Friday, July 17, 2015

Self-Forgetfulness and Delight--Keys to Writing Well (and most everything else in life)

INKBLOTS, resuming our men's writing group, four of we old-dog regulars and joined by David one of my former students. I led off with a brief thought from Alan Jacobs, author of The Narnian, who said this: “Lewis's mind was above all characterized by a willingness to be enchanted, and it was this openness to enchantment that held together the various strands of his life, his delight in laughter, his willingness to accept a world made by a good and loving God, and (in some ways above all) his willingness to submit to the charms of a wonderful story.” Jacobs in his biography of C. S. Lewis reflected that "those who will never be fooled can never be delighted, because without self-forgetfulness there can be no delight." Which makes me recall Jesus' words about how essential it is that we be child-like to enter the Kingdom of heaven.

We talked about typesetting using Word rather than InDesign, the later requiring us to learn a new program... us old dogs. Not going to happen. David, author of Beyond Tweeting (read my interview with David) led off with reading an excerpt from the forward, and then chapter
one. I like how David makes this for the reader not the author. John asked David to explain what tweeting actual is, and things like hashtags. Track a topic or theme. Though you cannot own the hashtag so you could end up with your tag meaning something and connecting with some big distortion of your collection point. Bob brought up the question of whether Twitter monitors and censors tags or tweets. "How can we use twitter to sell books?" asked John. David pointed out how important it is to provide value for those following on twitter, not just about blasting the cyber world with your promotional plans. Use to search for domain names so your searching doesn't get picked up by those who buy up domain names then sell them. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the way to maximize your position on the searches. David is helping us big time here. 

This morphed into a discussion of old dogs and new tricks. This has been fun. David, thank you for all your helpful insights into marketing and social media. I thought it would be good to segue to our usual creative writing readings. Dougie Mac leading off with an episode from his Monte Casino yarn set in WW II. As he summarized the historical context of this conflict, I can see it in my mind's eye, having been there with my family just a few weeks ago. Modern technology fails us. His computer just died. 

Bob took up the baton with one of his Bible study guides, this one on the Psalms. Bob read his rough draft introduction, a sweeping summary of David and his writing of various Psalms, and how they are relevant to the reader today and in every generation. That led to a discussion of greed, how exactly, I am not sure. Which led me to recalling Tolstoy's short story, How Much Land Does a Man Need, a well-crafted yarn that shows the destructive nature of greed, show casing a protagonist who is killed by his own avarice. 

John reads from his Russian yarn, after working on his protagonist's character who needed to be a bit more realistically flawed at the beginning so she has somewhere to go from there. Dougie Mac didn't feel like she was significantly flawed. Don't overuse 'beautiful' or 'exciting.' Have her catch herself for making the simile about heaven. You told instead of showing us her reaction to her own reference to heaven. There is a good deal of description of elegant clothing, but I didn't feel like I could actually see it. How about using more comparative image, figurative language, imaginative comparisons? You used beautiful a dozen times or more. Mouth watering is too cliche and needs another image. Could you give us more metaphor of what the dancers and their fine clothes looked and felt like to her? I like how she flashes back to dancing with her father; give us more of this kind of imagining on your protagonist's perspective. You drew me in with the shooting that she does not understand. The rag doll image is probably overused. I think you could play up her thinking it was all a play, just an act, when it was murder. As she thinks back on pricking her finger on the thorn of a rose, have her begin to acknowledge that it was real and her recollection was a desperate effort at escaping it all. This is getting better and better. 

Which made me recall a Lewis-ism. "Don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was
'terrible,' describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't say it was 'delightful'; make us say 'delightful' when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers 'Please will you do my job for me.'"

David recalled a short story he wrote for a British Lit class in college, from the point of view of Helen, clever, imaginative perspective, employing a modern-world slangy syntax. Melodrama, which actually works pretty well with Greek tragedy, which has probably inspired more soap operas and country western songs than most classics professors want to admit. Having written this fiction piece for a class a couple of years ago, David cringed at some of his own writing in it, though it clearly shows the promise that is beginning to be fulfilled with his writing and his teaching/consulting for Microsoft.

Though I haven't worked on it for over a month (what a month it's been), I read from a chapter in War in the Wasteland. Once I can see my way more clearly and get some logistics planned out for future history tours and for the Oxford Creative Writing Master Class I'm planning out right now, then I can get back to writing. There are jolts that enervate creative writing, and ones that stimulate it. Still trying to figure out which kind this one is. A fine evening with 'Blots. Thank you gentlemen for your friendship, support, encouragement, and for just being a big 'Blot in my life. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Is Tweeting and Social Media for the Birds?

Author, David V. Kimball
It's a delight for me to introduce readers to David V. Kimball, a young man I had the pleasure of teaching during his high school years. In fact, David was one of my TTTAs (Total Techie Teacher's Assistants), without which I would not have known how to do important things with my computer, like turn it on--or what to do when my iPhone warbled. Now a university graduate with a degree in Communication and Marketing, David works with Microsoft as part of the Training and Evangelism team. And he has done something close to my heart. He's written his first book! I want my readers to meet David and find out what his new book is all about.

DOUGLAS: Welcome, David. Congratulation on writing and launching your new book Beyond Tweeting! Nobody when I was your age even had a remote category for social media; tweeting was called postcards back then--you do know what postcards are, right? Picture on one side, space to write--that'd be write by hand with a ball point pen (I'll explain about those later)--and a place to put the stamp (ya, I'll tell you about stamps another time, too). Never mind, talk to us about your journey to writing BT.
DAVID: Thank you, Doug. You raise a good point - social media hasn't been around very long. We're still figuring it out. Twitter, in particular, tends to confuse people. Posting on a website with a seemingly arbitrary 140 character limit is a turn off for some, while others can't get enough of the social network. So what is Twitter exactly? That's the first question I sought to answer by writing this book.

DOUGLAS: Being the techno-moron that I am, I'm going to ask you to unpack that a bit more (you can use more than 140 characters). What exactly is Twitter and all this yammer about something called tweeting?
DAVID: Twitter is a social networking website. Each "tweet" is one post. When I began writing, I came to the following conclusion: there is no "one way" to use Twitter. It's built to become something bigger than just posting short messages; it's a dynamic networking platform. Even better, once you align your personal interests and passions with your Twitter profile, it becomes exponentially more powerful.

DOUGLAS: Could you reduce that down even more for all the tech-tards reading this (of course, I get everything you're saying... Just thinking of others)? Let me put it this way: What's actually going on with Twitter and tweeting?

DAVID: Sure. Basically, everyone has something they love to do and love to talk about. Everyone likes meeting new people that share their love for that particular thing, so why not do it using the internet? With you can setup a profile and meet others in a topic-driven environment.

DOUGLAS: So how did you go about learning this language? I mean, things like Twitter and social media--all things computer and technology--it's like another language, right? So how did you get to be an expert in it? 
DAVID: It is another language! Honestly, I learned simply by using technology a lot. At a very young age I started scribbling on Microsoft Paint and typing random stories on Microsoft Word on the family's Windows 98 machine (no product placement here, I swear). I had never taken a formal course on anything internet-related, just created lots of social media accounts and played around with them. And now that you bring it up, I don't actually consider myself a social media expert at all. I'm more of what you call a social media practitioner, aka, a person actively engaged in an art or discipline. I've just used these platforms a lot and have found a few things that work! 

DOUGLAS: Au contraire, Monsieur. I'm thinking you're being too modest here. That may explain your early acquisition of the tech language, the grammar stage of you picking up this discipline, but clearly you are way past the grammar stage; I'm thinking logic and rhetoric here. Talk to me about what you studied in college. How did your studies prepare you to write this book?
DAVID: As far as how I was prepared, I have to go back well before college to my homeschooled days. My mother deliberately selected a literature-based curriculum so I was exposed to a large variety of reading and writing early on. Of course, a bit later, some high school English teacher might have had something to do with helping me along, too (although I called him Mr. Bond then, not Doug). Except, in addition to reading literature, he made me study writers' intent, historical context, and write research papers! Turns out - that's exactly what my college professors wanted me to do soon thereafter. Who knew! I decided to major in Communication at Northwest University with a minor in Marketing. I was elected to NU's Student Government and ran all of their social media accounts, managed their website, created promotional graphics, and ended up completely rebranding NUSG itself.

DOUGLAS: Who would benefit from reading BT and in what specific ways would it benefit them?

DAVID: I wrote Beyond Tweeting with a variety of people in mind, so prior knowledge of using the platform is not required. In essence you could give this book to someone who only has an email address, an internet connection, and a laptop, and they'd be set. Early chapters detail the sign-up process, what information to put in your profile, and how to start tweeting. For people that already use Twitter, they will gain key insights that will improve their experience and may even cause them to repurpose it altogether. For example, if Joe Schmoe simply uses Twitter to see friends post pictures of cats and hear coworkers complain about work, I'd encourage Joe to read my book and learn to use Twitter a different way. Once he puts it into practice, he might find 10 of the best friends he didn't know he had using Twitter. Of course, if Joe really does like cat pictures, he can apply BT's tactics to finding more of them!

DOUGLAS: CS Lewis loved cats, so we're okay with a dude who likes cats, right? Seriously, that's a very helpful overview. Remember Gutenberg? Back in 1450 he was taking lots of heat for his moveable-type printing technological innovation. What would you say to the well-intentioned Christian who is convinced that Twitter and social media are innovations from the lower regions? 
DAVID: With every innovation comes a new abuse. That's just the way it is in a broken world--and when something new comes around, we can either focus on the negatives and dangers it may possess, or we can look at the opportunities for betterment and growth. For hesitant Christians, I would encourage them to look at how we can use social media to expand the Kingdom. Imagine the gospel being propagated to exponentially more people than would be possible with conventional media. Not only is the Bible more accessible now--but godly people can use social networking sites like Twitter as a platform to send clear messages about the real truth, hope, and love we find in Jesus Christ.  If nothing else, use social media sites to be kind and serve the needs of other people.

DOUGLAS: Great answer. Tell readers how they can learn more and how they can get BT (and any final words you'd like to add)
DAVID: First I'd like to mention how valuable my editors Whitney Chen and Rebekah M. Ueland have been, the book wouldn't be what it is without them. You can get Beyond Tweeting on my website at I'd also like to mention I started a podcast about social media for practitioners of the same name. You can listen to the Beyond Tweeting Podcast at Thanks, Doug!
DOUGLAS: All the best on your knew book, David. Now I'm going to go tweet this!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Best Thing Popes Ever Did--Chateauneuf des Papes

Throughout the Middle Ages the RCC would not give the wine to the congregants in the mass, just a crust of bread, and the priests kept the good stuff for themselves. Calvin may have been the first Reformer in France to give The Lord's Supper in both elements in a cave near Poitier in France in 1533 (literal underground church). We stopped on the ROME TO GENEVA CHURCH HISTORY TOUR to see and experience the best thing the popes ever did, the cultivation of the richest wine region in France and in the world, Chateauneuf des Papes (the new castle of the popes). The castle here was also a garrison for the multi-national mercenary papal armies plundering, killing, and burning their way through Huguenot south of France.

Dutch Dukedom Huguenot Orange

What is a Dutch dukedom doing in southern France? Read HAMMER OF THE HUGUENOTS and find out! Layers of Ancient Roman and tragic Reformation history in this out of the way place featured in my newest book.

Dancing on the Bridge of Avignon

Onward to the palatial seat of the Avignon papacy, one of the means God ordained for the protection and long life and Bible-centered ministry of John Wycliffe...
Palais de Papes in Avignon was garrison for papal and mercenary troops radiating outward to crush the Huguenots in the region
The best part of Bond tours, on your left, my right

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

ROME TO GENEVA: 30 minutes of rain in 11 days

On our opening moments of the ROME TO GENEVA CHURCH HISTORY TOUR we met by the attentive folks at the Convent Giusti, where we were treated with such kindness and hospitality, and then we stepped out the door to this--a Noah-like deluge, no joke!
The opening 30 minutes of the ROME TO GENEVA CHURCH HISTORY TOUR it poured down rain in defiance of the rainbow, with thunder and lightning cracking and roaring off the coliseum and other ancient monuments on all sides. Then 11 days of blue skies and sunshine--no joke. It was spectacular and amazing! Thank you, Heavenly Father!
After singing Te Deum and reading from II Timothy where Paul it is believed to have written the epistle, when we came up out of the Mamertine Prison where history tells us both Peter and Paul were held before their executions for loyalty to King Jesus, the rain and thunder and lightning had ended, and blue skies and sunshine persisted for the next 11 days.
The still more ancient Portico d'Ottavia, prototype of the AD 80 Coliseum, built with Jewish slave labor taken at the fall of Jerusalem, near the Jewish Ghetto where Paul may have lived in house arrest for two years before being accused of sedition against the Roman government and thrown in the hole of a prison Mamertine.
Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome
Scala Santa, said to have been brought to Rome by Empress Helen, from Pilate's palace in Jerusalem. Here tens of thousands have prayed on their knees, and do to this day, including Martin Luther in his vain pilgrimage in 1510, which we followed throughout this vast and fascinating city
We behaved ourselves in Rome...
Santa Giovanni Laterna, founded by Constantine in 4th century, papal church until 1309 and the Avignon Papacy (we'll be there soon enough)
Santa Maria de Poppilo, site where Nero was buried, Augustinian Priory where Luther stayed for a month in 1510
St Peter's Basilica, Michelangelo and Brunelleschi teaming up to create the most amazing free-standing stone dome in the world--built on the backs of German peasants paying for indulgences hawked by Johann Tetzel in Wittenberg. Really got Luther fired up, 95 Theses in 1517 (Luther 500 Tour coming up in 2017)
Pantheon in Rome, the most complete ancient building in the world--absolutely splendid pagan temple
Whatever the official tour guides (not me) tell you, the Flavian Amphitheater, AD 80, the epicenter of blood sports in Rome, was used for the martyrdom of some of our forebears in the faith, 13-year-old Blandina, for example.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Warm Evening in Provence

Marvelous food and warm fellowship in charming south of France, Aix-en-Provence (where my daughter studied French in '07-'08) with Dr Bergey, Pierre and Daniele Berthoud, and Lionel Jauvert.
After dinner group shot in Aix (after multiple scrumptious courses and heaps of good fellowship)
Family-friendly Bond tours--happy children and young people learning HISTORY WHERE IT HAPPENED!
Aix is the city of fountains, everywhere you turn there are charming gurgling sounds of cool fresh water
Where Luther stayed in 1510 when on his futile pilgrimage to Rome we have been tracing. Calvin may also have stayed here at what was then the Augustinian Priory and may have penned part of his Institutes of the Christian Religion here in Aix
Augustinian Monestary where Luther stayed in Aix in 1510 on pilgrimage to Rome, and where Calvin may have written part of the Institutes between 1533-1536.
Aix has been a central market town since the Middle Ages
Hotel de Ville
Pierre Berthoud, president of the board of the John Calvin seminary in Aix--wonderful fellowship in an open-air cafe next to the Medieval cathedral (my daughter often wrote letters here in this shady square, just across the street from her school)
South of France rose must be fountain temperature, just like the melon