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August 2022

Alumnus building world as fantasy author

If you’re a frequent attender of Comic Cons or book festivals in the state of Texas, you may have met Michael Scott Clifton. He’ll be the one sitting at a table loaded with the six books that are part of his current collection as an educator-turned-author. And as a writer who particularly enjoys the science fiction/fantasy genre, he fits in perfectly with fans at these and other events where fiction lovers congregate.

Mike did not set out in life to become an author, but his current hobby was born more out of a love for reading and a frustration at the lack of good books in his favorite genre, which goes back to his

Mike Clifton at Comic Con
Clifton at Comic Con with an alien friend

childhood as a self-proclaimed voracious reader.

“In junior high, I found a copy of Lord of the Rings in the school library and read that and The Hobbit and got hooked on fantasy. I always liked science fiction, but then as I got older and was working and married with a family and more responsibilities, my time was more limited for reading,” he explained. “I noticed with fantasy books that they kept getting thicker and thicker, about the size of doorstops, and a lot of it was extraneous stuff that really didn’t need to be put in there. I didn’t have time to slog through copious words that weren’t really fleshing out the story or keeping my interest.

“I kept looking for something I would like. It just seemed difficult and it kind of made me mad actually. I thought, ‘I can do a better job than this, or at least as good a job.’”

Tackling book one

So despite his busy schedule as an administrator with the Chapel Hill schools in northeast Texas, Mike set out on his first attempt at a novel. He got involved with a local writers’ organization, learning from other authors about the craft of writing, which he found surprisingly different than he imagined. About three years later, his first book, The Treasure Hunt Club, was published. But in the ensuing upset of the publishing world, Mike had to go through an arduous process to get the book rights returned to him and republish it under a new cover and ISBN number with a new company since his publisher went bankrupt. It was republished in 2016.

Once he retired from the district in 2017 with 38 years in public education, Mike had a clear schedule to write more. And he did. To date, he’s built his collection up to six novels, with a seventh to release this month. Besides The Treasure Hunt Club, two others are stand-alone books, The Janus Witch and Edison Jones and the Anti-Grav Elevator, a Young Adult novel about a boy genius inventor who is paraplegic. He also has a four-volume fantasy series including The Open Portal, Escape from Wheel, A Witch’s Brew, and Conquest of the Veil, set to come out soon.

The next chapters

The sky is the limit for Mike, who says he hopes to pen one book a year. And when fantasy is the genre of choice, literally the story could take anything his imagination will support.

“I write as the spirit moves me and whatever inspires me. That’s just the way I do it. I like theClifton books award flexibility of being able to change something if I think of something better without tossing the baby out with the bathwater so to speak,” said Mike, explaining that most genre writers fall into two categories: planners or pantsers, short for those who fly by the seat of their pants. “(Pantsers) have an idea for a story, an idea for the beginning and usually an idea for how it ends. Everything else is up in the air. You start writing, and as ideas come to you, you put them down.”

Mike said he prefers the freedom to just build a good story, which he believes is “the heart and soul of your book” and is key to being a successful writer. In the fantasy/sci-fi genre, world-building is the foundation for a good story, which gives imaginative writers like Mike a chance to shine.

“I’ve read fantasy and have tried to write something that someone who has never read fantasy can pick up, read it and enjoy it. They can relate to the characters; a bully in the real world looks just like a bully in the fantasy world,” he noted. “I’ve tried to produce believable characters even though it’s a fantasy. You do have to have a pretty good imagination, and I do. It has probably gotten in my way from time to time but that’s what I do.”

The early journey

Being a writer now surprises even Mike, who says he was an “indifferent student” growing up in Albuquerque, N.M. While he was great at reading, he wasn’t that interested in many other subjects. When his grandfather offered to foot the bill for college as long as it was a Baptist school, he found the closest one in Wayland and took up the challenge.

“It was one of the best things that ever happened to me. That first semester was probably the hardest thing I’d ever gone through because I had no study skills. But I will say that the professors and staff, the counselors, were very supportive, and classmates were just awesome, and to this day I can say I still have friendships I formed at Wayland that are just as strong today as they were way back in the day,” says Mike, who finished his Bachelor of Arts degree in Plainview in 1977. “It was a turning point in my life in terms of the direction I was headed. I won’t say it saved my life, but I don’t know what would’ve happened if I had stayed in Albuquerque.”

From there, he headed to graduate school at Stephen F. Austin University, where he met wife Melanie and served as a graduate assistant. He was part of the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity at WBU and continued that at SFA. After graduating, he got a teaching job in tiny Chapel Hill, near Mount Pleasant, and ended up spending his entire career there. At one point he coached before becoming the junior high principal for the final nine years.

Enjoying the season

And while education might not have been his initial goal, he found that his background as a student actually helped him build rapport with students since he could understand their own indifference and get on their level. He taught history and science, a helpful background for someone who writes sci-fi.

Clifton books
Mike with his books at a festival.

Now in retirement, Mike enjoys his writing and related activities. When the COVID pandemic hit and events were canceled, that made marketing himself much harder. But those events are back on his schedule and are great places to meet people and sell his unique stories.

“Since then I’m doing really well. I’d be lying if I told you I’ve got my yacht picked out. But I’m doing OK, it’s enjoyable and I get to meet lots of people. Like I said, it’s a hobby,” he laughs.

And Mike has gotten some nods from critics, like the Feathered Quill Bronze Medal Award for teen fiction he earned for Edison Jones in 2021. The Janus Witch, The Open Portal and Escape from Wheel have won Five-Star Rating honors from Reader’s Favorite, and Open Portal also was a Feathered Quill finalist in 2019 and a finalist for the East Texas Writer’s Guild’s Sci-Fi/Fantasy Award in 2016.

His books can be purchased on his website, https://michaelscottclifton.com/. Two – The Treasure Hunt Club and The Janus Witch – are currently in audiobook format, and he’s auditioning narrators for The Open Portal and Edison Jones to produce those in the same format. Mike also co-hosts a weekly podcast on writing with author C.J. Peterson called Book World.


New award to recognize educators, packets available

The Wayland Alumni Association announces a new honor, the Pioneer Alumni Educator Award, designed to recognize an individual who has served the community through education, whether working as a teacher or up through district administrator level. This honor is limited to a graduate of the university but can be from any campus. 

"As an institution of higher learning, we fully understand the importance of good educators and theSpirit Packets impact they can have on their community," said Teresa Young, Director of Alumni Relations. "Over her 100-plus years, Wayland has turned out many great teachers and administrators and we are so proud of what they've been able to do, especially the past few years during a really tough time for schools and students. We wanted to be able to spotlight this work in a special way, and this award will help us do just that."

The award will be presented alongside our Distinguished Alumni Awards during Wayland's homecoming celebration, slated for Feb. 17-18 in Plainview. Educators may nominate themselves or another educator, as long as the nominee is an alumnus of Wayland. The nominee does not have to be an education major but does have to be working in either public or private education. Click here to nominate an individual.

THe alumni office also continues its annual Spirit Packets, available for educators to promote their alma mater in their classrooms or offices and among their students. The packets contain posters, pennants and recruiting brochures, as well as some goodies for the teacher, along with a set of pencils and stickers that can be given to students as the educator wishes. The packets are also available to church staff or lay leaders to promote WBU among their church. The packets are free for the asking using the online form here

"We love that many of our educators promote college among their students and these packets hopefully make that easier to do so while showing a little love for their own alma mater, Wayland," noted Young. 


Devotional: To be or not to be? Just be.

 When God introduced Himself to Moses (Exodus 3:14), He did not say, “I do . . .;” He said, “I Am!” He added, “Tell the people ‘The I Am’ is sending you to them.” While we know that God did amazing things through Moses, we also know that God focuses on who He IS more than what He does.

As we go through hardships such as health issues and job or ministry losses, we may find ourselvesRelaxing in the grass struggling with what we have not been able to “do.” At times like these, we can feel useless. Oh, we know we can pray (James 5:13). We can sing songs (James 5:13). We can worship by ourselves, for we are to worship Him in Spirit and truth anywhere (John 4:24). All of these acts are very important, and really, should be “done” before we “do” anything else. However, for those of us who are “do-ers,” we love accomplishing things. Going through what debilitates us can make us feel we’re stuffed on a shelf.  

We may have often heard, “Don't just stand there, do something!” Or in some cases, “Don’t just sit there, do something.” I know better. I have taught in Ashes to Crowns Ministries retreats about “The Emptiness and Wickedness of Busyness.” I have realized that instead of “Don't just stand there, do something,” that the Lord may often say, “Don’t just do something, stand there!” “Sit there!” “Be.”

Be. Scriptures talk about “being.” Warren Wiersbe has written a series of commentaries on each biblical book and each title starts with “Be,” accompanied by a quality or characteristic that God desires in us.

We may think of the passage, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). However, the Hebrew actually says, “Let it go! And know that I am God.” The I AM wants us to k.n.o.w. Him, which carries an intimate encounter with the Being who God IS. Of course, we need to “be still” to “do” that.

A former scholar once said, “‘Who God is is what He does," that “God’s nature is ‘being-in-action.’” Don’t we usually consider that what we do is who we are? However with thought, we are reversing the statement about God. We are made imago Dei, “in the image of God.” Therefore, as He IS, we are to be.

So, how do I do “being”? Being is not just existing, not just breathing, not just our hearts beating. Being takes time. However, just sitting and being seems to waste time. But, what while waiting can we learn? Or as Oswald Chambers has said, “What do we need to unlearn?” If we do not want to waste time in being, we can learn more about who God is.

Dr. Sharon Gresham is a 1970 graduate of Wayland and is a resident fellow at B.H. Carroll Theological Institute. She speaks to women's groups, leads retreats and writes regularly on biblical topics. She and husband Benny, also a 1970 graduate and a retired pastor, live in Burleson, Texas.


Leadership changes on the horizon

Alumni Director Teresa Young is moving into a position on the development side of the advancement office and the search for a new Director of Alumni Relations is underway. 

"I have loved my time working so closely with so many of our alumni and building relationships, reengaging some who were lost and meeting new graduates. I have always loved being part of the team that helps Wayland succeed, and I look forward to being able to do that still in this new role," said Young. "I will still be visiting with alumni, still be working with those who love the university and want to support her in special ways and still be here in the same office every day! I hope you'll stop in and say hello if you are in Plainview."

The job description and application information are posted on Wayland's job website here. Feel free to apply if this fits your passion or pass along to another alumnus you think might enjoy the job.

"If there is one thing I have learned in this five years, it is that Wayland has a lot of very proud alumni who loved their experience and think very fondly of their alma mater. Being the alumni director is a great place to plug in that love and help others do the same, and I know there's a great person out there who would be a rock star in this job!" says Young. 


From the History Files

This month's history recap continues a series of anecdotal memories shared in The Wayland Century, a coffeetable book published during our Centennial celebration in 2009. This story is shared by 1950s ex-student Dr. John Freeman.

My first knowledge of Wayland College was from reading the Baptist Standard in 1949. Planning to

Freeman (right) as a sophomore officer.

be a preacher, I was fascinated with the description of the college so started my college career in the fall of 1951. The Tennessee Baptist Convention scholarship for ministerial students paid my $25 per semester tuition and I found work to take care of my room and board.

Looking for a place to minister, I attended Iglesia Bautista with my biology professor, Dr. Lee. In my third year, the church was planning a Sunday school building so with my experience working for Mr. James Boney, the builder, I volunteered to help frame up the building. That was to be done during the Christmas vacation, so I remained at Wayland for that chore.

One Saturday, we did not work so I and two other students were hanging out in the dorm which was on the third floor of the administration building. Just after lunch, President Bill Marshall appeared and asked if anyone wished to accompany him to the Billy Graham meeting in Albuquerque. I was the only one to volunteer, so within an hour or two the two of us were on our way in his airplane. Of course, I was thrilled to be attending a Billy Graham meeting and the event in the great wooden tabernacle was a great experience.

As soon as the meeting was over, Dr. Marshall found me and informed me that he had to go somewhere else and woudl not return to Plainview. Could I get back alone? Being broke, in the middle of the night, and with six inches of snow on the ground naturally I said, "Yes sir, no problem." Somehow I found my way to an all-night service station on the east side of town to practice my already skilled hitchhiking. There was very little traffic as the highways were iced over but soon a car drove up with an elderly couple in it. I ambled over to the gas pump to talk while he filled up the car with gas. 

When I told him my plight has asked if I could drive on ice. He didn't ask if I had ever driven on ice, just if I could. Being from South Texas, naturally I answered "Yes." There were very few motels in those days. The man was afraid to drive on ice, so soon I was driving them to Lubbock where we arrived in early morning having had no incidents on the frozen roads. They delivered me to the bus station where I had just enough money for the trip to Plainview. Perhaps events developed to send me as an angel to rescue that elderly couple.

Dr. Bill Marshall did much to put Wayland on the map with international outreach as I had several international students as roommates. On several occasions I have boasted that I attended the first school in the South to integrate voluntarily. 

The three years at Wayland gave me a great start on my way to becoming a medical missionary. With my wife Nancy, we spent ten years in jungle hospitals in Thailand then filled out my career as emergency physician in West Tennessee.