Friday, July 29, 2005

This is just cool

BoingBoing links to a very cool flash poem, "Why do you stay up so late?".

On Middle Earth and other stuff

Here's a neat tidbit: on this day in 1954, The Fellowship of the Ring was published. I'm thinking it's time to pay another visit to Middle Earth. The Lord of the Rings envelopes me in its world, but it also challenges me. I wrote about this a couple of years ago for The Daily Union and I've posted that column here.

While you're reading, Mark's post for The Master's Artist today is thought-provoking and enlightening. He reminds me that we serve a God who is not tame, not safe, but he is good.

Let me also direct you to an article by Chip Scanlon at Poynter, "The Sound on the Page: An Interview with Ben Yagoda." It's about finding your voice as a writer and includes links to more resources.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Thursday reading

I found this yesterday at the Annals of Improbably Research: Better-than-zero essay competition. This is a perfect example of why "military intelligence" is an oxymoron.

Here's a totally bizarre story from the Topeka Capital-Journal: Man's amputated foot returned to him after police seize it.

Paula Rader was granted an emergency divorce. Unless you've followed the story, you may not know she's the wife (of 34 years) of the man who confessed to being the BTK serial killer. She's spent most of the time since her husband was arrested in seclusion. Dennis Rader will be sentenced on Aug. 17 for the 10 murders he confessed to; none of those murders were committed while the death penalty was in effect in Kansas. The Wichita Eagle has covered the story extensively and you can read more here.

And, finally, some kids fishing near Wichita found a freaky fish.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

What are we so afraid of?

Why are writers and artists so touchy? Are our egos so fragile that they crumble at the slightest hint of criticism? Is it self-indulgence? I've known too many writers who are so in love with every word they write that they feel they've been attacked when someone suggests it could be improved.

Why are Christian artists super-sensitive to criticism? Don't we understand our worth comes from God? Why do we feel it's un-Christian to criticize -- or critique -- the work of our fellow artists?

Our reluctance to give or accept criticism dooms us to mediocrity. Growth only comes through experience and hard work and even adversity, not through effusive praise and blind acceptance.

When you build a bookcase, for example, you don't just hammer the rough boards together any old way. Oh you could, but the result would be shaky and you'd probably not display it proudly in your living room. Instead, you measure and cut and sand and varnish so that the final result is attractive and serviceable and doesn't give you splinters every time you touch it.

We should craft our prose just as carefully. I've learned that often others see the flaws and splinters I've missed in my writing. I'm a better writer because of it. I hope that if my book is ever published, I won't assume that now I've arrived and be offended when someone disagrees with that assessment. I hope I'll be able to accept and learn from honest, constructive criticism.

Mick talks about the need for building our craft in a two-part post here and here. As always, he's illuminated this subject much better than I.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

So what kind of rocker are YOU?

You Are a Freedom Rocker!

You're stuck in the 70s - for better or worse
Crazy hair, pot soaked clothes, and tons of groupies
Your kind showed the world how to rock
Is that freedom rock?... Well turn it up man!

Yep, that's me (except for the pot and groupies thing) -- what about you? Leave a comment and tell me about it. And take the quiz -- it's fun and short.

Feel like a sandwich?

I'm not referring to the delicious turkey sandwich I just finished. I'm talking about parents getting older. Terry Teachout's post today made me think more about this. I talked to my mom last night -- she had the cataract on her right eye removed yesterday and the one on her left eye will be removed next week. A few weeks ago she had surgery on her wrist for carpal tunnel problems and she recently hurt her knee, but that doesn't look like it will need surgery. They both have an assortment of chronic ailments that slow them down physically. The truth is, they're showing their age. I don't know why that surprises me.

But I have a lot to be thankful for, too. They're able to be active and they're sharp and involved in life. Mom still works in the church office and Dad, though retired, still stays busy. But they're 500 miles away and it would be nice to be able to look in on them from time to time. But we still have kids at home and we have jobs and it's hard to get away. I feel guilty even saying that, but it's true. So far, there's no way around this, but maybe someday ...

Monday, July 25, 2005

Dog days everywhere

Here's a poem that perfectly describes the weather here, as well as in Chicago:

Dog Days in Chicago

It's so darn hot we start to whine.
We growl and show our teeth.
Those fire hydrants beckon us.
They offer some relief.

They're called dog days because they are.
We want to just play dead.
This weather makes it hard to work.
We'd rather sleep instead.

These steamy days are for the dogs.
They make us pant and drool.
Our tails are down and will not wag
until it's finally cool.

by Greg Asimakoupoulos

(Greg, otherwise known as AwesomeRev, is a minister in Illinois and also a columnist for the Partial Observer)

Friday, July 22, 2005

Speak the truth in love

"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Eph. 4:15)

Have you ever thought about how hard it is to put that verse into practice? Especially the part about speaking the truth in love. Several things this week have brought this to mind. Maybe it's the heat or maybe it's just the general crankiness of the age, but there is something less than harmony at work.

It's not that I think everyone should always agree. I don't -- it's not possible and not even desirable. The verses leading up to verse 15 talk about the body of Christ. Its many parts, with their different functions, join together to form one body.

It's an image that is both encouraging and discouraging at the same time. Encouragement comes in knowing that as a part of the body I have gifts to use for the kingdom. But I'm often discouraged by how the members of the body squabble among themselves, inflicting hurt and fostering discord.

All those different parts of the body often have a hard time recognizing the value of the parts different from themselves. But in our very diversity is our greatest strength. The different gifts work together and complete each other so that the church (ideally) can function most effectively. That's the picture Paul gives in this chapter, as well as in other places in Romans and 1 Corinthians.

It seems to me that the truth-speaking comes in as a means of holding one another accountable. And I think most of us would rather be the one speaking the truth -- or at least what we think is the truth -- than the one hearing the truth, because the truth often makes us uncomfortable or is downright painful.

And under the guise of speaking truth, we often justify all kinds of hurt. But there's another side to this -- we can be so convinced that what we are hearing is only meant to hurt and tear down that we refuse to recognize the truth when we hear it. (And how do we recognize truth, anyway? Through the Word and the work of the Holy Spirit, for starters.)

I'll admit that I am more likely to be guilty of the latter reaction. My response to criticism is often to get defensive and God has to put some pressure on me before I'll see the truth.

So where am I going with this? I see these kind of disagreements all around -- in politics, in debate about what the church is supposed to look like or what kind of music we use in our worship services, and in discussions about Christian fiction. I see people hesitate to speak from the passion of their hearts because they fear being misinterpreted. I see people tired of armchair critics tearing away at their hard work.

But I believe there is room for discussion and differences of opinion about everything I've mentioned above. There is room for God's truth spoken in love.

There is not room for defensive digging in of our heels and closing our ears and humming loudly.

We all need to grow up in Christ.

(Rant over now. Have a nice weekend.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

One small step ...

I was 11 (almost 12) during the summer of 1969 and I watched the moon landing on July 20 with eager anticipation. If you want to relive your memories (or make new ones if you're too young to remember it), check out the panoramic shots the astronauts took with special cameras. They've been made into QuickTime movies with sound and are very cool. The site links to NASA sites about the moon landings if you want to do more research. You'll also find a link there to Google Moon, which maps where the different moon landings took place. Zoom all the way in for a nifty Easter egg.

And somehow it seems appropriate to note today that Scotty has died at age 85, as well as the man who invented TV dinners.

A (virtual) visit by Chris Well

The Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is now at a blog near you. Our first victim … er, uh … guest is Chris Well, author of Forgiving Solomon Long, which was published this spring by Harvest House. Chris has been involved in Christian magazines for a number of years and is now editor of Homecoming Magazine and a contributor to CCM magazine. He's also a lover of comic books, a passion which plays a small supporting role in the novel.

I enjoyed FSL very much so I was glad for the chance to interview Chris and find out more about how the story came to be.

Linda: As I've told you, I really enjoyed Forgiving Solomon Long. The characters were engaging and the story moved along. I always like it when I find a story that takes place in a city I'm at least somewhat familiar with. I've been to Kansas City a time or two, plus I feel a little claim to it since I'm not that far away. So that prompts my first question: Did you ever live in Kansas City or spend a lot of time there?

Chris: Here is one of my deep, dark secrets: I have never been to Kansas City in my life. (I did, however, grow up in Illinois in the shadow of St. Louis. For anyone who might consider that salient.)

How I came to choose Kansas City, Mo., was that I wanted a city that had some character -- but that is not so familiar to readers that it's become cliché.

For example, New York City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Chicago are all great places to have a crime story -- but you read about (or see on television and in film) those same four cities again and again and again. On that count, Kansas City is a city many have heard of, but does not feel overused.

Also, Kansas City is certainly a city that exudes character. Its colorful history reaches in all sorts of directions, from music to literature to animation to, of course, organized crime.

For research, I leaned on a variety of resources, including friends who had lived there, information sent by the KC Chamber of Commerce, and, of course, the Yahoo site.

Of course, it is easy to get overwhelmed by too much research; there was a point where I had to set the folder aside and wing it. I held fast to the principle that a little bit goes a long way -- just drop some references here and there, and let the reader fill in the gaps himself or herself.

Linda: I enjoyed your style of writing, too, and I'm wondering what prepared you to write this book. I guess I'm talking a little about influences, but I'm also talking about writing experiences. I know you've been an editor and I've read some of your stories at Infuze (definitely warped, but interesting), and I know you're a comic book fan – but what about longer forms of fiction? Any early novels lurking in desk drawers?

Chris: I have been writing since the First Grade. Somewhere around junior high, I
started writing short stories and submitting them to magazines (and collecting rejection slips) and pitching story ideas to Marvel Comics and DC Comics (and collecting still more rejection slips).

In high school, I started writing plays and even wrote my first "novel." (Looking back on it now, I see that it was actually just a really, really long short story.)

Most of these, of course, were terrible.

But that is all part of the process: You learn by doing. Every failure is another step toward success. Ray Bradbury said something to the effect of that you write and you write to get all the terrible writing out of your system. (And he has published some 600 stories -- so far -- so he should know what he is talking about.)

In college, I also started writing scripts for radio dramas and motion pictures. (I like to think these were less terrible than the earlier stuff.)

I also in the past couple of years worked on a comic book/ audio drama project called Mammoth City Messengers, which was nigh brilliant. But the project became a victim of record label shuffling and sort of fell through the cracks.

My day job these past 10 years or so has been in the magazine business as an editor, learning the craft from another direction. Honing a sense of timing, of drama, of the rhythm of language. Learning how to delete all the unnecessary words, and leave in all the necessary ones.

It's not so much that I have "arrived" at where I want to be as a writer, but I feel like my time in magazines gave me a head start.

For any aspiring writers, I would say that NO writing is ever a waste. It's all about learning how to control the language to tell your story.

Linda: I think somewhere you talked about how you came to publish the first
book with Harvest House, but I don't remember where. Could you briefly tell me how the relationship with this publisher developed? Did you already know an editor there or have some other contact?

Chris: This sort of story is different for every author. In my particular case, I got to know some of the good people of Harvest House years earlier, through my job as editor of a magazine that covered Christian books. During one particular conversation, the acquisitions editor said, "I think you should write a book."

For several years, I was too busy to follow his suggestion, but in the back of my mind I was always thinking of possible story ideas.

Then, in 2002, when my employer went out of business -- I suddenly had some time on my hands. I sent him three different one-sentence plot ideas. He picked the one he thought was most interesting -- "A hit man is haunted by a preacher's dying words: 'I forgive you.'" -- and I developed it into a full synopsis and some sample chapters.

It took maybe another year and some stern rewriting before he was confident that the presentation was ready to show the publishing board. They liked what they saw, and signed me up for two books.

That first book (what we now call Forgiving Solomon Long) was due in June 2004 (about eight months from the time we signed the contract, about two years from the time I started writing it), and was in bookstores January 2005.

The second book is now due in a few weeks, with a targeted release date of March 2006.

Linda: I've read about you signing the five (I think that's right) book deal with Harvest House and that's great. But do you feel some pressure with that? Are there tentative publications dates you're working toward?

Chris: Based on the early response to Forgiving Solomon Long, Harvest House and I started talking about extending the relationship to five novels. One is due each year through 2009.

It is a somewhat daunting place to be -- I plan to work through some different narrative structures for the next three books, to try and keep the experience fresh. Since it takes a year or so to write a regular novel, trying out something new inside that same timeframe is a little frightening. But my theory is that if you don't keep stretching beyond your grasp, at least a little, you stop growing.

Of course, I reserve the right to change my answer in a year ...

Linda: I know you're working on the second book (which I understand is not strictly a sequel, but does have some of the same characters) – what about the other books you'll need to write? Do you have a plan or a story arc?

Chris: At the moment, we plan for all five of them to fit together into a set. I am hesitant to call them "sequels," because they will all be stand-alones, but with a few recurring characters.

But since we are talking about 2007, 2008 and 2009 -- that is a long time from now -- the plan could change.

Linda: Thanks, Chris, for indulging my curiosity. I appreciate the time you took to answer my questions. Now everybody else, go read Forgiving Solomon Long.

You can find the book here: Forgiving Solomon Long

And you can find links to press releases, interviews and a sample chapter at Chris's web site.

You can find his blog at any of these fine places:

(I meant to use Chris's picture but forgot, so I added it today -- 7.21.05)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

It's celebration time!

Paula Moldenhauer is the host for this month's Christian Fiction Celebration. You can find links to some wonderful thoughts about art and the writer's inner life here. My entry is from last week: Be fearless. Take the time to read these and reflect on how you can be more authentic with God and with your readers.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Good stuff for Monday

Scot McKnight, author of the The Jesus Creed and another Covenant blogger, talks about resisting the temptation to tell "clean" stories about the Christian life instead of showing the realities of grace. Good post and it's good to know that it's not only devotees of Faith in Fiction who are thinking such things.

Mick Silva is back with a thought-provoking post about the stories, as well.

Probably some people think I'm a little old for this, but it truly is an awesome cd.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Coming next week ...

Here's a hint of things to come:

The Celebration is coming. Paula is the host this month and a new set of entries should be up Tuesday.


"A hitman is haunted by a preacher's dying words ..." Yes, Chris Well, author of Forgiving Solomon Long (available wherever crime fiction is sold) will be right here, next week (virtually speaking). I'm part of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, and Chris has graciously consented to be the first ... perhaps victim isn't the appropriate word, but he's the first to get the virtual book tour treatment from this particular group of 20 or so bloggers. He's very kindly answered my questions and I'll have more about FSL next Wednesday.

Music, sweet music

Joe Clifford Faust posted an interesting list of the last 15 songs he's downloaded from iTunes. Which got me to thinking about my downloading habits. The list below is over the last couple of months, including my last free song binge before that contest ended.

I suppose some of the songs on this list say something about when I went to high school, but you have to admit, I have eclectic tastes.

Whipping Post -- The Allman Brothers
La Grange -- ZZ Top
She Talks to Angels -- The Black Crows
Jealous Again -- The Black Crows
Best of You -- Foo Fighters
Even Flow -- Pearl Jam (from Rearview Mirror)
Smells Like Teen Spirit -- Nirvana
She Sells Sanctuary -- The Cult
Evil Ways -- Santana
Fire Woman --The Cult
Your Time Has Come -- Audioslave
A Thousand Miles -- Vanessa Carlton
My Life -- Billy Joel
Piano Man -- Billy Joel
Vehicle -- Bo Bice
That's the Way of the World -- Earth, Wind and Fire
Ain't No Sunshine -- Bill Withers
Use Me -- Bill Withers
Lean on Me -- Bill Withers
Moonlight Feels Right -- Starbuck

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Retreat information

Here's a link to retreat information for the Midwest Covenant Conference Women's Ministries. Our retreat is for the Southern area and there's a downloadable pdf of the brochure. The retreat is Oct. 14-16 at Rock Springs 4-H Conference Center and our speaker is Lisa Orris.

Nobody's perfect ...

Certainly not me! I'm coordinating a women's retreat and discovered yesterday that the brochures we sent out earlier this week left out a significant bit of info -- the dates of the retreat! A-a-a-a-h!!!

After kicking myself thoroughly, I set to work trying to get the correct information out to our contacts in all the Covenant Churches in Kansas and the Kansas City, Mo., area. I sent e-mails, fixed the brochure, made copies at church and then I stayed up pretty late last night addressing envelopes to mail today. I'm hoping that this will work out OK.

But all these things remind me that for anything like this to work and be beneficial, it has to be a God thing. If the retreat is successful -- as God measure success -- it won't really be because of my efforts. In fact, it will definitely be IN SPITE of my efforts.

I wasn't coordinator last year, but I had just come on the retreat board, so I'm really new at this. But I saw a good example of how God can work things to his glory and our benefit with our retreat last year. Our speaker had to cancel at the last minute because of a personal crisis. We had no idea who to ask instead. But someone in the Midwest Conference Women's Ministry board suggested a person, so we asked her. She was a delightful lady named Edna Blake and she was wonderful. In fact, she seemed to say exactly what many people needed to hear.

So I know it doesn't depend on me, but I still feel like an idiot. But today, as I was listening to my Rockin' for Jesus playlist on the way to work I heard more than one song that reminded me that God is so much bigger than me. I like the Smalltown Poets song "Scenario." He sings, "My faults do run deep, Your mercies do run deeper." Amen.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Interesting reading today

In my morning rambles I found some good stuff.

First of all, Christian Music Today features a good commentary about musicians who are being salt and light in the world, rather than isolating themselves in only "Christian" circles. This relates very closely to the conversation at Faith in Fiction about our roles as writers who are Christians. I especially like the quote from T-Bone Burnett, near the end of the article: "You can sing about the Light, or you can sing about what you see because of the Light." Yes.

Mark pointed me (near the end of his post) to this article on the Thinklings Weblog about Bono's articulate presentation of the Gospel. (And as I write this I'm listening to Delirious? singing "I'm not ashamed of the Gospel" -- how appropriate!) I'm becoming more and more a fan of U2.

I also want to point you to Cerulean Sanctum today. Dave reacts to Andy Crouch's speech at the Christy Awards banquet and expresses some interesting thoughts about why we need heroes in fiction.

Fellow Covenanter Glenn Wolf has a blog now. Glenn blogs about his travels as a trucker and whatever else comes to mind.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Covenant bloggers

A couple of guys have developed a site featuring various blogs by members of the Evangelical Covenant Church (including me) at Covenant Blogs. Most of them are much more interesting than me, so you might find it worth a visit.

What caught my attention today

Here's a really interesting thing I saw on BoingBoing today: a water pump driven by a kids' merry-go-round. It's really ingenious.

Brad sent the following link to a list I'm on and I thought I'd share it with you. It's an opinion piece about politics and faith. The writer articulates something I've been concerned about for many years: what should Christian involvement in politics look like? Those of you who are of a more conservative persuasion please note, the writer is not bashing anybody. He's voicing a concern and a caution. (And he is actually following a good approach to editorial writing -- clearly stating why he believes what he believes and making a call for change at the end.)

I like the following paragraph:
"Likewise Jesus spoke to political power, but he did not try to become one. He rejected a role as a political messiah. "My kingdom," said Jesus, "is not of this world." He did not mean that he was disinterested in this world, in favor of some spiritual "other" world -- far from it. He was passionately engaged in this world and among its suffering people. "My kingdom is not of this world" did, however, mean that he would not play politics the way that insiders and power seekers play it."

I don't often venture into political discussion, but this is something we need to be talking about -- talking, not shouting and accusing as often happens when people of different political persuasions disagree. God's ways are not men's ways and sometimes I fear the Church has forgotten that.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Two are better than one and other good links

Chip Scanlon interviews a reporting/writing/husband/wife team about The Art and Chaos of Collaboration. It's very interesting and the subject of the book the couple has written sounds fascinating too.

Also, a good post by Mark Bertrand about Andy Crouch's speech at the Christy Awards ceremony. Deborah also posted about this at The Master's Artist.

Be fearless

❝For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.❞ -- 2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV)

Saturday night we had the third annual After Harvest Festival in my town. The festivities concluded with a street dance featuring King Midas and the Mufflers. Really. They've been together for 40 years and they're pretty good. They play a lot of 50s, 60s and 70s songs, with a little blues and funk thrown in.

But here's the thing -- the band started playing about 8 but none of the grownups started dancing right away. I suppose we were all afraid we'd embarrass ourselves and it was still too hot. But the little kids suffered no such inhibitions. With the first chords, the little kids were out in front of the stage, dancing, spinning, twirling, running in circles -- however they felt like moving to the music. It was wonderful to see them dance with pure unadulterated joy. I wanted to dance with them, but I didn't. See, I'm an adult and I don't want to look foolish. Shame on me.

Writing is another area where I'm sometimes afraid of looking foolish. I need to write more boldly, more deeply, if I'm ever going to be the best storyteller I can be. But if I do that, people might be critical or disapproving. They might ask me what kind of delusional idiot am I, to be writing stories and thinking I might have something to say. But if I never take that risk, my story is doomed before I even tell it.

I was talking with some friends last night about how God's logic looks nothing like the world's logic. God's logic seems to men like foolishness, but in fact it is the opposite of foolishness. Jesus told us we need to become like little children in our faith: not immature, but full of wonder and trust and uninhibited joy. This may seem contradictory, but God tells us it is true wisdom.

I'm coming to realize this applies to all the areas of my life, including writing. He's calling me to be fearless.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Good writing advice

I read Joe Clifford Faust's blog, The Word Foundry, from time to time and he often has good writing advice, as in today's entry. (so why haven't I added him to my links?)

There, I added him to my blogroll. While I was at it, I added Cerulean Sanctum, another excellent writer's blog I recently discovered.

And just in case you're wondering, I read the links in my list most days (some don't post everyday). That's where Bloglines comes in real handy.

Too true, too true ...

These two strips from this week are part of why I love Non Sequitur:
First, look at Wednesday's, then check out today's.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London calling ...

I hope you'll all take some time today to pray for the people in London. Earlier this morning on NPR I heard it was six or seven blasts, now CNN is saying four, but I'm sure that many many people have been killed and injured. Father, be with the people in London today as they try to help the injured and the families of those killed. Bring your people together to be your hands and feet. In Jesus name.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Here's an added voice to the discussion

As the discussion of The [Same Old] New Christian Fiction continues (42 comments thus far) it attracts new voices. A writer named Dan Edelen found Mark's post and mentioned his blog. He posted something very interesting today. I read a little of Dan's blog and he seems quite articulate and thoughtful. It's good to know there are more voices out there.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Avoid those cliches like the you-know-what

Here's a good summary of broadcast blunders from Poynter. It's a good reminder for any kind of writer, not just broadcast news writers.

Now here's a marketing idea

Now here's an author willing to go to great lengths to promote his novel.: An Author Indulges His Inner Twain.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Vive la ... ?

I use StatCounter to track visits to my blog and I discovered that someone from France has visited. I think that's the first time I've had a visitor from France. Very cool. I always appreciate comments, by the way. (Hint, hint)

Also, fellow Fif'er TS Beckett has a blog now. Welcome! Pay him a visit. He has a lyrical way with words, I might add.

This is a holiday weekend -- so why am I messing around on the computer? Have a safe and entertaining 4th of July. We will join many of our friends from church for a picnic and fireworks extravaganza that has become an eagerly anticipated annual event -- much like Bilbo's birthday party. One of the hosts even has hobbit-like qualities. Lots of food, fun and fellowship in the best kind of way.