Giving out writing advice

A fellow Christian recently asked me about what it would take to get a writing career started. Nolan, who graduated from Pensacola Christian College a few years before I did, has been in the ministry. A look at his essays and his blog show he is a very gifted writer. The ability to write will most certainly not be a problem for him.

I advised him to regularly peruse through both Writer’s Digest and The Writer magazines along with check out the markets listed in The Writer’s Market.

Many ministers adore alliteration, so here are six P’s for those ministers looking to expand their careers into the writing realm:

Be Professional. You are there to do a job. Treat the subject with respect–especially when they have opinions that strongly differ from yours. You don’t have to agree with them, but you do have to represent them fairly. When I think back to H.L. Mencken and his very slanted reporting on the 1925 Scopes Trial, I not only cringe at him, but cringe to think there are writers today who idolize his reporting style.

Be Polite. Being friendly can go a very long way, especially if you deal with one source regularly. By being polite, chances are better they’ll start opening up and may even give you an exclusive or point you towards the direction of others who will. Nobody likes to be treated condescendingly.

Be to the Point. Assume the person you’re dealing with has a very busy schedule. After initial pleasantries, get directly down to business. Avoid rabbit trails, something I’ve had to learn the hard way in the past.

Be Persistent and Proactive. I like to joke that procrastination (another P) is the eighth deadly sin, and in my life I’ve found this to be true. Lately I have learned that creating a list and telling yourself no internet surfing until those activities are done will do wonders. Each day go over ideas, look up markets for them and query the editors. Note which prefer phone calls and which prefer e-mails and what kinds of e-mail responses. You have to want an assignment more than any other writer and you have to believe–no ego intended–that you are the best writer out there.

Richard Zowie tries to stay busy in his writing life and believes it’s far better to be busy than unemployed. Post comments here or e-mail him at

‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley, one of my favorite poems

I had to recite Mr. Shelley’s poem about a long-gone, once-powerful king for Speech 101 at Pensacola Christian College. It fascinated me and reminded me a lot of what Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes about how people who are powerful rulers in their time eventually will be all but forgotten by future generations. It also reminds me of Amsterdam Vallon’s words at the end of the 2002 Martin Scorsese film Gangs of New York lamenting that while the gangs of New York fought in 1863 for control of the city, eventually to future generations it would be as if the gangs never existed.

Richard Zowie’s a professional writer who, perhaps, at times has too much time on his hands to think strange thoughts. Post comments here or e-mail him at

The Mr. McAlister Principle: The Peril of Jumping to Conclusions

My sophomore year at Pensacola Christian College, I took a course called copy writing. The teacher was a gentleman named Stephen McAlister, who taught broadcasting classes at college and had performed in plays. He also had just completed a master’s degree in communications from the University of West Florida.

I didn’t know Mr. McAlister personally, nor had I ever had him as a teacher before. However, a roommate who was a broadcasting major had had him for a few classes. “Alan” didn’t like Mr. McAlister and told me lots of stories.

I’m sure Alan had good reasons for his opinion, but as I began the class I brought with myself my own conclusions of how Mr. McAlister would be. I’d already decided I didn’t like him and that he was a lousy teacher. Everything he did, to me, was “wrong”.

What a great attitude to have, right?

I ended up with a C+ in the class, and one that was well deserved.

I don’t say I worked hard to earn the C+, but rather I received the grade that matched the effort I put out.

It was indeed a painful learning experience, but it taught me something. No matter how many opinions you’ve heard of a person already, approach them with an open mind. Allow them the chance of proving themselves to you. Had I done that, I probably would’ve enjoyed Mr. M’s class far more and may have even earned a better grade. None of us likes people to form premature opinions about us, so it’s unfair for us to do the same to others.

Richard Zowie’s Writer’s Digest Your Story #19 submission: From M.R.S. to Master’s Degree

The prompt was to write 750 words about a woman who’s allowed to travel through time to correct a mistake. This is what I came up with.

While the story focuses on my alma mater, Pensacola Christian College, it is safe to say PCC is not the only Christian college where young women and men go to find future spouses. Perhaps this even goes on at state colleges to an extent. An associate pastor who attended another Christian college told me once of a roommate of his who flat-out told him: “I’m here to find a wife.”

I will say, though, this story is very loosely based on a couple I knew of at PCC. They shall remain unidentified.

And, of course, Los Patos, Texas is as fictional as the story itself. In Spanish, it means “The Ducks”.

From M.R.S. to Master’s Degree

By Richard Zowie


Elizabeth McCandless, 29, moaned as she slowly woke from a foggy dream. 3:30 a.m., according to her digital clock’s bright red numbers. She yawned, threw on a bathrobe, slid her feet into slippers and trudged toward the front door. It was probably Jake, her husband and pastor of Los Patos Baptist Church. He was returning from a San Antonio hospital where one of his parishioners was hospitalized.

But instead of seeing Jake’s gangly, six-foot, three-inch frame through the peephole, she saw Steven Martinez (her husband’s associate pastor and best friend) along with two police officers.

She stared for a moment, now wide awake, her heart galloping as she opened the door.

The officers were grim. Steven’s eyes were red and his face tearstained.

“Ma’am, I’m Officer Applegate and this is Officer Garcia of the Los Patos Police Department,” the older one said in a slow Texas drawl. “This, of course, is Pastor Martinez of Los Patos Baptist Church. Are you Elizabeth McCandless?”

“Yes,” she said. “Is everything ok?”

“You are the wife of Jacob McCandless, correct?”

She nodded and swallowed a big lump in her throat.

“Ma’am, there’s been a terrible auto accident on Highway 181 near Karnes City involving your husband and another driver,” Applegate said, his quiet voice calm and emotionless. “Your husband was killed instantly. We’re terribly sorry.”

Dead?…an, uh… accident?” she sputtered.

Applegate nodded. “The other driver, who had veered into your husband’s lane, is hospitalized in stable condition. He probably will be charged with DWI and vehicular homicide.”

Her mind raced, trying desperately to process this. Dear God, this can’t be happening!

“Beth,” Steven said gently, his voice soft and hoarse. “We’re here for you if you need anything.”

Tears flooded down Beth’s face as the future, a frightening black abyss, glared mercilessly at her. She hadn’t worked since college, where she’d majored in home economics (or, as many jokingly called it, an “M.R.S.” degree), a formality since she’d attended college to find a husband. How would she get a job with that background? How would she take care of their two daughters? And there was no life insurance, since Jake didn’t believe in it and insisted it showed a lack of faith in God.

She sobbed, the tears soaking her bathrobe sleeves.

Dear God, how I wish I could go back and—

Immediately, as fast as an eye blink, she was again a freshman at Pensacola Christian College. Beth found herself in a room, the night before registration, where counselors helped students make sure they were taking the right classes. Startled, she looked around and recognized a few students who were English and commercial writing majors: Jane, Sammy, Andrea and Neal.

Maybe she’d passed out and the police would soon wake her. Her dreams always were foggy with muffled, distant sounds and without smell. But now, everything was bright and clear. She could hear the students’ chat about what Freshman English teachers to avoid; Sammy’s brash laugh echoed in the room. She could smell Chaps, worn by another male student who, still developing social skills, failed to grasp that overusing cologne didn’t equal a shower.

A few moments ago, she’d sobbed inconsolably. Now, she was calm, confused.

Maybe God’s allowing me to right a wrong so my girls and I will be prepared for the future, she thought, looking at her class schedule. From here she’d get a bachelor’s in English, a master’s in English from the University of West Florida and then pick up a teaching certificate. It would take about six years, unless she took 18-hour semesters and post-term classes. Teaching wasn’t necessarily a high-paying job, but it was in demand and would provide some sort of financial security. Maybe she could even run a tutorial business out of her home.

She remembered she’d meet Jake in a few weeks, and he would simply have to understand her need for her education. She’d tell him the tragedies she’d heard in Christianity over the years, such as the woman who became a widow with four children when her evangelist husband died unexpectedly in a plane crash. Or the respected church deacon who left his wife for his secretary; college-aged girl was younger than his own daughter.

Jake, though, was the abrupt, assertive type who never understood life’s what happens when you’re making plans.

She wondered, What if Jake tells me he won’t wait for me to finish my education?

But the answer came back quickly: Then he isn’t Mr. Right.

© Copyright 2009 by Richard Zowie. All rights reserved. May not be republished without permission.*

Almost done with my Writer’s Digest assignment


I’ve gone through twenty or so drafts in my 750-word assignment for Writer’s Digest. The assignment is about a woman allowed to travel through time to change one thing she regrets. It’s been an interesting experience: using the Strunk and White adage of omitting useless words.

I’m basing the story on where I went to college, Pensacola Christian College. Some of the characters in the story are based on people I knew, but upon advice from my creative consultant, the lovely Mrs. Zowie, I have changed the names. Nothing bad, though.

Hard to believe I finished at PCC in 1995. Seems like a lifetime ago. I started off there as a commercial writing major but changed to history with an English minor. I wrongly thought at the time I didn’t need a major with so much graphic design. If I had to do it over again at PCC, I would’ve double majored in English and commercial writing.

Next story contest for Writer’s Digest

Delves into a woman who has the chance to travel through time and change one event in her life.

I’m excited since this is something I feel I can do something with. At this point, I’ll say this: at Christian colleges, some women go there for a certain type of degree. It’s called an M.R.S. degree. Anyone who’s ever attended one of those colleges (such as Pensacola Christian College [where I went], Bob Jones University, Hyles-Anderson College, Tennessee Temple University, et al) knows exactly what I’m talking about.