Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Ran into some unexpectedly powerful sentences (and literary criticism – or is it evaluation?) while listening to a bio of Nobel-Prize winner Pearl Buck.
Buck grew up as a Presbyterian missionary’s kid in China before the Boxer Rebellion, & devoured Dickens especially, reading his entire ouevre every year for a decade:
“As a prospective writer herself, she responded avidly to the haunting power of an imagination that accesses horrors lurking deep beyond the reach of the conscious mind through symbolic imagery and drama, gluing the narrative together on the surface with the bland sentimentality that soothes and reassures readers. The split between dream-like purity and contaminated reality … would become a crucial part of the implicit bargain she too would make later with her American public.”
-Hilary Spurling, Pearl Buck in China
There’s also a lovely sentence describing the effects of famine:
“Gaunt pregnant women gnawed from within” that grabbed me by its accuracy and its horror.
Wow! We’re the exact opposite today aren’t we?
BTW, you could hardly do better than listen to this course to fill in any gaps in your literary learning. It’s well worth every penny. Link (which won't embed), is here:
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Monday, December 12, 2011
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Friday, December 2, 2011
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Monday, November 28, 2011
Inevitable but not predictable. reminders on bookshelves stating:
- Inevitable but not predictable.
- Conflict + contradiction.
- How they choose is who they are.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Do you think Lewis is right?
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Sunday, November 20, 2011
"There are two kinds of truth: the truth that lights the way and the truth that warms the heart. The first of these is science, and the second is art. Neither is independent of the other or more important than the other. Without art science would be as useless as a pair of high forceps in the hands of a plumber. Without science art would become a crude mess of folklore and emotional quackery. The truth of art keeps science from becoming inhuman, and the truth of science keeps art from becoming ridiculous." -Raymond Chandler
Monday, October 31, 2011
- Maybe the next wave of biography will come through video? Is it time to turn to film for storytelling?
- At the very least we should explore online options. Blogs offer an avenue for anyone to tell his or her story so we can catpure and share personal narratives. Maybe we can start by telling our own stories and also use this to share those of our elders.
- Check out UGST's Symposium site for papers soon to come on this year's theme "Telling Our Story." In the words of Dr. Vinson Synan, we should be recording the stories of the older people among us. We have lost many from our first generation, but we can still capture many stories critical to the history of our movement.
There is power in a personal story. It is incumbent on us to use this power. As we tell our stories, we build a bridge to tell His story.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
The other aspect I like (but I shouldn't, as a Christian), is that they allow the British Isles to bet on the winner. Of course, for people to bet intelligently, they have to read the books first. So, if you dont' have Oprah, then betting on books gets non-readers to read and that's not a bad thing. (Is it?)
Saturday, October 22, 2011
I’m still plugging away on a long project, updating it almost daily – sometimes a new paragraph, sometimes a line edit, sometimes 2-3 pages of rewrites. As I do this, I find myself veering into unusual reading terrain, as I know of no working author who doesn’t voraciously read, be it for research or inspiration and instruction.
To dig deeper, I find myself reading music criticism (because the language offers a precision on topics I rarely describe), a book on smiles (because I want to see how a professor classifies the physical difference of a smile of lust and a smile of love; a politician’s smile and a parent’s smile. I can implant this authenticity into my piece.), and even the liner notes from the albums of jazz great Miles Davis (because it’s the background color and history for some amazing music).
My audio book choices have veered as well. I’m suddenly listening to 18th and 19th century tales of adventure: Treasure Island, Kidnapped, The Three Musketeers (all choices I now regret passing over earlier in life) because somehow contemporary stories (which I’m writing), especially those with a strong voice, taint my own writing through their influence. It’s terribly hard to explain except to say there’s too much contemporary overlap for me to remain uncorrupted – especially when I’m making progress on my own work – so I must discover founts from other eras.
In the meantime, these tales by Dumas and Stevenson offer a certain timelessness with tricks (Dumas makes a loooong conversation between the four musketeers riveting because his protagonists bet they can eat breakfast in a battle zone for an hour. It’s a lovely case of moving the story forward, revealing character, foreshadowing, and straightforward action.) I would do well to learn.
New language. New ways of seeing my areas of interest. Writerly insights. If it stops, then my writing is likely to wither away. There’s always something new to discover.
It’s a strange state to live in—but it’s working.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Monday, October 10, 2011
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Great article in The New York Times on the changing nature of book and magazine reading.
“On the one hand, a Kindle or a Nook is perfect for reading a 1,000-page George R. R. Martin novel,” said Eric Simonoff, a literary agent. “On the other hand, these devices are uniquely suited for mid-length content that runs too long for shrinking magazines and are too pamphletlike to credibly be called a book.”
"Many of the works sold as e-books are more of a hybrid between a long magazine piece and a serialized book. Each Random House-Politico e-book will be in the range of 20,000 to 30,000 words, and the releases will be spaced out over the course of the campaign."
“We think that the nature of a book is changing,” said Jon Meacham, an executive editor at Random House and a former editor of Newsweek. “The line between articles and books is getting ever fuzzier.”
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
The New Yorker, that bastion of the short story, always interviews the writer who wrote that week’s story in their Book Bench column. Whether or not you’ve heard of the writer, or like their story, they often have great insights into the writing process. For instance, Ben Marcus shared these gems:
I first used Ohio as a setting because I hadn’t been there and knew almost nothing about it. It seemed like a perfectly plausible place to live, and it kept me from relying too much on autobiographical details, which would, I was sure, lure me into terrible spasms of sentimentality. I felt that I needed to avoid this at all costs, so I leaned on places totally removed from my experience. I prefer using personal experience that is emotional—feelings I’ve had, feelings I’m afraid of having—rather than experience that is specific to geography. Denver gets this treatment, too. “Write what you don’t yet know” is maybe the motto. I think the vacuum I sense around a place I haven’t been, like Cleveland (I guess I’ve been in the airport), is helpful to me, absolving me from being a tour guide, letting me focus on the story itself.
On Using Real Life
I’ve noticed how flashbacks (childhood causes, memories, back story, etc.) can take the sting out of a story, trading drama for information, mystery for facts.
The reader, by having access to Paul’s thoughts, the little crimes of his mind, has much more information than Paul’s parents and sister. But these characters, in turn, have information about Paul’s past that the reader doesn’t have. Maybe a tension becomes possible because of this, everybody knowing something different, no one on the same footing?
Be sure to bookmark Book Bench for regular visits. There’s always something interesting going on.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
They've got a bunch of short, tantalizing articles on "Creating Suspense," "POV," and this on "Characterization" that I quite liked:
“At its simplest, its barest, characterisation is about a writer's grasp of what a human being is. When we set out to write, we do not do so out of a sense of certainty but out of a kind of radical uncertainty. We do not set out saying: "The world is like this." But asking: "How is the world?" In creating characters we are posing to ourselves large, honest questions about our nature and the nature of those about us. Our answers are the characters themselves, those talking spirits we conjure up by a kind of organised dreaming.”
Friday, September 30, 2011
Here’s the truth about most of what we read—it’s forgettable. It might be thrilling, fascinating, or earth-shattering at the moment, but somehow it merges into the nether regions of the mind and we often barely remember if we even read the piece months later.
However, that’s rarely the case if an author conveys a powerful voice in their piece. (I refuse to use the word “book” instead of “piece” because Tom Wolfe was famous for the voice he brought to magazine pieces, and certain bloggers are irresistible due to the special angle they bring to a topic.) There’s something amazing about a strong voice that tells a tale in such a way that, in a book, can overcome weak plotting or poor pacing or incomplete characters.
Professionals hem and haw about whether writing can be taught. Some say yea, most say nay. I'm in the yea camp--except for voice. You can't make a bore interesting or a mediocrity unique. To some degree, you can teach characterization and plotting and POV, but I would go so far as to say writing with a strong voice is the one part of writing that can’t be taught—you either have it or you don’t.
Most of the canon—Tolstoy, Dante, Shakespeare—and classics—Raymond Chandler, Harper Lee, Marilynne Robinson—are memorable because of their book’s unique voice, inimitable and clear, that sticks with us like that song on the radio that you just can’t get out of your head.
"Greene’s prose has the clarity of a pane of glass, yet it creates an air of menace, almost an airlessness, which intensifies the drama. His simplicity makes him appear modern, and two of his novels, “The End of the Affair” and “The Quiet American”, have been re-made for the screen since 2000."
There’s an entire series of these, covering the voices of Joan Didion, W.G. Sebald, Chaucer, and others worth your consideration.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Although the much-lauded Atlantic Monthly Fiction Issue always features excellent contemporary fiction (thus the title), what often goes unnoticed is the essays that are also included. For my purposes, sometimes they are worth the price of the magazine alone.
This issue is no exception: Bret Anthony Johnston of Harvard's writing program offers some fantastic insights into separating the real from the true by avoiding that ancient fiction trope of “Write what you know.” His examples and metaphors are perfect for the task, for instance:
Instead of thinking of my experiences as structures I wanted to erect in fiction, I started conceiving of them as the scaffolding that would be torn down once the work was complete. I took small details from my life to evoke a place and the people who inhabit it, but those details served to illuminate my imagination. Before, I’d forced my fiction to conform to the contours of my life; now I sought out any and every point where a plot could be rerouted away from what I’d known. The shift was seismic. My confidence waned, but my curiosity sprawled.
If you’re called to write fiction, then this is a must-read piece.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
I've long admired the music and songwriting of Fernando Ortega. When I say admire I mean that he is among my top favorite musicians of all time, Christian or not. He has classical training but incorporates elements of folk music that suit the the simplicity of the gospel in a way other genres just can't touch. His gentle vocals stir the soul. While, he writes a lot of his own stuff, he has also recorded numerous hymns that were in danger of being forgotten. In this article, Ortega offers his wisdom to modern hymn writers and worship leaders.
"Sing to Jesus" is a hymn written by Ortega in the spirit and tradition of the ancient hymnody. Enjoy!
Sunday, September 25, 2011
This week in World Literature class, we read “Credo” by Maxine Kumin—a reflection on Native American beliefs regarding nature and creation. As I stressed to the class a need for an Apostolic expression of our credos as well, I wondered where we are as Oneness Pentecostals with a presence in poetry.
I know, I know… I discussed the value of poetry last post too. Not sure why I’m stuck on it. I’m still not saying I prefer poetry to prose, but I see its place. And I see a need for Apostolics’ place in published poetry.
An argument for Apostolic poetry:
- For readers... We’ve talked before about how reading is mutating in the twenty-first century. Kent mentioned changes in traditional book printing, which I believe reflect cultural changes as much as those in technology. I don’t think people are not reading—I just think they’re reading different types of things—looking to the Internet for “literature in a hurry.” Poetry fits the bill. It’s not overwhelming. Read a poem here or there, skip around, whatever. It is not an intimidating commitment, unlike the shelves of novels the busy North American bypasses. So poetry is a target for readers in today’s culture.
- For writers… There’s no evading the fact that writing takes work. I’ll not deny that. But the culinary enthusiast who may despair at the thought of baking a wedding cake may thrive at the challenge of grilling a porterhouse. Instead of months of structuring elaborate plots and subplots, hyper-focus on a stanza or two. Poetry is do-able. (And it doesn’t have to rhyme…. But that’s a post for another day.)
- For publishing… The Internet provides new avenues for publishing all genres, not the least of which is poetry. Any given blog could become home to a writer’s collection of poems. But traditional publishing is especially feasible for poets. Chapbooks (think cheap-books) are collections of writings around the forty page mark, and they are just as popular now as they were in the 1400s when they surfaced. They can be printed inexpensively, meaning writers have a workable plan for publishing their work without some of the big questions marks a novel represents.
So… do we have any Apostolic poets out there? Let us hear from you. Send a link to your blogs/sites/etc. And please pass on any tips you think would help other poets in progress.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
I'm thinking of continuing the tradition because one of my favorite contemporary novelists, Ron Hansen, is included in the line-up. Hansen is the Gerard Manley Hopkins Professor at Santa Clara University and is author of a number of novels based on historical figures, including Exiles, a novel about G.M. Hopkins and his renowned poem "The Wreck of the Deutschland". Hansen teaches fiction, screenwriting, and literature.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Friday, September 16, 2011
No more. Because I had to offer something readable each meeting, I had to name the hotel manager, I had to decide if the main character was going to walk to the Ice Cream Shoppe or drive. Instead of a one sentence “Gets to Ice Cream Shoppe” because I didn’t want to handle these transitional descriptions -- I can write 3 pages of dialogue with the same speed as about 1 bad paragraph of description. Dialogue flows for me. Descriptions of places grind me to a complete halt. – I wrote them anyway.
Plus, because I had my foundation down, I feel like most of the decisions I’ve been forced into have been positive, or at least not detrimental. I’m sure if/when I hit page 300 I’ll look back and groan at some of these choices, but early on, it’s been a huge plus and deeply satisfying.
All of this decision-making has also made my imagination more fecund. Ideas come alive throughout the day. It doesn’t mean I still don’t get stuck or all the ideas are impossibly original – it just means I feel like I’ve been especially productive and fresh and don’t really have anything to atribute it to except joining the group. (Though I am faithful with my audio books, writing daily, and eating smarter, too. So those factors can’t hurt.)
If you haven’t joined a writer’s group, try one. (Ask around or Google for local groups or check out the bulletin boards around a university or in a coffee shop.) It might make you take your writing more seriously – and help it become more rewarding.
That said, no matter how fast I write, it seems like I never complete that many pages. Oh well.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Monday, September 12, 2011
Sunday, September 11, 2011
From The Missouri Review:
I wanted to remind you about an exciting prize and publication opportunity available through The Missouri Review. There's one month left to submit to our Jeffrey E. Smith Editor's Prize Competition -- for which we offer over $15,000 in prizes. We accept submissions in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Winners in each category receive a prize of $5,000, plus a feature in our Spring issue and paid travel to our gala reading and reception. Contest finalists will receive cash prizes and have their work considered for publication as well.
While the contest has a postmark deadline of October 1stof this year, we encourage early submissions. We accept submissions online or by mail. Winners will be announced
In January of 2012.
Don't forget that your $20 entry fee gets you a one-year subscription to The Missouri Review. Subscriptions are available in print or digital versions. Our downloadable digital subscription includes a full-length audio version of the journal.
You can find more information about the contest through our website: http://www.missourireview.com/tmrsubmissions/editors-prize-contest/.
Interested in reading a past Jeffrey E. Smith Editor's Prize winner? Check out the essays "Big Jim," "Letters to David," and "My Thai Girlfriends" on textBOX, the Missouri Review's free online anthology: www.missourireview.com/anthology
Thanks very much for your help in making this year's contest a success. We look forward to reading your submissions!
The Missouri Review
357 McReynolds Hall
University of Missouri
Columbia, MO 65211
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Monday, September 5, 2011
So if you really love writing and reading, you need to tap into writing conferences/conventions to learn more about the writing process (and your genre), publishing realities, and maybe even meet some giants in the industry. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that BoucherCon is in St. Louis this month. The Mystery/Thriller con rotates host cities and now it’s at my doorstep.
You might find yourself equally fortunate, by Googling your genre of writing or “writing conventions” and getting on some e-newsletter lists!
Thursday, September 1, 2011
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
When you’re writing your first novel, there’s no pressure because there are no expectations. But for the second, there is pressure because people know you’re an author and expectations abound. Julie Otsuka @Powell’s Books shares her thoughts on successfully tackling the 2nd book.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
“What Angus Fletcher taught me, and teaches others, is a very complex matter of what it means for thinking to take place in a literary work. It’s the question of how Shakespeare thinks in his plays and sonnets, of how Henry James thinks in his late, intricate work, or of how Emily Dickinson thinks in her extraordinary poems. I've tried to extend Angus Fletcher’s way of looking at the mind as represented in art to the greatest American poet, Walt Whitman, who thinks through metaphors. My real subject, increasingly, is metaphorical thinking – which is how Shakespeare and all poets and novelists and storywriters think.”
“Sometimes I experimentally write out a first paragraph – or middle paragraph, even – of a novel which I feel no obligation to write. Those kind of dabblings I always set down in a green, ring-bound A4 notebook. It’s full of paragraphs from novels I will never complete, or hardly start. But sooner or later, one of those paragraphs will snag my attention, and I’ll come back to it asking: why does that interest me so much, why does that seem to offer a peculiar kind of mental freedom? And so I might find myself adding a page or two. It was with a complete free hand, for example, that I once wrote what turned out to be the opening of – with no clear sense that I was committed to anything at all, I was just playing with narrative positions, with tone of voice, with a certain descriptive moment. Or I might decide that what I’ve written belongs to the middle of a novel, and then I’ll spend some idle time tracing out a beginning. Then abandoning it. It’s a way of tricking myself into writing novels.”
The Browser's Literature and Writing sections are definitely worth examining when you get a moment. (Haven't poked through the others sections to offer an opinion, so that's not a back-handed compliment.)
Friday, August 26, 2011
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Monday, August 22, 2011
Friday, August 19, 2011
Dilbert creator Scott Adams has an interesting take on how boredom leads to superior creativity. Not everyone who comments afterwards agrees, but that doesn’t make the article less relevant.
I would also say that times of great ugliness can create an unexpected climate of creative productivty. I just escaped extended months of ugliness, but was surprised at how the last six weeks of that season was accompanied by an unexpected bonanza of disciplined creativity.
Too often in the past I got bogged down or allowed unhappy circumstances to grind down my writing progress. This time (perhaps because I was so desperate to flee parts of my reality?), it was the opposite. I flew to the laptop at every opportunity to see what my muse would reveal. (Frankly, I was shocked she was showing up so often.) Sometimes time and circumstance would allow me only a paragraph, sometimes it unleashed pages, but at every point my story progressed, producing a great peace within me, probably because it was something that went right as everything around me exploded.
I’m not sure I’d choose to continue that combination of progress through explosions, but I suddenly understand how Goethe (family man, lawyer, politician) could write despite too many responsibilities. It was yet another lesson to be learned through creating. I’m sure there are so many more.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Monday, August 15, 2011
Friday, August 12, 2011
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
"People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can't find them, make them." -George Bernard Shaw
So what do you want your circumstances to be soon? Whatever it is, I guarantee it will push you out of your comfort zone to achieve it!
Monday, August 8, 2011
Friday, August 5, 2011
Monday, July 18, 2011
Am I pretentious because I know the names of two living poets and enjoy their works? Or am I pretentious for pointing it out? Or am I just a passionate reader who’s willing to share his passions even if the passion happens to be poetry (ewww!) now and again?
Whatever the case, Scott Cairns is a former Baptist who is now a Greek Orthodox. His work carries more formal properties (to my mind), while Christian Wiman is the former atheist who was raised by fundamentalists and now finds himself amazed to believe in God. Wiman has a new book, Every Riven Thing, that’s quite amazing (and accessible).
If you write, you can learn from anything – even poetry. (Wiman’s precise word images can startle you alive.) If you haven’t given poetry a shot lately, try it now. You might get to know the name of a living poet.
Friday, July 15, 2011
Friday, July 1, 2011
But what about your text? Is what you've written being given existence by others? There are several stages at which existence can be thwarted.
For those of us who have trouble transmitting the text from our brains to the page, a group of other committed writers may help. You know they're going to ask you about your project; it becomes easier to work on it than it is to dodge the questions. It also helps to know that you have an immediate audience. Granted, your text at this point is still in the embryonic stage, but it does exist because what you've written has been read by other eyes.
Others of us abort our text at the publication stage. You've written something, your writers' group has helped nurture it, but you haven't delivered. Publication can be scary. You have to accept that the editors might hate your child and throw it back at you. You have to give your baby a chance to live.
If there isn't a reader, the text doesn't exist. How are you giving your writing a chance to exist in the world?
Photo Credit: My amazingly intelligent niece at four months
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Looks like someone else is jumping into the Christian comics realm. Publisher's Weekly offers a nice profile of Kingstone Media Group's new venture.
Friday, June 24, 2011
- About the writer's childhood: "The television stayed on day and night, singing like a Siren in the crowded house. 'Come sit by me and die a little,' it said."
- "As long as nobody had assigned the book, I could stick with it. I didn’t know what I was reading. I didn’t really know how to read. Reading messed with my brain in an unaccountable way. It made me happy; or something."
- About working to pay his way through a literary-driven college: "I carried bricks and mortar to rooftops during the summers, but if I hadn’t made time to read the night before, my legs wore out by noon. Even my body needed to read."
- Upon the reading immersion he grew to love in college: "The gravity of the whole thing would have been laughable if it hadn’t been so much fun, and if it hadn’t been such a gift to find my tribe."
Thursday, June 23, 2011
How many have you read?
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Saturday, June 18, 2011
So the older brother told me his sister, who graduated from high school in May, decided to read Anna Karenina for the summer before she moved off to college. Turns out she liked a couple short stories she read in a lit class and saw AK on the library shelves, so she picked it up.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
But whatever else we can't squeeze into our reading schedule, let's make time for J. Mark Bertrand's essay, "I Know What You Read Last Summer." He writes: "As much as I agonize over summer reading, you can't get it wrong. High-brow or low-brow, genre or literary, timeless or trendy, you can read what you like."
It's a good thing I like church history.
Photo: The C.S. collection at Covenant Theological Seminary, Saint Louis
Sunday, June 5, 2011
My narrator isn't so deranged. I'll give you an example of the kind of stuff she writes about me:
It was Sunday evening, night really, and she was home from church. The clock on the wall behind her was ticking persistently as she sat at the kitchen table typing on the black Dell. The strains of easy listening instrumental music were playing on Pandora. If only she'd written this blog post earlier, she thought.Ms. Narrator's voice is pleasant enough, her tones lending a seeming significance to the mundane.
But it suddenly struck me a few nights ago that this voice lending significance to each and every action is only one of the voices vying for a place in my mind. There is definitely another voice, belonging to a deep-sounding, worldly-wise man. Think: Screwtape.
You really think you matter? That you can make a difference? The world is a big place, and you are just one out of billions. Who's to say you have a better life than any one else? Is there really such a thing as truth?The skepticism of Narrator II is intimidating. The questions he asks seem as vast as the universe. (He calls it a "multiverse.") You hear him, too?
But Ms. Narrator's endless chatter strikes me as naive. Yes, my life and actions matter, but perhaps not to the extent she imagines.
I've come to believe that somewhere between his skepticism and her idealism lies the reality of it. There is yet another Voice narrating, a still, small voice. And I'm so often wont to tune It out because I like to play this game with Ms. Narrator and Narrator II. Yet the Voice is speaking all along, overriding others' narrations, to imbue my each experience and very existence with meaning.
"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2).
*Disclaimer: Illustration from film not to be considered an endorsement.
Monday, May 30, 2011
Friday, May 27, 2011
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
“We were talking about our creative writing students at Stanford, when the poet Alan Shapiro told me, “The most important talent is the talent for work. Without that, nothing else much matters.” Over the years I have found that advice increasingly persuasive." - Ron Hansen