Interview with Faculty Member: Jim Watkins

WatkinsJim Watkins currently wears more hats than his Aunt Luella. He is associate acquisitions editor for Wesleyan Publishing House, a conference speaker throughout the U.S. and overseas, director of programming for St. Davids Christian Writers’ Conference, and editorial advisor for ACW Press. He’s also served as an editor/writer for the American Bible Society, full-time editorial director at Wesleyan Publishing House, a monthly columnist for Rev. magazine, and weekly columnist for three secular newspapers for 15 years—but not all at the same time.


You said that you wrote Communicate to Change Lives specifically to change lives. How do you do that, and what inspired you?

Well, first you need to buy the book! Second, it’s so important to know your audience’s “felt needs” and offer to meet that need in your writing and speaking. What is the practical “take-away”? So, it’s all about knowing your audience: their felt—and faith—needs, and then showing them how your message can meet that need.

What is your background in writing? How did you get the “bug”?

I knew I wanted to be a writer when, as a second grader, I rewrote the ending of Pinocchio. I could “suspend disbelief” so that a wooden marionette could come to life—no strings attached. But to believe that the “live” puppet could become a real boy? That was too much for me. So, I rewrote the ending and had the wooden Pinocchio die a painful, prolonged death of Dutch elm disease.

Fortunately, I had teachers who encouraged my so-called writing talent. By the time I had written plays for the elementary school to perform, journaled my deep, dark, depressed life as a junior higher, and become the editor of the high school paper, I was hooked on writing!

I dabbled in writing for several years with a real job, then became an editor in our denomination’s publishing house, and eventually became more and more of a full-time writer.

You’re probably best known for “Hope & Humor.” How did you discover that you had that gift?

My dad had a very dry, English sense of humor, which I loved. I found that by adding a little “snark” to that, I had the opportunity to write a humor column each issue of the high school newspaper. A professor in community college gave me a C in Freshman Composition, so I didn’t really write for ten years. Then, when I became the editor of our youth department’s magazine, I started writing a humor column again, and this time got wonderful affirmation. I went on to be editorial director of Wesleyan Publishing House, so continued writing columns with hope and humor. Then later, I had a humor column in three secular papers for fifteen years. Since then I’ve written and taught humor at conferences and Taylor University. My textbook, Writing with Banana Peels, teaches the principles, practices and pratfalls of writing humor.

Here’s my P-A-T answer for discovering your writing and speaking sweet spot. Where do your passions, others’ affirmation, and your talent intersect? That’s very likely your area of ministry.

Where do you see that fitting with the Christian worldview?

Hyperbole, or intentional exaggeration, was the hip humor in first-century Palestine. So, Jesus would have had them rolling on the hillsides with his comments about looking for a “speck of sawdust in a brother’s eye” while having a “plank” in our own. And I can just imagine the multitudes roaring when he told the Pharisees they would “strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” Or how ’bout camels squeezing through the “eye of a needle”? Or putting a lamp—an open flame—under a bed—a flat, flammable mat at the time. Unfortunately, a literal translation of Christ’s words doesn’t capture the cultural comedy that’s really there.

That’s why all my articles, posts and  books—with the exception of The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language—are filled with humor. I heard someone at a youth workers’ convention—way back during the Polyester Age—say, “It’s a sin to make the gospel boring.” I’ve always instinctively known that humor was a powerful method to share the gospel. The speakers I remember most—and who had the greatest impact on my life—were sort of stand-up theologians. So, that’s always been my approach in my writing.

Check out Jim’s class, From Concept to Contract at this year’s conference.

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Better Than Winning

by Susan Boltz, Contest Committee for St. Davids Christian Writers’ Conference 

“I volunteered to be on the contest committee for St. Davids.”

“Why would you volunteer to help with the contests? You have plenty on your plate already. What makes you think that contests are important enough to merit your time?” My friend sounded a bit peeved that I’d made another commitment.

“When I’ve entered the contests, God has used them in my life.” Doubt played across her face as I tried to explain. “The first time I went to St. Davids Christian Writers’ Conference, I was getting serious about writing. God had put stories in my life, and it seemed I should share them, but I didn’t know how or what to do. I entered the contests to see what would happen. At the conference, some of the participants were professional writers, and it seemed like most of the writers were published. Who was I? A writer wannabe. Trying to compete with them seemed silly, so I knew I wasn’t going to win anything. I told myself it was good experience.”

“Pointless,” my friend said.

“That’s how it looked. But those people understood me. When I admitted that I was just a beginner, they told me that we all start at the same place. Every great writer was a beginner at one time. They encouraged me to obey God, learn more, and keep writing. By the time the awards were presented, I was happy with all that I’d learned that week and wasn’t expecting anything else. And then it happened. I won the second place award in the Devotional category. I couldn’t believe it. Here I was in a room with pastors, professional writers, other beginners too, and I’d won second place!”

“Maybe, they just let you win. You know, make the new kid feel good.”

“No, the judges don’t even know who the contestants are. No names are on the entries they receive. First place means this entry is ready to be submitted to an editor for publication. Second place means there are one or two things to be corrected. Third place means this is a solid entry and the judge likes it, but it needs a little more work. To me, the second place win confirmed that God would use my work.”

“So you had a nice experience. What if you hadn’t won anything?”

“Actually, God has used the contests more in my life when I’ve lost than when I’ve won.”

“How does that work?” She laughed. “That sounds crazy.”

“One year, I entered a nonfiction article in the contests. It was a personal experience story. I struggled to write it and thought perhaps I’d submit it to a magazine if it did well.”

“What happened?”

“Definitely not a win. The scores were low, and the manuscript was covered with the judge’s comments and questions.”

“What did you do?” she asked.

“I threw the whole thing in a drawer and forgot about it. A couple of years later, Chicken Soup for the Soul had a call-out for stories like mine. I pulled out the manuscript. The comments and questions guided me as I rewrote the whole thing. In December of 2014, that story was published in The Power of Forgiveness. Learning from my mistakes was a better gift than winning any award.”

“Do you think God will use the contests with other writers?”

“That’s my prayer.”


sboltzSusan has been published in the Upper Room, Penned from the Heart, Vista Magazine, and Chicken Soup for the Soul—The Power of Forgiveness. She is a card-carrying member in good standing of St. Davids Christian Writers’ Association and CFO Second Tuesday Writers.

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Trifecta Confirmation

by Sue Fairchild 

One of the things I love the most about the St. Davids Christian Writers’ Conference is the contest winner announcements at the banquet at the end of the week. It brings together the people I’ve met and admired all week long, plus, the winner’s submission is always read out loud. I love to hear the different writing styles and connect the writing with the author.

Last year, after missing the previous year of the conference, I decided to attend and enter the contests again. My writing habits had taken a nosedive and I was feeling negative about my skills as a writer. To be truthful, I didn’t think I had any skills as a writer and was considering giving it up.

I entered the “Devotional” and “Nonfiction Article” categories—going for my strengths—and the “Novel Beginnings” category. I wanted so badly to write full-length fiction and I’d recently begun a Young Adult work based loosely on my childhood. Although my writers group liked the beginning, I had convinced myself it wasn’t that great and, surely, others would not give me glowing accolades for my inferior work. Looking back, I entered the contest thinking my greatest fears would be confirmed—that I wasn’t a writer at all.

The night of the banquet came and it was time to announce the contest winners. I couldn’t even remember what I had entered, but I knew I wouldn’t win. It didn’t matter, though, because conference week had rekindled my passion for writing and, whether I won or lost was inconsequential: I was a writer.

I clapped and cheered as the winners in the devotional category were announced and my friends received their certificates. Soon, the moderator started reading the first place winner. I realized it was MY work. Although I didn’t take the win for granted, I had been published many times for my devotions before, so it seemed a logical win.

Then the moderator read my entry for nonfiction article. I had won another category! I shook my head as I took my seat once again, thanking God for this blessing. These two wins were a sure sign of His purpose for my life.

I had no sooner basked in the glow of my two wins, than I heard a familiar story being read. My writing group friends grinned in my direction. They knew my words as they had read them before. It was my entry for novel beginnings. I had won again! I began to cry. As my fellow writers cheered me on, I took my winning certificate, and then stared at all three achievements in front of me. Not only had God confirmed I was a writer, I had won the coveted “trifecta” of the contests. Winning the trifecta (or all three contests you can enter) is rarely done. I had won this coveted achievement when all along I hadn’t even considered myself a writer! Now, as my new friend, Bob Hostetler, had put it—I was an AWARD-WINNING writer!

With the glow of these wins still reverberating in me almost a year later, I’ve finished a good portion of my YA novel, have started a nonfiction book about stories and concepts from the Bible, continue my blog, and commit myself to writing at least twice a week for a whole day. God has positioned me in this place for a reason; He showed me that with these wins. Although the awards at conference don’t come with monetary value, the encouragement value from both the judges and my peers has propelled me to keep moving forward. I’m sure I’ll enter a few more contests this year, too.

Care to challenge me?


frontalshoteditedSue is a self-proclaimed germaphobe, OCD sufferer (which works well for editing) and recovering Negative Nelly. Her blog examines the simple snippets of life to find the joy, lesson and fun in each moment. Working with authors to snip and refine their work in progress also brings Sue joy in her work as a freelance editor. She can be found at Sue’s Simple Snippets and @suefair48 on Twitter.

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Recite or Relate

by Carol Hamilton

Have you ever been to a piano recital and noticed the student who has all the technique mastered? Her fingers arched, back straight, she strokes each key with precision and doesn’t miss a note, yet she’s not feeling the music and neither does the audience. She plays the score without emotion.

Next a child pounces on the piano. She whirls through a simple song, missing a note here and there, but completely captivating the crowd. She feels the music in every cell. The tune reverberates from her soul. At times she’s lost in the melody and seems to forget anyone else exists. Rather than merely playing the notes on the page, she lives the music, allowing the audience to experience it with her.

My niece, Elle, as a nine-year-old actress, played the lead in a local dance production. In the previous two years she performed in several plays. Her poise and confidence improve with each one. She delivers her lines calmly, clearly, and with conviction.

Also in the show, another niece, twelve-year-old Haley Smith, danced in four numbers. Many of the girls on the stage got all the steps right. They moved to the correct spot at the appointed time, but most of them went through the motions, probably counting in their minds, some mouthing the numbers. But Haley danced. She flowed with grace and had me in tears. As she danced I felt lifted, ethereal, and encouraged.

Since Haley learned to toddle she’s been bouncing to music. My parents like to tell of her ability as a grade school student to switch the cable music station to a wide variety of genres. After listening for a few seconds, she would make up a dance to go with the music. She has a natural gift, but she enhances it with hours of heartfelt practice. Watching her on the stage in this performance, I could see how she took the choreographed steps and turned them into soul-felt dances. Because she put herself into the rhythm, with a genuine grin, my spirit buoyed and rose and I became a part of the music myself.

As speakers we have the same gamut of levels. Some speakers practice words and present them. Their facts often fall flat because they recite rather than relate. Graphs and research can be interesting, but how much more gripping if something personal is interspersed with the presentation. What has the speaker learned that will help the audience? What pertinent story can be woven into the details? When we include a piece of ourselves, spoken from the heart, with the intent of helping others, we can bring the audience into the speech, get them to feel the emotion, and bring them along with inspiration. When we share with depth something we believe, we move from reciting words to meaningful, memorable speaking, and the audience relates.

Carol Moesta Hamilton is from Western Pennsylvania. Her passion and delight is to speak and write to uplift women and teens reminding them of their strength in Jesus. For the past four years, she presented Bucketfillers for Life, Inc.  anti-bullying programs in schools, encouraging students and adults to choose to be kind. She also enjoys teaching writing workshops.

She is associated with National Speakers Association, Toastmasters International, St. Davids Christian Writers Association, American Christian Fiction Writers, Mission to the World Disaster Response Ministry and others.

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Waiting for Inspiration

by Joanne Brokaw

“Writing lies in the vast space between those two poles of brilliance and desolation, in a space called work.”


An acquaintance, we’ll call him Joe, recently told me he’s a writer. “I have several books in the works,” he said. When I asked if he was close to finishing any, he replied with a chuckle, “Not yet. I’m still waiting to be inspired. You know how it is.”

I do. In fact, there probably isn’t a writer out there who hasn’t waited for the writing gods to rain down inspiration so he could finish a project.

This was on my mind as I sat down to write this guest blog post, partly because it was close to the deadline and I hadn’t yet come up with a topic. I’ve been really distracted by writing projects, travel, and the fact that I just found Dr. Who on Netflix. I wasn’t feeling inspired.

No, wait. That’s a lie. I was being lazy.

When Joe talked about being inspired, I shared with him something I’ve learned over the years: “If you’re a writer, you write. Even when you don’t feel inspired.”

A lot of writers find themselves waffling between two ends of the writing spectrum. One end assures you that anything worth writing must pour from the pen as if God himself was etching another ten commandments. Yes, you tell yourself, you are the most amazing writer in the entire universe. Life as we know it will change for eternity because of the sentence you just wrote.

The other end of the spectrum insists that, without divine inspiration, anything you commit to paper or computer screen is drivel, trash, a crime more heinous than murder. And so you do a million other things while you wait for your muse to strike, because without it you are nothing. Lower than nothing. You are, in fact, not a writer. Go get a real job.

At the risk of bursting the bubble of creative self pity, I’ll let you in on a little secret: Writing lies in the vast space between those two poles of brilliance and desolation, in a space called work.

Painters paint and teachers teach and policeman police and truck drivers drive trucks. And writers? They write. They do it when they don’t feel like writing. They do it when everyone else is out having fun. They do it when their brains aren’t churning out a single good idea and a deadline is looming.

Yes, sometimes we need to take a break from a project, to get some clarity, stretch our legs or do more research. But if you’re waiting around for the time when you feel inspired to write, you’ll never finish anything.

Writer, inspire thyself. It’s pretty simple: Park your butt in a chair, put your fingers on the keyboard, and start writing.

Write anything. Copy a page from your favorite novel. Set a timer for 10 minutes and just start writing about what you did yesterday, putting anything on the page until the buzzer goes off. Write an email to yourself about why you don’t feel like writing.

I guarantee one of those things will spark an idea, which will make you want to write some more, which will make you feel … dare I say it? … inspired.


Joanne BrokawAward-winning humor columnist, blogger, and freelance writer Joanne Brokaw spends her days dreaming of things she’d like to do but probably never will—like swimming with dolphins, cleaning the attic, and someday overcoming the trauma of elementary school picture day. She’s been published in dozens of publications, including Refreshed magazine,, Fido Friendly Magazine’s blog, and Focus on the Family’s Breakaway magazine. Her book, What the Dog Said, a collection of humor columns, is currently available from Wordcrafts Press. She lives in Western New York with two dogs, a cat, six chickens, and one very patient husband.

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Mark your calendar for June 22-26, 2016

Did you enjoy this year’s conference? (New features included modern, air-conditioned, handicap-accessible housing, the daily “St. Davids Live” show, new Saturday self-contained track, etc.) Mark your calendar for June 22-26, 2016! And bring your writer friends for another educational, encouraging and entertaining conference.

Here are a few of the amazing agents, editors and speakers we have already booked for 2016:

Linda Glaz: Hartline Literary Agency
Wendy Lawton: Books & Such Literary Management
Amanda Leudke: MacGregor Literary Agency

Dawn Anderson: Kregel Publishers
Cheri Cowell: EA Books
Bonnie Rose Hudson: School House Publishers
Rebecca Irwin-Diehl: Judson Press
Jeff McDonald: Salvation Army’s War Cry
James Watkins: ACW Press and Wesleyan Publishing House
Terry White: BMH Publishing

Janyce Brawn: author
Roberta Brosius: author, speaker, puppeteer
Laura Christianson: Internet expert
Eva Marie Everson: author, president of Word Weavers
Bob Hostetler: author, speaker
Carol Hamilton: speaker trainer
Zena Dell Lowe: screenwriter, actress
Amy Mable: president of St. Davids Writers’ Association, news anchor
Anne Waterman Murphy: author
Rick Nowlin: newspaper columnist, jazz artist
Gayle Roper: author
Lora Zill: poet
(Stay tuned as more faculty members are added.)

And back in 2016, the continuing poetry track as well as many new features and old favorites.

Thanks to everyone who made 2015 one of the best conferences yet! We’re looking forward to an even better conference next year with more wonderful writers in attendance.

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From closing session . . .

Thanks to Marcia Gunnett Woodard for her prayer at the closing session:

      Prayer of Gratitude and Consecration

      Father of Lights,
      Giver of all good gifts,
      I thank You for the gifts You’ve given me.
      The unique blend
      Of talents and abilities,
      Interests and passions,
      That combined, make me
      My own unique self.

      Sometimes, Lord,
      I have mixed feelings
      About the role You’ve given me—
      One moment overjoyed
      At the challenge before me,
      The next, petrified,
      Certain that I will never accomplish
      My mission.

      Help me always to remember
      That just as the mission came from You,
      So, too, will come
      The grace,
      The strength,
      The ability,
      To run the course,
      The race You have set for me.

      Help me to recall
      That in success or failure,
      Fame or obscurity,
      Praise or criticism,
      It is not my aim to please those around me,
      But to glorify You.

      And to this purpose
      I will exercise all the abilities I have,
      With all the strength I have,
      For all the days I have—
      Walking through each door You open,
      Until the moment You open the door
      That leads
      Into Your presence
      And I hear You say,
      “Well done.”

And you can read or listen to Keeping Your Dreams Alive.

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Top ten lists from ‘St. Davids Live’


“St. Davids Live,” hosted by Lissa Halls Johnson and Bob Hostetler and produced by Jim Watkins, featured ten top lists provided by the “studio audience.”

Top Ten Signs You May Be a Writer

10. In high school, you were the kid who actually enjoyed writing term papers

9. Your favorite places to shop are discount book stores and office supply outlets

8. You’ve ever gotten so busy writing you forgot to pick up the kids at school

7. You’re standing in line at midnight for the latest Webster’s New World College Dictionary

6. You’ve ever been caught at the library sniffing books

5. You’ve maxed out your credit card to attend this conference

4. Your bumper sticker reads, “I’d rather be writing”

3. You proofread letters and emails from friends

2. You send them back with corrections

1. You cannot not write!

Top Ten Signs You Write Speculative Fiction

10. The door to your pantry is a portal to another world

9. You can’t go anywhere without your pet dragon

8. Your kids are named Luke, Leia and Han

7. Whenever you go out, you wear your hooded cloak

6. You miss your turnpike exit because you’re imagining a world without roads

5. You have created a potion to banish writer’s block

4. You can you turn back time to get better television programs

3. Some of your Facebook friends live in other galaxies

2. You are two-timing your boyfriend with his clone

1. You start all your conversations with “What if . . .”

Top Ten Worst Book Titles

10. Humble and Proud of It

9. Hair Care by Donald Trump, foreword by Kim Jong-un

8. Cooking with Pooh

7. The Bob Hostetler Workout Manual

6. The Good, the Bad, the Snuggly

5. All the Places You’ll Scratch and Sniff

4. Everything I Know About Women I Learned from My Tractor

3. Larry the Leper Needs a Hand

2. Left Behind in the Purpose-Driven Shack

1. Ventriloquism for Dummies

Top Ten Signs You’re a Romance Author

10. The plumber, pool man and paper boy are all potential protagonists

9. You deduct as business expenses candles, wine, and Victoria’s Secret purchases

8. You move in slow motion to the music in your head whenever you meet an attractive man.

7. Your wardrobe consists of long skirts and laced up blouses

6. You cry at Hallmark commercials

5. Your children are named Scarlet, Catherine, Jane, Heathcliff and Darcy.

4. You have a life-size cut-out of Fabio

3. Your favorite book in the Bible is Song of Solomon

2. You are on your sixth marriage

1. Your trembling fingertips nervously, tentatively touch with anticipation your keyboard

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God has something great planned

I am so excited about the 2015 St. Davids Christian Writers Conference which begins with registration Wednesday afternoon.

The board has been praying and fasting for the faculty and conferees for a year now.

• For faculty members as their prepare keynote talks and seminars.

• For safe travel for board (traveling Tuesday), faculty and conferees.

• For every keynote and seminar that conferees will learn how to communicate God’s Word with their words.

• And most of all, for lives to be changed whether writers or those who read their words.

God has something great planned! So as you come by car, plane, train or other mode, use your travel time to pray that God’s Spirit is upon everything from the time we leave our homes until we arrive back home.

Helpful links
Google map to Grove City
Campus map
Printer-friendly schedule

See you soon!
Jim Watkins
Director of programming

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The importance of brand, platform, social network

When I originally started reviewing manuscripts for Wesleyan Publishing House, I skipped the proposal and went straight to the sample chapter. I was most interested in good writing.

Now that I’m associate acquisitions editor, I go straight to the section in the proposal titled “Platform.” If you don’t have a well-trafficked website or blog, if you’re not out regularly speaking, if you don’t have a thousand or more “friends” on Facebook, I have to reject it.

As a editor, who is first and foremost a writer, I absolutely hate that. But I do understand that, with the current economic climate, your “brand,” “platform” and “social network” are also absolutely essential for your book to sell.

That’s why St. Davids Christian Writers’ Conference is devoting an hour each afternoon for a panel of experts to answer your questions about these three essential elements of your writing career. You can do this and we’ll show you how.

It’s just one of the many ways that I believe that St. Davids Christian Writers’ Conference is one of the most unique, cutting edge conferences in the United States. So, join us Wednesday June 24 through Sunday June 28. And if you can’t attend the entire conference, we have a one-day session Saturday, June 27, that will take you from concept to contract.

I can’t wait! I hope to see you there! Register today.

Jim Watkins
Program director

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