Friday, September 29, 2006

Good writing as miracle

I've been reading The Sound on the Page by Ben Yagoda. It's excellent. Here's a selection from ch. 2 about what writing is and the reader's role:

Everybody who writes is engaged in the remarkable enterprise of making consciousness manifest — catching the slipperiest of substance, a thought, and nailing it to a page. It is amazing, when you think about it, that people should even try to do such a thing; that theywould occasionally succeed, nearly miraculous. And indeed, there is something spiritual about the act of writing. When it's done in a slovenly manner or in bad faith, it seems somehow sacrilegious. When it's done well we should stand back and regard it with a kind of reverence.

Writing is also alone in the level of mediation it requires its consumers to make. … A film, a play, a painting, or a piece of music can wash over you and at least make you wet, so to speak, but you can't receive a piece of writing passively; it requires work, an act of translation called reading.

Happy Birthday

Very early this morning (at 2:44 a.m. to be precise) my daughter Megan turned exactly 24 years old. I didn't call her, though over the years I've been tempted to wake her up at the time when she made her first appearance in the world. Actually, she started making herself known several months before -- she was a strong kicker.

I could tell lots of Megan stories, but she'd probably be embarrassed, so I'll leave you with something that's probably just as embarrassing -- a couple of pictures.

I think she's about 3 in this picture -- she's handing around gifts at a bridal shower.

And this one was taken this summer, along Lake Michigan at Kenosha, Wis. That's her cousin Aidan with her. (My nephews adore her.) (Fixed because I misspelled his name earlier)

Megan lives in Chicago now and works for North Park University, in the communications office. She's also taking seminary classes and volunteers with the youth group at my brother's church. God is going to do cool stuff with this young woman and we're very proud of her.

Happy Birthday, Megan!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thursday news and views

The annual conference is over and our presentation about copyright and plagiarism went well. I think we may get something we can present at next year's ACE conference out of this. We had a lot of good discussion.

I've done some catching up with my reading and here's some things worth reading, mostly on the theme of excellence:

Dick Staub answers his critics about his views on a recently-released movie.

Mick is once again taking on low quality in CBA.

(added later) I just saw Mark's post on a similar theme, today. He offers a good, balanced perspective on encouraging quality in our art without tearing down the artist.

Mark talks about craft and genre.

Richard Dansky talks about genre and literary criticism.

Infuze has a great interview with Andrew Beaujon, who wrote one of my favorite books of the year, Body Piercing Saved My Life.

Christian Music Today has an excellent commentary about worship by Matthew Ward. His point is that we need to remember where our worship should be focused, and that we worship as a community. I remember seeing Second Chapter of Acts a couple of times in the early 1980s (the group Ward was in with his sisters Annie Herring and Nellie Ward) and both times were an amazing worship experience, in all the ways he talks about in this excerpt from his book.

Finally, I've posted my October column: Seek His Presence. The women of our church had a prayer retreat a couple of weeks ago and it reminded me of how much I need to do this. We're also going to start a 24/7 prayer room. God is calling his people to pray.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Blog Tour: Violet Dawn

Brandilyn Collins has kept readers on the edge of their seats or up at night with suspense novels such as Web of Lies and Dead of Night. Now she's unveiled a new series beginning with Violet Dawn, set in Kanner Lake, Idaho. I didn't get my name in for a copy, so I haven't read it yet, but it sounds fascinating. You can read a review at the CFBA blog. But why only settle for a review when you can get to know the characters? Visit the Scenes and Beans blog, where a gaggle of bloggers have been writing the parts of the characters in Kanner Lake. Brandilyn set this up a few months ago, auditioned writers and now they're busy blogging away. It's a cool way to build interest in the stories, though the blog is peripheral to the novels. And of course, you can get to know Brandilyn through her own blog, Forensics and Faith. Her enthusiasm and knowledge of the craft shine through, along with her heart for helping other writers.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Monty Python meets Halo

I don't do this very often, but I have teenage sons so maybe that explains why I think this is funny. (found via)

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Hey, I'm not as lazy as I thought!

You Are 24% Slacker

You have a few slacker tendencies, but overall you tend not to slack.
You know how to relax when the time is right, but you aren't lazy!
Are You a Slacker?

But Megan is even less of a slacker than I am.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Do you have a reader?

I was reminded this week about how great it is to have a reader. I'm not talking about people who read things that have already been published (though that's great, too). I'm talking about someone who is glad that you're writing and wants to read your work. I have a friend who likes to read my stories. She's not a writer, herself, though she's an avid reader. And Wednesday night at dinner at church she asked me if I had anything else for her to read. That did my heart good. She listened with interest as I described what I've been writing and I promised to give her copies of a couple of stories.

Stephen King says, in his book On Writing, that a writer should have a reader in mind while writing. His ideal reader is his wife, who is another writer. But it doesn't have to be another writer. It just needs to be a reader. I think there are advantages to having a reader who isn't related to you. I think that person has a little more distance and can maybe be a little more objective. But I'm not sure there has to be a lot of objectivity, just a love of reading and a willingness to say "This worked" or "This didn't work." My friend read my novel and gave me some very good feedback about what she liked and what she thought was missing. She's read some of my stories, too. So now I'll see what she says about the two I sent her the other day.

In a totally unrelated matter, I know that one of the cardinal rules of blogging is to post regularly. I've been breaking that rule lately -- between the trip to Iowa and a big job to get done this week (a job that came to me on Tuesday!) I haven't posted much. It may not improve a whole lot during the next week or so, since we have the K-State Research & Extension annual conference this week and my boss and a co-worker and I are presenting a workshop about copyright and plagiarism. But I'll try to post a couple of times.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Still here

No I haven't given up blogging, but I was gone part of the week last week and when I got back I had a bunch of stuff to do. So I just put off blogging for a few more days. But now I'm back. Not that I have anything amazing to say, but I've found a few things of interest.

I went to my local library Saturday and checked out a book by Simon Winchester called The River at the Center of the World. It's about the Yangtze River in China. So far, it's pretty good. It combines several things I like in a travel book: a leisurely pace, a sense of the place and its people, an engaging narrator with an openness to what the experience will bring. The first book by Winchester that I read was his excellent book about the Oxford English Dictionary, The Professor and the Madman. I think I'm going to enjoy this one, too.

I also bought a book this weekend: The Sound on the Page by Ben Yagoda. Yagoda talks to writers about style and voice and so far it's good.

There's some good quotes over at The Mechanic & the Muse (Chip Scanlon, of the Poynter Institue, writes about writing here). Since there are several things, I'd just suggest you scroll down page and enjoy.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Tuesday news and views

Today may be the only day I post this week -- later this morning some of my coworkers and I head out for Iowa State to visit our counterparts there.

But here's something encouraging to read: Mary DeMuth posts at The Master's Artist about how To Kill a Mockingbird came to be. It's one of my favorite books and I think I always assumed it was brilliant from the start, but it took years -- really, years -- of work before it was published. Good stuff.

Have a great week, folks.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Friday news and views

I've been trying to do a little updating around the blogs and I posted the current version of the first few chapters of Secrets in Connors Grove over at my writing blog (creatively named Lindaruth's Writing). Feel free to check it out and leave a comment. I want to return to revising it, after I finish a story I'm working on.

I think every time the 'edgy' or 'not safe' debate makes the rounds of the Christian writers blogs I read, it develops a little more, or becomes more clear. Mick Silva posted his latest "Reality Check" and it's about writing "safe books." Today, Mark has reposted his column "Safe or Good?". And, related, is this post at Faith in Fiction: "Violence in Christian Fiction." However you feel about what writers who are Christians should write about, and how they should write about it, it's important to think about these issues. It's also important to recognize that many will hold different opinions and it doesn't mean they're somehow lacking as Christians. (Consider this Linda's customary admonition to play nice.)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Writing like a rock star

Writing wisdom from Gilby Clark, on Rockstar: Supernova: You don't have to be so specific, be more universal. Don't explain too much.

Writing wisdom from Hugh (aka Mike Snyder): "Just forget all that stuff and write, man."

Free Derek Webb. Really. Read about what he's doing with his music and download Mockingbird. I already did and it's very good.

What I'm listening to (via When I figure out how to make the code work, I can have a list of what I'm listening to show up on my blog, but it never seemed to work right yesterday.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


I went to CD Tradepost (motto: Where Being Used Is a Good Thing) yesterday and hit the jackpot. They had VHS tapes for $2 each and I scored some classic Star Trek episodes: The Trouble with Tribbles, The City on the Edge of Forever, A Piece of the Action, I Mudd, and (in a 2 episode tape) Amok Time and This Side of Paradise. S0 last night I fired up the used VCR we got a garage sale this summer and watched some Star Trek. Good times. I may have to see how long this sale lasts and get some more episodes.

I also found three cds by The Choir, including their live album Let it Fly. Very fun. And I found a cd I'd listened to in Julia's car -- Consent to Treatment by Blue October. This is one of their older cds I think, but I really like it. Good hard-driving rock with some blues and other elements thrown in. If you look at the lyrics without hearing the songs (or look at the weird album art) you might think this would be a real bummer of an album -- many of the songs are about struggles with addiction and recovery, mental illness, broken relationships (and include some gritty language) -- but you would be wrong. There's a lot of hope here and the tunes are surprisingly melodic and catchy. They've got a new cd out, too, that sounds interesting. Blue October is probably not the most radio-friendly band, but to me that's a point in their favor.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Read Relentless

I finished Relentless last night. I hadn't really intended to stay up past midnight reading, but I couldn't put it down. It's a very good book, and Robin Parrish does a lot of things right with it. I'm not sure it falls entirely in the thriller genre -- it could also be called speculative fiction. But however you classify it, it works well on several levels.

First, here's a quick plot summary: An ordinary man suddenly discovers he's been shifted into someone else's body. Not only that, he's got a new name (Grant Borrows), a new apartment, a cool car, some incredible and hard-to-grasp abilities, and some very bad people after him. As Grant learns more about what's happened to him, he finds others like him, as well as some other unexpected help along the way. And he learns that somehow what has happened to him is tied up with an ancient prophecy and a mysterious and secretive organization. Before the end, Grant's life -- and maybe the fate of the world -- will be changed forever.

So, to start with, it's a rousing good story. It really doesn't let up. Sometimes that's not a good thing, but there are enough breaks in the pace to give the reader a chance to catch her breath; and here, the pace of the story seems a function of the plot. Grant Borrows is rushing headlong from one crisis to the next and there's a reason for that, but the full implications don't become clear until the end. There are a lot of surprises along the way -- it's a good idea to remember that much here is not what it seems at first.

As I've said before, I get pulled into a book by the characters. The pace of a book like this doesn't always allow for good character development, but for the most part, Parrish has done a good job. Some of the supporting characters are a little thin, but the main characters are strong and distinct. What I said about the plot above holds true for the characters -- some important characters are not what they seem at first.

But the main reason why I like this book so much is the way it resonates at a deeper level. As Grant's story unfolds, he is forced to come to terms with who he is deep inside; questions are asked and not all of them are answered completely. And, what is probably more surprising about this story than the plot, it's been written from deep within a Christian worldview, but without even mentioning Christianity. I haven't read a lot of Christian speculative fiction, but Parrish seems to be breaking new ground. He's framed the story in modern mythic terms -- the language and conventions of graphic novels and comic books -- but it's no less epic than The Lord of the Rings. (OK, maybe that's a bit of hyperbole, but the story really has an epic feel to it.) Parrish's influences show clearly in the book, but it doesn't feel derivative to me.

One of the challenges for Christian writers is to tell stories infused with faith, but without preaching. Robin Parrish does that here, wonderfully. The story deals with the eternal battle of good and evil (the only Scripture he quotes is from Ezekiel, about Satan being cast out from Heaven), but it also deals with what it's like to live in a fallen world, to deal with the brokenness around you and within you on a daily basis. That's something I want to be able to do, so maybe that's why I'm so excited about what Parrish has done here.

Reading through what I've written so far, I see I've been quite fulsome with my praise. So I suppose a little balance is in order. It's not a perfect book (are there any?). Especially near the end, it feels a little rushed. Sometimes the revelations that help Grant add another piece to the puzzle of his life seem to come at awfully convenient times. There's one subplot that could have been developed a little better. And, like a lot of fast-paced books, the romantic elements seem a little strained, but the blood flows freely. There's a lot of violence, but it doesn't seem gratuitous, and it's handled tastefully. If there's a guy coming after you with a sword, heads are likely to roll (literally). And violence isn't always the option chosen. But overall, this is a well-told story and I recommend it.

And did I say this is the first of a series of three? The next one comes out next summer -- I'm looking forward to it. Want to know more about the book, the series and the author? Here's Robin Parrish's Web site.

I've gotta say, this is one of my favorite books so far this year. Back in January, I said I was looking forward to three books: Deliver Us From Evelyn, Waking Lazarus and Relentless. Now I've read all three and not been disappointed. I don't think you would be, either.

FIRST Day Tour: Squat by Taylor Field

It is September 1st, time for the FIRST Day Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and their latest book's FIRST chapter!

This month's feature author is:
Taylor Field

"We live in a squat. We don't know squat. We don't have squat. We don't do squat. We don't give a squat. People say we're not worth squat."

Taylor Field has worked since 1986 in the inner city of New York where he is pastor of East Seventh Baptist Church/Graffiti Community Ministries. He holds a M.Div. from Princeton and Ph.D. from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Among his previous books is the award-winning Mercy Streets. Field and his family live in New York, New York.

If you want to know more, please visit The SQUAT Website!

To order Squat, click HERE.

Author interview contact is Andrea Irwin at Broadman & Holman.

Please Note:

All author proceeds from Squat will go to Graffiti Community Ministries, Inc., a service arm of the East Seventh Street Baptist Church on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where Field preaches.

Back Cover Copy:

In the shadow of Wall Street's wealth, homeless citizens with names like Squid, Saw, and Bonehead live in abandoned buildings known as "squats" where life is hand to mouth, where fear and violence fester. The light in lovable Squid's obsessive-compulsive mind's eye is Rachel, a loving soup kitchen missionary who tells him about faith and unfaith, hypocrisy and justice, the character of God and finding identity in Him.

But among the squats and so many other abandoned lives, will such talk be enough to make Squid believe that his life may actually amount to something?


CALMLY, THE GIRL on the sofa reached out and pulled up a flap of skin on the little boy's thin arm. It could have been a gesture of affection. But then she pinched the skin and twisted it. Hard.

"Ouch!" He whipped his pencil in front of her face once, like a club, and then cracked it on her forehead. He pulled the pencil back, ready to strike her again, crouching against the back of the couch like a cornered weasel.

The little girl wrinkled up her round freckled face but did not cry out. She looked toward her mom, who was talking to the receptionist. The boy's mom, seated across the room, didn't look up. She continued to look through the pages of her magazine, snapping each page like a whip.

"You could have put my eye out!" the freckled girl hissed.

The boy rubbed the two blue marks on his arm. He looked her steadily in the eyes and growled.

His mom called him over. "Come sit by me, honey, and stop making so much noise." She patted his hair down in the back and smiled at him. She wore lots of eyeliner and widened her eyes to make even sitting in a waiting room seem like an adventure. "You're such a big man, now," she had said this morning as she combed his hair and helped him put on his best shirt. She was humming "Getting to Know You" even though her voice quivered just a little. She had put a lot of extra perfume and sprays on this morning. She smelled like the women's aisle in a drugstore.

Once the little girl's mom finished with the receptionist and returned to the sofa, the little girl started crying with one soft, unending whine.

The boy rolled his eyes and looked for a book to bury his head in.

"What's wrong, honey?" the mom asked as she swept her little girl up.

"That boy hit me."

You can read the rest of the first chapter here.