Thursday, November 28, 2013

Mr Pipes and the German hymn, Now Thank We All Our God

The cheering gradually subsided; the musicians began playing another tune, and soon the entire village sang a lofty melody together.
“Now, I don’t understand much German,” said Drew. “But the tune—it has that sound, like a hymn—it sounds like praise to God; it just sounds like it’s got to be for praising God.”
Mr. Pipes dug in his knapsack and pulled out his hymnal. “‘Nun danket alle Gott.’ Martin Rinkart’s great text, ‘Now Thank We All Our God,’ set to Johann Crüger’s thanksgiving melody—an exquisite, near-perfect hymn.”
Drew pulled out his Hymns Ancient and Modern and turned to the index. “Hey, it’s in here!” he said, flipping pages until he found the text.
“This hymn is used at most German festivals and it appears in every single German hymnal and nearly all our English hymnals; it has definitely stood the test of time. Follow along as they sing.”

Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom his world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms,
Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
Through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts
And blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in his grace,
And guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills
In this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God,
The Father, now be given,
The Son, and Him who reigns
With them in highest heaven,
The One Eternal God      
Whom earth and heav’n adore;
For thus it was, is now,
And shall be evermore.
The music came to a close and Annie and Drew watched the crowds slowly drift away.
“Mr. Rinkart must have had lots to thank the Lord for,” said Annie at last. “His hymn is so full of joy, and with words like ‘bounteous’ it just sounds content and even cheerful. Please tell us more about him, Mr. Pipes.”
Mr. Pipes raised his eyebrows and looked thoughtfully at the departing villagers before replying. “How about a visit to that bakery before I begin?”
“Now you’re talking!” said Drew. “Lead the way.”

Mr. Pipes led the children along the pavement bordering the sandstone wall of the ancient Lutheran Church. The remaining merrymakers tidied the streets and one young girl offered her flower crown to Annie.
“Danke,” said Annie, beaming with pleasure as she bent over and the little girl placed it on her head. Lady Kitty batted playfully at the colorful wreath.
Moments later, pausing in front of a window filled to overflowing with pastries to stop the heart, Mr. Pipes said, “Ah, splendid, here is just the place.”
Inside the little bakery they ordered three golden, flaky, raspberry crisps smothered in whipped cream, and a mug of coffee each. Behind the bakery, they mounted the ancient battlements of the town wall and found a bench overlooking the rolling Bavarian countryside just outside the village. Near the bench stood a cannon poking ominously through the crenelated battlements.
Drew bit hungrily into his pastry and, closing his eyes, emitted little groans of ecstasy as he chewed. “Not quite—gulp—a Mrs. Beccles,” he said, pausing only briefly between bites, “but not bad—chomp, hmm—no, not bad.” Mr. Pipes and Annie laughed at him as they began eating theirs.
When the last crumb had disappeared, Annie asked Mr. Pipes if he would finish Martin Rinkart’s story.
“I love the sounds of his words,” she said. “‘Bounteous’ and ‘wondrous,’ he clearly had lots to thank the Lord for.”
“Yes, he did,” said Mr. Pipes slowly. “But you and I will marvel at the trials and devastations out of which he offered such thanksgiving. Martin was born in 1586 in the walled city of Eilenburg. As a young, musically gifted teenager, he went on to be a scholar and chorister at St. Thomas School a few miles away in the city of Leipzig, where years before Luther first debated his Ninety-five Theses. Nearly 125 years later, the great German composer and Christian, Johann Sebastian Bach, would become the Kapellmeister, or choir director, at St. Thomas. There, he wrote most of his immortal cantatas—nearly one per week,” he paused. “Drew will learn Bach’s cantatas soon.”
“I will?”
“Naturally, my boy.”
“Where did Martin go from St. Thomas School?” asked Annie.
“He secured a music teaching position at a school in Luther’s birthplace, the town of Eisleben. Poetry and music were his passion, and in 1614 he received public acclaim as a poet. In 1617, the year before the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War, he was called as pastor to a pulpit in his hometown of Eilenburg. He died there in 1649, the year after the war ended.”
“So his whole ministry was during a war?” asked Annie soberly.
“And a most devastating war, indeed, my dear.”
Drew walked over to inspect the cannon. The gaping barrel projected through a notch in the wall over the moat far below.
“You must understand, my dears, that the Thirty Years’ War was, root and branch, a religious war waged for the survival of Protestant Christianity in Germany. Mr. Rinkart’s walled village became a place of refuge for Christians who survived the ruin of their homes in other towns destroyed by imperial Catholic troops like Tilly’s. But a great sickness spread throughout the overcrowded village and many died. Rinkart outlived all the other ministers and found himself conducting upwards of fifty funerals a day.”
Mr. Pipes set his hymnal on the bench and walked over to the edge of the wall. He thrust his hands into his pockets, and Annie watched a far away expression come over his face; his eyes looked sad as he continued.
“Martin’s own wife grew very ill,” he took a deep breath and expelled it slowly, “and one day in 1637—she too died.”
“Imagine it,” said Drew, “on the same day he buried his wife, he probably buried forty-nine other people.”
“That wouldn’t leave much time for mourning,” said Annie softly. “The poor man.”
“The pestilence raged on,” said Mr. Pipes, “finally taking the lives of some 8,000 people. Meanwhile, outside the walls the Thirty Years’ War waged on, food grew short, and—a year later—more of the remaining townsfolk died of starvation. Mr. Rinkart spent nearly all of his own money desperately trying to feed people. To make matters worse, Swedish soldiers sur-rounded the walls of the town and demanded payment for protection against the imperial forces.”
“How could they?” said Annie, her cheeks flushed in anger. Lady Kitty jumped off her shoulder as Annie rose and looked down the stone wall into the moat. Her head began spinning and she quickly backed away.
“To fight,” said Mr. Pipes simply, “soldiers must eat. It was expected in those days that villages would give food and housing to soldiers fighting for freedoms the town hoped to enjoy when peace returned.”
“But they didn’t have any food,” protested Annie.
“Yes, of course. So it fell to the minister, Mr. Rinkart, to negotiate with the troops. By his courage and good sense, he was able to bring their demands more within the feeble means of the remaining villagers.”
Drew leaned against the cannon, a troubled scowl on his face. “Doesn’t sound so—so noble,” he said.
“What’s that, my boy?” asked Mr. Pipes.
“Ah, the nobility does rather fade when children and wives and mothers die by the thousands. Little nobility in that.”
“Yes, but Dinkelsbühl children survived,” said Annie, hoping to dispel some of the gloom.
“Mr. Rinkart’s hymn,” she went on, “he must have written it after peace returned to Germany?”
“One might expect so,” replied Mr. Pipes. “Fact is, Mr. Rinkart found time to write a good deal of poetry, including sixty-six hymns, and a series of Reformation dramas celebrating the centenary of the Reformation; much of it produced while war and disease closed in on every side.”
Annie picked up the hymnal and looked again at Rinkart’s hymn. “It says next to his name, ‘1636.’ Was the war still going then?” Lady Kitty playfully followed a trail of ants working their way along the wall.
“Yes, war raged on for another twelve years,” replied Mr. Pipes.
“How could he write,” asked Annie, “‘Who wondrous things hath done,’ and talk about ‘blessed peace’ and ‘countless gifts of love,’ when little children, his own wife, and thousands of people were suffering and dying all around him? I don’t get it?”
Mr. Pipes ran his fingers through his white hair, then stroked his chin in thought before answering.
“Peace and joy mean very little, my dear,” replied Mr. Pipes, “unless they follow trouble. Mr. Rinkart had his share of trials, that is certain; but his prayer that God would ‘guide us when perplexed, and free us from all ills,’ is a prayer for faith to see beyond the troubles and trust in God when human understanding fails us. Make sense of a war that some historians say killed off half the population of Germany? You and I can never make sense of that; we must lean not on our own understanding, but trust in God who does all things well. Only then can we with Martin Rinkart offer ‘All praise and thanks to God’ in every trial—no matter how costly.”
Drew stared unblinking at Lady Kitty’s play. No one spoke for several minutes.
Finally Annie broke the silence.
“Who was Catherine Winkworth? I’ve seen her name with Johann Franck, and—oh, let me see—”
“Yeah, Neander, Nicolai and some others,” added Drew.
“Right,” said Annie. “Did she help write some of these hymns?”
“In a manner of speaking, my dear,” said Mr. Pipes, sitting back down on the bench and crossing his legs. “Catherine Winkworth, born in 1829, contributed to the great literary accomplishments of many other Christians living in Victorian England. It is said that she was a person of remarkable intellectual and social gifts, especially distinguished for her combination of rare ability and great knowledge, charmed with a certain tender and sympathetic refinement. Her spiritual piety, adorned by poetic and foreign language skills, enabled her to become the most well-loved and faithful English translator of German hymns.”
“It’s gotta be tough translating poetry,” said Drew. “The rhyme gets all messed up, doesn’t it? I mean, German uses different sounding words than English, so it wouldn’t rhyme when she’s done translating it, right?”
“I should say so,” said Mr. Pipes. “Great hymn translation requires poetic skill of the highest rank and, of course, mastery of foreign language. It takes near genius to convey all the original nuance of meaning while still keeping the poetry intact. I say, not at all an easy task.”
“So Catherine Winkworth really did help write Mr. Rinkart’s hymn—for English speakers, anyway,” said Annie.
“She deserves our admiration,” said Mr. Pipes. “We are deeply in her debt for giving us these wonderful hymns in English.” He paused, then added, “After a fruitful life, she died near Geneva in 1878.”
“Where’s Geneva?” asked Drew.
“Switzerland,” replied Mr. Pipes, rubbing his hands together and smiling. “Lovely place; I shall take you there soon.”
“Oh, look at Lady Kitty playing on the cannon,” said Drew with a laugh, pointing at the kitten crouching on the huge barrel. “Fire when ready, sergeant Kitty,” he said with a salute.
“Stop!” screamed Annie as the kitten crept gingerly along the shiny bronze barrel toward the notch in the wall. The sheer drop to the watery moat extended below her.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Fort Nisqually latest visit--ideas flying in my imagination!

My youngest munchkins and I had so much fun at Fort Nisqually yesterday afternoon! We were met by Education Curator, Michael McGuire (note the Scots name--this tale will have a significant Scots connection... because Hudson Bay Company and the PNW had a huge Scots connection, and because I'm writing it!). They've offered me their small research library for writing right there at the fort. What could be better? I absolutely love writing on location. Giles got to "shoot" a Northwest trade musket and wear a beaver skin top hat, and Gillian was enchanted with the Cheif Prefect's house built in 1855, the oldest building in Puget Sound, and right in the middle of the fort--and ten minutes from our home! Here are some pictures from this visit:

My youngest munchkins and I had so much fun at Fort Nisqually yesterday afternoon! We were met by Education Curator, Michael McGuire (note the Scots name--this tale will have a significant Scots connection... because Hudson Bay Company and the PNW had a huge Scots connection). They've offered my their small research library for writing right there at the fort. What could be better? I absolutely love writing on location. Giles got to "shoot" a Northwest trade musket, and Gillian was enchanted with the Cheif Prefect's house built in 1855, the oldest building in Puget Sound, and right in the middle of the fort. Here are some pictures from this visit:

Friday, November 15, 2013

Today I start my newest book: historical fiction set in the Puget Sound!

Gillian at Fort Nisqually (very near our home)

NEW BOOK STARTED TODAY! P&R Publishing has created a new series/collection of my books, THE HEROES AND HISTORY SERIES; Hostage Lands, Hand of Vengeance, with my forthcoming books on Wycliffe (1300s England) and the Huguenots (1500s France) soon to join the new collection.

The H&H series is designed to be the place where other ideas I have for historical fiction will collect themselves together into what we hope will be an invaluable collection of books for anyone who loves history.

Most recently I will be immersed (after a fun family visit to nearby Fort Nisqually) in a 19th-century Pacific Northwest, Hudson Bay Company yarn set in the Puget Sound and Fort Nisqually (very near my home). There would be a Scots connection (my lens may be a young Scots voyager), as there were many Scots immigrants (and some French Canadians) employed by the HBC.

I guess it would be sort of a Bond version of some of the favorite frontier stories out there for young adult readers. Mine will have lots of beaver trapping, PNW trading musket shooting, salmon fishing, horses, HMS Beaver steamer for the HBC, small boat sailing, Douglas fir felling, log cabin building, trading and friendship with coastal Indians, frontier tensions between American and British settlers, the Pig War, and the rising storm to the Civil War.

I'm really, really excited about beginning this book TODAY! Pray for me. Now I'm back to work...

Monday, November 11, 2013

DUNCAN'S WAR the movie--AFM launch in California

AFM launch poster for the film
The last several days have been an exciting flurry of activity. Duncan's War the movie has been germinating in the imaginations of two film-industry fellows in California. I first met Phillip Moses when I was speaking at a conference in southern California fall of 2010 (his wife was a student of mine years ago at CHS). They drove down from the Bay area, and we chatted about books and film after one of my addresses. Some time later he called me and floated the initial idea of making a big-screen film of Duncan's War. We have had multiple conversations (phone, email, texts, facebook, etc) since.

To be honest, I have vacillated from excited to incredulous, to excited again, to incredulous again--and now to excited. For the first time in more than two years, I actually am beginning to believe these guys will do this, and do it well. One of my big concerns has been that I don't want to dilute the book by turning it into a movie. Novelist John le Carre expressed his chagrin at what film can do to good fiction when he said, "Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bullion cubes." I so do not want to
see that happen to Duncan's War. Neither does the producer.

Many of you have messaged me asking how you can help. A number of you are in the film industry or aspiring to be so. It takes a significant team to produce a quality film. So connect with the producer, Phillip Moses, here And if you know talented young actors for the film, especially ones who've grown up in the heather and the moorlands, post their contact information to Mr Moses; he's the man, or to James Chung, art director; he's also the man.

And for those of you who are enthusiastic about this, though you may not be an actor, know an actor, or be involved in film making, all of you can like and share the Duncan's War the movie facebook page: Film executives and distributors at the AFM conference in LA are watching, sometimes with bewilderment, but they are watching the mounting enthusiasm for this movie. Tell them what you think; they're listening. Like and share today.

Maybe it is not playacting after all!

Monday, November 4, 2013

INKBLOTS--What to do when someone doesn't like what you write

Writing and hunting turkey
'Blots: five of us on this chilly autumn evening, fire on the grate, Pinot Noir in the glass, and convivial work to be done. Patrick leads off with a short story, a space travel, Martian sci-fi yarn. Though this is not my preferred genre, P certainly does write with ease and intentionality. Ray Bradbury did a series of sci-fi short stories like this. Gene Wolfe is a favorite sci-fi author that P likes to read and finds inspiration from reading him (we all have authors that do this for us). How to write what you want and sell what you write, a book Skip Press P recommends, he reads to find helpful instruction in the craft of writing.

Doug Mc suggested I read otherwise than last, as usual. I explained some of the challenges I have faced with criticism of this manuscript, then I read from chapter 31 of HAMMER OF THE HUGUENOTS, the climactic rescue of Pierre Viret. There's always something to glean from critics, even when they don't get it right; they have still helped unearth areas where the piece can be improved. Alan commented about my use of toilet as an alternate to garderobe and the suggestion was that toilet is too modern and latrine might be better. Alan liked the wheelbarrow passing over different surfaces and the effect on Philippe concealed in the wheelbarrow. Maybe the beginning of the chapter may be a bit slow and could be tightened. I'll give serious consideration to that. Thanks, gents.

John reads from French Cousins. This is a warm grandfatherly narration of the life of his grandchildren, both American and French. John has done a wonderful job of giving us his grandchildren's perspective on fun things, in this case, Proctor Treats, free candy, all you can eat. I can see and hear more of the children bantering back and forth. John is using some fabrication--I would prefer to call it projection and combination--to give the children the ability to speak when they may have been too young to speak or to use the vocabulary he gives them. Pirate speak.

Alan takes us back to St Brendan and the 9th century. Alan is working on two ancient tales, 1st century prose but tonight its 9th century blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter). Ancient Irish tale, bring on the corned beef and cabbage (and boiled potatoes). Celtic Church, not connected to the RC church in any meaningful way. Mernoc walking on the water, blind, holding a lantern, living on a rocky island off the coast of Ireland. He and Brendan row to the promised land, like heaven. The Navigatio, in Latin. Brendan's navigation. Brendan makes a prophecy that three can join him in the boat but for two it will end badly. I love watching Alan, a dentist by day, as he sits on the edge of the love seat, holding his laptop cradled in his arms, enthusiasm in his tone and radiating on his face--I feel like this is what 'Blots is about at its very best. the Imago Dei, we, image bearers of God, we, different and diverse in genre, like giddy children--agitated and eager, lisping and laughing, awed and wondering--imitate our Creator with imaginative words woven together to delight each other. It doesn't get much better than this. This is so Beowulf! I feel like we are in the mead hall, the horn passing, the harp not far behind. Alan has been reading Lewis on narrative poetry--it shows.

Dougie Mc reads from his post-war tale, his characters in Georgia, late sixties, Vietnam in a rolling boil. D says he's writing just for himself right now. I think he may be on to something. Lewis maintained that we need to write what we need, if we are to write the most authentic, effective, enduring manner. I like the flashback to the hardware store proprietor's promise about the shotgun shells. Maybe more specific flashbacks to help build tension. Whine of mosquitoes. I wish readers could hear D do his turkey call imitation, not once but over and over. We asked how that was spelled. However he had spelled it, there were lots of red squiggly lines under the "word." This was an intensely detailed and nuanced man on the hunt, turkey hunt. Never switch from female turkey to Tom or he'll be gone in a heartbeat. This a classic example of writing what you know. D has hunted turkey, called them, blown their heads off, and bagged them. J says D uses his name Bruce too much. Alan commented that there are good visual description but more smells would help, pine forest, swamp smells, exhaust from the pick up truck, gun oil.