I just learned that Jerry B. Jenkins has closed the Christian Writers Guild.
And that news brought back a host of memories. Jerry didn’t start the Christian Writers Guild; that was done by another man.
Back in the fall of 1972, I was newly married and working as a supply teacher in a new city.
I’d always wanted to write, so, with my husband’s encouragement, I took a correspondence course from Norman Rohrer. Because I’d been thinking so much about teens, it seemed natural that my first stories were aimed at teenagers. I’d seen his ad in various magazines many times. “I Fire Writers!” His address was La Canada (soft c), California. I found that amusing for some reason.
Norm apparently started the Christian Writers Guild in 1965 in order to raise the quality of Christian writing.
I paid my money—not a huge amount as I recall—I think around $150.
Before long a large brown binder showed up.
There were lessons on both fiction and nonfiction writing, 48 in total. The first 20 or so where on writing fiction and the rest on nonfiction.
Each lesson had information followed by a yellow page with the assignment. (See photo on the right.)
You had two years to complete the course.
Some of the topics were:
- What’s the story?
- The story for teen
- The story for adults
- The testimony
- The feature article
I’d write my assignments by hand and then type them on an old typewriter I could barely navigate, and mail them to him. (More than 15 books published and I still don’t know how to type!)
Norm would go over the assignments and type a response on the back of the assignment sheet. He’d first tell me what I’d done well and then give me suggestions as to how my work could be improved, and mail everything back. (See photo on left.)
If he thought what I’d written might have publishing potential, he’d offer suggestions as to places to submit.
Overall, he liked my work. But I got sidetracked. I never actually finished all the assignments. I managed to do roughly half of them. The fiction half.
A short story somehow grew and grew, and I eventually finished one novel and parts of two others before the two years was up. I realized I had little interest in nonfiction so I didn’t worry about completing the rest of the course.
Norm’s last letter to me (yes, I still have it) said he’d love to introduce me to editors. But I was stuck in the Canadian prairies, and he was in California, and there was no social media in those days. So aside from having one article and one short story published (I think it was published—I never got a copy), nothing much happened. And by then I was busy with a young family and church leadership. It wasn’t until 1991 that my first book was published.
I started teaching and mentoring other writers in 1992 and co-founded The Word Guild , a Canadian writing community, in the fall of 2001 (officially January 2002). My goal has always been to pass on what I’ve learned, just as Norm passed his knowledge to me.
Norm kept on until 2003, at which point author Jerry B. Jenkins purchased the Guild from him. Norm remained on the Editorial Board. It became the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. And more recently began publishing. And today it closed.
Would I have become a writer without Norm Rohrer? I’m honestly not sure. He gave me not only the information I needed but the encouragement to keep at it. He helped me believe that I had the ability to write without glossing over the things I needed to learn or making me think it would be a breeze. And all these years later, I’m still at it; not only writing my own books but also helping other writers raise the quality of their work.
Even though $150 in those days was a lot more than it is today, given the number of hours he spent going over my assignments and writing his responses, I’m pretty sure he lost money on the deal. In other words, he really was doing it to help writers, and not looking for ways to part them from their money.
The world of publishing is going through a huge number of changes right now and no one knows where we’re going to end up. I have to say I’m in favour of much that’s happening. Even though I’d had three royalty publishers, I long ago gave up on the old model where publishers controlled what made it into print and on the shelves of bookstores. Anyone who thinks the best books sell the most copies needs to take another look at the way the system works.
What I do find sad in the closing of the Guild is that I tried to find a bio of Norm online and failed. But then, it’s not unusual for us to fail to remember and honour those who have paved the way for us.
You can see some of Norman Rohrer’s books here.
I wanted to take Norm’s course, but my mom talked me into going to college. I took every writing course offered. I mostly wrote poems at that time and had one published. I had long been interested in writing for television and film, but never pursued that beyond my own writing enjoyment. I was also interested in fiction writing and even nearly completed a novel. Years later I got another degree in print media and began writing newspaper and magazine articles, most of which were published. My writing has suffered in recent years and I often wonder where I would be in my writing career had I taken Norm’s course. Thank you for sharing your experience with the Christian Writer’s Guild.
I graduated Norms course in 2000.
I’m still reaping benefits from my time w him. I wanted to be a better communicator and he certainly pointed me in the right direction
is norm still alive or did he die a long time ago… i only know of him from the i fire writers adds that i saw in the tv books and news papers… back in the 80’s.. but there was a time when i was thinking about seeing if he could help but never did but i was just wondering if he was still alive.. i do have a good article story from someone who was helped by him i found on the internet ..
I’m honestly not sure. I don’t see an obituary, but I also don’t see any way to contact him on social media.
this is a good story you put here
i remember these ” i fire writer” ads in the tv book or the news paper from along time ago in the 80’s i wanted to try it too but i did not have the money too and i always wondered what happened to this guy
Thank you so much for writing this, though it took me over three years for such a time as today to read it. I, too, was enrolled in the Apprentice Course of the CWG. I started in 2006 or 7 and finished a few years later. It was during a terrible time that God used for good. My mentor was Jim Dyet. I am so thankful he took the time to read and respond to my lessons. I am still writing and finding courage that he pushed me toward. Blessings on your writing and on the mentors who blow our sails a Godward direction.
Hello, my name is Mark Siddall, a life-long friend of Norm Rohrer and of course, his entire family. I grew up with his children Rand and Russ on Stardust Road in La Cañada, CA. Today the entire Rohrer family resides here in middle Tennessee as do I. Needless to say we all still enhoy friendship and fellowship together to this day.
Be well, and Onward by Faith!
I, too, had some very kind interactions with Norm Rohrer and was humbled that he wanted my manuscript to be published by some of his publishing friends. When that didn’t work, he said publishing had changed and encouraged me to explore alternatives. That manuscript became the first of several books. Tonight I came across this website because I was preparing to send out my Christmas cards. Good memories.
I took his course several years ago as well (mostly out of curiosity). He Always graded my material personally which was amazing. It was an awesome experience which led me to publish my first book. I was working at a local McDonald’s then and was in the back washing dishes when my manager told me someone had stopped by to see me. It was Norman Rohrer and his lovely wife! They were passing through my town and stopped by because he loved our coffee and he wanted to meet one of his “soon to be famous” students. We spent over 20 minutes sitting in a booth just talking about life. A couple of years later he had a writers conference that I attended and he brought my manuscript as an example of the “write” and way to write Christian Fiction (he introduced me to the entire audience as “The Famous Paul Norwood!) I brought him a cup of McDonald’s coffee and every few years he’d call to see how I was doing and give encouragement. He was a great man and I was very sad the day he sold the Guild. Thanks for remembering him. I will always miss him and remember the day I was fired!
Thanks so much for your comment, Paul.
I lived way up in Regina so never met him. But I did feel he was personally interested in me, and that he was teaching because he genuinely wanted to help writers.
Nowadays, so many people are ready to tell writers what to do in ebooks, etc., but his teaching was very personal and also very encouraging.
I’m a little late to the party here, but during a special time of prayer about returning to my writing efforts, I found your website. I had a similiar experience with Norm, and I take the encouragement to try once more. Thanks!
Glad you were encouraged to keep writing!
I was Norm’s last writing student and the two of us remained forever friends. He and Virginia are two of my favorite people and I remember (after I finished his course) he would continue to look over my writings.
A few years ago I finished a book and Norm was determined to help me find a publisher, but became very discouraged when even his friends didn’t have the time to see what he wanted to share.
I do believe I have a copy of his bio. If you’d like me to find it and send it to you it would be an honor. Also, I’d love to read your books. Any student of Norm’s is someone I want to read.
Funny I would find your blog today, because last night I took the book out of my closet and decided to freshen it up and send it out. I’m not sure what God’s plans are, but I do know this… I TRUST HIM!
Onward by faith!
Please feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for your comment, Gina!
Yeah, not sure where I’d be if I hadn’t seen Norm’s “I Fire Writers” ad in magazines and decided to answer it. It definitely got me started writing even though I didn’t actually get published for quite a while.
FYI – the first book I wrote has never been published, but it was read by at least 2 people who probably needed to read it. So it served more than one purpose. My 2nd book was published.
So don’t let it stop you that your first hasn’t been published yet. It may never be, or it may be, but keep writing anyway.
I read your article, thanks for writing it.
Are there books/materials from Norm that one can buy? I haven’t heard about him before, but once I read your article….my curiosity and desire to learn motivated me to look for his materials, but I found nothing on the internet authored by him for the purpose of teaching writers; if you know of any source of his materials would you share with me? Thank you for your time reading my e-mail,
Elizabeth, I have a couple of Norm’s books, but I expect those he did write are mostly out of print. I have The Indomitable Mr. O and How to Eat Right and Feel Right. These appear to be some others.
To my knowledge, he didn’t write any books on writing – just the course materials.
Thanks for your comment Ann. I’m smiling at your reaction to the fiction part. :)
Thank you for sharing this interesting article. It is bitter sweet; sadness for the end of one chapter and excitement with the beginning of the next. The old must die for the new to come to life. So mourn we must, the loss of what was, then rejoice in what is ahead. But I agree and was saddened that Norman Rohrer’s name was not mentioned, a trail blazer he was for sure. What a privilege that must have been to learn from him. As I read about the course I thought to myself that I would have only done the fiction assignments, then smiled when you said that was all you completed.
Thanks for your comments, Kim and Bobbi.
Now you’ve named this wonderful mentor on-line, and, in effect, written his bio to be found by anyone looking for his name in the future. Wonderful tribute!
Interesting post NJ. I’d thought about taking courses but didn’t want to commit the money or time. I’m grateful for The Word Guild and Write Canada conferences to continue to learn and grow in the craft.
I hadn’t heard the Guild was closed! I remember the “I fire writers” ads and when Jerry B. Jenkins bought it. I considered signing up many times. (Between the $ and the time requirement I just never could make it work.) I’m sad to hear of its closing, but can’t shake the feeling that the time for Christian writers is also drawing to a close. Think of the influence these two men have had for the kingdom and how many lives have been affected through the writers they’ve encouraged and trained. Until we all get to eternity, beyond tracing out.
It just happened this week, Dianne.
I was hoping I’d find an image of one of those ads on the internet but I didn’t. They really stood out. :)
I so enjoyed reading your personal account of the role Norm played for you, NJ. What you said about the absence of an online bio really struck a chord. In this noisy world with each trying to outshout the other, there are those who faithfully and quietly tinker away at what they do, pouring into the lives of others, often unsung. For people like that, and I know quite a few, a tribute like what you have written satisfies more than world acclaim.
I agree, there are many, many people who help other and who rarely get credit.
On the one hand, we shouldn’t be helping others in order to get praise; on the other hand, I think we’re all stronger when we show respect for and give credit to those who help us.
Thank you for sharing that, it is amazing how fast things are changing.
Someone today called it an earthquake. I actually think it could end up being far more positive than that. How about a fresh breeze blowing through the land?
Great story, Nj!