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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Author Author - Artists Write

  • 1999 24 Feb
Author Author - Artists Write
Long, long ago, in a galaxy not so far away, recording artists made records and authors wrote books. With the exception of "{{Amy Grant}}'s Heart-to-Heart Bible Stories" or an occasional autobiography from icons such as Johnny Cash or Bob Dylan, musicians stuck to making music and left the writing of books to those who made their living doing so.

But the force of the rapidly growing, enormously successful Christian music industry has ushered in a new era of journalistic expansion. Never before has there been such a deluge of Christian artists writing books, and never before has there been a greater opportunity for Christian music fans to get to know those who make the music they appreciate. At press time, 19 books were nearing completion or were solidly in the works, and there were another 12 that have been published in the past 18 months. Add to that a handful of book deals still in the negotiating process and another dozen or so that have hit the bookshelves over the last few years, and you've got a trend that spells... what?

Well, diversity for starters. Not only do the artists span the spectrum in terms of musical genre and artistic bent, but the books and the topics themselves are as varied as the artists they reflect. There are devotionals for youth, for moms of young children, for recent graduates and everyone in-between. There is a beauty book for teens, Little Golden Books for kids and a book on domestic violence. Some are biographical and some are theological. But regardless of the content, each of these artists has made a decision to step outside their primary means of musical expression and communicate something more to their audience. Many are wondering what drives such a venture.

{{Margaret Becker}}, who recently compiled a collection her of essays entitled "With New Eyes" for Harvest House Publishers, says that her venture into writing is just another tributary of the creative river that flows in and out of her life.

"I've kept a journal from when I was about eight years old," she remembers. "I have volumes and volumes of life's observations, and I made a commitment to myself two years ago that I would take some of those observations and put them in essay form, if for no other reason, just to be able to remember them. It seemed like it was turning into a very cohesive commentary on what the view has been like from my life, and when I shared the idea of putting them in book form with Harvest House, they loved it."

"To some degree," she continues, "I am forced to express my thoughts in three-and-a-half minutes every time I write a song. I can push the envelope a bit, but the way I'd like to push it would seem more like a shove if I did it solely in one song. It's so wonderful to have this other form where I can explain things or illuminate thoughts that I've had that occupy more than three-and-a-half minutes of time. I'll have four pages instead of maybe 200 words."

{{Bob Carlisle}} - who recently published three different types of "Butterfly Kisses" books (two for children and one for dads and daughters) - sees his stint as an author in a very limited sense. "I want to go on the record as saying that I'm not trying to pretend to be an author. I'm a songwriter and a singer, and I don't pretend to have a sudden deep world view to express to everyone," he says half-earnestly, half-chuckling. "I'm not the deepest human being on the planet, but I am a passionate person. It's more of an extension of the songwriting than it is my putting on another hat. I was very adamant about the fact that I didn't want it to be a Bob Carlisle 'this-is-how-you-can-be-a-good-father' book. You'll see me on no infomercials with an 800 number. My only desire was to bring out the best in the people who were affected by the music."

It stands to reason that Christian book publishers such as Zondervan, Word and Thomas Nelson would be delighted to help facilitate the expanding platforms of Christian artists who wish to communicate their message through the written word. And although they do publish the lion's share of what is currently available, general market publishers are also signing several Christian artists to book deals.

Becky Cabaza, senior editor at Simon and Schuster Fireside/Touchstone books, signed artist {{Jaci Velasquez}} to write a book about her life experiences. "I learned about Jaci from a business colleague of mine at the William Morris Agency," says Cabaza. "I went to one of her concerts and was really taken aback by her ability to communicate with her audience. Speaking from the standpoint of one who's seen books written by athletes, TV personalities and movie stars, not everyone is a book. Every once in awhile you come across someone who is not only very talented, but has a platform - like music - from which to share a valuable message. From a publishing point of view, it is infinitely better to find someone who already has something to say and facilitate that, rather than to publish a fan-driven book full of celebrity trivia. Jaci not only has something worthwhile to say, she already has an audience to say it to, primarily young people. Those who appreciate her music would probably love to sit down and have a conversation with her about life. That translates well into a book, both from her standpoint and ours."

Writing a book can be an excellent alternative means of expression for a recording artist. But except in a few unusual cases, the record company that facilitates the artist's recording career and the publishing house that signs them to a book deal are two separate entities. That in mind, it might seem that these artists now have their time and their creative energy flowing in two different directions. And while each case is different, it is yet to be seen if this potential division of time and energy is a help or a hindrance to the recording careers of these musicians-turned-artists.

Tricia Brodbine, of EMI Christian Music Group (home to such book-writing artists as {{Twila Paris}}, {{Margaret Becker}} and {{Charlie Peacock}}) says that from the record company's point of view, artists writing books is for the most part a valuable thing. "I would say that there's a lot of good that can come out of it. Margaret as an artist has so much to say, that both the book and the record are part of the creative outpouring of her soul. I know that she wrote more than 30 songs for [her latest] record, so she's clearly in a season of her life where she has a lot to say. The book is only going to give her more of an opportunity to say that. For us (EMI), that's a good thing. Sometimes the book audience and the record audience aren't the same. I would hope that her book would expose new people to Margaret and they'll maybe check out her records as a result. From a marketing standpoint, that is a real plus."

But could dueling avenues of expression ever short-circuit the effectiveness of an already established recording career? "I guess it really depends on what they're trying to do when they're writing a book," muses Brodbine. " If a book is being made as a marketing tool, I think that's when there is a danger, because the motive is wrong. If we were to go to Margaret and say, 'We want you to write a book to go with your next record,' then we'd be forcing the creative process rather than capturing what is creatively flowing from within her. That could create a problem."

But even books that stem from the purest of motives may cause creative tension in an artist due to ruthless touring/recording schedules or simply because the artist feels a certain lack of natural writing ability. {{Michael W. Smith}} -- whose first book "Old Enough to Know" was inspired by letters from teenagers and has been translated into several languages - is one who felt such tension, yet was determined to push through it. "[When we got all those letters from kids,] I felt like there was a great opportunity to [take the message] beyond what the record could do. But my first reaction was, 'Me? Write a book?' That's when [my management and I] decided, 'Hey, let's get somebody that I can work with - what is often called a ghostwriter - spill my guts, pour my heart out, and help me put all the things I want to say in written form."

And that's exactly what he did. Having released two more books in 1997 ("Friends are Friends Forever" and "It's Time To Be Bold")

Smith is living proof that inviting a ghostwriter to help with the actual writing process can be an invaluable tool. Ghostwriters can assume varying degrees of responsibility in the writing process. In the case of Smith's "It's Time To Be Bold," he sat down with longtime friend Bob Laurent, a professor of Bible at Judson College, and spent hours and hours recording discussions about alot of the things Smith felt passionately about. "He would probe me about things and make me dig deeper by asking 'Why do you feel that way?' " remembers Smith. "Bob took all the tapes, and after we decided what the chapters would be, he blazed ahead. I would look at [what he had written from our conversations] and say, 'I like that, and I don't like that.'"

But there are often times when an artist has help on a book, but no credit is given to the person who assisted in writing. Michael Nolan, author, freelance writer, and former contributing editor of Release Magazine, helped long time friend Michael W. Smith write the devotional, "Friends are Friends Forever." When the book was published, his name was not included on the byline. "I don't know exactly what the reasoning of the publisher was, but she didn't want to have my name included on the book. When Michael [W. Smith] saw the finished copy, he was surprised because he didn't know that my name wasn't going to be included. I'm not sure, but my understanding is that he requested that my name be added to the book when they did a reprint." "Michael is the controller of the content in his books, and I would hope that, say, {{Shirley Caesar}} is as well. If you were going to sit down and visit with them, [the book would reflect] the person you would find, and would articulate the thoughts they would express. But to me it really is nicer to go ahead and see the second name of whoever it might be [that helped them.]"

Whether or not the books written by these artists will prove to be a valuable and substantial contribution to the community they serve remains to be seen. The determining factors will likely revolve around such things as the authenticity and quality of content, as well as the motives behind publishing a book. "Please, let's not over spiritualize this," says Carlisle. "When you have a hit song, everybody wants a chunk, and so you're going to be approached by lots of people. For me, I'm not beyond wanting to make a living, but I have to ask myself, 'Given this opportunity, what's the responsible response while still being true to who I am?"

"You should never write because you need a pat on the back," adds Becker, "you should never perform because you need people to tell you how good you are. Those are not writers; those are not performers - those are needy people. You should engage in those acts because you can't not engage in those acts."

Novelist Sigmund Brouwer and Christian recording artist {{Cindy Morgan}} have not only recently teamed up as husband and wife, they are exploring the confluence of music and books in some unique ways. In the spring of 1998, Brouwer's novel, "The Weeping Chamber" was released at about the same time Morgan's new album, ==The Loving Kind== was released. Both are based upon the last eight days of the life of Christ. In addition, they are in the process of establishing a new website called "The Cyber Hangout," a place where authors and artists can post what they're working on, ask questions, and chat with published authors as well as Christian recording artists. To visit click here!