The Gathering with Ted Dekker – a Viewpoint
I am writing this in an endeavor to answer the question posed by my fellow writers, published and pre-pubbed, “Why would people pay to go to a book release party”? You can view snippets of The Gathering itself at http://www.teddekker.com/gatheringlive/ . Needless to say, it could not contain everything that was said and that transpired, but it can give you a definite flavor. If you do nothing else, read the 9:01 entry from ‘The Sage’. This is the focus of the day.
“The Gathering” is unique in book publishing, and pretty unique in entertainment. Is it a daylong event for the fans of the artist Ted Dekker or fans of the art, the books or fans of “The Gathering”? It is a difficult question to answer and it is probably all of the above. I didn’t know what to expect and it turns out that I wasn’t alone; Harry Helms of Hachette Publishing was trying to visualize a day of Ted Dekker on stage talking, which did not translate into an event that people would pay to attend. Some people, maybe… I didn’t know if I was going to walk into a room full of Dekkies, arrayed in costume like a bunch of Trekkies at a Star Trek convention or if I would walk into a room full of young people and I would be the only ‘older’ attendee there. I knew there would be some level of entertainment, but would it be a bunch of hype or would it retain some of the Spiritual emphasis of the books?
For the uninitiated, “The Gathering” is when the followers of Elyon (God) in The Circle Series, gather together to worship the Creator and dive deep into the healing pools of His Love, to give and receive love. It is a metaphor of our relationship with God and Jesus and part of the deep spiritual message of Ted’s books. So although we live in a fan and idol driven society, “The Gathering” is much more than a publicity gimmick or a fan club meeting, although it serves a purpose there too.
The 3rd annual Gathering took place in Franklin, TN, about 30 minutes from downtown Nashville, TN and about 30 minutes from my house. I left my house at about 7:15 AM so I could be there approximately when the doors opened and I could obtain a good seat. When I arrived, there was already a long line and the doors had not opened yet. I was directed to parking and during the walk back to the line was surprised at the array of license plates from around the state and around the country. A lot of people had not only paid their money to attend, they had also incurred travel expenses to be there. Interesting.
The day was well planned, and the entertainment alone pretty much justified the price of admission. There was the Sage, who served as MC. His costume was sort of reminiscent of Merlin the Magician, but he did an excellent job of beginning the day and bringing the segments of the day together. An excellent dance troupe entertained twice, recreating the creation and the fall, and then later completing the story with redemption and the marriage to bride groom. In Ted’s books, this is referred to as “The Great Romance”. Although there was a tie to the theme of the books, which are after all a recreation of the story in the ultimate book, the Bible, the focus was on the Creator, not Ted Dekker.
There was a segment where Ted portrayed the process of creating a book, and yes this segment did feature key elements from his books, but it was well done and highly entertaining for those who have read the books. I’m not certain that this would mean as much to others, but I believe that most writers or other creative people would identify with this segment.
There were two segments with ‘story tellers’. Characters arrayed in costume, who did a dramatic telling/reading of I believe the first two chapters of the next book in the Circle Series, Green, although the material did sound familiar. I have the first two chapters in one of the books I received, so I’ll have to check. These professional actors were highly entertaining, especially the man, who had a much longer segment. I believe that everyone enjoyed these tremendously, even the parents and spouses who attended and were not Dekker readers.
Mike Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson spoke and shared his testimony as well as the reasons he is passionate about fiction and novels. Later, Harry Helm (I forget his title) from Hachette and their imprint Center Street Publishing, did a Q&A with Ted. Center Street is the imprint for Ted’s non-CBA books, the first of which just published. His CBA material will continue to publish through Thomas Nelson. Both were interesting segments.
There were also two audience Q & A segments with Ted, where he answered questions from the crowd. One of the things that impressed me about Ted is that he is always pointing back to the Creator, God. I also believe that he is open and honest when he answers questions, even though his answers may not always be what the person is looking for. He can be somewhat brusque, although it may be that when he is finished talking about something, he doesn’t have much more to say about that. He mentioned at one point that it would be better if he wrote the answers, because, after all, he is a writer, not a speaker.
I can’t leave out the illusionist who also had a segment on stage. I will admit, I was a little concerned about this, but he was fun and also pointed us back to the Creator.
There were some other things of course, but as you can see, it was a pretty full day. I felt that it succeeded in bringing a balance of presented the artist and his works, doing some marketing (and this was a target crowd who were definitely interesting in finding out what was coming down the pipe), and pointing back to God. There were definitely spiritual segments, but it wasn’t an all day spiritual conference either. It was well organized and evidently many lessons had been learned and applied from the previous 2 years. The facility was a little small and did not have adequate space for merchandising for the size of the crowd. However, it was pretty amazing that within a ½ hour after they ran out of some of the books, they had them restocked (guess it helps to have the CEO of the publishing company there).
What is the Ted Dekker phenomenon? A recap of the day hardly explains it. Is it good PR? I guess I can only answer that from my POV, since it’s the only one I truly know. The Great Romance and love story with our creator is the deep theme of Dekker’s books. It varies with different books of course, but it is an extremely deep theme. Also, Dekker is a master of letting you take the journey with him and thus it becomes your journey. I reread these books more than any other, except the Bible itself. Not because I think Ted Dekker is a great man, but because I relish the spiritual journey of the books. There are several books that are very dark, but the light is that much brighter. I personally had trouble reading “Showdown” the first time, but I muscled through it because I knew that the take away would be worth some discomfort. I think this is what appeals so much to young people. It’s not just the edginess of the books, but it’s the tremendous spiritual journey that appeals to a generation that has been raised on relative truth.
My view of Ted Dekker the man? I have heard Ted speak before at a writer’s conference, where I feel he was also brutally honest and frank. My impression is that Ted is totally passionate about writing; just he appears to be about anything in life that he embraces. I also have the impression that he is a Type A+++ in his drive and determination. He is also highly critical (and justifiably so) of “the church” in America. This comes from growing up as a missionary kid in Indonesia, which of course has shaped his personality and worldview. I believe Ted can appear to be arrogant and even offensive due to this deep drive and openness; however I also believe that he is probably the most loyal of friends. But the above, probably applies in one degree or another to all artists and even to all people. In the end, he is a man with all the strengths and foibles we all possess. His publishers and publicity team have the job of marketing his books and perhaps building a ‘larger than life’ image of the man. But at the end of the day, he goes into his writing space and writes and tries to tell stories that bring people closer to the Savior.
Other observations about The Gathering. It was interesting that a large part of the audience raised their hands when asked if they were (or aspiring to be) fine arts artists, actors, producers, writers, etc. I would estimate that well over half of the attendees were bent artistically in one way or another. Maybe this was part of the reason they were willing to pay and travel to this conference. Maybe they also came to hear from someone whose artistic works they admire and who is further along the path than they are. There were also the ‘freebies’ which included a graphic book (comic book style short versions of the Circle trilogy), posters, book marks, a limited edition, signed ARC of a book coming out in January, 2 book bags, and 2 novels from Hachette. The books and other merchandise were also very favorably priced. All in all, I had a fun day and I felt uplifted when I left. I was not able to stay for the book signing, as I had another engagement at my church. Will I go next year? I don’t know. That story hasn’t been told yet.
BTW – there were only a couple of people in costume. Everyone else there appeared to be pretty normal, although I’m sure there’s a story there too…