Cori Smelker has been a member, moderator, supporter, and presenter for FaithWriters for many years – and this year, her writing talents have made her runner up for FaithWriters’ Writing Challenge Best of the Best. Join me (Joanne Sher) as I chat a bit with this delightful lady and learn more about her, her writing, her family, her winning piece, and more!

CoriJOANNE: First of all, congratulation on your second place win! What was your reaction when you found out you took second place in this year’s Best of the Best?

CORI: Honestly I was shocked! I had not entered the writing contest in quite a long time, and then I think I only entered three times in the quarter that I placed. Of course I was honored that my piece was so highly regarded, but it was still a shock.

JOANNE: You were a regular challenge contributor for many years a while back, but until quite recently, you hadn’t submitted a piece to the writing challenge for more than five years.  What took you away, and what brought you back?

CORI: You’re right – I was gone for a long time. In that time I started my own business (not related to writing) that took a lot of my time, and I also started working full time as the executive assistant to our pastor. He oversees over 300 churches around the world, and over 20 Bible Schools. When I took over the position he decided to start writing books which took much of my time; plus I was tasked with overseeing the rewriting of the Bible School manuals (there are 46 of those), so although I was not writing for pleasure, I was writing for the ministry.

JOANNE: Your winning piece, Assegais and Shields, is based on an actual experience you had while on a mission’s trip. Can you talk a little more about it? Had you ever written about it before? What kind of impact did the experience have on you and those who were with you?

CORI: Yes, this was based on a true experience, and although I have talked about it before (even then I had not talked about it often), I had never written about that specific experience. I had written one other piece several years back about an incident that happened on that same missions trip (Third Quarter 2007, ‘And the Prez Said’) because that week was quite honestly, life changing for me. I think in some ways it has made me fearless. I stared death in the face and was protected. I do not worry about my life in the way that some do, because I have seen God protect me.

It also reinforced to me that I am God’s child. I have made many mistakes since that day 27 almost 28 years ago, but if He was willing to protect me then, I know He loves me. I learnt to trust Him in a way I never had before. As for those who were with me – many of them still serve full time in the ministry, and Isaac, the man who crept back to the tent, actually became my interpreter!

JOANNE: What an amazing example of God’s work! What is the hardest part of writing for you? How do you overcome it?

CORI: It depends if I am writing for work or for pleasure. If I am writing for work the hardest part is wanting to write something that the person who is paying me likes! I want to know that I have hit the mark and am aptly representing them.

For pleasure I think sometimes the hardest part is actually sitting down and writing something. I will mull an idea in my head (for example, this week’s challenge topic is churning in my mind) but sitting down and putting the words on paper is not a high priority for me, so I will get to my computer and realize I missed the deadline!

JOANNE: What advice do you have for writers? What is the best writing advice anyone has given YOU?

CORI: What kind of writer do you see yourself as? I am a writer who makes a living writing. As a result I have written and edited a wide variety of work. I have worked on novels and non-fiction books; I have written more web site copy than I think any one person should!; I have written bore-me-to-the-bones technical manuals for automotive companies, banks and credit unions; and if you go into a CVS or Walgreens and use their photo booths I wrote all the software you see on the screens, and the code that runs it. When it comes to that kind of writing – take what you can to pay the bills. For 11 years, from 2002 until 2013, my husband Terry, who is a graphic designer, was also freelance. If we didn’t work, we didn’t eat. That doesn’t give one much chance to examine one’s navel or stare deeply off into the horizon.

If writing is something you do to express your faith, or where you submit to magazines or publications (like Chicken Soup, or even to the Writing Challenge), then write to the topic! And hone your skills. Use the challenge as an opportunity to vary your style. I have submitted Screwtape type letters (a la C. S. Lewis) and I have submitted serious pieces, I have submitted bad poetry; not with an eye to placing in the challenge, but in order to expand my writing styles.

The best advice I ever received from another writer (Alan Paton, author of the renowned “Cry, the Beloved Country”; I had a great privilege of meeting him before he passed away in 1988) was, “read — a lot!” I can expand on that by adding, and read a variety of authors. Don’t limit yourself to authors from just your country either. Read internationally! If you have an e-reader, take advantage of the free books you can download; sometimes you’ll find a real treasure among the duds. I learnt so much about Thailand through some free e-novels I downloaded to my Kindle. Not only was the writing fantastic, I learnt about their culture through the eyes of the author.

JOANNE: Tell us a bit about your family.

CORI: Do you have a gazillion seconds? I LOVE my family – they are funny, talented, crazy, zany, and smart. I have been married for 22 years to Terry; he is a graphic designer and a video editor. He works as marketing manager and media guru for a bio-medical company. He gets to draw and play on video editing software all day long — and they pay him for it!

We have five kids. Warrick now lives in Bloomington Indiana. He moved up there in March and by May was already recognized by their Chamber of Commerce as Young Professional of the Month and ‘30 professionals under 30 to watch’.

Our daughter Teagan just completed high school and next month will start an intensive 6-month make up course, before attending the Tom Savini School of Special Effects Make Up. If you’ve ever watched the show ‘Face Off’, you will have seen the work of some of their graduates, as many of the contestants come from that school. Teagan is also the mother of our 5-month old grandson Roman – the best-looking grandchild, hands down!

Hayley is our third child and is a senior this year. Like me, she loves to write and has already gained national attention for her writing and was selected as one of the top 100 students in the country for writing through a national writing contest that pitted her against 500,000 of her peers.

Garrick is my husband’s clone and loves digital media and video editing. He plans on attending a university right outside of Disney World when he completes high school. He is a junior this year.

Our youngest son, Carson, is a sophomore this year and flip-flops between wanting to be an attorne, or a gamer. Listening to him arguing with his siblings, I’d say attorney might be a good choice!

JOANNE: Where can folks connect with you?

CORI: Facebook is a great place to find me.

JOANNE: Thanks so much, Cori, for sharing. Your dedication – and SMILE – are an inspiration to me (and many others, I’m sure). And, of course, congratulations once again!

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