Today on Write Along Radio, I’m really curious to hear from Chris Shumate because he’s going to share his experiences around bringing faith into his writing. What I find really interesting about Chris and the short story he shared with us last Christmas, was how he fused storytelling, parenting and strong value building into a charming narrative. Now, there are tons of fascinating titles out there that bring in the idea of faith, value and fiction such as the Alchemist, Jonathan Living Seagull, the Celestine Prophecies, the Left Behind series, etc., and yet Chris’ writing stands out to me for the simple, pure family values mixed into his clearly strong sense of Christianity as he writes books for children.
Conversation prompt! If you want to ask Chris questions afterward, the comment section is open to you. Cheer him on, because it’s always a risk to put yourself out there.
Write Along Radio: What is it about writing children’s books that you love?
Chris: I love using my imagination to develop stories that are engaging kids to think and interact. When I am on stage on Sunday morning, I serve as a children’s ministry host/storyteller, it is great to see the faces of kids who are engaged in the story light up. Granted, not all do because not all kids are engaged, but the ones that are encourage me.
One Sunday I was supposed to act like I couldn’t do something, that I wasn’t good at it. In fact I was to act like I wasn’t good at anything. Then by the end the story, the idea was to show the kids that although I’m not good at something God made me unique, and there are specific things I can do well. A second grader came up to me and said, “Hey, Mr. Chris, I know what you’re at! You tell great stories.” I nearly cried. To me that’s what it’s about, engaging my son and other kids in stories that matter.
Write Along Radio: Parenting with love is a strong theme in your writing, and you’ve mentioned writing for your son. Can you tell us a little more about that, and how he responds to your stories?
Chris: I believe one of the best ways to spend time with our children is by reading to them, especially at bedtime. It is a practice I started when my wife was pregnant. Before my son could tell me what he wanted to read we read what I wanted to, mostly children’s Bibles and similar stories. Now he picks his books, which may include a Bible based story, but not always. I am okay with that too. I want to foster a love of reading in him that I didn’t have until after I graduated college. I would be doing a disservice to my son’s learning if I refused to read to him. I also wouldn’t be showing him the love I feel he deserves. There is an epidemic of out of touch fathers. There isn’t a better way in my opinion to spend time with a child and show your love for them than by reading.
His favourite story that I have written would be Fishing Promises.
Write Along Radio: When creating a didactic story, it’s important not to push the lesson so hard that the writing becomes unpalatable. How do you balance between engaging storytelling and embedding a lesson?
Chris: I found that both my son (he just turned 5 in November) and I have short attention spans. So I need to keep my story short enough to not lose his interest, nor my interest, but engaging enough to tell the story adequately while embedding that lesson. Instead of wanting to tackle several lessons in one story, I focus on one specific lesson. With my published book it is the importance of keeping promises we make; with the Christmas book, it’s the importance of giving to others in need.
I want to turn people on to storytelling their beliefs.
There are certainly times when I am afraid I am pushing lessons too hard. I hope that as I continue writing the stories will evolve into being more and more engaging, as well as getting children to see lessons from the Christian Bible in a fun way. I certainly don’t want to come off as a religious nutcase. People with a bullhorn, hell-fire mentality (aka religious nutcases) turn people off. I want to turn people on to storytelling their beliefs. While my stories are seeking to tell fun stories about the Christian Bible, it shouldn’t deter people from other faiths to look at their texts and create stories around their faith lessons.
Write Along Radio: Faith within fiction is a genre all of its own. Have you always wanted to write in this area, and was there a particular novel, writer or series that inspired you to craft faith-based fiction?
Chris: Since I wanted to start writing, I have always wanted to write within the faith genre, not so much on the fiction side though. A few years ago I started the process of writing faith-based devotionals, with the expectation that I would have a yearly devotional done within a couple of years. Well, that hasn’t panned out like I expected. I have quite a few that I have written, but certainly not 366.
It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I thought about writing Christian fiction. Even that focus is geared towards children’s stories and not stories for adults.
There are two inspirations for my writing. One is a pastor from just north of Toronto, Carey Nieuwhof and a co-author, Reggie Joiner who lives in Atlanta. They wrote a parenting book called Parenting Beyond Your Capacity. One particular chapter was about imaging the end. As a father, I looked at what I wanted the end of my life and my son’s life to look like. To me, I feel that in order to instil into my son’s life the lessons and teachings I hold dear, I should tell him in story form.
A second inspiration was Pastor Francis Chan, who wrote the children’s book The Big Red Tractor and the Little Village. My son loved this book, and most of all I loved reading it to him.
So I took the parenting lessons from Carey’s and Reggie’s book, combined them with Francis Chan’s children’s book, mixed them together and my children’s fiction writing journey started.
Chris Shumate is a writer from Knoxville, TN focused on bringing Christian values into story form for children. He is a children’s ministry volunteer where he can be seen engaging children through storytelling and hosting relevant Biblical lessons on Sunday mornings. When Chris is not on stage in the children’s ministry he serves wherever he is needed.In addition to being a writer, he is an accountant by education and training.
If you want to hear more from Chris, check out his author page at www.chrisshumate.me. Thank you so much, Chris, for sharing your story and writing. And also, thanks so much for being a fantastic part of the Write Along Radio community! ~Catherine