Welcome to the three hundred and sixty-eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction author Charles Shingledecker. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Charles. Please tell us something about yourself.
Morgen: Thank you, Chuck. How did you come to be a writer?
Chuck: My path to becoming a writer is perhaps a bit unconventional. It has only been within the last two or three years that I have taken up writing as a serious endeavour. Before then, my writing experience was, shall we say sparse. It consisted of mainly a few short letters to the editor and a bit of fan fiction. That didn’t begin to change until about five years ago when I began struggling with a number of chronic health issues that really removed from what I had considered a normal life. Though I have since learned to manage these chronic health problems, the first two years were pretty rough. I began to suffer with severe digestive problems and was later diagnosed with blood clots in my legs, which the doctors feared might break off and enter my lungs – though fortunately that never happened. I was diagnosed with a severe case of GERD, but something else was still going on. Eventually we discovered that I had developed a number food allergies and severe intolerances which I had never previously had. Eggs is the big one, but most mean and spices are off limits as well. Because it took so long to “figure out” what was going on, I went through a nearly two year stretch where I was unable to even do the simplest tasks (like grocery shopping) without needing several days to recover from the “ordeal.” Like I said, I am much improved today, but for someone in their late 20’s and early 30’s this was a challenge both emotionally and spirituality.
My faith had always been a part of me in one way or another. I have been studying Christian origins, the Bible, and Church history for over twelve years now. In fact, it was my research into these fields which first led me from the world of Evangelical Protestantism to the Greek Orthodox faith in 2003. Yet when my health issues were at their worst, my faith was, shall we say, tested. Today my faith is still a reality, but it is different than before. I suppose some people would think of it as being “weak,” whereas I see it as more mature and realistic. Believe it or not, I had previously contemplated entering the priesthood at one point but my health issues, along with my newly acquired views of Church politics had become barriers to that. I also became far less zealous in my religious outlook and became disturbed with a small, but vocal minority of fundamentalism within Greek Orthodoxy in America known as “Orthodox Traditionalism,” which basically insists on a rigid interpretation of Church tradition where nothing can ever change or evolve because change (or as they call it, “innovation”) is bad. These experiences left me in a state of “spiritual limbo” for a time. Yet it is also what led me to first take up the art of writing.
I began writing when a few people who had read some of my earlier material encouraged me to write about some of the issues within our denomination. When I shared my rough drafts with a friend, he told me that I was a pretty good writer and felt that some of the subject matter might actually make a good book. So I kept writing, researching, and plugging away. I eventually hooked up with some local authors who helped critique my work which helped me to further refine my style. When my manuscript seemed to be complete I ended up sending it off and before I knew what had happened, I had a contract with Regina Orthodox Press, and in late 2011, my first book “The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy: How Fundamentalist Ideology and ‘Changeless’ Canons Hurt the Orthodox Church” had been published.
Morgen: I fell into writing too, although in much more pleasant way; by wanting to meet people and going to an evening class. It didn’t take me long (second class) to get hooked. Can you tell us a little more about your book? When you say “Canons” do you mean like Church Canon law?
Chuck: Exactly. I know, that sounds like a terribly boring topic, but what The Crazy Side does is approach an otherwise boring topic in a fun and unique manner. I use humour and satire to draw attention to the fact that the Traditionalist claim that these ancient Church laws are “divinely inspired” is simply untenable. Some of these Canons forbid Greek Orthodox Christians from dancing at weddings! Another declares that a woman who has suffered a miscarriage should be excommunicated! Do fundamentalists believe that these are “divinely inspired” laws?
Sadly, a few actually do. But mostly people are simply unaware that such laws ever existed in the Christian Church. (And yes, they once were accepted by all of Christendom.) The point of the book is to illustrate – through the use of humorous scenarios — just how ridiculous taking such an all or nothing approach to one’s faith, Church, and tradition can actually be. What would our faith look like if we began enforcing such “divine” laws? What does it say about us as a faith tradition to say that such laws are “divine”? The book raises some serious points, but in a fun way which encourages people to not take everything in their religion quite so seriously.
Of course, some people do take even the silliest laws – like ones which insist that priests can never shave – quite seriously. I also receive a decent amount of hate mail through my blog, which in all honesty is something which I was emotionally unprepared for. But if the book helps to begin a conversation, I suppose it will be worth it.
Morgen: You receive hate mail? In what way?
Chuck: It usually consists of people emailing me and speaking for God, the Church and telling me that I’m a heretic, or that I’m committing blasphemy, or that I’m out to destroy people’s souls or the Church or both. I’ve had people tell me that I’m going to burn in hell, that I’m not even a Christian etc. Usually it is some combination of all of these things. The ones which argue that my purposes were nefarious and that I’m out to “destroy” the Church may be the most painful. I love my Church and my faith, I just cannot pretend that the human side of the Church doesn’t make mistakes that’s all. The funny thing is that almost without exception, these people freely admit that they have not – nor ever intend to – read the book. But they dislike it nonetheless. Not all of the feedback is negative. Much of it is positive, but any time someone rocks the boat – especially where religious tradition is involved – a few people are going to get angry.
Morgen: You’re always going to get people who disagree, either with you or with each other. This pales into insignificance by comparison but I’ve had someone say my short story April’s Fool has too much detail whereas someone else called it sparse. It’s a favourite of mine so I didn’t change anything for either of them (but then I guess they cancelled each other out). Have you considered other genres, perhaps fiction?
Chuck: Definitely. I began branching out in other directions almost immediately, particularly in writing editorials and / or opinion pieces about American politics. In all cases, I try and write about subjects which cause people to reflect upon what it is they think they believe. I would also love to venture into the Science Fiction and/or Fantasy genres as well, but I think the religious themes will remain my foundation for quite some time.
Morgen: And why not? I’ve interviewed quite a few people who have religious themes for their fiction (and non-fiction of course). Have you published anything else to-date?
Chuck: I’ve had a few editorials published in newspapers and more projects in the works, but I’m keeping a lid on that for the time being.
Morgen: What about rejections? Have you had any? If so, how do you deal with them?
Chuck: Sure. I think that’s part of being a writer. I’ve had a number of my editorials rejected. I deal with them by keeping things in perspective. Some of these newspapers receive huge numbers of submissions and they cannot print them all. I try to keep in mind that everyone, no matter how good they are, has been rejected at one time or another. I just keep plugging away and sending them off elsewhere and sometimes they get published and sometimes they don’t. All in all though, I keep trying and that is what is important I think.
Morgen: It’s just finding the right thing for the right person, isn’t it. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Chuck: I do not have agent. I’m very new to the publishing world and I am under the perception, right or wrong, that only “big names” have agents. I really don’t have the qualifications to pontificate about the writer / agent relationship. But I am under the perception that having an agent can be a vital aspect to a successful career. Yet I don’t feel that it’s not an absolute necessity. I’ve often considered the benefits of having an agent and if I could find an one with whom I hit it off (and he or she with me) then I think it would be a great benefit, especially when one considers that a successful agent can teach a writer a lot about the publishing world and ones own writing. Is having an agent vital? Well, I think it is certainly possible to become a successful writer without one. However, in some cases an agent would be extremely beneficial. But again, these are simply my perceptions and not experiential knowledge.
Morgen: I’ve interviewed a few authors who’ve only one book out but have agents (Rachel Abbott springs to mind) and they’re still starting out but I think that must be more fun (although no doubt harder work) as they see the author grow. I’d never say never to having an agent but these days when it seems “easier” (“” because it’s still tough!) to get a publisher on-board directly than an agent (and some agents are becoming publishers) there is a question as to whether they would make a huge difference. Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Chuck: Yes, The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy is available on Kindle. I wasn’t involved in the process – the publisher took care of that. Personally I LOVE eBooks! Initially I thought that I would remain a “paper” guy, but once I tried eBooks I found that I loved them. For some reason I am able to read an eBook much faster than I can a paper book. I’m not sure why. I still love hard copies for books that I know I’ll read over and over again (The Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit, for example), and I admit there is still nothing quite like the experience of walking into a real book store and browsing the shelves, flipping through the pages and deciding to purchase something based on the cover, the blurb on the back and the “feel” of the book in your hands. It is that experience that will keep me reading paper books forever. With that said, I would estimate that at least 60% of my reading is now done via eBooks. So in many ways I’m an eBook convert!
Morgen: It’s funny you say you read quicker with an eBook because I’m pretty sure I do too. I love the fact that I don’t have to hold it open or worry about getting the spine creased. As for the buying process, it’s been long recognised that a lot of people do the browsing but don’t buy, they go home and order the book online because it’s a bit cheaper. It’s a shame. Here in Northampton we’ve had all the independent bookshops close leaving Waterstones and The Works, who I’m pretty sure still struggle (the latter recently moved from a large shop on the main shopping street to a smaller premises on the second floor of the main shopping centre – that must have been money lead. You have a publisher, how much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Chuck: I do some of the marketing, but probably not as much as I should. I don’t think people realize just how much self-promotion is necessary in the publishing world of the 21st century. You have to get out there in the public eye in some way shape or form. I’m beginning to learn that it isn’t much different for the big name authors. Sure, they have the large publishing houses to help out, but they still have to do a lot of their own marketing these days. This is where I think an agent would be a huge boost, because without one it’s very difficult to put oneself out there and have the time to continue writing new things.
Morgen: Did you have any say in the title / covers of your book(s)? How important do you think they are?
Chuck: With ‘The Crazy Side’ the publisher chose the title and their graphic designers did the cover. I actually had a title, which is the title of one of the chapters in the book, but in the end I like the choice they made because it better expresses the satirical nature of the book. I think both a good title and a good cover are extremely important aspects and I’m very pleased with what the publisher did. I think that most publishing houses have a good feel for their share of the market. My feeling is to let the pros do their thing. However, authors should not be afraid to politely make their wishes known too. It should be a two way street. But with Crazy Side, I was comfortable with letting the publisher run with it because the owners have been in the publishing world for over thirty years and they have a great reputation for this sort of thing. So it was a non-issue for me.
Morgen: It’s a great cover; I love the way the figure is leaning against your name. 🙂 What are you working on at the moment / next?
Chuck: I’m working on several things at the moment. Mostly I’m putting the finishing touches on my next religious / spiritually themed book which looks at the supposed dichotomy between faith and doubt. I have some other projects in mind as well. As I said, I’m hoping to branch out into fiction, but writing fiction is very different from writing non-fiction and it has thus far been a slow learning curve. I have several fiction stories which do have a couple of rough chapters completed – but who knows if they’ll ever see the light of day. I think they will – eventually, but right now my main focus is on finishing my next book and after that, I’ll see where things go.
Morgen: Oh, good luck. If you’re anything like me you’ll enjoy whatever comes out. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Chuck: I write five or six days a week. Luckily the only time I suffer writer’s block is when my heart is not tuned into what I’m doing. For example, when I try to write fiction when my “mood” tells me to write non-fiction. I’ve found that I have to go where my muse tells me. There is no sense in fighting it unless I want to spend the day staring at a blank screen.
Morgen: 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Chuck: I have found that I do a lot of editing, though less now than I did when I first began writing. With the manuscript I’m currently finishing, the editing process has gone much faster than with my first book, but still a lot. I keep reminding myself that editing is not simply about correcting mistakes. It is also about finding the best way of saying something so that the largest number of people can understand it, which can be a challenge when dealing with religious topics. How do I address this issue so people who don’t care to study Canon law for fun can “get it”? This is where humour comes in and can make something so much more enjoyable for people. But without the editing I wouldn’t get there. So editing is vital.
Morgen: Absolutely, and self-publishing has been such a mixture with people doing their utmost to get it right but others just wanting to get their work online. I still think reviews will make or break. Do you have to do much research?
Chuck: Oh yeah. I probably do as much research as I do writing. I can spend an entire day piling over works written by theologians and scholars just so I’m able to write a single paragraph. Usually it’s not that intensive but I do a lot of research, which I find just as enjoyable and fulfilling as the actual writing itself. The biggest challenge which I seem to have is that – given that I’ve not been blessed with a mind which is able to recall “chapter and verse” as it were – I have trouble sourcing material which I know I read five years ago, but now can’t remember where I had read it. It can be frustrating, especially when I can usually remember the author who wrote this or that, but can’t remember in which book he or she wrote it.
Morgen: Hence the joy of the internet. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Chuck: Let me start with my least favourite: editing! I really hate it, but it is so necessary – for everyone. Even those whom we think of as literary geniuses. For example, I once listened to a collection of lectures by Tolkien scholar Michael D.C. Drout in which he had said that some of Tolkien’s original story ideas and character names were quite bizarre. I believe he said that Frodo was originally going to named “Bingo” and that he was going to have wooden feet! If someone the calibre of Tolkien can make such strange choices in his earlier drafts, then those of who aren’t literary geniuses like he was shouldn’t be ashamed to make the same sort of errors. I still hate editing, especially the fine toothed editing of punctuation and grammar, but I try to keep in mind the old adage: revise, revise, revise.
The other thing which I really hate is time management. I can begin writing (or sometimes doing research) and before I know it, the day has gotten away from me. I’m trying to stick to a disciplined schedule but it can be difficult what with other activities throughout the day etc. It is all a learning process.
As for my favourite – well that would probably be the connections and relationships which I’ve made since I began writing. Writers, like most artists, know how hard this craft is and they are the most supportive group of people with which I’ve ever been involved. I have also found that a lot of writers don’t forget their roots. Even big name authors out there like Stephen King and George R.R. Martin go out of their way to give sound advice to aspiring writers, whereas in many other fields once someone is at the top, they don’t want to offer anybody any sort of advice or help. Writers seem to be a different breed though which I have found very encouraging. I’m sure not all writers are so generous but so far I’ve not met any that haven’t been.
Morgen: Me too, pretty much. I compare it to learner drivers, we all got in front of our wheels (blank pages) and started from somewhere, with some bumps (rejections) along the way, which makes us stronger. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Chuck: Well, I hardly feel qualified to give advice, but I can relay what I think is the best advice which was given to me: read, read, read! Of course the person who gave me this advice tries to read a foot of books every week! I admit, I’m pretty jealous of anyone who can read such a massive amount, comprehend what it is they read, and still have plenty of time for everything else in life, including writing. Unfortunately that’s not me. But the advice to read as much as possible seems to be the number one piece of advice that the best as well as most successful authors give. Reading helps a person to “see” what good writers are doing and how language is used.
The other piece of advice which I have taken to heart is to go ahead and write as much as possible. Learn the craft of writing and realize that you will never be done learning and nothing anyone writes will ever reach “perfection.”
Morgen: Absolutely. It’s all about practice, isn’t it. If someone sat you in front of a piano, would they expect you to play a concerto? Exactly. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Chuck: Wow. That’s a tough question because there are so many good choices from which to choose. Would I want a fun dinner? A dinner which answered my the most profound questions? Okay – how about a little of both? Jesus, Carl Sagan, and J.R.R. Tolkien. In one night I could have my most meaningful questions answered – the meaning of life, the origins of life, and I could get the best writing advice I could ever imagine! What would I cook? Turkey, mashed potatoes, biscuits, corn, and chocolate cake for dessert. (I guess I’d invite them over for Christmas dinner!)
Morgen: Yum. 🙂 Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Chuck: I have a lot of quotes that I really appreciate, but one of my favourite is from the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes: “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief” (Ecclesiastes 1:18).
Morgen: That’s really sad but then a lot of my writing is sombre so maybe it means I’m learning? It is true that the knocks we get make us stronger and they say a successful writer is one who didn’t give up. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Chuck: Oh yes. I’m involved in a local writer’s group as well as a member of a regional writer’s organization. The local writer’s group has been invaluable. As I said earlier, relationships are what I have found to be my favourite aspect of being a writer. Not just the interpersonal relationships but learning things which you can only learn from other writers. Reading my first draft of ‘The Crazy Side’ to other writers gave me a whole new perspective on the book. A perspective which I could never have gotten on my own. They helped point me in the right direction which in turn dramatically improved my writing. I’m certain that without that input, The Crazy Side would never have been published as quickly as it was.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Chuck: When I’m not writing I’m an outdoor person – or I try to be, even though my health concerns prevent me from doing some things which I was once capable of doing. I walk every single day, several miles at least. I’m into photography, winter activities like snow tubing etc. In the summer I swim, go fishing, hiking etc. I am a huge Sci-Fi and Fantasy fan and I love home aquariums (though I only have one at the moment). I am also a part time pyrotechnics assistant. Yeah, I help blow up fireworks!
Morgen: Now that sounds like fun! Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
Chuck: Epic Fantasy Writer Brandon Sanderson has a podcast called “Writing Excuses” which I’ve only recently discovered but has taught a lot about the process and business of writing in a very short time. The Writer’s Market and Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents. Everyone probably already has these, but I think these are the best resources out there and are a must have for any author’s library. Other than that, anything that is well written is a valuable resource. Sometimes more valuable than the technical stuff because we can “see” what a good writer does rather than just reading about it.
Morgen: I love Writing Excuses (15 minutes long because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart :)). I have a copy of the Writer’s Market (albeit 2009, our main books in the UK are the Writer’s & Artist’s Yearbook and Writer’s Handbook). Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Chuck: I’m on LinkedIn though not nearly enough. I have found them to be somewhat valuable. I know that I’ve garnered a few sales by advertising on there. I also think the connections we can make at such websites are quite valuable because they can connect us with other writers who struggle with the same issues with which we struggle. Hopefully we can then learn from each other in that way. Of course we have to put our fair share of time into these sites, and as I said, I have time management issues. 🙂
Morgen: I think we all do. I left my job late March and am amazed I ever had time to have a job, albeit a part-time one. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Chuck: Well I maintain blog in which I post all sorts of things: comments, reflections, thoughts etc. I write a lot of pieces on American politics and religion, a few of which have been published – I also post about things I’m currently reading, etc. It’s very eclectic. I considered breaking it up into multiple blogs like a lot of people do (one for religion, another for politics etc.) but I want my blog to reflect who I am as a whole person, including my love of sci-fi and fantasy. What my faith has taught me is that we are meant to be “whole” people and not split up into sections or pieces and I hope my blog reflects that. It’s available at: http://charles-shingledecker.blogspot.com.
And of course people can comment, follow me or write me via email through my blog. I always respond to emails – well, not hate mail, but normal emails within a couple of days.
I’m also on Twitter and tweet regularly @C_Shingledecker.
My book is available from Regina Orthodox Press: http://www.reginaorthodoxpress.com and on Amazon Kindle — both in the U.S. and the U.K. Soon it should hit the trade markets and be available at other places, like Barnes and Noble as well.
Morgen: Thank you, Chuck.
I then invited Chuck to include an extract of his writing…
The reality of the Orthodox Church is not just the epic liturgy, and it is not just the dusty storage room, it is both of these and yet it is far more. It cannot be reduced to merely the epic or the dust filled room; it is rather a huge and jumbled collection of good, bad and everything in between, because humanity is a jumbled collection of good, bad, and everything in between.
We need to look beyond the facade of centuries of Christian’s whims, desires, fears, and wishes, and see the harsh reality that is the Church, and life on this pale blue dot we call earth. It is simultaneously glorious and harsh; beautiful and ugly, joyful and painful, but it is worth being on this short journey we call life. And it is worth being in the Orthodox Church too.
We Christians need to realize that our religion’s history was never all good; that the Bible, Tradition, and everything that goes along with it is not perfect or infallible. And we Orthodox Christians need to realize that Canon law is not divine, then and only then will we be able to begin to truly focus upon the One Who is (The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy, p. 179-180).
Charles P. Shingledecker is the author of the new book ‘The Crazy Side of Orthodoxy: How Traditionalist Ideology and “Changeless” Canons Hurt the Orthodox Church’. Raised nominally Roman Catholic, Charles became a devout “born again” Evangelical Christian in his late teens until his critical studies of Biblical scholarship, Church history, world religions, and spirituality led him to join the Greek Orthodox Church in 2003. Charles is a member of the Wisconsin Writers’ Association, is a political writer and activist, and is an assistant pyrotechnician. He is an avid reader (and viewer) of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and when he is not writing he enjoys fishing, hiking, photography, snow tubing, swimming, and being with friends and family.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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The full details of the new online writing groups, and their associated Facebook groups, are:
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