Thursday, July 12, 2012

HOW TO WRITE BOOKS--Taking Careful Aim

INKBLOTS July 10, 2012

Warm summer evening (I'm stiff from working on my house--poured concrete... they're making the stuff heavier than they used to; what gives?), good fellowship. John lamented his critique of Saving Grace from the intrepid Spear clan, one of my favorite families on the planet. I suggested asking follow-up questions to fine-tune exactly where character development is working and where it is not.

Dave leads off with his sequel to his futuristic thriller, the first in progress self publishing with Winepress. I think I've figured something out about Dave's writing. I think you write better when you are describing setting and character, but I think your dialog is stilted, artificial. It's your dialog that makes me think of a comic strip or graphic novel instead of more serious writing. Don't misunderstand me. I think you are moving steadily toward serious writing, but the dialog is the weak link, at least in my opinion. I would suggest trying it out loud, to others, to yourself, to your kids. I know this is early in the process on this book and I may not have the whole picture, but give it some thought. Dave feels like writing dialog is the easy part and the description and glue is the challenging part. Writing is about creating authentic characters who are unique, who think and speak as unique individuals. I would suggest being more intentional about the dialog. Listen to real people talking, their cadence, their contractions, idioms, sentence fragments, all of it.

Dougie Mac read his WW II novel, Rudy lobbing potatoes (that's not it's name). Good job of creating an ordinary life on the ship, conversations, peeling potatoes, god nuance in the conversation. Dougie caught some of attributing he was doing and discovered reading aloud, which is a good reason to be doing what we're doing this evening. I like the can you shoot a gun question and rejoinder. Dave suggested that this would be a great line to end a chapter on. Begin the next with the same question. Good idea. When you launch into the firing on the coal ship, I think your description should move to shorter, more clipped syntax. Save the cohesion for more peaceful descriptions. Again the reading aloud helps catch lots of stuff. You might try creating an onomatopoeia of the Lewis guns or other weaponry firing. Break up the syntax of the surrender, when they are lowering the Union Jack. You used a compound complex sentence structure, which works well in other contexts. Here you want more clipped, rapid-fire syntax. You've clearly done your homework on the Westfalia coal versus the brown coal of the English ship, inferior stuff. John pointed out that it didn't seem quite right that the heavy artillery did some damage but they struck their colors under heavy machine gun fire. David pointed out that crossing the equator is marked with hazing for the newly sailors, but that didn't happen her, though you mentioned the crossing.

We talked about the importance of keeping paragraphing concise, not long drawn out paragraphing in young adult fiction, and very often we can help mirror the pace of the action by shortening paragraph structure.

John reading from a book idea he had a gazillian years ago (Really, John doesn't look quite that old). About a Russian immigrant who comes to America and sets out to shaft the system, stealing cars, anything he could steal. The USA and the American Dream, laws they make here are a joke, take whatever you want. Like picking fruit off the tree. You have rights here. Too many togethers. The reading aloud reveals the awkward syntax. I felt like the back ground on his family, being adopted, all that, was a bit superficial, stereotypical. The novel will be a means of exposing the travesty of American welfare system. Be sure to not oversimplify it. Make sure you have the truly needy widow, with aids given to her by a lout of a husband who has long since run off on her, and she has her kids and two kids of her creep of a husband's from a previous liaison, all these she loves and wants to care for, but has no means to feed herself or them. John's ideas for the conclusion are good and noble. Good ideas for resolution, but watch for the over simplification. Dave suggested that he needed to feel more jet lag, bleary eyed after the long flight from Moscow. Prayer, as John and I were talking on the way out to 'Blots, doesn't happen much for real with us, because we are so self satisfied, have so much lying all about us, life comes so easy, why do I need to pray? John was telling me about a really good book, A Praying Life, by Paul Miller. Fantastic, convicting read: we are children dependent on the grace and strength of God alone for everything!

Mercenary crossbow vs. English longbow
I told the story of getting on the plane a couple of weeks ago in OKC, pawing through the flight magazines, and the kind lady next to me said, "I figure that if a fellow is looking at flight magazine reading options, he's in need of something good to read." I thought she might be a JW and was going to hand me the watchtower. But she explained that she had purchased a John Grisham she'd already read. Would I like to have it? (The Confession, a bit of a propaganda piece against capital punishment, where he shifted genre from fiction to preaching, and a novel that lacked authentic character development, and had a weak ending, IMHO). 

Frankly, it has been a while since I read a novel to myself simply for the reading of it. I feel the need for doing so, as I launch into another historical fiction novel this summer. I was impressed with Grisham's pace, and clipped verbiage. The story moves from point of view to point of view, so unlike what I try to do in my writing. But I'd been considering a dual point of view for my 14-th century historical fiction novel this summer. Here was the jolt I needed to launch forward.

Last I was up and read from my Wycliffe novel just underway (no working title yet), shifting from first person to the peasant perspective in third person. The opening chapters are at the Battle of Crecy, 1346, about the time Wycliffe commenced his studies at Oxford. John told me he could feel and see everything so clearly (it's so much easier to hear this kind of critique). The fellows made some helpful suggestions especially about the ending of the first chapter. I was overwriting in the transition. I feel like this switching perspectives has to be handled with the greatest of care for it to work. I hope it's working. Good, helpful blots time tonight for me. Hopefully so for all the men.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Spurgeon of Africa on "Love That Cannot Cease"

Mbewe, The Spurgeon of Africa
We had the delightful experience of hearing Pastor Conrad Mbewe of Zambia, "The Spurgeon of Africa," preach yesterday afternoon at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church, Enumclaw, WA. His text was from Romans 5:1-11, particularly on rejoicing in the love of Jesus as the engine of Christian living. He has a rich, resonate East African English voice, full of passion and delight in the gospel. Gillian (6) commented later, "Pastor Mbewe (pronounced Mbay-way) is so clear. I like it that he wants to make what he's saying clear to us."

As a lover of hymns (I don't really love hymns; I love the Savior they adorn), I was moved by how naturally he moved into hymn texts that illustrate the point he was making from the biblical text. He chided us for getting bored with the things of God and the doctrines of grace. "Meditate often on Jesus Christ," he urged us, and be often alone with him, rejoicing in his steadfast love and grace in the gospel. He rebuked us for thinking that the Christian life is a life of formal obligatory obedience; it is a life of rejoicing in the doctrines of grace, in loving Jesus back who first loved us. Listen to his sermon here.

At  one point in h is message, becoming particularly passionate, he broke into lines from George W. Robinson's (1876) hymn:
Loved with everlasting love, led by grace that love to know;
Gracious Spirit from above, Thou hast taught me it is so!
O this full and perfect peace! O this transport all divine!
In a love which cannot cease, I am His, and He is mine.

Heav’n above is softer blue, Earth around is sweeter green!
Something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen;
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow, flowers with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know, I am His, and He is mine.

Things that once were wild alarms cannot now disturb my rest;
Closed in everlasting arms, pillowed on the loving breast.
O to lie forever here, doubt and care and self resign,
While He whispers in my ear, I am His, and He is mine.

His forever, only His; Who the Lord and me shall part?
Ah, with what a rest of bliss Christ can fill the loving heart!
Heav’n and earth may fade and flee, firstborn light in gloom decline;
But while God and I shall be, I am His, and He is mine.

I just joined his blog and encourage anyone who cares about the gospel and about its spread in Africa to check it out

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Why Boys Don't Read (as much as girls)

Giles reading one of his favorite books
Just read a piece in The Guardian this morning, and it reminded me again of the great need for books written with male readers in mind. In my experience as an author and teacher, girls will read and enjoy and reread books written by a male author, writing with boys in mind; boys, however, will not read books written for girls--period.

Colleen Mondor, a reviewer for Booklist, seems to get this right:"There are literally hundreds of Young Adult books published every year for helping teenage girls navigate the twisty landscape of growing up. The problem is that there are hardly any comparable books out there for [TEENAGE] boys to read... Why girls read more than guys? To any sane children’s book reviewer (or librarian) the answer is obvious -- writers aren’t writing as much for boys, and so boys aren’t reading."

What are your solutions to getting boys to be lifelong readers? What do you think of Michael Morpurgo's solutions to the problem? (borrowed from the Teacher Network Blog of the UK's The Guardian): 

1.Why not have a dedicated half hour at the end of every school day in every primary school devoted to the simple enjoyment of reading and writing.
2. Regular visits from storytellers, theatre groups, poets, writers of fiction and non-fiction, and librarians from the local library.
3. Inviting fathers and grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers into school to tell and read stories, to listen to children reading, one to one. The work of organisations such at Volunteer Reading Help and Reading Matters are already doing great thing to help young people and schools.
4. Ensuring that the enjoyment of literature takes precedence, particularly in the early years, over the learning of the rules of literacy, important though they are.  Children have to be motivated to want to learn to read. Reading must not be taught simply as a school exercise.
5.  Parents, fathers in particular, and teachers, might be encouraged to attend book groups themselves, in or out of the school, without children, so that they can develop a love of reading for themselves, which they can then pass on to the children.
6. Teacher training should always include modules dedicated to developing the teachers' own appreciation of literature, so that when they come to read to the children or to recommend a book, it is meant, and the children know it. To use books simply as a teacher's tool is unlikely to convince many children that books are for them, particularly those that are failing already, many of whom will be boys.
7.  The library in any school should have a dedicated librarian or teacher/librarian, be well resourced, and welcoming, the heart of every school.  Access to books and the encouragement of the habit of reading: these two things are the first and most necessary steps in education and librarians, teachers and parents all over the country know it. It is our children's right and it is also our best hope and their best hope for the future.

Visit my site for resources that might help boys love reading. Dads reading (or male disciplers where dads are not present) with their sons is more important than can be calculated. Check out my Fathers & Sons page.