Tuesday, June 29, 2010

For truth and beauty

Theology, Imagination, and the Arts

Revolving topics here as we discuss writing as from an A/P perspective, theology, imagination, and the creative arts are given a forum all their own at Transpositions. (In this vein, don't miss Kent's discussion on the importance of an Apostolic arts movement.) As the Transposition's "About" page reveals,
Transpositions is a collaborative effort of students associated with the Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at the University of St Andrews. On one level, transpositions connotes our goal to create conversations between Christian theology and the arts. Just like a musician might transpose from the key of B flat Major to C Major in order to create beautiful music with other instruments, we desire to transpose from the mode of theology to the arts and from the arts to theology in order to create meaningful resonances. Transpositions also brings to mind placing images and ideas of varying opacity over one another so that from particular points of view they appear to blend without distinction, creating a new form of beauty. On another level, transpositions suggests the nature of both art and theology as a transposition of divine reality into earthly form [emphasis mind]. As C. S. Lewis concluded in his brilliant essay entitled ‘Transposition,’ our glimpse of God through embodied transpositions and our taste of true reality in the present gives us hope that one day we will experience the fullness of beauty.

A Prayer for Truth and Beauty

May our creative contemplations give rise to a fuller vision of the Word who spoke both reality into existence and the truth in parables.

May we, in our vision of Him, come to see ourselves more clearly: as flawed and needing the transposition of a beauty that is not our own.

May our creative endeavors help perfect His character in each of us until, as vessels of His Holy Spirit, we radiate His truth and beauty in the world.

In Jesus' Name.


Image: Solitude by Lord Frederick Leighton, Maryhill Museum of Art

Friday, June 25, 2010

iPhones, Summer Reading, and Secrets to Book Selection

It’s the end of June, and as Rebecca pointed out, our summer reading should be in full swing. If you haven’t joined Rebecca’s list of 109 books she’s rated and recommended, you’re missing out. It’s a great way to avoid the frustration of starting and stopping 3 or 4 books that “seemed oh-so-great from the jacket” but weren’t.

Links to More Summer Reading Lists

O’s Summer Reading Issue is out, and here are Oprah’s Summer Reading Picks.

NPR compiled a summer reading list by bookshop owners.

Also, see Kent’s post for a very innovative fiction list from The New Yorker.

Tech Tools to Help Us Read More

Did you know Nintendo DS is competing with Kindle? They’re marketing a new program allowing you to download 100 classic books onto your DS. So the next time you see a horde of children before church clustered around a DS, maybe they’re reading. Or maybe their parents are confiscating their DS at night and reading. Check it out here.

This may be old news to you, but iPhones are helping us read more as well. Here’s a conversation I had with a friend two weeks ago:

Friend: “Remember how I used to read all the time?”

Me: “Sure.”

Friend: “I’m so busy now, I’ve gone the last few years barely a reading a book here or there. But Kindle now offers a free app for iPhones, and in the last few months, I’ve read several books. If I’m waiting in line or have downtime between jobs, the time I would normally spend playing a game on my phone or re-checking Facebook for the bazillionth-time, I now use to read the next chapter in my book.”

If you want to take advantage, click here and follow the link for free Kindle app at the iPhone store.

How Oprah Picks Books

Every time Oprah recommends a book and launches it into stardom, there’s a staff of hard-working readers behind the scenes finding books to recommend to her to recommend, if you will. In an interview, Sara Nelson, former editor in chief of Publisher’s Weekly, explains that she and a fellow staff member read about 20 books per month in addition to their staff duties. Wow.

Here’s what Nelson says that helps fight the myth that editors approach a submission looking for a reason to kick the book to the curb:

“Every time I open one [a book to be evaluated], I want to fall in love with it.”

Editors are looking for a reason to love your submission! Let’s work hard and give them some manuscripts they can fall in love with crafted by A/P writers.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Last France Post

My deepest apologies for (yet another) late post.

This coming Saturday, I will be boarding a plane to cross the Atlantic once again. Six months of living in a foreign country is no mean feat. I will return back to the United States with mixed, bittersweet feelings. Yes, c'est complique, but as they say, c'est la vie.

I'm reading one last book before I head back by French writer Christine Kerdellant called Les chroniques de l'ingeneur Norton. The Chronicles of Engineer Norton. It's basically a culture shock comedy about an American man who goes to work in a French company in Paris. It's written by a Frenchwoman, so it's not necessarily true insight into an American view of the French, but rather, to me, an idea of what a French person thinks an American person thinks about the French. It's hilarious because it amounts to tongue-in-cheek French commentary on French culture as well as French conceptions of Americans.

In other French book news, I received an original 1949 copy of Le deuxiéme sexe in the mail the other day as a late birthday present. Super!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Richard Russo on Writing

Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo (Empire Falls) visited St. Louis on Friday, June 4, 2010 at the St. Louis County Library Headquarters. Since he’s been published since 1986, and has had numerous novels turned into films (three starring Paul Newman), he’s also had the opportunity to write screenplays of his own work.

Due to the size of its market, St. Louis rarely makes anyone’s hardcover tour list, but catches top-flight authors on their paperback tours. Thus, Russo said he imagined most of the 200ish in attendance had probably read his latest title, so he chose a short selection from Old Cape Magic, because “most readers prefer Q&A.” This title, he said, was “about how hard it is to shut your parents up after they’re dead.” It was quite funny.

He said a lot worth sharing, so I will pass it on.


  • His writing routine: he writes 2-3 pages daily. He spends a couple morning hours writing in longhand; in the afternoon he types and revises what he wrote in the morning.
  • He writes novels and reviews and essays in longhand because he likes the feel of pen on paper. “It’s part of my process.” He writes screenplays on the computer because it is a “new habit.” Background noise is also essential, since he started serious writing when his daughters were young and noisy.
  • His most valuable writing mentor told him, if you write 2-3 pages a day, every day, “at the end of a year you won’t have a novel, but you’ll have something the size of a novel.” This is a slight twist on the familiar adage that seems truer.
  • Of all his novels, Straight Man was the easiest to write.
  • On how he discovered he was a comic novelist: The most difficult thing you learn as a writer is who you are going to be. Not who I am. Who I become when I sit down to write.”
  • Comedy allows you to lead readers to dark places. (As in his own Bridge of Sighs.)
  • “Generally books are over when the (central) conflict is resolved.” It has more to do with resolution than plot. Straight Man is about a guy eho must pass a stone—a kidney stone and otherwise. Once the stone is passed, the story is over.
  • Most novels pose a question, “It’s a question the writer poses for himself.” For instance (from one of his novels), what happens when you’re 60 and you can’t work and you can’t not work?”

Reading and Writing

  • On MFA programs: The most valuable aspect was he didn’t have to explain himself to anyone else (because they were writing also). He learned from peers doing the same thing more than from his professors and felt like ‘my writing apprenticeship was cut in half due to the MFA.’ His caveat: of course authors were writing for hundreds of years before MFAs were created, so an MFA isn’t absolutely necessary.
  • When he was one of the 3 Hemingway Prize judges (for first novels), he had to read 65 books in four months.
  • When discussing his characters (most often in Straight Man), he said of his real friends and acquaintances, “Everyone recognizes everyone else, but no one recognizes themselves.” Usually the person who comes up to him and says, “X character is so-and-so isn’t he?” is actually the character he most based it on.
  • An audience member said, “I love your stories, but I love your characters even more.” Russo said thanks, adding, “I even love the characters I don’t like.” If you’re going to spend 5-6 years on a book, you don’t want to be bored. He doesn’t set tasks for characters, but listens to them because “what’s on their minds is what’s on my mind.”
  • He neglects social media—"I don’t object. I think my life is cluttered enough.” Technology can isolate us, but avoiding it can isolate us as well.

Finding an Agent

He’s had the same agent since he was discovered via a short story in a small circulation magazine, so he admitted the advice mightn’t be completely fresh:

  • You can’t send a full novel to numerous agents (simultaneous submission) because none will read it. However, send the first 50 pages to numerous agents. Keep a log book so when the first agent replies, you date the communication and send the entire “solicited manuscript” (& will become your agent if they want the novel). If/when a 2nd agent expresses interest, date their communication and contact the first that you have other interest if they decide to pass.

Novel as Screenplay

  • Novels can adopt any structure, all screenplays (barring the rare exception) are 120 pages built on a 3 act structure. The first act is 25 pages, the last act is 20 pages and the 2nd act is 75 pages.
  • Writing screenplays has forced him to think of structure earlier in his novels.
  • Paul Newman loved writers.
  • Russo found it “wonderful that talented actors found things in my lines that I didn’t know was there.”
  • A friend told him: “Writing screenplays is hot sex. Writing novels is marriage.”
  • He says he now purposely writes scenes in his novels that can’t be filmed.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Appendix A: New Yorker Lists Top 20 Today

The latest New Yorker Proclaims: The Best 20 Authors Under 40 Years Old

This spectacular illustration is actually a Rosetta Stone to learn about each author. Click on each image to learn more about an individual author.

  • A podcast of the editors who helmed the list.

Question: When will this list include a Pentecostal?

If you want to earn your way onto the list, buy the issue and read the related stories they consider worthy so that you understand the competition!

Appendix B: iBooks, Bender, Kindle,

Links from around the web:

  • File under "It's Probably Just A Fad Department": Steve Jobs: 5 Million Books Downloaded in iBookstore.
  • Sobering stats about published books.
  • Kindle Bestsellers & Movie Deals: It's Already Happened.
  • A Third Way: "Crime Novelist spurns Big Publishers for Amazon" - Make sure you read the comments, as the author disagrees w/the initial article & offers some great insights into Amazon: the e & Print Publisher

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Moveable Feast: Reading as One's Summer Fare

Once upon a time, I was a voracious reader. And a devious one. As a child, during the school year, I managed to read what I wanted instead of doing my home studies because I had my mother convinced I was learning more that way. When summer came, I would borrow as many books as the library allowed each week (twenty? thirty?), devour them all, two or three in a day, return them and mark them on my reading chart.

I won prizes for the number of books I consumed in a summer. The Bobsey Twins. Nancy Drew. The Hardy Boys. Narnia. The Anne books and every other story by L.M. Montgomery. Little Women, and their eight or more cousins. Historical fiction. Biographies of kings, queens, inventors, and social reformers. Not a lot of fantasy. No poetry.

I am not the reader I once was. In some ways, that's a bit of a shame. What I wouldn't give for spending whole days reading! I wish I could return to those lazy summer days on the farm when the best way to escape the heat was by diving between the covers of a book and tasting the delights of the written word. Now I am lucky to find my literary escape in bed in the last fifteen minutes of my day.

I am a reader still, but one whose tastes and habits have changed. If I could go back to my privileged position of childhood, I would want to take my adult perspective with me and glut my reader's appetite on the really good books while I had all the time in the world! Wouldn't you? J.R.R. Tolkien. Madeleine L'Engle. Poetry by the pitcher-full.

Such a luxury not being possible, I've discovered a snacking approach to summer reading helps appease my cravings. And it gives me time to digest what I've read. Last summer I tasted my first Tolkien with The Hobbit. It was a feast enjoyed in chapter-sized bites over several weeks. I savored the pacing of Tolkien's prose and the delicious descriptions of Bilbo Baggins.

This summer my reading list on Good Reads comes in sixty flavors and counting. I've started off the season long picnic with a friend's original 157 page manuscript fragment. And it was very good. Now I have proceeded to Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years at Kent's recommendation and Annie Dillard's The Maytrees, which is poetry in novel form whose setting is beside sea.

What are you reading now? How does it compare with your summer reading in childhood? Are you on Good Reads? Won't you join me?

Image: Bookstore in Haworth, West Yorkshire, 2007