***Book giveaway contest***
Award winning author, Keith Clemons, is a graduate of California State University, Fullerton, where he earned a B.A. in English Literature. He is the author of five novels. His first three works, If I Should Die, Above the Stars, and These Little Ones, each received the “Best Contemporary Fiction” award in 2004, 2005 & 2007 at The Word Guild’s Canadian Christian Writing Awards competition, with his latest release, Angel in the Alley, taking a 2008 Honorable Mention. Of all the books handled by STL Distribution, Angel in the Alley, was the top selling title at the 300 store chain of Family Christian Stores for three consecutive months. His most recent novel, Mohamed’s Moon, was released May 5th, 2009.
In addition to writing, Keith frequently appears on radio and television where he expounds trends that affect both the Church and society at large. His passion for communication has resulted in the publication of more than a hundred articles. He resides with his wife at their home in Caledon, Ontario.
And now, let’s chat with Keith.
Hi, Keith, thank you for being a guest on my blog today. I understand your fifth novel, Mohamed’s Moon, came out a few months ago. What’s the book about?
Mohamed’s Moon is an attempt to explore some of the beliefs that underlie the world’s fastest growing religion, Islam. The story, of course, is foremost. In it, I have created two brothers separated at birth one of which grows up in Egypt as a fundamentalist Muslim, and the other which is whisked away to America to be raised as a Christian. The conflict ensues after the boys meet for the first time and realize that they are both in love with the same girl. While I don’t want to give away the plot, I can say that an act of terrorism is involved, which keeps the reader turning the pages while giving me time to compare the core values of Christianity and Islam. Ultimately, it’s a dichotomy of love verses hate, life verses death, and law verses grace.
Where did the idea for the novel come from?
I have a good friend, whose name is Mohamed, who grew up in Egypt as a Muslim. He was actually a member of President Mubarak’s personal security force when he came to know Christ. The story of his conversion and the persecution he underwent, which included several attempts on his life, inspired me to write about what really goes on when a Muslim embraces Christianity. As it happened, however, once I started writing, the book took a different course and ended up being set in the U.S. and became less about persecution and more about comparing the differences between the two religions.
I’m in the process of preparing for a conference I’ll be attending in September. What has your experience been with writing conferences?
I think writing conferences are great. I attended my first event long before I was ever published. It’s by far the best way an aspiring writer has of meeting and networking with other authors, editors, agents and publishers. While the caliber of each event may vary, depending on the quality of the faculty, I have found it well worthwhile to attend as many such events as time and money can afford.
For an unpublished writer, finding an agent and an editor can be a little like settling the chicken and the egg argument of which comes first. What was your approach? Did you find an editor first or an agent first?
Neither one. I kind of came in through the back door, which in itself is an interesting story. While I was still writing my first manuscript, I set out to seek the counsel of several men I knew and respected, asking them to share with me their insights.
The first was Ron Hembree, who many years ago was the co-host of 100 Huntley Street in Toronto, but has since gone on to become president of Cornerstone Television in Pittsburgh. Ron and I had a good talk but when I asked him for advice on how to go about getting published he surprised me by saying he recommended I do it myself. Ron had written more than sixty books but I always assumed they were published by someone else. During the course of our conversation I learned he’d published most of them on his own. I took it under advisement and went my way shaking my head thinking, that’s not for me.
The second person I spoke with was Grant Jeffery, a highly prolific author and speaker. Of course I didn’t know it, but Grant had published all his books though his own company, Frontier Research, so naturally when I asked him the same question, I received the same answer. He suggested I purchase a copy of The Self-Publishing Manual by Dan Poynter. Once again I went away shaking my head and chalked it up to strange coincidence.
My third advisor was a man I knew back when I was living in California, Chuck Missler. Chuck came to Toronto to promote his ministry Koinonia House and his new book, Cosmic Codes. He was scheduled to appear on 100 Huntley Street and I was asked to schedule a few other venues for him to appear at while he was here. While driving Chuck and his wife Nancy from one location to the next, I popped the same question. “Chuck,” I said, “you’ve just come out with a new book, how did you go about finding a publisher? I’m about finished with a manuscript I’m writing and I need someone to take it on.” Chuck’s wife, Nancy, who was riding in the back seat, jumped in to answer. “Why don’t you just do it yourself,” she said, “That’s what we did.”
It felt like someone had hit me upside the head with a brick. Three times I had asked the same question, and three times had received the same answer, and believe me, it was not the answer I wanted to hear. I said, “Chuck, do you ever get the feeling God is trying to tell you something but you’re just not sure?” He said, “Yes, but don’t worry about it. If God wants you to know something, He’ll confirm it by two or three different people.” I didn’t look back, I simply went out and began publishing my own work, which is how my first four books came to market, all of which subsequently won awards.
Recently, I received a call from Strang Communications asking if I would be interested in having them publish my work. It’s not often that a publisher will go out of their way to sign an author; it usually works the other way around. I had always said I would continue to self publish until the Lord showed me it was time to do otherwise, so I took it that this was what He wanted me to do. Now I’m published by the Realms imprint of Strang Communications and have a contract for the next few books I’m to write, and all with out seeking an editor, agent, or publisher.
If you had to list three books that most helped you develop as a writer, what books would be at the top of your list?
I haven’t read many books on how to become a good writer. In fact, I’ve only read two: How To Write a Damn Good Novel, by James Frey, which I happened upon while rifling through a used book store looking for something to read while on vacation, and On Writing by Stephen King, which is really just his memoir. I suppose this is because my major while attending university was English, and I learned most of what I know about writing there.
What I prefer to do is to emulate those I consider better than myself. I love the works of Ken Kesey, Ayn Rand, and James Lee Burke, because of the way these writers use words to paint pictures and bring characters to life. By always striving to be like those who are demonstratively better, I hope to always improve and one day, good Lord willing, become the best I can possibly be.
With the books you’ve written and with future books, how do you want your words to affect your readers? What do you hope will be the takeaway value?
While I want my books to be as engaging as possible, I don’t see myself as ever writing merely for the sake of entertainment. The Lord always gives me a message He wants me to convey. Thus, I wrote about the downside of euthanasia in If I Should Die, the effect Hollywood movies have on our youth in Above the Stars, the heinous act of child trafficking in These Little Ones, and the potential loss of our religious freedom in Angel in the Alley.
I think one of the nicest things and author can receive is an e-mail or letter from someone who read one of their books and really felt its impact. I once received a letter with the return address of “California Men’s Colony State Prison.” The letter came in an envelope marked “State Prison Generated Mail.” It made me kind of wonder what was inside.
The sender of the letter turned out to be a man, Danny, (I’ll avoid using his last name or giving specific details to ensure his privacy) who, after telling me the tragic story of a wasted life, had found the Lord in prison. One of the people on the ministry team that worked with him had given him a copy of my book, If I should Die, and he enjoyed it so much he wrote to find out if I had written anything else. I was so taken by his testimony that I sent him copies of all the books I had written to date. That’s the kind of takeaway value an author really wants.
Mohamed’s Moon, my latest novel, is geared toward helping people understand the differences between Islam and Christianity. The takeaway message here is simple. Islam has ninety-nine names, or attributes, of God, but none of them is “love.” He is “Awesome,” “Great,” and “Powerful,” but not loving. In Christendom, the Apostle John tells us, “God is love.” In Islam, God is unknowable. In Christianity, God is approachable and desires that we know Him.
While it’s not likely many Muslims will walk into a Christian bookstore to buy this book, it is my fervent hope that Christians who read it will pass it along to their Muslim friends. The vast majority of Muslims are good decent people who shun terrorism, and want noting to do the extremism that gives Islam a bad name, but they’re still lost in a belief system devoid of hope. As with every other world religion, Islam claims that deliverance from God’s judgment depends on the good works you do, and the expectation of His mercy. Muslims everywhere need to know that God loves them, and that through Christ, and only through Christ, can they receive an absolute assurance of eternal salvation.
One more question for you, Keith, before you go. Since the theme of this blog is humorous in nature, I feel compelled to ask one goofy question. If a movie were made about your life and you had to choose an actor to play you, who would you pick?
Now that’s a tough one. I guess it would have to be a cross between Kirk Cameron (because of his bold stand for Christ) and Robert Downing Jr. (who I can relate to because of the struggles he’s been through in trying to get his life back together). But I think, when all is said and done, they’d probably cast Steve Martin for the part. After all, most of the characters he plays are bungling men who are constantly tripping over themselves, sigh.
Contest time! Leave a comment on my blog and you’ll be entered in the drawing to win Mohamed’s Moon. The contest ends August 31st, and the winner will be announced on September 1st.