Two Women; Two Paths; Two Winning Writers

Lauren Crews and Leslie DeVooght were strangers when they registered for the 2017 Florida Christian Writers Conference in Leesburg, FL. They were assigned as roommates and became quick friends.

Both are from northeastern Florida. Both love the Lord and write from a Biblical worldview. Both brought manuscripts to pitch to the editors and agents at the conference and by the end of the weekend, both were members of Word Weavers of Clay County, a writers’ critique group.

However, their writings are very different. Lauren brought a Bible study and Leslie brought a contemporary romance novel.

I wanted to teach the Word of God and wanted to put validity to my speaking and teaching. ~Lauren Crews

Lauren’s study is written about Proverbs 31. “In the original Hebrew, verses 10 through 31 is an acrostic poem,” she explained. “The Hebrew language stresses memorization. The letters aren’t just sounds; they also hold word pictures.”

Lauren Crews

The editors and agents were interested, but questioned Lauren’s background. How did she know these things to be true? Did she study Hebrew?

Yes, she did. Lauren holds a Masters of Divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. “I wanted to teach the Word of God and wanted to put validity to my speaking and teaching,” she said.

Lauren first earned a BS in marketing from Jacksonville University and worked as a pharmacy sales and marketing coordinator. After seminary, she chose to rest. Fifteen years later she began to substitute teach at Lake Asbury Jr. High, where she now works full time as a language arts teacher.

Her love of Hebrew grew as she researched deeper at NOBTS. Lauren’s manuscript was born out of her studies. “It looks at how Christ fulfills the letters and how it applies to us.”
“The verses use military references and word play. The secondary theme is priestly duties. Proverbs 31 is a heroic hymn. Jewish men sing it over their women on Friday nights at the beginning of Shabbat.”

“The verses use military references and word play. The secondary theme is priestly duties. Proverbs 31 is a heroic hymn. Jewish men sing it over their women on Friday nights at the beginning of Shabbat. ~Lauren Crews

Lauren’s study was well received at the Florida CWC. Editors and agents offered suggestions from making it into a non-fiction book with a study guide to leaving it as a Bible study. Her additional presentation of an adult coloring book/devotional hit the nail on the head. Everyone loved it and had marketing ideas for a package deal.

The images to color were designed by friend and Lake Asbury Jr. High art teacher, Cindy Smith. “I commissioned Cindy to create images from the Hebrew letters I gave her,” Lauren said.

Friends and co-workers meet at Lauren’s house weekly to actively study her creation. Her Bible Study is already at work teaching and bringing women closer to God.

At the conference, Lauren won first place in the Bible Study category and first place in overall non-fiction, with a contract offer from Elk Lake Publishing. Now the hard work begins. Lauren will tighten her writing, resubmit proposals, and decide which agent to represent her and/or which publishing house to accept.

Her advice for aspiring writers is, “Play with ideas. Be flexible. Seek guidance from God and others. Pick a group of people you value and trust and ask them to pray for you. Have them pray for you because it’s a battle.”

To follow Lauren’s success, visit her blog, “Letters of Love” found via her website LaurenCrews.com.

As profound and educational as Lauren’s non-fiction is, Leslie DeVooght’s fiction is equally entertaining and uplifting.

From left to right, Mark Hancock, Leslie DeVooght, and Eva Marie Everson

Leslie’s training started with an undergrad degree from Florida Southern College. She went on to graduate from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University. She started writing fiction in high school and continued throughout law school.

“I wrote fiction as an escape,” she said. “Then I was a prosecutor in criminal law and I wouldn’t watch or read anything that was sad or bad. I had enough of that in real life.”

Leslie then worked as a magistrate judge in Georgia for eight years, writing when she could. When her husband’s job moved them to Jacksonville, FL, she welcomed the opportunity to stay home with their children and spend more time writing.

I wrote fiction as an escape,” she said. “Then I was a prosecutor in criminal law and I wouldn’t watch or read anything that was sad or bad. I had enough of that in real life. ~Leslie DeVooght

“I wrote appellate briefs before and loved it. But I prefer fiction. It’s just so different!”
Her first book was a young adult novel. During her routine run, the whole book flooded into her mind. She raced home, grabbed one of her kid’s journal books, and feverishly outlined the entire book over the kitchen sink, still sweating from her run. “I get good ideas when I run.”

While that first book hasn’t been published, her contemporary romance submission at the Florida Christian Writers Conference seems to be a sure thing. Winning the categories in best fiction and overall best fiction brought several offers from agents and editors, from a contract to invitations to submit a complete proposal.

She sees this novel as the first in a series of four set in St. Simons Island, GA, her home town. The first draft of the second installation is completed and she is currently plotting the third.

While Leslie gets most of her ideas from real life, some come in dreams that have her up scribbling notes in the middle of the night. “It’s fun to put the characters in funny circumstances.”

Storylines shouldn’t be a problem for Leslie. Between teaching a middle school Sunday school class, leading her daughter’s small group, being involved a couples Bible study with her husband, and a ladies Bible study, she has plenty of opportunities to observe people.
Leslie, like Lauren, knows the importance of prayer coverage. She has been praying Proverbs 16:3 daily for the past 18 months, committing her career and books to God and His purposes. It reads, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.”
She has read many books on the craft of writing. “I’m always reading a craft book, a fiction novel, and a Bible study at once.” She is currently re-reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

“You have to have perseverance. It’s not like in the movies where someone writes a book and gets it published right away.” Leslie DeVooght

“You have to have perseverance,” Leslie said. “It’s not like in the movies where someone writes a book and gets it published right away. I’ve deleted and re-written the first three pages of all my books. It’s really hard work. Like anything else, you have to practice if you want to get better.”

Leslie DeVooght

To follow Leslie’s success, find her author page on Facebook, Leslie Kirby DeVooght. The Florida Christian Writers Conference is held in February in Leesburg, FL. Directed by Eva Marie Everson and Mark Hancock, it’s a long weekend full of workshops, continuing classes, and networking opportunities that will help you grow as a writer. If you want to join other writers to learn more about writing, meet with agents, editors, and award winning authors, plan to attend next year. For more information, visit FloridaCWC.net.

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Kelly J. Stigliano has been a speaker and writer for over 25 years. She and her husband, Jerry, enjoy life in Orange Park, FL.