The Prayers Of Agnes Sparrow

Joyce Magnin

Joyce Magnin is the author of the popular Bright’s Pond Novels, including The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow, which was named one of the top five Christian titles of 2009 by Library Journal; and Charlotte Figg Takes Over Paradise, releasing September 1, 2010. She is member of ACFW, The Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Fellowship, and is a popular conference speaker. Joyce also runs Narrative Destiny, a manuscript critique and evaluation service. You can also visit her blog at:

Dream On

I like American Idol. There, I admit it. This week’s episodes were pretty good, maybe even the best in three years. Not so much because of the, um, “talent” but because of the judges. I mean there were a few young people with great pipes, and I still think a lot of the really ridiculous auditions are more for shock value than anything else, but it’s fun to watch.

I was a little disturbed at first when I heard that Steven Tyler was going to be a judge. I thought, Oh brother, another rocker sold out to the man, to the masses All of a sudden this unabashed, big-lipped, pulsating, gyrating, screaming, singing, amazing Aerosmith rocker was up there, or perhaps down there, with Ozzy Osborne and Gene Simmons—old, worn-out rockers with nothing better to do than act like idiots on national television. But, honestly, Steve did not suck.

In fact I thought he was funny, a bit over the top at times perhaps, but gracious, even caring. I thought Jennifer Lopez was fantastic (gosh, she’s beautiful), and I’ve always liked Randy Jackson. He’s been kind of a stabilizer over the years. So here’s to what I am hoping will be a great season of American Idol. Because I will say I was and still am prepared to stop watching this year if it becomes as awful as last year and instead, oh, I don’t know, write a book.

What is it that I like about the show? First, I see many parallels between the show and writing. Newbie, wannabe writers are so eager to put their stuff before the judges (read: editors, agents) only to so often have their dreams destroyed, ripped to shreds, manhandled, and dashed like waves against a craggy shore.

There is something indomitable about the human spirit that wants to create joy and goodness, beauty and art so that even folks with no skills, no musical ability step out and give it everything they’ve got in the hopes that they might have “it,” that elusive mixture of talent, skill, ability, knowledge, guts, ego, and self-loathing that mixes together in some otherworldly alchemy and produces art.

I like what G. K. Chesterton said in Fiction as Food: “Human beings cannot be human without some field of fancy or imagination; some vague idea of romance of life and even some holiday of the mind in a romance that is a refuge from life.” This is one reason many hopefuls show up at these auditions; they know that music, art, is a refuge, a holiday of the mind. Don’t get me wrong, some people see this opportunity as a quick way to becoming rich, but still, I would argue that even in the darkest heart is a speck of light from God. All art is a search for truth.

Second, I enjoy watching the judges critique the audition. I have learned a lot over the years. As someone who is often asked to read and critique a new author’s work, I took lessons from the Idol judges. I learned to be a little more gutsy in what I had to say. Sometimes you have to take the Band-Aid approach to a critique and just tell it like it is. Rip it off, let it sting for a bit, and then hopefully the writer will move on with her life, or go back to the drawing board, or keep practicing. That’s not to say I’m mean-spirited or cavalier. I believe all critiques need to be salted with kindness. But I’ve learned that encouraging someone down a road their not ready to walk is not good for anyone.

Over the years I watched American Idol, the judges have delivered compassion and frustration and joy to the hopefuls. And when the talent was so terrible, sometimes the judges couldn’t contain their derision. Yeah, that happens in the writing world also. I know those fifteen minutes of appointment angst can feel like your heart is being ripped out of your chest through your nose. It’s tough. But, hey, like Mama Flossie always told me, “When you tiptoe through the rose garden of life, be sure to wear long sleeves—thorns hurt.”

Every so often a manuscript crosses my desk that shines, that shows potential and true talent. This brings me great joy. I love discovering real talent just as I believe the American Idol judges do. And I have done critiques for folks in which I sent them back to the drawing board; then one day, what had been an ugly duckling of a manuscript became a thing of beauty.

Being creative is as natural to humans as breathing. Abraham Kuyper said, “As image-bearer of God, man possesses the possibility both to create something beautiful and to delight in it.”


Narrative Destiny

Charlotte Figg Takes Over Paradise