Writing


Something exciting is coming up in January, and today, the ladies pictured at left and I got together to put a name to it:

Novel Matters.

It’s a group blog about our favorite topic, the reading and writing of richly crafted, sumptuous fiction. Many of us got together in Sonoma recently (I said that just to make you jealous), and today we chatted online for something like two hours.* We’re gathering some great ideas for topics you’ll love to read about and giveaways you’ll love to win.

I’ll tell you more as the launch date approaches, but for now, let me introduce my new blog partners:

Upper left is Debbie Fuller Thomas, whose debut novel, Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon released June 1, 2008.

Upper Center is Patti Hill, whose latest novel, The Queen of Sleepy Eye just released in September.

Upper right is Sharon K. Souza, whose latest, Lying on Sunday, also released in September.

Center left is Bonnie Grove, whose novel, Talking to the Dead will release in 2009.

Center, um… center is Jennifer Valent, whose first novel, Fireflies in December, will also release in 2009.

Center right: You know me.

Lower left is Latayne Scott, whose novel, Latter Day Cipher, will also release in 2009.

All of these women are talented authors, with lots to say about what goes into great writing. Do stay tuned. This is going to get interesting.

What will happen to this blog? There will be changes. First, I intend to spend more time here, but also the topics will be less about books and writing (since that will be the subject of Novel Matters) and more about personal thoughts.

Starting soon. I’ve got some ideas brewing right now.

*What did we accomplish in those two hours? We came up with a name for the blog. But we had such fun doing it, I can’t wait to welcome you into our conversations!

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“When we are self-conscious, we cannot be wholly aware; we must throw ourselves out first. This throwing ourselves away is the act of creativity. So, when we wholly concentrate, like a child in play, or an artist at work, then we share in the act of creating. We not only escape time, we also escape our self-conscious selves. The Greeks had a word for ultimate self-consciousness which I find illuminating: hubris: pride: pride in the sense of putting oneself in the center of the universe. The strange and terrible thing is that this kind of total self-consciousness invariably ends in self-annihilation …The moment that humility becomes self-conscious, it becomes hubris. One cannot be humble and aware of oneself at the same time. Therefore, the act of creating–painting a picture, singing a song, writing a story–is a humble act? This was a new thought to me. Humility is throwing oneself away in complete concentration on something or someone else. …that special kind of creative courage which is unself-conscious: the moment you wonder whether or not you can do it, you can’t.” ~Madeleine L”Engle

(Thanks to Weliton Slima for the picture.)

Just now I’m straddled between two novels: still on call to my publisher for edits to The Feast of Saint Bertie, and also putting together ideas and outlines for novel #3, which I’ve titled Honey, Bea & Sky. It’s a nice place to be, this between-place, a wide open field full of possibilities. A good place to consider what’s right about my fiction, and what could use some work. A space to fine tune my philosophy of writing.

If I ever get it all worked out, I’m sure I’ll end up writing a really spacey how-to about writing, one that says, go read this, this and this great book to hone your craft – but when you sit down to the keyboard, this is how you write something worth honing.

Then, whatever I end up saying about that, I think it will have everything to do with faith.

In 2006, on Mick Silva’s blog, in a sort of chicken/egg discussion about the sort of writing that best glorifies God, Susan Meissner made this comment:

We’ve (myself included) allowed the message to mess with the mechanics ’cause we think it’s “the message” that makes the book Christian. Why can’t it be the other way around? Why can’t it be astounding literary style that points to an astoundingly creative God?

To which I certainly agreed. “Astounding literary style.” Great. But “astounding” is a big word. It could send one screaming back to something easy, like “the message.”

But J. Mark Bertrand took it 57 light years higher, when he put in:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and if we aspire to something remotely similar for our work, we could learn something from how the heavens do this (and don’t).”

To which I mumbled, “Yes, go on…”

And he did go on. He rose to the challenge and created an unforgettable blog post that was so true and beautiful that, well, I never forgot it:

They are speaking, but you don’t know how to repeat what they’ve said. You hear it, though — not so much with your ears as with your nerve endings. They lead you to suspect so much, but they also humble you. They make you wonder if you know anything at all, or ever can. And yet, you do know something…

Because I never forgot what he wrote, and because I wanted to share it with you, I recently asked Mark to re-post it. And he did. (You can read the whole thing here.)

Not that Mark had made the whole “astounding literary style” thing any less intimidating. Quite the opposite, but through the power of his own style, and the beauty he described, he certainly made me want to try.

Still, the stars can make me feel pretty small … and so can a blank page.

But countless times, because of a promise made, I have squinted my eyes and started typing, and found that what came out on the computer screen was better stuff than I could write, and wiser than I have ever been in my life. It’s easy for me to believe that God intervenes someplace between my brain and my fingertips.

Sometimes I read a strangled bit of writing that just seems to be missing something – like oxygen, perhaps. I ask myself what the problem is and the answer that comes to me is “lack of faith.” The writer doesn’t trust that if he let go and wrote the wild, crazy things that come to him, that it would be good, no – amazing stuff that he himself could not actually have written. The writer doesn’t trust God.

So it pleased me recently to read this from a new, favorite, very funny, very wise blogger, John Shore:

Your normal, everyday brain is great for doing taxes, returning videos on time, and remembering why you shouldn’t attack your boss in an elevator with a stapler. It’s generally useless, though, when it comes to creative work. For creative work, you’ve got to get down and give it up for the source of all creativity.

I believe, Lord. Please help my unbelief.

(Thanks to Peter Roffey for the picture.)

“A storm broke loose in my mind.” ~ Albert Einstein

(That could explain the hair. This weekend, may a storm break loose in you. )

“Each of us can be clever, and if we only write cleverly, we’ve sacrificed… integrity. Each of us is capable of making fine distinctions, and if we only make fine distinctions we’ve acted indecently. We can create glittery edifices, pretty pictures, false idols – none of that will do. Our job is to write for humanity or against inhumanity. ”

~ Eric Maisel, in A Writer’s Paris

(Thanks to Mary for the image.)

In The Way of Story, Catherine Ann Jones says that when we write, we should “listen to that inner voice – it’s usually right.” Even, she says when it makes no logical sense. To illustrate, she cites the films, Edward Scissorhands, Whale Rider, The Wizard of Oz, and Harry Potter.

I thought of some of my favorite books, as further examples:

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, about a man who learned so well to disappear he didn’t show up in photographs.

Or The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin Jr., about a Rooster who leads the farm animals in Matins, Lauds and Complines, and into an Epic battle against the source of Evil itself.

Imagine sitting down to scribble out a concept for a story, and coming up with this:

A pilot lands his disabled plane into the remotest reach of the Sahara Desert and meets a small boy, who, in order to escape a failed love affair with a rose, tethered himself to a flock of birds and flew to Earth from a distant planet, to learn here the true meaning and purpose of love.

Would you throw the paper away and think up something more marketable? Less crazy? Or would you write The Little Prince as did Antoine de Saint Exupery?

God bless the brave writers, who write the nonsense no one else could ever dare to write.

Today I received a book I’d ordered, recommended by my friend, Mandy Sutter. The book’s title is Writing Poems written by Peter Sansom. (At least it’s not titled The Way of Poems, or I’d feel I really must be lost. I realized the other day that another new favorite book is titled The Way of the Heart.) The Way… The Way… The Way…

Just past the title page of the new book, I found this:

“Art is the habit of the artist; and habits have to be rooted deep in the whole personality. They have to be cultivated like any other habit, over a long period of time, by experience; and teaching any kind of writing is largely a matter of helping the student develop the habit of art. I think this is more than just a discipline, although it is that; I think it is a way of looking at the created world and of using the sense so as to make them find as much meaning as possible in things.” ~ Flannery O’Connor, in Mystery and Manners

(Thanks to Gabriel Pico for the image.)

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