And there’s the pitch!

That phrase brings to mind the thousands of baseball games I’ve heard on the radio over the years. I think that all the guys who do MLB play-by-play must have attended the same broadcasting school, because they all seem to say the exact same line the exact same way every time the pitcher launches the ball toward home plate. Or, maybe they’re all imitating the same guy. Or maybe they’re all imitating each other. I’d still like to hear one of them rock the boat and find a new and different way to tell listeners the pitcher’s let one fly.

I suppose that today’s crop of CBA novels have a lot in common with baseball play-by-play. There are a lot of people writing according to the same formulas and fitting nicely into the same little genre slots. Sometimes I’ll be reading a novel that seems familiar, and I realize that I’ve read pretty much the same book before but with different character names and settings, and maybe a twist or two, but the same general formula. I’ve been advised that the fastest road to getting my first novel published is to write one of those predictable formula books, Romance or Romantic Suspense or a nice Cozy Mystery. Safe stuff that proves I’m sane and able to capture complete (albeit boring) thoughts on paper and complete a manuscript (a remarkable number of first-time novelists can’t do either).

Well, I tried. It’s hard to stay “inside the box” when I was never inside the box in the first place. I tried with all my might to write a straightforward Romantic Suspense, but finally had to come to grips with the fact that it’s not. There’s romance, there’s suspense, but those are all sub-plots. At its core, it’s a character-driven story of a man who is put into situations that cause him to re-evaluate his life, his values, and his destiny. I like to think of it as a journey of grace.

The title of this fledgling of mine is Inheriting Air, and it’s about to be pitched.

No, not pitched as in “tossed into the abyss,” pitched as in “Do I have a book for you!”

I’m headed toward the annual American Christian Fiction Writers’ Conference in Dallas. ACFW is a wonderful organization full of (well, mostly) wonderful people who are ACFW Logopassionate about writing great fiction. In the course of the conference, I’ll have the opportunity to sit under the teaching of some wonderfully talented writers and work toward taking my grasp of the craft of writing up a notch or two. I’ll have the joy of rubbing shoulders with a few hundred folks who love word-wrangling just as much as I do, and put faces with the names of those whom I’ve chatted with, shared with, and in some cases rejoiced (or wept) with online. And I’ll have the opportunity to “pitch” my novel to editors and agents, with the hope that one or more will catch the same sort of excitement about this story that is all over me.

Inheriting Air is the story of Jim Clarke, the protege of an aging, childless billionaire. Jim’s uncle dies and leaves him a little AM radio station in a little town in South Arkansas. It’s an annoyance that he can’t get rid of no matter how hard he tries. He is forced to travel to the little town to either “put some lipstick on the pig” and make it more salable, or put it to death and walk away from the distraction. Inheriting Air is the story of how God uses that little town and little radio station to change Jim’s life, and then uses Jim to change theirs.

Feel free to pray for me as I attend the conference and pursue this new venture. Whether the editors love it or hate it, what’s important is that it all happen according to God’s timetable. He sees this from a much better vantage point, and if He says “not yet” it’s for good cause (even if I can’t see it).

It’s my job to pitch. the Lord will take care of lining up the right catcher! 🙂

I’m Rockin’!

I’m writing this from a splendid, weathered rocking chair in a place known affectionately as “Rocking Chair Ridge.” It’s a wonderful little strip of elevated concrete that spans the gulf between two buildings at the Ridgecrest Conference Center, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. I’m here for the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Rocking Chair RidgeWriters Conference that starts late this afternoon, and believe it or not (and I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t 🙂 ) I’m early. I arrived a little past noon, and after dodging the busses, vans, and cars of departing youth groups and Salvation Army women, I found a parking space and got myself checked in. I didn’t even have to wait in line–there wasn’t another soul on my side of the check-in desk.

But the downside of my early arrival is that my room won’t be ready for a couple or three hours . . . so I’ve got to hang out here on Rocking Chair Ridge and endure the sunny, 71 degree weather and the feel the gentle breeze on the back of my head. Darn! What a hardship! 🙂

Ridgecrest is one of two big conference centers owned by Lifeway (The Southern Baptist Convention). This is the second time in my life that I’ve been to Ridgecrest. The first was last year at about this same time, and it was a much different experience. For 17 years I’d been listening to my SBC brethren speak about Ridgecrest in the same hushed tones that Catholics use to when they speak about the Vatican. I didn’t understand why they had such a special affection for the place. After all, it’s just a conference center. I’ve been to lots of conference centers. No big deal. But last year, as I drove through the gate, I could feel it. It felt different inside than it did out there. I felt as though I had passed through a filter and a lot of the “stuff” I had rattling around in my heart stayed outside. All the apprehension, all my carefully crafted strategies and slick, well, prepared pitches and other “me-focused” stuff stayed outside.

I registered, checked in to my room, settled into the chair and opened my conference folder. Then, I read the theme scripture and cried for about half an hour. When I got up from that special moment at Jesus’ feet, my whole perspective on the conference and in my writing in general was different. I had no idea what was next for me, only that whatever it was, if I was going to continue writing I was either going to do it God’s way or not at all.

It was a wonderful conference last year. I left with new opportunities, new ways of thinking, and a totally new level of commitment to what I was doing as a Christian writer. And, to my surprise, that junk that refused to follow me through the gate wasn’t out there waiting for me when I drove back out to head home. I guess that without me feeding it, it died of malnutrition while I was inside.

It’s different for me this year. I knew what to expect, and I didn’t bother packing stuff that wouldn’t make it through the gate. There was a point last week when I wasn’t sure I was going to make it here, but it seems that God wants me here this week, and he made a way. Some day I’ll realize that He’s bigger than me and my problems.

So, here I am on Rocking Chair Ridge. My room’s probably ready now, but I’m in no hurry. I’ll just sit here and rock a while, and listen for the still, small voice in the breeze as it welcomes me back to Ridgecrest. It’s funny . . . the other day I was telling someone about Ridgecrest and they said, “You talk about the place in the same hushed, reverent voice that Catholics use when they talk about the Vatican.”

And they were right.