It is our distinct pleasure to welcome back a Writer's Alley favorite. Our guest today might be a debut author, but you probably know him to be a creative force who helped shape the landscape of Christian Fiction today. As the founding Publisher for Thomas Nelson Fiction, he led in the development of more than five hundred novels and now oversees content for Ransomed Heart ministries.
A good friend and mentor to the Alley Cats, our guest endured a grueling gab-fest at ACFW with all of yours truly ... and so to celebrate the release of his new book we thought it'd be fun to put him in the hot seat. And if you come hang out with us a bit, there just might be a signed copy of his new book in it for you... to sweeten the deal.
And so, I'll squelch my need to be wordy and announce our illustrious guest without further ado...
Amy Leigh Simpson So Allen, (I feel like a talk show host) tell us a little bit about your new book and the inspiration behind it ...
Allen Arnold Most of us are stuck in a story of without. We go about our tasks and get through our day without much hope, without our dreams realized, without deep friendships, and without experiencing the presence of God. Somewhere along the way, we got focused on doing more rather than being more. The result is that we feel overwhelmed, disheartened, out of time, and isolated. We are striving for validation and success. But even when that happens, it doesn't satisfy at a soul level. We still hunger for more.
But there is a better story. And it all comes down to one simple word - with.
The Story of With reveals how to actively pursue life with God and with a community of fellow creative bohemians. Here is your invitation to breathe deep as you discover how to pursue God from a place of identity, intimacy, and imagination. The book is a fast-paced allegory with some teaching. Because for this journey, above all else, we need our hearts awakened. And stories speak to our hearts in ways that facts alone fall short. So rather than more theories or principles, I offer you a better way to live, love, and create. I hope you'll enter into The Story of With.
Ashley Clark What's one thing people don't know about you?
Allen Arnold I'm not sure how many people know I love to drink salsa by the glass. It creates some awkward moments in Mexican restaurants when I'm going through half of their salsa supply. Usually, I'll ask the chef if he can make it more hot. And then ask again. At our recent office Christmas party, we had a talent show...and my talent was guzzling two jars of super hot salsa, followed by a Mountain Dew chaser. I lost the contest but my sport coat did catch on fire. Hey, you asked. I never said it was a pretty picture! ; )
Julia Reffner Favorite Bible verse or verses?
Allen Arnold My favorite passage of Scripture is Psalm 27:14.
“Stay with God!
Take Heart. Don’t Quit.
I’ll say it again:
Stay with God.”
This one short verse contains the essence of life for me. And it begins and ends with the most essential invitation of all. That the main thing is to do life together “with” God! We are his sons and daughters. And like any good father, he most longs for relationship. For us to pursue our hopes, dreams, concerns, questions, and creativity together. Not so we can do more. But so we can be more.
Amy Leigh Simpson After spending your career as a publisher, what has surprised you the most about the "other side" of publishing now that you're an author?
Allen Arnold For me, the most surprising aspect has been the emotional journey that I went on with the characters of my allegory. For instance, I remember weeping as I wrote the Diner chapter of the book. At another point, I was furious for days at a character for what he put Mia through. And I found myself wishing I could join Mia as she created with a group of wild bohemians.
I also asked God to let me feel a sense of what many of the readers were struggling with as I wrote this book. So I felt a sense of isolation, being overwhelmed, feeling unseen, and disheartenment as I wrote several chapters. These weren't my emotions, but God allowed me to feel them deeply so I could empathize as I described how to escape the Orphan Realm and discover a place of freedom.
Casey Herringshaw What is your all-time favorite activity?
Allen Arnold My all-time favorite activity may sound a bit underwhelming...but it brings me so much life. I love weekends with my wife and kids where we have no agenda and no place we have to be. Maybe that's why I savor unexpected snow days so much - which actually happens a lot here in Colorado. It's the perfect time to start a fire, play games, tell jokes, watch movies, and take long walks around the neighborhood. I think at the end of my days, those are the moments I'll look back on and say, I was such a blessed man.
Angie Dicken Where is your favorite place to write?
Allen Arnold My favorite writing place is wherever I sense God inviting me to spend time with him. And man, he’s taken me to some wild, unexpected places to create. I want to be as intentional as Moses was in Exodus 33 when he says (and I’m paraphrasing here), “God, if you’re not in this, let’s call the entire trip off.” If I don’t sense his presence, I’ll call the writing time off. Otherwise, my words would have no spark of the eternal. I don't want writing to ever be a solo project for me. Success isn’t hitting a word count or bestseller list. It's simply this - did I create with God? If the answer is yes, it's been a successful writing time.
As an aside, I'd love to write from a remote beach cabin overlooking the ocean, the waves crashing rhythmically as I create with God. I'm expectant that opportunity will come soon! I think it will because it's God who has given me that desire...and desire is always a prelude with him to fulfillment.
Laurie Tomlinson We are creatures of habit who all battle the enemy and Liar. How do you guard yourself from slipping back to the old m.o.?
Allen Arnold I've found that when I stay fascinated with God, the enemy shrinks in his power and his effect.I remember who I am - a Son of God - and who he is - a fallen created being who has lost everything. So I lean into my Father. I stay by his side. And when the enemy tries to break into that relationship, I declare that "I am not that man anymore." Then I command him - in the authority of God - to flee. When we do that, God promises that the enemy will flee.
Bottom line - no matter what the enemy throws at me, I use it in a jujitsu-like move to draw me even closer to God. Even more into his presence. It's awesome!
Krista Phillips You talked about the "old" you when you speak... stepping in front of an Airplane because you were a "get it done" kinda guy. Was there a turning point or catalyst that made you the easy breezy guy you are today?
Allen Arnold I was such a driven, productivity-focused man. And the problem was - it was working really well. I was receiving promotion after promotion. But it came at a high price. When you base your identity on performance, you are only as good as your last achievement. So the latest victory just raises the bar for the next hurdle. That's a soul-numbing way to live.
The turning point came about 15 years ago when my supervisor invited me to lunch and proceeded to reveal my toxic effect on my work team. I knew in that instant I could either choose offense at his words and defend my actions - or swallow hard and realize this wasn't the man I wanted to be. Thankfully, I took his words to heart and left that conversation a broken man. But broken is good when you've built the wrong foundation. It's actually the first step to starting anew. I describe that scene and transformation in much greater detail in the opening pages of The Story of With
Mary Vee Some Christian writers/authors wrestle with the required marketing big-bang-explosion of our work in today's world of publication. It rocks against what we've been taught in God's Word. Be humble. Can you help us?
Allen Arnold It really comes down to this - do you believe God has given you the gift of words and story? And if so, do you trust him to see that dream through to its completion? If so, it relieves so much pressure to make something happen. The problem with self promotion is that it has to be sustained with self effort (a loose paraphrase from Bill Johnson, pastor at Bethel). If you believe that in the end, it is all up to you then you either sink or swim by your own efforts. Which either leads to ego if you succeed...or shame if you fail. And surprisingly, either outcome creates distance from God. Because if you succeed in the short term, you may feel you can rely more on a formula than God. And if you fail, it can cause resentment that somehow God didn't come through.
But if you stay with God and pursue your calling at his pace, then you absolutely can rest easy. He will see you through. And let me tell you, the result of that transcends any big-bang, man-made marketing plan. True, it may not look like you expected it too...but God never promised to be bound by our limited expectations. He dreams much bigger than we do...and he invites us into that journey.
Pepper Basham Allen, you have a picnic basket filled with your last meal!! What would that meal be? :-) On a more serious note, in your many journeys among authors, what have you found to be the most encouraging advice to give and receive?
Last Meal – Easy! Sizzling steak fajitas (we’ll need a special picnic basket to hold them without burning up!) Plus generous portions of salsa, guacamole, jalapenos, grilled veggies, and black beans. Beverage of choice - strong black coffee.
Most Encouraging Advice to Give – Don't chase Success through your gifting. Chase God (the giver of your gift) and let the gifting become the doorway to greater intimacy with him. A chance for you to co-create with the Creator on the playground of ideas.
Most Encouraging Advice to Receive – I was reminded recently that the Journey of With is two-fold. Yes, it means "with" God. But it also must be "with" Others. So many writers describe themselves as introverted. They miss doing life, in all its messiness, with others. Yet we can't write a better story than we're living. And sitting at a laptop writing is good - but it isn't getting out and experiencing real life. I'm convinced we must surround ourselves with a small fellowship of bohemians with wildly different backgrounds. Not just people like us but people who stretch, encourage, and inspire us at a soul level...and who we can do the same for.
Alley Pals: We hope you've enjoyed getting to know more about Allen and his inspiring new book. We know it will a blessing to a great many people... maybe even YOU! Allen has so graciously offered an autographed copy to give away today. So here's how we're gonna do this... Leave a comment with your name and email address to enter. If you would like your name to be added to the hat TWICE (to improve your chances) give this a share on Facebook or twitter to help spread the word (and make sure you mention "shared" in your comment so I know to look for it before I draw a name on Sunday evening.) :)
Do you have a question for Allen??? He's hanging out with us today so pull up a chair, grab a cup of java (or salsa!), and lets have a chat!
Happy Friday! <3