Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Cutting Words, Pace, and Why We Write: INKBLOTS

Writing Luther/Katie novel and leading Luther 500 Tour
Inkblots resumes after misalignment of summer schedules. Meeting in my nearly finished Scriptorium (sitting on plush couch surround donated by Dougie Mac, Inkblots founding patron, and using electricity piped in by John Schrupp, electrician and fix-anything writing dude). Late summer evening but with a hint of rain in the air; five men and three women launch in for an evening of reading, discussion and critiquing--and laughing 'Blots fashion: gently at and with each other.

Dougie Mac leads off with a revised Return to Tarawa, WW II historical fiction set in the Pacific theatre. I recent had the privilege of reading this then 94,000 word manuscript, now significantly tightened (cut more than 7,000 words); my main encouragement was to cut anything that didn't drive the story forward, that didn't immediately work on his protagonist, changing him, making him face his demons. He is rereading the first chapter. Pace is hugely improved. You cut out a number of things that I thought confused the reader: what is the problem, who do we care about, but now we feel far more focused. He explained what he did in revision. He realized that he had a character that was not necessary, and then another one who didn't really have an essential role to play. Patrick pointed out that just listening he wasn't sure if the old man was having a flashback to the war or was it the tourist boat? This is a good comment, though Patrick, in the end, thought it wasn't in need of revision.

I shared the work I'm doing on my Luther novel, Luther in Love (working title). I need a more sympathetic beginning. Two old people sitting around the fire in the Augustinian cloister might be a trifle dull, unless I handle it in a rivetingly compelling manner. Maybe start when Katie gets word of his death, was suggested, or at Luther's grave/funeral. I want this historical novel to adorn Christian marriage, show how God designed it for imperfect people, living in a dark and broken world, but that Christian marriage by God's design works better God's way. All the pet ideals about sex and marriage of today are busted wide open by the kind of portrayal of marriage I have in mind. A pastor friend of mine thought the book idea could shape into a book he would give as a first read in premarriage counseling; I like this idea. Then again, I could start the novel with Luther preaching on marriage, his treatise on why nuns and monks should leave the cloistered life and marry. Katie could be reading it aloud to Luther, sick and old, but the reader doesn't know that yet. I need more tenderness in this opening scene.“What a lot of trouble there is in marriage! Adam has made a mess of our nature. Think of all the squabbles Adam and Eve must have had in the course of their nine hundred years together. Eve would say, ‘You ate the apple,’ and Adam would retort, ‘You gave it to me.’” And then after twenty years with Katharina von Bora, Luther says he wouldn't trade "My Rib" for all the gold of Croesus.

Bob reads his crime fiction just underway. Have him argue for his qualifications to be a New Age guru because he liked movies by Shirley McClain. Bob took us on a geology lesson about Soap Lake, Washington. Scheme to fleece women at the spas. Bob is calling it Hot Tub Homicide. Sofia has some very good ideas about how to expose with the story the snake oil dimensions of the whole false religion. We discussed the problems of changing point of view, with the opening character going to die a third of the way through the story.  I suggest having the pastor who will be the sleuth and solve the murder be in the first chapter, dealing with a parishioner who is toying with New Age spa stuff. Good stuff and keep writing.

Patrick is explaining his speculative fiction work underway. The Jade Zealot. Story begins with the protagonist exiting the space station, launching himself into space to find the alien object. Fine tuning his trajectory or else; a tiny miscalculation grows in space; missing desired mark and the vastness of space stretches endlessly before you. The confrontation is terrifying. Patrick explained that it is horror genre. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Patrick, while reading aloud, caught a number of his own writing issues, proof once again of the critical importance of reading what we write out loud, often. I would go so far as to say that if we don't read aloud we have not finished our job yet. So much corrective happens when reading aloud. I'm having trouble seeing what is going on. Now, in fairness, this may be because of my genre limitation (true confession: I'm not a reader of sci-fi). John commented right off about his calculations needing to be precise. Dougie commented that it needs fleshing out, something Patrick is so good at, as we all have heard many times before, to our delight; this is an early draft. Bob wanted to know what his protagonist's motivation for doing what he is doing, launching out into space, but we don't know why. Patrick says that will come in later. Have suit talk to him when his heart rate goes too high or blood pressure rockets (sorry).  Needs more anxiety about what he is doing, a flashback to his wife, and kids, if something goes wrong, and why it is the likeliest thing on the cards that something will. Ramp up the uncertainty, in my opinion.

Rachel working on a new story, this being what she's working on in between her college studies until next quarter. We got a name, straight off, Nicole and last name too. Place firmly established at the gate, New York City. Very good use of specifics, number of stories in the building, what it has and does not have. Good narrative, showing us the various people, but I'd like to hear more of the sounds of a bustling newsroom, digital printer, gurgling water cooler, an array of ringtones going off at the same time, buzz of voices, rapid footfalls--nobody walks at a normal pace in a newsroom. It is so much fun to watch high-octane Rachel describe what she is writing and what is coming. Nicole is going to have to undergo change. Rapid pace yarn, read rapidly by Rachel. Bob suggested fewer adjectives and more verbs, which is showing more than telling. You have a effective narrative style; don't lose that, but show us more than tell us. Patrick suggests moving it to a 1940s newsroom, which would create wonderful new sounds, typewriter keys clickity-clacking. Being forced to report on her ex-husband is a great set up. Make sure the contrivance works; show the history of other odd combining of reporters and subjects to write on. Nicole idealizes things and then is disappointed. This is her problem and the story should move from episode to episode driving her to change.

Alisa and John deferred to Rachel, ever the gracious writers. Next time you lead off, and Sofia, bring us some of your material to hear; glad you came.

I have a few more spaces available in the April 1-8, 2017 OXFORD CREATIVE WRITING MASTER CLASS. Check it out.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Giving Birth, the Epidural, and Writing Hymn Poetry (NRH 04)

NEW REFORMATION HYMN 04 (NRH 04) Triumphant Jesus (Long Meter, LM,

While reading CH Spurgeon's Morning and Evening, wherein he was waxing eloquent (as only Spurgeon can do and so often does) on the phrase "The Lord mighty in battle" from Psalm 24, the following lines came to me, considerably more rapidly and effortlessly than is remotely normal for me. Poetry is whole-being labor, not quite so extreme as that cosmic and peculiar kind God carried my wife through six times over when delivering our children into the world, but to me at times it feels sort of like that when writing. But not on this one. I had a spiritual, theological, and poetic epidural anesthesia.

Triumphant Jesus is another effort of mine to write Psalm-like lyrics, the veil torn back, and all the glorious blessings of the New Covenant in full view, lyrics that have that Psalm-like warrior component so appealing to young men--and, alas, so conspicuously absent in the output of the well-intentioned but sometimes vacuously emotive lyric of some worship leaders shaped more by the dictates of a feminized culture than by the themes and attitudes of the Psalms. (Hymn poetry) Several able composers have written fine music for this lyric.

Triumphant Jesus bore the cross
Of cruel passion, curse, and loss;
He routed sin, and death, and woe,
And Satan my infernal foe.                   

Yet does the fiend still prowl and lurk,
His schemes upon my heart to work.
But God before me who can stand
When Christ in battle guides my hand?

Since Christ my Savior works within,
No more am I a slave of sin.
The hopes of hell and Satan wrecked,
No more can he charge God’s elect.

No power of flesh or demon’s might
Can snatch from me Christ’s blood-bought right.
I more than conquer by the Word
Of Christ my Captain and my Lord!

                                Douglas Bond, Copyright, December 12, 2007

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Tasting and Seeing, Trinity and Thanksgiving: New Reformation Hymn (NRH 03)

I confess to getting more than a bit derailed on my good intentions to blog a New Reformation Hymn each week (don't look at the date of the last one). But, as they say, if first you don't succeed, try, try again. So here I am trying again. I'm posting these in the order of their creation over the last fifteen years.

NEW REFORMATION HYMN 03 (NRH 03) We Rise and Worship (Long Meter, LM,

I was asked by my friend and PCA minister, Rick DeMass, to work on a new hymn appropriate to a Thanksgiving service. My initial reaction was that I'm not a performing animal who can crank out poetry on cue. But then I began going through passages on Thanksgiving (there's heaps--a rich blessing in itself), until I came to Psalm 34, my father's favorite Psalm during his terminal illness. "O, taste and see that the Lord is good," struck me afresh, and the Eucharistic, Lord's Supper allusions and implications thrilled me. Just days before the Thanksgiving service that Rick wanted the hymn for I managed to produce the following. It seems to me that the hymn is not restricted to once a year Thanksgiving service use.Several have written tunes for this hymn which you can listen to at

Hymn poetry.       

We rise and worship you, our Lord,
            With grateful hearts for grace outpoured,
For you are good—O taste and see—
            Great God of mercy rich and free. 
A chosen son of God on high,           
            I trembling bow and wonder why
This Sovereign Lord—O taste and see—
            In love stooped down and rescued me.

Your Son obeyed the Law for me,
            Then died my death upon the tree.
O Jesus Christ, I taste and see
            And marvel that you purchased me.

In might, your Spirit drew me in,
            My quickened heart from death to win.
O Holy Spirit—taste and see—
           My comfort, hope, and surety.

With thankful praise our hearts we give;
            By grace alone we serve and live.
O Trinity, we taste and see
            Your sovereign goodness full and free.

Douglas Bond, Copyright, November 19, 2007