Interview with Writer J. Randal Matheny
In my interviews with writers, bloggers and novelists, we turn next to one of my dearest friends, J. Randal Matheny. He is the editor of Forthright Magazine, where I serve as Managing Editor. Randal is the editor of the Brotherhood News and The Christian Hub. He also works with Barbara Oliver to operate Forthright Press.
Randal is originally from Arkansas but has served as a missionary to Brazil for the past 25 years. He is a talented writer and editor and I hope you will find his interview enlightening.
1. How did you get started as a writer?
When I was born, my first words were, “Write this down!” I can’t remember when I wasn’t writing. I used to write silly stuff, like Weird Al, and before I realized it was marketable, I’d already destroyed it. There went my fortune. Poetry and I go far back, as well. As far as published materials, I started writing bulletin articles back in the late 70s, early 80s, and one of those I sent to the Gospel Advocate, which published it, much to my surprise and motivation.
2. What is your mission as a writer?
Aside from objectives of individual pieces, my mission is the same as my ministry: to move people in God’s direction, either by inches or leaps. That involves information, showing the right path, and motivation, feeding people reasons to move their feet.
3. How important is writing to you?
It’s in the blood. No write, no live. When we first moved to Brazil for a church-planting effort, writing took a backseat. But not for long. Even in my adopted Portuguese language, writing occupies a central place in my work.
4. Did you have storytellers when you were growing up that influenced you?
No storytellers as such, but the menfolk in my family — uncles, cousins, grandfather, dad — often chewed the fat under the big oak tree, where they told their version of true stories and speculations that fired the imagination.
5. Were you an avid reader as a child?
Voracious. In one elementary grade, each student made a construction-paper bookworm, one wormy section per book, in a competition for the most books read. I won. I get involved in books when I read. My parents despaired of communicating with me while I was immersed in a book. I never heard them call my name. I don’t speed-read, but I can read a fat novel in a day.
6. What is the power of the written word?
Greater than it gets credit for. The written word has fallen on hard times, since so many are writing, blogging, and tweeting. Words, supposedly, are cheap. “A picture is worth …” Today, we’re into images and video. But the well written word moves to tears, to rage, to action. It just can’t make a person the money it once could.
7. What lessons have you learned as a writer?
Discipline, to keep at it, when there’s no one to cheer or praise. Revision, the indispensable rewrite for improvement, since nobody’s perfect. Selflessness, to get ego out of the way, which is a big job for many writers, yours truly at the head of the list. Empathy, putting oneself in the place of the reader, in order to say something worthy of his time and money.
8. What are your feelings about Twitter?
A love-hate relationship. The 140-character limit per tweet provides an excellent exercise in pithiness and frequent frustration when it won’t all fit. Twitter is also a platform for forming relationships. For all its quirks and abuses, it’s a connector to the world, another intensely personal medium, like the Internet which birthed it. That’s a plus. Randal can be followed at @jrmatheny
9. How important is a blog/website for a writer?
The Internet liberated the writer. The blog or website launches the writer further into the upper atmosphere of success. Or, when the rocket fizzles, at least, his mother will like it.
10. What plans do you have as a writer?
I have too many plans, and too few projects whose end I can see. The possibilities are endless. My dream is to write a commentary or a study Bible. One plan in progress is editing a dictionary of Biblical vocabulary, to which, so far, scholars like Jack Lewis and Everett Ferguson have contributed. The priority is to get it published in Portuguese, then we may think about an English edition.
Another project nearing completion is Ron Thomas’s idea of a multi-author response to Brian McLaren’s book, A New Kind of Christianity. I’m editing that one and contributing one chapter.
I have finished a book of prayers, I Hate Shaving. That ought to come out in another year or so. I’ve done a couple of poetry books, but since those are mere dust-collectors, there are no plans to put them in print.
Then there’s a follow-up in the works to my 2010 book, Choose!. It will be based on 1 Corinthians 13 with the working title, Choose Love.