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An experiment in modern parables 1

Three-phase writing contest

PWG path to General Assembly 2016

Inspired by the way Jesus’ taught with parables, the Presbyterian Writers Guild has chosen to offer a three-phase writing contest building towards our luncheon at the 2016 General Assembly. We have chosen the fictional format as a parabolic way to inspire theological reflection on some of the issues that confront the church. Any genre—mystery, romance, fantasy, historical fiction, science fiction, etc.—is acceptable.

The contest is open to all members of the Presbyterian Writers Guild. There are three levels to this contest, and you may participate in any or all of these levels. By entering the contest, you agree to adhere to the timelines identified below and give permission for your work to be used in the manner described. (Join PWG for $25 by going to https://presbyterianwritersguild.org/join-the-presbyterian-writers-guild/. You may pay by check or through PayPal.)

Level 1—The Opening Hook

Participants are invited to submit by October 12, 2015 an opening hook for a fictional story based on a theme of your choice connected to an issue that confronts the church in 2016. It may be a sentence or a small paragraph (no more than 75 words) that will grab the reader’s attention. (You need not have written the story, only created the hook.)

Send your submission by email to Presbwriterscontest@gmail.com by October 12, 2015. All entries will be placed into a single numbered document without names attached. This will be sent to all participants. Within five days of receiving the document, participants will vote for the best single entry apart from his or her personal entry. (We trust in your integrity not to vote for your own entry.) The winners will be announced by November 3 (Election Day). The top 10 winners will be published with names attached in a future issue of The Writer. This exposes your skills to a larger public.

Level 2—Flash Fiction

Participants are invited to submit a piece of flash fiction (maximum of 1,000 words) centering on themes or issues that currently confront the church. (Connection with the opening hooks is not required.) Your submission is to be emailed to Presbwriterscontest@gmail.com by November 30, 2015 (beginning of Lectionary Year C). The top 20 entries (as determined by PWG board members) will be emailed to all participants to vote on the best story. Again, you are on your honor not to vote for your submission but to select the best entry among other submissions and submit your vote within 10 days of receipt of the documents.

The top three winners will be announced January 6, 2016 (Epiphany of the Lord) and published in a future issue of The Writer. In addition, the winning stories will be shared with editors of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, the Presbyterian Outlook, and the Communications Network. (The editors have no commitment to act on these winners, but it does introduce them to skilled writers within the Presbyterian community.)

Level 3—Short Story

Level three builds on the first two levels, although additional topics may be introduced. This time, participants are invited to submit a short story (approximately 4,000 words) that will stimulate the readers’ appreciation for an issue confronting the church in a fictional format. The goal is for participants to submit a story that introduces the reader to the ethical and theological challenges before the church (e.g. a contemporary parable). The date for submission is February 15, 2016 (Presidents’ Day). The stories are to be sent via email to Presbwriterscontest@gmail.com. At least 15 of the top stories, as determined by PWG board members, will be returned to all participants. Within 10 days of receipt, participants are asked to send their vote for the best (apart from his or her own) of the stories submitted. If there are sufficient entries to merit this, we may have to send a different set of 15 to two or more groups and then have a second vote by all participants on the best entry.

The opening paragraph of the top eight stories will be published in The Writer. The winner will receive a $100 Amazon gift certificate. Second, third. and fourth will receive $50. In addition, the winner will be published in subsequent issues of the Presbyterian Outlook in serial form, and the second place story will be published on the Outlook Web page.

Winners will be informed by May 20, 2016 (Anticipating Trinity Sunday). While participants in any of the three levels of the contest do not need to be present at the PWG luncheon, we will seek to provide exposure to as many winners as possible. Our current intention is to bind the submission winners of all three levels in one bound copy that can be shared at the luncheon and also with the larger church for a minimal price.

The purpose of the three-level contest is to engage PWG members in creatively reflecting on the issues confronting the church in a fictional format. We want to challenge, in a parabolic manner, the thinking of the whole church. In the process, emerging writers among our membership will gain recognition among those within the Presbyterian media and beyond. Authors retain copyright on their submission but grant PWG permission to make use of their writings in publicity and in the manner identified in the contest. This permission includes having your piece included in a PWG book of all the winners. Our hope is that several participants will be invited to contribute their writing skills at many levels within the church.

If this initial effort is a success, we may offer future contests in areas of nonfiction, poetry, hymn writing, curriculum pieces, etc. We are learning as we go, so we invite your feedback and suggestions to improve our effort to identify and nurture the writing skills that exist within our Presbyterian community. We encourage you to spread the word about all three phases of this contest to your friends on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. We would like to be overwhelmed by participation. Join the Guild today and enter any of the 3 phases: https://presbyterianwritersguild.org/join-the-presbyterian-writers-guild/

The Opening Hook Reply

The Presbyterian Writers Guild is sponsoring an Opening Hook contest. We are seeking opening hooks that address real-life issues that people confront, not unlike what Jesus did in his parables.

Whether you are at an airport bookstore, browsing the Amazon website, at a yard sale, or thumbing through a book at a friend’s house, what is it that causes you to pause and consider taking the time to read a particular book? If you send your best efforts to an agent or editor, why will that person take a second glance at your work? Unless you are famous or infamous, the most likely answer is what they see in the opening pages. For busy people, you often have an opening paragraph or two to HOOK the reader.

Consider what your opening hook needs to accomplish in order to attract a person to continue reading.

First, it must establish the tone and setting of the book.

Some people like reading 18th-century novels and others don’t.

Some people like the mysterious and the frightening and others prefer history or romance.

The beginning should be a vivid invitation that entices us to commit several hours to read.

Second, people are attracted to a new perspective, the unexpected, or the humorous.

Readers want to be introduced to something fresh, but they don’t want to be fooled into thinking they are reading a mystery and it turns out to be a sci-fi fantasy.

The opening lines should be consistent with the core nature of the book.

Third, a reader should be able to grasp at least the basic quest that your novel is answering.

What is the human yearning that the story seeks to address?

The idea for the story that your hook proposes may deal with an ethical quandary, prejudice, what makes life meaningful, or how humans respond to the challenges of living in a church community. You may only have the germ an idea, but you can capture the essence of the story in a few sentences. Whether you ever write the story or not, our hope is that your first few lines may cause people to urge you to continue because they want to read it.

Take 3 Reply

An interview with Kathy Bostrom

62Kathy Bostrom, recipient of the Presbyterian Writers Guild’s 2014 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award and other prestigious writing awards, has published numerous articles and more than three dozen books, most for children. Her books have sold several million copies and have been translated into 17 languages. Bostrom served as pastor of Wildwood Presbyterian Church in Chicago Presbytery for 22 years and now lives and writes full-time in Carlsbad, California. She responds to 3 questions asked by the Presbyterian Writers Guild:

  1. Whose writing has most influenced your work?

Frederick Buechner’s elegant and eloquent storytelling and his imaginative way of sharing biblical stories and concepts captivates me. I’ve read nearly everything he’s written, attended his lectures, and even had the audacity to hand him one of my early essays and ask him to read it. He sent it back to me with comments. I cringe to think how nervy I was, but he was so gracious and kind that I have resolved to always treat writers who approach me for help with the same spirit.

Barbara Brown Taylor was a later addition to my repertoire, but I poured through her sermons when I served as a pastor. As I now focus on my vocation as a writer, I’ve been drawn to the honesty and depth of her memoirs. I read Leaving Church for the second time when I found myself struggling with leaving ministry to devote myself to writing.

Katherine Paterson, as a writer and a person, has been my muse for writing children’s books. I interviewed her for a book I wrote on Newbery Medal authors and will never forget her willingness to give her time to a newbie author. We’ve kept in touch sporadically over the years and she is consistently gracious. Her love for children and for writing about tough and painful issues, even in the face of criticism, inspires me and makes me proud to be an author of children’s books, too.

Even though I’ve given up the dream of being The Next Frederick Buechner or Barbara Brown Taylor or Katherine Paterson, they have all inspired me to be Kathleen Long Bostrom, writer in her own right.

  1. In what ways has writing for children inspired your own faith?

I love the spiritual depth of children. They have an awareness of the divine that leaves me in awe. They aren’t yet jaded by the world, nor are they afraid to ask questions. My Little Blessings series with Tyndale began with a question a little girl at church asked me one Sunday morning: “Is God a boy or a girl?” I put a lot of thought into that answer, which became my first accepted book, What Is God Like? It’s been a great exercise for me as a pastor and writer to try to convey theological and spiritual truths for 6-year-olds. It’s made me think through my own understanding of faith.

We have much to learn from children. They are so resilient! They accept the traumas of the world far better than adults. They recognize death as part of life. They ask questions. They embrace the moment. Children embrace God, and the world, with open arms. They are my greatest inspiration in writing and in my faith journey.

  1. Do you have a vision for the Presbyterian Writers Guild?

The Guild has been a major part of my life as a writer, from introducing me to my first editor and my current agent, to encouraging me along the way, to honoring me with the David Steele Distinguished Writer Award in 2014. I count many of the Guild board members as my friends.

Vic Jameson, one of our deeply beloved Guild members, honored us with a bequest in his will that truly saved us as an organization. We are in a healthy place now. Our work continues to unfold as society changes and we are trying to stay current and viable. We seek ways to connect with new writers and encourage those who seek publication. Conferences are valuable but expensive to run and to attend, so we are trying to discover other ways to be a visible presence. We need to keep coloring outside the lines and trying new ventures. My vision is that in decades to come, the PWG will be strong and vital and visible. It’s up to all of us who are members to make this happen for future generations of writers.