A Vision for Writing

Back when blogging was cool (it’s been a few years, I know), the big piece of advice for people starting out was always to find your niche and stick to it. Unfortunately for me, I got into blogging late and I didn’t have a niche. I wanted to write about everything under the sun. Then I started my new website about my published writing and guess what? I don’t have a niche there either.

I’ve been published nearly 20 times since my first article in 2000 (mostly full list here), with most of those articles coming in the last three years. I’ve written about my daughter’s hospital stay, praying for the military, theology, and churches in action. I’ve even written about writing! If that isn’t a wide smattering of topics, I don’t know what is!

What ties almost all of those stories together, however, is an honest desire to see the gospel go out and be fruitful. When I wrote about multisite churches presenting a consistent gospel message in June (read it here), and the accompanying blog post (here), I wrote with the mind that the gospel message is important, so how do I confirm that the God’s word will not return void at these churches?

It’s questions like that that motivate me. I hope they motivate you too. If we, who are believers, begin to ask ourselves if our actions further the gospel, or take away from it, I think we’ll be better off, and so will God’s church. For example, I’ve curtailed my science fiction writing to where it barely exists. Mostly, it’s just for fun now when I’m struggling with writer’s block. Why? Because most of those stories didn’t further the gospel message and bring glory to God. They were neutral, for the most part, and that isn’t good enough anymore. So, even though I had a dream of being a sci-fi writer in addition to my Christian writing, it’s much less of a priority for me now, if it is at all.

I want to hear from you! If you’re a budding writer yourself, if a piece touches you, if a piece angers you, or you just want to reach out, write me at dan@navychristian.org. My writing gets better if I know what people think of it. So don’t hesitate to write me!

Remember, God’s message of salvation is key to just about everything in life. I’m just here to write about it!

My Hopes for The Dirty Campaign

Special note: Sign up at this link to get your free copy of The Dirty Campaign, which will be released on Aug 27th to current subscribers. 

The Campaign Cover Draft 4

I’m just over two weeks from launching The Dirty Campaign. Can you believe it? I’m very excited about this story, which puts the reader in the middle of Sunset, Kansas during the 2018 election cycle.

I have several hopes for this novelette. Some of those hopes are for my writing career and some are for my ministry. Let’s start with the ministry desires.

  1.  I hope I can help people make good political decisions this coming cycle. I can’t know all of your reasons for voting the way you do, and the opposite is obviously true, but I believe I can help you focus your energy on the overall picture through the characters in my story. Each of them has a reason for voting the way they do, just like each of us does, and I hope that by presenting that, I can help you make good decisions in November.
  2. I hope I can help Christians realize that they represent God when they talk about their election choices. One of the minor characters in the book makes things worse because he forgets that he’s an ambassador for Christ instead of a bullhorn for conservative values. We have to be better and I hope we can all use his example to fuel a correct posture toward others.
  3. I hope I can help unbelievers see that politics isn’t a black and white issue, that there are many nuances that we struggle with just as much as they do. I have a lot of friends who are unbelievers. Some are more hostile than others (just like believers can be), and I hope that they can see, should they decide to read this story, that we are multifaceted just as they are.

The Dirty Campaign was written with a couple of career hopes, and I’m going to be upfront in the hopes that you won’t judge me as I do.

  1.  Entertain you. Fiction exists to entertain. Yes, it teaches, encourages, enlightens, convicts, and all the rest, but it exists to entertain. I hope you are entertained by The Dirty Campaign.
  2. Build a subscriber base. Part of offering the story for free in the beginning is to build a subscriber base. I’m very confident that the Sunset series will stick around for a long time, and I want people on board who will be interested in receiving information about the story for years to come! With Facebook, Amazon, Google, and other major social media players changing algorithms, email remains the best way for people to receive updates about the series.
  3. Create fans. My biggest career hope for this story is that it successfully introduces you to the main characters of Sunset and that you fall in love with them. Not my writing, not my tone or style, but with my characters. I want you to love them as much as I love them. This is the first big step in that process.

I would love for you to partner with me on this project, first by downloading and signing up for the Sunset newsletter, and by sharing it with your contacts. I’ll share more about that in a future post.

To get on the list now, sign up here. Your free link for the story will be in your in box the last week of August! You can unsubscribe at any time.

My Multisite Church Problem

This post is a companion piece for an article I wrote for Evangelical Free Church of America. You can read it here.

I thought they were all egotistical megalomaniacs bent on making Outreach’s 100 fastest growing churches list, to be quite honest. I didn’t think there could be any way that a pastor at a multisite church could possibly be interested in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Surely they had to water down the gospel in order to have more than one site!

This became a problem for me in 2017. When my family moved back to San Diego to take a new position in the Navy, I tried to focus on churches that only had one location. I was bound and determined to avoid multisite churches like the plague.c56772_dd97dfecd68f4d7aa4d67d22dc37278f

One by one, the churches we visited just didn’t seem to quite fit. While checking around, I did begrudgingly go to two multisite churches in my neighborhood. One of these visits was to Legacy Church in Tierrasanta. Much to my dismay, both of them were very good.

I went back to other single-site churches, hoping that one of them would be our match. They weren’t. Instead, the multisite churches were great, meaning that they preached the true gospel. I started to change my thinking on the issue. Could multisite churches be more than just ego boosts for their pastors?

As I learned more about Legacy Church, I came to realize that the pastor usually travels from the first location to the second location and back to cover all three services. In many ways, Legacy Church was emulating the Methodist circuit riders of old. Instead of covering miles of a frontier or a set of rural communities, however, Legacy covers La Mesa, CA and the Tierrasanta neighborhood of San Diego.

Then I thought: “This is not how I thought multisite churches worked. I wonder if there are other models as well.”

That thought officially launched my research into multisite churches, followed quickly by a query to the editor of EFCA Today, Diane McDougal. She ok’d the project on the understanding that final approval would come after it was complete. I began my research with Dr. Larry Osborne of North Coast Church in San Diego. Dr. Osborne was great to work with, as was his administrative assistant, Amanda Hoffman. She worked out a schedule that met both Dr. Osborne’s needs and mine as the writer. Our talk lasted about a half hour.

First question: What is the Gospel? I figured…hey, if they weren’t about the gospel, then I’d know my research could end. The gospel is the most important thing, as far as I can tell, so I started my questions with that.

He answered with I Corinthians 15, which encompasses the death, burial, and resurrection. When I asked him why he started there, he replied, “I figured that what the apostle Paul describes as his gospel is good enough for me as a working description.”

Ok, so far so good. Turns out one of the site pastors for North Coast also had a solid definition. Jay Foulk, who oversees the San Marcos/Escondido campus, said the gospel was, “the good news that through Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection, we can be saved from our sins through faith in Him.”

Wow. So maybe this is not only, not bad, but maybe good. My shell was beginning to crack. I still didn’t want to go full bore, but around this time, Alicia and I were regularly attending a multisite church (Legacy), so I figured I needed to get to the bottom of it soon.

I reached out to Nathan Miller, who oversees the site pastors for Christ Community Church in the Kansas City metro area. Nathan was likewise easy to talk to and a gracious subject. As we talked about the definition for the gospel, he added, “No matter what we’re preaching, we ask, ‘How do we get to Jesus?’”

Whereas North Coast Church utilizes a single preacher each week who preaches to all locations via video, Christ Community Church utilizes a model wherein each site’s pastor preaches each week on an agreed topic with agreed-upon points. They meet each week to talk about the upcoming sermon in order to provide a consistent gospel message. In both models, local worship leaders provide the musical leadership to their respective sites.

The rest of the interviews went very well. I was more than satisfied by the answers given. By the time I had finished my first draft of the article, I had become comfortable with joining Legacy Church.

We are now a part of Legacy’s Tierrasanta campus, growing as a family under the leadership of Curt, Todd, Troy, and the rest. And I’ve come to learn just how impacting multisite churches can be in the multiple communities they serve in. I’m probably not ready to go to a service where the only interaction I have with the pastor is on a video screen, but I am comfortable with the model we have at Legacy, and I’m comfortable with telling people about North Coast Church (for my San Diego friends who aren’t in my neighborhood). For those I know in Kansas City, I highly recommend Christ Community Church as well.

As a final note, I turned in my final draft to the new editor, Abby Farson Pratt, at 750 words. Diane liked the articles tight and economic. Abby, while appreciating tight writing, also wanted to explore the issue more, giving me a set of questions she wanted answered for the next draft. I went back to the pastors I had worked with on the project and, ever gracious, they answered the new round of questions. I turned in the new article at approximately 1200 words. That just goes to show that it’s vital to know what your editor wants when he or she wants it.

I would love your thoughts…and as always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.

First Fiction Credit

The Gem CoverI’m so excited, and grateful, that my first fiction piece just appeared in The Gem, a take home paper for adults in the CoG denomination. Finding a place for short stories in the Christian market is difficult at best, so I’m grateful that my story, “The Roofer,” found a home in only two tries.

From my cover letter that sold the story: The Roofer,” is about a Christian businessman helping a homeless man after prompting by the Holy Spirit. The story will inspire The Gem readers to listen to those nudges from the Holy Spirit that we all get, but sometimes ignore. The message of this story is, “Stop ignoring the Spirit!”

If you have the April 8 issue of The Gem, take a look at “The Roofer!”

Presentation at SET High School

DSCN2714I was so blessed to present a workshop for students at SET High School in San Diego, CA on getting published. The class was “Writing as a Career” and while I don’t yet write as a career, I am on that journey. Since I’m a few steps ahead of these students, I was invited in to talk about that process.

One of the coolest things is that, before he really knew I was doing this, my son Timothy signed up for the class. It was interesting to see how he interacted in class, and I hope interesting for him to see his old man’s passion.

The entire idea of a class about writing for a career intrigues me, and I wish I’d had that opportunity growing up. I asked Ava Lennon, the educator for SET High School who teaches the class, why she did so and she responded, “I want to help students find their voices through writing. So often, English in general can be a turn-off for students, but a class like this enables students to see writing in a new way!”

Despite being a published author, the mechanics of English are complex and difficult (for me) to grasp. It’s nice to see a teacher striving to make the written language more accessible and understandable to students.

I’m also happy to present to these students because I get to relive that intense excitement of seeing my name in print. You know what? That fire still gets me deep in the chest each time my name appears on the page. Even after 16 credits in over a dozen periodicals, it still gets me like the first time in Pentecostal Messenger back in the spring of 2000.

That’s the main thing I wanted to show the kids. They all need something to carry them through the writing dry spells. Unless they learn the kind of ambition it takes to be a published author, and unless they learn to kindle that fire within them, they will not be successful writers. It is that fire…that ambition…that separates authors from the unpublished.

Ms. Lennon invites outside speakers in because, “my students deserve to hear from a variety of different published authors. If they are truly to succeed, they need to talk to people who have struggled, who have gone through the hard times, but who have persevered nonetheless.”

This is the sort of attitude that I believe my teachers had when I was a child. It was a different form (Girard, Kansas didn’t have a lot of published authors when I was young), but when Mrs. Johnson let me take home a laptop to write my stories, it was to foster this perseverance and to start seeing my stories on the page. These are things I’ll always be grateful for, and I hope these students will be likewise grateful for Ms. Lennon.

Continues Lennon: “I want them to see themselves in others. I want them to hear about different perspectives. I want them to LEARN.”

You don’t get better than that in a teacher.

I’m so grateful to Ms. Ava Lennon and SET high school for letting me share my passion for writing with the students and to talk through the writing and publishing process. Words cannot really describe the joy in my heart as I answered questions from the students.

I hope to have many opportunities like this in the future, both at SET and other venues. If I can help just a few people, my son included, gain success in their writing ventures, I’ll be as happy as a lark (that’s a simile, in case you didn’t know that)!

As always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.

2018 Resource Investments

IMG_7389Since making a decision on Christmas of 2015 that I would become serious about my writing, I’ve made it a point to make one writing investment each winter. For the last few years, that investment has meant buying a few writing books. Here’s what I bought for Christmas of 2017:

  1. Interzone:
  • One of my goals is to get published in a science fiction magazine this year. Part of making that goal a reality is to fully understand what gets published in science fiction magazines. Side note: in the fall of 2017, I ordered a combo pack of Analog and Asimov magazines. You can do the same at this LINK). Link to purchase Interzone below:

  1. Christian Writer’s Market Guide:
  • I purchased the Writer’s Digest Writer’s Market Guide in September and was sorely disappointed in the religious section. Only a handful of periodicals were represented. I didn’t want to buy yet another market guide, but I felt like I had no real choice in the matter. I write religious articles and stories for the most part, so I need a good market guide for that industry.
  • Also, I have purchased the Christian Writer’s Market Guide several years ago when Sally Stuart used to publish it. It was a good publication then, and I am making an assumption that the agent Steve Laube has continued that quality as he oversees its publication. I like it so far. Link to purchase below:

  1. Writer’s Digest
  • I’ll be honest, I bought this because Andy Weir, who I listened to in person, is on the cover. He had some great stories about his writing career, so I want more. I don’t subscribe to this magazine (might start soon), but I usually buy the first issue of the year. Link to purchase a sample copy at this LINK:
  1. Crafting Novels and Short Stories:
  • I’ve submitted several stories in the past, and it’s only recently that I realized that I need some serious work on my short story craft. Honestly, my book-length fiction needs work too. I’ve become fairly good at writing articles and essays (enough to have over a dozen credits), but I want more.

While that’s it for now, don’t be surprised if I update this list from time to time in 2018. In making my writing more of a priority, I will be adding the resources to make it a successful expenditure of my time. Check back for more!

2017 Money Post

Well, I’m still broke, though I did just get a $150 check for writing an article for The Living Church.

I’m very grateful, but still broke.

I’ve never talked publically about money before in terms of my writing, but as my wife and I have recently decided that my writing needed to support itself (I made that decision, she obliged), I’ve decided to get more realistic about the endeavor.

First, I’m grateful that I already have a really good laptop (MacBook Pro-2012), which I upgraded to an SSD and have the original HDD as a backup drive. I also have a functioning iPad (1st Gen mini) that still works decently well for reading and email. Finally, I have an iPhone, though we plan to trade down on cell phones as part of our “restructuring.” All in all, I’m good as far as tech is concerned. If, for some reason, my laptop dies, I have about a half dozen broken down computers in my garage that I could build a new one if I needed (think Johnny Cash’s “One Piece at a Time” without the threat of theft).

Anyway, I’m going to make this work. This is going to be fairly lengthy, so bear with me.

First, let’s talk about what my writing paying for itself means:

  1. I usually purchase a few writing-related books each year. Normally, I buy those around Christmas because that’s when I get gift cards or other spending money. However, my recent copy of Writer’s Market (2018) came from an article written for The Lookout (see above).
  2. When an article or story gets published, I usually spread it around social media, including my Navy Christian Report Facebook page. I could rant for hours about how Facebook makes you pay for exposure, but they aren’t going to change for little guys like me. Paying $10-$20 for a post usually puts it in front of around 1000 people.
  3. On a related note, I am still building my community, and that takes money as well. Every quarter or so, or after an article is published, I usually spend $25 or so to build my Facebook page. This is a long, tedious process, but it will pay off someday when I get that book contract.
  4. If all goes well, the hope is that this process will net me real money (see below) and start supporting my family the way my family has supported my writing. That means helping buy a house someday, helping put the kids through college, etc.
  5. Finally, as a Christian, my writing must also pay enough for itself that it covers its own tithe. If I need to make a $1000, for example, to buy a new piece of technology or whatever, it must also cover the amount I’d be giving back to God for the privilege. I don’t mean to be so blunt or sterile about tithing. I realize that it’s a spiritual process. As such, I’ve made a decision to make a commitment to tithe on my writing income.

Current Writing Income

  1. 2016 was the year I decided to make writing work. I had to accept a few of non-paying opportunities in order to get the credits rolling, but I’m also grateful for the paying publications. That year was my most successful ever, with more published clips (7) than in all previous years combined. In all, 2016 netted me $535 on four paid articles.
  2. 2017 was an odd year (no pun intended). I deployed for the first seven months, so opportunities to write were less frequent. I did manage to have four articles published (3 paying) for a net income of $355. Amazon KDP ($29.92) and Smashwords ($7.75) added another $37.67, gaining me a total of $392.67. The biggest thing to come out of 2017 was a finished draft (and subsequent rewrite) of Tragedy in Sunset, my first real novel.
  3. Contrasting that modest income is the outlays. In order to build a following and expand my influence on Facebook, for example, I spent $191.34 on advertising. All writers also need to keep up with their trade, so add $41.45 in books. I subscribe to Christianity Today and San Diego Union Tribune ($10/month), so add another $39.99 to that amount. I don’t count the paper since I read it generally as well as for research (at this time…that may change this year).  I also went to an author event at UCSD (Andy Weir), which cost me $49. Finally, I have WordPress for this lovely site, which is another $35.88/year. All told, I wrote off $357.67.
  4. 2018 is hopefully a breakout year in many ways. I have the following goals for 2018:
    1. Sign a contract with an agent for representation.
    2. Sell Tragedy in Sunset (success of this largely depends on the previous point).
    3. Sell at least 1 sci-fi story.
    4. Sell at least 1 article to a major national magazine (e.g. Christianity Today, Relevant, Newsweek, etc).
    5. Get paid for six articles.

I’ve got a lot of work to do in order to make this all a reality. If you’re thinking, “Why in the world would anyone want to write when the payoff is so small?” Well, if that’s your thought, then you’re right…don’t write! For all of the John Grishams, John Scalzis, and Stephen Kings in the world, there are thousands of S. Daniel Smiths.

I don’t write because I make a lot of money. I write because I can’t not write!

Which reminds me…I need to go write right now!