A Book Fair to Keep in Mind

January 27, 2010

By: Dennis Bates

Have you ever promised to do something before you stopped to think. I was going to go on, but I might as well put the period there. It covers so much more that way, and summarizes a lot of the decisions I make, or at least the reason I make them.

Well, I did it again.

I saw an article in my local newspaper about a local, self published author who decided we needed a book fair in this area. There’s never been a book fair here before. I’m a local self published author. I could use some exposure, so it seemed like a natural thing for me to send an email to the man in the article and tell him I wanted to be involved.

I figure I’d never hear from the guy, but in a fit of conscientiousness, I told him about myself. A few days later I got a phone call from the man. My wife almost hung up on him, figuring he was a telemarketer. We get an endless string of those. The guy turned out to be a very nice man so when he asked me to come to a meeting at the local writer’s center to discuss the book fair, I went. Not only did I go, but I agreed to help and ended up on the marketing committee.

So far you might be asking yourself, “So what?”

That’s where complication number one comes in. I have absolutely no idea what a book fair is. I thought it was just one big book signing or something like that. It isn’t. It’s a lot more than that and it includes local libraries, media people, book store managers, and other things I’m still learning about.

Complication number two is that so far the people on the committee all have slightly different ideas of what should and should not be involved, even though none of us has ever been involved in a book fair before. At least not to any significant degree. There’s an old adage about this that deals with who’s leading whom, but it may be politically incorrect so I’ll refrain from using it here.

So far we will be operating a book fair during an annual Mother’s Day  arts and crafts festival run by the power élite in the area. At least that’s how they think of themselves. Our piece of that covers the entire floor of a small restaurant on the fringe of the festival even though technically we are not official members of the festival itself. Don’t ask. Chalk it up to snobbery and move on. At least we’re there.

After that we will move to the local minor league baseball park and hold a traditional book signing there. There are plans that one or several of us might even get the chance to throw out the first pitch. Remember, it’s minor league baseball, but we’ll take it. I’ve never heard of mixing hot dogs, peanuts and a book signing before, but maybe we’ll be trend setters. Who knows?

The point of all this is I just wanted to find a place to schlep a few books, and now I may have to learn how to grip a four seam fast ball again and hope I don’t bounce it too many times on its way to the plate. That would be embarrassing. The rest of it just involves a lot of meetings and hard work. I never planned on that.

Keep watching here for further developments, and if you’re interested in helping or just having small place to sell some of your books, drop me an email. I’ll see what I can do and there might even be a pretzel in it for you.


The Sun Is Out

January 26, 2010

By:Dennis Bates

The sunlight is streaming in the window of the lower level back door next to my work area today. That alone excites me. It has been 14 days since we saw the sun here is eastern Iowa, and believe me nothing depresses me more than the constant gray skies that block out the sun.

Sure, it’s still only 14 degrees and the wind gusts make the temperature feel as if it is below zero as they blow the new snow around. But the sunshine almost makes up for all of that. Even though it is cold, there is something cheery about the sun.

The Bible tells us that on more than one occasion the face of Jesus shown as bright as the sun. At one point during the transfiguration His brightness was so overpowering that God commented from the heavens that Jesus was His son and He was well pleased with Him. The disciples fell on their faces when they heard and saw that. That’s how powerful the experience was to them.

That’s how it is with Jesus. He lights the dark corners of our lives and provides light on both cloudy and cloudless days. Sometimes His brightness is almost overwhelming even for those of us who are used to it.

But think of those who are not used to it. Think about those who live in the darkness of night or even the dull grays of a cloudy day. Is it any wonder that they are depressed, that they strive to find a way to give meaning to their depression and overcome it?

I know how gloomy I felt for the last two weeks even though I knew that eventually the sun would come out again and lift our spirits. How deep would my gloom be if I had no hope, no assurance and no reason to believe that I would ever see the sun again? Deeper than I could probably stand.

As Christians we need to tell others about the sun that lies just behind the clouds waiting to shine through. We need to assure those who live in the gray gloom of sunless lives that they do not have to live there forever. There is hope. We know because we have seen it and experienced it.

As the prophet Isaiah proclaimed:

            The people walking in darkness

                        have seen a great light;

            on those living in the land of the

                        shadow of death

            a light has dawned

And the prophecy was fulfilled in the Light to all the world. Jesus.

Freezing Rain

January 20, 2010

By: Dennis Bates

All beautiful the march of days, as seasons come and go;

The hand that shaped the rose has wrought the crystal of the snow,

Has sent the hoary frost of heaven, the flowing waters sealed,

And laid a silent loveliness on hill and wood and field.

                                                                              -Frances Whitmarsh Wile (1911)

The forecast for today is freezing rain, which may leave between a half-inch and an inch of ice over the six to eight inches of snow still left from earlier this month. The window to my basement office already has iced over, and I can hear the wind howling outside.

. The verses above came from my brother’s weekly devotional email. I love two things about them: their imagery and the message those word pictures convey.

I can see God’s own hands as they lovingly shape a perfect red rose. I can also see God’s breath in the hoary frost of heaven as it freezes the flowing waters and seals them, turning them into snow, or in my case, ice. And I am in awe.

God reveals himself readily every minute of every day. How often we forget to look for God’s awesome revelation of Himself, even in the freezing rain on my window. We serve an awesome God who loves us and shows Himself all around us every day.

All we have to do is look.

After the Call

January 19, 2010

By: Dennis Bates

I wonder if Edgar Allen Poe had to take time out from his writing to market his short stories and poems. How about Dickens? Did he write “A Christmas Carol” after a frustrating day at the book stores?

Marketing is the bane of every author’s existence. If you are self published, like I am, it’s just one more thing you hadn’t counted on when you decided to write, and it’s almost enough to make a person want to find an agent. Almost. These days you have to market to even find one of those.

Perhaps when you’re younger, the one-sheet synopses, one line pitches, and the begging for agents to represent you and editor’s to understand you is tolerable. Maybe when you are younger and more pliable as an author, you more willing to allow your diamond studded stories to  be translated into costume jewelry so they have a larger market, or any market at all, for that matter.

But when you get older most of us are unwilling to change our unique and fresh stories (written with tongue firmly in cheek) into the kind of formula that sells thousands of copies. And let’s face it, that’s the kind of author an agent wants to represent. You can’t really blame them for that, by the way; that’s how they make a living. If you don’t make money, neither do they.

In spite of what I know to be true economically there is this fatal flaw inside people like me that leads us down a much more complicated path humming what we convince ourselves is a simpler song. Stubborn. I think that’s what you call people like me, among other things even less flattering. And as my mother used to say, sometimes I’m just too stubborn for my own good. I’ve known that about myself for a long time. I just don’t seem to be able to do anything about it.

 “If you build it they will come,” makes a good line for a movie, but even here in Iowa where the movie was filmed, most of us know better. Once you build it, you have to sell it, and that means to some degree that you have to build something someone actually wants to buy.

Of course, if you not concerned about selling what you build, that’s another matter. If you want to build one “Field of Dreams” after another merely to say you can, then go for it. It will keep you occupied and maybe even inspire a person or two, but don’t be surprised if that field turns back into a cornfield a few years down the line, or worse yet, a weed patch.

That’s what happens when fertile soil is left unattended.  It’s also what happens to our writing if we leave it unattended by not marketing it. I know that many of us believe that we have been called by God to write, and I believe we have been. My only question is are we going to market what we’ve been called to do, or are we going to move from one field to another leaving nothing but a fertile field for the weeds to come in behind us?

Receiving God’s call is life changing. Responding to His call is exciting and exhilarating. Marketing what He gives us so it doesn’t revert back to a patch of weeds is hard. That doesn’t mean we should ignore it.

Trust, Mercy, Grace

January 18, 2010

By:  Staci Stallings

There is a fascinating personality test that gives your dominant personality in colors.  The four colors are blue, green, orange and gold.  While each is fascinating, I was speaking with a very gold friend of mine the other night, so we’ll talk about gold people here.  Gold people are great.  They are organized.  They get things done… RIGHT.  They love details.  The people who do the cleaning closet show on television are probably gold.  They like bringing ORDER to everything.  They have VERY high expectations of everyone in their lives, and they don’t handle life well when their expectations are not met.  They have high standards for themselves and everyone else.

My gold friend and I were talking about relationships, and I said, “In relationships, gold people really have to learn three words:  trust, mercy, and grace.”

Because many of us have gold tendencies, I’ll explain.

When you have high expectations, it is easy to get frustrated with others (and yourself) because we are not perfect.  Further, we don’t all see things the same way, and we don’t always make decisions the same way.  So what you wanted to happen, might not.  What then?

As I put forward to my friend, a gold person must first learn trust because they tend to want to have a guarantee before they put a toe in the water.  They have been let down so often that it’s easy for them to convince themselves to just stay on the sidelines.  “My standards are so high, there’s no way you can measure up.”

Trust is hard to learn especially with other less-than-perfect people.  The fact is, we “other people” are going to let you down.

So the next word you need to learn is mercy.

Mercy is what you get when you don’t deserve it.  You get a second chance and a third chance.  You get the benefit of the doubt.  Tough to give someone when they let you down.

Finally, what you most need as a gold person with high standards is grace.  Grace to cover all that not-perfect in your life.  You need God’s grace to realize that no one deserves what God holds out to us, but He holds it out anyway.

If you’re someone with high standards, you might want to practice trust, mercy, and grace.  Come to think of it, those are three good things to practice even if you’re NOT gold.

God’s Creation

January 14, 2010

By:  Staci Stallings

I’m having issues with my knee.  It started with other issues, but when we got a Wii Balance Board and I found the joy of skateboarding…  Well, that coupled with turning 40 in September just finished off what was already a problem.

Because I was having trouble getting around after skateboarding WAAAY too much, I resorted to getting a knee brace.  Now I graduated from college.  I even went back and started on a Master’s Degree.  However, when I opened the knee brace, I quickly realized the deplorable state of my technical understanding.  The knee brace is black.  It’s made of stretchy fabric and SIX straps.  The top three are supposed to go at the top of your knee.  The bottom three… well, at the bottom.

I won’t describe the scene because your imagination can’t be any worse than it was.  The only intelligible thing was the little circle in the middle.  Circle to kneecap.  Got it.  The rest?  Forget it!

As I struggled and struggled with this contraption that was supposed to help, the thought struck me.  To support a knee, man had come up with this marvel.  Whoever came up with it had several real challenges going in.  First it has to bend; therefore, it has to be in two distinctive parts but still be in one piece.  Then there has to be a piece in the front that allows the knee to actually bend.  It has to fit to the leg as it contracts and relaxes.  It has to fit when the leg is bent and when the leg is straight.

This was no small task.

But then think just beyond that about the knee itself.  This joint that most don’t even think about until something goes wrong has to bend and straighten, with skin that stretches and straightens with no problem.  The knee when straight must hold up a whole person.  It must bend and hold to lower the person into a chair.  It even allows a person to walk or run.

It does all of that with no straps or anything!

And people say there is no God.

Good grief.  Apparently they’ve never had to use an knee brace.

Oh, and just so we’re clear.  I’m forever and immensely grateful for all those human brains that thought up how to make a brace for a knee, but that is probably just more evidence of my point.

Artist or Craftsman?

January 13, 2010

By: Dennis Bates

I think I’ve finally figured it out. Sometimes it just takes me awhile, especially when I am so convinced that I am right. That happens often, just so you know. Like the old saying goes, “I thought I was wrong once, but I wasn’t. I was mistaken.”

For several years now I have had this totally unrequited love affair with a Christian fiction writing group. And at times it hurt. I felt so unloved, so unappreciated, so misunderstood. After all, that is the definition of unrequited love: one sided.

I learned a lot of things, and I met some wonderful people in cyberspace, but I got no respect. You know what I mean? I wasn’t a total newbie to writing. I wrote a column for a newspaper in a former life, and a lot of other things that just sound like bragging at this point. So I won’t brag. It’s unseemly to say the least. But to be honest, I just didn’t get it. I just wanted to contribute, bounce ideas off fellow writers and have all of us grow from the experience.

It’s called the Socratic method. Blame it on law school if you have to blame it on somebody. It’s how I was trained; okay, and I’m actually fairly proficient at it, but there’s that bragging thing again, so I’ll stop.

At any rate, I shot right to the top of the persona non grata list on this writer’s loop  for all kinds of reasons, most of which I still find to be petty, and that’s the nice way of putting it. But gradually, I pulled in my horns and basically confined my responses to individuals rather than the entire group. You don’t get monitored and censored that way.

I was amazed at how many people agreed with me privately, even though most of them never said so in the public forum. I’m actually used to that; it’s kind of the story of my life. A lot of people appreciate someone who says out loud what they wish they had the nerve to say themselves. I just never had the good sense not to. My bad.

And then it dawned on me. The group I wanted to discuss good writing with, had a totally different concept of what that was. The powers that be there, for the most part, equated good writing with getting published. I did not. I still have this totally naïve notion that good writing is something that will stand the test of time, that enjoys a turn of a phrase, and appreciates the art in writing.

Most of the people I argued with were more interested in the craft of writing, not the artistry of it, and I don’t mean that to be the slightest bit demeaning. It’s an age old debate. Do we create something so we can sell it, or for the sheer artistry of creating it? There is no right or wrong answer when it comes down to it. The answer is “yes” to both questions.

Writing is for some people a means to make a living, even if it’s not a very good one in most cases. Writing isn’t worth much unless it makes money, and to make money you have to write something that will sell. These are the craftsmen, and there is nothing wrong with them. They know their trade and many become quite good at it. That is to be admired and emulated by all those who want that.

There are others, however, who want to create art, and that doesn’t mean they are better or superior in any way. Just different. Money and sales are fine with them, but they don’t’ write for that reason. They write because they can’t and don’t want to do anything else. They too are worthy of respect and emulation.

The problem comes when either side tries to convince the other that their way is the only way. It isn’t. Both need to be recognized, and arguing about which is better is pointless. The goal for both sides is to write. Simply write.

Christianity isn’t all that different. There is one, and only one goal, and that’s to know Jesus Christ and love him forever. He died so that we might live, and if we believe that then no matter how we get there, we are right. Theologians, ministers and priests may be the artists; the rest of us may be the craftsmen.

All of us need to seek the goal, using the path we are given. That’s why I finally get it. There is no point arguing art with a craftsmen. We just need to remember we are both headed toward the same goal and accept each other.

That’s all there is to it.