Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Best Writers Seek Perspective From Other Writers--Inkblots

WWII French Resistance, downed B-17 flyer, SOE agent
Chit-chatted together, glad to be in the clean air of the Scriptorium, breath of fresh air from the BC smoke clogging lungs and breathing passageways throughout the region.

Inkblots this evening was an enactment of the importance of having other serious writers listen and critique what we are writing. I am a firm believer that every good writer needs this and will take pains to seek it out. That's what we did this evening. It cerainly helped me.

Rachel leads off with more cheese. Do we have a working title for this yarn? I gain weight listening to Rachel read this work in progress. I do hope when it is published (and the sooner the better) that Rachel Ng will immediately do an author-read audio book. This is evocative of a bustling kitchen in a high-cuisine restaurant in Russia. "I'm not a man for paperwork." Love this evasion. Makorov in hand. Can we hear rounds being chambered? Bob commented that to his ear there seemed to be too many adjectives in the opening paragraph. We had Rachel reread it. I liked it, but we do have to be careful of over modifying. Concrete nouns and active verbs, the stock and store of good writers. You might try dividing the compound complex sentence into two sentences. Rachel wanted to overwhelm the senses with the opening paragraph.

Alisa had a tough editor who she asked to help her with racial perspective that Alisa did not have, She will read The Emblem, set at the Brick Tavern, the oldest bar in Washington State. She warns us that there are many things going on in this scene. Too much? She warned us that there is swearing and they had prostitutes in Roslyn, Washington in 1930s mining frontier town. Not interested in the indulgences she might have to offer him. He had a wife and several kids back in Seattle. Be specific. How many kids, boys or girls? He recollects some specific thing about them. The son's illness is an important detail. They're beyond my pay. Could you say this in a more colloquial fashion? Doctor tests, they costs money, don't they? At the front of the Brick. Weather-worn miner who should not have come up from the underground today. Can you expand the tactile and sensory context? What does it smell like in the bar? Sound like? Is there music, oddly grinding out its merry tune while the brawl is underway? Slamming a beer mug onto the Douglas fir countertop. Alisa went to the pioneer picnic and learned that negroes in 1930 went to a different tavern. A friend thinks she needs to include backstory from the 1880s strike. We talked about ways to do this without losing the flow of the story. Create a narrator character who loves telling stories, and his good at it. Then flashback from their retelling of the past events.

French Cousins, John reads from his children's stories for his grandkids who have French cousins, his daughter having married a French pastor. This is a grandfather's labor of love, charming, nostalgic, a delightful read. Creative non-fiction genre. Very handsome indeed. Can you give this more specific visual substance so the reader can conclude that they're very handsome indeed. It seems like you jump from the south of France to Switzerland too quickly. Is it possible to create episodes in both so you don't have to describe France then switch to Switzerland. And honk her horn, is active voice, whereas, the horn would honk, is passive voice. Your writing will be more vigorous if you primarily write in active voice. Good description of cathedral and night sky. I feel like I'm hearing some late attribution; be sure the reader knows who is speaking early on in what they are saying; otherwise, the attribution is less helpful. Best way to do this is to break quotations early with a mid-sentence attribution. Amsterdam, a small town? This reads like a warm children's travel adventure. John does a good job of writing from the perspective of the children.

Bob reads from the second book in his Sinbad series. Last reading his protagonist is in India for the tenth anniversary of his coronation. This is a bridge chapter, the next having more adventure and potential danger. Bob writes from first person, Sinbad. Bob addresses the dear reader. Is there a better way to do this? Or is this Bob's voice and method, like CS Lewis does in Narnia, oral story telling genre? Bob claims to be lazy and that's why he likes writing journey stories. The yarn can unfold as it unfolds. I'm looking forward to this book in print. Read The Crescent and the Cross for the first installment. Adventures on the high seas await!

I read chapter nine of The Resistance (working title). I'm working on chapter twenty three now and feel like I have good forward momentum, though always far too many interruptions (cows on the loose, guests arriving, my not-so-latent ADHD, you name it). Chapter nine is a shift from French Resistance Normandy, downed flyers trying to stay one step ahead of the Waffen SS hunting them down, to 1 Dorset Square London where 1000s of SOE agents trained to go behind enemy lines and work alongside the French Resistance. I enjoyed creating this chapter. Maybe I should post it for a sneek preview.

Deep discounts on my next Oxford Creative Writing Master Class spring and summer 2019. Space is very limited. You will not regret going. But don't take my word for it. "I loved every minute of it! I learned more about writing and history than I ever could have expected. You gave me literary tools which I am already using and will continue to use. It was a wonderful tour, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!" (Cheyanne). Check it out at

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Anatomy of Fiction: Overturn the status quo (Inkblots)

Create round characters with real problems,
like readers have
Seven of us for Inkblots this fine warm summer evening in the Scriptorium, cattle lowing in the background.

I led off reading from Augustine about how our love of our own opinions bars us from accurately interpreting a text: "For if he takes up rashly a meaning which the author who he is reading did not intend, he often falls in with other statements which he cannot harmonize with this meaning. And if he admits that these statements are true and certain, then it follows that the meaning he had put upon the former passage cannot be the true one; and so it comes to pass, one can hardly tell how, that, out of love for his own opinion, he begins to feel more angry with Scripture than he is with himself. And if he should once permit that evil to creep in, it will utterly destroy him.” – Ch. 37, Book 1 

Bob leads off reading from his second adventure of Sinbad and Silassie, the first volume, in print, The Crescent and the Cross (a very good book, I might add, having had the privilege of reading it at verious stages of its creation). This yarn will feature a Christian critique of Hinduism, whereas the first volume exposed the fallacies of Islam. This is a sailing yarn, a journey story genre book, delightful, with an obvious Christian perspective, no apologies. Bob writes in first person, almost journal like in its tone, to my ear. Bob has obviously done a great deal of research on Middle Eastern religions and culture and history, though the tales are what I would call historical fantasy, Jules Vern step aside. The opening scene begins in the midst of what appears to be martyrdom, then flashback for much of the story. Rachel commented on Bob's evocative description of the sea and ships. I agree it was solid and appealed to multiple senses. Cheyenne chimed in on Bob's reading: loved description of the sea and boat, felt like I was right there; there were parts that seemed a bit choppy, maybe hard to follow for a younger reader, but loved ending of chapter. This is the opening chapter of a new book. Bob uses semicolons as opposed to comma conjunction structure. Cheyenne felt like it was jumpy.

I read my furthest in chapter (at Bob's suggestion for me to read my least refined chapter) and received some very helpful critique and suggestions from 'Blots. I particularly appreciate Alisa and John reading the whole thing (as far as I've gotten) and offering valuable perspective before this evening. I'm looking forward to absorbing the critique and recasting and rewriting tomorrow morning. Thank you! I wrote a while back that I was having significant trouble with this manuscript. I was. But I took my own advice and kept reading, writing, rewriting, rewriting (did I mention rewriting?).

Alisa tells us about The Emblem, an interracial love story set in the 1930s. She was invited to Roslyn's interracial picnic, but doesn't want to crash someone else's party. But they invited her so we all seemed to agree she should go, and eat! She is struggling with sorting out the historical accuracy of the sources. There are inconsistencies in the history. Should she go to the picnic? This is research with integrity, made all the better by the fact that Alisa isn't finally doing it just for research to make a good book. "It's not about me anyway; its about telling a good story." And writing a good story means getting it right, getting it the best that she can. Alisa feels that she is torn by having drafted the book eight years ago, first draft, and then the heightened racial tensions of the moment. Write for what is timeless and enduring, not shaped by the priorities of the moment. That's not a call to be careless about racial issues, by no means. But to have a perspective that rises above transient verbiage and ideas, popular spin and opinion filtering and dictating how we are to think (unless we want to have hateful vitriol hurled at us for not being in lockstep with the current narrative). Write what is timeless, characters that rise above it all. Oppressed, downtrodden, abused, but who find grace and true strength, and who are able to look for ways to love their neighbors through the pain and deprivation.

Cheynne has pulled up a manuscript from her trip to Japan a few years ago and is reworking things. She is getting help from an editor. First chapter. Dystopian fantasy fiction base loosely on things she experienced in Japan. The forest stretched... around me. We have a character to care about in the opening line. Amanda is the main character? Juliette, is she the main character? Roots sprawling into the air instead of into the ground, not dying, but thriving roots. Very good description of falling. Can you give us sounds, feels, smells, more senses involved as she was falling? Back to the roots like Medusa's hair. I, so your are writing in first person, but who is the first person perspecive? Amanda, or Julliette? I could have missed this, but I am not clear from whose perspective I'm experiencing the irreality. Maybe I missed it. I realize it is dystopian so there is the dream-like, hazy, ethearial atmosphere, but I think you will need to give your reader a normal, a status quo, a hard reality from which the dystopian irreality can be compared. You do a good job of visual description. Can you beef up other senses, smells, sounds, tastes, from the old west town you describe otherwise so well. Can you give us a clearer problem for the main character? What does she want but can't have? What is she afraid of most? Where is she going?

John suggested more dialogue and Alisa agreed. The first chapter is where you need to set the hook, says John, questions to be asked, make it more intriguing. I would strongly suggest that there be a status quo, a beginning epsposition of the normal, then an enciting moment, that launches forward the rising action, the protagonist trying to solve the problem. I'm not hearing at this reading, granted it is a fairly brief reading, a rooted normal that gets changed by some force acting against the protagonist, who then has to try and solve the problem, hence the plot to follow.

Great time this evening, iron sharpening iron. I was benefited by hearing the readings and the critiques of fellow 'Blots. I've got work to do and will get at it in the morning. I will post after this post tomorrow, a sample chapter from La Resistance. Promise!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Scoffing, Raging (and sometimes writing) Against the Lord--Inkblots

Rachel Ng's cheese yarn continues to charm
We talked about independent publishing and traditional publishing, John Erickson and Hank the Cow Dog being one of the greatest examples of successful independent publishing (Maverick Press, and Hank have sold millions and counting). Sell directly to your consumer, live stream, blog, be a personal face on social media--the advice I was given by a marketing exec down in Nashville last fall. We also talked about classic films, Casablanca, for example, play it again Sam. I need to rewatch this movie.

Alisa exhibited at the Arts Festival last week, with sixteen other authors, They put her next to a male author whose genre was different from Alisa's (she asked the organizers if they would put her next to an author who would not necessarily be a competitor for her book). One of the author's a sculptor, has sold 7,000 books. How did he do this? Alisa is smarting from a devistating critique of her forthcoming The Emblem. This is hard. Patrick asked if it was more a critique of her racially or politically, socially, or stylistically as a writer? It is always important to sort out the substance of a critique, and a critic. It is almost impossible for any of us to entirely put aside our other preconceptions and simply critique the story on its own merits, the author on her own merits. Patrick offered the idea of taking an idea and personifying the thing in a character. This can transform a flat character into a more round one, idyosincracies, mannerisms, a wacky or painfully introverted individual. Rachel H encouraged Alisa to ask herself what particular reason did she choose this particular editor. What does she have to offer in improving the manuscript, her particular niche, what is it? This editor's role was to give you a racial perspective that you did not have. Take here critiques in this area. Only in other areas as they overlap with other credible critiques you have received. 

Bob is editing and formatting another author's book for money at present, more money than he's made in book sales this last year. He's enjoying the process and finding the copy editing challenging and fun. Is he getting any writing ideas for his own writing? His editing is reenforcing theories of writing that he already has.

Rachel Ng introduces us to her writing challenges, being an introvert, creating characters who are introverts and others who are not. This is a continuation of the cheese epic. Rachel's writing always makes me intensely hungry. I love cheese! I love her description of the old army jacket, details, that show us she has done her homework, but, more than  that, they draw us into the character wearing the old jacket. Rachel paused, wondering if she is writing as if it were a cookbook. We chimed in for her to knock it off and get back to reading the story (I think she got the message). If it makes the reader salivate it's probably working. If it is driving the plot forward, deliniating the character more precisely and intentionally. I mention that the best characters want something but can't have it. The story is them trying to get it. That's reductionist, but makes the point. Life in a broken world is very much like this. So I would advise Rachel to ask herself what her protagonist wants and to what lengths is she willing to go to get it? Fleshing that out will shape the plot. Patrick suggested that Rachel fine tune who the character or characters are, whose point of view are we supposed to see the world from? Whose eyes are we seeing the world through? We discussed how many current popular writers use multiple perspectives, however, there is always and must always be a dominant perspective. Readers who are unclear about who to care about usually don't finish the book.

From here we devolved into reminiscences from the past (several 'Blots are former students); what hilarity! And what a substantive and important discussion ensued. Rachel H commented that finally at the end of the day, Christian wives want to follow and submit to husbands who are intentionally growing in Christ-likeness. Bob commented that as a man with daughters who are now married, but he counselled them to turn and run if a man is touting male headship more heavily than men loving their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her. Patrick and others in the room were involved in a facebook exchange this week that became heated and accusatory, as so often is the case with the flat medium of social media. We then progressed, or was it digressed, to critiques of a particular church that almost all of us have experience with. I, for one, think this is a healthy discussion, especially when we can have it face to face, as fellow image bearers of God, human beings who have been loved by God. Male, female, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, slave, free; all one in Christ, who are in Christ, washed by his blood, justified, and being sanctified by the free discriminating grace (I'm using the term in the biblical sense; the grace of the gospel is eternally, gloriously, and graciously discriminating, or I would never be a grateful recipient thereof), and who love his holy Word.

Reading Psalm 1 and 2 this morning I was struck afresh at just how odd the Bible sounds in the midst of the ragings of the moment. And, as always, reading the Word of God recalibrated my thinking, regrounded me, gave me clearer perspective in the midst of the ragings against God's will and way now; it's nothing new. Scoffing at God's ways has a long and infamous history. And so does capitulation to those who have taken counsel together against the Lord and his Annointed, Jesus. Israel did it in acient times, and the Church has often done it in the past. But knowing all this, shouldn't I be on guard, shouldn't I know that the world hates God and his ways, and that this hatred creeps into the Church? I think so. God help me as I write. "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wickednor stands in the way of sinnersnor sits in  
the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORDand on his law he meditates day and night... Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Annointed..." 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

What to do when getting trounsed, pummeled, beaten to a pulp by your manuscript? INKBLOTS

That's me on the left getting hammered by my writing
Inkblots joke of the evening: "I prefer steak jokes, but they're a medium that's rarely well done." Thank you Patrick. Pass the HP sauce. This evening in the Scriptorium we have six writers, five regulars and one of my Oxford Creative Writing Master Class authors, here for a writing retreat at our lodgings for the week. John brought a bottle of Writer's Block red blend, which I'm really nervous about drinking. What if it's contaminated and I get it? We chatted and bantered longer than usual, in part, because we haven't been together for a while.

Rachel is the designated reader for John since some people commented on John's oral reading sounding like Eeyore was at the mic. John's last chapter where his protagonist is giving birth. Rachel had commented on John's deficiencies in writing a birthing scene when he had never been in the room when any of his kids were born (John was fathering in an era when fathers were banned from birthing rooms, so was Bob). Write what you know, and if you don't know it, research, research, research until you do. "Let me give you a quick check," is, to my ear, overwriting for how a doctor or labor and delivery nurse would speak during hard contractions. "Let's check." Seems like it might be more realistic. Or let me check. She called, she rubbed my back but these were two different females. Clarify pronouns. My heart began to quicken. My heart beat faster. Be concise; four words are better than five, almost always. You have the new mother quoting a Bible verse. Is that consistent with her character and new experience as a young Christian? Can the nurse quote the verse or someone else? The doctor would not hold up a needle and thread for the mother to see, especially a first time mom; doctors try to conceal needles from patients. Patrick felt like this was a significant improvement over the previous versions of this final chapter. Some repetition of words, panting, for example. More description of what a new born baby looks like and the effect it has on the mother. I remember being there and participating in the birth of all six of my children, and the overwhelming emotion, speechless, but felt I must speak, tears of wonder, joy expressed in that mysterious inner swelling that makes you feel you will burst. Anxiety about the baby being healthy? And vigilance in case something happens to the baby.

Patrick is up next. He feels overwhelmed at the moment with what to do next, how to get to the next place with his writing. He feels that culturally the church is tending to reduce the gospel down to an altruistic abstraction. So he has written speculative fiction that confronts and exposes social disorder that results from the socializing of the gospel. And now Patrick is working on a short non-fiction book that concisely lays out his concerns about the social gospel trending in the church. This chapter is on legalism, overly zealous emphasis on obedience especially with minute details of obedience. Altruism promises that true and authentic Christianity will fall off the road on either side of the ditch. He is more concerned with conservatives who don't but should have answers, than with liberal progressive Christianity, so called.

Two things I would suggest with this book idea. Until you are a recognized authority (I'm not saying this as an insult but as a simple fact about most of us and most people in the church) you need to demonstrate that you know what those who are recognized as authorities, dead and alive, have written and spoken about on this topic. Give your reader confidence in your research. The second thing I would urge you to consider is to take a less theoretical approach. Take Jesus' approach, which is to illustrate with a specific story example, a case study, or a practical demonstration in a role played story, then interpret in your non-fiction prose. Another method which I would recommend in this piece, is for you to use yourself as an example of these two errors. How have you found them in yourself?

Lastly I wonder about some of the verbiage Patrick used in this excerpt. Is it more obedience not less? Isn't the dialectic here that their minute obedience is externally motivated by pride and a mistaken sense that they can win God's favor by good works, but their hearts are not right. Jesus is exposing that their hearts are not right, not that they need more obedience. They needed true and right obedience, not merely external conformity to a code of law. Hence his "whitewashed tombs metaphor." They don't need "more obedience, not less," more whitewash on the tomb. They need regeneration, quickening, a transformed heart, good works that spring from gratitude and love. Any other kind is "filthy rags" in God's sight. They don't need more self-righteousness, more filthy rags. The hottest spots in hell will be for the "righteous," so called, the ones Jesus did not come to save. He came to seek and to save the lost, those who have despaired in their righteousness, their efforts, their "obedience," their good works. True biblical good works, sanctification, obedience, is of another kind altogether. Just adding more of the old kind, the legalistic self-righteousness kind, only furthers condemnation. Clarify terms like grace, obedience, good works. This is where the literature will help you and citing it will help your potential reader immensely.

Avrie, visiting from Houston, is reading a short story (a portion thereof), for middle grade readers. Setting in an eccentric bookshop. Characters are not human; they're characters from the books on the shelves in the bookshop. Contemporary fantasy genre. Not zombies though. Strange Tales. I like how you don't need much attribution, and it is clear to the listener reader who is speaking. Very fluid dialogue. I also like how the books and bookshelves seem to be reacting to the humans and jump into laps. Paper cuts are intentional, given by books that are too full of themselves, like textbooks. Authors are dangerous. We don't need the authors. They're a bad lot most of them.

Love the names, Alias, Read,  Novelette, Peter Strange... Gluten free café. Board of characters will be furious. How does the bookstore smell? One of the charms of bookshops is their smell, old leather, paper, a bit of dust, a pinch of binding glue. You get the idea. Can you describe what your characters look like? How do the characters exist? The characters are like actors that authors hire to be in their books, but the characters actually influence the story more than the author knows. It's all reversed. The characters employ the authors. Bob observed that this story is platonic, in the sense that the characters are derived from virtues or vices maybe. Its a very intriguing and though it is not clear to us where you are going, we are drawn in, fascinated, and want to hear more.

Then 'Blots did what 'Blots often does, revert to an excurses that sort of took over (and lasted well past 10:pm), but was stimulating, relevant, and left us all chewing, swallowing, and digesting the evening spent together.

I didn't bother reading from my WW II French Resistance yarn. It would have been unkind. I care about my fellow 'Blots too much to inflict it on them. The characters are dominating the ring. I feel like I'm wrestling wholly on the defensive, cornered, against the ropes. Writing this book right now is like sparring, gloves-off MMA fashion, and I'm getting pounded, head spinning, vision clouding over, on the verge of plummeting face down, never to rise again. Jeering and mocking me from its corner, the manuscript and it's thugs have clearly won the opening rounds, and I'm swollen-eyed and bloodied. And that's all before a glass of Writer's Block red blend. So what do I do? I go back to the gym and work on my fitness, more jumping rope, more cardio, more strength fitness, and do my level best to master that left punch to the jaw. I'm going to beat this thing, show it who's boss, lay it flat on the mat--a grandiose-sounding triumph, of which there is not a shred of evidence at the moment. I'll post another chapter on this blog. That way you can weep with he who weeps. And then unsubscribe and follow a living author who still has a pulse.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Death of Meaning and the Death of Art

"Life doesn't mean anything."
Meaningless goodness?

More than twenty years ago I ducked out of a San Francisco rain shower into a doorway, as it turned out, the doorway to a steep staircase leading up five flights to an artist’s loft. I entered and saw the strangest sight.

One entire wall was spanned by a wooden frame stretched with a canvas. But not just any canvas. This one was a hodgepodge of old clothes: jeans, t-shirts, overalls, zippers, buttons, and snaps--a sort of grab-bag, thrift-store canvas. I watched in amazement as the artist smeared paint on his canvas, dipping randomly from a variety of paint cans.

“Unusual canvas,” I ventured at last.

“Pretty cool, huh?” he replied, grinning at me as he continued to apply paint over his shoulder with a large brush.

After several moments of chat about his creation, I asked if his artwork was didactic.

Di—what?” he replied.

I tried again. “Does it mean something?”

“Mean something?” he snorted, flicking a wet brush at a pair of paint-stiffened trousers. “Of course it doesn’t mean anything. Life doesn’t mean anything.”

“So why do you bother doing it?”

“Because I’m good at it.”

Curious about the criteria he used to come to this absolutist conclusion, I probed further. How could life be meaningless and he be good or bad at anything? If it was meaningless wouldn’t it be impossible to measure goodness or badness? He frowned.

Believing that life doesn’t mean anything, after all, is an evaluative perspective, a belief. As C. S. Lewis observed, “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning.” Thus, by denying that life means anything, he unwittingly, admitted that meaning does exist--absolutely. If it didn’t we would never have had the discussion, nor would he bother creating art that attempts to mirror his nihilistic philosophy of life. At this point, the intricacies of his painting seemed to require more of his concentration. So I left.

Art as religion

In the same breath that many artists and academics declare that there are no absolutes, they say things like, “Art is a means of giving order to the chaos of experience.” “Art represents the source of human values.” “Art gives meaning to life.” Cultural Editor for World magazine, Gene Edward Veith, suggests that these statements are various ways of placing “art and the artist squarely in the position of God—as creator, lawgiver, and redeemer.”

Listen to almost any artist or art critic speak about art and you will hear the terminology of religion: creation, inspiration, transcendence, vision. In this pseudo-religious milieu, artists are the high priests, works of art are the equivalent of relics, the elite appreciators are the worshipers, the adulations uttered are the responses prescribed in the liturgy, taxes to support artists are the forced tithes, grand museums are the temples, and the baffled masses scratching our heads are the equivalent of the heathen unbelievers. Absurdly, all this in a world that demands a separation of church and state!

The resulting “chronological snobbery,” as C. S, Lewis dubbed it, can have the effect of making you feel unsophisticated, a sort of aesthetic atheist. You may begin to feel like your world view is pretty out of touch, not very intellectual. You may even be tempted to feel ashamed of being a Christian. At the end of the day, however, all this is merely another form of idolatry, another way of putting something else in place of the grandeur of truth and making truth look silly. It takes first-rate deception to pull it off, but, then, that’s what the devil is so good at. 

Laws governing freedom in art

There is one constant for the Christian young man trying to sort out what he is to think about art: artistic fashion changes constantly. Ironically, as artists speak in religious terms about their art, a form of self worship, they venerate something that is inherently changing, something that in a very short time will be sneered at by the next generation of artistic gurus.

Art reflects the temper of its culture,” wrote Gene Edward Veith. And a culture that is constantly being shaped and reformed by the transient appetites of people groping for the next amusement, for the next entertainment thrill, for the latest technology, the newest fashion in clothes, or music, or cars, or coffee—will produce art that reflects these flighty, laser-light-show changes.

Still there is another unchangeable law among the artistic elite: the more innovative the better. This rigid law leads immediately to another: the more bazaar, the more shocking, the more valuable the art.

Art in a culture of death                                                                      

Perhaps there is no better example of this than the sensational “death art” of German doctor, Gunther von Hagen, who has developed a technique whereby he can turn human tissue into plastic and shape corpses into “art.” With the help of his father, a retired Nazi SS sergeant, Hagen set up a plastanation factory in Poland where on his father’s last visit he sent sixty human beings to death camps during the war.

Hagen’s art features a dead man riding a skinned horse, the man’s corpse positioned holding both the horse’s brain and his own. It gets much worse. With the aid of US taxpayers, human corpses, skinned and contorted into grotesque life-like, sometimes provocative poses, have created a freaky sensation in American art and science museums.  Since 1997, his “Body Works” art has been viewed by 17 million museum goers, including thousands of school children, raking in some $200 million dollars in the bargain.

For the Christian, this should not be a close call. In Holy Scripture we are taught that our bodies are not our own, that they are temples of the living God. When man made in the image of God dies his body is to be buried, there to await the resurrection of the body; it is not to be burned, mutilated, or desecrated—not even in the all-excusing name of art. Hagen’s morbid creations seem to epitomize what Gene Edward Veith calls “art in the culture of death.”  

Beauty and the beholder

            A former student, frustrated at the ugliness all around him while deployed on board ship during the Global War on Terror emailed me with questions about art and beauty. He wrote: “Being surrounded by the people I have been around for the last few months has started my mind on a question. What makes some people capable of enjoying beauty and others not? Why am I able to enjoy literature, poetry, and J. S. Bach and my shipmates are not? Secondly, what makes something beautiful? I know we talked about this in high school. I’m ashamed to say that I probably wasn't paying good enough attention, but I was hoping for a refresher.”

My reply: “Confusion results when postmoderns shape the argument by insisting that everything, including beauty, is simply a matter of taste: like favorite flavors of ice cream. It is critical to their argument that there be no universal qualities of beauty. Their insistence notwithstanding, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. Though art seems subjective, any thoughtful Christian is reality-bound to disagree with the elitists here. Why? Because there are universal non-cultural, non-ethnic agreements about beauty.

“Few would attempt to disagree that all peoples, wherever they are in the continuum of civilization, find beauty in a sunset, in a mother tenderly caring for a newborn, the vastness of the ocean, the music of the breaking surf, sunlight sparkling on a mountain lake, the soaring of an eagle —all this creates a sublime wonder in everyone regardless of culture, ethnicity, or gender. The things that are truly beautiful imitate the parts of our world less tainted by the fall, or they create a sense of longing for those things. When art features sin it ought to be in a way that unmasks fallen-ness for what it is. In the end, all true art is redemptive; it lifts us above the base things and gives us a longing for the perfections of heaven.

“So why do the guys on the ship not appreciate Bach and beautiful things? One explanation is that they have been so bent by pop culture and the need for immediate gratification that they have no appetite for transcendent beautiful things. They are enslaved to immediate and tactile gratification in the music they listen to, the pornography they devour, and the games and videos to which they have made themselves willing slaves.

“Real beauty represented in fine art lifts us out of ourselves, elevates us above our desires for twisted gratification and shows us a glimmer of what a world would be like if it were not wrenched from its original design into something barbaric and crude.

Hell on the ship

“It is all very tragic, Stuart. The people on your ship are lost, and their indifference or disdain for true beauty is simply an expression of their lostness. I hope this will deepen your compassion for them and your appreciation for a mother who introduced you to art and beauty when you were very young. Moreover, I hope it will create a deeper longing for heaven and eternity where all that is bent and ugly, the rap, pornography, drunkenness will vanish and Bach and Rembrandt—and a host of other great artists--will be loved by all!

“The fact that beauty has survived, even in our fallen world, is further demonstration of the truly great artists’ eternal conception of beauty. Perhaps Bach has outlived the vicissitudes of the centuries because he struck the chord of eternity in his music. His is music that must endure. And what’s true of music must also be true of visual art and the rest. Raunchy, throw-away music, like raunchy visual art, twists goodness out of shape and then celebrates the deformity instead of the eternal beauties.

“The pounding ugliness of what your shipmates listen to does not strike the chord of eternity, perhaps because what they prefer has broken the instrument with chaos and a celebration of all that is unworthy. Unworthy and ugly, it celebrates not the hints of heaven in this fallen place; it celebrates the relentless foretastes of hell that are strewn all about us. Hell will be many things, but one thing it will be is the absence of beauty. There will be nothing to lift a man above the ugliness that litters hell. I don’t doubt that the ship may sound and look like hell, but your job, Stuart, is to flood that floating Hades with the light of truth, beauty and the love of Christ. Press on, Sailor!”

Art as imitation

Everyone wants to be original--especially artists. But herein lies the problem and the great challenge. All art is imitative. Art by definition is not the real thing; it is the artificial thing—thus, the source of the name “art.” So art that imitates dark and sinful things in non redemptive ways is imitating the wrong things. Like the “art” preferred by sailors on Stuart’s ship, that art will inevitably be an ugly imitation of hell.

It all starts with theology. Only in a world severed from moral absolutes can art be anything the artists wants it to be, but not so in the real world. In our world an artist can bag up his own excrement, dub it “art,” and send it to museums to be displayed at the expense of the grossed-out, but dutifully un-protesting public. In God’s world--the real world--this is non-redemptive and ugly--and therefore not art.

            It is perhaps not surprising that man’s theological rebellion against, God the ultimate original Creator of all beauty, finds virulent expression in art. Many artists are affronted that they cannot be ultimate originators of anything. Desperate to assert their authority over creative expression, they are driven to innovate. They don’t want to be seen as imitators of anything or anyone—especially not the Creator God of the Bible. Thus, in a world devoid of absolute values, the value of art is measured by individual expression, innovation, and the bazaar. And artists continue to insist that their “Art represents the source of human values.”

Play by the intellectual elitists’ rules and you will no longer be able to define beauty or art. Accept the cultural elitists’ supposed authority over art and that authority will encompass every other area of life. It’s what they want. Remember how expansively they speak about art: “Art gives meaning to life.” Accept their authority over art and eventually things like truth, liberty, justice will also be defined by the elite. Tyranny in art leads to tyranny in everything else.

When political leaders see themselves as “the makers of manners,” as Shakespeare’s Henry V quipped to his battle-prize bride, law and justice are redefined for the self-gratification of the tyrant. So in matters of art. The elite are not the makers of artistic manners, though they work very hard at intimidating us into believing this. Art, like truth and justice, must be guided by universal absolutes, otherwise we live in an inconsistent world, a world none of us can count on, a world without gravity, a chaotic and ugly world.

Socrates, on a quest for the source of wisdom, discovered that Greek artisans, though skillful with stone, were unwise because they projected their skill with the chisel into the notion “that they also knew all sorts of high matters.” Socrates concluded his inquiry with the words, “God only is wise,” or put another way: Man’s skill, his wisdom, in any field is the gift of God, the great originator of all skill.

A wise ancient poet put it still better. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). Do you want skill (wisdom) to appreciate or create beautiful art? Fear the Lord; he alone is the “beginning of wisdom.”

A wise man, then, acknowledges that his skill is not innate but derived, given to him from above, a gift of God, regulated by his laws. So throughout the Bible, art is a means of reflecting the glory of God, the originator of all creative beauty. However unsophisticated it sounds to the world’s ears, God, de jure, by right, defines both beauty and art.

Gaze on ultimate beauty

Perhaps the advice biblically informed Shakespeare has Hamlet give actors helps shed light on these questions about art. The Bard wrote that the purpose of his art was “to hold the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature.” Shakespeare’s summary of the imitative purpose of art sounds odd in a world that is morally, intellectually, spiritually, and aesthetically adrift. When the world rejects absolutes it loses the capability of showing “virtue her own features” in art, or in any other dimension of life.

Though it is possible for an artist to create a worthy image of something that is not at first blush beautiful (crucifixion is not beautiful), all artistic endeavor must be regulated by the light of God’s word. Paul in his letter to the Philippians gives us the final word about art and life: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Therefore, the Christian young man will only set before his mind and eyes art that leads to truth, purity, and loveliness. Art worthy of the title must be excellent and praiseworthy. But not according to the transient opinions of elitist critics—excellent and praiseworthy according to God’s definition. And know this, in the Bible, “excellent” and “praiseworthy” are not subjective terms. 
Vast and wonderfully varied as human creativity and art is, a subject worthy of a lifetime of enjoyment and discovery, how does a young man keep his way pure in matters of art? Be like the Psalmist: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord…” Live your life gazing on the beauty of the Lord and you will have little difficulty defining beauty, appreciating beauty, or creating beauty.    

Douglas Bond is author of more than 25 books, conference speaker, European tour leader, award-winning teacher. This post is an excerpt from his book HOLD FAST In a Broken World, in his Fathers & Sons devotional series. Subscribe to his blog and his website  

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Hands of Time--A Tribute to My Father-in-law

Jerrell Wayne Lewellen May 29, 1935—April 30, 2018

I will never forget my first encounter with Jerrell—it was 35 years ago this month. Rather, I will never forget my first encounter with his hands, in that first handshake. As his massive, work-hardened hand closed around mine, I thought, “This man could crush every bone in my hand, if he had a mind to.” Glancing nervously up from our clasped hands, I looked into his blue-gray eyes, sparkling with life and good humor, the dimple crater in his cheek as he smiled at me—and I felt somewhat more hopeful about the bones in my hand.

I thought I had callouses on my hand, some callouses, sometimes—they weren’t entirely soft. But Jerrell’s hands had a ready-to-grab-and-work look and feel, as if they had been formed and shaped by hefting bars of iron—which, of course, they had been. Sure, my hands had some degree of harder skin, in places, that might pass for callouses. But Jerrell’s hands were callouses, living, flexing monuments to a man who had made work into something akin to a sacrament, a useful, joyful, holy activity that had shaped not only massive steel buildings, and young apprentices, but had shaped his entire life.

How did those hands get to be that way?

Jerrell was a man of tools and work, a man of steel, a block of iron ore with arms and legs—and hands, hands with callouses. Jerrell was certified to weld every ore on the planet, a man of cultural dominion who took raw materials and shaped them into useful forms, a man who tamed steel, made it do what he needed it to do to get the problem at hand solved, to get the job accomplished.

And he did all this with a full-bodied grin on his face (most of the time). Jerrell had fun doing it; and it was contagious, even if you were the butt of the practical joke (ask Paul K for the details; there are many details).

Jerrell could multi-task. He could be about to flip down his welding hood, but just before striking an arc, pause to tell a story. Nobody could tell a story like Jerrell. And he had stories to tell. Hear the stories of his youth, and the wonder is that Jerrell lived long enough to get Alzheimer’s. Stories of his childhood on the ranch, in the mountains near Northbend, hunting, shooting, blowing things up (including the outhouse—while his brother Garry was using the outhouse), stories about pranks with wildcats, thugs, carburetors, gunpowder and cannons, boating adventures. Jerrell was an endless source of entertainment for his grandkids. When he wasn’t around, my kids would try to retell Grandpa stories, but they never quite worked unless Jerrell was telling them. He “remembered with advantages the feats he did that day.” 

But being an ironworker was dangerous, had its hazards. I’ll never forget receiving the phone call some years ago, that Jerrell was being rushed from the job site to the hospital; a 1,500# steel I-beam had fallen on him. Fearful of the worst, when Cheryl and I arrived, there was Jerrell sitting up in the ER gurney, as I recall it, telling a story to the ER nurse, animated, full-bodied grin, big calloused hands gesturing as he spun the yarn, dimple in all its splendor. For a moment, I felt sorry for the steel I-beam. My guess is it had a permanent Jerrell-shaped crook in it and was good for nothing but the scrap heap after attempting to crush Jerrell Wayne Lewellen.

Though his hands were hardened with callouses from work, it would be an enormous mistake to think of him as calloused, in the sense of hard, detached, unfeeling. This block of iron ore, was a man of tender feeling, a lover of his wife, his children, his grandchildren—and he was a lover of books, and reading; a lover of Shakespeare, but especially a lover of reading the Bible.

Though his hands were hard, there was nothing hard and unfeeling about the man. With those same hands, Jerrell milked a succession of cows—by hand, no machine needed or wanted—the last cow named Lucy. It was yet another way he could provide for his family, and, as he grew older, milking a cow by hand, twice a day, served as therapy, not only to ease the arthritic pain in his hands, but as a spiritual activity, a time of calm, of prayer, of quiet and tender reflection on the God who provided so abundantly for Jerrell and his family, on the God he loved and served with those hands, and that big, big heart.

Jerrell was a complex individual. Hammer-and-tongs ironworker that he was, picture with me the man holding court at lunch hour on the job site, young apprentices, who just that morning had learned yet another trick of the trade, a better way to do it right, now gathered around to hear Jerrell recite from his beloved Shakespeare. The man who had decided that formal schooling was overrated a few weeks before he would have graduated from high school, had later in his life discovered Shakespeare, one of the early bonding moments for Jerrell and this son-in-law. Listen in as Jerrell held court with those tough men, this passage one of his oft-recited favorites:

The quality of mercy is not strained; 
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven 
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; 
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes: 
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes 
The throned monarch better than his crown… 
…mercy is above this sceptred sway; 
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings, 
It is an attribute to God himself; 
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s 
When mercy seasons justice. 
Though justice be thy plea, consider this, 
That, in the course of justice, none of us 
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy; 
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render 
The deeds of mercy.
From this man, these ironworkers heard some of the most profound and ultimate truths expressed in the most beautiful words, words rendered with such gusto and feeling by Jerrell. During these Shakespeare tutorials delivered to those, no doubt, bewildered ironworkers, he would pause to savor another bite of his beloved Pat’s incomparable apple pie. Jerrell and Pat had a mutual understanding. She would make all the pies Jerrell could eat, so long as he picked and peeled the apples. Though Jerrell had selective hearing loss, he heard and heeded this message. Nobody peeled apples like Jerrell.

Picture the man, hunched over the bucket, those hands again, hands deftly wielding one of his many razor-sharp pocket knives, methodically peeling another Granny Smith, green curly-cue peel trailing from his knife like a lacy work of art. I think of Jerrell peeling those apples—and Pat baking them with such loving skill—as something of a metaphor of their life together, of Jerrell’s life. It wasn’t finally about just getting the job done, accomplishing another task. Peeling apples slowed the pace, became another opportunity to pause and reflect, to take captive every thought, every activity to the obedience of Jesus Christ. Life was imminently important to Jerrell, but not just the big parts, planting the flag on the newly completed skyscraper. Every cut, every weld was important. Peeling the apples was important and to be done with artistry, and care, and love. Peeling the apples was to be enjoyed as much as sinking his gold-filled teeth into another scrumptious piece of Pat’s apple pie.

Building a house by his own unique design, every brick laid with those same hands, or building a steel fishing boat, a shop, the King Dome—building his family, whatever Jerrell was building, whatever problem he was solving, he did it with gusto, with laughter, with enjoyment. Jerrell lived out “Man’s chief end… to glorify God and to enjoy God forever.” By the grace and mercy of Christ, this was Jerrell’s life—and now his forevermore life.

A final word from Jerrell’s beloved Shakespeare, lines he would sometimes recite as he watched the tide in Dutcher’s Cove, his cove:
There is a tide in the affairs of men 
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; 
Omitted, all the voyage of their life 
Is bound in shallows and in miseries. 
On such a full sea are we now afloat, 
And we must take the current when it serves, 
Or lose our ventures.

By the grace of Christ, Jerrell did not omit this all-important tide in the affairs of men. For him that tide was the Water of Life, the only Savior of we broken and lost sinners, Jesus Christ. Jerrell would not want the voyage of one of your lives to be bound in shallows and in misery; he would not want one of you to lose your ventures. There is only one way to die well, as Jerrell did. Take Jesus at the flood. It is a full sea. The current now serves. Today—Jerrell’s memorial day—is the day of salvation. Jerrell Wayne Lewellen, knowing and experiencing firsthand what heaven is, I know Jerrell would want you to lay hold of Jesus Christ—today.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Sneak preview of my forthcoming WWII historical fiction set in French Resistance Normandy

French Resistance fighter's false identity card WWII
Opening chapter from my WWII historical fiction in progress. Memorial Day seemed like a good day to post this draft of chapter one. 


Bombs Away


iley Straight flexed his gloved fingers on the controls of his B-17. His breath quickened, condensation trickling around the edges of his flight mask, then freezing. He glanced from the instrument panel of his Flying Fortress, then out the cockpit window.

“Approaching target.” The steady, good-humored voice of Riley’s navigator, 2/Lt. Charles Dudley, came through the interphone.

“Here comes the wrath o’ God, Jerry,” said Riley through the interphone so all his crew could hear.

“Maybe this’ll be a milk run after all.” Riley heard Freddy Ferguson his copilot’s voice crackling in the interphone in his headset.

He glanced at his copilot. “Fred, you’re new at this?”

The RAF only flew their bombing missions at night. But not the American Army Air Corps. Riley leaned forward, peering left and right out the cockpit windows. He had to admit, the view was better by day.

Far below, bordered by hedgerows, lay fields of wheat, rolling meadows, and pastures with specks of white—sheep or were they French beef cattle? At this altitude it was too hard to tell. His Fort chattered through a turbulent cloud hillock, then broke clear again.

The aerial tidiness of the pastoral scene below—it was part of the allure of flight for Riley. He swallowed hard, doing his best to ignore the clutching at his insides. Part of the allure and the curse. If only there had been some way to get the scenery and the thrill of flying, but without the dizzying nausea that always went with it. No amount of self-berating had solved it. If he couldn’t be rid of it, at least he’d become expert at hiding it—so he hoped.

“Rollout!” the squadron orderly had barked at 0430 that morning. “All pilots, briefing in twenty. Maximum effort!”

Twenty minutes later, Riley’s squadron leader had given the order: “Mr. Straight, you’re flying tail-end Charlie.” It seemed like forever ago. But here he was flying, “Coffin corner,” as flyers called it. Last bomber in the formation, the one the Luftwaffe went after first.

“Keep it tight, Mr. Straight,” bomb group commander Mills had said into the radio just after takeoff.

Riley never forgot his first time in the pilot’s seat, flying in tight formation, sitting left seat, his hands on the controls. The other B-17s were so close, he felt he could reach out and touch their wings. And some of the other pilots in the squadron were still teenagers. Unlike so many, he’d lived to turn twenty, leave his teens behind him; his birthday was just last week. Flying in tight formation and all it took was a split second of distraction, a slight deviation in course or speed.

Flying so close—Riley felt the inexorable compulsion to get clear. At speeds of 310 miles per hour, it demanded nerves of steel to fly tight. Scattered formation, just what the Luftwaffe was waiting for, and German fighters would dive in like wolves on straggling caribou.

Hence, his group commander’s reminder that morning: “Keep it tight, Mr. Straight.”

Another bank of cloud passed underneath, gray and heavy. Riley held steady as his Fort lurched in the turbulence. Visibility restored, the rural scene far below gave way to a drab industrial landscape, stark concrete blocks with gaping chimneys belching smoke heavenward. Their target, a French automobile factory, now a German munitions factory. And heavily guarded with antiaircraft guns—German guns.  

“Milk run?” Riley raised an eyebrow at his copilot.  

Glancing from the instrument panel out the window, Riley watched the first antiaircraft batteries springing to life. Bursts of white flame erupted far below. But there was no exploding sound, not audible above the rumble of four Wright R1820-97 air-cooled 1,380 horsepower engines. He didn’t know why, but rehearsing his bomber’s powerplant specifications calmed him, reassured him.

He braced himself. It was coming. When he could hear the Flak explode above his engines, it meant trouble.

“German 88s,” he murmured. Riley knew the damage Hitler’s high-velocity, antiaircraft cannons could inflict on his fortress. Twenty-pound shells fired in rapid succession, calibrated with German precision for their flying altitude, didn’t even have to make a direct hit to cripple a Flying Fortress.

Riley gripped the half-round steering control of his Fort till his fingers hurt. Bursting in grim black clouds on all sides of the squadron, Flak could send deadly shards of shrapnel ripping into the fuselage, wings, fuel and oxygen lines of his bomber—and through the flesh and bone of his crew. He had counted over one hundred holes in his plane after his last mission. In spite of their Flak vests, his tail gunner and flight engineer had both been strafed by molten shrapnel from the 88s. By the time his bombardier had released their load, and his navigator had calibrated their return course, the two men were bleeding profusely from their wounds. When Riley finally landed his crippled Fort on the runway and taxied to a halt, his tail gunner and flight engineer had bled out. They were dead.

That was last week’s mission. Because he and part of his crew had survived, here they were again over France, but with a new tail gunner and flight engineer, the latter just promoted from ground maintenance.

 “Two minutes to target,” drawled Riley’s navigator, Charles Dudley. Charles was from West Virginia, born and reared. For his perpetual grin, the squadron called him Chuckles for short. Even his voice through the interphone, engines roaring, Flak exploding, sounded like he was grinning, on the verge of a good chuckle.

“Keep it tight,” Riley told himself. He knew that any change in altitude or speed at this instant and 6,000 pounds of high explosives would entirely miss the factory, destroying, instead, the nearby village.

A black cloud of exploding Flak erupted with a roar at nine o’clock. Riley felt and heard it rattling against the fuselage of his Fort. The muscles in his abdomen tightened. He hated Flak. It was so random, exploding and sending molten shrapnel scattering throughout the bomb group. You couldn’t shoot back at Flak. It just seemed to erupt out of nowhere. He knew how it worked: German antiaircraft gunners on the ground calculated the squadron’s altitude and speed, then calibrated their 88s and let fly. Evasive action, irregular alterations in course, was all any pilot could do. But flying 310 miles an hour in tight formation with a squadron of B-17s meant evasive action had to be coordinated precisely—or else.

Another burst of black smoke, his B-17 lurching with the explosive impact; more molten shrapnel pummeled Riley’s bomber. Germans were good at trigonometry. Their calculations were getting better.

“That was close!” yelled the chin gunner.

“Danged Flak, tore off my headset!” shouted the tail gunner in the interphone.

“Tore off whose head?” The new flight engineer’s voice sounded near panic.

“Hardy-har. Not my head,” said the tail gunner. “My headset.”

Riley heard Freddy his copilot checking with each member of the crew. “Waste gunners? Ball turret gunner? Bombardier?” If they didn’t respond, they’d either been hit by Flak or their oxygen line had been severed. Or it could be something as simple as condensation freezing and clogging the line. Either way, without oxygen at this altitude, a man would pass out in minutes, and his 0.50 caliber Browning machine gun would be silent when the Luftwaffe closed in for the kill.

All ten crewmen reported in. No one had been hit—this time.

“Eyes peeled.” Speaking to all his crew by interphone, Riley forced his voice to be steady, confident, unafraid sounding. “Guns ready.”

He knew that every man, from tail gunner to chin gunner, was already scouring the sky for German fighters, finger on the trigger, ready for action. The fighters would come, sooner or later, usually sooner. If only they could deliver their bomb load first. 

Riley glanced at the altimeter: 20,000 feet, bombing range. More black clouds of exploding Flak. More clattering and rending of shrapnel against the aluminum fuselage of his Fort.

“Approaching target.” From the navigation table, Chuckles voice was pleasant and steady, then he added, as he often did, “‘How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors.’”

Riley gripped the steering controls as another burst of Flak made the bomber shutter. He hoped Chuckles’ Bible verse was for the Jerries and not for them. More Flak.

Forget the Flak, concentrate, he told himself. There was no dodging Flak. And B-17s could take more beating than any other aircraft in the Army Air Corps. Riley knew he had one job, keep his bomber on course, precise course. Begin his bombing run too early and he exposed his Fort and crew to more Flak; begin too late and they’d miss their target. Three-and-a-half tons of high explosive could land on the nearby village.

The thought of killing innocent women and children, grandmothers and grandfathers—the Nazi brutes did it intentionally every day—but it was something about this air war Riley hated even more than the Germans.

“Bearing one-four-seven degrees.”

“Roger that, bombardier,” replied Riley in the interphone.

Nothing else mattered. Every target they hit slowed the German advance. Every bomber the Germans downed slowed the Allied advance.

“Thirty seconds to target.”

“Roger that, bombardier.” Riley was determined to hit their target. It troubled him that some of the workers in that factory might be conscripted labor, local French pressed against their will into building the German war machine. Some he’d heard were French Resistance saboteurs working in those factories—men and women—doing their bit to frustrate German manufacturing.

“O God, not at this target,” he murmured.  

Suddenly, Flak burst red at ten o’clock and a dense black cloud engulfed the cockpit windows. Blinded for an instant, Riley felt the shrapnel tearing at his Fort, and fourteen tons of airplane and armament lurching with the force of the explosion.

“I’m sorry, Sir.” It was the voice of the more taciturn of his two waist gunners. “I’m hit, Sir.”

“We’ll get you patched up.” Riley tried to sound more confident than he felt.

“Number two engine’s in flames!” shouted the flight engineer. “Cut fuel selector!”

Riley flipped the number two engine fuel selector switch to the off position. He flipped it again. No response.

“She’s still burning!” yelled the flight engineer.

Fire would spread. Riley knew if they didn’t drop their bomb load they would go down in an apocalyptic inferno.

“We’re nearly over the target.” Ralph Coleman his bombardier knew the same. “Ten seconds.”

“Level.” Ralph’s voice came steady and ominous through the interphone.

“Roger, that.” Fighting with the controls, Riley did his best to feather his three good engines to compensate for the lost one. He studied his instrument panel: altitude, speed—any deviation would throw off the gyro of his bombardier’s Norden Bombsight—and they’d miss their target and do collateral damage to civilian population. Hold steady, and he knew that Ralph could drop their bombs into a pickle barrel from this altitude. If the pilot held her steady. Wrestling with the controls, Riley clenched his teeth till his jaw hurt. His injured Fort had a maniacal mind of its own.

Suddenly, the antiaircraft 88s fell silent, no firing flares from antiaircraft guns, no erupting clouds of Flak, no strafing shrapnel—it could only mean one thing.

Fighters. Germans weren’t about to shoot down their own fighter planes with their own antiaircraft cannons. German fighters—they’d dive in for the kill any second.

With the numbing realization, as the bomb bay opened, Riley felt a blast of freezing air rending its way through the cockpit. He glanced back at his bombardier; Ralph’s eyes were steady on his bombsites. 

“Bombs away!”

I will let you in on another piece of the puzzle: This book will be a companion to War in the Wasteland set in WWI. Give me your comments and thoughts on the excerpt. Follow progress at and subscribe to my blog to get more sneak previews of The Resistance [working title].