Tuesday, January 19, 2010

INKBLOTS, Writers' gathering

INKBLOTS, January 18, 2010

Seven men, glowing embers in the wood stove, Twisted Zin, common interest in many things, but what brought us together tonight was our interest in writing. Doug McComas, our gracious host, led off in prayer. A brief discussion about whether this was a guy-only writing deal or if female writers would be welcome--or would even want to come.

Brendan W. introduced us to No Plot No Problem, Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month (November); a challenge to write your novel in 30 days, prescribing so many pages per day. Theory: write, write, write… So B is planning to do it in February (forget November). He got the book on sale at Half Price Books. One wonders if a how-to book on writing works as well if you got it for half price? Does it only work half as well? Maybe he should have bought two of them.

Chit-chat opened then with discussion of plot. How many are there? 6 or 7? What’s most important? Plot or characterization? Tom Clancy’s plots were discussed—or bantered--and (over) simplified. Importance of choosing names, Barney character is going to be a certain type of fellow.

David K. leads off with some reworkings of his futuristic novel, political thriller. He put us in with the two brothers (half brothers with different last names).

D clearly likes guns, conservative political theory, fighting, and sibling rivalry. I do believe this manuscript has potential. “His thoughts about God had died with his mom.” More than half complete. The challenge is to get the big picture in a 10-minute sample reading of a book that is heading toward an apocalyptic epic.

What about mapping out a flow chart, or story board, to get the big picture down? DM said it seems like an intriguing tale of massive proportion. Inevitably big books came up, War and Peace, Brothers Karamazov (Братья Карамазовы), Anna Karenina, Tolkien’s trilogy. Does D need to consider dividing this into more than one novel, a series? Eyre Affair is brought up as a humorous almost spoof (not spoof), set in a fictional England where literature is the world, by Jasper Fforde.

Ben S. read a “doggerel” inspired by Jonathan Nichols, with apologies to Ogden Nash. Jonathan suggested to Ben that he write an epic on the second law of thermodynamics. “This is very silly,” B prefaced his reading. Ceramics and hammocks rhymes with dynamics, one learns. Fun stuff.

I inserted myself with a harangue on why it is so important to be writing poetry on the canvas, that is, within the conventions. There is no more expansive way to become acquainted with the subtleties and nuances of words, meaning, sound, cadence, all of which trains the ear, the mind, the imagination so one can write better, poetry or prose. Everything CS Lewis wrote in poetry he wrote better in prose, so did he waste his time writing all that poetry? No. It’s a significant part of what made him such a masterful wordsmith.

Doug M. read parts of the flashback to WWII with his protagonist (retiring missionary downed on same island he had fought on fifty years before), now reflecting back on going down the nets into the landing craft and amtracs. D ask if we were all agreed (or just me) that he needed to change to first-person point of view. I was vindicated by nodding around the room. D looked a little green and ran his hand through the hair that used to cover his pate.

Vivid description of the repartee of nervous marines preparing to make a beach landing under enemy fire. “Only God’s timing and marine training would keep him alive.” Nathan thought about… should be “I thought about…” There is a fairly high degree of you-are-there quality.

D finished with a self critique. I feel like it’s jerky. I suggested that the switch to first person would remove this perceived jerkiness. It is war, after all, and there is a great deal happening simultaneously, chaos it is often called. D said he would rewrite the chapter he just read to us in first person so we could see it. D wanted more criticism. And he wondered how to “fill in gaps” if he was in first person, maybe with a narrator.

Andy argued that there would be a solution to jerkiness, because the first-person protagonist has to see, hear, react to all the other action, words, and threats surrounding him. DK suggested that DM might leave the third-person meta narrative with the first-person reserved for the flashbacks. DM is thinking this is going to be enormous work to change the point of view. He’s 22 of 26 chapters.

DM asked what is the difference between good writing and writing to be published. What makes writing a success? I suggested that finally whether we are on the NY Times best sellers list, or whether we have fat royalty checks pouring in doesn’t matter where things really matter. Write for an audience of one. Write to glorify and enjoy God. Wonderfully freeing, but requires daily, constant re-calibrating, such proud, self-centered sinners we are, I am.

BW read us a poem based on a sermon, employing the cresting surf and the pattern made by the sea on the sands of the seashore as a metaphor for man’s life. We beat B up last time pretty badly for emoting (you’ve got to be tough at the INKBLOTS). Here is much more in the conventions, the boundaries that, in my opinion, makes something actually poetry. Some suggestions about the bigness of the topic and the shortness of the poem.

BW reluctantly, apologetically read another piece (prose?), a homily, an honest reflection on a sexual temptation, attractive co-worker, flirting--all a dream. BW takes sin seriously, and is not in this trying to mitigate sins of the heart. Quite the contrary, or there would be nothing written here. “Tin Mines,” he calls it. He recollects John Owen on the mortification of sin. His dream was like the tin mines and the blast of water, blasting dirt and ore in all directions. The homily is the heart-felt journey of a man who takes sin intensely seriously.

I commented that it reminded me of Thomas Kelly’s hymn “Stricken, smitten, and afflicted.” Especially the stanza beginning, “Ye who think of sin but lightly, Nor suppose the evil great, Here (at the cross of Christ, atoning with his blood for my sins, including lustful fantasies) may view its nature rightly, Here its guilt may estimate.” Our sins of lust are so great because they are such an affront to Christ our Bridegroom, and we are the groom, the bride of Christ.

Is anyone writing great, enduring literature today? It was suggested that there are splinter groups with “great” authors in them. I launched in with a lampoon on the elitism of the academy today. College kids get fed the professors favorite authors, ones who are just too “great” for the uninitiated, the common man, folks who are not capable of “getting it.”

Andy S closed in prayer with gratitude to God for giving us the gift of imagination and writing.


  1. Sounds like a great time, Doug! "Write for an audience of one" ... yes!

  2. wish you could join us, but St. Louis is a bit of a hike from here.

  3. 你怎麼能經過一片海,而忘記它的藍?.........................

  4. The Brown family and I visited last meeting. Regrettably, you were not there. It was a wonderful gathering! Lord willing, we will come next time, and hopefully meet you as well.

  5. great meeting you, Shawn. Keep writing!