Terry Barnes, winner of the Christian Writers Guild new novel competition in 2005
When it comes to writing, Terry Barnes likes telling engaging stories and teaching lessons, all without drawing too much attention to either.
"I'm trying to touch people," he says. "It's very much a ministry."
The rural Tonganoxie man is getting a chance to minister to a lot more people starting this month, when his first published novel hits bookshelves nationwide.
It's called "In Everything Give Thanks," and it won the 2005 Operation First Novel contest organized by the Christian Writers Guild, the organization led by Jerry Jenkins, who wrote the "Left Behind" series.
The victory nabbed him a publishing deal with Tyndale Fiction and hopes of continuing his writing career with additional books.
"I'm hopeful it would be" easier to get a second book deal, Barnes says. "I think it would be. But the publishing industry is neurotic, bordering on psychotic."
Barnes wrote the book years ago and had it rejected from several publishing houses. He dusted it off for the 2005 contest.
It tells the story of Matt Collins, a teenager growing up in the early 1960s. His father dies in a car accident, and he's left questioning God about it.
Matt makes friends with a boy with cerebral palsy who moves in next door. The friendship helps Matt come to terms with the tragedy.
"Most people have been involved with a tragedy," says Barnes, who says the novel is not autobiographical. "But this is a world created by God, and any thinking person - Christian or otherwise - needs to come to terms with that."
His own personal answer?
"The short answer is we're sinners in a fallen world," Barnes says. "Bad things are going to happen if we have free will. But tragedy does not negate the goodness of God."
'A theological basis'
Barnes, 52, is a member of Cornerstone Southern Baptist Church, 802 W. 22nd St., in Lawrence.
He is a technician for amateur radios. He also graduated last year from Calvary Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.
He hopes the degree helps him gain a solid grounding for his writing.
"It will help in terms of the theology," Barnes says. "That way, you're not blowing in the wind. There's a theological basis."
Among those impressed with "In Everything Give Thanks" is Andy Scheer, managing editor at the Colorado Springs-based Christian Writers Guild. He says Barnes' book stood out from the 110 contest entries that year.
"He immediately plunged readers into the world of a small town in the mid-1960s, with the junior high boys," Scheer says. "As one of the people who was a screener for the contest, I felt I was there, running down the road with the boys on a hot, dusty summer day."
Scheer says the contest allows winners to "get to the front of the line" in an ever-expanding Christian book market. He says the previous year's winner, Jan Watson, already has published two books and has a contract for a third.
"Competition has become fierce," Scheer says. "Consequently you have to be better and better to get your book published. It's getting more difficult to get the attention of book publishers."
Barnes agrees that things are getting tougher in the Christian book world. But that's a good thing for readers, he says.
"I think the need and desire (for good Christian fiction) has always been there," he says. "In past years, the quality wasn't there. It was simplistic and fundamental. It's not engaging the reader at all."
Barnes jokes that he's still wondering: "What do I want to do when I grow up?" He'd like to make a living at writing, and he's working on his next novel.
Even though he hopes to teach a moral to his novels, Barnes realizes it's the stories of lifelike people that keep readers interested.
"In terms of writing something marketable - and providing a ministry to somebody - you need to have a personal connection," he says.