INsites: Master's Artist

Writers are peculiar people. So just imagine what happens when you cram eleven of them on the same bus. Well, the folks at The Master's Artist prove that it can be an entertaining, informative ride. These authors, poets and journalists are never at a loss for words. Whether it's a lesson on craft or a ditty at the Waffle House, this wonderful collection of artists has something to offer the aspiring writer. Ever since I stumbled upon the site a year ago, The Master's Artist has become a daily watering hole along the infobahn. Jules Quincy Stephens (JQS), is the site administrator and sovereign of said realm. (Well, somewhat sovereign.) I recently had the opportunity to talk with her about The Master's Artist.
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MIKE: How did The Master’s Artist (MA) come about, Jules, and how has it changed since its inception?

JQS: I’m really bad at remembering details, which isn’t a good trait for a journalist to have. Luckily, most people I write for suffer from acute apathy or just don’t read what I write.

Half the current roster – Deborah Gyapong, Mary DeMuth, siouxsiepoet, Jeanne Damoff and myself – were part of The Writers View, a CBA-specific discussion group.

The discussion that drew our little coffee klatch together was the tired-out rage over whether the CBA – it now has a new name, which no one uses and I don’t know – should allow naughty words in its books. There’s of course one camp that says hell yes, another group that says golly no, and those in the middle asking, Why the **** are we discussing this?

I forget my exact answer to the question, but whatever it was, it generated quite a bit of e-mail for me, mostly positive, even though we had vastly different opinions on the topic. That’s how I started chatting off the list with Deborah, Jeanne and Suz. Jeanne and Suz know Mary, Deborah knows Suz and Mary and Jeanne … there you go.

Deborah is passionate about everything she does, and was probably the first to bring up blogging. I had reserved a blog, The Master’s Artist, for another reason, but that fell through, so I said, Hey, I have a blog.

People have questioned the title of the blog, The Master’s Artist. Why Artist? I chose the title, and to me it was a play on ‘a master artist’ and ‘Master’ being God. I know ‘artist’ evokes more an image of a painter or sculptor, and it’s probably a stretch to say writers sculpt and paint with words. One former member and a good friend of mine, Susan Kaye, always argued that writing is a craft, not an art. But I just didn’t like the sound of The Master’s Craftsman. That makes me think of Bob Vila.

So, we had me, Deborah, Mary, Jeanne, siouxsiepoet. I asked my friends Donna Shepherd and Susan Kaye to join us. The blog officially started in May 2004.

At first, there was no rhyme or reason to the blog – anyone posted pretty much whenever the Spirit moved them. Being in newspapers, I just couldn’t stand the haphazard posting style, so I asked that we each pick a day to post and we did. I guess I’m getting into some technicalities that don’t really impact the public here … OK, I remember useless details.

Our format and style hasn’t changed much in two years – everyone posts what they want. I really love the mix. There are no rules or regulations or topics of discussion, though we would frown if one of our members decided to drop an f-bomb in a post.

Since May 2004, we have added members to our roster, none of whom have used the f-word that I know of: Mike Snyder, Lisa Samson, J. Mark Bertrand, Dee Stewart, and most recently, Steve Peacock.

MIKE: What are you hoping to accomplish with MA? In the end, what would you like the average reader to come away with?

JQS: I think our statement says it best: Many voices, a single purpose: Welcome to The Master's Artist, a group of writers striving for excellence in their craft while glorifying God's kingdom and edifying the Body of Christ. Please stop by each day for new musings, insights and opinions about being a child of God and writer.

MIKE: The contributors to MA have varied backgrounds, beliefs and styles. But what are some of the common threads that bind you? What convictions does this eclectic group share?

JQS: We’re writers and we all claim Jesus as our Lord and Savior. That’s our common thread. I think the common conviction is that because of who we are, our work should be excellent and God honoring. Do we always accomplish this? – no. I’m the blog, remember.

MIKE: Your readers can expect a new post every day – but we never know what we’ll get. Some topics are humorous, while others are thought provoking; some address craft, others theology. Is this intentional? Do you have any guidelines for posting or do you give your contributors total freedom?

JQS: There is nothing intentional on MA, meaning we don’t schedule topics. We do have discussions off the blog, but rarely are they about planning posts.

I haven’t been happy with some of the posts – I’m thinking of one in particular right now that really ticked me off, and no, I’m not going to tell you which one (though the one I’m thinking of has nothing to do with a toothy church leader from Texas) – and I don’t usually comment, because though I’m the administrator of the blog, I’m committed to not censoring people’s thoughts. I absolutely would step in if anyone entered blasphemous territory, but I haven’t had to do that, and I don’t expect I will.

MIKE: In Donna Shepherd’s March 15th post, her mention of Joel Osteen’s book contract sparked a lot of interesting – even heated – discussion about his theology and ministry. MA appears to represent a broad spectrum of Christendom – from Catholic to Charismatic to Orthodox. How big a part does theology play in MA? How do you reconcile the group’s different beliefs with your call to “glorify God’s kingdom”? When do issues / beliefs like Mr. Osteen’s become a topic of conversation?

JQS: Again, because we don’t plan posts, I’m surprised along with everyone else each day. The whole Osteen controversy was started by me, and I was reluctant to comment at all at first. But my family had just left a church because they espoused Osteen’s message – sorry, I can’t even call it theology – and the post touched a nerve for me. I don’t believe for one second that we can look at the success of someone who claims to be a Christian – and I’m not specifically talking about Osteen now, but in general terms – and say God’s blessing is on it. I have a hard time believing that any book outside the Bible that’s a runaway success in the world is very good spiritually. Didn’t Jesus say a true believer would be hated by the world? Hmmm … Those opinions are mine and do not reflect the opinions of those on The Master’s Artist.

We try to stay away from the theological discussions because I know the members come from diverse Christian traditions. They are divisive and I don’t expect to solve all the theological arguments of the past 200 centuries on a blog about writing. I’m not an ecumenist, so how I administrate a blog with such diverse church affiliations is funny – or hypocritical. But how we view God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and grace and salvation and sin no doubt shapes our writing. Or at least it should. No one has written anything that’s convicted me about the need to leave.

We all believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that’s been a good enough confession for our members.

MIKE: MA is not hesitant to ask hard questions. For instance, Mary DeMuth’s post “Does our prose honor an intelligent Jesus” (Feb 28, 2006) provoked great discussion. Does MA intentionally seek to “push the envelope” or ask hard questions concerning the state of the Christian book industry?

JQS: Do we seek to push the envelope? I don’t think so. We’re not gimmicky, or at least I hope we’re not. I think we are all just very intelligent Christian writers who are deeply concerned with our faith and our craft. And our writers write in all sorts of genres, which gives depth to our blog. I love that we not only have so many different voices, but that those voices come from just about every aspect of writing and publishing: poetry, prose, children’s literature, devotions, criticism, journalism, memoir. And that’s it, too – we are all published writers. That doesn’t mean we’ve all written books, but we all have publishing credentials, so we’re not just a bunch of whining wannabes who moan about the state of the CBA or any other organization. We’ve earned the right to whine (joking!), and I hope our readers appreciate that.

MIKE: Most of your authors are published within the CBA. Nevertheless, MA often addresses the strictures and deficiencies of the Christian publishing industry. Is there a consensus among the group about the state of the CBA? If so, what is it?

JQS: I think some of us started out pretty harsh against the CBA, but the CBA is pandering to its audience, just like any other industry that doesn’t have a death wish. And when the audience starts to change, so will the CBA. (I just finished reading Vinita Hampton Wright’s novel, “Velma Still Cooks in Leeway.” I just about fainted when I read “damn” in her book. If the book weren’t a “Christian” book, I wouldn’t have blinked.)

It’s about money. And while there isn’t anything inherently wrong with that – people have the right to make a living – I just wonder how much praying is going on inside “Christian” publishing houses. The Bible is clear that you can’t serve God and money. Does eternity play into their decisions? Like Lisa said, she can’t use the word “fart” in her books, but some of these houses will publish anything they think will sell regardless of the message. Go into any Christian bookstore or mega-bookstore – I think the evidence speaks for itself.

MIKE: What plans do you have for MA? Anything your readers can look forward to in the near future?

JQS: Deborah and I have batted around some ideas, but The Master’s Artist is completely voluntary and we all have day jobs. I’m just so happy and blessed that this talented group of people sacrifices time each week to contribute.

I hope we just continue to produce a great blog that challenges and encourages the writer who claims to love Jesus Christ.

I would like to add a few more people to the blog: a screenwriter, a publishing house editor and an agent. That’s on my wishlist.

MIKE: Is Michael Snyder’s room really padded?

JQS: I hope so – he seems to spontaneously burst into fits of napping. It’s one of his spiritual gifts.

Thanks, Mike, for the opportunity to talk about The Master’s Artist.

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Thanks Jules! You guys are a blessing to all us aspiring writers.

The Master’s Artists are Deborah Gyapong, Mary DeMuth, Dee Stewart, Lisa Samson, Donna Shepherd, siouxsiepoet, Jeanne Damoff, Michael Snyder, J. Mark Bertrand, Steve Peacock and Jules Quincy Stephens.


Jeanne Damoff said...

Wowsers. Thanks for this captivating interview, Mike and Jules. The Master's Artists sound like the coolest kids on the block. Everyone should read their blog, and I would even go so far as to suggest that sending them large sums of money and/or gifts of dark chocolate would be appropriate. And in closing may I just say, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, er, um, I mean the photo and name associated with this comment."

Janet Rubin said...

It is so funny that you've posted this today. For about two weeks I've seen the name "The Master's Artist" popping up over and over.I've been thinking, "Hey, gotta go check these guys out." Will do that for sure now.

lindaruth said...

Great interview Mike and Jules. The Master's Artist is one of my daily stops, too, and I always come away refreshed or challenged or inspired (or occasionally puzzled, but that's OK).

Deborah said...

Thanks for the interview with Jules, Mike.

I've added a few more observations about the genesis and the thinking behind our founding over at my blog www.deborahgyapong.com.

While "bad words" helped us get to know each other, it was the sparkling writing on the View listserve and the distinct voices that attracted me to our fledgling fellowship.

We also shared a commitment to seeking excellence in our work, not just the worldly grail of publication.


Mike Duran said...

Thanks for the visit Jeanne, Janet, Linda and Deb. Jules was fun interviewing and I really appreciate her taking the time to endure my interrogation. But learning that no one at MA has yet dropped an "f-bomb" was worth the price of the interview. Thanks again, Jules!

Dee said...

I'm always a day late chiming in.

As a new member, I'm grateful for this interview, because now I know more about TMA. And I thank Jules for not censoring us--mainly me. I'm a Writer's View lurker.

Mike, don't throw your ms off the bridge. Okay.

siouxsiepoet said...

mike, it felt weird saying anything about this post, so i posted over on deb's site. it's like saying, yeah, they are all really cool people (meanwhile, i'm including myself among them. weirdness abounds).

bless you dear soul.
suz. (now write something else)

Mike Duran said...

suz, I think you are cool. Are you going to the ACFW conference in Dallas? I'd like to give you a personal hug instead of an e-hug. Blessings!

Vicki said...

Mike! Great interview! Always a good read at MA and Decompose.

Mind if I link/reference your interview in a post at Light for the Writer's Soul? Come on over for Open House--lattes all around! Btw, I read your article, Of Saints & Serial Killers tonight--man, talk about thought-provoking.

Jeanne Damoff said...

Yeah, Suz. That's why I didn't say anything either. *cough*