More Time to Read and a Different Way to Write

 

I love reading. I always have. I have fond memories of the old Dr. Doolittle books and Ben and Me and oh, so many other great kids books of ages long gone by.

As I entered my teen years, my tastes matured as well, although I don’t recall what I read then other than science fiction. Especially space travel, which at that time seemed like an impossible dream.

Then I ended up majoring in English in college, and I HAD to read so many books that I seldom (if ever) had a chance to read for pleasure anymore. I’ll never forget the course on the 20th Century Novel I took in my very last semester. We studied some pretty weird books, but one of the slightly less weird books really caught my fancy…John Barth’s The Floating Opera.

As it turned out, I moved to Cambridge, Maryland, after college and taught there for six-plus years. And that’s the setting of The Floating Opera. I was fascinated to reread that book and walk down the street from my boarding house and look more closely at the places Barth described so vividly.

Teaching 9th grade English, I got caught up in handling book club orders for my students, and I fell in love with some of the best of teen fiction at the time. Who could ever forget The Pigman or any of the other popular teen books from the late sixties and early seventies? Not all of them were pleasant. Like Go Ask Alice.

michener

Once I got away from teaching, however, I also got away from the teen book influence. James Michener’s novels captivated me. Not just because they were excellent reads, but because he was living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland at the time, and that fascinated me.

Especially when my former wife  came home announcing that she’d gone with one of our church members (who did secretarial work for Mr. Michener) took her to his home to meet him. What irony. She wouldn’t have waded through one of his novels to save her life.

For what it’s worth, she did introduce me to Mrs. Michener when she saw and recognized her in a department store one day. Nice, but not the same as meeting him would have been.

After writing my first novel, I discovered how much novels had changed over the years. Those books I’d barely tolerated that last semester of college were pretty typical. Gone were numerous introductory pages (or in Mr. Michener’s case, multiple chapters) of backstory. The author needed to hook the reader in the first paragraph. Preferably in the first sentence.

Modern life is fast-paced, and the contemporary novel must maintain the reader’s interest from start to finish or be thrown away or returned. Although I have an almost complete set of everything James Michener wrote (the picture above is of just some of my collection), even I no longer have the patience to plod through his books again.

I could tell you more, but I think you get the idea.

Not only did I have to learn to write differently than I’d learned to write in college, I learned to read and enjoy a different style of fiction.

And one of the joys of retirement is having the time to read as much as I want to. Not that I ever expect to return to James Michener. Like the man himself, my interest in that kind of reading has died.

Do you read fiction or non-fiction? What’s your favorite book? Do you still remember a favorite childhood book? Please share a comment with the rest of us.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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Something that’s Always Puzzled Me about the Easter Story

As important as Christmas is to Christians–if Jesus had never been born, our Bibles would contain no New Testament–Easter is more important. Christians serve a living Savior, not one whose earthly ministry came to a drastic end when He died on the cross.

The accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection appear in all four of the Gospels. And they’re told from the viewpoint of the four different writers, each of whom was either present at the time or writing down the account from someone who was.

I’m not bothered by what some people consider inconsistencies.

Rather minor issues, as far as I’m concerned. Like whether one woman or several went to the tomb on Easter morning, only discover that their friend–their Lord–had risen from the dead. And whether the woman or women encountered only one angel or two.

I dare you to interrogate two people who witness the same event and expect them to agree on every detail. Not because they necessarily disagree, but because each one was focused on a different part of what they both saw. In the excitement of discovering that Jesus was alive again, who could blame the Gospel writers for sharing the parts of the story that seemed most relevant to each of them?

Okay, so what is it about the Easter story that has always confused me? The fact that  Jesus was dead three days prior to His resurrection. But if you count the time,  he was in the tomb from late Friday to early Sunday. So He was dead all of one day and part of two others.

Perhaps that shouldn’t be an issue. The important thing–ultimately the most important–is that Jesus was really dead. Agreed?

But wait. The Bible makes a big deal about Jesus being dead three days. The Bible isn’t wrong, is it?

As much as I tried to ignore this question over the years, it didn’t cease to bother me until I read a very interesting article on the Internet. Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe everything I read on the Internet any more than I believe everything reported in the news.

But this article was articulate and convincing. So much so I’ve never forgotten the basic idea it presented. When I recently mentioned it to a biblically knowledgeable friend, he said the article was correct.

Some of this may be familiar to you, but possibly not all of it.

Jesus was crucified during Passover week. The holiest of the Jewish holidays. His body was taken down from the cross before sundown so it wouldn’t desecrate the Sabbath. And the Sabbath is Saturday, right? Or actually from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. So He must’ve been crucified on Friday. “Good Friday,” as it’s commonly known.

Ah, but this article pointed out that the Jews celebrated an extra Sabbath during Passover week. The day before the normal Sabbath. That means Jesus was actually crucified on Thursday and spent Thursday night, Friday night, and Saturday night in the tomb. Two full days, much of a third. Now THAT fits the Bible’s account perfectly.

I can’t tell you how I treasure that tidbit of knowledge. And the next time someone mentions Good Friday to you, just smile at them if you don’t feel like getting into an argument. You know what seems to be the truth now.

What do you think of that? How about leaving a comment?

May each of you have the most blessed of Easter Sundays. And just remember one thing: the Bible doesn’t say anything about the Easter bunny being present at the empty tomb.

~*~

Links you might be interested in:

I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

Authors Are Tough Readers

I’ve read a couple of novels this week. Lorena McCourtney‘s Dying to Read is a cozy mystery–cozy mysteries are ones solved by non-law enforcement people (e.g., Jessica Fletcher on Murder, She Wrote, and in this case an inexperienced private investigator)–and Christy Barritt’s Dubiosity is romantic suspense. I thoroughly enjoyed both of them.

I was already familiar with Christy’s writing because she’s a friend, and I like her writing so much I always ask for a chance to review a new book. I’d never read any of Lorena’s before, but in corresponding with her earlier in the week learned that the Kindle version of this book was free and decided I could afford that.

I’ve pointed out how much I enjoyed both of these novels for a very specific reason. Authors are tough readers, and it’s hard for us to read a book without stumbling at places where the author failed to follow one of the so-called rules of writing.

Generally, those are things a less knowledgeable reader won’t be bothered by. And I don’t mean misspellings or grammatical errors.

One example is using “s/she said” a lot. A more polished author uses what are called action beats to identify the speaker. For example:  He scratched his head. “I’m not so sure about that.”

Another is a failure to show, not tell. Instead of “He was angry,” say “He hit the table with his fist.” This is tough for a number of authors and would be authors. It can take a number of well thought out words to show.

Another thing I stumble over as a reader is the use of any form of the verb “to be.” The “He was angry” in the previous paragraph is an example of this.

I could list dozens of similar “rules” that writers are taught to obey–one is to avoid unnecessary uses of “that,” something I failed to do in the first part of this sentence–but that would be pointless. I’m not trying to educate anyone here about what good writing requires.

What I am trying to do is explain briefly that authors make tough readers because we stumble over abuses related to the rules we’ve been taught to follow, and we tend to be far more critical than normal readers.

That’s why I mentioned the two books I’ve read this week. Their authors are good. Really good. If they broke any of the rules, they did it so well I didn’t stumble.

The interesting thing is that authors tend to be especially critical of best-selling authors who consistently break the rules and get away with it. To which I can only say what I’ve heard a number of times, “Story trumps the rules.”

What about you? If you’re not an author–or even if you are–what makes you stumble when you’re reading a novel? Please leave a comment.

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” is only one of my two blogs. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on  “As I Come Singing.” Check it out HERE if you’re interested. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list HERE.

My new novel, The Devil and Pastor Gus, is out now. If you’re interested, please check it out at Amazon.
Tentative-Front-Cover
Best regards,
Roger

 

 

Everyone Has a Twin Somewhere

 

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On one hand, we’re taught that each of us is unique. Just as unique as our fingerprints. And, as I read somewhere recently, as unique as our eyes.

On the other hand, a popular common belief says that each of us has a twin somewhere in the world. Not quite identical in appearance, but close enough to make the observer look twice.

When I was still married to my ex-, her sister went on a Mediterranean cruise, if I recall correctly. When she came home and reported on her trip, she said she’d seen a guy who could’ve been my twin–somewhere on a Greek isle, if I recall correctly.

And then there’s Jeff Meyers, who at that time was a columnist for the St. Louis newspaper. No idea about his status now.) And he wrote “whimsical, offbeat” articles. Wow! Does that sound like me or what? Check out the picture above and compare it to the fourth picture from the right in my banner. Sure, my beard was never that thick, even when I had a full one. My hair, either.

But the resemblance is close enough to startle me.

But my favorite twin story goes back to my temporary stint at Target. When somebody told me about one of the vendors–at least that’s what I understood him to be–who looked like me, I asked that they send the guy up front for me to meet the next time he came in.

And so they did. And that picture of two bearded guys in red comes as close to proving the theory of my having a twin as I ever expect to see. Believe it or not, I have to look closely to remember which one is ME!

What about you? Do you have a twin–real or coincidental? How about leaving a comment to share that story with us?

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I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on “As I Come Singing”check it out here. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list here.

Best regards,
Roger

A Time to Read

michener

I love reading. I always have. I have fond memories of the old Dr. Doolittle books and Ben and Me and oh, so many other great kids books of years gone by.

As I entered my teen years, my tastes matured as well, although I don’t recall what I read then other than science fiction. Especially space travel, which at that time seemed like an impossible dream.

Then I ended up majoring in English in college, and I HAD to read so many books that I seldom (if ever) had a chance to read for pleasure anymore. I’ll never forget the course on the 20th Century Novel I took in my very last semester. We studied some pretty weird books, but one of the slightly less weird books really caught my fancy…John Barth’s The Floating Opera.

As it turned out, I moved to Cambridge, Maryland, after college and taught there for six-plus years. And that’s the setting of The Floating Opera. I was fascinated to reread that book and walk down the street from my boarding house and look more closely at the places Barth had described so vividly.

Teaching 9th grade English, I got caught up in handling book club orders for my students, and I fell in love with some of the best of teen fiction at the time. Who could ever forget The Pigman or any of the other popular teen books from the late sixties and early seventies? Not all of them were pleasant; I remember Go Ask Alice, too.

Once I got away from teaching, however, I also got away from the teen book influence. James Michener’s novels captivated me. Not just because they were excellent reads, but because he was living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland at the time, and that fascinated me.

Especially when my wife (now my ex-) came home announcing that she’d gone with one of our church members who did secretarial work for Mr. Michener to their home and met him. What irony. She wouldn’t have waded through one of his novels to save her life…

For what it’s worth, my ex- was able to introduce me to Mrs. Michener when she recognized her in a department store one day. Not the same as meeting him would have been, though.

Once I’d written my first novel, I discovered how much novels had changed over the years. Those books I’d barely tolerated that last semester of college were actually typical now. Gone were introductory pages (or in Mr. Michener’s case, multiple chapters) of backstory. The author has to hook the reader in the first paragraph. Preferably in the first sentence.

Modern life is fast-paced, and the contemporary novel must maintain the reader’s interest or be thrown away or returned. Although I had an almost complete set of everything James Michener had ever written (the picture above is of just some of my collection), even I no longer had the patience to plod through his books again.

I could go on now, but I think you get the idea.

Not only did I have to learn to write differently than I’d learned to write in college, I learned to read and enjoy a different style of fiction.

And one of the joys of retirement is having the time to read as much as I want to. Not that I ever expect to return to James Michener. Like the man himself, my interest in that kind of reading has died.

Do you read fiction or non-fiction? What’s your favorite book? Do you still remember a favorite childhood book? Please share a comment with the rest of us.

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I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog.  “As I Come Singing”check it out here–posts lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Best regards,
Roger

 

 

On Being Recognized

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One of the interesting perquisites (did you know that’s what “perks” stands for?) of being a published author is the possibility of being recognized when going out in public. I’m not famous enough—okay, make that “not famous at all”—to have a problem like that, but it’s an interesting prospect.

At a writers’ conference a year or two back, I was talking to an unpublished novelist—someone I’d never met before—about my two novels. “Oh,” she said. “My daughter has read those. Loves ‘em.”

Okay!

At church some months back, a fellow I’d known for a while was introducing my wife and me to a couple of his adult kids. “Roger is a writer. What’s the name of those books again?” I told him, and one of his daughters got so excited. Again, she loved the book, but had no idea her dad went to church with the author.

Then there’s the time more recently when a fellow choir member stopped her mid-teen daughter while they were walking through the sanctuary one evening. “Meg, did you know Mr. Bruner wrote Found in Translation and Lost in Dreams?”

This super-quiet girl was thrilled to meet one of her favorite authors, and I was just as thrilled to meet her. This gal has got one heck of a lot of hair, and I’m jealous.

But what would it be like to be out in what I’ll call the “real public”—places where I wouldn’t expect anyone to recognize me?

I’ve met any number of well-known Christian novelists. That is, they’re well-known to people who’re up on Christian fiction. Despite the fact that it seems to be a growing genre because so many readers still want clean, decent books to read, I’m not sure many of them have encountered a privacy problem.

Let’s face it. We writers are not pop stars. How many authors—even in the secular market—would you recognize if you ran into one of them in an elevator? Definitely a different matter from someone I once knew who ran into Mick Jagger somewhere.

And maybe the lack of facial recognition is appropriate. After all, many writers—perhaps most of them—are intensely introverted. Our words represent us, and we’re happy to leave it at that. I am.

But you know what else? My three favorite Sonic employees know me. The folks at the bank do, too. And let’s not forget the manager at the local Sweet Frog. And a handful of checkers at the grocery store. People in my neighborhood may not know me by name, but they know me by our miniature dachshund, Happy.

And those folks don’t care whether I’m a big-time author or not. They know me just because I’m me.

That’s not such a bad thing, is it?

What do you think? How about leaving a comment?

Oh, and just in case you’re curious about who I’m with in those pictures…

From left to right on the top row are  Deb Raney (author of women’s lit that even a man would like), Terry Burns (my agent), and Jim Rubart (probably the best author of speculative around).

Bottom row is Jenny Rogers Spinola (excellent writer of women’s lit and someone I consider my little sister), Brandilyn Collins (“Seatbelt  Suspense” writer extraordinaire), and Cec Murphy (did the actual writing of Ninety Minutes in Heaven).

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing”check it out here—to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Best regards,
Roger

Too Old to Give in to Ego

 BookShelf     sampleEdit

It’s a good thing I didn’t decide to become a novelist until I was in my late fifties. My ego couldn’t have taken it.

Of course, I don’t think I could have become one much sooner anyhow. Although I’d always wanted to write a novel—who hasn’t?—I’d never had the time and I’d never come up with a novel-worthy idea.

So much of what I put into my novels has resulted from whatever wisdom—well, whatever experience, anyhow—I’ve gained over the years.

The advice to write what you know about isn’t always valid, but it has been for me. As a Christian, a Preacher’s Kid, a happily married man (following an unhappy marriage), an amateur musician and song writer, and an all-around nice guy—all of those things have enabled me to write the books I write.

And it’s taken many years for those factors to meld into meaningful stories that have me in them, yet aren’t really about me at all. Maybe I’ll explain that someday in another post.

If I’d started writing novels twenty or twenty-five years ago, I would’ve still been so much under the influence of my former favorite author, James Michener, that I couldn’t have made the transition to the contemporary way of writing novels.

That means—among other things—no purple prose (it even sounds nasty, doesn’t it?). No starting with page after page of unnecessary backstory and setting. No writing so beautifully that it distracts the reader. And no compulsion to follow the rules of grammar. Of even the rules of writing, which seem to fluctuate—or at least to vary according to the expert being consulted.

If you recall how I began this post, I have to commend you for your patience. The one thing I haven’t mentioned since the first paragraph is ego.

I spent various parts of my life thinking of myself as a success. And other parts considering myself a failure. Now, in retirement, none of that matters very much.

Yes, I’m quite pleased that my first book, Found in Translation, sold 5,000 copies (the other 5,000 copies were remaindered off) and the second, Lost in Dreams, half that number.

But I could easily look at the hundreds of thousands of books my author friends have sold and feel insignificant. Fortunately, I put my writing in God’s hands, and I count on Him for the results He wants. I’m not sure I could have done that when I was younger.

Right now I’m experiencing what could have been an ego blow—if I’d let it. I’m reviewing the edits to one of my manuscripts made by the professional editor my current publisher has assigned it to. She is GOOD!

But what helps is that I’m open to her suggestions. Instead of feeling that she’s “plucking the pedal off my rose,” to use a quote from poet T. S. Elliott, I recognize that there’s a huge difference between my being a creative novelist and my insisting on having the final word on what will make my book the best it can be.

Out of the dozens of suggestions she’s made, especially regarding what to delete to bring the book down to a reasonable length (from 100,000 words to 80,000 or less), I have only insisted on keeping one very brief section she wanted to delete. But I knew how that section affected the story later, whereas she hadn’t gotten far enough to realize that. She won’t object.

Furthermore, she’s been so good about pointing out various things she REALLY likes. Amazing how far a positive attitude goes, isn’t it?

So her suggestions don’t come across as blows to my ego. I hope she’ll be my editor again in future ventures.

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Please leave a comment if something in this post has spoken to you. I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing”find it here-to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Best regards,
Roger