Friday, February 17, 2012

INKBLOTS men and books and gloves-off discussion about fiction and writing

Wilde McComas contemplating
using his stick on me at 'Blots
INKBLOTS – February 16, 2012. Six men on a drizzly Washington evening, warm fire, French wine, good companionship, and lots of words (“Of the making of many books there is no end”). Sometimes we get heated (not just from the crackling fire!). We care deeply about all this, so what would be surprising is if we didn't rankle each other from time to time... this was most definitely one of those times, and all for the good. 

Doug Mac reads the rewrite of his Return to Tarawa, WWII Pacific Theater historical fiction. Doug told us that after working together on Savonarola biography (EP) he realized he needed to do some pretty substantial recasting and rewriting of this manuscript (Writers’ Edge liked this manuscript and judged it with “publishable potential,” a distinction given to only 3% of submissions, but rejected by P&R… so far. Much improved to my ear. Though the comment about the 1st Pres cathedral-like architecture adding to his budding faith, I found confusing. He doesn’t sound like faith is doing much budding. More like wilting. So it seemed confusing, based on how you have developed his character. I feel like his self-talk ought to reflect more of the double state of mind he seems to be in. Don’t change anything yet, but reread and consider casting him in the more realistic light of a church kid who sometimes wants to want to go to church and enter in to the whole of the life of a Christian, but then show more contrast between the dark side of his fascination with the female, sex, movies—the world and his desire to indulge his fleshly appetites. Make him be tortured by his flesh more, more torn by wanting to be in the world. But then play up the reality for a teen who grows up in the church—they’re Pharisees and are thinking about what might happen if they don’t go to church, or if they break the Sabbath; show his performance-based mentality. Every teen who grows up in the church has this war. So should your protagonist.

David commented that D Mac should minimize attributions that don’t need to be there. My thought on that, “the best attribution is no attribution at all, say some,” but I don’t absolutely agree. They can and ought to be used for cadence and pause.      

Andy wanted D Mac to not tell him how to think about things, but to use more connotation, more subtlety. I wonder if the father is guiding his son in a gospel oriented manner. It sounds to me more like he wants external conformity from his son, like most of us can fall into. What is your objective for writing this? How are you going to resolve this? How is this a critical stage in the rising confrontation and final resolution? The father wants his son to keep the Sabbath, to know the will of the Lord, but there is such a relentless tendency in every generation to prefer legalism (so tidy) over grace (so messy). Unless this is a story about the need for a father to lead his son past the means of grace to the Object of grace, Jesus Christ himself (it makes sense for there to be significant needs both the father and the son have here: both need to reembrace the gospel, look to Jesus the author and perfecter of faith) The father should want his son to believe the gospel, to see the stupendous wonder of Christ and his cross and righteousness. Granted, this is difficult and most often done in a cheesy fashion that diminishes the very thing we want to accomplish, or should want to accomplish. Nevertheless, there are real and reoccurring challenges for kids who grow up in Christian homes. Miss this, fail to confront this, or ignore it, or fail to get down to the genuine issue at stake for a teen who is wondering whether it is all true, and maybe wondering what it actually is, and you relegate your writing to irrelevance. None of us wants to write material that doesn't actually get down to the heart of conflict, and the heart of conflict is always at its root conflict between our proud hearts and the gospel. We and our kids are hell bent on not making the main thing the main thing. Show us this. Make it real, the conflict, and then you can resolve it in the only way conflict can be resolved.

Incidently, our critiques at 'Blots are not just about semi colon use, or attributions, or style, or getting certain facts correct; I think the strength of 'Blots is that we can critique the whole story, get down to the heart of our characters, keep the main thing the main thing in our writing.

John read his charming French Cousins tale, written so warmly for his grandchildren. This is a great illustration of how audience effects our voice in our  writing. I can hear and feel John writing this with love for his dear grandchildren who live thousands of miles apart on differenct continents. Great improvement on bringing the kids' voices into the story in dialog. keep writing on this project. Great potential for a wide audience.

Next I read from the opening of a new nonfiction book proposal I have made to both P&R and Ligonier, with interest from both. It opens on my visit to Amsterdam in 2007 and a disturbing unplanned encounter that set me trying to sort out why there is the historical undulation in the church. D Mac thought I should return to the recent growth and progress of the gospel in Uganda, a good idea I might save for the end of the last chapter, inclusio fashion. A few criticisms of using cliches. Gag me with a spoon! Me use cliches? I'd rather drop dead, slip on a banana peel, fall off a log than stoop to using cliches. 

Tom read an autobiographical fiction piece he is working on--out of the furnace. John said the opening description of his pre-Christian affair with a woman made him uncomfortable. Tom pushed back (we all do this at times, don't we). I suggested Tom read the Bible's accounts of immorality and follow the divine author's lead on how we portray evil. I also suggested Tom read Samuel Johnson's Rambler 4: "Evil must never be portrayed promiscuously but must always disgust + -" D Mac thought it might help Tom to read Flannery O'Conner's Good Country People (discussed in previous 'Blots) where she has a seduction scene that never crosses the line into being titillating, never woos a reader into longing for the sin. 

Dave wrapped up with a reading of the rewrite of chapter one on a new assassin thriller he is engaged in writing. We had previously felt there needed to be more human quality to the protagonist and first person point of view in the tale. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

AUDIO BOOK prototypes of my books by pro voice actor

A while back I received an email from a reader who also happens to be a professional voice actor. He asked if my publisher and I had any plans to do audio versions of my books. I frequently have readers ask this and always forward the requests to my publisher. Contractually I am obligated to work with them on audio books, but the more inquiries they field the more likely they might be to consider publishing audio books of THE BETRAYAL, CROWN & COVENANT TRILOGY, and others.

Click to listen to Bobb Carl's reading of an excerpt from THE BETRAYAL

Click to listen to Bobb Carl's reading of an excerpt from DUNCAN'S WAR

What do you think?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

New Biography of Savonarola Off to Publisher (EP)

This is my first co-authored book, and what a delightful experience it has been to collaborate with my friend and colleague, Douglas McComas, founder of INKBLOTS! The book is part of the short biography series published by Evangelical Press (EP) in the UK, with Michael Haykin in the role of series editor (the same series as my biography on Augustus Toplady). We found Savonarola's life fascinating.  He was one of the pre-Reformers God raised up in the 15th-century to prepare the way for men like Luther and Calvin in the Reformation. But it was a rough time for him.

As we read Savonarola, it's no exaggeration to say that we fell in love with this flawed but deeply passionate lover of Christ. How could we not do so with a man who prayed like this,  “O Lord! Arise, and come to deliver thy Church from the hands of devils, from the hands of tyrants, from the hands of iniquitous prelates.”

In his prison meditations the night before his martyrdom, Savonarola wrestled with himself in soliloquy, “Do you have faith?  Yes I have it. Good: this is a great grace of God, for faith comes of his gift, not of your works, that no one may glory in them.” And that from the pen of a Dominican friar. Though not fully orbed in his theology, we found Savonarola not only to be on a trajectory away from medieval synergism, but growing clearer and clearer about the doctrines of free grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

One of my readers said after reading a draft, "Your portrayal of Savonarola himself succeeded in that test of a multi-dimensional figure, towering in his allegiance to Christ and cross but yet flawed, a bit irascible yet brilliant, fervent yet failing according to...well, Machiavellian standards. Fascinating!

We found Savonarola's life to be exciting, dangerous, and tragic--but ultimately a triumphant one. All by grace alone, with his mind and heart riveted on Christ Jesus alone.

Read an excerpt and learn more. Audio excerpt coming soon...

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Inkblots, children's story--15th century biography--WWII historical fiction--and some poetry

INKBLOTS January 31, 2012
Washington rain not snow, Edna Valley, CA Pinot Noir, crackling fire, four men ready to read, critique, and then head back to the drawing board.

John Schrupp (pictured at left) started a new book! I had suggested that he work on a children’s book for his grandchildren: French Cousins. I like the title already. I really like his title for his contemporary fiction novel, Saving Grace (he had to change the female protagonist’s name to achieve the double entendre). French Cousins (John’s daughter is married to Lionel Jauvert, a true blue Frenchman, so he has Franco/Yanko grandkids, adorable ones too). 

I think you should add some dialog. Good straightforward narrative, but kids like to hear other kids talking, being excited. Show how kids talk when they are excited. I also think it would be improved by telling the story from the point of view of one of the children. Maybe you could switch from book to book, keeping a balance between each of the kids as you go. The dominant point of view makes it more real, immediate. Instead of ‘they took a nap,’ ‘they visited the canals in Amsterdam,’ ‘they saw this or that,’ you would write ‘Ruben crammed his croissant into his mouth, Nutella smudging his chin.’ Then show the world through Ruben’s eyes, the other children involved but not dominant, until their turn later in the series.

Better fifth chapter, with more dialog, including French, but translated. Maybe you could have the children asked about why Uncle Lionel pronounces things with music in his voice or if you want to be mean you could call it something else—don’t.

Doug McComas talked about our work on Savonarola and the need to eliminate unnecessary words, particularly valuable is writing in active voice, more immediate, and fewer words needed to say what you’re trying to say. Active voice is when the subject doing the action; passive voice is when the word order has the subject receiving action. For example, “The luggage was carried by the children.” That’s passive voice. “The children carried the luggage.” That’s active voice, and it is two words shorter. If in seven words you lose two, imagine in a 30,000 word biography how many unnecessary words are eliminated by writing in active voice.

Doug McComas went back after working on Savonarola and edited his Monte Casino WWII historical fiction, getting rid of lots of unnecessary words. His protagonist is meeting Christians, different flavored ones, including Roman Catholics. His friend has blast lung, and is recovering, but painfully slowly. Give me a bit more of the volume of sound, the rattling of windows, and the unsettling feeling it produces in the pit of the stomach. It sounds too relaxed for the proximity to the battle.

The description of the Hindu didn’t land in my imagination; what was he doing? The six inches lost me. New Zealanders are not as snobbishly refined as you seem to make them, in my experience with them (just on the phone with a gaggle of them last week—wonderful folks, gotta love ‘em). They tend to be easy going, scornful of snobbery, proud of their ruggedness and hearty life.

I read my Hymn to Synergism, just for fun, I guess. Then I read part of the last chapter of our Savonarola biography, due at Evangelical Press in the UK tomorrow! Several helpful critiques from the men. Thanks Brendon Welch! Then we talked about the importance of varying our syntax, with appositive phrases, for example. And we talked about how much they are our friends, crisp, clean noun descriptive phrases.