Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The cookie's tale ...

Jeanne Damoff is either very funny or very warped. The Short Happy Life of Gingergreg. Scroll down through the pictures for the whole gruesome tale.

On the radio

No, not me. Chris Well, who I'm sure is much more interesting. If you want to hear Chris interviewed tomorrow on the radio program "Bookshelf," hosted by Dawn Weber, at 4:20 PM Central on KJAB 88.3 FM, Mexico, Missouri, point your browser here:

In case you haven't been paying attention, Chris is the author of one of my favorite novels from last year, Forgiving Solomon Long. I've started his new one, Deliver Us From Evelyn, and am enjoying it. Friday I'm participating in his First Friday promotion: you'll find the first chapter of Evelyn here (as well as about 40 other places). It's just one more way to generate a little buzz about a good book. And the plan is to do this with other novels in the future. It's not too late if you still want to participate. Visit Chris's blog for the details.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

'Be careful out there'

Yesterday I picked up the first season of Hill Street Blues on DVD, so last night we watched the first couple of episodes. I think my boys are hooked. They're too young to remember when it was on the first time (in fact it may have been over before a couple of them were born), so it's all new to them.

It's been a long time since I've seen it (I don't think it's been in syndication much), so I was seeing it with fairly fresh eyes. It's held up pretty well, and I was reminded how innovative this show was. The look of the show (I think it was filmed, not taped), the multiple storylines in each episode, the continuing story lines between episodes -- these were not common elements of primetime television drama before Hill Street Blues. And the acting -- everyone was good. It's hard for characters in a large ensemble cast to stand out, but Hill Street station was loaded with distinctive characters. Some of that, of course, is the writing, but it's also a tribute to the actors.

What Steven Bochco started with Hill Street Blues has become standard with television drama. But I don't think anyone has done it any better.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Blog Tour: The Hidden

This month's Christian Fiction Blog Tour feature is The Hidden, by Kathryn Mackel. I've never been a big fan of spiritual warfare stories -- I have too low a heebie jeebie threshold -- but Mackel has done such a skillful job of weaving her story that I didn't once get an attack of the willies.

The story begins with psychiatrist Susan Stone receiving a call to return to Colorado to help her elderly father, who's been injured. Susan is still grieving the death of her son, and has been estranged from her father for years. But her sense of obligation, and maybe her well-developed instinct to "fix" things in people's lives, compel her to return to the family ranch she left 30 years before.

Once there, she finds herself in the midst of turmoil -- not only in her family, but also in the normally peaceful valley where she grew up. And then she discovers a young man chained in the darkness. Is he the victim of abuse? Or a serial killer haunting the countryside? He chooses to call himself Jacob, since he has no memory of who he is or how he came to be chained in a dark ravine.

As the mystery of who -- or what -- Jacob is deepens, Susan is forced to examine her own motives and perceptions and attitudes towards her family and Melissa, the young woman who had been involved with her late son.

There's a lot to like about this novel -- Mackel's style is smooth and vivid. The story moves along briskly, without seeming hurried. Her characters are distinct individuals and she does a good job of transitioning between points of view. The story works well on a deeper level, too, by illustrating how hard it is to see past our prejudices and how hard it is to break free from out pasts. There is a conversion or two in this story -- but they're earned. The spiritual elements flow from the characters and the story. The ending may have wrapped up just a bit too neatly, but it works, and the reader was still left with the understanding that transformation is a process and the characters still had some growing to do. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

If you want to know more about Kathryn Mackel, who is a scriptwriter as well as a novel, visit her Web site.

Friday, May 26, 2006

June column posted

I've posted my June "Notes from the Windowsill" column. It's called Serving with Humility and it's something of a Father's Day tribute to my dad.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The 'benefits' of small town living

I read a post of Mark Bertrand's yesterday that got me thinking. He shared a response he had to a discussion about whether or not Christians should choose to live in small towns or in cities. I sensed a certain idealism about small towns and commented on the limitations of small town living. I started thinking more about this and decided maybe it's worth an actual blog post.

I've lived in small towns all my life -- the largest "city" I've ever lived in had about 16,000 people. The town I live in now has just under 5,000 people. It's the county seat, so it has the essential services. And we belong to a great church -- one of the best church families I've ever known. It's one reason we stay where we are instead of moving to Manhattan and saving some commute time.

Growing up in small towns -- and I'm thinking of one in particular -- has shaped me in ways good and bad. The town where we lived during the formative years of my life was (and probably still is) an ingrown little town in west-central Illinois. If you want to live someplace where people leave you alone and mind their own business, it's a fine place. If you're a sensitive child who longs for even one true friend, it's not so fine. We moved there when I was 2 1/2. I've been told it was a confusing move for me -- I couldn't understand why we had left the only home I'd known, and all our friends. My mom says I became much quieter and introspective.

School did not bring me out of my shell -- I was one of the youngest kids in the class and somewhat immature emotionally. I cried easily and probably seemed like a weird little kid so I got picked on. A lot. Which only drove me further into myself. I was imaginitive and intelligent and preferred reading and playing pretend to the more socially acceptable entertainments of sports and cheerleading. I hung onto my imaginary friends much longer than anyone else. Class field trips or other occasions where we had to pair up with a buddy were nightmares for me. No one wanted to pair up with me. I was always the odd one out. A girl in my class lived near me, but she only played with me when there was no one better around. (At least that's how I felt.)

But I also have to admit that in many ways, I had a pretty good childhood. I grew up in a stable, loving family and knew that home was my sanctuary. I got along pretty well with my younger brothers and we played together a lot. I had a best friend, but she lived in another town so I didn't get to see her as much as I wanted. I got to go to church camp in the summer and that was always fun, though I often felt out of place, there, too. But I could alway earn points for my team by doing all the Bible memory verses. I had a lot of fun during vacations when I got to see some of my cousins who were near my age. Still, when we moved away from this town when I was 12, I was happy about the move.

When I look back on my experience growing up in this very small and insular town, I can see how it has shaped me. My self-esteem took a beating, but I also began the process of learning that popularity isn't worth chasing after. I learned to rely on my internal resources, to go my own way instead of following the crowd. I accepted Christ and was baptized when I was 10 and began my walk with the Lord. I'm more willing to accept people who are a little different because I know what it's like.

So in many ways, I can be thankful for the difficulties I experienced as a child. They've had a lot to do with who I am now. And I think they help me be a better writer.

I think God places us where we need to be -- whether it's a small town or a big city or the suburbs. Sometimes -- probably many times -- we wish we were somewhere else. But we're called to be God's people wherever we are. Contentment is a lifelong learning process.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Tuesday news and views

No, I haven't dropped off the face of the blogosphere. My son Tim graduated from high school and preparations and the aftermath consumed my time for several days. But my parents came and all the adult children came home, so it was good.

While catching up on my reading the last couple of days, I came across some good stuff:
Stephen Shields (of has some interesting things to say about the importance of the local church. Nothing can really replace the role relationships play in our lives, and in our spiritual development. (Link thanks to Jordon)

And somewhat related to that is what Mike Duran is saying about e-Fellowship.

Somewhere I found a link to a good entry about writing by Scot McKnight. (OK, I found out where: Stephen Shields' blog) In essence, he says if you want to write better, read better. If you want to write essays or nonfiction, then read a lot by the writers whose style you admire. I have found this to be true -- whether fiction or nonfiction, I learn more from examples of excellence.

I have to tell a story so you will understand why I'm linking to this. My best friend, Rebecca, had a dachshund named Porgy. One summer I stayed with Rebecca and her parents while my parents worked a week of church camp. Rebecca and I, being imaginitive and wacky, wrote a letter (or maybe it was multiple letters) to them that week describing Porgy riding around on a little motorcycle, complete with helmet and scarf (ala Snoopy). And my mom, though she suspected we were embelling the truth a bit, thought perhaps the poor pooch had been having back trouble and had to use a contraption similar to the dachshund wheelchair in the picture. We, of course, found the whole episode hilarious. And so this morning when I came across the Instructables Web site and saw this, I just had to send the link to Rebecca. I'm sure Porgy himself would get a kick out of it.

I got something very fun in the mail yesterday: Deliver Us From Evelyn, by Chris Well. This is one of the books I blogged about looking forward to a while back, so I'm excited.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A random sample

Of songs, that is. Chris blogged about this and I was going to leave a comment, but for some reason his comment option wasn't available. The idea is, you set your music (on computer or iPod or what-have-you) on shuffle and write down the first 10 songs that come up. No fair editing. So, when I turn on Party Shuffle in iTunes, and allow it to select from my whole library, this is what comes up:
Crazy Times -- Jars of Clay (Much Afraid)
Ghost Train -- Lost Dogs (Gift Horse)
Keep Your Hands to Yourself -- Georgia Satellites (self-titled)
Rainy Day -- America (self-titled)
What's on Your Mind -- Kansas (Leftoverture)
God Did -- Shane & Shane (Clean)
Merry Christmas Darling -- The Carpenters (Christmas Portrait)
Sanctify -- Delirious? (Deeper -- double best-of cd)
Finding My Way -- Rush (Chronicles)
Home -- Sheryl Crow (self-titled)

This is a pretty representative random sample: Lots of CCM and classic rock with the occasional oddity.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Tuesday news and views

There are days when all I really want to do is post links to interesting things and I'm terrible at coming up with headlines (and I used to have write headlines for a living!). So I've taken a cue from Brad who tends to post things under headings such as "Random" or "Monday Notes" or whatnot. Sure, "Tuesday news and views" doesn't tell you a lot, but then neither do most of my other titles. So, on to the stuff.

I found this at BoingBoing: Kissing seems to help allergy symptoms, specifically hay fever. This time of year, I have hay fever, so maybe I should try this. I'm sure Bob won't object. (The actual article.)

Today's Non Sequitur is hilarious. And a little too true.

A couple of good reads:
Jared at The Thinklings posted an excellent quote of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (from Bonhoeffer's Letters from Prison). It relates to living in this world and, as is usually the case with Bonhoeffer, it is likely to turn your thinking on its head.

Have you been trying to figure out what the emerging church is all about? Jordon Cooper has posted an excellent paper on the topic by Jared Siebert.

Want to waste some time? Here's something fun. Puzzle Bobble 0.9, which is actually a port to a Flash game of one of my favorite Super Nintendo games, Bust-a-Move. It's even got the cheesy calypso music. I used to be pretty good at this game. (This and Tetris were my favorites. I liked Super Mario Bros., but I was terrible at it. I died a lot.)

Here's a techie tidbit, at least if you're a Mac user. I found a productivity-type program (thanks to Macworld) called Quicksilver and it is the coolest thing. It's kind of hard to describe -- it's a launcher, but it's a lot more than that. I have such a huge amount of stuff on this computer that finding individual files involves a lot of scrolling. I get around that by using Hallon to bookmark the current projects I'm working on, but there are lots of times I need to hunt for something. Quicksilver lets me search for the folders and launch them or launch individual files or applications in a very easy, intuitive way. It also gets my right hand off the mouse and without having to learn a ton of keyboard shortcuts. Since I've upgraded to OSX 10.4 I've tried to use Spotlight, but it starts searching with the first letter you type in the box. This slows down the process enormously and returns lots of irrelevant results. Quicksilver gets around this issue and if I want to do a Spotlight search, I can type the term into Quicksilver and then copy and paste it into Spotlight. Another thing I like is that I can easily add tags to huge batches of files all at once. Quicksilver can do a lot more and I'm just beginning to get an idea of what I can do with it. There's a good number of online tutorials available and the links are on the Web site. It's also free, which is very good.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Monday news and views

Yesterday was Mother's Day -- I received greetings from all and sundry (husband, adult kids, teenage sons and other random teenage boys who populate our house on an almost daily basis). And I called my mom, too.

Chris Well's Forgiving Solomon Long has been nominated for Christian Retailing's 2006 Retailer's Choice Awards in the Mystery/Suspense category. Congratulations, Chris! I loved the book and I hope he wins. And a couple of other Fifers have been nominated, too!

Mike Duran has an interview with J. Mark Bertrand on his blog, Decompose. Good interview guys, and well worth the read.

Friday, May 12, 2006


Today Mark ponders how the heavens declare God's glory, at The Master's Artist. He is so much more articulate than me, so go read it.

But it did get me thinking. This is part of my comment:
But the glory of the heavens puts us all to shame on a daily basis. The sun is rising as we ride to work now and I often turn my head away, or close my eyes. I can't look at it. But after we follow the curve of the road and the sun isn't directly in my eyes, I can revel in the beautiful golden light illuminating the hills and valleys we drive through. (Kansas is NOT flat.) Maybe that's what we do as artists -- we can't look directly at glory, but we can adjust the angle so the glory illuminates the hills and valleys.
I have been given an amazing gift -- I have to spend 45 minutes twice a day riding through the outskirts of the Kansas Flint Hills. Since we've finally gotten some rain, the landscape is green and if I'm attentive, I can enjoy the beauty unfolding before me. So often, though, I'm paying no attention at all. My mind is elsewhere and I'm preoccupied with my own small life while God's magnificence unfolds before me.

When I do pay attention, I enjoy the interplay of land and sky -- the way the light shines across the landscape at different times of the year, the way the clouds look on a day when storms threaten. It's really never the same scene twice. It looks different on a cloudy day, a sunny day, in winter, spring, summer or fall.

While I can never achieve true perfection in this life, I can try to show the variety of life in my writing. I can adjust the angle so that maybe a bit of God's glory can illuminate the events in my stories. I've certainly got a long way to go, but I have daily inspiration outside the van window.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

It's really spring

It's in the mid-70s here this afternoon and I have my window open (I love having an office with a window). It's the kind of day that I should celebrate by playing Rocky Mountain Way and turning up the volume very loud. But since there are people in neighboring offices who probably don't share my taste in music, I suppose I shouldn't. But if you can turn your music up loud, please feel free to do so. It's spring!

Monday, May 08, 2006


Dan Edelen, of Cerulean Sanctum, has moved his blog. Check it out -- same excellent content, great new look.

Here's a new publication that looks interesting -- Relief: A Quarterly Christian Expression. They're accepting submissions for their first issue.

Chris is blogging about his favorite computer games this week. I'll pay attention because my boys are game nuts, though they play PS2 games mostly.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Dark and light

Dave Long has a great interview with James Scott Bell at Faith in Fiction about noir and suspense in Christian fiction. This is so timely for me it's scary. I love what Bell says here, about showing the darkness in our fiction:
It seems to me the issue is not the darkness, but how one responds to it. Is there any basis for hope? Or are we merely carbon based atoms awaiting our inevitable destruction? Can we make real difference?

When light breaks into darkness it is startling and satisfying. That's what I try to get into my fiction.
It seems to me that's what I'd like to do, and maybe I've been able to do a little bit. I like mysteries and suspense. I like the way noir can be a genre that shows humans in all their brokenness, and yet still offer a glimmer of hope.

I started a new Adam Caldwell story last night, one that I suspect will be very dark. I'm not sure where I'm going with this character, who isn't a Christian and doesn't seem likely to be anytime soon. If I tell this story and let him make a royal mess of his life, how do I resolve it? Do I even have to? I'm beginning to think I should be asking more questions and offering fewer easy answers. But to ask the questions means exposing the darkness and maybe it will take a while for the light to shine in.

Here's what I'm beginning to think I'd like to do with Adam: tell a series of stories, somewhat interconnected, that would be not so much a novel as a story cycle. I know, short-story collections are almost as hard to sell to a publisher as poetry. Why not just write a novel and be done with it? But what I keep thinking of are short stories about Adam, not novels. He's a character I can sink my teeth into, one I can let grow over time. And I need to let him be broken. There's a lot I don't know, but I do know this -- I can't coddle him. He's got some growing to do and he's one who has to learn things the hard way.

I learned a long time ago, that we (humans in general) don't learn something until we have to. We have to reach a point where we desperately need to learn something (this can apply to a new skill as well as to knowing we need God) before we learn it. For some reason, I feel like I can show this process better with someone like Adam. So I guess I'll keep writing this story and see what happens.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Friday reading

It's Friday, so check out Mark Bertrand's post at The Master's Artist: Why We Don't Know What We're Doing. There's a lot of meat in this one. He suggests that our approaches to writing may vary and that most of us bring a complex blend of these to our writing. Here's some of what he says:
So instead of seeing these approaches as three positions on art, perhaps it would be better to think of them as different lobes in an author's brain, all of them present in every work, but one enjoying more favor than the others depending on the individual's orientation, the creative ebb and flow. The desire to explore the inexpressible, the desire to persuade, and the desire to delight in the thing itself are all present in each one of us, advancing and receding as the nature of the work dictates. And there are other currents, other dispositions at work, that I can't begin to name.
I'm still chewing on this. I can't begin to summarize it all, so go read it yourself.

And while you're at it, read Mick Silva's new post at Your Writer's Group: Story as Controversy. Even as I say "Amen, brother," I know I don't really write as honestly as Mick proposes. But I'm trying.

Have a nice weekend, folks.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Christians and arts

Here's an excellent article by Barbara Nicolosi, of ActOne in Hollywood, about how Christians should approach working in the arts. She goes beyond simply criticizing what is wrong with Christian artists serving only a closed Christian culture -- she suggests what excellent Christian art should look like.

(Thanks to Katy for the link.)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Rock is alive

Here's something that sounds good: Pearl Jam has a new album coming out. I got the single from iTunes a couple of weeks ago -- it rocks. So now I need the whole album, hint hint.

Monday, May 01, 2006

New column posted

I've posted my May column for my church newsletter at my writing blog. It's called Mapping God's Faithfulness.

I've been away -- I was at the conference annual meeting for our denomination for a few days. God's doing lots of neat stuff.

Just so you'll know: since I've got tons of stuff to do this week, it may be light blogging.