It didn’t show up on any of the major lists of events, but in the Ayrsley community last weekend, about 150 people converged with one thing in common – a love of Christian fiction.
Writers and fans of the genre, they came from as far away as Texas and as nearby as just across town, all to attend the Christian Book Lover’s Retreat, a three-day event held at two hotels in the tiny mixed-use enclave.
The retreat was organized by Charlotte resident Vanessa Miller, who has written about 35 Christian-themed books of her own. (Visit her website.)
Miller moved here in 2012 from Dayton, Ohio, after her mother died and Miller decided to make a fresh start, in a town, she said, that didn’t hold so many reminders of all the spots she had enjoyed with her mom.
“I was a momma’s girl,” she told Qcitymetro. “I just pinpointed a place and came on out here. I actually love being here. I’m glad I picked Charlotte.”
Miller said she got the idea for the retreat last summer and pulled it all together in just four months. About 26 authors showed up, along with more than 100 of their most dedicated fans.
Nearly all of the authors and readers were women.
Miller described the event as “a place for faith, fun and fellowship, and a whole lot of books.”
“I believe that Christian women who love to read also love to have fun; they love to be able to relax,” she said. “All of us, our schedules are so busy, there is so much that we have to do, sometimes we need to take time to ourselves.”
Every minute of the retreat, she said, was packed with organized events – book signings, workshops, a painting party and a reader appreciation gala.
Miller said that while the Christian fiction genre may be dominated by African American women, male authors are not uncommon.
One of her own top-selling books, she said, is titled “A Long Time Coming” — the story of a young woman who finds out she’s dying and “falls in love with Jesus” and “finds the ultimate joy, even in death.”
Miller said she was thrilled with how the retreat turned out and is looking forward to doing it again in 2017.
Here are two authors we meet at the event:
Peyton Woodson Cooper, Houston, Texas
Q. How would you describe the Christian Book Lover’s Retreat?
It’s basically a gathering of African American Christian fiction and nonfiction authors. They come to meet with the various African American book clubs that follow them and love their work. It’s truly about sisterhood in the end, fellowshipping. We had a praise-and-worship service this morning, and then you can take different workshops on how to improve your writing or just learning more about the different genres of Christian fiction.
Q. And it’s primarily women?
Primarily, yes. I would say most of the men here are supportive husbands that are coming along. I think that’s just the demographic.
Q. What is it about Christian fiction that attracts women?
I think it’s the opportunity for us to see us — see us on the covers of books, which is something you don’t get to see. And it really just hooks right into the church, stories of empowerment of overcoming, stories of from where you were to where you want to be. It’s inspiring in the end.
Q. How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing for about three to four years. My first book was semi-autobiographical. I used to be a reporter, so I wrote about being a crime reporter and realizing it wasn’t the ultimate calling for me and having the courage to figure out what’s next. And then I got into the fiction space, maybe about a year ago and started writing novellas.
Q. What do your novellas all have in common?
They are all about finding your purpose. So all of the characters face some type of obstacle that they have to overcome, whether its a physical disability or self-doubt, depression — whatever it is, they have to learn how to find the courage to face that issues and overcome and follow whatever the path is for their life.
Q. Do you self-publish?
I do. With the Internet and Amazon, it’s made things a lot easier to self-publish now. So, depending on how long it takes you to have your manuscript…you can be up and ready in two weeks. So it’s really broken down a lot of the old guards where you had to go through an official publishing house and get rejected or accepted. Now you are empowered to create your own books on your own time, the way you want to do it.
Q. How many books have you written?
I have written a total of five books so far of the novella species. And then I also write children’s books as well. I have three of those.
Q. And do you make a living doing this?
This is more my side business. During the day I’m in marketing and communications for an energy company in Houston. This is my passion that I pursue on the side.
Q. Who’s your typical reader?
My typical reader is the reader who’s time-strapped — “I’m busy. I’ve got the kids. I’ve got my husband. I’ve got work. I don’t have time to read a whole big, giant book.” My books, you can sit down in a few hours, you’re done, you’ve had a great story, you leave uplifted, you go on with your life.
Q. Are women the central character in most of your books?
Yes, but not necessarily. But most of my books, they do center on women. I do have one — “Admit One” — that’s (my husband’s) favorite. I think in part because a man is the central character in that one. It’s about his journey overcoming stuttering and learning that he can’t hind behind it his whole life because he has a purpose to do.
Q. What defines this genre?
There is a scale. It can be anything from light inspiration all the way to conversion stories where people start out completely in a different place and, through it, they have that call, that moment, like Paul did on the road to Damascus where they get delivered and they get transformed into a different person. Mine are more on the inspirational side, for people who already have a working knowledge of Christ, already identify as being Christian, but are trying to figure out the purpose or calling on their lives.
Tia McCollors, Atlanta, Ga.
Q. How many books have you written?
I wrote my first book in 2005. I have written nine novels and two anthologies.
Q. What defines your work?
I write stories about women who are like myself, who deal with things in a different way. For instance, one of my stories deals with a man who has cheated on his wife. That happens whether you are in the church or not. So my character deals with it in a way that a Christian woman would. That doesn’t mean she just fell on her knees and prayed and everything is ok.
Q. So she grabbed a gun?
No. She cried. She might have thrown something. She might have tried to slash the tires, but in the end, when it comes full circle, how does her faith help her in this situation?
Q. Are your endings always happy?
No. Life does not end like that. It can end unhappy and still have hope. I want people to have hope. I want people’s faith to have increased. That’s my personal prayer. When you turn the last page, I want people to say, even if it’s in some small way, “my life has been changed.”
Q. What is it about Christian fiction that women like?
There’s nothing like coming home, after you’ve had a stressful day, you can come out of your drama and go into somebody else’s, and that’s what these books provide… Book clubs are really sisterhoods. So when they get together, they’re not just talking about the books. Even if they are discussing the books, it tends to roll over to things that are happening in your life that are similar to the book.
Q. So, are men less spiritual than women?
Men read too. There are men who read my books, but I don’t think men are as vocal about the stories that they read… I think they express their spirituality in different ways.
Q. Do any of your characters recur from book to book?
Yes they do. Readers love that. I think they love to follow the characters to see how they’ve grown, to see how they’ve changed, see what new things are coming up in their lives.