Friday, March 2, 2012

Author Henry McLaughlin--The Courage To Continue The Journey

Henry McLaughlin and I met during a meal at one of the American Christian Fiction Writers conferences. My first impression of Henry was that he was both a gentle man and a gentleman, something I truly respect. His signature line in his e-mails is "Continue The Journey," a strength one needs to lean on these days, one that has definitely carried Henry to reach for his dreams. But, he goes beyond his own inner world and gives to many. Take a look on his website and you'll see his subjects extend his caring to others with titles such as A Time For Every Purpose and Being A Christian Writer In A Mainstream World.
**Henry is offering one copy of his novel JOURNEY TO RIVERBEND, which is set in the American West of the 1870s, to one randomly chosen commenter. For convenience, please leave your e-mail within the comment. Thanks!!**

First, a few questions for Henry:

You published your first novel after retiring from a lengthy career in child welfare services. What were the advantages and disadvantages (both emotionally/physically and professional wise) of beginning a novel-writing career during the "post-retirement" part of life?
I don't think I've hit "post-retirement" life yet. My wife tells people that writing is my third career. When I began writing seriously, I was working full time for Kenneth Copeland Ministries. So I still had a non-writing job until recently.

I think maturity is one of the advantages to beginning when I did. I was better able to receive criticism and feedback. I knew I had a lot to learn about the craft and I was willing to invest the time, money and effort to do that.

Spiritually, I was ready to step into this phase of God's plan for me. I had reached the point of trust and faith that I knew I was hearing him clearly and that he would guide my steps. I could rest in him and trust in his perfect timing better than when I was younger.
Writing and working another job can be physically and mentally draining. It's like working two jobs. Add family and church and, sometimes, I felt like I was juggling bowling balls.

Now that I write full time, the physical and mental drain isn't as great because I can build rest and recharge times into my day. My wife has noted that, writing full time, I put more hours into my profession than when I was working and writing.

The disadvantage is negative self-talk. "I'm too old to be a writer." Not true. We are never too old to pursue our God-given dreams. Moses was 80 when God called him to lead the Israelites. Abraham was 100 when he had his first child. Writing is a great activity for keeping the mind and spirit awake and active. Research, learning the craft of writing and the actual writing itself keep us alert and sharpens our minds. I'm planning on living to 120 so I've just hit middle age.

Can we peek at your daily writing schedule? Are you a SOP writer of do you out-line?
Now that I'm writing full time, my day is structured like a job, because that's what it is. On a typical day, I'm in my writing room at 8:30 a.m. The first half-hour is warm up time. I work on a blog or free write to get the juices flowing and to gear up the mind and body. Next, I write on my current project. If it's a first draft, I aim for 10,000 words a week or about 2,000 a day. I'll break for lunch around 1:00, check email and Facebook. Then it's back to the novel until 4:30 or 5:00. After 5:00, I'll critique manuscripts of my critique partners and check email and Facebook one final time. I'm usually done by 6:00 or 6:30.

On Saturday, I do a deep edit of what I wrote during the week and finish up other critiques. Sunday is my day off from writing.

I consider myself an outliner with seat of the pants tendencies. I have found that I need to outline the story. I will usually take one to two weeks to do a detailed scene-by-scene outline, character sketches, and setting descriptions. When I start the actual writing, I'll refer to the outline to anchor myself and the let the characters take me wherever they want to go. They open new plot possibilites and aspects of their personalities and frequently take the story in a better direction. I've learned to trust them and they've learned to trust me not to confine them to the outline. My characters and I have had some interesting discussions along the way.
In your signature line you have the motto "Continue the journey." They say in striving for publication that writing isn't just about that golden carrot (the publishing contract) but rather about the journey of who you meet and what you experience on the way to publication. For myself, after years of striving toward The Contract, I feel as if I'm finally on a true journey--meeting awesome people and learning a lot of life lessons. What about you, Henry? Why is the journey important to you? What have you learned as you journeyed toward publication?j Do you believe you have more to see, hear, experience?
When I was writing my first novel, Journey to Riverbend, God showed me, through my characters, that we are all on a journey. When we stop journeying, we die in some way. For me, a significant part of the journey is drawing ever closer to him through my writing. And to help others draw closer to him as they read my words. God told me that he wants his people to write but that doesn't mean he wants all of them published. For some, writing is a personal journey through pain and hurt to him and his healing power and grace. My own writing journey includes this and some spills onto the pages of my novels. Through my writing journey I've learned as much about myself as I have the craft. I've seen changes in being able to receive criticism and rejection. I've seen changes in coming out of my introversion to develop freindships and relationships I would not otherwise have experienced. Each step of the journey makes me a better writer and a better Christian. I'm looking forward to the new adventures he has for me as I follow his plan. Adventures in writing, adventures in learning, adventures in growing and maturing, and adventures in serving him through the people he brings across my path.
A friend of Henry's sent this photo showing his novel

Handling Criticism by Henry McLaughlin

Remember the first time you submitted a piece of writing to a critique group? I remember mine. What was I thinking? Who were these people? Why am I showing them these horrible pages I call my story? They’re going to see right through me and expose for the fraud I am. 
Of course, most of this negative self-talk was Satan working on my mind to distract me from what God called me to do—write. Knowing that didn’t make it any easier. Like swimming, the only way to learn was to jump in.
How we handle criticism and feedback is a sign of our maturity as professional writers and as Christians. Yes, rejection hurts. For some of us, a lifetime of emotional and physical rejection makes us even more sensitive to negative comments. For some, rejection and criticism is so devastating, they give up.
The key is to not personalize the feedback. Easy to say. Hard to implement. I’m one of those in the above paragraph. From childhood, I have been sensitive to being rejected and usually exaggerated the smallest slight into a major rejection.
My manuscript was rejected, not me. How did I reach this point? By working through Christian Writers Guild courses. By attending conferences and pitching to agents and editors. By risking in critique groups. By listening to the mentor God brought into my life. By developing the thick skin that Jerry B. Jenkins strives for all of us to develop. 
Handling criticism is a learning process. There is no magic pill for it. You have to go out there and risk. And risk with the knowledge that your manuscript is not you. Yes, you’ve poured your heart onto those pages. Yes, the story is a part of you, a vital part, in some cases, maybe the best part of you. But it is not the person God created and called you to be. 
Writing may be part of our calling. But it is a part that must be refined and purified to be fit for the master’s use. Asking for criticism and feedback and learning how to evaluate it and incorporate it into our writing is part of the refining.
Criticism can show us how to improve our writing to reduce the chance of rejection next time. It can motivate us to re-write and edit and improve our craft.
Criticism is an opportunity. How we handle it determines whether it is an opportunity for growth or for defeat. 

Author Bio:

Henry McLaughlin has a Master’s degree in social work and spent many years working in public child welfare in Rhode Island. It was in this role that he first honed his writing skills in preparing concise and accurate court reports and petitions. He retired from that career in 1999 to work with Kenneth Copeland Ministries. Henry won the prestigious 2009 Operation First Novel Award sponsored by Tyndale House and the Christian Writers Guild. His award-winning first novel, Journey to Riverbend, was released in January, 2011.
To improve his craft, Henry belongs to several Christian writer organizations; attends writers’ conferences, workshops and retreats; and participates in online and local critique groups.
In September, 2010, the Lord opened the door for Henry to enter writing full time. He also speaks and teaches writing workshops. He serves as a Writers Coach for North Texas Christian Writers where he is privileged to work with several small groups.
Henry and his wife, Linda, have been married for 43 years and live in Saginaw, Texas. They are the parents of five children, the oldest of whom is in heaven. They also have one grandchild.



  1. Thank you, Elaine, for this wonderful interview with Henry McLaughlin. As a "seasoned citizen" myself it was encouraging to read about the continuing journey of writing when approaching the retirement years. I work towards publication in my older future. :-) Blessings, Anita

    1. Thank you. I like the term "seasoned citizen." I've never heard it before but I think it's really appropriate. We take our life experiences and let them flavor our stories.
      Thanks for sharing.

  2. Reading what other authors have said about rejection helped me face it when it came. It doesn't have to hurt if you're prepared and the wisdom of others is invaluable in that preparation. Thanks for sharing!
    twinwillowsfarm at gmail dot com

    1. Thanks for your comment, Pegg.
      Another lesson I've learned about criticism is that I can take what's valuable and disregard what's not, praying for His discernment in doing so.

  3. Henry, nice to "meet" a fellow Texan. I also love writing post reconstruction settings between 1870 and 1890, and set in Texas. Best wishes for continued success in your latest career.

    1. Thank you, Caroline.
      I like when I can have a story set in Texas which I was able to do with a contemporary novel. My historicals seem to have something either in a character, a setting, or a plot line that drives them to be set somewhere else. One of these days...

  4. Nice interview, Henry! Criticism always feels awful...but can lead to wonderful things if you take it with a pliable spirit. I would love to win this book.

    1. Hi Susan,
      It's great to hear from you.

  5. I already have an autographed copy of Henry's book, and look forward to reading his next masterpiece. Henry is spot on when he lists his writing schedule. It takes time to write well, and it's obvious in his first book that he does both.

    1. Hi Amy,
      Thank you for your kind words. They are very encouraging.
      Enjoyed talking with you at Writing for the Soul.

  6. Anita, Pegg, Susan, and Amy--welcome to Everyone's Story! Caroline, thanks for the return visit. I'm so glad Henry stood his ground with the needed self discipline and perseverance--he's a true role model.

  7. Thanks for the chance to win!


    1. Ann, you always brighten my day when I see your visit here on Everyone's Story!!

  8. Wow Henry, that's a good resume of your life! I can relate on strting to write at a certain time in our lives, and I'm praying each day that I can keep up with the technology and all the changes that are happening. Your back ground in social work and with Ken Copeland ministries sounds like a good area to draw upon. I love the time area that you write about. Tamera Alexander is one of my favorite writers and has written a lot on the west during the same time period. I do believe you will have a number of's a popular and well liked era.

    God's Blessings as you continue to enjoy this time and the work ahead.

    1. A warm hello, Diane. Welcome to this little corner of cyber space. Hope to see you again.

  9. Henry, love hearing more about your writing process. I shared that meal with you and Elaine and so enjoyed hearing about your book. I love your attitude about "never too old!" Write on!

  10. Hi Sandra. Right! You were there too at the luncheon with Henry. It's a nice feeling to be able to share memories of conferences already ☺

  11. Hi Sandra,
    Thanks for you kind comments on my post and for remembering our lunch together at ACFW. It was an exciting conference.
    As for my writing, I figure God isn't done with me yet and I'm going to enjoy every step of the journey.

    1. Henry, I admire your outlook. You've been a true encouragement to me this week.

    2. Thanks, Elaine.
      I've really enjoyed being on your blog and following up on all the comments.

  12. Another week has ended here at Everyone's Story, and the story of Henry McLaughlin has been one truely inspirational one. Heartfelt thanks, Henry, for being my guest this past week. It was a pleasure meeting you in person and I hope we have many more opportunities ahead of us to share more stories, both in person and through the waves of cyber space.

    The winner of Henry's novel JOURNEY TO RIVERBEND is Ann/Aly Logan. Happy reading! You'll be receiving a personal email shortly.

    Love & blessings to all,



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