Sunday, February 28, 2021
Saturday, February 27, 2021
David Murray at Writing Boots is a longstanding friend of more than 30 years. We met when he was editor of Speechwriter’s Newsletter; today, among other things, he’s editor of Vital Speeches of the Day and director of the Professional Speechwriters Association. He recently reread a novel about speechwriting, The Chronicles of Doodah by George Lee Walker, published in 1986. He calls the novel an “unreliable time capsule.” I haven’t read it; from David’s description, it both rings and doesn’t ring true to my own experience.
David has a new book being published this coming week, An Effort to Understand: Hearing One Another (and Ourselves) in a Nation Cracked in Half. I’ve recently read it, and I’ll have more to say next week. For now, if you value communication, this is one of the best books I’ve read on the subject. I say that as one who stands on the moderately reddish side of the political spectrum about a book written by an author on the bluish side of the spectrum.
In St. Louis, we call it the “Old Cathedral,” the Catholic Church left standing in the shadow of the Gateway Arch when everything around it for blocks was demolished to make way for the national monument. It’s called “old” to distinguish from the one called the “New Cathedral,” located in the city Central West End and its green dome highly visible from Interstate 64. Photograph Chris Naffziger took some pictures of the Old Cathedral and found some 80-year-old photographs to compare it with.
Poet John Keats died 200 years ago this month in Rome at the age of 25. He left behind a body of poetry that is still read and celebrated. The Keats House in Hampstead had planned all kinds of festivities, but then came the pandemic and lockdown. As a substitute, it’s put together a collection of online resources, entitled “Keats and Keats 200.”
More Good Reads
3 Values That Drive Social Media – Chris Martin at Terms of Service.
Life and Culture
Where as a Nation Do We Go from Here? – Chris Arnade and Michael Lind at Pairagraph.
How Martin Luther Rewired Your Brain – Joseph Henrich at Nautilus Magazine.
Race, Police, and Innumeracy – Rod Dreher at American Conservative.
The Founders’ Lost World – Richard Gamble at Law & Liberty.
Slavery Old and New: Comparing Early America with Biblical Times – Thomas Kidd at Desiring God.
W.E.B. Du Bois's Little-Known, Arresting Modernist Data Visualizations of Black Life for the World's Fair of 1900 – Maria Popova at Brain Pickings.
Vanishing London – Spitalfields Life.
Murder in Saxon England – Annie Whitehead at Casting Light upon the Shadow.
Writing and Literature
An Experiment in Criticism of the Literary Canon – Jessica Hooten Wilson at Church Life Journal.
“Demons” at 150: Dostoevsky’s prophetic tale of societal decay – Jacob Howland at The New Criterion.
Why I’m Mostly Quoting Dead Guys These Days – Jared Wilson at For the Church.
3 Marks of the Burden-Bearing Leader – Michael Kelley at Forward Progress.
Owl Ensconced on Oaken Branch – Corey Elizabeth Jackson at Society of Classical Poets.
The Blizzard of ’96 – Merrill D. Smith at Nightingale & Sparrow.
How Great Thou Art – Taryn Harbridge
Painting: Young Man Reading, oil on canvas by Eugen Ispir (1909-1974).
Friday, February 26, 2021
Wednesday, February 24, 2021
Logan Ailshie is nine years old. He lives with his mother and stepfather in a condo in New York City. It’s nearing Christmas, and Logan is mostly focused on the gifts he’ll be getting, one of which he wants to open like now, and he’s not above throwing a tantrum to get it.
His stepfather refuses to have anything to do with Christmas, believing it’s a deceptive fairy tale. His mother was once a regular church attender, but she’s followed her husband’s wishes and avoided church. Logan’s stepfather is also always too busy with work to have much to do with Logan.
One night, Logan finds a homeless man in his bedroom closet. He and his mother had seen the man on the street, but Logan has no idea how the man has gotten into his room. The window is open, but the condo is 10 stories above ground. But Robert is no ordinary man. Nor is he homeless. He’s there to take Logan on a journey, back to ancient Judea.
When the boy disappears, FBI agent Marcus Garraway leads the investigation. The disappearance seems impossible; the boy couldn’t have flown out of the window. Garraway is dealing with his own angst about Christmas; it’s the day his wife died when a drunken driver crossed lanes. Inf act, Garraway is close to suicide.
Robert leaves Logan with a group of shepherds, outside the town of Bethlehem. And it’s there that Logan will discover the reality of Christmas and find a kind shepherd who cares for him like a father.
The Boy Who Cried Christmas by Dennis Bailey is the story of Logan, Robert, and Garraway, and how divine intervention saves a boy, saves a suicidal FBI agent, and reverberates across a dying, decaying culture.
Bailey is a retired police detective who is also the author of the novel Army of God, a suspenseful account of the story of Noah. He lives with his family near Charlottesville, Virginia.
Tuesday, February 23, 2021
You read the poems of The Next Time We Saw Paris by Samuel Hazo, and you think that this poet has mastered the art of wisdom poetry. Or perhaps he’s just wise, and when he writes a poem, he can’t help but write wisdom poetry.
His words are simple and direct. Hazo wastes no time getting to the point. The poem quickly explains what it’s about, and then it provides the detail or example or explanation. I understand this style much better than I used to; I think it comes with age. You reach an age when you’re not going to waste time with flowery or profound introductions, filled with metaphor and allusion. Instead, you get right to the point, and then you tell the story behind it. You might not have the time to do anything else.
To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.
Monday, February 22, 2021
Last week, I mentioned on Facebook that I had finished the first draft of a new novel. Tentatively entitled Stonegate, it finished at just over 92,000 words, about the same length as the first four of the Dancing Priest novels. The fifth included a 20,000-word novella, but without it, it would have been about the same length as the others.
The idea for the story was born in early 2019, but I didn’t seriously begin to tackle it until late last year, almost two years later. What had to be finished first was Dancing Prince, the final novel in the Dancing Priest series. I had to get the Michael Kent-Hughes story fully out of my system before I could turn to a new story.
I surprised myself when I started it. First, there were two very strong story ideas I’d been toying with, one based on my own family history and the other a more-than-half-written novel. But as these things will happen, Stonegate grew and became something real.
To continue reading, please see my post today at Dancing Priest.
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Saturday, February 20, 2021
I’ve been reading Sharyl Attkisson’s Slanted: How the News Media Taught Us to Love Censorship and Hate Journalism. Attkisson, an award-winning reporter for CBS for 20 years, has a lot to say about what she calls “the narrative,” or what the major mainstream media hold to as dogma, often in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. She dates the change in journalism to about 2010, or at least that’s about the time “the narrative” began to reach critical mass.
My own personal experience dates it a bit earlier – about 2003-2004, when a reporter covering the company I worked for was shameless in her bias. It took some convincing, because the company was so reluctant, but the only thing that could stop her was to publish fact-checking of her stories. She later left her employer (to work for an activist group), but she left behind a social media-fueled sea of misinformation. Jacob Falkovici at Quillette takes a look at “the narrative” and the distortions it’s causing in American society and life.
Like many counterparts in the United States, Leicester University in Britain is rethinking is English Literature offerings, including a proposal to eliminate the teaching of medieval literature. That’s Beowulf, Piers Plowman, Chaucer, and a host of other works and authors foundational to the history of the English language. You might shrug, but without Beowulf, The Lord of the Rings would never have been written. Alexander Larman at The Critic wonders if all of this means the end of serious literary study.
More Good Reads
Life and Culture
The Doublethinkers – Natan Sharansky at Tablet Magazine.
The Slow Death of The Chronicles of Narnia Franchise (Video) – Curiosity Stream.
The Problem with Democracy – Bruce News The Critic Magazine.
Reading Petrarch’s Secretum with College Sophomores – Elizabeth Stice at Front Porch Republic.
The Compound Fractures of Identity Politics – Karl Zinsmeister at CityJournal.
Writing and Literature
How the Suffering of World Wars Seeded the Creativity of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis – Joseph Loconte at The Federalist.
Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles Is an Unexpected Masterclass in Suspense – Helen Cooper at CrimeReads.
On the Our Town Spin-Off That Served as WWII Spirit Building – Howard Sherman at Literary Hub.
What we can learn from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's years in lockdown – Fiona Sampson at The Guardian.
Discipleship is Not a Factory; It’s a Field – Michael Kelley at Forward Progress.
The Eucharistic Short-Circuiting of Cancel Culture – Timothy O’Malley at Church Life Journal.
‘Adieu, Adieu, My Brother:’ John Calvin and the Five Martyrs of Lyons – Derek W.H. Thomas at Desiring God.
Stones – Daniel Leach at Society of Classical Poets.
Searching for Gwendolyn Brooks – Bernard Ferguson at The Paris Review.
The Power of One: Monosyllables in Classical Poetry and ‘To West’ – Adam Sedia at Society of Classical Poets.
Living Hope – Phil Wickham
Painting: Reading Woman, oil on canvas (ca. 1900) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919).
Friday, February 19, 2021
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
The hats we writers wear can seem awfully heavy.
The hat we wear every day is the writer’s hat. This is what we do. This is what we’re about. We’re here to tell a story, and that can be difficult enough. It looks like a baseball cap.
We learn to write by listening, memorizing, and repetition. We learn writing by doing writing. We don’t sit time the first time and write stories effortlessly. We wrestle with our plots and themes. We fight and argue with our characters. We imagine scenes in our minds long before someone else reads the scene on a page of text. We’re perfectionists, because we’re not satisfied until we get it exactly right. And while we write, we occasionally have to add a few additional hats – like fact-checker, editor, and researcher. This is the bowler hat of writing.
To continue reading, please see my post today at the American Christian Fiction Writers blog.
Photograph by Joshua Coleman via Unsplash. Used with permission.
Tuesday, February 16, 2021
A dreamlike quality permeates the poems of Lost in the Hours, the new collection by River Dixon. The poems mirror the images and ideas that come with telling and recalling stories, introspection, self-reflection, musing, and daydreaming. The images are those that come to you while you stare out of the window in a snowy winter’s day, or as you allow yourself to float on a lake on a warm summer’s day. And as you dream, the unexpected happens – the gaining of clarity.
Dixon writes of a letter received and imagined to be from a former love. The envelope is placed in a drawer, unopened, representing the letter never sent. He considers what happens when you realize that life is very daily, and usually repetitive. Loves are lost, and sometimes regained. Failure is imagined as a clean shovel. He recognizes hope, or perhaps control or understanding, when a lot of life concerns waiting. And he writes about pain, and memory, and loss, and love.
To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.
Monday, February 15, 2021
My posting may be irregular for a few weeks. I usually try to post daily, but I’ve gotten way behind on my reading. As in, I’m covered through tomorrow and not beyond that. The reason: the story that’s the work in progress.
The idea for the story came during watching an online worship service at our church (a blessing during the virus pandemic). The worship leaders and musicians were leading the congregation in singing, when I noticed the guitar player had stopped for a moment, not losing his place, exactly, but as if something had struck so forcefully that it gave him pause. It was only a moment, and then he continued.
And I asked myself, what might have caused that? Could I build a story around it?
I started writing in November. It happened in fits and starts, do-overs and delete-alls. Sometime in the Thanksgiving period, I realized the story wasn’t about the guitar player. He becomes a major character, but the story is about – and told by – someone else, an 11-year-old boy. I rewrote the beginning. I have the boy as a man, 20 years later. And he’s forced to consider what happened to his family when he was 11, when it was torn apart and almost atomized. And it doesn’t happen in a war zone, but in a St. Louis suburb.
I’m a long way from London and the Dancing Priest novels.
Inspiration for a setting in Stonegate
By the end of December, I had passed 16,000 words. A week into the new year, and I had doubled that number. Things were moving swiftly, until I hit 40,000 words. Then I hit a wall. I couldn’t see where the story went next. I stopped. It took me a week, and a few walks, to begin to work it out. Fortunately, the weather was cooperating at the time, and we were still having a mild winter. I could go on hour-long walks. To help envision the sense of place, I took photos of three houses that are like three of the houses in the story.
The writing has picked up again. I’ve passed 75,000 words, and the end is in sight. I know how the story will end, and I know the three major scenes left.
The words have come at the expense of reading, which means also at the expense of blogging. I usually blog daily, four days a week about books. It’s going to be sporadic for a while. It’s disorienting to a degree because I’ve been posting daily since 2011, including during five trips to Britain. But to do this story right, something had to give.
I have a working title: Stonegate. It’s the story of a family blown apart when the oldest child, a 13-year-old, is accused of a criminal act, and no one believes he’s innocent except his 11-year-old brother. That guitar player, the guy who started the story in my head, is still there, but his role is not related to his guitar playing.
We’ll see where we go with this. I have no ETA. Once the draft is done, I’ll have to spend considerable time working it over, editing, and rewriting. I’ll continue to post for Tweetspeak Poetry, and I have a blog post publishing tomorrow for the American Christian Fiction Writers. The Friday and Sunday poems are already scheduled into January of 2022. Saturday Good Reads will continue. But expect the Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday book reviews to be sporadic.
Top photograph by Vlad Shalaginov via Unsplash, Used with permission.
Sunday, February 14, 2021
Saturday, February 13, 2021
Attention, Walmart shoppers! That product you buy that was made in China might have a note in it from the person who made it. Like the one Amelia Pang’s daughter found in a purchase from a store. And Amelia was suddenly confronted with the reality of slave labor in the Chinese gulag. It’s real, and she’s written a book about it.
The state of San Francisco’s public schools is not unlike the state of large public-school systems everywhere. There’s a behemoth struggle underway over reopening schools, closed because of the virus. The mayor of San Francisco is facing mounting political pressure; the district’s school board seems largely unruffled, content to undertake a renaming of 44 schools for various reasons. Isaac Chotiner at The New Yorker explains how the renaming happened. Jonathan White at Smithsonian Magazine comes to Abraham Lincoln’s defense (Lincoln is being canceled, too). Ezra Klein at The New York Times takes the broader view; he says that what is happening in California is proving to the nation that progressive policies are out of touch with reality.
This week, I’m introduced a new category for Saturday Good Reads, called the Saturday Bad Read. It’s an article or post that’s so bad that to read it is to learn something important. The debut link is a column by Virginia Heffernan at The Los Angeles Times, who describes her existential dilemma when her Trump-supporting neighbor committed the unspeakable act of plowing her driveway after a snowfall. Neither the writer nor her editor seemed to realize that there is such a thing (at least outside of big cities) called neighborliness and kindness, and that plowing a neighbor’s driveway is not a political act. I hope this will only be a sporadic feature, but this is America in 2021.
Saturday Bad Read
What can you do about the Trumpites next door? – Virginia Heffernan at Los Angeles Times.
Life and Culture
‘More Weight’: An Academic’s Guide to Surviving Campus Witch Hunts – Dorian Abbot at Quillette.
The Front Porch and the American Dream – Paul Krause at Front Porch Republic.
A Place Called Home – Kevin Ford at Story Warren.
The State of the Union – Mark Malvasi at The Imaginative Conservative.
How letters mingle souls – Christine Farenhorst at Reformed Perspective.
When You Have Nothing Left to Give – Jen Avellaneda at Rich Faith Rising.
The First Five Sonnets from ‘The Gift of Life’ – Amanda Hall at Society of Classical Poets.
A Gascon Day – Stella Wulf at The High Window (H/T: Paul Brookes).
Outside – Seth Lewis.
Writing and Literature
The Greatest Literary Alliance of All Time: You, the Author, and the Character – Lisa Zeidner at Literary Hub.
Christ Figures in The Lord of the Rings – Joseph Pearce at The Imaginative Conservative.
Stepping Stones – James Zug at New Criterion.
Annotate This: On Footnotes – Ed Simon at The Millions.
Solzhenitsyn & the engine of history – Robert Kaplan at New Criterion.
5 Sites That Tell the Story of Early Anglo-Saxon England – Historic England.
Bronze Age Graves Uncovered at Stonehenge During Tunnel Excavations – Ashley Cowie at Ancient Origins.
Someone You Loved – The Piano Guys
Painting: Man Reading, oil on canvas by Mavis Blackburn (1923-2005).