Recently, a friend of mine sent me the program from a memorial service of a man who’d lived a long and full life. The program touched my spirit as unique and extraordinary. On the front, it said, “Today We Celebrate the Legacy of … .” On the inside, several bullets outlined the tone of the eulogy as family and friends would speak on different ways this man had enriched their lives.
What do you want to be known for?
I received the memorial program at a time when I was considering taking a leap of faith with my book and beginning a new chapter of my life. What would that look like? I spent a week in California with my husband on a business trip. During the week, I spent my time walking the beach, reading, praying, writing in my journal and researching how a writer distinguishes his or herself from the myriad of other highly skilled and creative writers in the world.
One resource I used to do my research was the Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors produced by FW Media. In her chapter on “Your Publishing Business,” Carla King addresses “branding.” She says that while brand is “subjective and elusive,” it is recognized and communicated in everything about you and your business—from the stationary you use, to your website, to your writing style and personality. It “creates the feeling people have about you—the thing that you are known for.”
Interestingly enough, at the same time (I think this shows God’s sense of humor), I was reading A Grace Revealed by Jerry Sittser during my morning quiet times and came to his chapter on Character of Characters. While Sittser eschews our current culture’s propensity to seek notoriety for its own sake, he makes the case that the human spirit yearns for something more. Some of us may seek celebrity for its own sake, but in reality, we are not satisfied by the legacy it leaves behind. We want our lives to mean something, to leave something of accomplishment that speaks well of us when we are gone. His thoughts brought me back to the question, “What are you known for?”
In an email dialogue, a member of my writers’ critique group challenged me to explain the notion of branding and why it was important. I offered up two examples of my favorite authors, one from the secular market and one from the Christian market.
Louise Penny writes the Gamache Detective Series set in a delightful fictional town outside of Montreal. Penny is a secular author who has won five Agatha Christie awards. On her website she says, “My books are about terror. That brooding terror curled deep down inside us. But more than that, more than murder, more than all the rancid emotions and actions, my books are about goodness. And kindness. About choices. About friendship and belonging. And love. Enduring love. If you take only one thing away from any of my books I'd like it to be this: Goodness exists.”
I devour Penny’s books, because her characters are rich and colorful. I’m always effected in some way by how they touch the human spirit. Penny doesn’t shy away from difficult language, but neither does she hesitate to talk about God. Gamache reads his Bible. A person can debate her philosophical views about life and God, but the characters leave the reader with something of lasting impression.
One of my favorite Christian authors is Davis Bunn. He has won several Christy awards for his suspense and historical fiction novels. Several people on his website have attributed to him the qualities of “Wise teacher,” “Gentleman Adventurer,” “Consummate Writer,” “Renaissance Man.” Like Penny, his characters are rich and full of life. His books explore the depravity of the human condition, yet the protagonist or the supporting characters always bring us back around to something still redeeming in a world that can be so dark.
Readers know who Bunn and Penny are and the legacy they want their stories to leave behind. As a writer, I look to these examples of how I want to bring to the spirit of my stories something that will touch the hearts and enrich the lives of my readers.
My job, then, is to create a vivid world in which story and character come together somewhere along the continuum of time and events, where the characters are challenged to look beyond themselves and circumstances toward something more. For me, that something more is grounded in the truth and attributes God. If I have done my job well, regardless of the outcome of the story, tragic or happy, I will have created characters whose lives and legacy leave behind a maxim of lasting and eternal value.