Friday, March 31, 2006


(With apologies to Mark and Mike)

All he requested was a bag of Cozy burgers. Some people meet their literary muses in a Paris cafe, others in a Waffle House or roadside greasy spoon. Mine asks me to meet him at rest stop on I-70 with an aromatic bag of sandwiches from a famous Salina, Kan., burger joint. It seemed a simple enough request.

Hank joined me at the designated picnic table, at the aforementioned designated rest stop -- I judged from the box of chocolates he carried that he'd made a stop at the nearby Russell Stover factory outlet.

"So I'm a little curious about this, not having met anyone like you before," I said.

"It's simple, you just tell me what's on your mind, I eat my Cozy burger and we'll call it even. At least you didn't call me out in the middle of the night."

"That happens a lot?"

"It happens to my brother, Hugh, in Tennessee."

"I see. You wouldn't also be related to some guy in Paris named Hughes, would you?"

"Cousin," Hank said, around a mouthful of burger. "Haven't seen him in years."

"So is literary muse sort of the family business?"

"In a way, yeah. But what's your problem? I'm eating the burger, but you're not telling me about your writing."

"See, that's just it. There's not much to tell. I'll write a story that I think is pretty good, but then I read something by someone else and realize what I've written is just so much dreck. So I'll think about it a while and try to write some more, but I don't seem to make much progress."

"You have a critique group?"

"Well, sure, a great bunch of folks, but they're all better writers than me, and way better critiquers than me, too. I don't think I contribute much."

He wiped his mouth with a paper towel and reached for his second burger. "Man, it's been ages since I've had a Cozy burger. Thanks for bringing these."

"Sure, no problem. But what about me? I hate to be whiny, but I thought you were supposed to help me figure out how to be a better writer."

"That's not what I said. I said you bring the burgers and I'd listen. That's what I'm doing. I never said anything about giving you advice."

Oh great, I'd made an unnecessary trip to Salina and met a total stranger along the highway for nothing. I suppose my frustration showed on my face because Hank stopped in mid-bite.

"OK. I've got one one thing to say about what you've been telling me. You think too much."


"That's your problem. You think too much. And you compare yourself to others too much, but that's just a little bonus advice 'cause the burgers are good. You need to concentrate on not thinking too much."

"But that's how I write. I think about the story and I think about the characters and then I write. If I don't think it through, then it would really be dreck."

"I'm not saying you shouldn't think about the story, but you also over-analyze everything. What about the best story you ever wrote -- how did you feel when you were writing it?"

"Pretty good. It flowed, it almost wrote itself. But I thought about it, too."

"Sure, but I'll bet you mostly just sat your butt in the chair and wrote it."

"Well, yeah."

"So there you have it."

He crumpled up the empty paper bag into a ball and threw it into the trash can.

"It's time for me to hit the road again. Thanks for the burgers," he said. He headed for a somewhat battered motor home. The back of it was plastered with bumper stickers from places like Wall Drug, Boot Hill, Pike's Peak and the Museum of Independent Telephony.

"Hey," I called after him. "You forgot your chocolates!"

"Just keep 'em and enjoy. You know about life and chocolate, I'm sure."

Sure, whatever. But maybe Hank has a point. But I'll try not to think too much about it.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Monday, March 27, 2006

I love college basketball ...

Because a team that no one ever paid much attention to, George Mason, beat the team many people thought could win it all, Connecticut. It may seem like a fluke, but I'm inclined to agree with Gregg Doyel, of CBS -- this is a really good basketball team. The Patriots played solid fundamental basketball and won. I was really impressed with LSU, too, and I would love to see a George Mason-LSU championship game.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Write to your strengths

I've been pretty frustrated with my writing lately. This is easy to do because I keep encountering examples of writing that is so much beyond mine that I wonder why I even try. For example, Mary DeMuth's post at The Master's Artist on Tuesday, and the ensuing comments were wonderful, lyrical, evocative writing. I realized that sometimes I may think the muse is dancing within, but what it looks like on the outside is ungainly and ineffective.

But dwelling on the negative is not usually productive, or at least not very healthy. I want to learn and that involves accepting criticism, and I can do that. But another part of growing as a writer is learning to build on your strengths.

So what are your strengths? Have you ever sat down and figured out what it is you do really well? I feel like I'm getting a sense of some areas where I'm stronger than others. I think I write dialogue better than description -- I hear my characters better than I see them. So maybe I should find ways to make my dialogue snap and crackle, which would help make the characters more vivid, too. See, that's what I mean about building on strengths. (Of course, I want to work on improving descriptions, too.)

I hope I'm wrong

This news suggests to me that K-State is taking the win-at-all-costs approach to college basketball. I cannot imagine a bigger contrast to Jim Wooldridge!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Catching up

I'm back. Not that I really went away, just stayed home and took care of Bob and watched lots of basketball. And wondered why I even cheer for KU after watching them play like a bunch of freshmen against Bradley Friday night. Oh, wait, they are a bunch of freshmen! Bradley looked really good, though, and I'm glad they've advanced to the Sweet 16. And so has Wichita State! Cool. Of course, my bracket is shot all to pieces, but I did actually have Wichita State making it to the Sweet 16.

Besides basketball, I worked on writing. I'm seriously working on Secrets in Connors Grove once again and I've been revising a new short story and trying to figure out where I should submit it.

I've done a little catching up on blog-reading, too. Deborah's post at The Master's Artist yesterday caught my attention. She's writing about really knowing the Bible and how our understanding of the Bible should inform our writing and our reading. It's a good post and very thought-provoking.

And it's posts like this and this that keep me reading Jordon Cooper. He consistently pulls together comments and ideas that challenge me to really think about what I believe, to recognize the complexity of many issues and not just accept things at face value.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Anniversary and praise

Today I spent my blogging anniversary at the surgical center where my husband had shoulder surgery. The surgery went well and I'm just taking a few minutes to check e-mail and stuff while he snoozes through basketball games (and my bracket's already wrong because Oklahoma and Pacific lost). But he's going home in a little while.

And yes, I've been blogging for one year now. My first entry was nothing to shake a stick at so I won't bother with a link. But it's been fun and I think I've learned a lot about writing in the last year. Blogging helped me find some writing buddies and Faith in Fiction and Infuze magazine. So I'll keep on posting the random thought about life, writing, faith, grammar and the joys of really loud music.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Usage pet peeve

Here's a language irritant: the use of the word "tract" when the word "track" is meant. I see this when someone is writing or talking about a course of action, or a plan of study, such as with career development.

These words do not mean the same thing. Track can mean a course of action; a way of proceeding. Tract means an indefinite extent or expanse, or it can refer to a major passage in the body, such as the digestive tract. It also refers to a pamphlet or treatise, such as a religious tract.

So, obviously, when one is talking about developing a selection of continuing education courses or following a particular career path, the word to choose is "track," as in "My daughter is on the college prep track at her high school," or "He's following the 'How to be a Better Communicator' track of career development courses."

Monday, March 13, 2006

Let the sunshine in ...

Once in a while the journalist resurfaces. This week is Sunshine Week, a week that encourages open government. This isn't just a journalism issue, though. This is a citizen issue. So what's it all about? From the Web site:

Approaching its 40th birthday, the Freedom of Information Act is looking more than a little worn around the edges. In fact, what it needs is a week of good, solid sunshine, and Sunshine Week 2006, March 12-18, is just the ticket.

The current administration has been characterized by open government observers—both conservatives and liberals—as one of the most secretive in recent history; a stance adopted even before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Sunshine Week is not about journalists, it's not about partisan politics, it's about the public and the importance of protecting and promoting open government. Sunshine Week is not about protecting journalists' rights, it's about the right of all citizens to know what their government is doing—and why.

I recently reread All the President's Men and found it disturbing to see the parallels between the Nixon administration and the current administration, particularly in the attitude of being above the law, an attitude that the ends justify the means. When citizens work to help keep government open, though, egregious abuses can be avoided and our country is healthier.

The Web site more information about open government and Freedom of Information.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Read River Rising

This is one of those books that I can whole-heartedly recommend. River Rising is an excellent book, and I don't usually care much for historical fiction. Athol Dickson touches on some deep themes -- race, faith and redemption -- but it's integral to the story, which moves along pretty well. It's a well-crafted novel and I'm glad I bought it because I know I'll want to read it again.

Mark rants a bit today against novels that aren't so well-crafted -- you can read about it at The Master's Artist.

So have a good weekend. I plan to spend mine watching basketball!

Basketball rant

We will take this break from your regularly scheduled programming so I can bemoan the state of K-State basketball. I love college basketball and this is my favorite time of the year. Sunday night will find me watching the NCAA selection show. I will fill out a bracket (which will most likely be horribly wrong, but it's still fun). I will watch lots of basketball games, even involving schools I know nothing about. I will cheer and yell at the TV and get excited and my children will give me strange looks.

But the Kansas State Wildcats won't be in the NCAA tournament, and next year they'll have a new coach. Yep. After K-State lost to Texas Tech in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament yesterday, Coach Jim Wooldridge got the ax. The AP story makes it pretty plain -- if the Cats can't make the NCAA tournament, then they need a new coach. Wooldridge came to Manhattan six years ago and took over a pretty miserable program. He's built and developed the team to the point where they're actually competitive and they beat the Kansas Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse this year. That's amazing! But they've lost a lot of close games, especially in the Big 12, and the powers that be decided it was time for a change. That chafes me -- I'm not so naive to think that winning doesn't matter, but it's not the only thing. Conducting yourself with class and integrity, both on and off the court, also matters. Building respect for a program by doing things right matters. Becoming competitive in a very tough league matters. I think Coach Wooldridge has done all those things. So I'm sorry to see him go and I'm sorry our university seems to think that winning matters more than anything else.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Light blogging

The next week or so will be pretty light, blogging-wise. Just thought I'd warn you. (Not that there's all that many who read it, but ...) I have a lot to do at work and my husband will be having shoulder surgery a week from today. So he has an appointment tomorrow that I'm going to with him so I'll know what to expect.

I'm still reading River Rising -- good stuff. And I'm writing again after not pushing very hard at it for a few weeks.

And here's a link to a neat interview with a rock icon: Christian Music Today talked to Kerry Livgren recently and it's good stuff. And for those of you who have no idea who Kerry Livgren is, read the interview.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

What I'm reading

I started reading River Rising, by Athol Dickson, last night. Wow! This is an excellent book. I'll probably write a longer post about this book after I finish it, but I wanted to share some initial impressions.

I wasn't sure what to expect -- I'd read enough about it to know that it's set in Louisiana at the time of the 1927 Mississippi River flood and that it dealt with race issues.

And it is all those things, but this is storytelling that goes deep. I have to admit as I started reading that I wondered if it would be a book that lived up to the hype. Dickson's prose isn't as lyrical as Marilynn Robinson's (but whose is?) or Lief Enger's. If fact, it seemed a little detached -- he uses an omniscient narrative voice, so I didn't feel like I was in the characters' heads.

But that narrative technique serves the story well, because as the story delves deeper into the mysteries that surround Hale Poser (the main character) and the little community of Pilotville, the narration zooms in closer to the characters. It turns out to be effective -- I couldn't put the book down last night and kept reading way past my usual lights-out time.

This is a Christian novel, published by Bethany House, but if you've avoided Christian fiction for a long time, you should make an exception for River Rising. Faith is integral to the story -- not tacked on to make an evangelistic point. Its expressions (and lack of expressions) arise from who the characters are.

I'm about halfway through (I told you I read late last night and it's not really dense prose) and I'm not going to give anything away, but I will say there are twists and turns in this story I did not see coming. And there's darkness, too, befitting a story set in the swamps of the Mississippi Delta. But there's also hope. I have no idea how it's going to end -- something I haven't been able to say about a book for a long time -- but I can't wait to finish it.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Lessons on story from Serenity

I've finally seen Serenity and I really enjoyed it. It's a good story, with engaging characters in a fully-realized universe. It's not perfect -- it feels a bit more like a two-hour TV episode than a Movie. But it's a lot better than most TV episodes, so maybe I'm just being picky.

But I couldn't help but compare it with Star Wars Episode III, which I saw a while back. (I saw neither in the theater, so the viewing experience was similar.)

I think Serenity is a superior movie. But why? It was made for a fraction of the cost of Star Wars, there are no big stars -- but none of those things guarantee a good movie (Heaven's Gate, Ishtar, anyone?).

For me, it boils dow to the underlying foundation of the two movies. For Star Wars, the people seem to be there to move the plot along; in Serenity, the plot moves the people along. The result is a story that resonates at the heart level. Sure, it's exciting and the special effects are impressive -- but those things don't get in the way of the story.

I'm becoming a Joss Whedon fan -- after all, the guy's ability to tell a story got me hooked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I don't even like vampire stories. Serenity really puts his story-telling skills on display. Even though I didn't watch Firefly much when it was on TV, I had no trouble becoming absorbed in the world of the story and got a handle on the characters quickly. I loved the opening sequences, the sharp and witty dialogue, the seamless effects, the grittiness of the world. It's all good. And I was reminded a bit of an earlier movie-going experience, when I was sucked into a galaxy long ago and far away.

Almost 30 years ago, I sat in a movie theater, transfixed by the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and the droids. But the most recent episodes of the series have become more sterile, even as the digital wizardry became more dazzling. Friday night I sat on my couch with my sons, laughing and cheering and holding my breath as the crew of the Serenity crashed on planets, got in bar fights and dodged reavers. And when it was over, I wanted more. I would love to be able to tell a story so well that when my readers finished one, they'd want more.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Here's a great interview

Max Hsu (of Superchick) has posted an interview with Infuze founder and novelist Robin Parrish -- a fascinating look into a truly creative mind. Robin describes how his creative process and tells how he founded Infuze. Cool stuff.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Need a little romance?

Then here's a book you might enjoy. Brenda Coulter's inspirational romance A Family Forever is available now from Steeple Hill. Even if, like me, you're not much of a romance reader, the book has some things going for it -- a willingness to let the characters be human and deal with struggles in their faith, and a depiction of faith that is well-integrated with the story. Want to know more? Visit Brenda's blog, No Rules, Just Write, which I enjoy for her breezy, witty style.