Thursday, March 27, 2008


As cliché as this sounds, my last week held within its grasp both good news and bad news.

Being a part of a church body has its privileges. It helps to build a circle of friends with like spiritual interests and, for the most part, similar lifestyles. It’s a great place for kids to mingle with each other. It is also a place where everyone will ask you to be a part of this, that, or the other. My contribution involves participation in the choir, which includes extra time on Wednesday and Sunday in preparation for upcoming services.

Two months ago, the choir members were asked to audition so the Choir director would know where to place people. Being the dutiful member that I am, I signed up and gave an audition, singing a song and reading an excerpt from the script. At the time I specifically said I didn’t want anything big. I was rewarded with one of the four leading roles. I remember thinking: Oh Lord, what have I done? I can’t possibly do this. I’ve got a novel I want to start. I’ve got work. I’ve got, I’ve got, I’ve got… I could have bowed out, made some lame excuse, and lived with the guilt. However, I sucked it up, told myself that I could handle it, and then proceeded to fulfill my obligation. After all, I did sign up.

After two months of preparation, which consumed precious hours of my time, the Easter weekend came. The choir put on three presentations—Friday, Saturday and Sunday. As a result of all the work, over fifty people made new, or fresh, commitments in their lives. One lady even wanted the autographs of all the leading characters (which made me feel a little strange, by the way).

So, the good news was that I finished a commitment I made over two months ago. I considered attaching a photo of me, but the head wrap made my ears stick out like Elliot Spitzer.

The bad news: I didn’t do any writing last week. With all of the final dress rehearsals, and the time spent at work or with family, there was nothing left to give.

As I thought about this posting, then, I wondered how I should feel about my involvement in the production. At first, I believed I would write about keeping priorities, and that writing should come first. But then, in light of the fifty-plus people with changed lives, wasn’t the sacrifice worth it? Why am I beating myself up for failing to write when I accomplished something good in the process?

Thinking about it now, I will still write about priorities. We all need to hold ourselves to the business of writing—working when we can, pushing ourselves more and more. Writing, however, shouldn’t become the end-all of end-alls. There has to be room for other things. Even the Marines have a set of core values: always faithful to God, Country, Family and the Corps. In this hierarchy, the Corps is fourth in line. As writers, we should do no less. While the business of writing is important, it can’t supersede our obligations to God or family. There should be times when it's okay not to write.

So, I've come to terms with no writing accomplishment last week. To get things cranked back up this week, though, I sat down to revise a short story, which I am sending out to Crimespree Magazine. We’ll see how that goes. I am also resuming my work on the novel. I had started chapter 6 two weeks ago. Hopefully, the time off won't delay getting back in the saddle (so to speak).

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Since my last posting, I’ve been wondering about what I would write next. While my novel is still progressing—Chapter 5 is now complete—there isn’t much to report. So, I won’t bore you with the trivial and banal, except to note that an inverse relationship appears to exist between the quantity of reading time and writing time. Normally, I can read a book in a week. With an increased emphasis on writing a novel, however, that pace has slowed to a crawl: three weeks. This last weekend, I finally finished Showdown by Ted Dekker. In the process, I came to a fresh discovery about writing, which I will share with you now.

Without being a spoiler, the one thing I will note is that Showdown is a 350-page symbolic story—one based upon certain events in the Bible. While the beginning of the book held my interest, the last half languished at best. The problem? Mr. Dekker's main audience consists of Christians, many of whom have sat in on more than one Sunday School discussion. While reading his book, I didn't have to wait until the end for the cliffhanger. Likewise, I knew the surprise before he finally revealed it. Here, then, is the lesson I learned: a book that starts out with a bang can quickly lose its power when readers know the story behind the story.

To be fair, I have often thought of writing a symbolic story based on an event in the Bible. Contrary to what theologians may say, some of the old stories need to be dusted off and carefully told in a new ways that do not detract from the original spirit, but at the same time connects to readers of our day. After reading Dekker's attempt, however, I am less convinced that some stories can be retold. There’s no surprise at the end, no “Ah-ha” moment that leaves the reader breathless. On the contrary (as I experienced), a reader may encounter a touch of disappointment. The book will either be placed on the shelf, never to read again, or possibly donated to the church’s library. Whatever the case, word-of-mouth marketing will never happen.

This is not to imply that retelling a Christian story should never be done. C.S. Lewis defies such shallow thinking. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is probably one of the best pieces written to date. The challenge is finding a way to do it without the reader knowing what you are up to. If a writer can’t pull that off, maybe he shouldn’t try; or, at the very least, maybe he should fictionalize the story based on the actual events, using actual names, dates, etc.

As a final note, I do not want readers to infer that I have formed a negative opinion about Ted Dekker. As a matter of fact, I have another of his books, Skin, in my "To Read" pile. As an author, he is truly gifted. While he may shudder at my suggestion, I liken his style to that of Stephen King. There is a certain flair and rawness to his characters that assures they won’t blend in with the wallpaper, and his skill at writing dialogue is well worth any writer’s time to read. In comparison to other Christian authors, he is certainly more edgy—something I think helps to spice up the genre. Thr3e, one of his earlier books, is a great read, combining several elements of suspense, character and surprise. However, for the reason mentioned above, Showdown just failed to measure up for me as a reader.