Friday, May 20, 2016

INKBLOTS--Writing with the most prolific author of the 19th century

Seven ‘Blots tonight (Justin arriving after work, so eight), seated around my scriptorium. I began by sharing CH Spurgeon’s seven pieces of writing advice (one of the most prolific writers of the 19th century, if not all time). Much to consider here: 

1. Write to Help others
“We are very mistaken, if our work does not prove to be of the utmost value to purchasers of books…no object in view but the benefit of our brethren…it will be remuneration enough to have aided the ministers of God in the study of his word” (Sword & Trowel, March 1876).
2. Write Short
“Long visits, long stories, long essays, long exhortations, and long prayers, seldom profit those who have to do with them. Life is short. Time is short.…Moments are precious. Learn to condense, abridge, and intensify…In making a statement, lop off branches; stick to the main facts in your case. If you pray, ask for what you believe you will receive, and get through; if you speak, tell your message and hold your peace; if you write, boil down two sentences into one, and three words into two. Always when practicable avoid lengthiness — learn to be short” (Sword & Trowel, September 1871).
3. Write for God
“Courteous reader, throughout another year we have endeavored, month by month, to provide for your entertainment and edification. For both, because the first is to the most of men needful to produce the second, and also because God hath joined them together, and no man should put them asunder” (Sword & Trowel, Preface, 1875).
4. Write Clearly
“So I gathered that my sermons were clear enough to be understood by anybody who was not so conceited as to darken his own mind with pride. Now, if boys read The Sword and the Trowel it cannot be said to shoot over people’s heads, nor can it be said to be very dull and dreary” (Sword & Trowell, November 1874).
5. Write to Compel
“It was an ill day when religion became so decorous as to call dullness her companion, and mirth became so frivolous as to demand the divorce of instruction from amusement. It is not needful that magazines for Christian reading should be made up of pious platitudes, heavy discourses, and dreary biographies of nobodies: the Sabbath literature of our families might be as vivacious and attractive as the best of amusing serials, and yet as deeply earnest and profitable as the soundest of divines would desire” (Sword & Trowel, Preface, 1875). “If the writer had possessed genius and literary ability, this might have been a highly interesting work; but as the writers’ sole qualification is his honesty of purpose, the work is most reliable and dull” (Sword & Trowel, November 1882).
6. Write, Write, & Write
“Many of our hours of pain and weakness have been lightened by preparing the first volume of our book on the Psalms for the press. If we could not preach we could write, and we pray that this form of service may be accepted of the Lord” (Sword & Trowel, January 1870).
7. Read to Write
“Read good authors, that you may know what English is, you will find it to be a language very rarely written nowadays, and yet the grandest of all human tongues” (Sword & Trowel, August 1871).
Only 3 places available on the July Oxford master class--Register today!
Doug Mac led off our Inkblot's time this evening, reading from Return to Tarawa, his intriguing WW II Pacific Theater yarn. Cosmic epic scale, world war is big, but seen through the eyes of ordinary young men trying to figure it all out and survive. We discussed the challenges of the vague attribution, we, us, they, etc, and the importance of sticking with a dominant perspective (which Doug Mac largely does throughout), and what to do with the other men without names from the squad, platoon, etc. There is reality at work here, because we don’t know the names of lots of the people we rub shoulders with on a given day, but how to make the contrivance in fiction come off as genuine. Great progress on this manuscript, given the highest rank that Writers Edge reading service gives a manuscript, and soon to be another Inkblots Press release.

Rachel Y read, with some urging, from her cheese yarn, a fascinating, detailed, mouth-slavering story about smuggling cheese from Italy to Russia. We are all hungry, salivating, craving cheese. And thinking about how devastating government regulation of the economy is (especially when it comes to good food). We discussed the use of the almost, nearly qualifiers. John brought up how we deal with criticism. Take what is being offered, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the critic is right, but they have helped the writer by pointing out an area that needs attention. Embrace the criticism, keeping in mind that the person who just heard you read doesn’t know the larger context, what you wrote in the last chapter, where you’re going after what you just read.  But swallow pride, and welcome criticism (or hang up your pen and take up underwater basket weaving).

Josh Y puts us in context in his post-apocalyptic drama. Lodges and outside of town. It seemed like an odd mixture of the primitive and the civilized. Sort of shirt, is it sort of or the real deal? Blouse or tunic might be better. Mouth sweetly shaped, could this be a more specific comparison? Sweetly is a vague descriptor for a physical feature, rather than a character quality or a taste. Where are you going with this story? Is it part of a larger yarn. Josh explained that it is a series of books. The female interest in the yarn loses her toenail. John thought that sounded odd. Josh explained that it would come into the story later. Rachel PH and the other women present offered valuable perspective to a young male writer who would rather be writing a fight scene than a tender romantic moment in the yarn. Thanks, ladies.

INKBLOTS PRESS New Release! WW I yarn
John S reads from Saving Grace, his contemporary fiction work, a novel that exposes the evil of abortion. This is a moment where the protagonist is pondering a moral dilemma. If she doesn’t have an abortion she will lose her job, scholarship to college, pressures exerted by a manipulative parent. Someone had to be thrown under the bus. What about clichés in contemporary fiction? If a character is using it in dialogue then it makes sense to use it, but in narrative, the use of clichés is off limits. Are there other mannerisms that Grace would have when she is talking with the counselor? Does she cross her legs and bob her leg up and down, or ring her hands, or tuck hair behind her ear? The interaction between the counselor and the counselee seems kind of wooden, and the prayer is good, but I think it works better to give us only part of the prayer and then summarize the rest in narrative, how it was heard by Grace. I think there’s some overwriting here. I promise to be quiet, thank you Sarah. It seems to pat. Things worked out for her. Maybe there’s hope for me. Seems too pat. Sarah’s story is profound, but seems too much. For now. Justin commented that it seemed too fast forward, too much happening to fast. 
I finished off (no time to read from my Drama of the Reformation, audio theater project) by sharing about the final process to finished book with WAR IN THE WASTELAND, now available in print and ebook. Order a signed copy here and get free domestic shipping and a free download of the comprehensive study guide. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

OCWMC--Writing tutorial, tears, fellowship, food, and FUN!

“Write about what really interests you, whether it is real things or imaginary things, and nothing else. (Notice this means that if you are interested only in writing you will never be a writer, because you will have nothing to write about . . .)” CS LEWIS
Our days (and nights!) at the OXFORD CREATIVE WRITING MASTER CLASS are delightfully occupied with discussion, consideration, and application of the best of the best writers. Lots of laughter and fun, and occasional tears--like life. Oh, and heaps of delicious food!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Oxford, writing with the greats OCWMC 4

More scenes from our creative writing adventures: 


Rachel had a 12# steak for lunch; very glad for her! We had a gorgeous blue-sky and sun day this afternoon in Oxford, especially writing session in Bodleian Library and evensong at Christ Church Cathedral

Thursday, March 31, 2016


Climbed the Saxon tower of St Michael's to view Oxford from above and reflect on Cranmer and the Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty God,
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
maker of all things, judge of all men:
We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness,
which we from time to time most grievously have committed,
by thought, word, and deed, against thy divine Majesty,
provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.
We do earnestly repent,
and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings;
the remembrance of them is grievous unto us,
the burden of them is intolerable.
Have mercy upon us,
have mercy upon us, most merciful Father;
for thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake,
forgive us all that is past;
and grant that we may ever hereafter
serve and please thee in newness of life,
to the honor and glory of thy Name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Oxford Creative Writing Master Class 1

Delightful gathering of serious-minded (well, except Justin!) writers. We spent some time getting oriented to he rich grandeur of Oxford history and literary luminaries. Spent our initial on-location tutorial at Baliol College. What is the writer's daily routine? Here is what CS Lewis wrote about his ideal writing day: "We now settled into a routine which has ever since served in my mind as an archetype, so that what I still mean when I speak of a "normal" day (and lament that normal days are so rare) is a day of the Bookham pattern. For if I could please myself I would always live as I lived there. I would choose always to breakfast at exactly eight and to be at my desk by nine, there to read or write till one. If a cup of good tea or coffee could be brought me about eleven, so much the better. A step or so out of doors for a pint of beer would not do quite so well; for a man does not want to drink alone and if you meet a friend in the taproom the break is likely to be extended beyond its ten minutes. At one precisely lunch should be on the table; and by two at the latest I would be on the road. Not, except at rare intervals, with a friend. Walking and talking are two very great pleasures, but it is a mistake to combine them. Our own noise blots out the sounds and silences of the outdoor world; and talking leads almost inevitably to smoking, and then farewell to nature as far as one of our senses is concerned. The only friend to walk with is one (such as I found, during the holidays, in Arthur) who so exactly shares your taste for each mood of the countryside that a glance, a halt, or at most a nudge, is enough to assure us that the pleasure is shared. The return from the walk, and the arrival of tea, should be exactly coincident, and not later than a quarter past four. Tea should be taken in solitude, as I took it as Bookham on those (happily numerous) occasions when Mrs. Kirkpatrick was out; the Knock himself disdained this meal. For eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably. Of course not all books are suitable for mealtime reading. It would be a kind of blasphemy to read poetry at table. What one wants is a gossipy, formless book which can be opened anywhere. The ones I learned so to use at Bookham were Boswell, and a translation of Herodotus, and Lang's History of English LiteratureTristram ShandyElia and the Anatomy of Melancholy are all good for the same purpose. At five a man should be at work again, and at it till seven. Then, at the evening meal and after, comes the time for talk, or, failing that, for lighter reading; and unless you are making a night of it with your cronies (and at Bookham I had none) there is no reason why you should ever be in bed later than eleven. But when is a man to write his letters? You forget that I am describing the happy life I led with Kirk or the ideal life I would live now if I could. And it is essential of the happy life that a man would have almost no mail and never dread the postman's knock."

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Realism, Revulsion, and Redemption--and Good Writing

Five gentlemen this clear winter evening, gorgeous star-filled night outside, crackling fire and comaraderie inside. We pattered around talking about marketing, connecting on Goodreads and NetGallery, and CHG and book printing for our author consortium publishing cooperative. Then great discussion about how we tell good news. It is so much easier to write about human depravity. Plenty of examples, never a shortage of material, but where is the redemptive element. Writing about people being mean, being ugly, being promiscuous, being cruel--all that it relatively easy, frankly. Though very often we just ape the world and become gratuitous--"Look at me, I can sweat in my writing as much as the world. Aren't I with it!" I must have arrived as a writer. But something is deeply flawed in our assumptions when we think this way. So how do we adorn the gospel in our writing? I'm afraid I blabbed a bit much about what I think about as I write, creating longing for truth, beauty, and the Good News, within the boundaries of my genre, fiction (I will be talking a good deal about this important topic at the OXFORD CREATIVE WRITING MASTER CLASS(s); for serious-minded writers, we do have a few places available in the July master class, but don't delay).

Dougie leads off on our reading component. World War I at Verdun, winter of 1916. This is an intriguing yarn told from the point of view of the Germans in the Great War. I'm particularly fascinated by this as I have been writing about WW I from the Somerset Light Infantry British point of view, but all the while attempting to show the humanity of individuals fighting on either side, Germans including. I heard an example of where using parallel structure would help your syntax. The sentence ended with only death, but it sounded to my ear like it might be better to conclude with parallel contrast with how you get out of this war, not by fever or whatever else it was you wrote. I want to feel more emotion about the dead sniper corpse. Hubert and Sepp don't seem to show the reader how it impacts them to see this. Wouldn't Sepp or Hubert feel anxious about their own life, wonder if they will be like that man before the war is over, maybe before another day passes. Hubert with astonishment deals with the wounded soldier, but I want to get inside Hubert's head. How does he really feel about his commander being hit. The hand on the shoulder, the instant of solemnity felt like it needed development.

John reads from his Violetta Russian yarn, when she goes up to the graves. Right after the shelling and Tamara and the other one are dead. She had promised that she would come visit every day. My eyes studied. I think it would be more natural for her to be less self conscious about what her eyes were doing. She studied. Her conversation with her fallen friends. A fly was buzzing away at my face... I swooshed a bug away with my hand, would be more concise. Very good: I swatted at the fly again. I think you might have over written  and need to tighten some of your syntax. Talking with the dead at their graves. Try tightening her words, use fragments. Have her perplexed at doing it. Even a bit frightened.

Bob read us the first chapter of a sequel to The Crescent & the Cross. Would touch, I would hold my breath as long as I could. This sounds like it is being written in the theoretical, maybe a dream. I think the reader will have an aha moment if you briefly summarize Sinbad's past and conversion and Selassi's role. It seems better to simply review it and let the reader say,"Yes, I remember that." I don't think I would let the reader know that he didn't actually get burned at the stake. Leave them wondering about it, hopeful because of the first person point of view, yet suspended about whether it happened. I would like to have a bit more tactile material, especially exotic smells, Arabian Knights feel ramped up a bit more.

Coming this spring!
I read from near the end of my historical fiction World War I novel, featuring teen atheist 2/Lt CS Lewis, WAR IN THE WASTELAND, the chapter that goes inside Nigel's head and explores his fears anticipating going over the top, his veneration of Sergeant Ayres, and wherein I attempt to define true courage. This is what I like about 'Blots, these dudes are not shy in the slightest about beating me up, excoriating my writing. Precisely as it should be. It's moments like this that I share with writers who have asked me to critique their work ("Hey, I get the same treatment, so buck up," or words to that effect, though a bit gentler). 'Blots' push back: Too much ping-pinging of rain drops on Tin hats, and could you even hear it if there was artillery pounding the German trenches? Too much introspection. The more I have thought about it, I agree. This chapter will be better if  I tighten by 25%. So I am sharpening my butcher knife as we speak. I have also received feedback from my two other respected sources--and have work to do. Do not become a writer if you are overly sensitive (go into subterranean mud sculpture on a deserted island far, far away from the critical gaze of other human beings)!

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