Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Truly Inspired Writing - Clemons

Ever hear someone say, “Wow! that writing is truly inspired.” I have. I’ve probably said it dozens of times myself. But where does inspiration come from? Does a lightning bolt strike the author with a thousand kilowatts of electrical creativity? Is it the proverbial light bulb coming on over the head? Eureka! I have found it! Where do great novelists get their ideas?

Some would say the best writing comes from an author’s own experience, but did Hemmingway enlist in the Spanish rebellion to write For Whom The Bell Tolls; what dustbowl of poverty did Steinbeck experience before he penned The Grapes of Wrath, or what abyss of insanity did Kesey fall into before he could create One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? There must be dozens of ways authors find inspiration. It could be as simple as formulating the right mix: combine some catastrophic experience with a modicum of troubling thought, throw in some spicy romance, add a little heart-thumping suspense and a dash of creative imagination, bake it in the oven for several months at 375 degrees and out pops a good story.

I’m sure that’s how it is for some, but for others, it’s a bit more complex. I know because I recently gave an interview and was asked, “Where do you get the ideas for your stories?” I was quick to respond. “I don’t know; I think they come by inspiration.” Then I proceeded to tell the interviewer how the idea for each book I’ve written came while I was still involved with writing its predecessor. I believe God put the idea into my head the way he gave words to His gospel writers and prophets—but try explaining that to the media without sounding pompous or delusional.

To truly believe our writing is inspired gives our writing purpose, but it’s also dangerous because it tends to set one up for a fall. There’s that little thing called pride we have to worry about—boastful and vain imaginations. That’s why I begin each morning on my knees asking that God allow me to be the pen in His hand, and that He allow His Holy Spirit to flow through me like ink so the words I write will be His, and not my own. If I take scripture to mean what it says, and I do, then I have to believe my writing is truly inspired. “If any one of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men liberally...and it shall be given him.” —James 1:5.

I like Webster’s definition of inspiration: “A divine influence directly and immediately exerted upon the mind or soul.” Works for me. It may seem strange coming from someone whose first three books have accumulated five awards, but I don’t think I have a creative bone in my body. I struggle every time I sit down to write. I look at that big blank screen and say, “now what?” I feel intimidated and inadequate and so unworthy. But somehow God always gives me what I need, when I need it most, and He does it each and every time I ask.

So now I’m in the process of researching my fifth novel and moving forward to develop the idea I was given while I was still writing Angel in the Alley, released just last month. And once again I believe God has given me the story He wants me to write.

I can’t speak for Hemmingway, Dickens or Kesey, but I do know where my inspiration comes from, and it isn’t from my own personal experience or creative genius. Anything good I have to offer comes from God. I like the way songwriter Robin Marks puts it when he sings, “All For Jesus”:

All of my
Ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these, into Your hands

Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am, and have,
And ever hope to be.

Wow! Now that writing is truly inspired!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Margaret Avison (1918 - 2007) - Martin

It saddened an otherwise glorious day for me, when I learned that Margaret Avison had died. She is one of Canada’s most-revered poets, and she leaves a significant literary legacy. Why is sadness our first response when someone of deep faith in our Lord and Saviour goes to her reward? In this case it was on July 31st that she died at the age of 89.

Those who have met her will understand when I say, Margaret Avison had a presence. You somehow knew that she is one of the greats, despite her self-deprecating sense of humour. She had a knowing confidence in her work that couldn’t be undermined. It’s true, her poetry presents challenges for the reader, and yet there’s usually a way in. She gained the respect of the literary elite, and yet without apology her poems often express her faith in Christ.

Although I’d read her poems from time to time, my first in-depth exposure was when I bought No Time (1989) which was soon to win the Governor General’s Award — her second Governor General’s Award. I was later able to interact with her poetry on a deeper level when I began writing reviews. After writing of her Griffin Prize winning collection Concrete and Wild Carrot for Faith Today, I was thankful to be able to meet her at Write! Toronto in November 2003. A year later I interviewed her at the same event. That interview, perhaps the last she ever gave, was adapted for the American journal Image. Since then, I reviewed her final collection, Momentary Dark (2006), for Image as well.

Friends of The Word Guild will be pleased to know that winning the Leslie K. Tarr Award — despite her numerous other honours — was particularly meaningful to Avison, according to her friend and “primary sensitive reader” Joan Eichner.

How might she have seen this change from life to death? She often wrote on the subject. In No Time there’s a cycle of ten poems concerning the death of a friend. In Concrete and Wild Carrot her poem “The Whole Story” looks into the tomb housing the corpse of Christ, before she turns to the glory, the peace and to the “wonder, readiness, simplicity, / given.” Readiness for what?

She concludes a poem in Momentary Dark about her great-great-grandfather,
“My memory is
faulty now and he is
long in the earth, readying for
the final harvest.”

There’s no doubt for those who knew her, or for those who know her work, that she was confident of where she was heading. “Her death was very peaceful,” Joan Eichner told me by e-mail, “and she wanted to be with her Lord”.

We still dwell in the momentary dark, but she has moved on into the light.

D.S. Martin is the author of So The Moon Would Not be Swallowed (Rubicon 2007) which is available through his web site:

Monday, August 27, 2007

Waiting - Grove

So I made this decision. Suddenly and without warning I changed careers. It happened one day when the Evaluation Consultant on my previous job asked me what I was going to do once my contract was finished.

Without hesitation I replied, "I'm going to write books." There were three people in the room -me, my boss, and the consultant. We all looked startled. I had said something I had never meant to say, didn't know I could say. I'm going to write books.

Fine and dandy, that. Now, what was I going to write? At the time I was developing and writing a strength based program. It made sense that I could turn my expertise in that area into a self help book. Great! While the idea of writing was still stunning, at least now I had an inkling of a plan.

A few weeks later I walked into a clergy conference (my husband is a pastor) that I did not really want to be at. In fact, I could not see what the purpose was for us being there. Then I ran smack into the chief editor of Nazarene Publishing House. It turned out he was a lovely man to chat with. When I mentioned my book he seemed very interested. He asked me several, rapid fire questions about the book. I offered concise, rapid fire answers. He smiled and asked me to send him a book proposal.

Book proposal? What the heck is that? "Uh, yes, I will get that right to you, sir!" I said.
I did some serious research (a wonderful skill that we should all take time to develop is the ability to research - it is amazing to be able to find answers to questions and be confident that you have looked in the right places). I wrote a proposal and sent it to his personal e-mail - ON TIME! He promptly wrote back that he received it and would send it on to the director with his endorsement.

That was May 1. I am still waiting. I recently checked my handy 2007 edition of The Christian Writers Market. It tells me that Beacon Hill Press (which is a division of Nazarene Publishing House) takes up to five months to respond to proposals.

I may not hear anything until November.

I hate waiting.

More than that, I am not good at waiting. It is a skill I have yet to acquire, learn, and appreciate. I observe patience with impatience.

But, I wait.

What choice do I have?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Dormancy - Schneider

One of my joys in life is gardening. I love watching the plants sprout during the spring, monitoring their growth through the early summer weeks, and then watching colour burst forth around my yard.

I've wanted clematis for close to ten years, but never had a good place to plant one. Our current home not only has a sunny area close to the house, but also has a climbing trellis already put in place. Small problem that I'm in northern Alberta where clematis may or may not survive the winter. I just had to try. I bought a couple of plants and carefully put them in place.

However, the author of the gardening book said not to be surprised if the clematis seems to go dormant after being transplanted. These plants apparently really don't like changing location, and so they may just quit doing any visible growth for as long as a year after the transplant. The thought occurred to me, "Gardening isn't for impatient souls."

The same could be said for creativity. I am prone to fits of impatience, particularly when life forces my writing into dormancy. For example, any time my military engineer husband gets sent overseas to oversee constructing another peacekeeper camp, little writing gets done in his absence. On a smaller scale, if one of my children comes down with the flu, the computer is neglected while I tend to the young one's needs, and nurture myself by indulging in a good book or some sewing in between runs for ginger ale and crackers. But the creative life is not for the impatient. As I keep reminding myself, it's about the process, not the product. I nurture my gift, I express it in the little ways which "work" right now, and one of these days, the plant will start to grow again.

This summer marks the second full year the clematis has been in place, and it's more than I hoped for. Deep purple flowers almost entirely hid the green foliage. It's proof that patience (and adequate watering)has its rewards.

I took a picture of those blooms to post beside my computer as reminder on those days when life won't let me write, or when the writing seems like a bunch of dead twiggy things sticking out of the dirt. Patience. The bloom will come again.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Prisms - Laycock

Many years ago my brother worked in a copper mine. He worked above ground most of the time, but every now and then had to go below. Each time he would bring up beautiful rocks – geodes and sparkling quartz formations that delighted me when he brought them home. One day he brought me a natural prism. It was a piece of quartz, a bit opaque and about two inches high, smooth on three sides, but not polished. My brother showed me how to hold it up to the light so that faint gleams of colour could appear inside it.

I have that tiny prism on my desk and it has become a symbol of my ministry. The three sides represent writing, speaking and teaching. The base is Christ.

I also have a shining diamond shaped crystal hanging in the window that is polished and many faceted. When the light strikes it, colours shoot out, painting bright rainbows all over the room. It too has become a symbol of my ministry and the work required to make rainbows.

When I look at those two prisms, the one that is rough and dull, the other that is clear and shining, I am reminded that I must work at my craft so that God’s light can burst through. My first drafts are like the natural prism – when I look at it I see the prism itself, but not the light; the colours are there, but they are hidden, trapped inside. I have to fashion and polish the facets – the plot, the characters, the themes, the very paragraphs and words – to such an extent that I, as the author, am unseen. Then only the light will be seen by the world.

God does the same with my life, if I’ll let Him. The more I move into His presence, the more he polishes and perfects me. The more I open up my heart and mind to Him, the more He transforms me. In the end, I’ll be like a clear prism that no one will see. They’ll just see His light. Some day.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

My Letter to the Editor, Part 2 – Lindquist

Last time I blogged here (July 24th), I told the story of writing a letter to the editor when I was twelve years old. If you haven’t read that blog yet, please go here and read it before you read today’s blog, which tells the “rest of the story."

Years passed, and I completely forgot about my letter to the editor. For some reason I hadn’t even saved a copy of it, or if I had, I lost it along the way.

Flash forward to 1998.

My mother, now in her late 80's, was living in a nursing home. Multi-infarct dementia (loss of memory from a series of small strokes) had taken a toll and she had recently lost a few items, including a diamond necklace she had worn for years. I was concerned she might lose something that was important, such as her birth certificate. So one day while she was sleeping, I went through her purse to see if there was anything in it that needed to be put in a safe place.

In the back of her wallet was a small section for cards and photos, so I carefully took out the items: a few pictures, some cards, mostly expired, and, tucked away behind one of the pictures, a newspaper clipping.

I expected to find an obituary, either that of my father, who had died in 1992, or another relative. Instead, folded and yellowed, I found my letter to the editor. Across the top was written, in my mother’s handwriting, “Nancy wrote this.”

She must have had that clipping for almost 40 years, and yet she'd never said one word about it to me!

I'll never know if it played a role in her life, but I do know that after years of being puzzled and somewhat disparaging about my faith, she made a commitment to God after she had a slight heart attack when she was in her seventies, and that she affirmed it before her death in January of 2000.

Finding that clipping in my mother’s purse reminded me that if our desire is to serve God, and we obey the promptings in our heart, no matter how crazy they might seem, he will ensure that they aren’t wasted.

N. J. Lindquist

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Next? - Harris

As I hand two bulky Express Post envelopes to the young woman at the Canada Post counter, I know my last excuse for not turning those ideas scribbled on bits of paper all over my desk (and my last excuse for not cleaning my desk) is gone. Maybe just in time.

The date on the envelopes tell the story: Summer is almost over. I will have to focus completely on my work to meet my goal of getting a dozen queries out to editors before September.

Until today, this hot rainless summer has been filled with writing that Arts Grant funding proposal for my next book. There hasn't been much time for a bike ride; less time for visits to the pool or the lake; and certainly no time to write convincing queries to editors.

While I've been frustrated by the detailed work plan, the budgeting, and ALL THAT PHOTOCOPYING, my proposal excused me from deciding which editor, which publication, which project to begin with.

But now, I have no excuses. And I'm exhausted after pressing those portfolios into the envelopes. Right now, I have no idea which project I'll tackle first. And I feel pressed because I know I have too many project ideas and too little time to write them up.

Hoping to get an inspiration, I buy a coffee and sit down behind a table stacked with locally grown carrots, beans, and tomatoes. The vegetables inspire me, but not to write.

In a few minutes I'm walking home with all the ingredients I need to make stew.

It's an eery night. Too quiet. I feel like I'm on the edge of the earth as I walk along the green strip and through the park. Some people would say there is calmness over this city, this night. They'd say it was a good thing. But I don't like this atmosphere. It seems too quiet, like time has stopped. I feel like I'm walking through a painting.

Still, it's a pretty scene at dusk. And, I'm thankful that it's cool enough for once to walk. The trees look a little greener and grass a little more lush on this overcast evening than they do in the bright sun. Big billowing clouds hang low like a gray blanket tent. Invisible birds chirp loudly. I can tell from their song that they expect rain.

I guess they are thanking their maker, in advance, for the coming feast of earthworms. Taking their cue, I begin to sing a little prayer.

In a moment or two, the quietness is no longer uncomfortable and I'm oblivious to what people living on the street might think of the woman walking down their sidewalk singing.

I feel the 'peace that passes all understanding' that was the topic of this Sunday's sermon. And I understand: I don't have to map out the steps myself. When I sit down at my desk tomorrow morning, I will ask Him what project to tackle first. He already knows the answer. But right now, I'm right on time for dinner.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Olave Baden Powell: Mother of Millions - Hird

Olave Baden Powell: Mother of Millions [Photo]
(previously published in the Deep Cove Crier)

One of the most loved and fondly remembered women of the past 100 years is Olave Baden Powell, founder of the worldwide Guiding movement. Girls and young women today often have few healthy models on which to base their life. One only has to think of the infamous rock star Madonna or the Royal "Fergie" to realize how much we need role models like Lady Baden Powell. Olave Baden Powell, who died in 1977, was a woman who loved and cared for millions, and in return was loved and cared for by millions. Olave energetically led a movement which now includes over 8 million Sparks, Brownies, Guides, and Pathfinders.

She was radically unselfish, always thinking of the other, always thinking of a way to serve her fellow human being. She and her husband Robert both believed that "happiness comes not from what we have but from what we give and what we share".[Photo]Lady Baden Powell was a wonderful example of what true Christianity is all about: loving God and loving your neighbour as yourself. One of the most distinctive things about Olave was her smile. Her smile was not that of politeness put on for an occasion but of honest to goodness enjoyment of what she was doing. It was a most infectious smile. People felt it quite impossible not to give an answering grin when they met her sparkling eyes and smiling mouth face to face.

Though raised in an affluent upper class home, Olave did not find life to be always easy. Her father Harold Soames was a restless artist who uprooted his family six times in nine short years, and was often away painting overseas. The affluent life of leisure bored Olave and left her longing to do something useful with her life. But even her small effort at amusing and teaching handicapped boys was frowned upon by her family, because it interfered with her daily schedule of tennis and squash.

Her parents had initial feelings of reluctance over Olave marrying a man more than thirty years older than her. But when her mother Katherine found out that Olave intended to join the Guides and to throw her lot in with "those wild girls", her mother was horrified. The name "Girl Guide" was anathema to her mother. Sadly she never overcame her dislike of Olave's work, even going to such lengths as running away and hiding if she thought Guides were about to appear. Olave was never allowed to be in Guide Uniform in her mother's presence. Her mother's resentment of Guiding was deeply hurtful to Olave, and drove a wedge between an otherwise close relationship.

Initially Olave was not greatly interested in Girl Guides, for she preferred to serve as a Lady Scout Master for a Boy Scout Troop in Ewhurst, England. When she first offered her services to the Girl Guides (at her husband's request), they turned her down because they felt that she was too young and inexperienced! But Olave believed that "... when God wants one to do something, He smooths away the difficulties in one's way." So she persisted and was so dedicated in organizing the Guides in Sussex that they elected Olave as Chief Commissioner for England, In the next 18 months, she recruited 2,840 Guide Commissioners, and organized every county in England! All this was accomplished despite the fact that 19 out of every 20 potential commissioners turned down her request.

"I do not think anyone ever realized," wrote Olave, "how deep and passionate was our love for each other." So when her husband Lord Baden Powell died at Nyeri, Kenya in 1941, Olave experienced his death as a terrible blow. She longed for nothing but death itself. For the first time in her courage seemed to desert her. Olave felt utterly alone and very restless. She wondered if she would ever find real contentment again. Fortunately her husband had left her four farewell letters that help her recover her peace of mind. She found that by throwing herself into caring for Guides and Scouts, her grief became manageable. Another great source of comfort to her was her personal faith.

Olave was a committed, churchgoer and a very God centered woman. "I thank God daily," wrote Olave, for the wonderful way in which His Divine Hand led us both (Robert and Olave) to come together ... How richly God blessed us both in giving us our work and each other."

Olave was very clear about the priority of the Guide and Scout promise to "do my duty to God" (love and serve God). As Olave's official biography put it, "she had traveled in most countries in the world and taken part in services in great Cathedrals as well as in small churches of many denominations, for "Duty to God" is the Guide's first Promise and this involves worship as well as service."

Olave also expressed her Christian commitment by serving as godmother to over 40 baptized children ... a duty she took very seriously. Olave wrote in her autobiography: If I have any message to leave, it is this: Believe in God. He guides and protects you all through life." My prayer is that the practical spirituality of Olave Baden Powell may inspire all of us, whether or not we are guides, to a deeper love of God and our neighbour.

The Reverend Ed Hird Rector, St. Simon's Church North Vancouver, BC
Anglican Coalition in Canada

Friday, August 17, 2007

Old Dogs: New Tricks - Lawrence

Things have gone a little awry in my writing life the last few weeks. My computer has been slowing down and showing signs of aging of late, and I was told that a new one would be coming my way in anticipation of my 70th birthday. This made me very happy but, knowing that new is not always without problems, I made haste to finish publishing my Family History Photo Book while I still had the computer with which I was familiar.

I now have my new computer (though I am still only 69); it is a lap-top and is red in colour. It is beautiful. However, as I suspected, it is presenting me with a few problems. First and foremost, my H.P. photo programme doesn’t work with the new Vista operating system and I am finding it difficult to get used to the Digital Image system that I now have.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, is, I’m sure, a familiar saying to most of us. However, I know that this is not true. Haven’t I just learned how to format my Family History Photo Book, upload it to and publish it to rave reviews from my family?

The difficulty I am having with the new photo system, I suspect, is not so much my inability to learn something new as my being unwilling to take the time and effort to do so. I liked the old H.P. programme; I was familiar with it and didn’t have to think too much about how to use it; I am like a child who has been given a beautiful new red balloon but blubbers over the loss of the blue one that burst.

When N.J. asked, in a recent e-mail, that TWG authors try to insert a photo of themselves alongside their blogs, it was one more reason for me to gripe at the shortcomings of my current Digital Image system. When this blog appears on August 17th, 2007, with or without a photo of the author, the reader will know whether I have mastered, at least to some extent, my new Digital Image programme.

God gives us gifts and, in order to receive them, we have to put down the ones we currently hold in our hands. We want the new but we don’t want to part with the old and familiar. I love my new computer but I do miss my H.P. photo programme—okay, enough already! I thank God, for my new computer and for the challenge it brings me to stretch my mind and learn something new.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Where to Write, Where to Write - Payne

Some days I have trouble sitting down to write because I can’t decide where the best place would be to stimulate my creative juices. I am blessed with several options, including my leather couch in the living room, my armchair in the sunroom, or my blue oversized chair in the office. In this summer season, my options can also include writing outdoors on the pool deck, or in a Muskoka chair overlooking the ravine, or on the low back chair on my front porch.

When the question was posed on The Word Guild discussion forum, I discovered that just as all writers are different, their writing places are as unique.

N.J. Lindquist likes to sit on her back deck, inside a tent with the netting closed. Her dog sits on the loveseat beside her. Stephanie Tombari taps away on her laptop late in the evening sitting on her bed with her husband out cold beside her. Patricia Paddey loves the freedom of her laptop. “It lets me write anywhere. And I do.”Janice Dick uses a little white Mac laptop at her desk in the balcony overlooking her living room. Andi Harris is content to sit on her living room futon (curved out just so from her constant use), laptop in front, side table with fruit juice or water, and a couple of clip boards.

Belinda Burston sits “in a dappled place beside a sturdy clump of silver birch--so lovely that I had to capture it with the eye of my camera. A canopy of leaf laden branches, danced above my head, while a breeze passed through them with a sigh. The electronic drone of an air conditioner added to the symphony of tweets, twitters, chirrups and soft coo-ing. Over my arms, warmed by the sun, the cool, silken veil of breeze flowed. I was ready to listen in the cool of this morning.”

Carolyn Wilker writes most often in her home office using pen or pencil and paper, which she takes with her whenever she goes away from home. Linda Hall writes “with pen and paper –actually medium point gel pens, the ultra-fine Sharpies are good, on back sides of paper (unlined), and I like to write with various colored sharpies - like orange or red. I write in half shorthand (which I used way back in the dark ages when they taught shorthand to journalism students). And I usually work in Starbucks.” Heather Kendall also writes “the old-fashioned way with pen and paper.” She needs to have a rough outline down on paper before she dares put it in the computer. Each writer and her writing space is unique.

Today, I plan to sit in my tent-trailer and open all the windows to let in the air without the bugs. It’ll provide the shade I need so I’m not roasting in the sun. It also offers a clear view of the blue sky with a smattering of puffy clouds in the distance. Now that I’ve picked my place to write, I actually need to do so. What to write, what to write?

Kimberley Payne

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

My Will Be Done
My Will Be Done
-an article previously published in the Deep Cove Crier
by the Rev. Ed Hird+

The only thing worse than not getting your own way is actually getting it! Being both successful and miserable is one of life's worst curses. You may remember the famous song "I Did It My Way". There is something inside all of us that wants to do things our own way, that doesn't like to be controlled by others. But getting my own way too often usually means winning the battle but losing the war, winning the argument but losing the intimacy, winning the contract but losing the friendship. It is legendary how many good business friendships have been sacrificed on the altar of corporate success.

All of us need close friendships, but too often our task orientation leaves us feeling detached. All of us, if married, need intimacy and vulnerability in our marriages, but our desire to "have our own space" can leave us feeling very empty and alone. All of us, if parents, want joyful, open relationships with our children, but our fear to "loosen the reins a bit" when appropriate can often drive them far away.
All of us want closeness and caring in our relationships, but our need to do it our way so often leaves us in the H.A.L.T. position (H.A.L.T. - hungry, angry, lonely or tired). At such times, we are particularly vulnerable to discouragement, to wondering what it's all about. We may be saying to ourselves, "why beat myself to be successful and accomplish all these objectives if there is no one to share it with at a really intimate, caring level?" At such a point we realize in the words of the old 1960's song that "Freedom Is Just Another Word For Nothing Left to Lose."

The Rev. Patrick Tomter said at a Vancouver conference that our fundamental enemy is fear (fear of losing control). This is why we tend to say "My will be done" instead of the alternative "Thy will be done".

Tomter believes that our mission in such situations is to identify the enemy (fear) and learn to embrace it, so that it becomes a tool for our growth. Embracing fear means to stop running from our fears and start accepting fear as part of ourselves. True friendships emerge when we finally accept the other just as they are, without preconditions or stipulations. To surrender our need for our own way is to finally stop, see and hear the other person for who they really are.

There is no greater gift than to be truly listened to by someone who truly accepts and cares for you. That is why people have always been so attracted to Jesus, even if they couldn't stand the church. They have sensed that here is a friend who truly understands, truly listens, and truly cares. Friendship is about giving our heart away to another. Friendship is about the willingness to not have our own way. Friendship is about being vulnerable enough to even let the one we love, hurt us without striking back.

That is what the world's most famous individual did as he hung on an executioner's cross in unspeakable agony and simultaneously said "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." If you feel led to pray the Lord's prayer this week, remember that to pray "Thy will be done" is both the death of the need to get your own way and the birth of a new level of friendship.
Friendship in life is our deepest need: Friendship with others, and with Jesus the Source of life.

My prayer is that those reading this article may experience a new depth and reality to their friendships in the days ahead.
The Rev. Ed Hird+
Rector, St. Simon's Church North Vancouver, BC
Anglican Coalition in Canada

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an overflowing stream - Meyer

My favorite author is Patricia Wentworth. She wrote her first book almost a century ago. Her genre was classic mystery similar in some ways to Agatha Christie (minus the formula plotting and cardboard cut-out characters). Patricia Wentworth knew how to write but more than that, she had a keen sense of justice. Although she would be considered by most to be a secular author, her main character, Miss Silver, went to church, read her Bible and spoke often of the intervention of “Providence.” By Mark Twain’s definition, the denouement is the “marryin’ and buryin’.” After finishing a Patricia Wentworth mystery, the reader is left with a satisfied feeling. The hero/heroine prevails (against all odds). The criminal is brought to justice. There is a happy ending.

Recent news here in Winnipeg was the conviction of a pedophile who had victimized two young boys. For his various crimes, Peter Whitmore was given concurrent sentences of life, 14 years, life, 14 years, two years, five years, two years, 10 years, five years, five years, 10 years, and 10 years. The lawyer for the crown said, “It ends here. It ends now with life in prison.” Having this guy locked away for a good long time is justice. It is a good resolution to this story.

That same week, just two hours away in Kenora, Ontario, an Anglican minister was sentenced three years for sexually abusing 3 young boys. Just 3 years; nothing else. He had been previously convicted of abusing 16 young boys and served four and a half years for those crimes. At that trail, he had pleaded guilty to 20 other counts – one count for each of 20 victims – but was not given additional time for those incidents. The sentence given to this pedophile is not justice. And knowing that it has taken upwards of 30 years for these crimes to be brought to trial, makes it all the more unjust. The devastating effects of child sexual abuse on families and on communities are very well documented.

In my upcoming book, Deep Waters, there is a clear sense of justice. Good triumphs over evil. The denouement is in classic “marryin’ and buryin’” style. Some might consider this too simplistic – perhaps naïve.

It has become fashionable in some circles to have evil triumph over good – this is considered good “literary” fiction – and a more “realistic” reflection of life. Those of you who have read my books know that I don’t shy away from difficult topics. Actually, the comment that I most often get is that my books are “real.” But they all have what would be deemed a “happy ending.” Maybe it’s because I’m a follower of Jesus. I know that, eventually, good will win out over evil. There will, in the end, be justice.

Maybe it’s because what I want most is to leave my readers with hope. All of us can have hope in this life, and the next, because of God’s extravagant love for us demonstrated through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

Monday, August 13, 2007

What About Miracles? - Shepherd

What are miracles and what purpose do they serve? Do miracles really happen today? I sometimes wonder if it is my belief in miracles that keeps me writing. I am not thinking of the miracle that first comes to mind for a writer – that a publisher is actually willing to accept and manuscript and work with the author and turn it into a book. No, I am thinking about the miracle that people actually read what we have written and somehow the Holy Spirit uses it for their benefit, to encourage, comfort, challenge or edify them.

Yet why should that surprise us? How many times have we been impacted profoundly by books or articles we have read? I remember how often, in reading the books by my favourite author, Catherine Marshall, I would slip almost unconsciously from reading into praying. What she said just opened the doors of communication with the Lord for me.

Then, I think how I shared the anguish of Joni as she told her story of coming to terms with her paralysis and how after our son’s accident I understood more profoundly than I could have imagined what she said. The miracle was that she would have the courage to give voice to experiences that I could not yet express.

What then is a miracle? Is it some evidence that God is at work? Is it just a coincidence of timing? Why do we want miracles?

I think the Bible encourages us to believe in miracles when it says, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” He is working all things for our good. In some of the situations we create for ourselves, nothing but a miracle could save us.

Sometimes physical phenomena explain what we call miracles. The Wesleyan commentary gives offers a possible scientific explanation for the miracle of the Israelites crossing the Jordan in the Old Testament. It says that earthquakes have at times blocked the water of the Jordan River. Perhaps the Lord used such a natural phenomenon for His purposes, in what we call a miracle.

In recent years we have desperately wanted a miracle. People ask us if our son, John will remain a quadriplegic for the rest of his life. Our answer usually is, “Barring a miracle, it looks that way. But we believe in miracles.”

Once, while John was in the hospital in Burlington, Vermont, we focused our prayers specifically on a miracle of healing for him. A friend sensed a firm conviction that she was to come and pray with John, specifically for his healing. She usually abhors peculiar supernatural manifestations. She came to talk to us, obviously troubled by her conviction.

Before talking to John, she needed reassurance we were comfortable with her praying for his healing. Over lunch, Bev told us how her sleep was disrupted by this growing conviction that she was to come and to lay her hands on John and pray for his healing. To do so was entirely out of character for her, but she could not escape the compulsion.

Her biggest fear was, “What if I do this and nothing happens?” “Will it destroy John’s faith?” The risks were high.

After our discussion, we prayed for the Lord to guide us. We entered John’s room apprehensively, not really sure what to do next. Hesitantly, Bev told John about her conviction. She wanted to pray for his healing. Would he be willing? John agreed. As we gathered around the bed, Bev prayed, laying her hands on his back and legs. It was a simple prayer, but we sensed the Lord’s presence with us. No visible changes occurred in John.

The next day, Bev called. A vivid vision awakened her several times during the night. A large banner floating across the sky said, “You have been obedient. I have heard your prayer. John will walk again.” She knew she must call and give John that message.

Today, five years later, John is still a quadriplegic in a wheel-chair. I believe one day he will walk again. It may not be until in Heaven he rises from his chair to be embraced by the Saviour.

In any case, he is a miracle. He has resumed an altered but normal life. He completed his studies at Harvard Business School, where he left off at the time of the accident. He does certain things a different way. He mentors other victims of spinal cord injuries. God uses him to bless others, through their prayers for him. We are blessed by his courage and fortitude.

What is a miracle? Would John’s life reflect more of a miracle if he again walked and used his hands? Miracles do not highlight what we do, but what God does. God’s miraculous grace is sufficient for John whatever his physical situation.

We have seen God’s grace in answering many prayers about John. One of John’s miracles is that those who pray for him, in the process, draw nearer to God, bringing their requests for John. How beautiful is that! Is it a miracle?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Freelance Book Doctor - Lear

We've invited Krysia Lear to be a guest blogger today. While not technically an author, Krysia has worked with a number of books.

In my first year of editing, I worked for a denominational magazine as a mechanic correcting spelling, punctuation and grammar - the mechanics of writing.

That intensified my training as a copy editor.

Subsequently, I've been a newsletter editor, a magazine editor, and a book editor, as well as a journalist and business writer. Today I'm a freelance editor/ book doctor who wants to do some PR for my "tribe."

Let's talk myths and misunderstandings.

Not all editors work for magazines, websites, or book publishers. Not all editors commission articles or books. Breaking that news to an aspiring author at a writers' conference isn't always easy.

But freelance editors are writers' ally. We work with you to make your book, article, website, manual, or (fill in the blank ______) clearer, more compelling, more informative or more entertaining. And more publishable. We even help you free ideas locked in the recesses of your inner writer.

We advocate for your reader and provide an objective view of the work, along with a knowledge of industry expectations.

We don't set out to slash your manuscript with a red pen, leaving "blood on the floor" as one friend wailed. Editors are on your side. We want you to realize your vision. We enjoy good ideas, good thinking, and good writing.

And let's be honest. No matter what colour we use or how few changes we made, wouldn't the result always be disconcerting?

I'll admit that we can be - well - "through." "Direct" is another possibility. But thankfully some writers appreciate that. A client wrote about me to a mutual friend saying, "I just like her polite critical analysis."

Nor do editors only hunt for misplaced commas and factual errors. Editors mechanics, sort out problems with organization, flow, clarity, consistency readability, style and formatting.

Krysia Lear
The Editorial Suite

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Publishing — Poverty or Passion? - Wright

Last Wednesday I received copies of my first novel—The Lightning File. Exciting. Admittedly, not as exciting as seeing my first non-fiction book in print, but still quite a rush. My daughter’s family celebrated last night with an ice cream cake in my honour. My granddaughters are inordinately proud. And sales during this first week have been brisk. I’ve even had a reading at a local literary festival.

But inevitably reality sets in. It did yesterday. The novel is self-published and I haven’t yet paid the press invoice. In order to keep accurate records for Revenue Canada I had to finalize my cost-price per copy.

Since this is a literary litmus test, I only printed 1000 copies. First I added up the cost of hiring an editor, having the cover designed, the very minimal costs of a friendly publisher and the cost of the printer. Then I added a very modest 1200 for promotion. Next I took off 50 copies for reviewers, promotion, etc plus 50 copies that will be returned damaged from bookstores. At this rate each book cost $8.95. Since it sells for $19.95 that leaves me a profit of $11.00 per book. Sounds wonderful.

But the reality gets darker. If I offer bookstores a 40% discount I’ll never break even. I can’t afford to even think of offering a distributor 60% off—if one could even be found. If I sell all the books myself I’ll have to sell over 700 copies to break even. However, I’ve been offering them at a pre-publication discount until Sept. 15th so that eats further into my bottom line. (My figures may be flawed since I seem to be operating with less grey cells than usual.)

None of this takes into consideration travel expenses to go to book signings or show up at literary events. It certainly doesn’t bear any relationship to the labour that went into the writing and revision. Will I earn five cents an hour? No, maybe one cent.

Then why publish? Why not get a real job? Is it rooted in some dark masochistic drive? Perhaps it is an ego thing. To see one’s name in print? To become a big cheese in a tiny pond.

Or, maybe my drive to publish is rooted in hope, the hope that a small print run will spark a larger demand, perhaps catch the eye of one of the “real” publishers who turned down my oeuvre. Or maybe CBC will option it for television. I do have hope, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Why write? There’s a feeling of deep satisfaction from crafting ideas into sentences and paragraphs and chapters. The thrill, the joy, when words click, characters take shape and begin to live.

Besides that I write with the desire to bless others. Even a few. To entertain, yes, but more to make someone think about Christian values. Values such as commitment to marriage in the face of frustration and sexual temptation. Forgiveness. How to handle doubts. The need to think through issues of terrorism and freedom. The importance of valuing other cultures even when those cultures seem to produce too many terrorists.

And so I cast my bread upon the waters and pray that someone will be blessed.

Eric E. Wright

Eric's website

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Weed It and Reap - Hovsepian

Someone has said: “It is not enough for a gardener to love flowers; he must also hate weeds.”

When my grandfather died about 10 years ago, I took over the small garden outside my grandparents' home because my grandmother was physically unable to tend to it herself. New to gardening, I hated weeds with a passion! I would see my poor little flowers being choked and smothered and I just wanted to yank out those nasty intruders and shake them and… well, some of them were too hard so I just left them there. It was too much effort. I figured I’d have to settle for a less-than-perfect garden. Maybe if my flowers turned out really nice, people wouldn't notice my weeds!

I'm kidding, but sometimes it does seem easier to ignore weeds. When I wasn't strong enough to pull out huge weeds with deep roots, I had to break the soil around them and dig them out... or ask someone stronger than me to pull them out.

Our lives are like gardens in God’s kingdom, which He has given us to tend. The more beautiful His gardens are, the more attractive and inviting His kingdom will be to others. But if our gardens only grow weeds, the Bible says they're only good for being burned.

As we try to grow fragrant flowers and the fruit of the Spirit, Satan comes along and plants temptations and sin in our lives. What do we do about it? If we pull out weeds immediately by resisting temptation, we keep our gardens, our lives, pure. However, if we reason and say, “Aww, I’ll fix that up tomorrow or next week,” the weeds will grow taller and bigger and their roots will settle in deeper into the soil of our hearts.

Leave weeds in long enough and, when we finally decide it’s time to pull them out, they may be harder work than we thought, and either we’ll give up and leave them there or allow ourselves to be broken in order to extract them.

Weeding isn’t the only thing involved in gardening, though. Plants need sunlight and water. We need to spend time in the presence of our Heavenly Father and we also need to nourish ourselves spiritually by reading His Word.

Neglecting a flower garden is a shame. But it’s not nearly as horrible as how a life’s garden could turn out if neglected! Take a look at your spiritual garden. Weed it and you will reap!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Daddy's Champion - Austin

Many recent efforts to write have seemed to go nowhere. Other projects are getting done, but the magic of creating with words seems elusive. Yet several things have caused me to reflect deeply on God’s unconditional love.

There is one word-picture that has played in the back of my mind for a number of years. It is not a flattering word-picture. A part of me would rather I didn’t fit it. Yet another part of me embraces the picture, and runs to the Father, the Daddy, for a hug. I trust this will resonate for at least a few readers – especially in those times when you feel unlovable.

Daddy’s Champion

“Johnny’s walking!” Mommy brushed hair away from her damp forehead as she gave Daddy a hug.

Daddy feels as proud as if he had carried this baby for nine months; had gotten out of bed every time Johnny cried, and changed every diaper. I mean – he’s a regular guy. While his wife was feeling like a blimp and complaining about backaches, he was strutting around with a Look what I did smirk. He’s a regular guy in other ways as well. He has changed diapers a half dozen times, and he has gotten out of bed for Johnny once or twice.

Johnny’s diaper sags and a grin puffs chubby cheeks. “Unh. Unh,” he crows as he holds out his arms to Daddy.

Daddy squats on one knee, making ‘manly’ noises. For some reason, Mommy doesn’t share his delight in teaching Johnny to belch.

Mommy leans against the counter, threatening with a wet dishrag. But she’s beaming – although she has changed fourteen diapers today, and scraped the peas off the floor, and done laundry, and made supper, and read a story six times, so she’s a little frayed around the edges.

Johnny rocks back and forth, straining to reach Daddy. His diaper rocks the most, heavy and sagging, compliments of the last three bottles of juice.

A foot moves. A clumsy little body lurches forward. A startled expression plays across a chubby face. Daddy cheers so loud the cat runs and hides. Johnny plops down on his diaper.

Daddy’s breath catches. His eyes fill with tears. He bites his lip and turns guiltily away from his wife’s gaze.

Mommy leans forward as the cloth falls from her fingers. She knows Daddy feels a pain that squeezes his chest so tight he can’t breath. She knows the name for his pain is LOVE. But he’s a man. He thinks he’s not supposed to cry. And this love snuck up on him. It caught him when he wasn’t looking.

She bends and picks up the dishcloth, smiling through her own tears. She will protect Daddy’s secret.

Daddy grabs Johnny and hugs him so tight that he gasps a protest. Little arms wrap around his neck and squeeze back fiercely. A slobbery kiss mingles with the tears wetting Daddy’s cheek.

A tell-tale wetness on Daddy’s arm and a certain distinctive odour bring a comic distortion to Daddy’s face.

“What d’you think, Champ? Do we need to call Mommy or will a clumsy old Dad do?"

Johnny clings to Daddy’s neck.

Mommy hears a burp and Daddy’s laugh from the bathroom. “Why, that was almost man-sized. And oooo. . . what’s this?”

Mommy can picture Daddy’s face just from his tone.

“You’ve been saving up all week just for Daddy? Whoo-ee. What a stinky-pants you are. How come we love a guy like you? ... Hey! Don’t get your feet in it.”

Mommy sneaks to the bathroom door and stands silently laughing, tears streaming down her face.

Johnny is blissfully unaware that a dirty diaper makes him less cuddleable. He just knows it is uncomfortable, in a squishy, burning way, and there is a hug after the cleanup. For Johnny, that is enough. He doesn’t analyze love. He simply basks in it. And he gives love in total abandon. Strangling hugs and juicy kisses can bring Daddy to tears in seconds. Johnny does not know he holds unique power over this man who has never learned to cry. He can’t earn Daddy’s love, yet somehow, he draws love from depths Daddy doesn’t even know exist.

Like most fathers, Daddy has sometimes interpreted certain penetrating odours as meaning, Johnny, go find Mommy, rather than, Johnny, you’re my very own special treasure and I love you.

But God never turns his back when something smells in your life or mine. He reaches out a hand to lift us. He wipes tears away. He grabs us in His strong arms and hugs us when we don’t feel very lovable.

He sometimes whispers, I love you, like the most special secret in the world. At times He shouts, I LOVE YOU! like He wants the whole world to know. He cheers when we get up one more time than we fall down, and take one more step towards Him.

Have you ever felt love that takes your whole inner being for a few seconds and squeezes it? It is love that literally aches. Can you imagine sustaining that love for eternity? Then you have a glimpse of the scope of God’s love for you.

My adult pride chases several self-portraits. None of them show a toddler with a dragging diaper. But somewhere behind the wishful thinking, a little child hides with some rude smells in his life. He has grown past the innocence of infancy. He is afraid of a scolding. He has trouble believing anyone could really love him. So he hides. But he is starving for a hug, while a Father aches with love and stands with open arms. Once in a while, he is smart enough to run into those arms.

Brian Austin

Monday, August 06, 2007

In Praise of Conflict - Schneider

A writer friend recently critiqued a proposal I'd written. "Written" is actually far too mild a word for what I did. I sweated. I dreamed. I struggled. I did everything I knew to do to make this the proposal that would return me to the ranks of the published.

Wouldn't you know it, her wise counsel showed me some major holes in my story line. What was I missing? Conflict.

Let me tell you this about me -- I hate conflict. I'll do just about anything, short of endangering my children, to avoid conflict. And, to be truthful, I thought I'd done a pretty good job of putting conflict in my story.

But my friend is right. There's not enough of it yet.

For those of us who are novelists, conflict is the engine that keeps a story moving. Readers aren't consciously aware of this, but if the conflict sags, they're likely to put the book down and go on to something else.

As I've wrestled with this thought this week, I've seen a parallel in my own life. I thought I'd been through the wringer writing that proposal. Evidently, though, I hadn't struggled enough. I need to push myself further, force myself beyond my innate avoidance of difficult situations, and push my characters where they need to go to make the story all it can be.

Yes, I'd prefer a relaxing afternoon on my deck swing, with a cool glass of iced tea, but there's no story in that, is there?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Author, it's 9:00 a.m. Bookstore's open. Do you know where your books are? - O'Leary

You might be surprised ...

A reader wrote me at one of my other blogs, the Post-Darwinist to tell me that someone in Pasadena, California, angered by biochemist Mike Behe's new book, Edge of Evolution, decided to "reshelve" the book where she thought it should be. Of course, book-savvy readers wrote in to point out that Misshelver, as I dubbed her, was only creating work and trouble for others.

She had somehow got it into her head that the book "isn't science" and that it was her job to fix that. On the contrary, when I went next day to my local big bookstore to buy a copy, I found that Edge of Evolution was one of the relatively few science books in the science section.

Much of the section was speculation about the past and the future, how mind can come from matter or religion and morality from squabbling apes. And so forth. That is not science, it's magic.

Behe's book, which I had already read and reviewed, sticks to the facts of biochemistry in assessing what Darwinian evolution has and has not done in the long war between the human blood cell and the parasite that causes malaria.

The facts of biochemistry are not good news for Darwinism. That's remarkable news in view of the fact that so much of the speculation about religion and morality in the science section riffs off it, as we demonstrate in The Spiritual Brain. (Indeed, I have elsewhere referred to the busload of cranks, prophesying in Darwin's name. Sending that stuff up is fun, actually, but I wish it did not take up so much of the "science" section.

Anyway, if you are an author who writes about a controversial topic, be alert for Misshelver's helpful little brownies, hiding your books by pretending to put them in the "right" places. If you are a reader trying to buy such a book, pay attention when the clerk says "But the computer shows that there are four copies in inventory ... " You and the clerk may eventually find all four of them in the same out-of-the-way place, courtesy of someone wishing to "make a statement." Yawn.

Anyway, here are some other stories I wrote recently:

More surprising information from neurosurgeon Mike Egnor's caseload about how people can manage with greatly reduced brains.

Psychiatrist Jeffrey M. Schwartz on why The Spiritual Brain is different from your average book condemning materialism

Alexander Solzhenitsyn on fear of death

Review of Richard Weikart's controversial From Darwin to Hitler

Review of Frank Tipler's contrarian The Physics of Christianity

Earth to Jason Rosenhouse: People who doze gravel at a steep angle to pay your salary do not despise ID.

O'Leary visits a Toronto bookstore and finds that Edge of Evolution is a rare example of actual science in the science section.

The contented ignorance of the modern atheist - not like his predecessors

Instant sanity moment

More from historian Alister McGrath on the twilight of atheism.

Recent polls relevant to the intelligent design controversy - what do they really show?

It's too bad if we have to admit that we really don't have a good theory of how evolution happens, but apparently we really don't.

A physicist recommends some fun online "evolution" games.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

It’s A Matter of Perspective - Clemons

I don’t claim to know how others think, but if I took a poll of authors, when it came to the question of book sales, I’m pretty sure most would say, “They’re never enough.” We start out unpublished neophytes crying: “Oh Lord, if I could only be published, then I’d be happy.” We pray, we weep, we persevere, and comes that glorious day our first book hits the market and we, in our naiveté, think we’ve made it, but no one has heard of us, and sales are disappointingly slow. If we’re energetic and savvy and stick with it, somewhere along the way, we get to the point where things really start to move, but not fast enough. That’s where I am now. I just released my fourth book, “Angel in the Alley,” and my distributor called to say the third largest secular chain in the US, Books-A-Million, ordered a 1,000 copies, and I said, “Great, but what about...” I suspect when they tell me I’ve sold a million copies of some future book, I’ll wonder why I haven’t sold two.

What about recognition? At the launch of “Angel in the Alley,” I met a man who told me he didn’t read fiction. He was there because his wife had bought a previous book, “These Little Ones.” When she couldn’t stop raving about it he decided to pick it up, and then couldn’t put it down. He asked if I’d written anything else. When I said I’d written two others, he ended up buying all four.

But wait, it gets better. A few days ago I was in town and chanced to meet him again. He told me he’d finished the new book and was enthralled. Standing beside him were his two teenage daughters and one of them piped up, “I read it too. I thought it was fantastic. Now I’m reading, ‘Above the Stars.’” Then her sister chimed in and said, “I read all four.”

“All four,” I questioned. “How long did that take?”

“Four days,” she said. “I read one a day. Once I started I couldn’t stop until I finished.”

And yesterday I received an e-mail from someone who said, and I quote, “I just finished ‘Angel in the Alley.’ I think it’s your best writing yet! It’s really good!”

Now, you’d think with compliments like that, I’d be higher than a kite. And I was, for a minute. Then I went home and started having computer problems and had to go all the way back to town grumbling about how I didn’t have time for interruptions and hadn’t sold enough books to afford a new computer. I was in a huff when I entered the store, and I rushed to get out, but I tried to be polite while conversing with the sales lady at the counter. I inquired about Bob (not his real name), who also worked there. I mentioned I hadn’t seen him in awhile.

“Oh, he’s on sick leave,” she said.

I nodded, only half listening as I pulled my wallet from my pocket and asked how he was doing.

“He has cancer. He went to the doctor about a lump under his arm and they discovered it was malignant and scheduled him for immediate surgery. By the time the tumor was removed there was little muscle left so they had to amputate his arm.”

I stopped, credit card suspended in air. I’d seen Bob only a few weeks before and he looked perfectly fine. “Well I hope they got it all,” I said, laying the card down. “Better to lose an arm than your life.”

She choked, her eyes filling with water. “They didn’t,” she said. “It’s already in his lungs, his stomach and his kidneys. He’s only got a few months to live.”

Talk about a reality check. I’d known Bob for quite some time. We’d talked about hardware and software, networks and peripherals, but not once had I ever talked to him about his need for a Savior. All my angst over my computer troubles, or not selling enough books, flew right out the window. I was reminded of an age old adage.

“I complained that I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”

Sometimes it helps to look at things from a different perspective.

God bless you, Bob. I’m praying for you. For your sake, as well as for mine, I hope it’s not too late.

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