Andy Meisenheimer edits, coaches writers, and occasionally forms his own sentences out of his home near Grand Rapids, Michigan where he lives with his family. After six years at Zondervan, he left the cubicle life, eschewing its monochromatic walls for a bright blue basement office. He now works closely with several major publishers and is on staff at The Editorial Department
At Write! Canada 2012, you are presenting a 6-part Continuing Class entitled "Piano Lessons, Shakespeare, and the Zombie Invasion" (for Fiction Writers). What can writers expect to take away from these classes? Will you summarize what you will be doing in these classes?
I'd be happy to give you a sneak peek. I want writers to discover a new curiosity and confidence when it comes to their writing. There's a lot of advice and handy guidelines out there about good storytelling, and I think most of it actually hinders instead of helps. It curbs our instincts and distances us from the art of writing.
But the problem is, we haven’t trained our instincts. We haven’t been students of the art of writing. There's a path to writing well, one that will free beginning writers to write the best kind of story—and empower more advanced writers to tap into a hidden well of creativity they didn't realize they had within them.
So we'll be spending our time in these classes exploring this path and practicing what it means. My goal is that each writer will continue the practices that we learn together and walk in grace and freedom.
It's actually a very practical title. I grew up playing piano, reading Shakespeare, and looking toward the apocalypse. So I’m going to relate these life experiences to the craft of writing. Each class will feature some very specific lessons that can be gleaned from those three things, as well as a few others that didn’t fit in the title.
How did you get into the editing business?
I came in through the retail side, working at a bookstore. After managing and buying for my local store, I moved into sales at a publisher and then into editorial. A few years ago, I went freelance and I've been working for all sorts of different publishers and companies ever since, both editing and writing.
You’ve edited over 70 books; tell me about some of your favourite editing projects.
That’s kind of a loaded question. I have a lot of favourite books I’ve edited—but the best part of the process isn’t the editing, it’s the collaborative relationship with the author. The best projects are the ones where the authors and I go back forth arguing over certain points and eventually they see that I’m right and then go back and revise and make it even better than I could have possibly imagined. I’m sure my authors would agree.
What are some of the biggest mistakes that fiction writers make?
Here are two:
One, not going far enough. A story needs to explore fascinating contrasts and hopeless situations. Just an everyday set of people doing everyday things isn’t enough, unless your prose sings so beautifully that you could make a laundry list into a bestseller.
Two, not having attitude. Writing without attitude is like a person without attitude. No one really wants to hear you tell a story unless you make stories—any stories—interesting simply through your telling them.
People buying it, reading it, and telling their friends about it. There’s really no formula, because the moment you discover the formula, there are a hundred exceptions. That’s what makes a fiction book sell well, I suppose. But perhaps you mean what makes it well-written? That is the great mystery. The closest answer I can give is this: when the writer assumes the reader to be intelligent.
To what degree are different genres open to Christian writing? Can a Christian write in any of these genres?
All genres are open to good writing. The degree to which they accept proselytizing or preaching in their writing depends. But good Christian writing doesn’t proselytize or preach. So, yes, a Christian can write in any genre, and should. Grace and redemption are universal themes.
You worked for Zondervan for six years. What kind of work did you do there, and how was it different from what you are now doing?
As I said, I was in sales for a few years and editorial a few after that. Much of what I do now is similar to my in-house editorial role, except that as an acquisitions editor I was discovering authors and signing them before I edited them. Now, I’m editing books that someone else has discovered and signed. There’re a lot fewer meetings.
You work at home. What challenges face a writer or editor who decides to work at home?
Working at home is great. I get to have lunch with the baby and hug the kid as soon as he comes home from school. I think it works well for editors and writers in general because it gives you the freedom to work during your most productive hours. Unfortunately for some of us, we are most productive about two hours in the evenings, and that’s about it.
I grew up in an evangelical, church-going family and have been curiously exploring the world through those lenses ever since. I inherited somewhat of an iconoclast personality along the way, so I often find myself hanging out on the fringes, wondering what everything means. But there’s something about Jesus that keeps pulling me back.
What advice or word of encouragement do you have for today’s Christian writers, particularly those who are thinking of attending Write! Canada 2012?
Read more books. Read better, wider, deeper. Read fully, critically, openly, and with abandon. Then you’ll be ready to dare to write.
Andy, thank you for your time. Is there anything else you would like to add in closing?
I’m really looking forward to my third Write!Canada conference. I hope to see old friends and meet new ones. And this time, I think I’m ready to preach. See you there!
Andy was interviewed by Fred Ash, co-lead of our PR Team.