On the Need to Start an Ole Boys’ Club For Writers

My feeble brain overheated Saturday afternoon at precisely 2:23 PM at the Festival of Faith and Writing. Jonathan Safran Foer philosophized and Marlynee Robinson rhapsodized. I’d taken in sessions on young adult fiction and memoir. Each synapse in my noggin was frayed by the foot traffic of theory, Cafe Americano, and conversation.

I returned to home base– The Burnside Writers’ Booth– for the safety of familiar faces.  Kim Gottschild, a gifted memoirist, was faithfully working the table and I offered to give her a break.

Sitting at an exhibitor’s table at a writing convention at faith-based conference makes one a sitting duck. There’s the potential for being subjected to    having a paranoid from a cabin somewhere on outskirts of St. Paul pitch you his book on Biblical ufology. Or that woman brushing off the hair of seven Angora cats from her Noah’s Ark vest as she explains how Mennonite romance novels are more erotic than their Amish counterparts and still yet remain within the bounds of Christian propriety.

Aware of these risks, I sunk into my folding chair. The ability to sink into a folding chair should be an indicator of my level of exhaustion. My brain was Silly Putty that could not be pressed into newsprint one more time.

Sure enough, writers visited our booth. But good writers. Intelligent, thoughtful, and witty thinkers, each of them.

The conversation swirled from economics to politics to social justice to theology. My tired brain grumbled at first, but found itself sucked into the conversation. I asked several of these thinkers to consider writing for Burnside. Any one of these authors would be a welcome addition to the Burnside team.

After several of these conversations I noticed two things. Each of these writers had a red sticker on their name tag and each was a woman.

I asked Marlena, a seminarian and contributor to the Her.menuetics blog at ChristianityToday.com what the sticker was for.

She explained that she was a part of the Red Bud Writers’ Guild. She explained that the guild is a network of women committed to supporting each other’s work. Through online forums they support each others’ writing through encouragement, information sharing, and critique.

I thought about my own writing tribe, the Burnside Writers, and how invaluable their support had been for me. There have been times over the years where I privately considered setting my laptop down and turning to a less taxing pursuit like network sitcoms. It’s been at those moments when I’d received and email from a Burnside friend affirming a column I wrote and insisting that I keep at it.  Finding one’s second wind is often a communal task. Kim wandered back to the table and I made sure she made some connections to a few of the Red Bud writers.

I have to admit that after a while I began to feel self-conscious over my maleness. It wasn’t anything anyone said. There was no latent anger or jabs made over my possessing a penis. I was just aware I was an observer and not a full participant in the conversation. Rachel Held-Evans’ “Vagina-gate” came up and while I could agree that her publishers cautions over the use of the word was excessive and revealed a double standard. I could agree but I was not part of this sorority that was banding together to “expand the feminine voice in our churches, communities, and culture.”

My mind drifted back to the Burnside Writers Collective and I realized that currently our strongest voices are feminine. Kim and her memoir. Stephanie and her work on the Jack Kerouac. Sarah Thebarge just signed with Jericho Books. Diane working the conference and meeting with editors like its her job. Karen is on book tour. Jo turns indignation into good words. And Susan is bringing snarky back. Penny just scored the cover story of Relevant Magazine and has a movie about her life in theaters. Burnside is a lot like SNL. Writers come and go each season. We’re in our Tina Fey and Amy Poelher. The men, we’re all playing the part of Tim Meadows. It’s a steady gig. I’m not complaining. Much.

I decided to quip my way out of the awkwardness I was feeling. I turned one of the Red Bud authors and said that I was feeling the need to start my own guild for men and that perhaps I’d call it the “Ole Boys’ Club.”

She smiled and replied, “You mean the entire Christian publishing industry?”

I later learned I was talking to Katelyn Beaty, the editor of Her.menuetics.

I’m as dumb as a man and I need a guild, perhaps for no other reason than to have a community of men committed to retrieving my foot from my mouth.

In all seriousness, if you are a woman who writes about faith, consider applying to become a member of the guild. And if you’re a brother who writes, consider pointing a talented sister to www.redbudwritersguild.com.  Writers need community. And Christians readers need to be nourished from the best minds from both male and female perspectives.

 

 

  • Diane Nienhuis

    Thanks for sharing this! I have learned so much, not only from my own networking but also from communal networking!

    • Larry_Shallenberger

      Diane, you were a rock star on Saturday. I’m will going to write that piece on the virtue of the 3 lb. burger and publish it in your name. I’m like that. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1244588424 Suanne Ashcroft Camfield

    Larry, this was as entertaining as it was profound. Thanks for the Redbud shout out. You’re quickly becoming a smashing hit among all of us red-stickered women!

  • jen

    This post makes me happy.

    And hello from Redbud Writers Guild: http://www.redbudwriters.com. 

    Loved the description of the ufology writer and the woman with the racy fiction and many cats.  Hilarious.  (And true enough.)

    • Larry_Shallenberger

      It’s sad but true. Not opposed to the Amish Romance market. But as someone trying to get something else published on the fiction shelves…

  • http://twitter.com/HelenLeeAuthor Helen Lee

    Thanks so much for writing about Redbud! It does feel like a special gift for those of us who are involved, and while we are a group for women, we have had a number of men visit our local Chicagoland group as guests. Let one of us know if you’re in town and curious to see Redbud in action. =)

    • Larry_Shallenberger

      Thanks for the invite. Don’t have an occasion to visit Chicago currently. But I’ll definitely look you all up!  

  • http://www.stephindialogue.com Stephanie S. Smith

    Enjoyed this :) And to the contrary, it’s not exclusively the women who can “expand the feminine voice” in our communities, the men can aid to this end too, and you just did!–quite well. Thank you! 

    • Larry_Shallenberger

      You bet. Can you toss me a link to your website? Might need an editor.

  • Kwyatt

    Thanks for the shout-out, Larry. Redbud is indeed an amazing group and I’m honored to be a part of it

    • Larry_Shallenberger

      One of the mantras I heard over and over was “Rose Bud writers have each others’ backs.” 

      There’s power in that.

  • Rachel Stone

    Um, okay, Larry? The woman with the cat-hair covered Noah’s Ark vest and the erotic Mennonite romance novels? Is that for real? No wait, of course it’s real. You could not make that kinda stuff up. (Jana Riess says there’s actual Amish VAMPIRE fiction now.)

    (Thanks for the Redbud shout-out.)

  • http://twitter.com/ctwomensblog Her.meneutics

    Larry, did you really need to mock my Noak’s Ark vest?

    Small potatoes, though. Your post was a delight to read, not least because it graciously drew attention to many of the writers who make Her.meneutics shine. We’re grateful to fellow writers like you who let us do our girls’ club thing while acknowledging that our work is not just for women but for all interested parties. Thank you for the shout-out. ~Katelyn B.

    • Larry_Shallenberger

      We’re all in this together. It was a pleasure to meet the contingent of Red Bud writers who were there. Hope our Lady Burnsiders get on board. 

  • Tracey Bianchi

    Larry, I think I may have a crush on you. Thanks for the Redbud Recap. Exactly what we hoped it might become (and the energy of our re-tweeting this across the universe bodes well for the boys too ;) Thanks!

    • Larry_Shallenberger

      I had no idea of the power of the Red Bud retweet, or I would have fabricated a story about you all years ago. Ha!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=110800619 Ryan Pendell

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=110800619 Ryan Pendell

    I attended FFW. While it may be true that men dominate the publishing “halls of power,” I was struck by how many women / how few men were there.  Several if not most of the sessions I attended were entirely women. I am curious what the exact numbers are. And I would be interested to know the primary readership of Christian books. I would guess it is mostly female (based on the Christian bookstores I’ve been in). This *does,* I think, affect how I write–and probably affects what Christian publishers publish even if they are male.  (This issue  is probably a subtopic of the larger topic of men in church, religion, etc.)

    • Larry_Shallenberger

      Ryan, I believe the average consumer of Christian books is the 35-45  year-old Evangelical female. At least it was back in the day when I worked in Christian retail. Now that e-published has changed everything and the gate keepers are changing, I wouldn’t hazard a guess.

      I would be interested in hearing the Red Bud perspectives on this.