Saturday, December 17, 2011

My Son Cedric Featured in Challenger Films, The Winning Edge

Airing on Fox and other media outlets in cities across the US, is a feature film on my second eldest son (it aired in Seattle area at 8:30 Saturday morning). Cedric is an athlete, training for the Olympics. He is a flat-water sprint kayak racer who has been a multiple National Champion, has been on 3 US Junior Worlds teams (racing in Russia twice, Czech Republic, and training in Slovakia and Italy), and the US Senior team, racing in Hungary, August of 2011.

He was chosen for this feature because of overcoming challenges in his life as an athlete and student. The producers of the film are more concerned with helping young adults make right choices and with the practical implications of right living and sports than with any overt message of the gospel of grace, the forgiveness of sins in Christ (though Challenger Films, as I understand it, is a Christian film maker). I say this, because I was waiting to hear the source and enabling to overcome temptations and challenges. It never came. Cedric would have a great deal more to say about overcoming sin in his life that what is here. Nevertheless, here it is, and it does underscore the grace of God, that no one is exempt from sin, and that there is a way out. But if falls short of giving us the way out--Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Then there's the fact that the content of this film, and what Cedric candidly talks about, is sort of personal, which makes me wonder why I am writing a blog post on it and embedding the film. Watch and see. If you have fallen into the enslaving trap of measuring your spiritual health, your skill and worth as a parent, your faithfulness as a Christian, by your kids' successes, and then the realities of being a sinful parent, raising sinful kids in a sinful world have kicked in (and I do mean 'kicked' here), then give this a watch. It reinforces the axiom that God makes us parents to keep us humble. Still more, if you have turned from grace and think that God owes you blessings because of your faithfulness in raising your kids, get ready for a shocker. And then turn and cling to Jesus and his grace; he alone is the Author and Perfecter of faith--in us and in our kids. Praise be to God!

TRWE ’11 -’12 Broadcast Station List
Fox stations:
New York - WNYW/WWOR (Fox O&O)
Los Angeles - KTTV/KCOP (Fox O&O)
Chicago - WFLD/WPWR (Fox O&O)
Philadelphia - WTXF (Fox O&O)
San Francisco - KTVU/KICU (FOX/Independent)
Dallas - KDFW/KDFI (Fox O&O)
Washington, DC - WTTG/WDCA (Fox O&O)
Houston - KRIV/KTXH (Fox O&O)
Phoenix - KSAZ/KUTP (Fox O&O)
Minneapolis - KMSP/WFTC (Fox O&O)
Orlando - WOFL/WRBW (Fox O&O)
Tucson - KMSB (FOX)
Portland, ME - WPFO (FOX)
Gainesville - WOGX (Fox O&O)

To see Cedric on other media outlets and cities, click here:

Friday, December 16, 2011

INKBLOTS had a rousing evening of reading, critiquing, chatting, and all

INKBLOTS, December 15, 2011
Four men and a crackling fire, Chateau Saint-Michel Merlot. 

Doug McComas leads off with a chapter from our new adult biography on Savonarola. He broke off a few times to express his frustration at the challenges of the new genre, adult non-fiction. Reading aloud is like sweeping a dusty room on a dry hot day—dust flying everywhere. “Wow, I’m starting to break into a sweat here.” Was this Lorenzo or Girolamo who said this? Oh, it was McComas. Some very good specific description of Lorenzo’s banking and lavish lifestyle. Remember to keep the Savonarola thread as you establish the Florentine context. Especially with a 30,000 word count, which goes so fast.

I read the introduction to our Savonarola biography. McComas suggested that I tighten up the part about the Duomo. Ken observed that whatever the genre we need to be telling a story. Avoid great information and facts but not conveyed in story. Story is what everyone loves.Good point always.

Ken reads a play he and his wife collaborated on writing. Episcopalian priest, boys school, taught by Father Flye, St Andrews, Sewanee. WW II with letters, taken prisoner by Japanese officer who had studied at Cambridge and knew Latin, and so conversed with Alice’s father who had studied under Father Flye and had learned Latin. Saves Alice’s father’s life by getting medicine to him. The officer later died on Okinawa. Alice and Jun (guy) at 60’s nightclub. Romance scene between two very incompatible people, dog and monkey. Love triangle motif. Though it is a bit hard to follow—not the fault of the writing, but of the medias res entry (midway in drama)—it is engaging dialogue, authentic, fast-pace, true-to-life. Then Ken let it out that he originally wrote the dialogue in Japanese and translated it to what it is. A friend of his told him that no Japanese would have ever written this. I’m afraid of trying to write live theatre. But Ken told us all that we should try our hand at it. It seems to me that there is such a multi-faceted deal with drama, the drama text itself that the playwright pens is only one component. Ken promised to read us more (at our insistence). Fun material.

John S up. Re-wrote chapter after reading the blog from the last ‘Blots meeting. Emma, protagonist of John’s contemporary fiction, reflecting on her life in Lyons and her circumstances, now pregnant, the father a race her own father had no time for. Aaron drowns a fly in his soup. The kids had just heard that they were not natural born, but adopted. Would it be realistic for her to have forgotten the shocking news she just dropped on her family: that she was pregnant? Is this important to what you are trying to do here? This is much improved, I think, over the first reading of it. I feel like it is dragging when you bring in Confucius. I feel like it is stalled here, a bit. I think you need to keep the pace moving, shorter flashes to her inner thoughts (important to keep these) but tighten them. “Sigh of relief” is awfully overused; try an alternate description of this common phenomenon. Fun joke with dog and wife, though I think you have to be a husband to get it. Vary sentence and paragraph beginning; the first seven paragraphs began with “She.” Write with point of view integrity, so that you deduce that the parents were exhausted, rather than just saying that they were, which would be a shift to their point of view.

John S read a bit of Hemmingway, who he has made in no uncertain terms that he does not much like Mr. No-Adjective. Ken jumps back in with comments about the importance of not stating that someone was angry, but show them anger. Show, don’t tell. Back to Hemmingway, Big, Two-Hearted River. This title from the guy who says to use no adjectives! Lots about grasshoppers. Virtually no dialogue, all narrative. John finds him repetitive and redundant and says things over and over; did I mention that John thinks he repeats himself? Just goes on and on like that. Meanders along. Old Man in the Sea, D McComas liked. We talked about how old films seem too slow now, and that may not be a good thing, benumbed as we are by action films with clipped dialogue. Not necessarily a good thing, we all agreed. Though the reality is that some old novels would never be published today. There are some genuine improvements in standard of writing and story telling.    

Friday, December 9, 2011

Listen FREE! Ryle, Thoughts for Young Men, read by Douglas Bond

Merry Christmas! I have benefited so much from reading and rereading John Charles Ryle's incomparable little volume THOUGHTS FOR YOUNG MEN over the years that I finally decided to do it as an audio book. My friend Rich Young (former heavy-metal guitarist) plays his original classical guitar renditions of some of my favorite hymns in the background. I hope you and the young men in your family and life will benefit from listening. Access them by clicking on the link above or here: J. C. Ryle, Thoughts for Young Men, read by Douglas Bond.   

Here's how Ryle begins:

"When the Apostle Paul wrote his Epistle to Titus about his responsibility as a minister, he mentioned young men as a group requiring particular attention. After speaking of older men and older women, and young women, he adds this advice, "Encourage the young men to be self-controlled" (Titus 2:6). I am going to follow the Apostle's advice. I propose to offer a few words of friendly exhortation to young men.

I am growing old myself, but there are few things that I can remember so well as were the days of my youth. I have a most distinct recollection of the joys and the sorrows, the hopes and the fears, the temptations and the difficulties, the mistaken judgments and the misplaced affections, the errors and the aspirations, which surround and accompany a young man's life. If I can only say something to keep some young man walking in the right way, and preserve him from faults and sins, which may hurt his prospects both for time and eternity, I shall be very thankful. There are four things which I propose to do:
I. I will mention some general REASONS why young men need exhorting.
II. I will note some special DANGERS which young men need to be warned about.
III. I will give some general COUNSEL which I beg young men to receive.
IV. I will set down some special RULES OF CONDUCT which I strongly advise young men to follow. On each of these four points I have something to say, and I pray to God that what I say may do good to some soul."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Author Interview: Another P&R author asked for interview--probing questions

With Sinclair Ferguson in Geneva, 2009
Brock Eastman, another P&R author contacted me a while ago and asked if he could interview me for his blog. He asked a number of good questions that got me thinking and then reflecting on how I began to write, why I keep writing, as well as questions about what I eat or drink when writing and if I listen to music when writing. Fun stuff. Here were his questions and my answers.

 Q: Everyone seems to have a "how I got published" story. What is yours?
It was back in the days before 9/11 when more publishers were accepting unsolicited manuscript submissions. I sent sample chapters and a synopsis of my Mr Pipes and the British Hymn Makers to seven publishers. Eight days later I had a phone call from one of them enthusiastic about the project. A couple of months later I had another publisher call and we chatted for a long time about future book ideas simmering in my imagination. Eleven years later, and somehow, unaccountably, without any childhood burning passion to be an author—I have managed to write a few books (signing my 20th book contract today, in fact).

 Q: When did you realize you wanted to become a writer?
I always tried to get out of writing when I was in high school. So in journalism class I was the photographer, shooting pictures and working in the darkroom. I tried to make myself indispensible as a photographer in large part so I wouldn’t have to write articles. It just seemed like too much work. Then in college something started to change. I got so I was secretly looking forward to writing those history essays. And then I submitted an article to the college newspaper and started writing more of those. But it would be years later when I was working on my master’s thesis that I began to realize I wanted to do more writing. Then I wrote a few more articles, this time ones that I was getting paid for writing. But there’s a big difference between a 1,500 word article and a 70,000 word book.

My older kids, to whom I regularly read aloud in the evening, began asking me to TELL a story, not just read one. I hemmed and hawed. Then started in on a story of frontier days (not very good, I’m sure, and made up on the fly); it lasted for a month or more. They wanted another, and another. I felt cornered, but there was to be no escaping.
Then one sleepless night in 1999, ideas started cascading about using contemporary fiction as a frame tale in which to explore the lives and poetry of the church’s hymn writers. I sat up in bed, furiously scribbling the ideas on notepaper. And off I went.

 Q: Tell me a little about your books.
I have written primarily fiction for young adult readers, most of which is historical fiction published with P & R Publishing. But I have also managed to write several non-fiction books, biographies with Reformation Trust and Evangelical Press. I call these my big-people books.

 Q: What are some of the strongest influences on your writing (and several other questions combined from the list below, if that’s okay)?
I would need to go back to my childhood to answer this one. My father was a mathematician and engineer, but more importantly, an earnest, godly Christian man, a man who, because of his dyslexia, had a difficult time reading aloud. Nevertheless, he daily read Scripture aloud with us at our family devotions, slow, methodical, one-word-at-a-time slogging it sometimes was. But I came to appreciate deeply his reading because I think it represented just how much attention he was determined to give to every word of that great Book, every jot, every tittle.

Meanwhile, my mother, a college English professor, loved great literature and read aloud to us from Shakespeare and many other classic authors, including Chaucer in Middle English! We loved it. My mom would take us to children’s theater and even adult plays. I’ll never forget, “A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

In college I began reading serious theological books, works of the Reformers and Puritans. Honestly looking back on it, I was too often motivated to do this because I thought it made me a big shot, a heady, erudite dude. But, as is God’s kind way with me, he was mercifully feeding me, often in spite of my flawed motives, with important foundational understanding of the nature of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. These truths are the most important influences on my writing, and if they ever cease to be so, may I give my energies to crocheting pot holders. They are also the most important truths that I want my writing to adorn and that I want to make attractive to my readers.

I have been influenced by many great authors, mostly dead ones, but not all dead. Writers of imaginative literature like Lewis, Rosemary Sutcliff, Chesterton, Arthur Ransome, and poets like Donne, Cowper, Rossetti. But always I come back to the great theologian preachers like Spurgeon. If I can borrow from two of my all time favorites (Augustine quoted by Calvin), “I count myself among those who learn as they write and write as they learn.” I regularly read and listen to the best of the not-dead proclaimers of the good news today: Sproul, Ferguson, Piper, Begg, Horton, Tullian T., Driscoll, and others.   

 Q: How do you write? What’s a normal writing day like for you?
I write my fiction after a bike ride or a good walk to a quiet location where I’m not likely to be interrupted. Sometimes that is a dark corner in the library of the university not far from my home. Other times I write in the loafery, a room downstairs that used to be the bedroom of my oldest son. With caution, I also write in the summer in my classroom, especially when writing non-fiction biographies where I need to be near piles of books that don’t pack around real well on my bike. But this can be a problem, because well-meaning colleagues poke their head in for a chat. I’m a social sort of guy so I always like the interaction, however totally it derails my train of thought and sets me back sometimes hours.

 Q: What was your favorite book as a teen?
Maybe Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates and Great Expectations.

 Q: Describe your feelings when you opened the box and saw the first published copies of your very first book?
It was really thrilling to open the box and pull out my first book, that shiny new book called Mr Pipes and the British Hymn Makers—and then to see my name on the cover, but it also carried with it considerable anxiety: will this book only be the proof that I am an utter failure as an author, the badge of my literary ineptitude? We authors, many of us, are miserably insecure, but that’s when I am looking to myself and my skills (real, perceived, or longed-for) and efforts. It is so liberating to refocus my energy and purpose in writing. Stunk and White in the final chapter urge writers to write for an audience of one—themselves. But the Christian author wants to write for an audience of One, Jesus Christ, plus nobody. The best writing results when I disappear—I must decrease; Christ must increase; only then I’m starting to get things right.

 Q: What can you tell us about any future releases you have planned?
There are a few new books of mine scheduled to release in 2012. In May by new biography with Evangelical Press, AUGUSTUS TOPLADY, Debtor to Mercy Alone will be available. In June THE THUNDER, my adult novel on John Knox releases along with my 8th-century Anglo-Saxon tale, HAND OF VENGEANCE. And in September my biography with Ligonier’s Reformation Trust, THE DOXOLOGICAL GENIUS OF ISAAC WATTS will be available. Just signing a contract for a biography on Girolamo Savonarola, an amazingly passionate, fearless forerunner of the Reformation in decadent Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance.   
I have several other things in the cooker, both fiction and non-fiction, including a childrens picture book in verse that explores themes from the book of Job

  Q: Coke or Pepsi?
Neither, thank you very much. They upset my stomach, as does—unforgivable as it is to admit this living as close to Seattle as I do—coffee, yuck!

 Q: Soft shell or Hard Shell tacos?

 Q: Favorite place to vacation?
We love sailing in the San Juan Islands north of us in Washington State. My wife’s favorite city on the planet is Strasbourg, France, and I think I agree with her on this one. Marvelous city with charming old-world sites and lots of church history connections—and good food and drink!

 Q: Favorite season?

 Q: Do you have a particular drink or food you consume when you write? Like coco, raspberry tea, animal crackers?
I sometimes munch on trail mix and often drink tea. My all-time favorite tea drink is a London Fog Latte, made with Earl Grey tea. For herb tea I love Licorice spice—yummy and fuels the imagination.

 Q: Do you have a favorite Bible verse?
Too many to narrow it down really, though Psalm 93 and 16 are two of favorite Psalms.

 Q: Favorite pasta dish?
Smoked salmon fettuccine

 Q: Do you listen to music while you write? If so what are some examples?
I am a lover of great music! Just recently listened through Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, following the libretto with my 8-year-old son. Though that may seem like a stretch to some (and like child abuse to others), he loved it and asked to listen some more after we’d finished it (we played chess some of the time while listening too). But I generally only listen to music in the editing and revision stages of writing and then I’m pretty selective. Then it would be Bach or Handel or maybe even Alison Kraus and some bluegrass to mix things up a bit.

I do, however, intentionally listen to music that is part of the story, as when my protagonist was in Paris with John Paul Jones in Guns of Providence and they heard Haydn’s latest symphony, or when writing about the Anglo-Saxon harp being played with Beowulf in the mead hall in Hand of Vengeance, or when writing about Toplady or Watts and their hymns, or bagpipe music when writing the Crown & Covenant Trilogy (which could be played live by either of my two eldest sons) that sort of thing.