Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Meet Cec Murphey, Conference Keynoter

After meeting Cecil "Cec" Murphey at a writers' conference several years ago, we knew we'd instantly made a friend for life. Cec has that effect on people. Cecil “Cec” Murphey

A prolific writer, mentor, and all-around good guy, Cec will be keynoting at the upcoming Florida Christian Writers' Conference (Feb 26-March 1, 2009).

Whether you're an aspiring writer, an emerging writer, or an oft-published writer, we urge you to attend a writers' conference. Spending a few days in the company of a few hundred like-minded folks will change your career--it may even change your life. What better conference to start with than one in sunny Florida?

To whet your whistle, we thought we'd introduce you to "the man behind the words," Cec Murphey.

If you were forced to live alone on a tropical island for one year (after which you would return home) and could bring one book (other than the Bible) one CD and one DVD, what would they be and why?

Cec Murphey: I'd take along Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Les MiserablesI've read the unexpurgated version four times. That book taught me more about grace than any book other than the Bible. It's not the bishop and the candlestick part, but the relationship between Valjean and Javert.

While no one was looking, I'd sneak a copy of The Grapes of Wrath under my shirt. It's a powerful, tragic story. Steinbeck pushes me to improve as a writer.

On my DVD, I'd probably have the film Casablanca because of the sparse-but-brilliant dialogue.

For a CD, I'd take anything that was purely instrumental so I could play it while I read. (Yes, and I'd cheat again and sneak in a second CD of praise song.)

A recent stat says 81% of Americans believe they have a book inside them, just waiting to find its way onto paper. Why do so few of these books make it onto the page, let alone make it to print? For those that press through and get their book onto the page what must they do to get it into print?

Cec: Most of the people who come to me want to write their biographies. "I've led such an interesting life," is how they usually start. To write such books is an excellent form of catharsis and can enable people to rethink their lives.

Kierkegaard wrote:
"Life can only be understood backward; but it must be lived forward."

But they probably won't sell them.

Books need two qualities:

They have to be unique, but they also need a universal appeal. Few personal accounts have the latter.

To get their books into print, I urge them to learn how to write and to keep learning. We have many badly written books in print, but that doesn't excuse us for bad writing.

My friend Jeff Adams says:
"Demand perfection; settle for excellence."

It takes years to become a top-level writer. It means never to stop learning and improving. Most of us old-time writers began with articles as our apprenticeship. Books came later. Too many people want to start with best sellers.

Of the 100+ books you've written, is there one you feel most passionate about?

90 Minutes in HeavenCec: This must be a trick question. I feel strongly about most of the books I've done for others, especially 90 Minutes in Heaven (obviously) and Gifted Hands. Their combined sales have hit about seven million copies in English. But it's not the sales; it's the subjects themselves. They're genuine people and their stories are a strong-and-timeless message.

Committed But Flawed by Cec MurpheyOf the books under my own name, Committed But Flawed stands at the top. It's with a small publisher and hasn't done well in sales, but it's the most transparent I've ever been in print.

As well as writing your own books, you've done a fair amount of ghost writing. How do you learn to write in someone else's voice?

Cec: How to learn? I don't know. I started in the 1980s when the senior editor of Revell asked me to ghostwrite. He said, "You have the ability to get into other people's heads."

God gave me a gift, and I'm grateful. I also believe that gift emerged out of a badly damaged childhood. Suffering and learning to cope has helped me to understand the heartbreak and pain of others.

I suggest they start with profiles in magazines. If editors buy their articles, that's a good indication that they might become good ghostwriters.

I delineate two types of ghostwriters:

  1. This writer gets the data-the facts-and writes them. Almost anyone can do that. Several ghosted books read like someone who reports from outside the individual.

  2. This writer starts inside the person. When readers finish the book, they feel they know the person.
Sally Jenkins did two books for Lance Armstrong. Even if you don't care about cycling (and I don't), they hold my interest because she gets inside the man.

When people discuss Cec Murphey, they use words like life-changing, mentor, encourager, fun-loving, friend. How would you describe yourself?

Cec: On my tombstone I would like two words: He cared.

As a writer, I've had a twofold purpose for the 30 + years I've been publishing. I promised God two things. First, I would strive to become the best writer possible and never stop learning to improve. Second, I would do whatever I could to help other writers. How do I condense that in a single noun?

Florida Christian Writers’ ConferenceCan you give us a brief preview of what you'll be sharing at the upcoming Florida Christian Writers' Conference?

I'm scheduled for 3 keynote addresses and my purpose is to nudge and inspire others to write from the inside. The more they're in touch with who they are, the stronger they'll write.

I'll also teach a continuing class on nonfiction books. One of my seminary professors called me Mr. Pragmatic, thus I want to make the classes practical and helpful to show writers how to write and sell nonfiction.

Thanks for chatting with us, Cec!

Readers: please share your close encounter of the Cec kind in the Comments area.

*This article was originally published at HeBlogsSheBlogs.com, Dec. 16, 2008. Used with permission.

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  1. This man Cec calls himself a curmudgeon--at least, when it comes to being a learning writer's taskmaster, whether on The Writer's View Two, by email, or in person. (Those who've met him know his true kind nature.)I've experienced his loving but blunt critiques at two of his mentoring clinics, and two of the pieces he critiqued and worked with me on placed in contests.

    While in our area for the most recent clinic, he was gracious enough to speak to our writers guild and also agreed to meet with a friend of mine to look at her writing.

    I can only add I'd love to be in Florida taking in more of Cec's wisdom and enjoying a chat with him.

  2. What a wonderful view inside the man who helps so many others not only by his writings but by giving so much to the writing community.

    Many years ago, I had heard his name mentioned respectfully and also with so much love, at the Writing Strategies Critiqueshop, that I felt I knew him from afar. Because he had such a reputation as a man of God, I believed that he was trustworthy. As a sexual abuse survivor, I hate to tell you how few men in my life, I will even try to trust. When I read his Shattering the Silence website, I became a fan. Such poignant, honest writings about childhood pain touched me deeply. His reputation surely precedes him and I can't wait to come to the conference and meet him. I love what he would want written on his tombstone: He cared. This most certainly sums up the life of the Man Behind the Words.
    I am coming to this conference to learn. This blog has already started my education into the writing field and it is a wonderful contribution given to those of us who will be attending. Thank you very much!

    Many blessings,

    Donna Collins Tinsley

  3. There are few in the Christian writing community who have not been touched in a positive way by Cec Murphey. I have benefitted from both his teaching and his generosity. If you can possibly come to this conference to learn from this master craftsman and humble servant of Christ, then do it. You won't be sorry.


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