It was a great experience, being with all the young writers at QSI International School of Zhuhai in February. They were great listeners and even better writers! Thimblerig has new fans on the Pearl Delta!
Lifeway Research recently released a study that examined the use of Christian media. The results showed that the vast majority of Christian media is consumed by – hold onto your hats for this, folks – Christians.
This doesn’t come as a surprise. Media will typically be consumed by the target audience, and in this case, why would a person who is not a Christian care to listen to a Christian podcast? Why would they be interested in reading a book about Christianity? Why would they spend their time watching Christian television programs?
It seems like the logical thing to do here is to circle the wagons. After all, if the Christian family is consuming most Christian media, then we should just keep creating media for the family! This is how business works, isn’t it? You identify your target audience, and then push your product for that audience.
Given, the study does show that some of our media is being consumed by people outside the church – like a positive form of collateral damage – but we should count those people as frosting on the cake and keep on doing what we do when we do what we do.
But hold on, hit the brakes, stop the engines, turn off the lights… there’s a slight problem with all that.
Did Jesus tell his disciples in Matthew 28:19 to “go back into the church, close the doors, and make disciples”?
No. Of course not. He said “Go into all the world…” Go. Get out of your comfort zone. Stop naval gazing and get out into the world where people need the message of hope that we find in the story of Jesus.
Christian media should deal with finding the lost, and not just massaging the found. What are the “Christianese” words for this? Witnessing? Sharing? Evangelizing? We’re supposed to be engaging with the world outside of the church, not just circling our wagons to protect the women and children.
Look at it this way. Imagine your church supports a missionary family living in some foreign country. The missionary family comes home on furlough, and visits your church to share about the progress of their work in this foreign country.
The missionary husband sets up a powerpoint presentation in the fellowship hall after the pot-luck dinner, and starts showing slides of the family’s work.
“We’re so grateful to be serving in our host country, and blessed to be able to share our work with you today.”
The missionary smiles and turns to the screen.
“In this picture, we’re having some missionary neighbors over for dinner. We like to have other missionaries over for dinner regularly. This next picture shows us at our bi-weekly Bible study with some other missionary families. Oh, you’ll love this one – it’s a picture of us worshipping on Sunday morning at our church, which is only for missionaries. Hmm…. this is our neighbor who isn’t a missionary… I’m not sure how that picture got in there. Ah, here! This next picture is better – it’s our missionary office, where we work with other missionaries. Finally, here’s a picture of our kids going to their missionary-kid school. It’s missionary run, taught, and attended. They just love it there.”
That missionary probably wouldn’t be supported by the church for much longer.
So, we want our missionaries to engage with the culture around them, but for some reason, we seem to be perfectly comfortable that Christian media is only reaching other Christians.
And Christian media isn’t even doing that very well!
Take Christian movies for example – one of the categories where the results were considered the most encouraging. The Lifeway study shows that four out of ten people said that they watched a Christian movie in the last year.
Four out of ten? That’s pretty amazing!
Well, it seems like an encouraging number until you remember that eighty-three percent of the American population identifies as Christian.
Eight out of ten people consider themselves Christian, and four out of ten people watched a Christian movie last year.
Let that sink in. Less than half the Christian population of America watched at least one Christian movie last year.
No. Of course not. (Although sending Vischer snarky letters about his ukelele might be warranted…) There’s nothing wrong with producing media for ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with producing media for small segments of ourselves. People do that every day, all over the world, in all walks of life.
But as Christians, we shouldn’t be content with that.
So, if you are a person interested in Christian media and interested in changing those statistics reported by Lifeway Research, here are 6 (+2) things that Christian media must do better to catch the attention of those people who normally wouldn’t care.
1. Be Professional.
If something is good in media, it’s not because it is good by accident, or because someone prayed for it to be good and God miraculously made it so. Things are good in media because professionals have been hired to make them good. Christian film producers have finally started to realize this, raising enough money to enable them to hire pros to help shoot their films, and the result? Christian films are finally starting to look like well-shot films. People in the world outside the church respect professionalism.
2. Be Excellent.
Maybe this is a part of being professional, but if you’re involved in Christian media, then you shouldn’t cut corners. If you’re a self-published writer, then revise, revise, revise. Give yourself time to do the best you can possibly do with your efforts. Want to be a filmmaker? Cut your teeth on shorts before moving to features. Watch a LOT of movies – and not only Christian made movies. Read scripts. No matter what area of media you feel drawn to, take the time to become excellent. Say what you will about the world, but the world appreciates and is drawn to excellence.
3. Be Creative.
This is where we often drop the ball with Christian media. In our rush to get our message out, we tell sloppy stories. We create one-dimensional characters. We allow our faith to handcuff us, which is not why we have our faith. “It was for freedom you were set free…” Remember? That includes the freedom to be creative. Try to look at the world in a different way, in a real and authentic way. Especially when you consider those people who believe differently than you do. We call God the Creator, not just because he created everything, but because He is also so incredibly creative. Go, and do likewise, because people outside the church are attracted to true creativity.
4. Be Intelligent.
We’ve all seen the near-constant parade of apparently unintelligent Christians in media. People hosting programs who have trouble putting together intelligible sentences; faith-based scripts that seem not well thought-through or properly edited; embarrassingly discourteous or rude commenters on the internet; self-published novels that are so plotless and pointless that they make one wish that self-publishing were as hard and expensive as it used to be.
Our reputation for being unintelligent has been well earned by these things and much more. Write intelligently, direct intelligently, comment intelligently, create intelligently. God may use the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, but that doesn’t mean we should aim to be fools. Christians in media are the front lines for changing the intelligence perception with the media they create.
5. Be Ingenious.
Christian media is known for trying to take something the world has done and recreate it in a faith-friendly way. The world gives us 50 Shades of Grey, Christian media reacts with Old Fashioned. There’s a good article about this on Vox, written by Brandon Ambrosino. I’d also recommend the article he cites by Alissa Wilkinson.
The point is that Christians in media need to be ingenious. We should lead rather than follow, set the standard rather than chasing after the latest fad or trend. We should aim to take the world by surprise with our ingenious and unique creations.
6. Be Honest.
Finally, one of the best weapons we have at our disposal as Christians in media is honesty. As we interact with people who aren’t in the faith, they should see this about us – as we interact with the media, they should notice this about us. As we write, direct, act, talk, sing, produce, film, record, edit, draw, or whatever it is we do, people should recognize it in us.
They should talk about it behind our backs.
And if they do? That’s okay. We should have nothing to hide, and no reason to hide. We don’t have to pretend to have it all together, because we know that we don’t. We don’t have to act like our families are perfect, because we know that they aren’t. We don’t have to act like we have all the answers, because we know that we don’t. And that’s okay.
What we do have is Jesus.
And if you’ll pardon my brief use of Christainese, we have his forgiveness, his mercy, and his grace. And He gives us the ability to live openly, transparently, and honestly – in life and in the media we create.
And that is how we will impact the world.
And now the (bonus +2).
1. Drop the Secret Language.
Christianese – the secret language of Christianity. The moment you fall into using the secret language, you lose potential interest from people who don’t speak it. If your Christian media is inundated with Christianese, you need to make some changes, or you might as well just create your media in Klingon for all the good it will do you.
2. Give the End Times a Rest.
What do we know? Jesus will return. How? When? We have no real idea – just theories and interpretations. That means that our Rapture books and movies are just the Christian versions of The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Road, or any of the other dystopsian end-of-the-world stories you want to pick. And they’re not nearly as compelling, well told, or well made.
Can we just give it a rest for a while?
(Actually, having said that, a Christian dystopsian story that absolutely nothing to do with the Rapture or the anti-Christ could be a really interesting read.)
The best thing two things about owning a Kindle (or other e-reader) are (1) that you can carry a ton of books around in a tiny device and (2) so many free books are available. I purposefully avoided the e-reader experience for years, because I loved the feel of holding a real book in my hands. However, since I live overseas, I finally took the plunge and I’ve never looked back.
And the multitude of free books you can download on a Kindle! It’s amazing, and fantastic! I’ve spent quite a bit of time filling my Kindle with free books. It’s a brave new world, indeed.
Now, they weren’t just freebies meant to be downloaded and forgotten, they were dreams put to the page. Each free book I’d downloaded now represented years of hard work. Stories that had been taken from idea, to draft, to beta readers, to revision, to hard critiques, to killing the darlings, to more revision, to putting it aside and picking it up three years later, to becoming determined to finish even if it resulted in death, to typing until callouses formed on fingertips, until at last, that final copy emerged.
This is true of every single free book that you have downloaded, with the possible exception of Baboon Fart Story by Phronk.
And so, I want to make an appeal to you Kindle free ebook downloaders. These are six things you can do after downloading a free Kindle book if you really want to help the authors who are giving you this free entertainment.
Understand that each step involves a bit more effort and investment on your part, but each will be increasingly appreciated by the author.
1) Download the book!
It seems pretty obvious, but it needs to be said that if you see a book that looks interesting, go ahead and download it. Self-published authors really want to see their books climb as high as possible on the Amazon lists, and your solitary download will help that to happen. So if the book looks interesting to you, go ahead and hit that “buy now” button and get your free book. That action alone will be doing the author a favor.
2) Share the free book info with your friends
A book is only free for a limited time, and so the author is depending on you helping to spread the word in a timely fashion. After you download, go ahead and share the info with your friends, and water the author’s attempts at grass roots marketing. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, whatever your social media outlet of choice – let folks know that an interesting-looking book is out there for free. Just use Amazon’s handy share buttons.
3) Actually read the book!
This is where it starts to get a bit more complicated. As I said before, I also have a Kindle full of free books that I may or may not get to, but as we head into the new year, I am making a commitment to actually go through those books and give them a shot. At some point, they looked like something I might want to read, so I should give them the benefit of the doubt. Right? Who knows? I may discover a great new author! This happened for me when I downloaded and actually read Marion Harmon’s Wearing the Cape – a great new take on the superhero genre.
4) Write a review.
For some reason, this seems to be the most difficult step for people. For example, I’ve given away literally a couple of thousand digital copies of Thimblerig’s Ark since it was first published back in March, and since that time, I’ve had 22 people write reviews. It’s actually quite simple to write a review, but it might just be one of the most important things you can do for the writer – especially when they are self-published.
Understand, I’m not suggesting that you go all Kirk Cameron on this and inflate the reviews, but if you will actually take a moment and write an honest critique of the story, it will help immensely. Even if your review is negative, it shows future potential readers that the reviews are honest.
And don’t be intimidated by the idea of writing a review, because it doesn’t have to go into great depths. For example, one of the reviews that Thimblerig’s Ark has received says simply, “Loved it….reminds me of Watership Down almost. Reading it to my son now! Good book to read to a class!”, and that was a great review!
5) Buy the Book.
I know, I know. The book was free, you downloaded it, shared it with your friends, read it, and reviewed it. And now I have the gall to suggest that you drop some of your hard-earned cash on a book you’ve read? As I said before, this is a list that involves increasing commitment. As a writer, I am very happy when someone reads and reviews my book. However, several friends told me that they could easily drop the $2.99, and that small support meant the world to me.
But what if the self-published author isn’t your friend? It will still be a huge encouragement to them if you liked the book enough to actually take the time to invest in it. Remember, they haven’t been contracted by some big publisher to write – they are writing because they love writing. And if they are anything like me, they would love to be able to do it full time, and deliver new books year after year. Certainly your one purchase won’t enable us to quit our day jobs, but it will be an enormous pat on the back and encouragement to keep on writing.
6) Gift the Book.
And if you really, really liked the book, then take the plunge and order copies for your friends. Give the print copy of the book as a gift! Send it to friends for birthdays, or give it to your dad on Father’s Day, or to the ladies in your life on International Women’s Day.
This will accomplish several things. First, it will be a financial support to the author as you purchase multiple copies. Second, it will help get his or her writing out there to new potential readers. Third, it will drive up sales, which will help the author to be taken seriously by others.
And you have to get friends and family gifts anyway, right? Give a gift to a budding author at the same time.
So,intrepid Kindle downloaders, get out there and collect the free books. But don’t stop there! Read, review, spread the word, and actually buy some! This is what will enable writers to continue doing what they love to do, and you’ll be able to continue reaping the benefits!
And – in the shameless self-promotion portion of this blog post, I’d ask that you go ahead and start by downloading my book, Thimblerig’s Ark, which is available for free until December 28, 2014!
It’s November, and that means NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month. The month when you work like mad to hit 50,000 words in thirty days. It’s an insane activity to take part in, but I’m going to give you a huge piece of advice, a key component to successfully making the goal.
You must reject the age-old writing adage to kill your darlings.
This idea, to kill your darlings, simply means that when we’re writing the first draft of our novel, we will have parts of the novel that we love with all of heart, but they also happen to be the parts that don’t do anything for the story itself. They don’t push the story forward, they may even be wildly self-indulgent, and while we may love them dearly, they simply have to go.
They are our darlings, and they have to be killed for the greater good of the story, as painful as that might be.
But in fact, November is a magical month! It is the month that your darlings will love you, because not only are they permitted to live, but like little bunnies, they are encouraged to multiply at abandon, because your darlings are what will help you reach that golden number of your word count goal. This is why you breed them, why you allow them to exist at all. They will be the ones that help to carry you all the way to the finish line, and to the winner’s circle, so that you can get that cool little winner’s avatar and display it on Facebook and Twitter for all the losers to see and envy.
Of course, it’s best not to let them in on the secret that – like the mandrakes from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – they are only being bred to help you fulfill a grander purpose, that your intention is only to use them, and that when the time comes they will be chopped up into little bits and boiled up in a potion to help free Mrs. Norris from her petrification.
Yes, one day most of your precious darlings will have to die, and this is very sad.
But this is November, and it’s not the month to lament. This is the month to revel in their creation, to encourage their reproduction, to massage them and make them feel like they are the most wonderful darlings to ever come out of the imagination of any writer since humanity first began organizing words onto papyrus back in Ancient Egypt.
And then, come December, they will die. Most certainly, they will have to die.
But not until December.
So for now, breed your darlings, writer. Breed your lovely little darlings to your heart’s content.
Nate Fleming is using NaNoWriMo 2014 to write the first draft of Thimblerig’s Ark Book Two: Forty Days and Nights, the sequel to Thimblerig’s Ark, published in March 2014, which he also wrote in a past NaNoWriMo. So far, he’s written many more darlings in his first draft than he’d care to admit, but he looks forward to some bloodletting when time to edit and revise rolls around.
With tomorrow being the first day of this year’s National Novel Writing Month, it seemed appropriate that my first Thimblerig’s Interview would be with the very accomplished and successful writer, Bill Myers.
Perhaps best known for McGee and Me!, the popular kids television program and novel series, Bill has also written more than 80 books, both fiction and non-fiction, and he also has experience in film, with credits as an actor, producer, writer and director.
Oh! And Bill also happens to be a committed Christian.
I recently came across Bill’s work Kickstarter campaign for a film called Forbidden Doors, which you can read about here. This campaign is raising support for an independent film based on his book series of the same name, Forbidden Doors.
I was very interested to read about the filmmaker’s plans – that they want to make a film that reaches outside the Christian subculture, a film that entertains as well as shares truth, a film that has “plenty of chills and thrills to keep the audience glued to the screen.”
Curious to know more about the people behind this film project, I wrote Bill and asked if he would be willing to answer a few questions about being a writer who happens to be a Christian in the modern entertainment industry. He graciously agreed and took the time to answer a few questions.
Please Introduce yourself…
Author/filmmaker, 70 national and international awards including the C.S. Lewis Honor Award. 8 million/books videos sold. And I take none of it seriously, just use it as cred to open some doors. For the most part, I’m the goofy neighbor next door who keeps forgetting to mow his lawn.
How did you get involved in filmmaking?
I saw the power story and parable has to mold and motivate our culture.
Who have been some of your most profound creative influences as an artist?
Sorry for the piety, but I’d have to say the Apostle John. Actually, Scripture in general. There has been no book I’ve found that so accurately captures the heart of God, man, and our world. I’m not talking religion here, but as a work of art, nothing even comes close.
What are your thoughts on the state of filmmaking in the Christian community?
I have very strong opinions which I never make public. I’m happy to sit down with a filmmaker and tell them my opinions and suggestions for improvement of their work (and when asked, do so) but I am loath to discuss their shortcomings publically. That’s like telling the world the flaws about somebody else’s baby. Making a movie is so difficult, we should be required to give standing ovations at the opening credits before we even see the quality.
Considering that most “faith-based” films only play to Christian audiences, what do you think is the key for films made by Christians reaching beyond the Christian subculture?
Stop the propaganda. Stop trying to change your audience. Stop using characters as mouthpieces for your philosophy and make them real with real strengths and weaknesses. Christian films for Christians are mostly to affirm. I get that. With all the tearing down, there’s a much-needed place for encouragement. But if we’re doing projects for those outside the family (and still want those projects to have an eternal impact upon our culture) than be content with simply glorifying God with your art (which is controversial enough in our current climate) and let the Holy Spirit do His part in drawing the audience closer to Him. Exalt God. Let God do the rest.
You are currently raising funds to make a film called Forbidden Doors with a Kickstarter campaign. Please give a synopsis of the film and tell us a bit of the history of the production.
It’s based on my teen book series, Forbidden Doors. A couple teens return to California from the Amazon and discover their classmates, in fact the entire town, is falling under some very evil occult influences. With so much attention toward the paranormal these days and so many misconceptions, it seemed a natural and much-needed project. And since you brought up Kickstarter, here’s our link if you feel like helping out or forwarding it to friends. http://kck.st/1rdb4UI Thanks, we really need it.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced so far in developing the project?
Um, er . . . money.
Forbidden Doors has been described as Christian Horror, which is unusual for a film made by Christian artists. What advice would you give to other filmmakers who want to go down this path in their own stories?
Don’t get carried away with the creep factor. As an old agent once said, “Bad publicity is better than no publicity.” The devil doesn’t care what you say about him just as long as you’re talking about him. Don’t give him too much credit. If kids go to bed at night afraid of him, you’re working for the wrong side. Make sure God not only trumps evil, but does it in a way that we stop fearing that evil and realize we actually have the power to kick its butt.
Do you think it’s possible for Christians to make edgy – even R-rated films? Please explain your thoughts on this question.
The Bible is full of edgy, R-rated scenes . . . but the edginess is never glorified. I think the reason some Christians don’t make R rated movies falls along the lines of what Paul says regarding stumbling a weaker brother. That’s the tension of being in both worlds…the religious (and I use that term intentionally) and being relevant to a very different culture. Whatever you decide requires careful prayer and expectation of ridicule. I plan to be raked over the coals by secular reviewers who say Forbidden Doors is too tame because it’s too realistic and that there is no gore…and bad-mouthed by the Pharisee element of Christianity that is eager to judge without evaluating my heart and purpose.
What final advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers or novelists, especially those who are approaching filmmaking or writing as a calling or a ministry?
If you sincerely see it as a ministry (and not some way of being famous or being loved by the world) immerse yourself in God’s presence. Take quality time each day to feed your soul, to dwell in His heart. It’s not your ministry, it’s His. Be flexible to His desires. I want to exalt Christ to the nations, and for decades I wore myself out doing it on my own (while begging God to wake up and get with my plan). Only recently have I discovered His real method:
“Be still and know that I am God. And I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10.
Do you want to exalt Him? Then be still in His presence and know Him. If you’re under thirty it’s doubtful you’ll believe me. I wouldn’t. But don’t take my word for it, take His. If you want to exalt God . . . be still and know that He is. It’s totally backwards and upside down thinking from that of the world. But if you’ve hung out with God for any time, you know upside-down is pretty much His style.
I appreciate Bill taking the time to answer my questions, and hope that the readers of Thimblerig’s Ark Blog will be encouraged and energized by Bill’s advice, garnered by years in the industry.
Finally, I encourage my readers to head over to the Kickstarter page and consider being a part of making Forbidden Doors a reality.
Bill on Twitter: @BillMyersauthor
Bill on Facebook: /billmyersauthor
It’s nearly the middle of October, which means one thing for thousands of people around the internet: almost time for Nanowrimo!
Nanowrimo stands for the National Novel Writing Month, and it is a free, non-competitive opportunity for writers all over the globe to go from zero words to 50,000 over the course of the month of November.
In short, it is the opportunity to write the first draft of a novel.
Started in 1999 in the San Fransisco bay area with a modest number of writers (21), Nanowrimo has grown to over 400,000 in 2013. It is a serious occasion in the writing world, because it gives everyone – from first time wannabe writers to established and published writers – that most-needed phenomenon: a deadline.
But you don’t have anyone looking over your shoulder, no editors breathing down your neck, no teachers looking to see if you would meet your goal. It’s just the writer and the computer and the imagination going wild.
And it’s a fantastic thing to do.
I first found out about Nanowrimo because of its now-defunct sister program, the Script Frenzy, where screenwriters worked on first drafts of film scripts over the month of April. Unfortunately, that program was retired, but participating in the Frenzy led me to Nanowrimo.
I’ve enjoyed Nanowrimo in two ways. First, I was able to finally complete my novel, Thimblerig’s Ark, because a draft was written and edited during subsequent Nanowrimos. Second, as an upper elementary teacher specializing in reading and writing, I’ve taken two classes of fifth graders through Nanowrimo through the Young Writers Program, and I’m currently preparing a class of 6th graders to go through the month of insane writing. I’ve done this in international schools in Kazakhstan and China, and it’s been a huge success as I’ve watched ten and eleven year old children blossom as writers.
This is the wonderful thing about Nanowrimo – it gives us an excuse to do the thing that we could be doing at any time, but which we have a hard time actually sitting down and doing – writing without abandon. In November, anyone (with understanding family members) can excuse themselves from the bulk of other responsibilities for thirty days while they get their story out of their head and onto the page.
And writing the first draft is the biggest challenge, isn’t it?
So if you are one of those people sitting around thinking that you would like to write The Next Great Novel, but you don’t have the time, consider taking part in Nanowrimo. It won’t cost you a penny, but it might just be the thing that helps you to achieve that particular dream.
And you still have half a month to get yourself ready. What are you waiting for?
You already know about Noah.
Just wait until you read the animal’s story.
“I found the pages flying by…”
“a breath of fresh air…”
“not just for children…”
Thimblerig is a little groundhog with big problems.
He’s a loner con-artist who’s losing his mojo; the wild dogs who run the forest harass him at every turn; he’s having vivid nightmares of apocalyptic floods; and worst of all, he believes he sees unicorns when everyone knows unicorns are only the stuff of legend.
In a moment of inspiration, he comes up with the ultimate con: persuade as many suckers as he can that a world-ending flood is coming; the fabled unicorns have told him where the only safe place will be; and only he can lead them to safety.
All for a reasonable price, of course.
When the flood really does come, Thimblerig has a choice: either save the ones who trusted him, or lose everything.
And that’s when he discovers that his problems have only just begun.
For the next few hours you can still download Thimblerig’s Ark for only $1.99, and then it goes up to $2.99. Hurry up and get your copy now!
One of the cool things about publishing your own books on Amazon is that you are able to set your own deals from time to time. In this case, I’ve decided to offer Thimblerig’s Ark for only 99¢ for a limited amount of time. In a couple of days, the price will go up to $1.99, and then a couple of days later it will go up to $2.99, before finally returning to the normal price of $3.99 a couple of days later. So skip over there post haste and get a wonderful novel for the same price as a 99 cent cup of coffee! Or a 99¢ movie rental! Or a 99¢ pair of sport socks! Or a 99¢…
Well, you get the idea.
And remember, you don’t need to own a Kindle to read this book! You can also download a free Kindle app for any device here, and then you can read Thimblerig’s Ark on your Ipad, or your Android, or your Atari 2600!
What are you waiting for? Run over there now and download Thimblerig’s Ark for only 99¢!
Oh. I didn’t realize that you had another tab open. Sorry. My bad. Go on about your business.
That is, if your business includes downloading Thimblerig’s Ark for 99¢!