead them through it. But if you tried to boil the big picture down to a sentence or two, what’s the big message of Christianity or of your belief in God?

MICHAEL: The big message is that God decided to make us because he wanted to have beings that he could have relationships with just like the Trinity already had. And that he gives us the choice, within the environment that he gave us, to reach back and agree with him and have a great relationship with him. Not only in this life, which is just the beginning, but forever. And so what he’s given us is this opportunity during this life, with the freedom that he gives us, to say “yes” or “no” that we want to be with him. What he has done for us, though, is he’s given us so many different ways to see that he is there and that he loves us. I mentioned a couple of them earlier. There are more. And it’s a matter of whether we’re going to take notice of all the things he’s trying to do to get us to understand how much he loves us.

TEDDI: That’s awesome. Thank you for your time, Michael. It’s so amazing to hear how God worked in your life and how he’s worked through you in other lives and to hear that God’s love is still impacting people from attorneys to jail inmates.

Connect with Michael

Michael MinotWebsite: www.michaelminot.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/michael.minot.9

Twitter: @MichaelMinot

Get his book The Beckoning on Amazon.com

Self-Publishing: Where I am, Where I’m Going

Santa Cruz, California - Copyright 2014 Teddi Deppner
Santa Cruz, California.

I was at a family vacation and something of a personal writing retreat when I came across Kristen Lamb’s article, “Five Mistakes Killing Self-Published Authors.” An excellent article and a good checklist for those considering or in the process of self-publishing.

Her post got me thinking about where I’m at. In the interests of sharing with my friends how things are going and offering folks who visit here things to think about for their own publishing journey, here are my responses to Kristen’s five items.

1) Publishing before I’m ready

Well, the good news is that it hasn’t happened yet. The bad news is that 2014 is all but over and I have not finished or launched any of the projects I listed earlier this year.

I’ve been studying and practicing creative writing since I was a teen. I’ve written a bunch of short stories. I’ve finished at least one novel. I’ve taken college courses. I’ve paid for conferences and workshops. I’ve read decades of Writer’s Digest and have a library of books on writing fiction. I listen to podcasts and read writing blogs. From the feedback I’ve received from mentors and teachers, my prose is ready. I’m always learning and growing and improving, but it’s of publishable quality.

So far, so good.

2) Not knowing the business side of the business

3) Thinking “If I write it, they will come.”

I’ve kept an eye on the business side of things for decades. As a web publisher, I’ve learned and practiced enough about the e-publishing and e-marketing side of things to write books on it. I have some top-notch critique partners and a solid editor. I’ve got the tools for formatting and publishing. I have some resources for getting covers created, if I don’t come up with some on my own (with my graphic design background, I’m qualified to do it, though I may choose to outsource). I already have a small business as a freelance web designer, so the basic self-employment details are in place.

The pieces are in place. And I know that it’s going to take continued releases and prolific writing to do well.

Another fantastic post that Kristen put out recently is “What are the REAL Odds of Being an Successful Author?” If you’re wondering whether you have what it takes, that’s a great read, too.

4) Misusing “FREE”

This is such a great point that Kristen made. Free can be a powerful tool, but you need to know how to use it. And generally it does well in tandem with writing prolifically and knowing the business side of things.

5) Shopping one book “to death”

This also ties in with being prolific. Once you have a book finished, that’s great. But that’s not good enough. You cannot just stop and work on promoting that one book. As Kristen said, you will have much better success with promotion and creating fans when you have at least three books, and I’ve even heard you should have five books out to really get rolling. Or at least five titles. Shorter works can do a lot of the same work that novels do — they get your name before the eyes of readers. They give you a “bunch” of listings in Amazon’s catalog so you appear to be someone who is more than a one-shot wonder.

Since I haven’t released even one book yet, I don’t have this problem. And I don’t plan to. I might hold back, as Kristen says she’s doing with one particular series, and wait to publish until after I’ve finished several books. Or I’ll release them as they are ready but hold off on the heavy marketing and promotion until I have more out there.

There’s something to be said for having a release schedule that allows you to get some momentum by releases them all relatively close together. The excitement of a book release party should not be overlooked.

Conclusion

My life keeps me busy. I value my family and time with pursuits outside of writing and publishing. So publishing may go more slowly than I’d like. But I think the basic building blocks for success are in place. I’ll learn along the way, and I won’t let feeling unprepared stop me from stepping out when the time comes. Thanks to people like Kristen, I can do sanity checks to see where I’m at and refine my trajectory.

By the way, Kristen’s book Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World
is fantastic. I highly recommend it.

Where are you in your publishing journey? Are you considering self-publishing? What did you think of Kristen’s article — anything you would add to it?

Here’s to much growth and success in 2015. The year of opportunity!