TEN THINGS GOD TAUGHT ME ON THE SOUL EXPRESSIONS TOUR
1. DON'T JUDGE A BOOK--OR ITS AUTHOR--BY THE COVER.
I have to be honest. When I saw some of the books scheduled for the tour, I was feeling out of place before I even left home. As usual, God put the joke on me. It was the urban fiction and erotica authors that I connected with first. They even hung out with my mom. They treated this church chick with kindness and expanded my understanding of the heartbreaking things that are going on. Books are books but people are people and God is working on us all.
2. MASS MARKET PAPERBACKS HAVE MASS APPEAL...FOR REAL!
When my Steeple Hill trade books got downsized to mass market, readers wrote asking about "those little books." As I said then, many a woman with five dollars and hurting heart has been uplifted my a story of hope and love. When the women arrived with SHOPPING CARTS of romances for Brenda Jackson, Beverly Jenkins, Rochelle Alers and Donna Hill to sign, I felt honored to have been in their presence and even more proud of my "little books."
3. NO AUTHOR'S ROAD IS THE SAME.
God gives each author her own road, a trail crooked with waiting and rejection for some and a seemingly straight shot to success for others. Yet, as I listened to the sistah stories (and the brothah ones too), I realized there are no easy paths, no shortcuts and no way to compare. And yet, I did it anyway, and by evening found myself far into what-am-doing-here land. I had to call Claudia for the pep talk I usually don't need until page 175. She repeated our script with zeal, ending, as always with,"Just trust God." Thinking of it now, I daydream a footpath through a field of wheat, dotted with sunflowers, the path where Jesus carries each of us to different destinations, a road that rolls up behind us as we go.
4.CHRISTIANITY HAS A BAD RAP.
One of the things that I think surprised me the most was some of the reactions to the term "Christian fiction" or just the word Christian in general. One author of a different faith expressed how it is often assumed she is a Christian and people pray things over her without her permission and proclaimed she was going to hell and so on, but basically, "that's just how Christians are." It sounded a lot like the book UnChristian: What a New Generation Thinks about Christ and why it Matters, that I'd heard about at the Baker chocolate party a couple years back. Only this was real and personal, not on a page. Since I've been home, I've really been considering anew what our labels mean to others. For the authors on the bus, these words meant very different things. I hope to bring you some interviews soon from their perspectives.
5. BOOKS ARE FAR FROM DEAD.
For years now, people have been proclaiming the death of the printed book and the rise of e-readers, the Internet and other technology. True enough, two authors on the bus brought their Kindles along and downloaded some of our books with a flick of the wrist, but for the hundreds we met along the tour and the woman penning this post, it's still all about getting into bed and turning the page...and the next one...and the next. I've been doing it since I was four years old and I don't think I'll stop anytime soon.(Though if anyone wants to send me a Kindle, I'll try it! LOL)
6. WRITING AND PUBLISHING ARE TWO VERY DIFFERENT THINGS.
One thing that came very clear for me during the tour is the void between art and business. As I watched and listened to the best-selling authors on the bus, my mind reeled at talk of months spent on the road and the money spent on advertising and promotion. I can see clearly why I haven't achieved what some might consider success--bestsellerdom isn't just about writing. It must be bought, both in money and time, two things I'm usually short on. And yet, I don't regret it. I've done what I could with what I had, however I will try to implement some of what I learned and I'm thankful that Baker believed in me enough to send me so I could see even more of how things work. Though I love business, I believe it is the art that intrigues me more, the hidden dance so at odds between the hustle required for someone to listen to the tune. And yet, I know that God has called me here. By and by, it will all come clear.
7. DON'T JUDGE A READER BY HER COLOR.
One of the biggest problems I've had with my writing has been folks not knowing where to put me. On this trip, it was no different as alongside Rhythms of Grace, I had Pink, Jade and Turquoise. (Tangerine might have been sold out. Dunno.) Last year, I wondered if all four women on the cover might have made a difference. Well, this tour made me sure of that conclusion. I was glad to have something for the white readers who approached the table. However, to my surprise, when I shared Turqouise with them, they put it down and reached for Rhythms of Grace. They had a look as if to say, "Don't give me the white girl book. Give me what you're handing everybody else." I had to laugh at that since in Christian publishing the prevailing thought is that people only pick up covers with characters who look like them. I guess we all need to get out more.
8. THERE ARE DEFINITELY SOME KIND OF SLEEP-INDUCING DRUGS IN THE MARRIOTT DUVETS.
At ACFW 2006, Claudia Mair Burney and I roomed together and I warned her not to sit down on the bed too long or even consider laying down because she'd wake up fully clothed with the TV on. Well, this trip was no different. I called myself sitting down for a minute and zzzzz... I'm now totally convinced that those things have some sleeping powder or something. When I grow up, I'm going to get one of those duvets for my bedroom, I think. I know! I'll get one for my kids! LOL
9. ALWAYS BRING YOUR GYM CLOTHES!
A bus tour is basically a cruise...on wheels. We ate good y'all. Then we ate good again and often late because we'd been on the road. My mother made me go to the fitness center in sneakers and jeans the first night and I should have kept it up. I did expand my palate though and absorbed many sights and scents that will likely appear in future books so it's all good...except for my waistline, which was already well, generous. LOL Workout dvds here I come!
10. GREAT WRITERS ARE GREAT READERS.
One of the best experiences of the tour for me was talking books with some of the authors. No matter what genre the author wrote in, most folks read widely and the conversations really inspired me. Donna Hill, Bernice McFadden and I talked about everything from trends to the impact of race on publishing while others were chatting over their meals. There was reading everywhere and talk of books in a pure and passionate way that only bibliophiles can understand. I've met a lot of people who want to write, but don't read. I tell them all that really doesn't work. My experience on the tour backed me up.
I'll wind up by saying that every author (and reader) is a book and if you'll turn the page, you'll learn something new. Pam Nelson and the Levy team who were often up before dawn, amazed me by their dedication. The Romance Divas (Rochelle Alers, Donna Hill - click here ror her recap, Brenda Jackson and Beverly Jenkins) were the height of class, grace and humor and reminded me that writing is both a gift and a profession. The Ponytail Princesses (Victoria Christopher Murray and Kimberla Lawson Roby) showed me the blessing of friendship and faithfulness in a business that can be tough. Dr. Angela Benson reminded me that it'll all work out in the end and that we all have our own author paths.
The Urban Queens (Wahida Clark, Allison Hobbs, Seven and Vickie Stringer) reminded me of the importance of sisterhood, loyalty and partnership and a healthy sprinkle of hustle. The YA crew (L. Divine and Earl Sewell) gave me a glance into the power of writing for young people (and Earl was kind enough to open all the stuff I kept handing him! LOL). The Undercover Artist, Bernice McFadden (read her recap), reminded me that no matter what markets or publishers do, there's always a way to pay your bills and feed your dreams, even if they call it by two different names. As I said before, I've been to a lot of writer's conferences but the knowledge and wisdom exchanged on the Soul Expressions bus topped them all.
Marilynn Griffith is a wife to a deacon, mom to a tribe and proof that God gives second chances. When she's not trying to park her van straight or find someone a clean shirt, she writes novels about faith, friendship and forgiveness and speaks to women and writers about reaching their dreams. Visit her at http://www.marilynngriffith.com/