Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Elizabeth Speller’s “The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton”

It is 1924. Laurence Bartram, a specialist in church history and architecture, is asked by an architect friend to come to Easton Hall in the English countryside, to help determine the background and antiquity of an old church on the manor property and help restore it. A window is to be placed in the church, a memorial to those from the area who died in the Great War. And a memorial maze is being designed and planted near the church.

The war’s effects are everywhere in the manor and village. Regiments during the war were often based on location, which meant not only battlefield casualties but devastating effects on villages, towns and counties. The regiment from the village of Easton Deadall was nearly wiped out, and a generation of men lost. The war’s effects remain for those who survived the war as well. Bartram’s architect friend William Bolitho is permanently wheelchair-bound; Bartram himself suffers from lingering effects of the battlefield. Bartram also lost his wife and son in childbirth, a loss compounded by the guilt of knowing he did not love his wife.

Arriving at the hall, he finds an Easton family consumed by tensions, the effects of the war, and the disappearance of five-year-old Kitty Easton in 1911. The child, or her body, have never been found, and yet the mystery of her disappearance continues to almost define the family.

Bartram focuses on the restoration work at the church, which dates back to Saxon times. He takes time out to join the family and a few servants at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in south London. A teenager who works at the hall disappears at the exhibition. The trusted chauffeur acts out-of-character. Once the group is back at Easton and work resumes on the church, Bartram finds a body of a woman in the church crypt – a body of someone recently dead. The investigation begins to lead inevitably to what happened to the missing child so long ago.

Elizabeth Speller
The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton is Elizabeth Speller’s second Laurance Bartram mystery, following The Return of Captain John Emmett, and it both a classic English-house-in-the-countryside murder mystery and an intelligent improvement upon the genre. Speller weaves mystery and history, so that the reader not only gets a good story but also insight into the effects of the first world war, the 1924 exhibition (a celebration of a British Empire that was already beginning to ebb), and even church history and architecture. Add tortured personal relationships, and people haunted by their individual and collective pasts, and the result is one excellent and absorbing read.

Speller is also the author of The First of July (also published under the title of At Break of Day), a novel of the lives of four men and how their lives are forever changed as the World War I Battle of the Somme begins; and The Sunlight on the Garden, a novel about family history and madness. If The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton is any indication, these works should be well worth reading by an author is clearly a fine, and intriguing, writer.

Photograph: Wollaton Hall in Nottinghamshire U.K. by Steve Bryant via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Burning bush

Artist, dressed in a shroud,
shoes removed, carries
a burning bush; illuminates
a forest consumed by flame,
the hiding places and denials
of dark woods exposed. And so
becomes a narrator,
a storyteller, a light bearer,
a commandment carrier;
opens eyes but first
his own. Cannot look full
into the face. Only a partial view
from the back allowed.
or else death. The ground hot,

Illustration: Man the Forest by Anselm Kiefer (1971), private collection, San Francisco. This was one of the paintings included in the Anselm Kiefer exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art in London this past fall.

Poets and Poems: William Stafford and “Ask Me”

William Stafford (1914-1993) was one of the most distinguished poets of the 20th century. He served as what we know call the U.S. Poet Laureate (then the poetry consultant to the Library of Congress) from 1971 to 1972. He published more than 60 books. His Traveling Through the Dark (1962) won the National Book Award for Poetry. He wrote more than 20,000 poems in his lifetime.

Stafford’s son Kim, an author in his own right and his father’s literary executor, has assembled a collection of Stafford’s poetry simply entitled Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems. It’s a collection that’s many things at once: an introduction to Stafford’s poetry, a summary of a life of poetry, a collection of poetic gems, and an illustration of the range of a poetic eye, covering everything from fears of the atomic bomb to a description of a local berry festival that is one part history and one part sociology.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Photograph: “The Way It Is,” poem by William Stafford engraved on stone; included in Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems.

Monday, December 29, 2014

On Being a Writer: Noticing

In On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts, Ann Kroeker (co-author with Charity Craig) gives some advice courtesy of another writer, Dorothea Braude, in how to engage memory: set aside a short period each day: when you will, by taking thought, recapture a childlike ‘innocence of eye,’” the state of wide-eyed interest you have when you were five years old.

Ann, like the rest of us on the planet, has to do more than simply sitting and thinking to recapture that “innocence of eye.” She has to write her thoughts and observations down, using whatever is closest at hand – a journal, a Word document, phone of tablet apps, or whatever else is handy (I’ve been known to write thoughts on grocery lists).

I carry a journal with me just about everywhere I go, including business meetings, church worship services, and the gym. In the one I’m carrying now (its predecessors safely stored on a bookshelf above my computer), you might find rough drafts of poems, quotes (like the one by Dorothea Braude cited above), my notes from a poetry reading with Billy Collins, sermon notes, and odd facts like “During August 1914, the Times of London received more than 100 poetry submissions about the war every day.”

When my wife and I went to Amsterdam and Paris for a belated 25th wedding anniversary trip, I carried a travel journal with me, dutifully recording each day where we went, what we saw, where we ate, and what we bought. It was not only helpful for correcting faulty memories later, it was also useful for helping to keep track of expenses and anything that might have to be declared for Customs.

I did the same thing these past three years for our trips to England. Except these travel journals are slightly different. In addition to places visited and places we ate, they also include drafts of poems written while on a train to Oxford, notations from ads on the tube in London, a few comments about Salisbury Cathedral, observations from a walk in St. James Park, and any number of things I noticed and didn’t want to forget.

I can’t say I actually recaptured that “innocence of eye” from when I was five years old, but using the journal as an extension of my noticing things has contributed immeasurably to my writing.

Photograph by Ha’anala 76 via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

In the days after

In the days after the world
became new, the heavens
cracked open

In the days after the change
happened, time shifted; reality
was upended in sharpness
and piercing

In the days after nothing
was the same, cows were milked,
ovens lit, meals prepared, the sun
rose in the east, the winds blew

In the days after nothing
was the same, everything was
the same for a time,
in the days after.

In the days after no one
noticed, not one, until
the stones began to sing

Photograph by Ken Kistler via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

David Murray’s “Raised by Mad Men”

Advertising experienced a creative revolution in the 1960s, and Thomas Murray and Carol Callaway was part of it.

Who was Thomas Murray? The man who first called orange juice “O.J.” for the Florida Citrus Commission. Who was Carol Callaway? The woman who joined Murray's ad agency and who brought a social conscience with her.

Among a lot of other things.

They met at the Campbell-Ewald advertising agency in Detroit. He was 44; she was 29. They eventually married and became the parents of David Murray, writer, author, editor of Vital Speeches of the Day and co-author of the moving memoir Tell My Sons. To recognize the role his parents played in American advertising, Murray had written a short e-book, Raised By Mad Men: The Son of a Real Life Advertising Mad Man (and Mad Woman) Reveals Who These People Really Were - and How they Raised Us All.

His father might have objected to being called a “Mad Man” – the reference to the hit television series “Mad Men” starring Jon Hamm as Don Draper. But as Murray points out, many elements of Draper’s fictional career could have been lifted from his father’s working life.

Written in journalistic style, Raised by Mad Men is a factual account of the careers of two people who made a large impact on advertising and popular culture. The writing style means it is less a memoir by the author and more a straightforward news feature account, which makes it less personal and more compelling.  

Their lives mattered, and their work mattered, and not only to Murray the son but also to Murray the writer. What they said in the ads they wrote and the campaigns they developed were important for a reason that seems almost quaint and old-fashioned today: “Words mattered to these people,” Murray says. It wasn’t only about image and “impressions,” that standard of advertising and marketing that rule so much of our current world.

Words mattered; language mattered. And Murray tells a short but powerful story about how and why that shaped his parents and, ultimately, himself.

Photograph: Actor David Naughton in a Dr. Pepper ad in the 1970s, who sang “I’m a pepper, he’s a pepper, she’s a pepper, we’re a pepper, wouldn’t you like to be a pepper, too?” The Dr. Pepper campaign was one of many developed by the Campbell-Ewald agency.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Monk by the Sea

Wandering among the winter dunes
flattening into an expanse of sand
and sea and sky embracing one
another, a solitary figure, a monk
perhaps an artist or a writer
or both, for they are the same, stands
facing outward, away.

Wandering among the winter runes
of his mind, a monk, or perhaps
a writer or an artist (they are the same),
reaches to escape the reality
of the everyday to touch that ocean, dark
and deep, forbidding, that ocean calling
to him in the everyday.

Painting: The Monk by the Sea by Caspar David Friedrich (oil on canvas; 1808-1810); Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The groaning

The groaning
   dem chains
the groans
   dem bonds
moaning in the morning sky
   dem chains

The sound is too great,
overwhelming the soul

dem chains

He moves to open
the newspaper; despite
a strong will and
fierce determination,
he leaves it untouched.

The groans, ignored,
do not stop.

He turns his face
to the wall but sleep
does not come
until he understands
the groaning are
an indication of hope,
his own hope,
for the hopeless
do not groan.

The groanings of the hopeful
are realized this day.

It is not only redemption
it is not only salvation
it is also restoration
this day, the restoration
amid the groaning.

It is here:
this day.

Photograph by Anna Langova via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Scott Cheshire’s “High as the Horses’ Bridles”

He stands at the podium, staring at the crowd. The auditorium is filled. For a time he says nothing, raising the anxiety levels of all who are watching him, waiting for him to speak, not the least his father, sitting in the front row.

He has a prepared text, and still he says nothing. His thoughts are filled with his parents, the boys he knows at his Brooklyn school, the expectations of the audience. It’s as if he senses this may be the most critical moment of his life, that everything that will happen to himself, his family and possibly the world will flow from this one brief moment. He allows the pages of his text to flutter to the floor. He begins to speak, and what he speaks is a prophecy of the end-times, the apocalypse.

He is 12 years old.

Flash forward 25 years, and Josiah Laudermilk owns a computer store near the beach in Southern California. He’s divorced but just possibly still in love with his former wife. His mother died from cancer from some years before; his father still lives, by himself, in Brooklyn. Josiah has gone about as far as it’s possible to go from that moment of prophecy at the podium, which, as it turns out, was inaccurate; the world didn’t end in 2000. His father is seriously ailing, and Josiah returns to Brooklyn.

What he finds is himself. What we the readers find in Scott Cheshire’s High as the Horses’ Bridles is a first-rate novel of 21st century America, with its failed apocalyptic prophecies and its stories of sons trying to understand and both become and not become their fathers.

Scott Cheshire
In the hands of a less-skilled writer, the story could have become a caricature of evangelism and fundamentalism in America. Instead, Cheshire uses sensitivity and understanding to tell a story that ultimately becomes all of our stories, all of our American stories. He takes us beyond what could have been only a morbid fascination with child evangelists. We end up understanding the child and the man the child becomes, and understanding the father.

High as the Horses’ Bridles is many things happening on many levels – a story of contemporary religion, a love story, a father-and-son conflict story. But it is first an honest story, a story filled with our common humanity. And because it is that it succeeds far beyond what we might expect.

Photograph by Maliz Ong via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Learning about Christmas Poems

You think you everything there is know about Christmas poems, and then you find out you don’t.

Until fairly recently, it was believed that the most famous Christmas poem of all – A Visit from St. Nicholas – was written by poet Clement Clark Moore (1779-1863). Later scholarship has suggested the real author to be Henry Livingston Jr. (1748-1828), a farmer, surveyor and justice of the peace in New York who joined the Revolutionary Army in 1775.

What we do know for certain is that Moore read the poem to his children for Christmas in 1822, and it was published anonymously in 1823 in the Troy (NY) Sentinel. The Sentinel editor did not know who the author was, only that it had been sent anonymously to him in the mail. And we know this poem, more than any other account, fixed forever many of the characteristics attributed to Santa Claus. The poem was published in many publications (copyright laws being what they were), until a bound and illustrated version appeared in 1848.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Artwork by John A. Hows from Christmas In Art And Song. New York: The Arundel Printing and Publishing Company, 1879.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Do You Surround Your Writing? And with What?

My wife and I have likely always been interested in art, but it’s become something more than an interest in the last few years.

In 1999, during a belated 25th anniversary trip to Holland and France, we made sure to see the Rijksmseum in Amsterdam, if for no other reason than to see Rembrandt’s the Night Watch, then simply on display but today in its own special gallery. In Paris, we had to contend with the state workers (including museum workers) staging wildcat strikes (we quickly learned what “en strike” meant) but through constant rearranging of our schedule and a careful eye for what looked opened still managed to see The Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay and the Picasso Museum. Later that same year, on a business trip to Brussels, I hurried on arrival to see the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, despite severe jetlag.

In 2005, our week in Montreal included the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Three years later, while in Chicago to see my wife’s favorite singing duo Chad & Jeremy, we managed to find time for a joint exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago – Edward Hopper and Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light.

For the last three years, we’ve spent two weeks in England, mostly London, and discovered that art and new exhibitions never stop in that great international city.

In 2012, it was Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye at the Tate Modern; the Turner collection at the Tate Britain; the Courtauld Institute of Art; the Ashmolean in Oxford; and the National Gallery. Perhaps the highlight of all of it for me was finding a painting I fell in love with at the Tate Modern: Marguerite Kelsey by Meredith Frampton (1928). In 2013, we were able to see Vermeer and Music: The Art of Love and Leisure at the National Gallery on its closing day; The Queen: Art & Image at the National Portrait Gallery (and the gallery itself); and L.S. Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life at the Tate Britain.

This year, we were able to Late Turner: Painting Set Free at the Tate Britain; the Wallace Collection (including The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals); and the Anselm Kiefer exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art. We had planned to see the John Constable exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum but my back problems (and the subsequent two days of vacation plans lost) forced us to drop it from the itinerary. We did manage to get to Blenheim Palace and not only see the palace but the Ai Weiwei exhibition there as well.

And this year, we didn’t have to travel at all to see a wonderful exhibition at our own St. Louis Art Museum, Impressionist France: Visions of Nation from LeGray to Monet.

Yes, art has become increasingly important to us. I’ve read that this is not uncommon s you get older. Perhaps it has to do with more leisure time (and grown children). But, for me, it also has to do with something else, and it took me a while to figure it out.

Art surrounds my writing.

Music has been a powerful influence on my two novels, but art surrounds virtually everything I write. I read a lot about artists; I love non-fiction works on painting thefts and frauds (not to mention movies like The Monuments Men). I just finished reading a book on the art of Anselm Kiefer and am currently reading one on the paintings and life of Edward Hopper. And it was not a coincidence that the Sarah, the heroine of Dancing Priest and A Light Shining, is an artist, and that her painting gets caught up in her crisis of faith.

This idea of what surrounds your writing is not an idle one. In On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts, Charity Craig (co-author with Ann Kroeker) says this: “If I’m not surrounding myself with people and books and experiences that inspire and connect with me, I may be left wondering what to write about.”

For me, it’s art that surrounds my writing.

Illustrations: Top, Railroad Bridge, Argenteuil, oil on canvas by Claude Monet (1874, St. Louis Art Museum); lower right: Marguerite Kelsey, oil on canvas by Meredith Frampton (1928; Tate Modern); lower left, The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals (1624; The Wallace Collection). 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

In the beginning was

In the beginning
was the word
was the light

not only was
but is

set against,
shining into,
the darkness

the interior of darkness
the darkness of the heart

darkness remained,
neither understanding
nor overcoming
the light

and the witness
the prophet
comes to testify
the precursor
comes before
testifies what is
and what comes after

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas in Harvard Square

The St. Paul’s Choir School is the only Catholic boys’ choir school in America, and it sits right on Harvard Square. The choir has recorded its first CD, Christmas in Harvard Square. The choir is led by John Robinson, a former assistant at Canterbury Cathedral in Britain.

It’s classical, liturgical – and beautiful.

A story about the choir and the CD can be found at First Things.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Card Lists Tell Stories

My wife and I undertake Christmas cards as something of a team effort, dividing them between us. She handles her family, I handle mine, we generally split friends, and I do the ones meant for work.

About 5 a.m. on a recent morning, I was doing my card list when I realized we had quite a personal history sitting in front of me, in the form of lists. We keep them by years, and the lists go back to 1977. Technically, they go back to 1973, our first Christmas as a married couple, because the 1977 list is based on the first list we did – taken from our wedding invitations.

In 1977, we were living in Houston; she was working for the Houston Chronicle and I was a speechwriter at Shell Oil. Earl Campbell of the University of Texas had just won the Heisman Trophy (it was a big deal; this was Texas); Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta in white disco polyester was just opening; Egypt and Israel were holding their first formal peace talks ever – in Cairo.

And we were spending our first Christmas in a new townhouse that we had moved into in July.  I even remember the street – Arncliffe Drive in northwest Houston.

In 1977, I wrote the Christmas card list on a ruled steno pad. The names were a combination of colleagues at Shell Oil where I worked; family on both sides; and friends.

A lot of our friends in Houston lived in apartments; we were all 20-somethings and few of us had the wherewithal to buy our own homes.

Seeing the family names on the list is what now gives me pause. Most of them have passed away. My parents. My wonderful aunt who lived in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans (and would survive Hurricane Katrina with my mother). An uncle in Alabama. My mother’s next-door neighbor who was her treasured friend; the lady died this year, two months after my mother. My grandmother and aunts in Shreveport. My aunt and godmother. Aunts and uncles of my wife. A lady I worked with at Shell who had once been manager of the Manhattan Chess Club.

I’m not sure what has happened to all of the names on the list, like my favorite journalism teacher at LSU, and many of my work colleagues at Shell (some, I know, have passed away). Friends from church in Houston. Others slipped into the fog of years only to be rediscovered on Facebook, like a couple we met when we worked at the Beaumont Enterprise.

Each name is a story. I took three journalism courses (two in introductory news reporting and one in the history of journalism) and two independent study courses from that professor at LSU. He was an incredible teacher; he taught us how to work amid chaos and noise and meet deadlines by singing in the classroom or doing calisthenics while we feverishly finished assignments. He gave me a B+ on my first assignment, with a note reading “not bad for a cub.” He also weeded out the less serious students by giving automatic Fs for a misspelled word, a factual error, and errors in grammar and punctuation (we lost 70 percent of our class after the first semester).

A few years later, he left LSU, and we lost touch. He’d be in late 80s now.

I look over those names, and I can remember work events, parties, situations, issues. I look at the names of family and see the people who helped shaped me and my own family in uncountable ways.

The names remind me that the past is still with us, always with us.

Photograph: vintage Christmas card via A Parallel Universe

Thursday, December 18, 2014

I walked from the church

I walked from the church
to the street, the war zone,
the cold, the fear, the despair
of darkness, of the street.

The wounded and dying
reached toward me,
the sick clutching
at my ankles, weeping.

I walked from the church,
the light wasn't following
the light was leading
shining in the darkness.

I walked from the church
into the street, seeing
the ruins around me,
and knelt.

Photograph by Lilla Frerichs via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wallace Stevens and Walking the Landscape

I’m reading, or actually rereading, Living in the Nature Poem by Mary Harwell Sayler, and I’m taken by this poem:

Landscape Loved by Wallace Stevens

If you could fly over \ yards and yards
of green lace lining the Gulf and Space
Coasts, you would see low-lying bands
of land seeding the sea with pockets blue –
beaded with water, and you’d wonder how
one more word could fit into the shell –
shaped pattern, hemmed with canals, and
not unravel beneath the weight of so many
people pushing the delicate fabric, poking
the intricate design, picking at flaws not
found in winter-bound spools of wool.

That landscape is more than familiar; it’s personal. I grew up near the Gulf Coast; I’m familiar with the Space Coast. I’ve flown over area enough to recognize those “low-lying bands of land seeding the sea.” And I know those coastal skies, close cousins to the skies you find in the great Dutch paintings.

To continue reading, please see my post today at TweetspeakPoetry.

Photograph: One of the hiking trails at Shaw Nature Reserve, southwest of St. Louis.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Lisa Carter’s “Beneath a Navajo Moon”

For years I was a fan of Tony Hillerman (1925-2008), author of the Navajo Tribal Police mysteries of Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Sgt. Jim Chee. The detail, the story lines, the history – the novels were extraordinarily well done.

I confess: I started reading Lisa Carter’s Beneath a Navajo Moon (published earlier this year) wondering if it was up to the Hillerman standard. It, too, is a story involving the Navajo Tribal Police, but it falls into the Christian fiction genre, whereas Hillerman wrote for general mystery fans.

As it turns out, Carter meets that standard, which is no small thing.

Erin Dawson is a young cultural anthropologist working in Cedar Canyon, Arizona, on an internship. The town and region is part of the large Navajo reservation territory. She is the adopted child of a long line of missionaries, most of whom are serving in Peru, Papua New Guinea and places far from North America. And she is trying to find a long-lost relative of her adopted family, Olivia Thornton, who was kidnapped from a missionary post in the region in 1906, escaped captivity, and then returned, never to be heard from again. In fact, Erin isn’t even sure Olivia actually returned or died trying to.

Adam Silverthorn is a Navajo Tribal policeman, torn between his family’s Christian faith and his grandfather’s power-hungry ambitions to seize control of the territory and declare independence. He’s also a key player in a drug sting operation, feigning a love interest in the local museum curator who’s up to her eyeballs in drug trafficking. Adam has a reputation for being a playboy, his good looks attracting women in droves. Including Erin, who struggles against the attraction. And Adam finds himself attracted to this adopted daughter of missionaries.

Lisa Carter
The heart of the story is the on-again, off-again attraction between Adam and Erin, with his history and family pulling in one direction and her family (especially her mother) pulling Erin to work in missions overseas. Punctuating the relationship is the violence of radical Navajo politics and the drug scene.

Carter tells a good story, and she has infused it with meticulous research. The reader not only gets an interesting story; also offered up is a fair amount of history of Christian missions in the region (not one of Christianity’s better moments) and the cultural and spiritual struggle today.

Beneath a Navajo Moon is a compelling read. And while most of Carter’s readers are likely women (the primary audience for most Christian fiction), this is a story that should appeal to men as well.

Photograph by Ronald Carlson via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Husband, Father, Grandfather, Deacon, Editor, Team Leader – and Writer

In On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts, Ann Kroeker and Charity Craig ask this question: To what extant have you arranged your space and time to honor your writing?

I joke with my wife that Billy Collins is one of two poets in the United States who makes a living from poetry. When she asks who the other one is, I tell her I can’t remember.

Expanding from poetry to writing in general, how many novelists actually support themselves by strictly writing? Likely more than you find in poetry, but it’s equally likely that the number can be counted – it’s not huge. James Patterson. Stephen King. Some romance writers.

The number is finite and knowable.

For the rest of us, we likely write whenever we can cram in a minute or 30 minutes or an hour. I write whenever I find a moment to write.

I've told the story of how my first novel, Dancing Priest, came to be written. for the first four years of its existence, it resided inside my head. Initially, I never intended to write it down. It started with a song I heard, and the image of a priest dancing on a beach. I developed the story as a mental narrative, and delved deeper into it once I started biking. A number of scenes in the novel were created and elaborated while I rode Grant's Trail in St. Louis. 

I was also doing a lot of traveling, including a regular monthly trip (sometimes more frequently) to Alabama. Airline flights and nights in hotel rooms afforded the time for writing. Two hotels in Oxford, Alabama, provided the physical space for the writing of Dancing Priest from 2004 to 2007, the mental and physical narratives overlapping during this time.

I started writing the story down in the fall of 2005. Hurricane Katrina, and getting my mother and aunt out of New Orleans, had something to do with it. Perhaps it was seeing the destruction of the place I was born and grew up. Whatever it was, it was Katrina that spurred me to starting writing the story down.

I immediately discovered that thinking a story in my head was infinitely easier than writing it down. The mental narrative included images – what the characters looked like, the settings, even the weather. The written narrative had to account for these things in words. The time required multiplied exponentially.

So I crammed it in whenever and wherever I could – early mornings, late nights, trips. There was no set time, because I was also a husband, a father (and soon a grandfather), a church deacon, an editor, an occasional freelancer – and I had (and have) a full-time job that, like most jobs, is something more than full-time. 

So to answer Ann's and Charity's question, I have no regular time to write. I have only what becomes available, or what time I can make available. So far, that "schedule" has allowed the creation of two published novels (Dancing Priest and its sequel, A Light Shining), the non-fiction book Poetry at Work, this blog, a weekly column at Tweetspeak Poetry, and occasional article for The High Calling. Come the spring of 2015, the time available will radically change – I'll be retiring form the day job sometime in April or May. 

But there’s a second consideration to that question asked by Ann and Charity – the idea of honoring your writing.

I could come up with a longwinded answer, but I think it’s tied to the time devoted to writing – I honor my writing by making the time for it.

I’ll ask you the same question – how do you find the time to write, and how do you honor your writing?

Photograph by Holly Chaffin via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.