Monday, March 21, 2011

INKBLOTS, listen in on our men's writing group

INKBLOTS – March 21, 2011
John S brought along a favorite French wine (acquired on location, Cotes du Rhone); fire on the grate. I led off with a few paragraphs from my friend T David Gordon’s book, Why Johnny Can’t Preach, on cultivating the significant through slowing down and reading and seeing through the eyes of poetry. Surrounded by a chaos of noise and image, we are less and less able to enter the rich world of contemplative poetry. Mundaneness is part of the curse of Genesis 3, where we become more like cogs in a machine than image bearers of God. Poetry and imaginative literature break the chains.

Doug M leads off with his Korean War era novel. Soldier on his way from surviving war, and awakening sexually. This chapter Doug prefaced with comments about how to write an authentic scene where a young man (who grew up in a Christian home) plans a date where he hopes to have sexual intercourse with his girlfriend. Smile inviting, her posture relaxed. Rough on the hand-holding scene (and you knew it). Thomas has a roving eye, but not just for the girlfriend. Jackie seems to begin to realize that Thomas is interested in girls, and she happens to be a girl, but she seems uncomfortable. You suggest that she feels obligated to return his attentions and advances, but she feels. You wanted to suggest without being titillating, but none of us got the impression that Thomas consummated his plan. Rightly are you reserved about this. She’s a girl hungry for attention, her father being detached, lacking affection, true love for his daughter.
We discussed at length how Hollywood distorts pleasure, makes the twisted seem straight, makes the ugly seem beautiful. How to show what is real but what is not beautiful, only the counterfeit of love? I mentioned O’Conner’s Good Country People as a model of how a seduction scene should disgust, because seduction and fornication is ugly. Short-term pleasure out of God’s boundaries is counterfeit, twisted and distorted pleasure, not the real article. We have to show this. Before God, we do not want to cause anyone of our readers to stumble… remember millstones, and deepest seas.

John S reads his contemporary novel, exploring racism, abortion, and related topics. Crisis pregnancy episode with ultra sound, a video with actual images of baby forming in the womb. A very tiny person. Was the one growing inside her a blob or a baby? Emma’s thoughts are improved, but sound a bit too much like narrative, until she begins to self consciously straighten her hair and feel like she must look like a wreck. That was better. Nothing to be ashamed about? Is that true? Isn’t her shame important? If she has no shame, she precludes herself from doing the right thing, doesn’t she? You bring Jesus into the counsel. This can be very touchy. Not because it is not the most important thing you want to communicate, but precisely because it is the most important thing we want to convey. Remember your genre. Fiction is not preaching. Create longing for the truth in fiction. Your reader should want more answers than you entirely give, thereby you create longing and send your reader on quest for truth and beauty. Careful of not losing the thread as you switch from Emma to the father, chapter to chapter. Potential for losing continuity with point of view switch. We talked more about the role of fiction in creating longing for the gospel. Our hearts are restless, and so are our readers’ hearts. Create longing for rest in Christ alone, but seldom can we do this to its full consummation and still create the longing for gospel truth.

Dave K has readied his Writers Edge application. Still needs to write his synopsis, tough part that needs lots of care and attention. They’ll be drawing some conclusions, many, about your writing from these seemingly mundane pieces of the application process. Reading near the end, futuristic political thriller. Python and Rattlesnake, in the context of the old west, but with homing device, modern technology, and blood. Nearing the end. One more chapter and an epilogue to go. Clarity, according to Doug M, the clearest writing so far, but could use human details from the past, and dust in the eyes, choking the throat.

Doug M asked a good question about when you edit and revise? Some argue for writing large chunks before going back and revising. My method is to snatch notes as thoughts come to me so that when I get farther along in the manuscript I have material to start with, but then I can go back and continue what I was working on when the idea came. It helps when there are gaps between writing sessions, and I take less time getting back in character next morning.

I read a chapter (16) from my friend in St. Louis, Robert H/T, from Merlin’s Blade, an Arthurian legend from early Britain, ready for the publisher. I had a voice message that I let the fellows listen to before I read. “Very nice,” commented one fellow, referring to descriptive language and authenticity of dialogue. We jumped in at chapter 16. “He writes like you, Doug. The word play is always good,” commented one fellow. Andy S Had a tough time feeling compelled putting in midway in the book. I don’t dispute that he is a good writer. But the excerpt itself did not advance my interest in reading the story. Of course we don’t know the whole story. The rapid moving back and forth from two parallel episodes (obviously connected to previous context in the story). “It sounds like an already published book. It reads well.” Obvious that Robert has practiced his craft well.

I read a couple of pages of Shawn Brower’s book, We Became Men, to be published by P&R Publishing (I’m reading it with a view to write an endorsement). Andy commented that it awakened his interest in reading it as a father, but not sure if it hits the target of being read by young men themselves, which is the understood purpose and target of the book. I wonder if chapter one accomplished the target of the young man’s interest. Everything in chapter one is seen from the dad’s perspective on everything, which does not immediately draw the teen male reader into the story. The story of Shawn’s five year old being included with the high school soccer team, is well told, but does not set a hook for high school aged young men. How about ramping up the tension and suspense to the big soccer game, developing the uncertainty of the guys, their desire to win for their coach. Andy suggested that his 13 year old son’s point of view would be a shift that would immediately connect with the young man reader. Project yourself into the teen male’s point of view. This does feel more like a book written to impress fathers with the impressions they make on their sons at every stage of their lives, how much they take in and remember from critical experiences with their fathers and others, a book to motivate fathers, not so much sons, or so it seems at the beginning, and a great deal depends on the beginning. Prose for teen males has to be crisp, tight, and clipped. Be brief. Teen males are unimpressed by words like “plethora.” I would work on tightening your prose, so that you write the way you talk to your athletes. I suspect there is a difference. But great work so far. I’d revise with a view to writing to young men as you speak to young men.    


  1. Thanks so much, Doug, for reading that chapter of Merlin's Blade to the Inkblots. Very much appreciated and encouraging.

  2. It really was our pleasure. Glad you could sort of join us last night.