THE CRAFT OF WRITING — APRIL 2021
THE CRAFT OF WRITING — APRIL 2021
I’m excited that author David Rawlings appears on the Craft of Writing Blog this month for the first time.
David’s novel The Baggage Handler won the 2019 Christy First Novel Award. What better person to discuss writing and awards for new authors?
Note: Since David is in Australia, his responses to your questions and comments may not appear on the blog until late in the afternoon of April 5, so please be patient.
David Rawlings is a Christian author with books published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing in the USA.
He is the first Australian author to win the prestigious Christy Award for Christian fiction – Best First Novel of 2019 with The Baggage Handler. A writer of modern-day parables, David writes stories that take readers deeper into life, posing questions of them to explore their own values, faith and how they approach life.
David is a multiple finalist in the American Christian Fiction Awards and Oregon Christian Writers’ Cascade Awards. He is based in Adelaide, South Australia with 30 years experience in communication, ranging from journalism to the corporate sector. He has worked in Australia, South-East Asia and Hong Kong and has always paid the bills with words. He is also a sports-mad father-of-three who reads everything within an arm’s reach and always – always – makes sure his text messages are grammatically correct.
Who is The Baggage Handler? Click To Tweet
Welcome David Rawlings and thank you for joining us!
You’re welcome Kay, it’s a pleasure to join you all the way from Australia. I hope you can hear my accent coming out through my typing.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Please tell us about your journey to becoming an author.
Yes. My Mum used to say that the minute I could hold a pen… I did. Ever since I was 6, I wanted to write for a living. Back then that meant a dream of being a journalist, working in sports, a gig that was my first job as a graduated journalist back in the 1990s.
Then as I moved into corporate copywriting, I put the dream of writing my own stories on the backburner until I had enough time, money, margin in my life – whatever. I thought I’d get to it one day, so I just stockpiled all the ideas I had until I had a folder with about 50 storylines in it.
That one day arrived in 2015 and I felt challenged by God to dust off the dream and trust Him for the rest. So I started writing fiction. The next year I submitted my first manuscript – a story about reality TV and churches – to a number of American writing competitions, confident that as I was doing what I was called to do, I should do well.
I didn’t even reach the semi-finalist stage.
It was a hard lesson, but an important one. The judges in the competitions wondered about my ability to write, with one judge posing the question that the school system had failed me. After writing for a living for 25 years in corporate Australia, that was a slap in the face. But I realized why they thought that: I was writing as an Australian (with our UK spelling, grammar and phrasing) for an American marketplace. So I took myself back to the drawing board and learned the US equivalent. I had to do more than type with an American accent.
Now reworked, my manuscript finaled in a number of competitions. And I didn’t win anything.
That was okay though. I wrote the next story that unveiled itself to me at 9pm one night. The Baggage Handler. Now that I had some kind of endorsement from finaling in these competitions, I signed with the Steve Laube Agency, and Steve found me a home with Thomas Nelson.
And I kept writing the stories that I’d been stockpiling all those years.
The Baggage Handler came out in March 2019, and was followed by The Camera Never Lies in December 2019 and Where the Road Bends in June 2020.
Can you give us a brief synopsis of The Baggage Handler?
Sure. Three people mix up their luggage at the airport, and at the baggage depot they discover there is far more in their baggage than they remember packing. And the Baggage Handler tells them they have to deal with it before they can leave.
I am writing modern-day parables, with truth presented in the form of stories that engage with readers because they are recognizable from their own world. The Baggage Handler is a modern-day parable about the power of releasing our baggage.
What made you decide to write that book?
The Baggage Handler itself was borne out of rejection. That first manuscript about reality TV and churches finaled in a range of fiction awards but I couldn’t get industry interested in it. Someone suggested for my next novel maybe I should focus on “life lesson” stories. I read a couple of stories like that, then at 9pm one night I was reading when The Baggage Handler arrived. It pretty much downloaded into my head. When I next checked the clock it was 1am, and I had the story, the characters, plot, twists, structure – almost everything. That hasn’t happened before or since with books 2 and 3, but I’m glad it did with The Baggage Handler.
Why did you decide to enter your work into writing contests?
A number of reasons …
I’m based in Australia, so breaking into a marketplace like America is all-but impossible. I had to get known and make connections, so I thought being recognized through awards would help.
I also wanted feedback. I’m glad I did – as I mentioned earlier I learned a quick but important lesson about writing for the US market when I submitted to my first awards. Without that lesson, I don’t get published in the USA, it’s that simple.
Writing contests also gave me a deadline to work to. As this is secondary to my job, I find that it’s a constant juggle, and the thing without deadlines often is the first to slide back to the back burner. A writing contest makes it impossible to shift the deadline.
Lastly, I wanted to see if my work was good outside my head. My stories – like every author’s stories – bounce around internally with no idea if they’re going to work. This is one way to test it out.
How concerned should new authors be about winning an award for their books?
You shouldn’t be concerned with winning, just entering. There is a discipline around entering – polishing your work, submitting your ideas – that provide so much benefit. And awards can be subjective – The Baggage Handler won the Christy Award in 2019 as Best First Novel, but six months later didn’t win the next award it was listed in.
If you want to be concerned about awards as an author – focus on becoming a finalist. It gives you visibility.
Are awards a way for a new author to be recognized?
It’s one way, sure. It also helps you build a profile, and that Holy Grail of new authordom: platform.
There are an enormous number of writing contests available. Do you have any guidance on how an author should go about deciding which contests to enter?
Go for the contests in which the judges represent those groups you want to be in front of. Look for those that are within your financial means. Look for those that provide real feedback to make you a better writer (in fact, personally I avoid any competition that doesn’t give you feedback).
What one piece of advice would you give to new writers?
Enjoy your writing. This is hard, it’s likely to be unfinancial and if you want it to be and you’re still working you’ve just added a second job to your plate. So enjoy it! Writing is a heart pursuit driven by our head, so go back to the reason why you want to write. That can help you when times are tough or you hit a hurdle. And every author has those.
What are you working on now?
Novel #4 … which is that manuscript I wrote first up. It’s never been published! I’m updating it for 2021 and will then look to finding a home for it.
Soon-to-be-fired reality TV guru Randy Stone is out of ideas, and his last roll of the dice is a new show taking aim at churches: Pastor Swap.
Randy tricks a national denomination into participating by offering a national platform to help draw people back to church after the pandemic, and two of their pastors are thrown into the manipulative world of reality TV. Brad Shepherd leaves his tiny, elderly, suburban church, switching places with Jack Alexander, son of the city’s biggest megachurch pastor at New Heaven Cathedral. Brad and Jack believe this is a God-given opportunity to go on TV – Brad to save his dying church from real estate developers and Jack to prove himself to his controlling father.
But Randy already knows how churches will be portrayed on his show, because in the 21st century there is no god bigger than TV. Or him.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
Web site = https://davidrawlings.com.au/
Facebook = https://www.facebook.com/DavidRawlingsAuthor
Instagram = https://www.instagram.com/davidrawlingsauthor/
Twitter = https://twitter.com/DavidJRawlings
Thanks again, David, for being with us.
My pleasure, thanks for the opportunity to chat to you.
Who is The Baggage Handler? Click To Tweet
David, Thank you for joining us on the Craft of Writing blog today. I enjoyed reading “The Baggage Handler” and found it very thought-provoking. I look forward to reading your latest book about the pastor swap! Let us know when it’s available.
I’ll be sure to let you know Kay!
Hello, Kay & David!
I’m feeling close to Australia right about now, and not just because of your wonderful interview. I have a niece who lives in Perth. Besides that, just this morning, one of my credit card numbers was used by someone trying to buy flowers in Australia. No harm done there, and I almost felt warmly toward them, buying flowers and all. I hope so very much to see some of your country one day.
Enough of that. So wonderful to hear your thoughts about your work and your writing life, David. I work a full-time job too, and it’s always nice to hear from a successful author in the same boat. Builds hope and faith. It seems we all have to carve out our own lanes, as I believe Kay would put it.
That Pastor Swap idea – wowsie! Can’t wait for that one. But I need to read The Baggage Handler first. I have a feeling there will be some important takeaways from it.
Godspeed and God bless!
Good afternoon, Lisa! Or should I say “G’day?” I am absolutely in awe of you and David for working full time jobs and finding time to write. Kudos to you both.
We have never visited Australia either, and I don’t know if we have any international travel left in us, but we can always hope. I’d love to see that country / continent.
Take care, and thanks for stopping by.
Hi Lisa. Thanks for buying flowers for an Aussie … I’m sorry your interaction with Australia has to be a negative one. Working full-time and writing adds another layer of complexity to being author – especially if you want to add having a family and a life on top of it.
As for The Baggage Handler, I often get messages from readers after they’ve read it. And those messages are always about what they took away from the story and applied to their own situation. I’ve had readers who’ve reconnected with family, addressed their grief after divorce or offered forgiveness where there used to be a closed door. It’s a powerful story – a parable, if you will – that is doing what it was supposed to do: break down walls by telling a story you can engage with.
All the best with your writing too. I hope you find that balance we all need.
David, the effect your work is having on readers, as far as I’m concerned that’s what “Christian fiction” is all about. Thank you for responding, and just for the record, I have yet to have a negative experience with Australia (except not having been there yet!)