Talking with ‘the man behind the words’ of many Christian titles

Cecil Murphey is known as “The Man Behind the Words” in his role as the author or co-author of 112 books.

By Ronald E. Keener

Cecil Murphey is known as “The Man Behind the Words” in his role as the author or co-author of 112 books, including the New York Times bestseller 90 Minutes in Heaven (with Don Piper), on that list since October 2006. His books have sold millions and have given hope and encouragement to readers around the world.

In May he was given the 2009 Extraordinary Service Award, which is a prestigious honor of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.  Murphey lives in Tucker, GA, with his wife, Shirley.

For pastors and others who might turn their hand to writing and getting published a book, article or curriculum, Church Executive asked Murphey a few questions:

What is the place where you do your best writing?

I have a home office. I don’t write anywhere else and I write five days a week. When I was a pastor and began my writing career, I came to the church office at least an hour before my secretary, turned off the phones and wrote. Throughout the day, I thought and edited material inside my head. The next morning as soon as I sat at my desk, I was primed to write.

How do you pull together the research you do on the books?

Because much of my career has been writing for other people, I tape every interview I conduct and have someone transcribe it for me. As much as possible, I put my research on my hard drive. I keep a file folder handy for anything I don’t have on my hard drive. I also try to read widely on a topic before I begin to write. I don’t want to duplicate what’s out there.

I recently finished a book on male sexual abuse. I used 12 books for resource and eight downloaded articles from Web sites. I carefully document everything.

How do you decide on getting started?

I get an idea for a book or article and I play around with it inside my head until the material seeps or explodes. I continue to play around with it until I have the opening sentence/paragraph clearly in my mind. I might edit that several times, but it tells me where I want to start and assures me that I’m ready to write.

For an article I do a rough outline. I write a full synopsis for a book. For books, the writing may change once I get into writing. That is, I may delete or shorten a chapter or I may decide to add material I hadn’t known of or previously thought about.

Does research come easy for you?

I do all my own research. In doing the research I learn and my final product is much richer. It often takes me in new directions in my thinking.

What cautions would you give first time pastor-authors?

Get rid of the preachy tone. It took me a long time to understand what that meant. Aim for a conversational style, a sharing, an attitude of “We” instead of “You.” In sermons, redundancy enriches listeners; in print, it bores readers.
What encouragements would you give?

Learn the principles of good writing. Take courses, read books, join or form an editing group. Get the guidelines (on the Internet) for any publishers to whom you want to submit and follow them closely.

What would you advise a pastor who remains in his pastorate while pursuing a writing side career?

That sounds wonderful for me. I was a pastor for 14 years and for 13 of those I wrote on the side. I wrote a weekly column for a throwaway weekly paper and tried to write at least two articles a month for magazines. During the 14th year, I had to decide if I was a preacher who wrote or a writer who preached.

When Your Loved One has Cancer

Every church has stories of cancer among its members. “Cec” Murphey’s wife Shirley had it too 10 years ago, and he’s written a book for caregivers (pictured on opposite page) after finding out that little  exists for family and friends who wish to be helpful. Murphey’s reflections:

“In the days after the diagnosis and before her surgery, I went to a local bookstore and to the public library. I found dozens of accounts, usually by women, about their battle and survival. I pushed aside the novels that ended in a person’s death. A few books contained medical or technical information.

“I searched online and garnered useful information — but I found nothing that spoke to me on how to cope with the possible loss of the person I loved most in this world. I remember my pain and confusion during those days. That concerns me enough to reach out to others who also feel helpless as they watch a loved one face the serious diagnosis of cancer.

“That’s why I wrote When Someone You Love Has Cancer.” [Harvest House, 2009]


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