Interview with Dr. Cecil Murphey
1. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer, and how long did it take after that until you were first published?
I’m one of those individuals who can’t remember when he didn’t want to write. As early as second grade, I wrote short stories for my teacher (usually one paragraph). I sent out a couple of short stories when I was 16 years old and they didn’t sell. At age 23, I wrote a book, sent it to one publisher, received a rejection (and deserved it), so I assumed I wasn’t meant to write.
At age 28, my family and I moved to Kenya, East Africa, for six years as missionaries. A small magazine in Keokuk, Iowa, asked me if I’d write an occasional letter for their monthly publication. I wrote one within a month after our arrival. They liked it and asked me if I could write it as a column every month. I did and after a few months, the owners said it was their most popular feature.
In 1967, I returned to the States to do graduate work. When I went to college and to three graduate schools, it didn’t occur to me to take writing courses.
While pursuing doctoral studies, I visited a seminary library and saw a notice that Charlie Shedd (then a best-selling author) would teach a noncredit course for 10 weeks. I signed up. On the last day, Charlie told me I had talent and encouraged me to write. I did.
At age 38, I published my first article. By the end of that first year of writing, I’d sold 15 articles.
2. Can you describe the process you went through to get to that first publication?
“Start a writers group,” Charlie Shedd told me. I didn’t know what one was, but I figured out what I wanted, so I started an editing group and called it the Scribe Tribe. We met every third Tuesday of the month.
Everyone agreed to write no more than 10 pages, mail it to the others (yes, on real paper), and we edited each other before the next meeting. When we met, each writer received about 20 minutes of further explanation and took the edited manuscripts home.
After revising our manuscripts, we mailed them to all members. We stayed with that article or story until the group said, “Send it” or “Give up on it.”
We began in May of 1971, and after rewriting my article 18 times (on the typewriter), the group said it was ready to send out. I was the first one in the group to get their approval. A magazine accepted it within two weeks.
The Scribe Tribe continued for nine years and we produced three professionals and two editors and many others sold a few articles or books.
3. How did that process change you as a Christian?
My goal from the beginning was to be as transparent in print as I could. To do that, I did a lot of soul searching—examining my motives, asking God to help me write from experience and not from intellectual assent. During the second year, one member of the Scribe Tribe said, “You’re real on the page.” Then I knew I was doing it right.
I was also seeking to know God better. About that time I read a quotation from St. Teresa of Avila in which she said we couldn’t know God without knowing ourselves and we couldn’t know ourselves without knowing God. That insight keeps me growing.
4. Tell us about how and when you became a Christian?
I’m an adult convert and attended church less than 50 times during my childhood.
At age 21, I read an old novel called Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd C. Douglas. He refers to the Sermon on the Mount, so I started reading the New Testament, beginning with the “begats” of Matthew. By the time I had read through most of Romans, I believed.
Not sure what to do next, I started going to church. I visited at least 10 before I found one that I liked. I was baptized there and it’s also where I met my wife, Shirley.
5. Do you exclusively write Christian or secular material, or a combination of the two?
I write for the general market occasionally. I make my living as a ghostwriter (or collaborator) and I’ve sold a dozen books for the general market. I’ve done another 125 books for the Christian market.
6. Tell us about your family and how they were affected when you became a Christian and became a writer?
At the time I started to write, my three children were in their teens, and I was a pastor. I’m not aware that new venture had any serious effect on them.
Shirley supported any form of ministry in which I engaged. Through her participation in the Scribe Tribe (mostly to encourage me), she became an editor at a Christian publishing house and stayed there until she retired.
7. Do you have a “day job,” or is writing your main source of income?
I’m one of those blessed individuals who writes full time. By 1984, I had published 12 books while being a pastor. (I have a lot of energy and I’m fast at everything I do). In 1984, I took the leap of faith to write fulltime, and since then I’ve never had a day job.
8. What advice would you give to Christian writers and secular writers?
Regardless of whether we write for the general market or the Christian market, we need to learn to write and write well. In my experience, general market publishing houses demand a higher quality of writing.
9. If you could speak to prospective writers, what advice would you give them?
I keep telling writers to “Learn the craft,” and urge them, “Never stop growing.”
I try to teach my own theology/philosophy: I don’t want to offer anything to God but my best. That means I must keep learning. Even after the success I’ve had, I know I can improve.
There’s no end to the learning process. Tenacity is important, but constantly finding ways to grow is more important.
Some people are gifted to write. I also believe that others can give themselves to learning and become highly effective scribes for God.
I read widely and try to keep abreast of the trends in writing styles—and they are in flux. As I read, I pay attention to techniques and voice.
Even when I read a book I dislike, I remind myself that the editorial staff at a publishing house decided it was worth putting money into, so they saw value in the manuscript.
10. Where can readers find out more about you?
My website is: http://www.cecilmurphey.com
Blog for writers: http://www.cecwritertowriter.com