Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Life and Writing: Tragedy, Tumult, and Triumph--INKBLOTS

March 13, 2018 INKBLOTS (two for one)

My next fiction book? WW II French Resistance?
I told about my birthday lunch with my venerable mother (March 13, her 81st birthday), and then about listening to her read aloud vignettes she has been writing from her life: dysfunctional family, bi-polar mother, adultery, illegal abortions for her mother (there's no need for adjective before abortion; they're all illegal in God's sight), she and her siblings separated and placed in various foster homes, older brother chronic trouble with the law (ends up at Ft Leavenworth, then years later dying at mental hospital years later, alone, except for my mother's regular visits), one foster home for my mother, a believing Lutheran family, in the providence and mercy of God, where my mother regularly attended church for the first time, heard the gospel, compensated for the domestic disaster that was her family by excelling in academics, orchestra, student government (she was the first female student body president of RA Long High School, Longview WA), and graduation day was awarded outstanding senior by the faculty (and by student body awarded most likely to succeed, and class clown--she does have a great sense of humor). How to format these vignettes of her amazing life? 

John leads off with a rereading of last chapter of Saving Grace, just edited and proof read by, you guessed it, my venerable mother, and literary wise woman. John has gotten push back from Inkblots before for this being to0 pat, everything works out just hunky in the end. Suicide theme. Did you really try to kill yourself--can you show her incredulity rather than state it like this. Grace's tantrum seems stiff, forced. Nora's comforting feels formulaic, too superficial. And Grace comes around awfully quickly, considering she was about to kill herself a few minutes before. I know, I'm just feeling sorry for myself. And then Grace suddenly gives God glory, seemingly out of the blue, considering the suicide context. I think the reader will be most moved, changed, by seeing the soft, fleshy cheeks of a newborn baby, a teem mother cuddling her real human being, created in the image of God, precious life. Observe a mother with a newborn (Monica in France) and write down all sensory material you observe. This is where this book needs to end. Not everything will be easy, make clear, but everything is now right, new life and new light. Overwhelm readers with the wonder of birth, new life, regardless of and without diminishing the sin and crisis that conceived it. End with cooing baby spitting up, a metaphor for the delights and challenges of life in a broken world.

Patrick thinks that the mom comes around too quickly. Alisa thought there was a huge change from suicidal thoughts and words to settled calm.

So my marriage non-fiction book--what to do with it? Marriages Through the Ages: Delightful, Disappointing, and Dreadful Ones (working title). I received some good counsel from Greg Bailey (editor at Crossway and good friend; and Marvin Ink-in-the-veins Padgett over breakfast last week in Atlanta. Both were cautious about the book, great idea, but difficult to package and sell on large scale (I'm not Keller or Tripp, big names in marriage books along with others). Patrick thinks I should imbed it in story form, a pastor counselling parishioners, meanwhile, the pastor has his own struggles. He gives advice to others but is missing the big issues looming in his own home. Could use dramatic irony, the reader seeing what the pastor is blind to. Made me recollect The Confession by Grisham, featuring a Lutheran pastor caught in the middle of the courtroom thriller; I was handed the book on a plane by a woman whose husband bought it at the airport but she had already read it. Is this where I should invest my writing energies right now? I'm just not so sure. Maybe package as blog devotional material. 

Or there's my WW II French resistance yarn idea, with CS Lewis, the voice of faith, breaking through on the BBC from time to time throughout. This would pair well with War in the Wasteland. I'm enthusiastic about this idea. Then again, I have my long standing Bunyan era historical novel idea still very much on the agenda, but is this the right time? It would follow The Betrayal, The Thunder, The Revolt, and Luther in Love in my adult historical novel category. And I've toyed with the idea of writing another Hand of Vengeance like whodunit, but this one set in 1066 era Norman Conquest France and England. For the time being, I have tabled my American Civil War era novel idea, under counsel from respected publishing peoples; far too much flapdoodle in media and general society to invest energy there, for now; it always had carried with it the potential to alienate blocks of readers arrayed against one another already in the entrenched encampments. Someday.

Patrick has rewritten his Adam and Steve satire yarn, speculative fiction. He feels much better about it. We did heaps of chatting and good conversation this evening. Maybe that's what we all needed. It was warm and pleasant, from my perspective. I trust for everyone else too.

[Previous unposted 'Blots meeting material]

Maybe too close to Valentines Day, but Inkblots, four strong, charges onward and upward. Rachel (whose computer died just as she started to read last time) leads off with another of her scrumptious food-centric yarns. I gain weight just listening to Rachel read her work.

Manhattan setting, shopping outing, with food? Third person, with thoughts, and backstory. Miss Dahlia. Rachel's characters are so unique and human. There is a hint of Ramona. Mysterious, powerful girls you read about in books. Delightful metaphoric doctoring and thrifting. Allusion to Bronte's Wuthering Heights. Lots of chatty dialogue. John wanted to know how much the shoes cost. Rachel said Miss Dahlia gave her a discount. I want to hear more about that exchange. When did the story occur? We tried guessing based on clues from the reading. I thought it reminded me of Beverly Cleary's Ramona yarns, so set in 50s. Rachel said she was up in the air, maybe 90s, but then maybe taking in the Cold War and Communism, or even earlier when the stock market crashed. Might be a good idea to narrow that down. The grandfather is a saddle maker and could have memories of the Depression and its effect on the saddle making business. 

Sydney picks up on her reading, shifting to chapter two and twenty years later. We had discussed the challenges of a twenty year gap from opening episode in prelude to here chapter one. The hour between sunset and dark... soft shadows of dusk. Sydney writes like a Pre-Raphaelite, but unlike many I have heard who write in an archaic style, she pulls it off with ease and authenticity; it sounds like it could be Gothic romance, Jane Eyre-esque. 
girdle, and shilling from under his boot? I was a little confused by both of these description. Sydney has actually improved on the Gothic romance feel, as she stays on intentional trajectory, without the seeming excercies. There is also a Dickensian feel, narrative heavy, with dark mystery, layers of intrigue, and a sense of impending doom around the next dreary dark corner, the gas street lights casting eerie shadows on the cobblestones, oily and reflective in the evening drizzle. 

John wonders where Sydney is going, how long is it going to be? He wondered about the pace. He felt it moved slowly, but he loves Sydney's writing. Intricate detail described. Rachel said she can see everything clearly. White skin and chiseled features, but chews his moustache, which seemed out of character with his chiseled features; buff hunks shouldn't chew their moustache. John wonders why

Good crowd tonight, seven, the number of perfection. We chatted (read, I chatted) about my birthday lunch with my mom for her 81st birthday today. Such an extraordinary woman on so many levels. Her story is the material for Hollywood, but they would slaughter it's outcomes, outcomes ordained by a merciful God who providentially rescued my mother from being another tragic statistic of the materialist naturalist mid century last.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Rejected in London--Reflections from the Past

St James Park, London (2014)
Leaving for London (and Oxford, Olney, Elstow, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Paris overnight on my way home) in a few days gets me reflecting on previous visits, especially the episode where I was rejected by an airbnb proprietor because I am a Christian (more below on that). Here's a few past reflections:
London, one of the world's most extraordinary cities. The place never ceases to amaze me.
It is wonderful to see and feel the hand of God when traveling alone. Bustling past me on all sides, in the tube, on the street, at the shop, or restaurant, or hotel, is a mass of humanity, many even most of whom don't look like they're having a particularly jolly time of it. Frantically trying to fill the emptiness with more emptiness. While wearing the most radical hairdos, miniskirts, and tattoos imaginable.
When you're traveling with others you talk with them, but when you're alone you tend to strike up conversations with more of the locals. Troyin from Nigeria, for example, who packaged up and shipped the books for me. There was something about him right off. I know, I know, everybody says that sort of thing after finding out the other person is a Christian. "Born again," Troyin assured me, leaning close and gripping my hand, and giving me the warmest, whitest African smile.
Then there was the street preacher standing across the street from the Metropolitan Tabernacle where CH Spurgeon used to proclaim the gospel. What boldness! Flanked by indifference and by head-shaking scorn, this fellow proclaimed Jesus to the crowds (check your Bible; the vast majority of evangelism modeled in the Bible is more like what this zealous man was shamelessly engaged in). I went up to him and shook his hand and encouraged him to keep preaching Jesus (a giant like him needed a wimp like me to give encouragement?). "What a friend we have in Jesus," he began loudly singing, putting his arm around me. I put mine around his and sang with him. Till my bus came. Which wasn't very long. Nevertheless, I felt the thrilling wonder of the oneness of the body of Christ.
Here were two men I did not know and we're grinning at each other and hand shaking and hugging like we're long lost brothers... Which, in fact, we are. Love this city! And want to see and know more brothers in it.

Denied a room by atheist proprietor in London

Yes, I know. I write fiction. Some of you may think this is fiction. But it's not. In an episode that calls up images of baking cakes, flowers, and photography, I really was locked out of booking a bnb room in London! While my dear wife was in the process of booking two nights in a London bed and breakfast for me, the booking was first accepted then rejected. We rechecked the calendar for the days I was booking and it still indicated the proprietor had room vacancies for the days I needed a room. When I sent a query to the inn, I had this amazing reply from the proprietor.
Hi Douglas,
I hope this doesn't sound too strange but I kind of think of myself as a total atheist...I love my Catholic mother dearly but still manage to fight with her every Christmas with regards to our views on religion...and wouldn't want to inflict this upon a guest. I hope you understand. I am not in the practice of being 'selective' on faith but feel from your profile yours takes a very active part in your day to day life.
Best wishes, Malika
Here was my reply:
Hi Malika,
I travel a good deal, and this is a first for me. I am a big fan of individual freedom, including the right of a proprietor of an inn to be selective about who she permits to board at her establishment. I do find one thing a bit curious, however. There is the preferred public perception that Christians are the intolerant ones and atheists are the unstinting champions of diversity and tolerance. But I guess not in this case? Perhaps we have this in common: Each of us hold to beliefs that take a very active part in our day to day life--including making decisions like the one you have made, and I enthusiastically support your right to make it. But you've given me something to muse on: Do atheists actually believe and practice their own creed of tolerance and diversity, or simply employ the rhetoric? I assure you I have no hard feelings and wish you all the best,
Pray with me that God by his gracious and sovereign Spirit will open the eyes of this woman. She responded to my reply above by accepting me to stay in the old broken down pub she managed. More from that stay:

The neighborhood I'm staying in is earthy and interesting. Definitely not the 4-star accommodations we will be enjoying on the tour. And the eclectic blend of humanity staying in this intensely out of round airbnb place is odd, fascinating, not-normal--I guess I fit right in! Reminds me of my youth hostel days in the eighties.

Malika, the proprietor, has been a real dear. It's a sad story really. The old pub she has been operating as an airbnb is slated for the wrecking ball in a week or so. Close enough to center city London, the property is just too valuable; a renovated old pub could never generate the revenue that high-rise condominiums could do on the same real estate footprint. So down she comes. I'm hopeful they'll wait until after I leave tomorrow morning!

Malika has spent the afternoon and evening plotting out a sort of end-of-life party for the old pub (she is very talented; skillfully crafted story board work for the gala she is planning with her sister and Hannah and some other friends). It's really quite impressive--and sad. An English teacher from Cheltenham and two young men from Germany and I looked on as they schemed together. The Marlborough pub as you see pictured with its warm, once-cozy fire, will shortly be no more.

It reminds me of what Woody Allan recently said when asked if he hoped his film legacy would last forever, "I don't care about my film legacy. I want to last forever."

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