Thursday, July 26, 2018

Scoffing, Raging (and sometimes writing) Against the Lord--Inkblots

Rachel Ng's cheese yarn continues to charm
We talked about independent publishing and traditional publishing, John Erickson and Hank the Cow Dog being one of the greatest examples of successful independent publishing (Maverick Press, and Hank have sold millions and counting). Sell directly to your consumer, live stream, blog, be a personal face on social media--the advice I was given by a marketing exec down in Nashville last fall. We also talked about classic films, Casablanca, for example, play it again Sam. I need to rewatch this movie.

Alisa exhibited at the Arts Festival last week, with sixteen other authors, They put her next to a male author whose genre was different from Alisa's (she asked the organizers if they would put her next to an author who would not necessarily be a competitor for her book). One of the author's a sculptor, has sold 7,000 books. How did he do this? Alisa is smarting from a devistating critique of her forthcoming The Emblem. This is hard. Patrick asked if it was more a critique of her racially or politically, socially, or stylistically as a writer? It is always important to sort out the substance of a critique, and a critic. It is almost impossible for any of us to entirely put aside our other preconceptions and simply critique the story on its own merits, the author on her own merits. Patrick offered the idea of taking an idea and personifying the thing in a character. This can transform a flat character into a more round one, idyosincracies, mannerisms, a wacky or painfully introverted individual. Rachel H encouraged Alisa to ask herself what particular reason did she choose this particular editor. What does she have to offer in improving the manuscript, her particular niche, what is it? This editor's role was to give you a racial perspective that you did not have. Take here critiques in this area. Only in other areas as they overlap with other credible critiques you have received. 

Bob is editing and formatting another author's book for money at present, more money than he's made in book sales this last year. He's enjoying the process and finding the copy editing challenging and fun. Is he getting any writing ideas for his own writing? His editing is reenforcing theories of writing that he already has.

Rachel Ng introduces us to her writing challenges, being an introvert, creating characters who are introverts and others who are not. This is a continuation of the cheese epic. Rachel's writing always makes me intensely hungry. I love cheese! I love her description of the old army jacket, details, that show us she has done her homework, but, more than  that, they draw us into the character wearing the old jacket. Rachel paused, wondering if she is writing as if it were a cookbook. We chimed in for her to knock it off and get back to reading the story (I think she got the message). If it makes the reader salivate it's probably working. If it is driving the plot forward, deliniating the character more precisely and intentionally. I mention that the best characters want something but can't have it. The story is them trying to get it. That's reductionist, but makes the point. Life in a broken world is very much like this. So I would advise Rachel to ask herself what her protagonist wants and to what lengths is she willing to go to get it? Fleshing that out will shape the plot. Patrick suggested that Rachel fine tune who the character or characters are, whose point of view are we supposed to see the world from? Whose eyes are we seeing the world through? We discussed how many current popular writers use multiple perspectives, however, there is always and must always be a dominant perspective. Readers who are unclear about who to care about usually don't finish the book.

From here we devolved into reminiscences from the past (several 'Blots are former students); what hilarity! And what a substantive and important discussion ensued. Rachel H commented that finally at the end of the day, Christian wives want to follow and submit to husbands who are intentionally growing in Christ-likeness. Bob commented that as a man with daughters who are now married, but he counselled them to turn and run if a man is touting male headship more heavily than men loving their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her. Patrick and others in the room were involved in a facebook exchange this week that became heated and accusatory, as so often is the case with the flat medium of social media. We then progressed, or was it digressed, to critiques of a particular church that almost all of us have experience with. I, for one, think this is a healthy discussion, especially when we can have it face to face, as fellow image bearers of God, human beings who have been loved by God. Male, female, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, slave, free; all one in Christ, who are in Christ, washed by his blood, justified, and being sanctified by the free discriminating grace (I'm using the term in the biblical sense; the grace of the gospel is eternally, gloriously, and graciously discriminating, or I would never be a grateful recipient thereof), and who love his holy Word.

Reading Psalm 1 and 2 this morning I was struck afresh at just how odd the Bible sounds in the midst of the ragings of the moment. And, as always, reading the Word of God recalibrated my thinking, regrounded me, gave me clearer perspective in the midst of the ragings against God's will and way now; it's nothing new. Scoffing at God's ways has a long and infamous history. And so does capitulation to those who have taken counsel together against the Lord and his Annointed, Jesus. Israel did it in acient times, and the Church has often done it in the past. But knowing all this, shouldn't I be on guard, shouldn't I know that the world hates God and his ways, and that this hatred creeps into the Church? I think so. God help me as I write. "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wickednor stands in the way of sinnersnor sits in  
the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORDand on his law he meditates day and night... Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Annointed..." 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

What to do when getting trounsed, pummeled, beaten to a pulp by your manuscript? INKBLOTS

That's me on the left getting hammered by my writing
Inkblots joke of the evening: "I prefer steak jokes, but they're a medium that's rarely well done." Thank you Patrick. Pass the HP sauce. This evening in the Scriptorium we have six writers, five regulars and one of my Oxford Creative Writing Master Class authors, here for a writing retreat at our lodgings for the week. John brought a bottle of Writer's Block red blend, which I'm really nervous about drinking. What if it's contaminated and I get it? We chatted and bantered longer than usual, in part, because we haven't been together for a while.

Rachel is the designated reader for John since some people commented on John's oral reading sounding like Eeyore was at the mic. John's last chapter where his protagonist is giving birth. Rachel had commented on John's deficiencies in writing a birthing scene when he had never been in the room when any of his kids were born (John was fathering in an era when fathers were banned from birthing rooms, so was Bob). Write what you know, and if you don't know it, research, research, research until you do. "Let me give you a quick check," is, to my ear, overwriting for how a doctor or labor and delivery nurse would speak during hard contractions. "Let's check." Seems like it might be more realistic. Or let me check. She called, she rubbed my back but these were two different females. Clarify pronouns. My heart began to quicken. My heart beat faster. Be concise; four words are better than five, almost always. You have the new mother quoting a Bible verse. Is that consistent with her character and new experience as a young Christian? Can the nurse quote the verse or someone else? The doctor would not hold up a needle and thread for the mother to see, especially a first time mom; doctors try to conceal needles from patients. Patrick felt like this was a significant improvement over the previous versions of this final chapter. Some repetition of words, panting, for example. More description of what a new born baby looks like and the effect it has on the mother. I remember being there and participating in the birth of all six of my children, and the overwhelming emotion, speechless, but felt I must speak, tears of wonder, joy expressed in that mysterious inner swelling that makes you feel you will burst. Anxiety about the baby being healthy? And vigilance in case something happens to the baby.

Patrick is up next. He feels overwhelmed at the moment with what to do next, how to get to the next place with his writing. He feels that culturally the church is tending to reduce the gospel down to an altruistic abstraction. So he has written speculative fiction that confronts and exposes social disorder that results from the socializing of the gospel. And now Patrick is working on a short non-fiction book that concisely lays out his concerns about the social gospel trending in the church. This chapter is on legalism, overly zealous emphasis on obedience especially with minute details of obedience. Altruism promises that true and authentic Christianity will fall off the road on either side of the ditch. He is more concerned with conservatives who don't but should have answers, than with liberal progressive Christianity, so called.

Two things I would suggest with this book idea. Until you are a recognized authority (I'm not saying this as an insult but as a simple fact about most of us and most people in the church) you need to demonstrate that you know what those who are recognized as authorities, dead and alive, have written and spoken about on this topic. Give your reader confidence in your research. The second thing I would urge you to consider is to take a less theoretical approach. Take Jesus' approach, which is to illustrate with a specific story example, a case study, or a practical demonstration in a role played story, then interpret in your non-fiction prose. Another method which I would recommend in this piece, is for you to use yourself as an example of these two errors. How have you found them in yourself?

Lastly I wonder about some of the verbiage Patrick used in this excerpt. Is it more obedience not less? Isn't the dialectic here that their minute obedience is externally motivated by pride and a mistaken sense that they can win God's favor by good works, but their hearts are not right. Jesus is exposing that their hearts are not right, not that they need more obedience. They needed true and right obedience, not merely external conformity to a code of law. Hence his "whitewashed tombs metaphor." They don't need "more obedience, not less," more whitewash on the tomb. They need regeneration, quickening, a transformed heart, good works that spring from gratitude and love. Any other kind is "filthy rags" in God's sight. They don't need more self-righteousness, more filthy rags. The hottest spots in hell will be for the "righteous," so called, the ones Jesus did not come to save. He came to seek and to save the lost, those who have despaired in their righteousness, their efforts, their "obedience," their good works. True biblical good works, sanctification, obedience, is of another kind altogether. Just adding more of the old kind, the legalistic self-righteousness kind, only furthers condemnation. Clarify terms like grace, obedience, good works. This is where the literature will help you and citing it will help your potential reader immensely.

Avrie, visiting from Houston, is reading a short story (a portion thereof), for middle grade readers. Setting in an eccentric bookshop. Characters are not human; they're characters from the books on the shelves in the bookshop. Contemporary fantasy genre. Not zombies though. Strange Tales. I like how you don't need much attribution, and it is clear to the listener reader who is speaking. Very fluid dialogue. I also like how the books and bookshelves seem to be reacting to the humans and jump into laps. Paper cuts are intentional, given by books that are too full of themselves, like textbooks. Authors are dangerous. We don't need the authors. They're a bad lot most of them.

Love the names, Alias, Read,  Novelette, Peter Strange... Gluten free café. Board of characters will be furious. How does the bookstore smell? One of the charms of bookshops is their smell, old leather, paper, a bit of dust, a pinch of binding glue. You get the idea. Can you describe what your characters look like? How do the characters exist? The characters are like actors that authors hire to be in their books, but the characters actually influence the story more than the author knows. It's all reversed. The characters employ the authors. Bob observed that this story is platonic, in the sense that the characters are derived from virtues or vices maybe. Its a very intriguing and though it is not clear to us where you are going, we are drawn in, fascinated, and want to hear more.

Then 'Blots did what 'Blots often does, revert to an excurses that sort of took over (and lasted well past 10:pm), but was stimulating, relevant, and left us all chewing, swallowing, and digesting the evening spent together.

I didn't bother reading from my WW II French Resistance yarn. It would have been unkind. I care about my fellow 'Blots too much to inflict it on them. The characters are dominating the ring. I feel like I'm wrestling wholly on the defensive, cornered, against the ropes. Writing this book right now is like sparring, gloves-off MMA fashion, and I'm getting pounded, head spinning, vision clouding over, on the verge of plummeting face down, never to rise again. Jeering and mocking me from its corner, the manuscript and it's thugs have clearly won the opening rounds, and I'm swollen-eyed and bloodied. And that's all before a glass of Writer's Block red blend. So what do I do? I go back to the gym and work on my fitness, more jumping rope, more cardio, more strength fitness, and do my level best to master that left punch to the jaw. I'm going to beat this thing, show it who's boss, lay it flat on the mat--a grandiose-sounding triumph, of which there is not a shred of evidence at the moment. I'll post another chapter on this blog. That way you can weep with he who weeps. And then unsubscribe and follow a living author who still has a pulse.