Friday, April 29, 2005

Guilty pleasures

It's lunchtime, I've got Joe Walsh on now and the office is very quiet today. So I went to my Diversions folder in my Foxfire bookmarks and checked out some comics and a new guilty pleasure: Waiter Rant. I think I'd heard of it before, but I stumbled across it the other day and decided it was worth bookmarking. The guy has a sense of story and it rings true. If you've ever worked in a restaurant (and I have), you will find this amusing (or it will give you nightmares, depending on how long it's been since the restaurant job).

Other guilty pleasures:
American Idol (Bo is still in it. Yes!)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (when my sons borrow it from their friend Derek, who owns the complete set.)
Kaleidoscope Painter (still very cool after all these years).
And my favorite time-waster: Faith*in*Fiction. (But if you learn stuff, it doesn't count as a guilty pleasure, right?)

Music, sweet music

Yesterday it was Alice in Chains and Foo Fighters. Today it's Carole King and Joni Mitchell. Music for my every mood lives right here on my computer. I love iTunes!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Literary Vision

Recently, J. Mark Bertrand asked us over at Faith in Fiction to think about our artistic vision. At first, this seemed a little highbrow for me. But Mark has figured out what his work-in-progress is, thus prompting a new thread. His book sounds interesting and literary and complex and I'm sure that someday it will leave The DaVinci Code in the dust. (Not that I'm implying that The DaVinci Code is literary, but it's certainly popular.)

But what does that have to do with me and Secrets in Connors Grove? Do I even have an artistic vision? I don't for a minute imagine my book to be of great literary significance. All I was trying to do was tell a story.

What usually prompts my blog subjects is a happy convergence of things I've read elsewhere. In this case, it's Mark's thoughts and then this from Infuze Magazine. Robin Parrish has got it right: Life is a story. I learned as a journalist that the best news stories are often told as narratives. I once framed a story about a lawsuit as a David and Goliath story -- appropriately because the little guy won against the larger corporation. The Bible is a series of narratives -- stories about how God has worked throughout history to bring salvation to his people. I always preferred my dad's sermons that had lots of illustrations and I usually remembered those better than his three points. We are wired to relate to stories. Why do you think Jesus used so many parables?

My desire to write my stories has grown through the last several years. God has given me a love of language and stories and the ability to put my thoughts into words. I used to think that I hadn't lived an adventurous enough life to be a writer. Then it dawned on me, I'm a Christian with six kids -- you can't get much more adventurous than that! When I started writing, I wanted to tell the kind of story I would like to read. I wanted my characters to be believable, I wanted their lives to reflect the realities of being a Christian in the 21st century, I didn't want to make it too easy for them. I'm not sure I achieved that goal, but I'm working toward it.

So is that an artistic vision? To tell stories? Maybe it is, at least for starters. I started out calling this entry "Literary Opthalmology" (then someone suggested it sounded too much like a medical textbook). I'm extremely nearsighted and wear thick glasses. My vision needs a lot of help and seems to need more every year. Thus with my writing. It will take time and editing -- God's corrective lenses, so to speak -- for my literary vision to become more clear.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The 70s want me ...

Today I was reminded on all sides that I graduated from high school a long time ago. First, I was contacted by a person from my high school class about our 30-year reunion. I remember the girl -- we lived in the same small town that fed into our consolidated high school (out in a corn field in southern Indiana). It did not surprise me that she has a Nascar-related e-mail name. Griffin seemed to be a haven for guys who had cool muscle cars -- Firebirds, Camaros, Mustangs. I dated a guy named Pup Jesse and he drove a 1967 Firebird with an 8-track tape player. He introduced me to The Doors and I will be forever indebted.

Then, this afternoon I read this post over at The Master's Artist. It's actually an excellent post, but the comments were more related to bad songs from the 70s. Are aging baby boomers pathetic? I suppose so, but this is who we are. And now I have "My Eyes Adored You" (one of my least favorite songs of all time) stuck in my head. Thanks Michael.

For more reflections on the 70s, you can read this. Otherwise, I'm done.

Sugar and spice and everything in its place

Yesterday I talked about my boys -- today it's my daughters' turn. I could tell some stories ...

I have two wonderful daughters, Julia and Megan. Julia is four years older than Megan, but they've always seemed closer in age. They're smart, beautiful, funny and very organized. I suspect it is in reaction having a mother who is somewhat less than organized much of the time. But maybe they inherited some of their father's organizational ability.

There was a time when they were growing up that I wondered if they would ever get along. But now that they're grown, they've become much closer and seem united in their desire to keep their mother on track. Here's an example. Megan graduates from college in Chicago next week. Julia and I are flying up a few days early to help Megan pack and just hang out. So yesterday I got an e-mail from Megan -- a detailed, color-coded itinerary for our visit. I was in awe -- I am not worthy. When Julia got married a few years ago, she sent everyone a detailed, hour-by-hour plan for her wedding day. I must say, it seemed a little excessive to me, but by golly it worked. So there's something to be said for being well-organized.

Julia and Megan are both on the threshold of new phases of their lives: Megan graduates from college and will have a job in Alaska next year (that's so far away!) and Julia starts law school in August. I'm not worried about them, though. Yes, it will be changes for them both. Megan will be farther away from home than she's ever been, but she's thrived in Chicago for four years -- I think she's ready for Alaska. (But is Alaska ready for her?) Julia realized that she won't be working at a job for the first time since she was in junior high (she worked almost full-time all through college). But her husband has a good job and I reminded her that law school is a job in itself.

Both my girls are strong, confident women -- much stronger and more confident than I was when I was in my 20s. They're going to rock the world and I can't wait to see what happens.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Thank Heaven for Little Boys

There's something wonderful about boys. They're so un-politically correct. I should know -- I have four sons. I may complain about the never-ending stream of fart jokes and talk about video games, but I can't imagine my life without them. (I also have two daughters that I delight in, as well, but today this is about boys.)

What got me on this track? Last night I called my sister-in-law, Steph, and she told me a story about her 5-year-old, Aidan. Aidan came home from school yesterday with a red card (not a good thing). The teacher wrote a note with it: Aidan showed the other little boys how to aim over the urinal in the bathroom. Steph confessed to laughing hysterically (she has 3 sons, so she's immune to shock as well). I suppose it's inappropriate behavior (the aiming, not the laughing), but it's hard not to laugh. Besides, Aidan had developed a skill and naturally he wanted to pass it along.

Also, Chris tells stories (and posts pictures) of his son and it reminds me a lot of when my boys were little.

I think sometimes our society doesn't want to let boys be boys. (For that matter, our society doesn't want to let children be children, but I'll save that for some other time.) I'm not suggesting that boys shouldn't be taught to find appropriate outlets for their energy, or be sensitive and caring about others. It's just that it's OK if they want to play army or climb things or bring home pockets full of rocks or take all the spices out of the kitchen and make some strange concoction with them. (well, that last thing was kind of expensive) The occasional fart joke is even kind of funny (I just wonder why it's so funny all the time).

My sons are growing up now. They tower over me: my youngest son, Joel, loves to stand next to me and say things like "I feel tall." He's 15 and is pushing 6 feet and 230 pounds. But it's still the sweetest thing when they hug me and call me mommy. They're funny and sweet and smart and talented, and I think they're going to be fine men; four girls are going to be very lucky someday. And maybe someday I'll have some grandsons. No big rush, but it would be nice ... someday. (Note to Julia: I promise, I'm not hinting.)

Without my boys, I would never have learned to appreciate Cowboy Bebop or the finer points of Final Fantasy. I might not have discovered Terry Prachett on my own.

One of my favorite movies is Safe Passage, in which Susan Sarandon plays a mother with seven sons. I can relate. There's a place in the movie where she wonders if she's been a good mother -- she was always forgetting lunch money and their socks didn't match. But the girlfriend of her oldest son reassures her that her sons have turned out very well. I hope that that kind of thing will be said about my boys.

I once told my boys that I'm never in the dark, I have four sons. I meant it.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The edge of ... what?

I was away a few days and came back to discover the Faith*in*Fiction discussion of "edgy" had run into three pages! It's worth checking into here.

With that in mind, I want to relate a story I heard Friday. A delightful lady, Edna Blake, spoke at the church conference meeting I attended. She makes her points clearly, with humor and love. She told about a woman she's been having Bible studies with for the last year or so. Susan is a new Christian and has been inviting her friends to study with Edna. Recently Susan invited a lot of people to her home to hear Edna and 57 women showed up. These are women who have no clue who Jesus is. Afterwards Susan invited everyone downstairs for wine coolers, or they could stay upstairs and talk to Edna. The audience of church ladies laughed along with Edna when she told this story, but she made sure to point out that this new Christian was bringing her world to Christ. Her methods might not look like what we do in church, but she was having an influence on people who knew her. Her friends knew Susan had changed and they wanted to know more about it.

What does this have to do with whether or not Christians should write "edgy" fiction? God uses all kinds of people and works in all kinds of ways to bring people to salvation. We serve an "edgy" God. We can show that in what we write. We can also accept that God can use different kinds of books to reach people. Some people will be put off by a horror novel, but they might be deeply moved by a prairie romance. Others will find the prairie romance positively sick-making, but long for a Christian writer who can send chills down their spines. (have at it derFielden)

A moment of epiphany came many years ago while I was a student in Bible college. I looked at some of my fellow students who seemed hopelessly weird and socially inept and wondered what they were doing there. God brought it home to me that he can use all kinds of people. God sees our hearts, while man looks at what's on the outside only. God sees our hearts when we write and if he wants what we write to be an instrument of his grace, then he will use it, edgy or not.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Hail to a master

I found out today that this is the 95th anniversary of Mark Twain's death. In honor of the day, here's an edited version are some rules for writing he set forth in a scathing critique of The Deerslayer:

There are nineteen rules governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction -- some say twenty-two. In "Deerslayer," Cooper violated eighteen of them. These eighteen require:

1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.

2. They require that the episodes in a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it.

3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.

4. They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.

5. They require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject at hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.

6. They require that when the author describes the character of a personage in the tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.

7. They require that when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven- dollar Friendship's Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it.

8. They require that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader as "the craft of the woodsman, the delicate art of the forest," by either the author or the people in the tale.

9. They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.

11. They require that the characters in a tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.

In addition to these large rules, there are some little ones. These require that the author shall:

12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.

13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.

14. Eschew surplusage.

15. Not omit necessary details.

16. Avoid slovenliness of form.

17. Use good grammar.

18. Employ a simple and straightforward style.

The full version of Twain's rant can be found here.

It's worth checking out and rereading from time to time. Twain's criticisms are still valid today. When I read them the first time, I couldn't help but think that modern literature hasn't come very far since 1895, when Twain wrote his critique. And lest you think I'm feeling smugly superior, I will admit that these criticisms hit pretty close to home, too.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Dinosaurs Rock!

I found a gem from Bride on iTunes yesterday: Rattlesnake. If you don't know who Bride is, they're probably one of the loudest Christian bands to ever rock the planet. They're still making music and preaching after 20 years. (And I do mean preaching -- Dale Thompson doesn't just scream like a saved Axl Rose, he proclaims the Word of the Lord.)

Bride is out of the mainstream now, but that hasn't kept them from doing what they believe God has called them to do.

Something to remember in one's own life, as well.

Rock on!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


This is just a nice word about my lovely husband, who brings me my lunch when I forget it and takes my overdue DVD's back to the library -- even though he has to go out of his way to do it (and since we live 35 miles from where I work in the town with the library, that's impressive).


Monday, April 18, 2005

Whatsover thy hand findeth to do ...

I've been following with interest the discussion over at the Faith*in*Fiction board about Literary fiction. I love to read, but I admit that I've not read a lot of what people consider "literary" fiction. Probably because I'm lazy. But I've read some of the better examples of genre fiction: books by Dorothy Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula LeGuin among others.

My reaction to this discussion has been to consider just what it is that I write. I don't think it's "literary." For one thing, I'm not that good a writer yet. But it's also not that ambitious a story.

My goal was to write a good story, from beginning to end, and populate it with people who are living out their faith in a fallen world. Sometimes I think I did it pretty well, as when yesterday a member of my writing group told me she liked my book and compared it favorably to books by a popular CBA novelist. But if I try to look objectively at the story, I know I could do it better. So I rewrite, and read articles about writing to help me find ways to do it better.

But, even after I become a better writer, I suspect that no one will call my writing "literary." I've come to the conclusion that that's probably OK. There's a place for all kinds of writing. People who might never pick up "Gilead," might read "Secrets in Connors Grove" (if it's ever published) and find something they can identify with.

This does not excuse me from becoming the best writer I can be.

"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Col. 3:17)

Friday, April 15, 2005

Read this blog

In which Chris Well (crosswalk blogger and author of "Forgiving Solomon Long," available wherever crime fiction is sold) mentions one of the coolest Christian prog rock albums of all time: Michael Omartian's White Horse. (See No. 3 on Chris' list) I wish I could find it on CD!

Virtual friendship?

Since I've been blogging, I've become more involved with online communities and it's got me thinking about just what that means. I read several blogs related to faith & writing and read a message board on that subject just about everyday. Sometimes I post comments, though I've about decided that my comments are thread killers, because no one ever comments back. So I think I'll just keep my fingers quiet for a while.

But my whole reaction to the situation I've just described has been an eye-opener. Blogging and message boards and other online interactions give us a sense that we know these other people: they've shared their dreams, their lives, their experiences. It's rather seductive. They seem like more than just names on the screen.

There's even a sense of a larger conversation going on, a conversation about where faith and art intersect. It's fascinating and stimulating and fun.

But online interaction has its limitations. We can't hear each other's voices, we can't see each other's facial expressions. We get around that a little with emoticons, but it's still easy to misunderstand or read too much into a comment (or lack thereof). And we don't really know where each other is coming from. We don't have a long enough history with each other.

It helps me keep perspective to remember that I have a friend who knows me better than anyone else does, who knows my innermost thoughts and dreams, who knows his plans for me, plans to prosper me and not to harm me (see Jer. 29:11). This is the friend I need to trust most of all, who will lead me where I need to be and will open doors (or close them) in my best interests and to his greater glory.

I enjoy this online community of fellow believers and writers that I've found, and I'm learning a lot from them, but my Lord is the best friend I'll ever have.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Revenge of Bremner

I reread my post from yesterday and began to suspect I used the word "careen" incorrectly. So I checked Words on Words (by John Bremner) and discovered the error of my ways. To quote that esteemed (and late) editing professor at KU:
CAREEN/CAREER/CAROM: The differences in meaning can be seen from the differences in derivation. Careen comes from Latin carina, a ship's keel, and means to sway from side to side. Career comes from French carriere, a racecourse, and means to move forward at high speed. Carom comes from French carambole, the red ball in billiards, and means to strike and rebound. So: "The car careered down the turnpike, careened across the median and caromed of the retaining fence."

Working With Words (Brooks, Pinson, Wilson; 4th edition, Bedford/St. Martin's) agree with Bremner (I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't teach one or all of them).

I really need my own copy of Bremner's book -- I can't keep it out of the KSU library forever (only three months at a time with my faculty ID).

Now that I think about it, maybe I do mean careen, in the sense of swaying from side to side. Or maybe I mean career, because I move quickly from one subject to the next. I don't think I mean carom. (I haven't bounced off myself yet!)

This is what happens when you're an editor. Last summer I got to spend a week with 17 other copy editors at UNC and it was a blast. If you don't understand how much fun a bunch of word geeks can have when unchained from their desks, well, you're not a copy editor. By the way, I'm the one in the red sleeveless shirt standing on the right, looking over the shoulder of the girl at the computer.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Navel gazing or what?

Here's a good quote:
It seems to me that the problem with diaries, and the reason that most of them are so boring, is that every day we vacillate between examining our hangnails and speculating on cosmic order. ~Ann Beattie, Picturing Will, 1989

This struck me because of this blogging thing I do now. I find I like to post entries to my blog. It's almost a compulsion. A blog I read fairly regularly pondered this question and that's what got me thinking about it.

So why DO I write for my blog? I've discovered that I like getting comments. (Of course, so far, people have said nice things.) I think I like exercising my voice. I think it helps me clarify my thoughts. I've always wanted to write a regular column, but never had the chance. I suppose it's rather self-indulgent, but it's also good practice. I know I careen wildly back and forth between serious thoughts on writing and random thoughts on life. I figure at some point I'll mature as a blogger and be more consistent. But so far, this is fun.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Striving for Excellence

I just finished reading an archived post from The Master's Artist. J. Mark Bertrand posits 4 theses on writing from a Christian worldview. You need to read it to get the flavor of Mark in full rant. But it's a good rant and (as his writing usually does) it both comforts and challenges me. It comforts because it's good to know there are people who think like I do -- that Christian art needs to be excellent. It challenges because I know I'm not there yet.

I've mentioned two of my favorite books before: To Kill a Mockingbird and The Left Hand of Darkness. Neither of these is a Christian novel. But they are books that are full of truth and are compelling stories well-told. In both novels, characters make the hard choice, do the right thing, at great personal cost to themselves. In The Left Hand of Darkness, a character makes the ultimate sacrifice, laying down his life for his friend. While neither book preaches, you can't help but understand that doing the right thing is worth it, no matter the cost.

That's what I want to write.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Got a pocketful ...

of really fun music. I'm listening to the Spin Doctors -- right now it's Jimmy Olsen's Blues. Very fun song. [I think Jimmy Olsen must have been Norwegian (the 'e' instead of 'o'). I know this because here in Kansas there are a lot of people of Swedish descent.]

Anyway, I haven't listened to the Spin Doctors in quite a while. Don't know why -- it's cool music. Maybe I should listen to this while I write (along with Collective Soul -- for some reason these two groups go together in my mind). It might help me keep moving along better.

I tried to write today. Actually, I tried to rewrite. The more I reread my novel, the more I realize it needs LOTS of work. It needs to be tighter, to get to the action quicker. I think I like the first writing better than rewriting -- rewriting is necessary, but it feels more like work and it's easy to procrastinate.

No more deep thoughts. I'll groove to Chris Barron instead.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Which will it be?

Today I read excellent thoughts on grace and excellence at two blogs I often read. First, Jeanne's comments at The Master's Artist (the April 7 post) talks about being a Welch's grape juice Christian or a fine wine Christian -- and how that is reflected in our writing. I confess that too often I'm a grape juice (or maybe grape soda) Christian. And yet I want to be more. But I know that when I ask God to make me more, he does that. But the process of becoming more is often hard and painful. Jeanne says it better than I do, but her comments reminded me of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's costly grace vs. cheap grace. The grace is always there (Romans 6), but if we want to truly reap the benefits of life in Christ, we must let grace produce a change in us. I'm not saying we can earn grace. There is nothing we can do that could possibly make us deserving of God's grace and forgiveness. But how can we go on living the same when we're recipients of that wonderful grace? And yet, too often we -- I -- do. The other excellent discussion along these lines is at Mick Silva's blog, My Writer's Group. Read the two posts together and you'll have your devotion for the day.

So my question now is, How can we illustrate the fullness of God's grace for our readers in fresh and original ways? I'm not talking about thinly disguised sermons. God reveals himself in amazing ways all around us, and often in the ways we least expect. So why should we try to write God in a box?

I've been working on a short story -- it's a character study, really, of characters in my novel, set earlier in their lives. But I wrote it from the viewpoint of a 5-year-old boy who's had a bad day and been disciplined. At the end of the day he feels he doesn't deserve the special treat they had for dessert. But his father, who isn't a godly man at the time, understands that we all have days when we don't measure up. And special treats still have their place on those days. So the little boy gets his dessert. When the boy grows up, he remembers this little lesson in grace. I'm not sure, but I think a story like that is something we can all relate to and if I can do it well enough, it won't beat people over the head, but will still show a glimpse of God's truth.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

New look

I've changed the look (template) I'm using for this, mostly for a technical reason. I'm not terribly adept at html and the template I had used (Scribe) looked cool but didn't have a links section. I could have added one, but I decided to look for a template that had the links already. So I found this. I rather like it. And it's pretty easy to add links to this template.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Some random thoughts

God is not limited by a constitutional amendment (or lack thereof).

My son Tim will be 17 on Friday, May 13 (the day he was born was also a Friday the 13th). Those are both prime numbers. Interesting.

Go Illini. Even though I live in Kansas, I was born in Illinois, so that's one good reason; two, Bill Self, KU's current coach, came here from Illinois; and, three, Roy Williams abandoned KU for North Carolina.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Making Characters Authentic

Over at the Faith*in*Fiction discussion board there's been discussion about themes in Christian books. One of the challenges we face is keeping our characters authentic. By that I mean that they are honest about their struggles, but also honest about how they deal with them, honest about their faith. I think authenticity in characters can help illuminate areas such as judgementalism, the damage gossip can do, acceptance of people who are different -- all areas where the church doesn't always hold up a shining example to the world.

I guess one of the books that comes to mind, maybe because of the Pope's last days, is In This House of Brede, by Rumer Godden. It's set in a Benedictine monastery in the 1950s and early 1960s. One of the things about this book that I like is that the characters, all nuns, are portrayed as real people, with real struggles. They don't alway like each other or agree with each other, but they love each other, agape love, which allows them to work through their differences. It's not "Christian" literature, but it's a story with characters whose faith is essential to who they are.