Thursday, November 30, 2006

Snow Day

Remember how it was when you were a kid and there was no school because it was a "snow day?" The weather might have been too bad for you to make it to school, but somehow it was never too cold or raw to keep you from getting out in the front yard and scraping together enough snow (never mind the leaves and sticks in it) to put together a snowman. And when your red, drippy nose finally signalled to your mother that it was time to pull you bodily into the house, you could sit at the window with a mug of hot chocolate and watch the flakes fall. Snow days! Paradise for kids, temporary reprieve for teachers, torture for parents.

Today is a snow day in Duncanville. Yesterday it was 80 degrees, and I played golf. This morning it had dropped to 31 degrees, and it's been spitting snow and sleet all day. Not enough to stick on the roads, not really enough to even consider making a snowman, but certainly enough for me to say, "I've written enough for today. This is a snow day."

Oh, I'll get back to writing later on, I guess. My conscience won't let me completely blow off my responsibilities. But for now, I'm sitting at the keyboard looking out at snow flurries and enjoying being dry and warm.

One reason I'll get back to writing is the nagging voice in the back of my head that keeps reminding me of this quote from Elizabeth George's Write Away: "You will be published if you possess three qualities--talent, passion, and discipline. You will probably be published if you possess two of the three qualities in either combination--either talent and discipline, or passion and discipline. You will likely be published if you possess neither talent nor passion but still have discipline...." She goes on to say that if you do not have discipline, yet by some miracle are still published, it will probably never happen again.

George refers to the ability to keep your seat firmly placed in front of the keyboard as one of the most important attributes of the writer. I've heard this from other writers, as well. So, snow day or not, I guess I'd better get back to my writing.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Suspension of Disbelief

Well, on Friday, having written about six paragraphs in my work-in-progress, I decided that it was time for a break. Kay and I make it a rule to avoid the malls on "Black Friday" (the day the retailers go into the black and shoppers into the red). Instead, we decided to see a movie. We generally end up going to the movies a couple of times a year. It's not that we're anti-movie. Although many of the films that Hollywood is now producing just don't push our buttons, there are still some family-type shows out there that we think would be fun. Unfortunately, there just never seem to be enough hours in the day or days in the week for us to do all the things we need to do, much less carving out a couple of hours to sit in a theatre. But Friday we decided to play hookey and go to a movie.

I'm a kid at heart, and I'm not sure that Kay has ever grown up, either, so we decided to see the third in the Tim Allen series, "The Santa Clause." (Yes, that's the right spelling--it has to do with the plot). We thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and left the theatre classifying it as a "feel-good" experience. Then I made the mistake of reading the reviews, something I rarely do before going to a movie, since the reviewers and I haven't agreed in decades. The experts panned the show like an 1849 California miner. So, how did that make me feel? I still felt good. We'd enjoyed it, too bad about the critics.

All this has set me thinking about why Kay and I liked the film and the professionals didn't. I guess it's a matter of attitude. We went expecting to laugh, to sink ourselves deep into a fantasy world, and--to use a term all you fiction writers understand--to suspend our disbelief. So Tim Allen didn't really become Santa Claus. So he couldn't convince his in-laws (played wonderfully by Ann Margret and Allen Arkin) that he was really a toymaker and they were visiting him and their daughter in Canada. So what? We weren't looking for literary excellence in the screenplay. We didn't expect a hidden message (although there's a bit of "It's A Wonderful Life" feeling toward the end). We went to be entertained, and we were.

A number of my writing friends routinely ask me to suspend my disbelief. Al Gansky, I don't really know about all this transdimensional stuff, but I love your J D Stanton books. Brandilyn Collins, I'm not sure about a woman who can sense evil, but Eyes of Elisha was excellent. Randy Ingermanson, I'm a little dubious about time travel and I get totally lost when you introduce quantum physics, but still you make me want to read more. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief.

Well, it's time to get back to writing. And maybe if my protagonist gets stuck, I can ask my readers to suspend their disbelief as I stretch to get him out of whatever predicament I've created.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

For Family And Friends

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and aside from the Cowboys game (how 'bout that Tony Romo?) it truly is all about family. My family, and I suspect yours, has endured some tough times and some good times this past year. Many of you have commented or emailed me to express your prayers for my son, Allen (who's now recovering nicely) and your good wishes for my daughter, Ann (who's still on her honeymoon). I haven't mentioned my other son, Brian, pictured here with his wife, Catherine, at his graduation from the Naval War College. Brian has worked on Capitol Hill for a number of years now, and I'm grateful that he's serving his country there.

The death of my first wife, Cynthia, was devastating to me, but God has blessed me once more with the love of a wonderful woman, my wife, Kay. She's my support system in all things. She's also the "first reader" of everything I write, and although she's caused me to work harder and rewrite more often than I might have liked, I appreciate what she's done in that regard.
Kay's children have become like my own, and through her, I now am a "Grandpa." That's so neat--spoil them, then give them back. Wish I could have done that with my own children.

I so rarely take time to tell them this, so publicly and heartily, let me say to Kay, Allen & Lynne, Brian & Catherine, Ann & Benny, David, Phil & Shelly, Connor & Ryan--I love you, and I'm thankful for you.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Writing At Your Own Pace

For all those who've sent their prayers and best wishes during these past two weeks, a heartfelt "thank you." Things are much better now. Allen is recovering at home, with only a residual headache that's clearing slowly. Ann and Benny are on their honeymoon. And my conscience is bothering me something fierce because I haven't done any work on my novels in over a fortnight (hey, I'm a wordsmith--I use big words).

Like most of us who seek to write with a Christian worldview, I've studied (and still study) books by respected Christian writers. I depend on Jim Bell's Plot and Structure, Brandilyn Collins' Getting Into Character, and Terry Whalin's Book Proposals That Sell. I've read Mastering Point of View and Techniques of the Selling Writer. They're all great, and I've learned a lot from them. But there's one commonality there: these are full-time, professional writers. They're extremely qualified and their advice is excellent. But every time I read one of those books, I get depressed because I can't sit down every day and turn out two thousand words. After all, this is my calling. So I must be short-changing God by my sloth.

That's when I remember something from Lawrence Block's neat little book, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit. Block is a secular writer, but his advice is just as applicable for the writer of Christian fiction. In one section of the book, he uses the term, "Sunday writer." This is the person who has a full-time position (and ladies, I certainly include housewife/mother in this category), but writes when he/she has the time. When I think about it, this sort of describes me. I'm retired, but I seem to be busier than I ever was, doing all the "honey-do" stuff that's required, staying active in church, taking the time to do things with my wife. I try to put in a couple of hours every day writing, but (as was the case recently) that doesn't always happen. Does that make me a bad person? No, just a "Sunday writer."

Block ends his book with a "Writer's Prayer." It covers four pages, and contains some thought-provoking sentiments. In it, he says, "Lord, let me remember that I'm not in competition with other writers....They have their way of writing, and I have mine....The more I more I focus on comparing myself with them, the less energy I am able to concentrate on making the best of myself and my own work." Great advice! So learn from other writers--take the tips that work for you, discard the ones that don't, and always lean on the One who has called you to this work. He'll direct your paths. May God bless your efforts and mine.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Mountains and Valleys

I'm sitting in a hotel room in Henderson, Nevada, looking out at beautiful mountains, trying to remain calm because in a little over three hours I'll be walking my daughter down the aisle. This has been a roller coaster ten days, but maybe the ride is slowing down--temporarily, at least.

My son, Allen, has come through his episode of bleeding into the fluid that surrrounds the brain (subarachnoid hemorrhage) with no ill effects except boredom. All the tests were negative for any causative abnormality that would require surgery or make him vulnerable to subsequent bleeding. None of the complications that the doctors warned about have materialized. Today he's being moved out of the ICU into a regular room, and I imagine he'll be discharged sometime next week. My thanks to each of you for your prayers and concerns.

Ann is understandably down about Allen's situation. He's been through a life-threatening episode, he won't be in her wedding today, and the scenario has brought back painful memories to us all of the death of my first wife, Cynthia, seven years ago. Another valley.

But today, we walk on the mountaintop. Today is her day. She becomes the bride of a wonderful, caring man. I'm so pleased, and if my theology is anywhere near correct, Ann's mother is aware of this and is smiling along with the rest of us. I've warned my prospective son-in-law that I'll try not to stumble going down the aisle. Since he's a lighting designer/engineer, working with well-known musical groups (none of which I'll mention here--let them hire their own publicist), he assures me that he will have trained roadies stationed strategically along the route to help me as needed.

When we're in the valley, or climbing to reach the top of the hill (because we assume the mountains are out of reach), we often stumble. But God is there to bear us up. Whether you're working through writer's block, despondent because the agent won't take you on or the editor doesn't like your proposal, or dealing with the everyday problems we all face--bills, hectic schedules, worries about health--we have someone to lean upon. Give your hand to God. He'll guide you. May it be so in your life, as it has been in mine.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

He Gave His Son...

"He gave his Son..." How many times have we read those words, heard them from the pulpit, perhaps used them ourselves in witnessing? Have they become so familiar that they've lost their ability to startle you? Perhaps we need to try to put ourselves in the shoes of the Almighty to capture the true magnitude of that sacrifice. Of course, Jesus was the one who left Heaven, coming to earth to be unjustly condemned and put to a shameful death, all to ransom each and every one of us from paying the penalty required for our sins. But how often do you stop to consider what that sacrifice cost his Father?

Kay and I were on vacation in the mountains of North Carolina this past week. We've gone there for five years now, and this year the fall leaves were absolutely spectacular. Colors changed every day, almost before our eyes. Sunsets were gorgeous. We continually reminded ourselves of how fortunate we were to be allowed to share this part of God's handiwork. Then I got the call. "Allen (my oldest son) has suffered a brain hemorrhage. They need to transfer him to a hospital where he can get neurosurgical care. What do you suggest?" I burned up the airwaves with my cell phone, and with the help of colleagues from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, where I served on the faculty for a decade before my retirement, we arranged for Allen to be transferred there to the care of an excellent specialist. Kay and I packed in a rush and began a 1000 mile drive back to Dallas, praying all the way.

Friends and family joined their prayers to ours. We stopped to rest, but sleep was difficult. The next morning, while driving through the mountains in Tennessee, I got the phone call from the neurosurgeon--the tests looked good. Surgery wouldn't be necessary, at least for now. This was the best of all possible scenarios. This morning I found Allen sitting up in bed, alert and joking, bored to tears with his enforced inactivity. He'll be observed for another week or more, have more tests, but we keep praying that things will continue to go well. For now, it looks as though my son has been spared.

All this has set me thinking about the anguish God must have experienced when He gave up his Son. On the drive to North Carolina, we listened to a CD of an address by Liz Curtis Higgs, recorded during the ACFW meeting. Liz pointed out that sometimes our writing has to have an edge to it, perhaps make readers uncomfortable, and that often this edge in really good writing comes from having experienced the same emotions as our characters. I've been thinking about that a lot. And now, when I read John 3:16, I have a better idea of what it took for God to give his Son.

May your writing convey emotions that will draw your readers closer to God, who loved us enough to send his Son.