Saturday, December 29, 2018

Some writers don't take Christmas off

Four Blots on a blustery power-outage winter evening, the moon now shining brightly, clouds scudding furiously across its path, John begins, his designated reader Rachel leading off.

California writers, join me at the Christian Writers Seminar
John's book set in Russia, Violetta, is the result of his arduous research interviewing Russian immigrants who worked at the hospital John retired from three years ago (and came to work for me on the farm, what a blessing!). He fills in about the fascinating stories that he learned, sort of Solzhenitsyn-esque, gathering the stories of all Russians whose families lived the oppressions of the past, only John did not have to "write" them down using improvised prayer beads made from pieces of bread and mud. Rachel tells us about the museums and concerts she just visited in Berlin, including the new spy museum. Got to see that one. She took her four year old to see Rembrandt, and to Mozart's Requiem, Mendelssohn's Elijah, she wept through them all. WE talked briefly about historical research for writing, one of my topics at Fresno Pacific University February 9, 2019 at the Christian Writers Seminar.

Rachel reads on. Lenin, Bolshevik Revolution, 1917 era. How do you explain foreign language expressions in your writing? Footnotes are a bad idea in fiction, in my opinion. It is best to weave in understanding incrementally, but avoid doing so by explanatory narrative: This means in French... or which means... These are not the ways to weave in meaning and understanding naturally. Soot had darkened...  Instead of the beams were darkened by the soot, which is passive voice description, slows the pace, makes writing less vigorous. When you write about inanimate things, keep the doer of the action as the subject of your description--the soot was the cause of the blackness. I wonder if Collette in third person is a bit pedantic sounding. Can you give her more life, more authenticity?

Sydney up next (
her text with my capital letter comments): The Archbishop stood before us. Here was the man I was commanded by the king to protect. Here was the man who, in his turn, had protected the one upon whom Haldor wished death, who had protected the offspring of that brutish murderer, who had protected with all the powers of his life the person who had sucked the last of his dying mother’s. Here was the man who had raised as a father one who should never have been a son; who had sanctioned the final, destructive piece on my existence; who ​knew, who knew all and kept it hidden, hidden — oh the irony — to protect he whom had destroyed from the bare knowledge that he had destroyed it. Here was the man of God who said: At last, by my choice, a man shall not reap what he has sown.  This man was smiling. He had a tall, slender figure, bent forward beneath a white robe. His brow was coarse and grey, passing in thin lines above his eyes, which beamed from the old, pale face as paint  come alive upon dry parchment. His eyes were young. They seemed to glisten, and in any other person the glistening would have seemed as tears, but in this man, that thought would have been mistaken. It was joy, somehow, joy that glistened. Vibrancy. Life. One was not used to seeing such life in eyes. I CAN SEE AND FELL THIS From the draping sleeve of his robe a hand was extended in greeting, as thin and fragile as a bird’s claw.  “Father Alphege, you’re alive,” Finn said, grasping the hand in his own dirt-besmeared one, and pressing it with such a strange mixture of vibrant admiration and timid self-restraint, that I would perhaps have found it amusing under other circumstances. As it was, I turned my full attention upon the fragile man, who seemed larger within than without, and said nothing. GOOD DESCRIPTION OF SUBTLE CHARACTERISTICS  The thin lips had passed again into a smile. “Very much so, Finn.” The Archbishop glanced over the two of us, his eyes were laughing in a way, like Finn’s but the laughter was different — soft, knowing, as if the knowing too much had made them gentle.  “Are you well? Is this man wounded?” he asked, looking at me.  “Very much so.” The Archbishop opened the door wider, and I believed he would have done the same before a wounded Dane, if one had so appeared at his door.  “You are of course welcome here.” He gestured us within, and his keen, blue eyes peered out into the fog across the forest in the direction of the city. “God help them,” he said as he shut the door, and something in his tone made me uncertain if he spoke of those in the city who were helpless victims, or those Danes who might even now be killing them. Perhaps he spoke of both, and neither one over the other. I could not tell. It aggravated me that I could not tell. GOOD INTENTIONAL NUANCE OF UNDERSTANDING He led us into a tall room, lined with the same rough-hewn timbers I had seen scarring the face of the outside. There was little light, but a fire burned in the grate over which a small pot was simmering, though with what it was filled I could not see. A stack of bowls sat at the hearth, and directly across the room was a small, wooden table, on top of which lay a steaming bowl of water and three rolls of bandages.  “Gustav put these out PLACE ATTRIBUTION HERE in case there should be need of them while he was gone,” the Archbishop said. The unassuming manner in which he said the name struck me with a cold wash of anger. Did one whisper the word ​asp after it struck you? Did the Archbishop act to all the world as he acted before us now — as if nothing belonged more to this life than the one person I knew never should have been born. I closed my eyes and felt the blood ooze once more beneath the cracking scab on my forehead, as my brows furrowed, my head pounding in the darkness behind my lids.  “May I see your injuries?” THIS SHOULD BE A CAPITAL T, AS IT IS NOT TECHNICALLY AN ATTRIBUTION the Archbishop’s voice lifted beside me. I opened my eyes. He was standing quite near, his eyes fixed with a quiet expression upon my face. Finn had seated himself upon a chair, watching.  “No,” the word fell flat into the air, as if my tongue had dropped it. I heard the silence, and Finn shifted in his chair.  “They may require attention.”  “I am only hungry,” I said, gripping the back of the empty chair at my side. I half-turned and felt Finn’s eyes boring into the side of my head as I fell into the seat. “I would be grateful for a bowl of what is over that fire,” I added, and would not meet Finn’s eyes.  I heard the Archbishop step away, the crack of the pot as the lid lifted and the smell of beef wafted with AMIDST, MAYBE the smoke and wet steam into the room.  “Are you hungry, Finn?” the Archbishop asked, and I heard the clicking of the bowls as he lifted them from the stack near the hearth.
“Am I ever not?” There was tension beneath the grin of Finn’s voice.  The Archbishop straightened and turned, his footsteps sounded again across the floor. I I felt Finn’s gaze turn and I looked up. He was watching the bowls approaching in the grasp of the frail fingers, as the steam rose from them and the faint aroma gave all its promises of comfort and warmth. The grin was still playing about his lips, more genuine now, and a glint of eagerness shown in his eyes.  “Are you quite well, Father Alphege?” Finn asked, taking the bowl and dipping his ladle with relish. The Archbishop placed the other in front of me. “No harm has befallen you or the LOWER CASE WHEN YOU USE AN ARTICLE Cathedral it seems, and praise Heaven for that!” “No harm whatever, Finn. We are all quite well.” The Archbishop seated himself beside me, drawing in his chair before his own bowl of stew. He paused, lifted his eyes to Heaven, and the made the sign of the Cross. I felt my body stiffen upon the chair. I refused to look at him. “And Gustav?” Finn asked. I could feel his gaze. “Occupies the library like his lifeblood is the ink from the manuscripts,” the Archbishop smiled. “He has always been a clever lad, but this last year he has shown great progress in his work, and has been able to THIS IS A SPLIT INFINITIVE VERB, TO SHOULD GO WITH HELP, TO HELP most effectively help me in my own.” “The last time I was here, he spoke in admiration of the king’s army,” Finn said. “Does he ever think of joining us, of fighting against the Danes?” Everything in my body throbbed and I felt my muscles tighten, my fingers curl and grip into the palms of my hands, my jaw clench beneath the dried blood upon my face. I could feel Finn watching me still.  “No,” the Archbishop said. “He does not. He is determined to serve in a different manner.” “I trust him to do that,” Finn breathed. “I would trust him — with my life —” Something in his tone forced me to look up. Our eyes met across the table.  “Where is he now?” Finn asked.  “He and Raul have gone into the city. The areas where the fighting has deserted the wounded still lie. Those who are well enough, they will bring here, but the rest they will tend to as best they can in the street, and pray God’s mercy upon them.”  “I should be with them,” Finn said, and he began to rise to his feet. He stopped suddenly, ran a hand through his hair and glanced at me. “Not forsake one friend for the sake of the other,” he mumbled, then collapsed upon the chair and pulled it up to the table, his brows knitting across his face.  “When you go, I am going with you,” I said. Finn looked at me, aghast.  “By no means beneath heaven,” he said, “will that be the case. You’re being too wounded to be out there is precisely the reason we are stuck within these walls this very moment.” “I need to see him, Finn.”  “Gustav?” “Yes.” “Do you?” There was a moment of silence, during which I could feel his breath falling heavy between us. The Archbishop leaned forward and turned to me, his eyes full of a gentle command. “Do you know my son?”  The quiet words slammed into my skull with a violence to which the gentle tone seemed only to add. As frail fingers behind a sharpened knife, as the smile lingers below the threat, as the laugh is the voice of a mockery, GOOD USE OF COMPOUND SIMILES so the words fell upon my ears, permeated my skull, whirled with the memories within, the flashes from the night, the desecrated life, the anguish which had fallen because this parasite upon the universe — he whom the Archbishop called son — had a father who could not even be boasted of by a demon in Hell. I did not remember rising to his feet, yet here I was, swaying upon the floor, my feet gnawing to keep their hold in the earth but all the world seemed to toss around me, and I did not even know to care.  “I think so,” Finn was saying, rising to his feet as well, uncertain, one hand still upon the table where he was gripping his ladle, the scars on his knuckles shining white beneath the dirt and blood. “They met...years ago…” the words trailed off.

Rachel asked what the big picture of this story is. Haldor discovers that his brother is alive, Gustav and Dane are captured, Raul. Two parallel yarns, interwoven. Anglo-Saxon England setting. Resolution between brothers at odds.

Carol Writing Contest Results!

Announcing Writing Contest Winners!
Thank you to those who took time and creative energy to enter the Longfellow Carol Writing Contest. In the midst of the bustle of Christmas, we had a number of fine entries (and I had difficult decisions to make judging those entries).

Poets who entered considered Longfellow's poem written in 1863, "I heard the bells on Christmas Day." Does it qualify as a Christmas carol? Hate is still tragically strong and does indeed mock the song of peace on earth good-will to men, as we have so painfully been reminded of late. But is it really a Christmas--Christ worship--carol? Determined not to be a cynic, though the cannons of the Civil War were nearly drowning out the chimes of the Christmas bells, Longfellow takes a significant leap between the last two stanzas of his carol, and concludes, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail ...”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

But how did he get to that conclusion? I think a genuine Christmas Carol, a hymn in praise of Jesus' coming into the world as a baby for the sole purpose, "...to save his people from their sins," fills in the gap between Longfellow's deep despair expressed in the second-to-last stanza of his poem, and his final inexplicable confidence that the right will somehow prevail over the wrong expressed in the last stanza. But what or rather Who bridges the gap between the despair and the hope? The contestants were urged to write a stanza that pointed to the gospel of grace alone in Christ Jesus alone, the subject of a true Christmas carol. Drum roll, please:


First Prize Winner!
Our path was doomed in rebel war
Against a God we should adore.
The Christ-child came
And loud proclaimed
His peace on earth, good-will to men!
Congratulations, Aaron Gruben (he received a free signed copy of my new release, The Resistance)!

Second Prize Winner!
For Christ—He in the manger lay,
And died to take death's sting away, 
And in the grave, 
Death lost its sway;
True peace on earth, good-will to men.
Congratulations, Sydney Simao (she will receive a new book at Inkblots next week)!

Third Prize Winner!
Yet from the dust a fair rose bloomed,
            The bells tolled ransom for the doomed;
            To lead men home
            The Christ has come
            With peace on earth, goodwill to men.
 Congratulations, Christianna Hellwig (received a free Rise & Worship cd)!


Grand Prize Winner!
True light is come! the Light and Life,
The Victor over sin and strife.
The right has won,
Now reigns the Son
With peace on earth, good will to men.
Congratulations, Paige Lamar (she won a 50% discount on April's Oxford Creative Writing Master Class--see you in Oxford)!

Join me April 2-9, 2019 for the Oxford Creative Writing Master Class (only a few spots available). "I loved every minute of it! I learned more about writing and history than I ever could have expected. Mr. Bond 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!" (Cheyenne). Learn more at bondbooks.net and Listen to my podcast The Scriptorium at bondbooks.net/the-scriptorium-podcast

Monday, December 24, 2018

Carol Writing and the delusional imagination

There's so many wonderful Christmas carols, only a poetic nutcase would attempt to write a new one. Okay, that would be me. New Reformation Hymns, "What wonder filled the starry night," is intended to be  just that, a Christmas carol. Insanity! you say. Only a moron would attempt to write a Christmas carol, much less post it and put on display the extent of his carol-crafting delusion. Okay, you're probably right.  But it's too late. I've already posted it. Greg Wilbur (and others) has already written and recorded music for it. "The deed is done and cannot be undone" (something is clearly amiss when one finds oneself quoting Lady Macbeth).

In part because of such fears, early scribblings for this hymn/carol sat dormant for several years; hymn writing can sometimes be like that for me, an initial burst of ideas, then nothing, just an imaginative black hole. As Christmas approached in 2010, something changed. Sitting in front of the fire in our living room one evening, I pulled out the initial notes again. Before bedtime I managed to sift through all the scribbles, idea banks and word banks, and set down the lines below pretty much as you see them here.

Overcoming my trepidation at writing my first hymn (it was difficult enough, The Lord Great Sovereign, 2001), but writing a Christmas carol? Only a moron would attempt it. The sacred charm of the existing carol canon guarantees failure. I must be certifiable! Carols are pregnant with emotive atmosphere, celebratory associations, roasting chestnuts (a curious metaphor considering Americans do not roast and eat chestnuts at Christmas or any other time, to my knowledge), open fires, Jack Frost nipping at our noses, Good King Wenceslas going out on the feast of Stephen, snow lying all about, and every cozy winter association imaginable and unimaginable. Writing a Christmas carol is like inviting the world to come watch you fly off the Eiffel Tower, equipped with nothing more than chicken-feather wings and delusional bravado (what were they talking about in physics class?). Bring your smart phones. 

Yet, here I go, posting a Christmas carol, one I wrote. Maybe I should be feeling like one of those chestnuts. I'd like to claim to be impervious to critics (a recent post prompted one fellow to fume and fulminate at me), but it would be a lie. Nevertheless, write anything and there will be someone there to gnash his teeth and tell the world what an unworthy vessel you are. For the record, I am daily aware of my vast limitations (could fill a book with them). But in all seriousness, I don't write books because I think I'm the best writer in the world, any more than I love my wife because I think I am the best husband in the world, any more than I parent my kids because I think I am the best parent in the world, any more than I worship Christ because I think I am the best worshiper in the world. Neither do I write hymns because I think I am the best hymn writer in the world--and certainly not because I think I'm the best writer of a carol.

So endearing are carols to Christian hymnody that experts tell us the best-loved hymn of all time is actually a carol, Charles Wesley's Hark, the Herald Angels Sing). Only a certifiable
moron would proceed. Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, with the same fear and trembling I had when I originally set my imagination to work on this carol, and now with the same I launch it out to you.

What wonder filled the starry night
          When Jesus came with heralds bright!
I marvel at His lowly birth,    
          That God for sinners stooped to earth.
       
His splendor laid aside for me,
          While angels hailed His Deity,
The shepherds on their knees in fright
          Fell down in wonder at the sight.

The child who is the Way, the Truth,
          Who pleased His Father in His youth,
Through all His days the Law obeyed,
          Yet for its curse His life He paid.         
         
What drops of grief fell on the site
          Where Jesus wrestled through the night,
Then for transgressions not His own,
          He bore my cross and guilt alone.

What glorious Life arose that day
          When Jesus took death’s sting away!
His children raised to life and light,
          To serve Him by His grace and might.

One day the angel hosts will sing,  
          “Triumphant Jesus, King of kings!” 
Eternal praise we’ll shout to Him
          When Christ in splendor comes again!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Longfellow Christmas Carol Writing Contest

Deadline Christmas Day!
What makes a poem a carol?  Listen to my podcast The Scriptorium at bondbooks.net/the-scriptorium-podcast for carol writing contest details (and prizes!). Do any of these qualify as Christmas carols? "Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer," "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas," "Frosty the snowman"? Most of us would agree that these represent more of the residual fluff that has emerged to pad the season with a sort of vague wintry charm, but they're not carols. 

How about Longfellow's poem written in 1863, "I heard the bells on Christmas Day"; does it qualify as a Christmas carol? Hate is still tragically strong and does indeed mock the song of peace on earth good-will to men, as we have so painfully been reminded of late. But is it really a Christmas--Christ worship--carol? Determined not to be a cynic, though the cannons of the Civil War were nearly drowning out the chimes of the Christmas bells, Longfellow takes a significant leap between the last two stanzas of his carol, and concludes, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail ...”

But how did he get to that conclusion? I think a genuine Christmas Carol, a hymn in praise of Jesus' coming into the world as a baby for the sole purpose, "...to save his people from their sins," fills in the gap between Longfellow's deep despair expressed in the second-to-last stanza of his poem, and his final inexplicable confidence that the right will somehow prevail over the wrong expressed in the last stanza. But what or rather Who bridges the gap between the despair and the hope? Answer with the gospel of grace alone in Christ Jesus alone and you have the material for a true Christmas carol.

Longfellow Christmas Carol Contest--prizes!
How to enter:
1. Subscribe to bondbooks.net
2. Share the contest on social media with two friends.
3. Write your own 5-line stanza (5th line is the same as Longfellow's) giving gospel reasons for Longfellow's optimism about the wrong failing and the right prevailing. Make sure you use the same meter and rhyme scheme Longfellow used. 
4. Go to bondbooks.net; after subscribing, click on contact and follow instructions.
Prizes:
1st--A free copy of my new release The Resistance.
2nd--A free copy of my book War in the Wasteland
3rd--A free copy of my New Reformation Hymns cd Rise & Worship​
Grand Prize for a Longfellow-esque lyric--50% discount on my April 2019 Oxford Creative Writing Master Class
Deadline December 25, 2018 bondbooks.net/the-scriptorium-podcast

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Being a Writer--Is It Worth It? Inkblots

"[Writing] holds all the hope there is." EB White
Stormy Pacific Northwest day, heavy rain, dark and gray, power outages in region, brown-outs here--a good day to hunker down, drink tea, and write. Six Blots braving the dark and bluster for two hours of vigorous literary time together. It was well worth it.

Hear what the collaborator/refiner of Elements of Style wrote about being a writer: "I’m glad to report that even now, at this late day, a blank sheet of paper holds the greatest excitement there is for me—more promising than a silver cloud, prettier than a little red wagon. It holds all the hope there is, all fears. I can remember, really quite distinctly, looking a sheet of paper square in the eyes when I was seven or eight years old and thinking, ‘This is where I belong, this is it.'" E. B. White

Does your writing journey concur with White's? This is not my testimony. My first book was published when I was forty. Sydney concurred with E. B. White. None of us were surprised at that bit of intelligence. But what about his words, writing "holds all the hope there is"? If not hyperbole, it is very sad, indeed, when my hope is in any work I do with my own hands, mind, imagination. I do agree about the fear part, though. If you write, you will fail, and there will be a lineup of critics to inform you and the rest of the world about your failure, real or perceived. Is it worth it?

Rachel Ng leads off with her 1941 yarn, just as the US entered WWII. She feels like she's made major progress. How? By consistency. Getting up and going to work, writing work. Daisy Bishop... saucy, pendulum rhythm. I like it. I agree, your dialogue is lively, realistic. And you are still giving it layers with description of people and inner worries. I wonder how much is gained by nearly identical uniforms; just identical uniforms, but even that is redundant, uniforms being already identical wear. What are you actually wanting to feature in this description? I feel like the closer connection with Walter the lieutenant and Daisy your female protagonist happened too suddenly. Maybe I missed something. Is quality control too modern a phrase for the historical period? We discussed for some time the age of Daisy for 1941. Seventeen would not have been too young for marriage. I suggested that Rachel make her 15. Rachel H suggested 16 to avoid the modern creep factor, which would not have been there in those days. My mother in law was married when she was 16, 60 years ago.

Sydney up next. Picked up after Fynn was dragged out of the prison. Far better fate than God, or god is it? I want you to come back to this in other places and have this be a doctrine that gets revised as the story unfolds. Almost, pain in the word almost. I think the first person is working so well for Sydney in this sobering tale. I want to suggest that you break up lengthier passages of dialogue with more natural interjections, as in human conversation, where people interject, if not interrupt. The best dialogue is like a relay race, the baton passing smoothly, logically, fluidly from one speaker to the other. Dialogue is the place for sentence fragments, and filling in the blank from one speaker to the next. I love Sydney's as ifs. Especially with the descriptions of the crosses in the cemetery. And the door opened. Intrigue in every dependent clause. Rhythm and cadence in the prose, Rachel H commented, poetic feeling prose. Cheyenne liked the transition from the last chapter, grim array of crosses and death, to this chapter. Sydney was able to outline forward, plot the future of the story. 

Cheyenne wrote this yesterday and feels like this passage needs help. Brave soul. Chapter 13 of book 2. She revised this based on input that it leapt too much, not enough character development and setting development. Historical fantasy, medieval Japan-esque. Other worlder, more goes on than you know. Quiet stillness of the air. Is this a redundancy? What feature of the atmosphere are you wanting to share with your reader here? Cheyenne has her protagonist ask internal questions, inner conflict. This only works in first person point of view, one of the strengths of this pov. Faces, faces. I feel like this might be too internal. John liked the part about the dreams. Sydney had read this before the dream was included. Alisa thought the pace was good, but she had a couple of ideas. Oblivion, could she actually answer some of her questions. Should she remember more of the cause of the dream? Cheyenne wrote about her protagonist's remembering of the dream, and Sydney thought that she should have more vivid recollections of the specific details. The questions she is asking will be answered as the plot unfolds. Rachel H suggested that there be eyes or a ring or something that symbolizes the dream or the conflict of the dream. 

Alisa finishes us up for this evening, reading from The Emblem, forthcoming in 2019. Nobody I know is as thorough and persistent as Alisa. she has the drive and work ethic of a master storyteller. It shows in her work. Chapter 3, Callie ran all the way home, working for the Burke family. Could she remember her father's injury more graphically, or more immediately, as in how he walks now, or how he winces with the weather changes? Something that makes her sadness about her father's injury have a more tangible feel for the reader. I thought you handled Sam's answer so well. And her longing for her father to have more of Sam's attitude about his injury and work in the mines as the years pass and aging makes the hard labor harder. Mt Pisgah Presbyterian, is this a real church in Roslyn? FDR's fireside chats--could you have a brief excerpt he was hearing, crackling from the radio on the sideboard, maybe? This is powerful, seeing a man declining in health and age, the verve dwindling. Five perspectives. Press on. Looking forward to reading the whole book.

There are going to be a number of remarkable writers, there are already, coming from this fine group of people sitting around the Scriptorium this evening. 

This just received from a post-publication reviewer of my newest release: "The Resistance is quite a work. I read it in one sitting--all the way through. You have an extraordinary ability to capture the nature of minds at war. All the ambiguities. All the inhumanities. All the stress of war and flying in it, and the camaraderie of those aircrews. The sense of responsibility in Evans is brilliant throughout." Marvin Padgett, Executive Director of Great Commissions Publications 

My host, Richard L. Pike on my speaking time in Western Australia in September, turns out to be a remarkable C. S. Lewis look alike and sound alike. Here's one of the clips I did of him reading a segment heard by the French Resistance in The Resistance
Special 2-book bundle of my War in the Wasteland and newest release, The Resistance at bondbooks.net. CS Lewis plays a significant role in both books, though more subtle in The Resistance. He is antagonist in the WWI yarn and "the voice of faith" on the BBC broadcasts heard by the French Resistance in my newest. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Is This Dying? (excerpt from THE RESISTANCE)

3
HELL FIRE

Teen, atheist to BBC "voice of faith."

For an instant, as Evans free fell from the spiraling bomber, he was certain the right wing was going to pound into his body like the arm of a giant windmill. Hot black smoke engulfed him, choking him, the heat from the burning engines suffocating him, singeing his hair. The ground rushing closer.
Why had he not gone into the infantry? As God intended, both feet firmly on the ground? He hated heights, always had. “Keep your eyes on the instruments and fly the plane,” his father had knowingly advised him.
He didn’t remember pulling the ripcord. Just a violent wrenching as his chute harness tried to crush the breath out of him, then nausea, and wincing pain in his left shoulder.
Then silence. His ears ringing from the chaos of noise he’d just escaped—engines roaring, machine guns spewing bullets, the high-pitched whine of the Fw 190s, more machine guns firing, the horrifying rush of air as he free fell through the bomb bay. And now silence, utter, floating silence.
For an instant, Evans wondered if this was death. Had he died and was this floating to heaven? Was there such a place? War had made him a firm believer in hell. But was there a heaven? And if so, who on earth—on such an earth—would be going there?
Then, behind and somewhere below his right boot, hanging prone from his chute harness, he heard a sickening crash as 25,000 tons of doomed aircraft hit the ground. Straining to see, he watched his B-17 erupt in a belching cloud of orange flame and black smoke. No, only a delusional fool would deny hell fire.
Tearing his eyes from the burning wreckage, Evans counted parachutes, one, two, three—he looked upward at the taut underside of his chute—four. Six of his crew didn’t make it. They were gone. A violent shudder ran down his spine. He was responsible for his men. He hoped they had died before the crash, before experiencing that burning inferno. He would write letters to their families, if he got the chance.
Suddenly, two of the chutes below him sagged and deflated. Two of his men were on the ground, in a pasture, bordered by a narrow road, enclosed on either side by a hedgerow. Alarmed at the sudden intrusion, three or four white cows kicked up their heels and fled.   
His navigator’s chute and his own were drifting sideways in a breeze, westward, as near as he could calculate. Then he saw them. Three trucks, a staff car, and two motorcycles.
His heart sank. Gunmetal gray paint, iron cross on the doors, swastika fluttering from the hood of the staff car...

Douglas Bond, author of a number of successful books of historical fiction, biography, and practical theology, podcasts at The Scriptorium, speaks at churches and conferences, and leads historical tours in Europe. Order a signed copy of The Resistance at bondbooks.net.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Driving, Writing, and Living On the Wrong Side of the Road

OXFORD CREATIVE WRITING MASTER CLASS
Picture yourself here with me on the next OCWMC 
"Drive left. Look right! God, help me to do this right--I mean, correct!" So I tell myself and pray in the days and hours before leading another group of aspiring writers on the Oxford Creative Writing Master Class. At Heathrow, I warily circle the nine-passenger rental van and then lunge into the driver's seat on the right side, murmuring to myself to keep the vehicle on the left side of the road and a weather eye to the Bentleys, Minis, red buses, and black cabbies bearing down on my right side. Though it is not my first rodeo (not to be construed as a cliche; it is a metaphor chosen precisely to reflect how it feels swerving around about every frantically encircling roundabout intersection), I have driven in the UK on the wrong side of the vehicle--and the road--over many years now. But I still pray earnestly before loading the van with precious human cargo and braving the blaring streets, curvaceous back roads, and bustling motorways of Britain.

And then there's the matter of my talking--while driving (whilst motoring, to be more colloquial). One previous OCWMC participant, her hand trembling, passed me an almost illegible note on which she had scrawled out a plea for me to stop using hand gestures as I talk--and drive. "Please, please, keep both hands on the wheel," she implored me (I nodded, looking down at the clutch and gear shifter, wondering just how I was supposed to do that when every vehicle in the UK seems to be equipped with a manual transmission). As I teach my master class writers the evil of exaggerating language, I will avoid pronouncing it "miraculous," but it is a significant answer to prayer, with many instances of divine intervention, that I have never had an accident whilst motoring in Britain (okay, a few close calls; every one of them, I am morally certain, not my fault, like the one en route from London to Oxford opening day of the master class when a raven-colored Peugeot nearly strafed the side of us on the M-40, clearing my arteries, invigorating my vocabulary, and making me still more grateful).

In Oxford, or anytime I talk about writing, I emphasize the importance of figurative language, of metaphor. "The greatest thing by far," wrote Aristotle in his Poetics (384 BC - 322 BC), "is to have a command of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances." And for the rest of us who are emphatically not geniuses, we work at training our eye and ear so we are equipped to use the most appropriate metaphors, the precise imaginative comparisons, the best mini stories to awaken the imagination and immerse our readers in the larger story.

Which makes me pause and consider driving on the wrong side of the car and the road as a metaphor, a miniature story very much like life itself. The author of the book of Proverbs employed a similar metaphor: "Turn not to the right hand or to the left. Keep your foot from evil." When driving a car, if I turn right when I should have turned left, or if I don't keep my eyes on the road ahead of me, screeching tires, broken glass, mangled metal, and far worse can follow.

Similarly, when writing a book, if I take my eyes off the real issue for my protagonist, or when I lose control of the story arc and the plot wanders aimlessly like an overfed bovine, sniffing at this or that irrelevant morsel, my reader gets distracted, yawns, closes the book, and (after awakening from his stupor), pounds out a scathing review on amazon.

How much worse when this happens in life. When I wander to the right and then to the left, grazing for fulfillment and happiness in this tidbit and that morsel of this life, I will always come up empty, unsatisfied, idolatrous, lost. And damned. The stakes are high. Those who persist with this try-this, try-that, foraging approach to life will end this life and enter the life to come with the most horrific words ringing in their eternal ears, "Depart from me you cursed into everlasting fire where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth." When we do this in life, the result is infinitely worse than a car smash-up or a bad review on amazon.

Though our culture persists in shrieking the mantra, "There are many roads," or in effect, "Take whatever road feels good. There is no wrong side of the road." Imagine driving or writing that way. Made in the image of God, we all know at the deepest level of our being that there is only one road that leads to heaven. "One road leads home and a thousand roads lead into the wilderness," as CS Lewis put it. Left or right, O the pain of those thousand roads. No one gets to heaven by scrupulously following the right path, the path of self-improvement and good works; or from swerving left, following his heart and doing what he feels.

If not to the right or the left, where are we to keep our eyes? If there's only one way, The Way, how are we to get on--and keep on--the road? There's no equivocation. Nor is there any alternate route. The Word of God makes the path of life plain. Abandon all hope in ourselves and "Gaze upon the beauty of the Lord." It is what we were made for, not just on Good Friday or Easter, We are designed to keep our eyes straight ahead, to "Fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith." We do this because by his finished work on the cross in place of sinners and his righteousness imputed to those same sinners' specific account, Christ is alone the path to life; in his presence there is fullness of joy; at his right hand their are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16).

God alone places us by his grace on the right road--and he alone keeps us on it. All other roads lead into the wilderness.     

Douglas Bond, author of dozens of books, directs the Oxford Creative Writing Master Class. Contact him about the next OCWMC at bondbooks.net@gmail.com