Monday, February 28, 2011

Speaking at Men's Conference, Sheridan Wyoming, March 4-6, 2011

JOB’S RUIN & GOD’S REDEMPTION: Discovering Christ in the Book of Job.
Topics for the four sessions are:
God Sees Job (Friday night)      
Job’s Contrary Comforters (Sat. Morning)
Job’s Confronting Comforter Sat. Morning)
Job Sees God (Sat. afternoon
Registration fee: $50.00*

Attendance will be limited to the first 100 paid registrations received
Camp is rustic and has central bathing facilities.  Please bring your own towel, washcloth, toiletries, pillow and sleeping bag.

Check in anytime on the afternoon of the 4th.  Dinner served at 6:30.  Late arrivals are always welcome. Retreat will conclude at 3:00 pm Saturday afternoon

Questions --  John Tollakson 307 752 0423 (cell)  or Nate Mullinax 307 751 0260 (cell)

INKBLOTS Men's Writing Group for February

INKBLOTS – FEBRUARY, 2011 (pictured at left: Johann Gutenberg in Gutenberg Square, Strasbourg, France, his birthplace)

Italian red, fire on the hearth, five men. John S leads off reading a portion of a manuscript written by a former student of mine at CHS. Alisa writes “Help Wanted,” sign read by Callie, in front of an import company, the Phelps family in Rosalind, WA. Callie gets a job tutoring the Phelps’ children. Alisa. This is going to be a great story. If you’d like, I’ll make a few comments based only on hearing about ten minutes of it read aloud at Inkblots. But relax, I’ll make them in a private message!
John read his novel on retired cop whose daughter is pregnant and needs an abortion, or so she thinks, or her boyfriend’s mom thinks. Show me what “too nervous” looks like. Good candid questions that would be asked at the CPC. But show us how the girl would react when she’s nervous, how she sits, what she does with her hands, feet, mouth, eyes. What’s going on inside her mind. What she’s afraid of. This story has several layers, including racial tensions, misconceptions, prejudice, as well as sexual mores and devaluation of human life. Show more how these go together. Ultrasounds are very expensive but supporters are paying for it so you can see your baby. Good job doing your homework. Doug Mc suggests breaking the visit to the Crisis pregnancy center up into two chapters. By breaking the chapter you create tension and you involve your reader in what is going on and what ought to happen. Make the reader, even the pro abortion reader, want her to do the right thing, to have the ultrasound, to keep the baby. Have her get up and leave, or just about leave.
Doug Mc, who just submitted his Return to Tarawa manuscript to P&R Publishing in New Jersey. Give us your story in 30  words, 150 words, what is your main point, how does each chapter contribute to your main point. He felt like the questions unearthed some of the revision and editing maybe needed in the story. Six pages of submission forms with three chapters, same as he submitted to Writers Edge reading service in Wheaton. They said effusive things about the manuscript, really they did. I don’t have them right in front of me, but it concluded with, “I hope to see this in print some day.” Doug is now reading his Korean War era novel. He read for us a chapter that can be difficult to write but necessary in historical fiction: historical details for context. How much is enough? How much is too much?
He wore a concerned face… Can you show this? Made everyone take notice, might better be you showing how they react, how a specific character fears the artillery fire, his facial expression, his flinching with each retort of the guns. Good description of abandoned bivouacs for combat units, 3,000 men “who aren’t here anymore.” Mr. Rand growled (not nearly growled). There is a fascinating fluidity to your writing. You have put us in medias res, and we’re all sitting here following along, hanging on your words. We’re all interested, can’t help it. Your voice is developing every time I hear you read. I don’t mean your audio voice, that works well, but your voice weaving the narrative smoothing and naturally with the dialogue of the various characters. David K comments that the conversation sounds a bit stiff for two men who know each other. John S didn’t agree. The phone rang and none of us wanted D to stop and get the phone.
David K read for us a new chapter in his futuristic thriller, second civil war in America. Two brothers feuding, one the president of the US while the other becomes the leader of the succeeding states. Genetic engineering of several individuals (if engineered things can be called individuals). The two presidents are in the same room together? But the war is still on so it’s not over. Too much “Whatever.” Episode in Cajun country using local dialect. Gator named Judas. Test-tube baby. John S said the cease-fire episode seemed odd, letting the brother go just like that. Too nonchalant and seemed unrealistic. There was some discussion of free-trade, separate currency, but no more aggression. The story could use more subtle nuances of human interaction, what people do as they say things, what they think. It does seem sort of blunt, rapid clips, two dimensional. You mentioned that you don’t really like details in books you read; you just want to get to the action. But avoid adding a little extra in there. Work toward an organic story, where essential details flow naturally out of the characters problems, misconceptions, fears, quirks. Details never work if they are tacked on. They must be essential. The story not complete without them, but don’t overwrite it either.
I suggest everyone read or reread Strunk and White, Elements of Style before they write any more. Five short chapters that can change your life as a writer. I read and reread it often. Learn something new every time. I read chapter 46 of my just-finished-today novel on John Knox. Found some typos and awkward wording as I did so. The out-loud test is everything. We chatted for a while about other ideas we have rolling around in our imaginations.          

Monday, February 21, 2011

John Knox novel completed at last! Here's a sample

I pushed the girl out of my mind as we walked toward home down the Royal Mile. I intended only to poke my head in the kirk and perhaps persuade John Knox to come home early, take some supper, get some more rest. But as I entered there were five or six young men seated in the south transept of St. Giles, John Knox seated before them.
My mind flashed back to my youth when my brother Francis, Alexander, and I sat before Master Knox. I used to feel jealous of his attentions to us. There was no place for that now. He often said that he’d had rather spend fifteen hours interpreting a text of Holy Scripture with young men preparing for the ministry than an hour doing anything else. This appeared to be one such earnest discussion. I was about to go, when the words of one of the young men arrested my attention. I lingered, the boys weary and fidgety at my side, I hoping it would not be prolonged for fifteen hours, but eager to hear their debate.

“But will not such teaching loosen the reins of lusts?” asked the young man. “If we instruct the ignorant that salvation is entirely an unconditional free gift—they’ll be no restraint on manners and behavior. Law is smashed and Antinomianism shall prevail.”
“Do you imagine that any of us can earn God’s favor by keeping God’s law?” said John Knox. “Do you imagine that salvation is mostly of God’s grace, mostly of Christ’s merits, but that we must be his partners in our own salvation, then?”

But you cannot deny, Master Knox, that huge tracts of Holy Scripture address the members of the visible kirk as responsible partners in covenant with God, whose destiny is determined by our faith and our obedience or lack thereof.”

At the young man’s words, I saw the vitality of John Knox’s convictions rising up in him, his forehead seeming to become more broad and set, his eyebrows overshadowing his features like dark clouds before a tempest; his eyes flashed like lightning, and his in-drawing of breath seemed as if it would burst forth like thunderclaps in his reply.

“Every papist, man, would agree with you,” he said. “The only way huge tracts of Holy Scripture say such nonsense, however, is if you make a mingle mangle out of law and gospel, that is, if you get the cart of good works before the horse of electing grace. You must not separate the things that God has joined together. The cause of good works, my friend, is not our free will, but when the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, whom God's elect children receive by true faith, takes possession of the heart of any man, the Spirit regenerates and renews the man, so that he begins to hate what before he loved, and to love what before he hated.

“If you make the believer’s good works, his sanctification, a condition of his justification, you mistake the evangel and make man’s faithfulness a means of meriting or of maintaining the salvation of God. If we determine our destiny by anything in us, faith, faithfulness, obedience, free will, good works, anything by which we partner with God, then you must say, as the papists say, that God has come down to save the just. But Jesus the Son of God came not in the flesh to call the just, but to call sinners, surely not to abide in their old iniquity, but to true repentance, true dying to sin. The Christian’s hope of mercy and forgiveness before God is not in his faith and obedience, but in the redemption that is in Christ’s blood alone, by which alone a man’s imperfection has no power to damn him, for Christ's perfection is reputed to be his by the regenerating and renewing of the Spirit which alone engenders faith in us, faith which he has in Christ’s blood. God has received already at the hands of his only Son all that is due for our sins, and so cannot his justice require or crave any more of us. There is no other satisfaction or recompense required for our sins.”

“You said the same today on the mount,” said Nathaniel as we left the kirk and walked home.

“Did I?”

“Aye, you said Jesus came to seek and to save the lost,” continued the boy, “the lost, like the wee lamb on the precipice. It was the same as father was speaking of.”

“Aye, so it was,” I said.

Several times over the next weeks, I saw the haddock lass, as I at first termed her. Then I came to call her in my mind, the generous lass. At last I learned her name.

“I’m Margaret Stewart, Lord Ochiltree’s daughter,” she told me.