Reader Question: What is Your Research Process?

May 15th, 2014

Lion of Babylon by Davis BunnCaroline writes:

On the second-to-last day of a writer’s conference, when I couldn’t stand any more conversation about writing style, the writer’s “platform,” or how to talk to an agent or editor, I holed up in the café with a bowl of ice cream and a book I hoped would be good enough to allow me to “escape” the chaos of the conference. The book was Lion of Babylon, and it perfectly served its purpose. Thank you.

Later in the day, when I was back to thinking about the details of writing, I realized that I had a question for you: I wanted to ask you about the research that goes into writing a story like Lion of Babylon.

I’m curious about the Bunn process of researching a story. I want be a good writer, and one of the ways I improve is by learning from those who are further along on the writing journey.

Dear Caroline,

The crucial issue with research is not to see this as the goal. Too often early books are marred by efforts to make the experts feel the research was solid. Your job, first and foremost, is to entertain.

My technique is to spend my outlining time–and a book that is to be researched requires a solid outline to keep you on track–determining the questions that really must be answered in order to tell the story.

Then I look for JUST ONE ANSWER. It is not necessary for you to find THE answer. The further back you go in time, the more experts will argue with one another over what is and is not the correct answer to any question.

You need to look for authors who will offer not just information, but an emotional spark. It is not data alone that you require. You need to have people who make the issue or the era live for you at an emotional level. Because that is your key aim in your story. To bring life to the page.

When God Calls the Unlikely

May 13th, 2014

The Turning 300Today’s reader reviews of The Turning are by Amanda Brogan, Crystal Kupper, and Mary Dushel.

Calling the Unlikely

By Amanda Brogan, Walking the Narrow Way blog

Perhaps you’ve heard the voice before. That inexplicable urging deep within your heart and soul, not audible but just as clear as if it had been shouted to you from a bullhorn. The voice of a Divine Storyteller, nudging you to follow a path you never would have expected.

It is this kind of Divine calling that Davis Bunn writes about in his new “devotional fiction” novel The Turning.

A brooding businessman from Cleveland. A snobby choir leader from Baltimore. A beautiful young oriental woman torn between two major life decisions, and an Arab learning the Christian faith. Each one hears the same message from God. Each must face a unique task. Each must take a monumental step toward forgiveness, reconciliation, compassion … spiritual obedience.

Feeling God call them to New York, these spiritual misfits band together under the leadership of a well-known Christian author to battle a rising cultural enemy.

I love the fact that each of the protagonists is introduced as someone who we normally would not look to for spiritual guidance. Each character has baggage, yet God does not wait till their baggage is gone to call them. He calls them with dirty lives, and offers them progressive steps of obedience to follow. Yet with each step, hearts are rearranged, maturity deepens, and the characters begin to take bigger and bolder steps of faith.

Davis shows us through these characters that we don’t have to be spiritual giants for Christ to call us. We simply need to be open to hearing His voice. He’ll meet us in that spot where calling and action collide.

Interesting, relevant read

By Crystal Kupper, on her blog

I had just slogged through two really awful books (coincidentally, both for my local book club) and I was very ready for a change. Thankfully, The Turning restored me to my normal love of turning pages gently instead of phwapping them shut in frustration.

Of Bunn’s recent works, this is definitely one of his best. I really enjoyed the character development, especially the insight into the antagonist, and was quite sad when the book ended. That’s the only reason I took off a star; I wanted more!

Hope is [Not] Dead

By Mary Dushel, Goodreads

“The fastest growing profit center within the entertainment industry is dystopia… The Generation Xers and the Millennials fundamentally disagree with the assumption that tomorrow is a better day. They reject the notion that the future holds greater promise.”

“Hope is dead.”

And, I promise, from there the book gets better.

These quotes are the beginnings of a marketing campaign that becomes the focus of Davis Bunn’s lastest novel, The Turning. The story begins with one of the country’s largest entertainment corporations planning this “hopeless” marketing strategy, including movies, books, music. But God has taken exception to this campaign and has decided to meet it head on. Five people are chosen and spoken to, directly, by God and sent to make the point that as long as God is alive and well and risen, hope cannot be dead.

This book is a well-written, fast-paced story. I found the characters to be nicely developed. I read books for their characters and I judge most books based on whether I would like to know the characters. These characters seemed real to me. They were multi-dimensional. The evil corporate types were not pure evil, but rather, though certainly ambitious, showed some level of humanity.

The characters who were doing God’s work were also multi-faceted. This task was not coming easily for any of them. They lamented what was given up for this task; they showed fear of being able to handle what was being asked of them. It felt like how I would react if something of this magnitude was asked of me.

The best part of this book is that it leaves you thinking.

Would I be able to drop everything and embark on such a mission, if asked?

Am I, as a consumer, contributing to this bleak outlook that is so prevalent today?

What can I do to help change things?

All worth thinking about.

Evangelical Protestants Have Lost Touch with the Contemplative Aspects of Their Faith

May 7th, 2014

I received an email from Mary, who listened to my audio devotional titled, “Our Protestant Heritage.” She brings up a critical question that I’d like to respond to publicly.

Mary writes, “I don’t have a Protestant heritage. I have a Catholic heritage. I thought the devotional made it sound like my faith didn’t count. But I love Jesus, talk to Him personally, daily; I read the scriptures; I tithe and I listen to God. I felt as if your characterization was exclusionary. I don’t understand it. So I stopped reading the book, The Turning, for a long time. I picked the book back up and finished it on Easter. It was wonderful. But I haven’t figured out how to process this Protestant discussion.”

The Turning By Davis BunnMy response:

I have wanted to address this very issue since completing The Turning and the accompanying devotional lessons, but I was not sure how. Mary’s email, in truth, was an answer to a prayer.

Let me begin by saying that I am married to a Catholic, a wonderful woman who has taught me more about faith than any person alive. My mother and my sister have both converted to Catholicism. I have recently been asked to write a series for the largest Catholic publisher in the United States.

But this particular book, and the devotional lessons, were written for a conservative U.S. Christian publisher. And the reason why I felt called to write on this subject, the one specific intent above all others, was because far too many evangelical Protestants have lost all touch with the contemplative aspects of our faith and our Christian heritage.

Too often these days, such people see the whole issue of spiritual contemplation as being a Catholic concept. And this simply is wrong. It hurts me to hear it referred to in this way from the pulpit, because it reflects a ‘majority opinion’ within many churches that does not jibe with who we are, and what has formed a foundation of our Christian heritage from the very beginning.

This devotional lesson is first and foremost aimed at the Protestant believer who has most likely never had contact with the message of contemplation. In order to break through this barrier, it was necessary to specifically address their incorrect assumption that the discipline of attentiveness is Catholic in nature.

First of all, the majority of lessons that shape Christian contemplation predate what we today refer to as the Catholic church. I suppose the better way to speak of this is by referring to today’s structure as the Roman church, as opposed to the Eastern church or Orthodox church.

The Age of the SpiritIf you are interested in how this issue specifically relates to the discipline of contemplation, may I suggest you read a truly wonderful book, The Age of the Spirit, by Phyllis Tickle, former Senior Religion Editor of Publishers Weekly.

In any case, the whole concept of Christian contemplation is grounded in the Old Testament, and given its first formal shape in the time of persecution during the second and third centuries.

But what is far more vital for today’s Protestant audience, the people who, in my opinion, need these lessons the most, is that the discipline of attentiveness – what today is referred to in the Catholic community as contemplation – was a vital component of the Protestant movement from the very beginning.

That is why I wrote the second lesson as I did. My intention was never to exclude the Catholics. In later lessons more than half the examples I used in describing life-changing revelations came from Catholic believers.

There are any number of wonderful texts from Catholic sources, including many contemporary writers, about the wonders of spiritual silence. And yet these are simply not known or discussed in many Protestant churches. It is tragic and unnecessary, in my opinion.

Their walk would be richer for including this. Mine certainly has been. And in order to reach these people, I addressed their incorrect assumptions at the starting gate. The founders of the Protestant denominations both practiced contemplative prayer and urged it among their followers.

We should all do so today, and learn to listen better.

Radio Interview: Writing and the Spiritual Life

May 5th, 2014

I was recently a guest on Moody Radio’s Midday Connection show. The hosts and I discussed how God has worked in my life to prepare me for a career in writing. I hope you’ll be encouraged to learn that “overnight success” is highly overrated. Rather, hard and discipline in your craft can pay off.

Click here to listen to the show:

Midday Connection – Moody Radio

Learn more about Midday Connection and listen to their many amazing broadcasts.

Listening Through the Hard Times: Audio Devotional #13, ‘The Turning’

May 2nd, 2014

The Turning 300During this audio devotional series, we’re reflecting on turning from our stale, ineffective ways of connecting with God to new ways.

This is particularly challenging when we’re hurting or facing challenges without any ready answer. How does the practice of daily listening help us in those times?

Click here to listen to my 2-minute audio devotional:
Listening Through the Hard Times: Audio Devotional #13, ‘The Turning’

Subscribe to my blog and receive my latest audio devotion via email — I’ll be posting a new audio devotional several times each week.

You can download all 40 devotions at TheTurningBook.com

Reader Mailbag: Praise for ‘Unlimited’

May 1st, 2014

Unlimited by Davis BunnRose Mary writes:

Unlimited is an awesome book, Mr. Bunn. Unlimited made me feel as if I were on a mission trip. I cried more than once as this book stirs the emotions. Keep up the good work.

I order all my books from Christianbook.com and they have a search option, which allows one to see the latest publications. I had just finished Strait of Hormuz when up popped Unlimited. I am so glad you such a prolific author. Hope I don’t have to wait long to see your name again.

Dear Rose Mary,

Thank you so much for the beautiful words about Unlimited. The fact that this touched your mission-oriented heart means a great deal. This was my first such work, and I really did feel that it stretched me, not only because I knew so little about the border country at the outset.

Preparing Ourselves to Receive: Audio Devotional #12, ‘The Turning’

April 30th, 2014

The Turning 300

“There is a God in heaven who reveals secrets.” – Daniel 2:28

In the moments when God speaks, the biblical prophets reveal to us that this is an opportunity for us, like them, to glimpse around the bend of time.

Click here to listen to my 2-minute audio devotional:
Preparing Ourselves to Receive: Audio Devotional #12, ‘The Turning’

Subscribe to my blog and receive my latest audio devotion via email — I’ll be posting a new audio devotional several times each week.

You can download all 40 devotions at TheTurningBook.com

One of Davis Bunn’s Best Novels… or Not.

April 29th, 2014

The Turning 300One difficult thing all published writers must learn to accept graciously is criticism of our work.

Today’s reader reviews of The Turning serve as a point/counterpoint. One reader saw flaws in the character development and point of view, whereas another reader connected strongly with the characters.

I appreciate both reviews, which are so thoughtfully written.

Point

By Diana Savage, Heartlifters blog

When I received a complimentary copy of Davis Bunn’s The Turning from River North Fiction in exchange for my honest review, I looked forward to reading the novel. The author has written many books, he has an excellent reputation, and he teaches creative writing at the University of Oxford.

Sure enough, I found Bunn’s sensory descriptions to be outstanding. I was awestruck by how deftly he described characters experiencing God’s intense presence. Many of the story’s events and references mirror contemporary headlines, making the book feel up to the minute. Suspense begins immediately on page 1, the conflict is compelling, and the tension ramps to fever pitch at frequent intervals. Sounds like a recipe for a topnotch thriller, doesn’t it?

Actually, I was disappointed. The author opens the book with a character who later becomes an antagonist, thus weakening the story’s impact by dividing readers’ emotions. He quickly introduces too many viewpoint characters to keep track of without flipping back to previous passages. And sometimes viewpoint characters “talk around” key elements to keep them hidden from us while we’re still in their heads.

In spite of these problems, the book has much to recommend it. I especially appreciate the story’s powerful takeaway message. Readers who prefer a plot-driven novel with a good takeaway and who don’t mind viewpoint difficulties will enjoy The Turning.

Counterpoint

By Jasmine Augustine, Montana Made blog

I think this book just might be Davis Bunn’s most powerful novel yet. You will be shaken out of your complacency and convicted to take that step forward to your own turning, and into the next thing God has planned for you. The impossible will seem possible.

Powerful, thought provoking, exciting, with a diverse and wonderful cast of characters. The five people chosen by God to bring the Church, the U.S., and even the world, a message of hope and God’s love, couldn’t be any different from each other if they had come from different countries. Each of them has a role to play, each must step out of their comfort zone, each must take a step of faith and give up things that they hold dear, and each of them must listen to the voice and promptings of the One who called them.

I think my favorite line from the book is when Ruth, the wife of a late-evangelist, says that God does not call the equipped, He equips those He calls. What a powerful piece of truth! Those words really hit me when I read them, and it made me wonder how God is using each of my experiences to shape and equip me to follow His plan.

The Turning is one of those books where you read a chapter or two and then you walk away to think about it, digest it, and maybe let it even change you. When Davis Bunn called this devotional fiction I think he used/coined the correct term. The way you read it does remind me much of reading a devotional, each section must be pondered before you can return for more.

But before you think this book is dry and boring, it’s not. The Turning IS a novel and it DOES tell a story, a good story. There is action, betrayal, danger, angels in disguise, a little romance, politics, and all the things we have come to expect in a typical Davis Bunn novel.

The Daily Discipline: Audio Devotional #11, ‘The Turning’

April 28th, 2014

The Turning 300Listening, like prayer, is a discipline best practiced daily. But that doesn’t mean it comes naturally.

Click here to listen to my 2-minute audio devotional:
The Daily Discipline: Audio Devotional #11, ‘The Turning’

Subscribe to my blog and receive my latest audio devotion via email — I’ll be posting a new audio devotional several times each week.

You can download all 40 devotions at TheTurningBook.com

Waiting on God: Audio Devotional #10, ‘The Turning’

April 25th, 2014

The Turning 300Have you ever felt as if God has called you or spoken to you, but you haven’t responded?

Hope born in faith can’t be self-reliant.

I share thoughts about this in my 2-minute audio devotional:
Waiting on God: Audio Devotional #10, ‘The Turning’

Subscribe to my blog and receive my latest audio devotion via email — I’ll be posting a new audio devotional several times each week.

You can download all 40 devotions at TheTurningBook.com