Friday, May 27, 2005
First, the Internet Monk had a good post yesterday about Christian books and marketing. Follow his link to Tim Challies' article, too. Both articles are enlightening.
Mick Silva ponders the Christian writing revolution some more in his latest post at My Writer's Group. He says, much more eloquently than I can, that we should focus on being the best writers we can be and let God do the rest.
Have a good weekend and good week.
Thursday, May 26, 2005
But even as I applaud the concept, I wish that the Carnegie and Knight foundations would consider funneling some of this funding to the schools most future journalists actually attend. Be real. The majority of the next generation of journalists will not be attending Columbia, Northwestern or Berkley. They'll be at places like the University of Missouri or Kansas State University (or any other of a number of state universities around the country that have journalism programs). For example: K-State's A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications has 600 undergraduate journalism majors. It's the largest program in the College of Arts & Sciences (this statistic is from the lastest issue of Alumni Update, the magazine for School of Journalism alumni). Missouri has a nationally recognized journalism program. Many smaller schools train the journalists who work at the average daily newspaper you find in cities and towns around the country.
Sure, improving training at some of the elite schools may have an effect at the elite media level. Except that the larger the news organization, the more entrenched the old ways are. But meanwhile, professors and newspaper advisors at most schools deal with funding crises, meddlesome administrations and crumbling facilities. And new journalists go out into the world to work long hours for low pay, little recognition and, these days, face lots of criticism. For this ambitious project to have real effect in the practice of journalism, news organizations are going to have to be willing to make some changes, too. We'll see what happens.
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
Read My Writer's Group today. Go ahead, do it now; I'll wait for you. As always, Mick Silva has nailed his subject on the head.
Another thing worth reading today is William F. Buckley's essay for the NPR series "This I Believe." He's a good example of what some of the comments on Mick's thoughts mention -- faith and intellect can exist in the same person.
On a less serious note:
Infuze has posted a very cool teaser trailer for the upcoming Chronicles of Narnia movie "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" here. You can choose your viewing media and download size. From what I saw, it was impressive. I thought it looked like I've always pictured Narnia and the music was great. I'm beginning to look forward to this. I think the movie comes out in November.
I'm probably a little behind the curve, but I found a cool site today: BoingBoing. It truly is a directory of wonderful things!
And tonight I will abandon myself to shameless couch-pototohood and watch the 2-hour finale of American Idol. Go Bo! (I've always had a soft spot for Southern rockers.)
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
I'm not going to tell you that you should read Gilead. Telling people they should read a book has always seemed to me like telling them they should eat their lima beans. It only awakens resistance in the people you're telling. But if you want to read it, I think you'll be glad.
And here's a bit of good news about Gilead: Christianity Today has honored it with its 2005 Book Award for Fiction.
Monday, May 23, 2005
And I've always loved certain hymns: "Great is Thy Faithfulness," "My Hope Is Built." God often brings hymns to mind that remind me of his goodness and point my attitude in a better direction.
But one song that I've been able to identify with as I worked toward my graduate degree and then started writing is "Won't Back Down" by Tom Petty. ("I'll stand my ground, won't be turned around, and I'll keep this world from draggin' me down, gonna stand my ground, and I won't back down." "Well I know what's right, I got just one light, in a world that keeps on pushin' me around, gonna stand my ground...) I like to sing along (if I'm alone) and then I always feel encouraged to keep trying.
So, what's your theme song?
And here's a reading tip ...
One of my regular stops in the blogosphere is Brenda Coulter's blog, No rules. Just write.
(Thanks to Brenda, who is a big Terry Teachout fan, I've also discovered his blog where he writes about the arts and makes rather interesting observations about writing and life, as well.) But back to Brenda, who does her own interesting writing about the writer's life. I must confess, though, that I've never read any of her books, because I've never been a big inspirational romance fan. But, life is all about new experiences, right? And I like her voice. So I may have to broaden my reading horizons.
Friday, May 20, 2005
OK, I know that's kind of obvious, but I was a 17-year-old kid with a fairly narrow experience in life. My forensics coach seemed to think that I was thinking pretty deeply when I shared this thought with her.
The thing is, for a lot of us, we never really develop the ability to think outside ourselves and our own narrow viewpoint.
This is dangerous for everybody, but especially for Christians and even more so for Christian writers. You see, as writers, our basic inclination is to live inside our own heads. But this shortens our perspective; we forget that the woman we see in the grocery store is going home and will have to put away all those groceries and fix dinner and maybe argue with her husband -- or maybe not. But she'll have a life that goes on -- and maybe it's a life we need to care about. But living inside my head, I won't find that out. Living inside my head, I won't be exposed to new ideas, won't be challenged to step outside my comfort zone.
What I like about blogging and visiting the Faith in Fiction message board is that I'm being challenged by different minds. I don't agree with all of them, but they're my brothers and sisters in Christ and I'm often reminded that their lives continue after they step away from their computers. It helps me remember that we share a common interest in writing, but we've been shaped by different experiences in life and faith. This diversity is stimulating, if not always comfortable.
It's tempting to always seek out ideas that fit our own. It's tempting to only pay attention to news sources that reinforce our view of the world. It's tempting to circle the wagons around our comfortable way of life and not consider that another perspective might be valuable and even instructive.
Next week the fourth edition of the Celebration of New Christian Fiction will be posted over at Chris Mikesell's blog. (Here's a link to the April edition.) I don't know who all will have entries, but I will have one of them. Read some of them and let your perspective be widened to see some of the ways God is at work in Christian artists.
Then, leave your computer, go outside, and let God open your eyes and heart some more.
Thursday, May 19, 2005
"Every writer is a frustrated actor who recites his lines in the hidden auditorium of his skull."
* Rod Serling
And here's another good thing: Bo and Carrie are in the finals for American Idol! I'm happy.
And here's this to add to what I posted about the Newsweek episode: David Brooks' column in today's New York Times (you'll have to register if you're not already). He makes good points.
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Roy Peter Clark, at Poynter, has a good take on the issue of media ethics and makes a good case for what he calls Green Light ethics. He says:
Green Light ethics would:
- Emphasize power and duty, over caution and restraint.
- Consider "how to" rather than "ought not."
- Focus on opportunities rather than limits.
- Pay more attention to virtues and heroes than to vices and villains.
- Use ingenuity and craft to get things in rather than keep things out.
- View American journalism as too timid rather than too aggressive.
But surely a story like the Newsweek debacle lends itself to Red Light remediation.Red Light says: Let's back off. Green Light says: Let's pin it down.
Monday morning I heard Jonathan Alter of Newsweek make a case for the kind of reporting that resulted in a poorly sourced story that may have led to the loss of life. The world of journalism, he argued in a radio interview, has just a few news organizations willing to delve into the world of government secrets. Do we want to live in a world where all of our information is spoon-fed to us by those in power? Or do we need journalists to take serious risks to find out what we need to know? He was making, I would argue, a Green Light case, even for a story the possible consequences of which required higher standards of verification.
To me, this emphasizes even more the importance of a variety of voices in the news. Not all CNN or all FOX or all NPR, but multiple news organizations, owned by different companies, doing the hard work of telling the truth and keeping our government honest. I know, my idealism is showing. But that's what makes the best journalists and I'm hoping there are still some of those out there.
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
So, today I got a rejection. It was a nice rejection, with a suggestion for ways to strengthen my story. And, in fact, among the weaknesses the editor cited was one that I had become aware of myself. I had already started rewriting to deal with that issue. So I feel like I've begun moving in the right direction.
Still, a rejection is a rejection and I'm feeling a bit bummed. Oh well. I'll keep working on it and try to make it better. When life throws you lemons, right … ? I wonder if editors ever reconsider a manuscript after it's been significantly rewritten (some months or even years later)?
And in other news, tonight American Idol gets narrowed down to the last two. I'm rooting for Bo and Carrie!
There are truths here -- they unfold on every page and I feel like I should be taking notes. But the narrator pulls me along and I don't want to stop. Then I find myself reading too fast so I slow down to savor the thoughts and words. Reading this book is like sitting with an elderly relative or friend and listening as he unravels the thread of his life.
Here's one gem: "For me writing has always felt like praying, even when I wasn't writing prayers, as I am often enough. You feel that you are with someone."
I'm reading a library copy, but I'm going to have to buy it because I know I'll want to read it again.
Monday, May 16, 2005
Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Call Me the Breeze" is a good one to add to that list, too, and you have to have "Freebird" for a good road trip. I would include "Evenflow" by Pearl Jam and "Superunknown" by Soundgarden. (Rock is rock, after all. Throw in some Foo Fighters while you're at it.) And Sandford has neglected to include anything by the Doors! So I would add the full version of "Light my Fire."
“Now we have to ask ourselves, What’s going on here? When did the Episcopal liturgy change and become so thoroughly participatory? How is it that a Pentecostal church follows the fourfold patter of the ancient church and uses some of the prayers from the Book of Common Prayer?
“I think that the best way to explain this phenomenon is as a convergence of worship, a blending of the traditional with the contemporary. For our purposes, it demonstrates that there is no such thing as one style.
“The content of worship, which is the story of God’s redeeming work in Jesus Christ, is absolutely nonnegotiable. The structure of worship — which proclaims and enacts the story and thus creates a meeting between God and God’s people in which a relationship is established, maintained and repaired — is rooted in Scripture and common experience. But the style of worship — traditional, contemporary, convergence, Black, Spanish or some other style — is totally dependent on the cultural heritage and preference of the worshiping community.”
Elsewhere he describes the four acts: entrance, Word, table, dismissal.
Here’s what Paul says in Rom. 12: 1, 2:
I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (NASB)
What does this mean for me as a writer? Certainly, in other places Paul says we are to do everything for the Lord (Col. 3:17). Living our lives for God, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us, is an act of worship.
So whatever I write could be considered an act of worship. But what about the content? Does this preclude some types of content? If what I write is consistent with “the story of God’s redeeming work in Jesus Christ” then I would think that almost any kind of story could be acceptable. But I need to be careful that I don't try to put my own ideas of what is acceptable in place of what God desires for my writing.
I'm just beginning to digest what this could mean. I suspect God has a lot to teach me in this area.
Saturday, May 14, 2005
Here's Megan with the banner she carried at baccalaureate and at graduation. She finished a year as student body vice-president this year and banner-carrying was her last official job. The past student body president carried a staff with a cross on it.
Baccalaureate was at the Church of All Saints Basilica. It's huge and beautiful.
And here's some of the family after graduation.
Flickr lets you add notes to the picture; just roll your mouse over the little box in the upper left corner and you'll see what I mean.
Friday, May 13, 2005
That's what's been happening lately for me. I've come across blogs and Web sites that seem to be just what I've been needing to push my creativity, to spark ideas, to show me a better way. Most of them are listed in the sidebar and I visit them nearly every day. I don't feel that I can afford to attend any writer's conferences or workshops, but some days I feel like I'm getting a mini-workshop just from comments and tips I find elsewhere. (I also find it terribly encouraging to know that there are some truly gifted writers out there who are still looking for a publisher.)
So I feel like I've begun (just begun, mind you) to have some dialogue with minds that challenge me and make me think through why I want to write and what I want to write and how I want to write it.
You see, I've wondered for a long time if there was any way that I could use my abilities for God. I think I had some grand idea of someday becoming editor of Christianity Today or something like that. That's not likely to happen, but I've come to think more and more in the last few years that whatever I do can be for God, in fact it should be for God. So even my editing of 4-H publications is for God (which reminds that I need to get back to work).
And I hope that, as I try to do this thing -- writing -- the best I can for him, he'll confirm whether or not this is in his will for me. That seems very vague and uncertain, but God doesn't often hang a banner out and tell me "Do this now." Though I will digress a moment and tell the story of how, about 3 years ago, when I was job hunting and really had no idea where I would end up, I jokingly said pretty much that very thing: "God's not likely to hang a banner out saying 'apply here.' " Except he sort of did. I got a phone call from an editor who had heard I was job hunting and so I ended up getting a job at The Daily Union. And I believe that that's where God wanted me to be for a while. And then he opened the door to the job I have now.
Sometimes I feel like I'm walking down a hallway with many doors on either side. I follow the hallway and try different doors. Some open and some don't. This is a flawed analogy, but my point is that I believe that God doesn't always tell me what door to try, but he confirms my choices in ways that I can understand. I trust that if God wants me to be a published author, he'll confirm that choice along the way. If not, I'll probably keep writing because I find it helps me think, but I can accept that publication isn't in his will.
If my thinking seems muddled, it's because I'm still walking down that hallway. "Now we see through a glass darkly... ." I'm willing to trust God for what lies at the end.
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
"I think we ought to only read the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? . . . We would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us." —Franz Kafka, Letters to Friends, Family, and Editors
I suppose I write (and read) first for myself. The last sentence of that quote speaks to me: "A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us." My internal life has always been a significant part of who I am. I've always had an active imagination and had imaginary friends much longer than anyone else I knew. I suppose I was a weird kid, but my parents loved me so it was OK. I learned to rely on my inner resources as a refuge from the kids who picked on me in grade school. That's OK, too, because I think I have more empathy for people who feel like outcasts and I know that a person doesn't have to be popular to have value.
So I told myself stories. I told myself stories for many years, but I didn't usually write them down. I'm not sure why — did I think they were too unrealistic? I remember my mom saying that of one of my childish attempts at writing. She meant well, but I think that put a damper on my desire to write things. I wrote awful, love-lorn poetry in high school. I wrote research papers and essays for school and usually was praised for my writing ability. But I didn't write stories. They just lived in my head, where I could take them out and tell them to myself whenever I wanted.
I read voraciously all this time, as well. Some of the books that stayed with me had some of the effect that Kafka describes. I began to get a sense of what a story can do by reading To Kill a Mockingbird, The Hobbit and The Lord of Rings, Alas, Babylon (which totally sucked me into the post-nuclear-holocaust world it describes), The Left Hand of Darkness, The Chronicles of Narnia.
I grew up, got married, had children, finished college, moved, had more children, began learning to be thankful in whatever state I'm in — and continued to tell myself stories.
(OK, coming is some blunt language -- just giving you some advance warning.)
But eventually I realized that just telling myself stories was only half the job. Imagining and thinking is an important part of writing — essential to writing, I believe — but if that's all you ever do it's only so much mental masturbation. It's enjoyable, but not productive or creative.
I don't know if this realization that I needed to either put this stuff down on paper or quit thinking about it was a call from God or not. I did come to believe that God didn't want me to waste my time on unproductive fantasy. I do believe that he gave me the ability and the desire to write. So I did it. I started writing. I started and scrapped several different versions of my current manuscript, Secrets in Connors Grove. I had the characters, but it took a while to find the best story to tell.
And now that I've told one story, I want to tell more. I've had these characters living in my head for a long time and they have more things they want to say. So I'm trying to let them. I still tell myself stories, but now after I've thought about it a while, I put it down on the page. And Kafka was right. It's the axe for the frozen sea inside me.
Even Flow (Pearl Jam)
Don't Stop Believin' (Journey)
Are You Gonna Be My Girl (Jet)
Kickstart My Heart (Mötley Crüe)
Slow Ride (Foghat)
Any Way You Want It (Journey)
Bang a Gong (Get It On) (T. Rex)
Won't Get Fooled Again (The Who)
Ohio (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
Rockin' In the Free World (Neil Young)
She Sells Sanctuary (The Cult)
Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)
Evil Ways (Santana)
I'll Stick Around (Foo Fighters)
Fire Woman (The Cult)
Monday, May 09, 2005
The thought occured to me one day while I was in Chicago that children continue to grow, even after they can officially be called adults. And I realized that's how it should be. It's a process and at any one time, I shouldn't look at them and decide "they're finished." In fact, they should never be "finished" (at least not this side of heaven). And I can't be impatient with the process — it happens gradually and in fits and starts. And I realized that part of the process is growing away, as well as growing up. But then, after they've separated themselves from their parents sufficiently to know themselves better, they start growing back toward you. And it's wonderful.
Thursday, May 05, 2005
Yesterday afternoon, Megan had lots of graduation stuff to do, so Julia and I decided to go find a movie theater. We got directions, rode the El and then sort of got lost. We weren't truly lost, because we knew where the train stop was at all times. But we couldn't find the theater at first. So we walked around for a while. Then we found the street with the theater. It's in a shopping district called Lincoln Square -- it's a neat street. Once we found the theater, we realized we had 45 minutes or so till the movie started, so we walked back to a used bookstore we had passed. It's called Books and it's wonderful. It's a tiny little store, but it's crammed to overflowing with books -- canyons and cul de sacs of books. You wander around among the shelves and find yourself in odd little corners and there's hardly any room to turn around and Julia and I were in heaven.
After the bookstore, we went to the movie -- The Interpreter with Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn. We both enjoyed it. I enjoyed the way the story was told -- it revealed layers of the characters as the movie progressed. It wasn't perfect, but it was a nice change from overly simplistic thrillers. It was suspenseful and exciting in places, but it didn't sacrifice the story for the action.
Besides the bookstore and the movie, it was really nice to spend time with Julia. It's been a long time since we've just hung out together. I think that's going to be the best part of this trip -- spending time with my daughters and enjoying the women they've become.
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
Here's my results:
| You scored as Verbal/Linguistic. You have highly developed auditory skills, enjoy reading and writing and telling stories, and are good at getting your point across. You learn best by saying and hearing words. People like you include poets, authors, speakers, attorneys, politicians, lecturers and teachers.|
The Rogers Indicator of Multiple Intelligences
created with QuizFarm.com
At any rate, we should all be together for Megan's graduation and it should be a fun time. I'll probably get emotional and I suspect Megan will, too. And maybe my mom and Julia. Maybe all of us. Megan's not the youngest, but she is the youngest daughter and she's still her daddy's "peanut" (whether she wants to admit it or not).
Megan's sojourn at North Park has flown by. I know it's cliche, but just because it is doesn't mean it's not true. It doesn't feel like it's been almost four years since the day I left her at school. Julia got married on Aug. 18, 2001, and then four days later I moved Megan to Chicago. It is an understatement to say I was feeling a little stressed. But after I got in the car to leave, it started to rain and I realized that I was going to have to drive out of Chicago alone, in the rain, during rush hour. But I made it and I'm not nearly so terrified of driving in a big city now. (What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?) That was only the beginning of epic drives at the beginning and end of the school year. Now it's the last epic drive (well, it's not exactly a drive since I'm flying, but you know what I mean). Megan will be out on her own and making her way in the world.That's how it should be, but I'll probably cry a little anyway. Not all tears are bad ...
So if I don't blog anymore this week, you'll know why. :)
Monday, May 02, 2005
Today, I want to share a quote that just jumped out at me.
"The stance of the evangelical tradition — one person seeking God alone, without priests, icons, or other mediators — peculiarly fits the temperment of the writer. ... in the end I must sort things out in solitude, introspectively, with blank sheets of paper on which to record my thoughts. This creates its own hazards, for the Christian life is not meant to be lived by a person sitting alone thinking about the Christian life."
It seems to often go with the territory that writers are observers. Dorothy Sayers talks about this in her novel Gaudy Night. Being able to distance oneself from the action allows a writer the distance to see more objectively, but that very distance can keep a writer from being an active participant in life.
On the way to work this morning I was listening to Phil Keaggy. He has a song called World of Mine. He sings "Standin' on the corner, watchin' as the world goes by; Sometimes I connect and sometimes I reflect and cry; to see myself in a wounded heart, and be of help if I can do my part, to be a flicker in this fallen dark world of mine."
I think too often I'm the one standing on the corner and watching the world go by instead of being the flicker of light to the fallen world. It's easy to sit in front of my computer and think about how people live and try to write a story about it. It's harder to go out into the world and be involved in it.
In my writing life, it's not so hard to write a story, but then to send it out somewhere — that's harder. That means it's going out beyond the circle of my little writer's group that generally praises my writing. Someone else just might read it and consider it absolute dreck. (I don't think it's dreck, but I'm not a terribly experienced writer and I suspect it shows.)
But writing for just myself has limitations. It can help me clarify my thoughts, but it can also be a self-reinforcing exercise. Without feedback from a disinterested party, I really don't know what I need to do to improve my writing. I can get some sense of what's lacking by reading other people's good writing, but that's still not a critique of my own work. If God wants me to write, and I think he does, then he wants me to do the best that I can and that can only happen with some feedback from editors or other writers who aren't afraid to tell me what works and what doesn't.
So this morning I sent a story off to Infuze Magazine (an online mag). We'll see what the marketplace thinks of The Long Way Home.
There's a lot of food for thought in Yancy's book. This is just some of it.