Someday I would like to write a book, a real book, the kind that people purchase to read while sitting in an airport waiting for their flight, or while seated in their favorite chair with a cup of Jo on the end table and a noble beast asleep on the rug. I mean a novel, the sort of book that reviewers after reading it refer to the one who wrote it as an “author.”
I am frightened by the thought of attempting to write fiction. Writing ordinary prose such as you are reading is something anyone can learn to do. It is all about technic, whereas fiction requires talent.
Not long ago, I joined a local group of individuals interested in writing. They call themselves the “Clinton Ink Slingers.” The purpose of the group is to encourage each other by gently critiquing each other’s writing. Shortly after joining the group, I tried my hand at writing a short story. I even took a chance and posted it on my blog. A few individuals read it and complimented me on it, but they were mostly friends, relatives, and members of the Clinton Ink Slingers.
I have written books, all of them history books. Most are read by students forced to slug through them by a frustrated and disillusioned professor ever on the quest for the perfect text dumbed down enough to hold, however briefly, the limited attention span of today’s “young scholars.” My use of “young scholars” is a humble attempt at sarcasm. I do not think there is a textbook on the market with enough bells and whistles to draw the average student away from his or her iPhone for more than a fleeting moment.
What started me thinking about writing and my dream of one day writing a novel are several things. The first was a visit to the grave of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, in a small church cemetery in Rockville, Maryland. One of the priests at the parish church assumed I was just another of many pilgrims who stop by from time to time. One such pilgrim who preceded me left an empty wine bottle, two mini whisky bottles, also empty, a single red rose, and a hand written letter to Scott and Zelda.
A second stimulus came in the form of an advance readers’ edition of a new novel by Therese Anne Fowler titled Z: A NOVEL OF ZELDA FITZGERALD. It will be on-sale in April. Although fiction, it is well-researched and very interesting. Anyone who has seen and enjoyed Woody Allen’s recent movie, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011), will enjoy reading Z. Ms. Fowler does an admiral job of communicating to her reader what it must have been like to be among that group of American expatriates known as the “Lost Generation.”
Finally, it was 87 years ago that the Book-of-the-Month Club was born. Its first selection was LOLLY WILLOWES by Sylvia Townsend Warner. It is an early feminist novel about a woman who sells her soul to the devil, and in return becomes a witch. The novel is still in print. There is even a Sylvia Townsend Society which seeks to keep interest in the too often neglected author.
The Book-of-the-Month Club was the creation of Harry Scherman, Max Sackheim, and Robert Haas. At a time when books were sold through bookstores in urban areas, Scherman looked for a way to sell books to people in rural areas. Scherman was a member of a group of bohemian intellectuals living in Greenwich Village during and after World War I. They had in common a love for fine literature and the desire to find a means of marketing books to the literate masses beyond the big cities.
The first Book-of-the-Month Club selection, LOLLY WILLOWES, was mailed to 4,750 members in April, 1926. Membership rose to 46,539 by the end of the year, and stood at just under 100,000 in 1928. Record numbers continued over the decades. In 1946, the club mailed its 100 millionth book. More than 22 million books were shipped to over 3 million members in 1993, alone.
A book’s success was virtually guaranteed if selected by the club’s editorial board. The board’s original function was to “select the best new books each month.” Sales were important, but for many decades the editorial board selected books that were likely to endure as “literature” rather than be remembered, if remembered at all, as “best sellers.” During the board’s first sixty years the Book-of-the-Month Club offered books by 25 authors who went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and 79 who won the Pulitzer Prize.
A case in point is J. D. Salinger’s novel THE CATCHER IN THE RYE (1951). At one point in the story, Holden Caulfield makes a disparaging remark about “guys who belong to the goddam Book-of-the-Month Club.” Salinger had no idea at the time that that “goddam Book-of-the-Month Club” would help establish THE CATCHER IN THE RYE as one of the all-time great American novels. After having sold more than 65 million copies, it remains on the shelf of any respectable bookstore or library.
I do not expect to ever win a Pulitzer Prize or become a Nobel laureate, but I do continue to dream of writing a novel. Two members of our little group of Ink Slingers recently signed contracts with “real” book publishers. Dreams do come true, but not if one merely sits dreaming. Persistent hard work is necessary. I think I will write a short story beginning with the line: “It was a dark and stormy night.”
Until next time, be good to all God’s creatures, and always walk under the mercy.
- Learn How Writers Do It (cowpasturechronicles.wordpress.com)
Posted in Opinion & Editorials
Tagged Book-of-the-Month Club, books, Clinton Ink Slingers, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harry Scherman, ink slingers, literature, LOLLY WILLOWES, Nobel Peace Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Sylvia Townsend Warner, ZELDA FITZGERALD
Friedrich Nietzsche (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In the late 1880s the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche announced that God was dead. He did not mean that God actually died, for he did not believe that there ever was a God to die. It was the ancient myth of God, that is, the idea of God that died. Advances in science and philosophy rendered it no longer possible for people to believe in a Creator-God, or so Nietzsche reasoned.
Nietzsche realized that if people no longer believed in the existence of a God who created all that exist, then they would face a seemingly unsolvable problem–why does anything exists? Nothing would make sense. Every individual would have to face the question of ultimate meaning without any hope of finding an answer. To avoid despair and insanity, one would have to find meaning in the creation of a new “god-myth.”
Nietzsche believed that there were some who would courageously face the existential question of ultimate meaning. They were the ones he called übermench, or supermen. They would create the new myth by which individuals could escape the crisis of meaning resulting from the “death of God.”
Already before the Great War of 1914-1918 the intellectual elite were losing faith in human beings as rational creatures. The war merely acted as a catalyst. What before the war was a generation who believed in progress and the potential of basically good human beings to build a better future became after the war the so-called “lost generation.”
The supermen appeared in the person of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Lenin, and Joseph Stalin, not to mention the many lessor myth spinners. Each fashioned an ideology that provided a reason to live for those who struggled to find meaning for their continued existance in the wake of the Great War. One could find meaning and purpose by, e.g., becoming a born again socialist man or women. Becoming a follower of one of the totalitarian ideologies was much more than merely giving intellectual assent to a political cause or philosophy. It meant becoming a convert.
Today, October 15, is the birthday of Friedrich Nietzsche. Most people today do not have any idea who he was, or why it is important to know who he was.
If I could ask him a question just one question today, it would be simply this: Do you still think that God is dead?
I was riding to work this morning with the radio tuned to a SiriusXM™ station, when Olivia Newton-John began singing “I Honestly Love You.” I turned to the love of my life, a.k.a. my wife, and said, “Every time I hear that song, I think of that little dinner in downtown Milan, Tennessee.”
That was her cue to turn to me with a smile on her face and love in her eyes and say something like, “Me too. It was wonderful.” Then she would reach over, take my hand, and give it a little squeeze.
Instead of the expected response, she said, “Oh, that’s such a sad song.”
I was shocked. My balloon burst. I blurted out, “Sad? How can you say that?”
Was it possible that she had forgotten?
“Remember? It was thirty-two years ago in a small dinner in downtown Milan, Tennessee. I played it on the jukebox for you. The man at the counter was complimenting the cook on his scrambled eggs and brains. Don’t you remember?”
Perhaps it was the tone in my voice, or the shocked, pleading look on my face, or maybe she really did remember. Whatever the case, she smiled and said, “Of course dear, I remember.”
It was one of those unforgettable moments in a couples’ life together. We had just come from making arrangements for our wedding at a little church just outside of Milan.
It was close to noon, so we decided to stop for a bite to eat. The little old dinner downtown seemed somehow more romantic than one of those burger joints.
The setting was perfect, a quiet booth in the corner, a romantic song playing on the jukebox, the air was filled with magic. As Perry Como would say, “Time cannot erase the memory of these magic moments.”
The love of my life is one of those unique people who remembers everything and forgets nothing. I learned long ago that I must be very careful of what I say. Always compliment; never criticize.
My love needs only a musical note, at most two, and she will begin singing the song. Whether an old hit from years long gone, or a children’s song she learned to sing in elementary school, the lyrics are all stored somewhere in herbrain between files labeled “Novels and Short Stories” and “Movies.”
Don’t ever even consider playing a game of trivia with her. You will surely be embarrassed.
I remember the time a group of seminary students challenged her to a game of Bible trivia. When they began, the seminarians all had the sort of smile on their faces that only a Calvinist would understand. When the game was over, her opponents were no longer smiling. It never occurred to them that a mere young lady raised a Southern Baptist could humble them so. They left with their heads bent low and their shoulders sagging. I thought I heard one mumble something about switching to a MBA program.
Of course this is all in jest, most of it, that is.
On a more serious note, today is the seventy-sixth birthday of Charlie Hardin Holley, better known as Buddy Holly. For those who are not old enough to remember, he was one of the singer-songwriters who helped birth Rock n’ Roll during the mid-fifties. “That’ll Be the Day” (1955) and “Peggy Sue” (1957) are perhaps his two best known recordings.
The Buddy Holly Story (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Buddy Holly died tragically along with two other raising rock n’ roll stars, Richie Valens and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, on February 2, 1959, when their small airplane crashed shortly after taking off from Mason City, Iowa. In 1971, Don McLean wrote and recorded “American Pie,” commemorating their death as “The Day the Music Died.”
I close with an apology. It has been more than a month since my last posting. Other writing commitments got in the way, leaving me with little time and even less inspiration. My goal is to do better in the future.
Until next time, be good to all God’s creation and always live under the mercy
There is an election taking place in Greece today that could have serious consequences for us folks in the USA. I imagine that few Americans are even aware that it is taking place, especially those who will be impacted the most by the outcome.
The Greeks are making a choice between two major parties with two different plans for getting Greece out of the economic mess they find themselves in. The Syriza party led by Alexis Tsipras promises to cancel the austerity plan imposed by the European Union. A victory for Syriza is likely to lead to Greece leaving the Eurozone and replacing the Euro with a return to the Drachma. The New Democracy party led by Antonis Samara promises to adhere to the austerity plan.
A possible victory for Syriza has the financial markets around the world in near panic mode. Why? We live in a global economy. No longer can we afford to ignore the economic problems elsewhere in the world. The butterfly flaps its wings in some far off corner of the world, and within no time dangerous winds are blowing in America.
I am not a fan of either the European Union or the Euro. Frankly, I liked the old Europe where each nationality remembered their heritage and the barbarian hordes were kept beyond the gates of Vienna. But those days are long gone, and no amount of nostalgia will bring them back. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that as the world grows increasingly more “flat,” as Thomas L. Friedman puts it, the better it is to think of the whole and not the individual parts.
That said, I return to the significance of the Greek election. If the leftist Syriza wins, those many Americans glued to their televisions watching an athletic event, may not be able to pay for their cable or satellite connection. Those who will suffer the most are the hard working people wh0 don’t know where to look for Greece on a world map or a globe.
I’m not sure that things will be that much better if the conservative New Democracy wins. Conservatives abroad and at home seem not to have learned anything from the Great Depression. A return to Adam Smith and Herbert Hoover will only make things worse. It was the economic philosophy John Maynard Keynes and the decisive action of Franklin D. Roosevelt that brought an end to the Great Depression. Would it work again? I don’t know, but I do know that the economic turmoil of the 1930s ended with a big bang. Let’s hope that the world economic crisis of today doesn’t end the same way.
The election in Greece is important for all of us. As I write this, exit polls are forecasting a slim victory for the New Democracy party will win. Is that good for the Greeks? For us?
Korean War Memorial (Photo credit: inge87)
Yesterday evening I went to the airport to pick up my wife. She was returning from a visit with her mother in Washington State. Her flight was due in at 5:15 p.m., so I made sure to be there early. I wanted to greet her at the gate, not just pick her at the curb like she was a piece of luggage.
Her flight was delayed. At 5:30 those of us waiting were told that her plane had arrived and was at the gate. I waited, and I waited. No one seemed to be getting off the plane. Just before 6:00 p.m. an ambulance arrived. Several medics with a stretcher, oxygen, etc. went down the hall in the direction of the gate escorted by security.
As I continued to wait, I began to wonder, what happened? Did someone on the flight have a medical emergency? Was it my wife? I continued waiting. Finally, about ten minutes past the hour, the passengers began to appear. Yup, there she was, the love of my life.
As we were going down the stairs to retrieve her suitcase, she explained what caused the delay. There was a family on board accompanied by four soldiers. They were bringing a soldier home from the war. Yes, there is a war going on. Soldiers on both sides, and many civilians—men, women, and children—are dying.
The people onboard the plane were asked to remain seated until the family disembarked. It was a simple thing to do, a gesture of respect for the family and of course the soldier, also on the flight, but in the baggage compartment, in a coffin.
The family and the honor guard stood on the tarmac as the coffin was taken off the plane. It was then that the soldier’s mother collapsed. Hearing that, it was easy for me to understand why the passengers were delayed in disembarking and why there was an additional delay for the luggage to be unloaded.
While we waited at the luggage pickup, the four soldiers stood nearby with several family members. The soldiers were in dress blues, numerous ribbons on their breasts, yellow strips down the sides of their trousers, and of course, those silly looking berets our soldiers wear these days.
While standing there waiting, I noticed one family member with the soldiers. She looked young, perhaps a sister of the fallen warrior. She stood there with her arms folded staring at the conveyer where luggage would soon begin to appear. Her head was bent slightly forward. The corners of her tightly closed mouth were turned down. I could tell she wanted to cry, but knew she must not. She had to remain stoic for the others. Emotionally, I began to feel as if I could sense her pain. I wondered what she was thinking.
We celebrated Memorial Day only a week ago. The news media was full of scenes of parades and politicians laying wreaths and making speeches. I thought about writing something to mark the occasion, but simply could not do it.
I have friends and family members who served in the military. Some served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. I know others, some of them students of mine, who have served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. I have a great deal of respect for them, because they did what they believed they should do. They were faithful to their convictions.
When I think of war and all the suffering caused by wars, as I was forced to do yesterday evening, I have very mixed feelings. War is insane. To say that war is barbaric is too rational. Do civilized people commit acts of genocide, fire bomb cities, drop atomic bombs and napalm on innocent people? In every war the seeds of the next war are planted.
Just in the past two days national news reported on massacres of civilians in Syria. Men, women, and children, some of them burned to death in their homes, all of them sacrifices to the gods of war. One news story told of how the suicide rate among our soldiers now exceeds more than one per day. More are taking their own lives than are being killed by enemy action.
A friend of mine in graduate school served in Vietnam. He was a graduate of Virginia Military Institute. He was wounded just days before he was to return home, leaving him with a disability for the rest of his life. One afternoon he showed me some pictures of him in full dress uniform at VMI. Parading on the drill field, he said, was fun. Vietnam was different.
That mother of the soldier who returned home yesterday evening will never get over the loss of her child. The wife will never really be able to forget her husband. Was the baby I saw in the arms of one of the family members the child of the fallen soldier?
The soldier-son-husband-father will soon be “laid to rest” as they say. The honor guard will see that the funeral is dignified. I expect veterans will be present. They will play taps and even fire a few rifle shots over the grave. The flag will be taken off the casket, folded and given to the widow. Everyone will slowly walk away to continue living a life that will never be the same.
Don’t give them any of that rubbish about how he died for his country, or how he gave his life in defense of freedom. Those are the lies that the makers of war tell the mourning. Enough of that!
Wars have happened all through history, and they will no doubt continue to happen in the future. I am sorry, but I cannot make sense of them. Let’s cancel future Memorial Day holidays. After all, they are only excuses for a day off from the drudgery of everyday life, excuses for picnics and parties.
The poet Carl Sandburg said: “Someday they’ll give a war and nobody will come.” He was wrong. There will always be those who for whatever reason will heed the call to arms, to rally around the flag, or to defend the fatherland. “War,” said Bertrand Russell, “seems a mere madness, a collective insanity.” Are we all insane?
I close with this song:
Until next time be good to call God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.
Posted in Opinion & Editorials
Tagged Bertrand Russell, Carl Sandburg, fallen soldier, Korean War, Memorial Day, Memorial Day 2012, Vietnam, Vietnam War, Virginia Military Institute, war, World War II
Andrea Palpant Dilley spent six years of her childhood in Kenya, where her father was a medical missionary. Her family lived among the people they served, among who were refugees from Idi Amin’s reign of terror in Uganda. A refugee from Uganda who worked with her father led Andrea to faith in Jesus Christ.
Andrea’s family did not live in some missionary compound sheltered from the harsh reality of life outside. Her parents made the decision to raise Andrea and her brothers at their side, as they worked to ease the suffering of the people of Lugulu, Kenya. Andrea learned the meaning of giving a cup of cold water in Jesus Christ’s name from observing her parents and those who worked with them in the hospital. She learned what it meant to give and receive love. Likewise, she learned to share the grief and sorrow of those around her, as well as her own.
Back in the United States as a thirteen year old seventh grader, Andrea began to question what it meant to be a Christian. It was an awakening to the need for a reasoned and confident faith. Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and like thinking Christians throughout history, Andrea set out on the pilgrim’s journey to a faith based upon a reasoned understanding of her faith, not on emotion or a blind, mindless acceptance of some creed or systematic theology.
After graduating from high school, Andrea enrolled at Whitworth College, a private Christian liberal arts college located in Spokane, Washington. Whitworth promotes itself as a college with a healthy tension between Christian commitment and intellectual curiosity. Put another way, their goal is to help students to think, not tell them what to think.
As a symbolic gesture of her decision to explore the mysteries and uncertainties of the pilgrim’s journey, Andrea chipped the Ichthus sticker off her car. It was a way of turning away from a simplistic “pop” faith and the plastic culture that came with it.
In her book, FAITH AND OTHER FLAT TIRES, A MEMOIR: SEARCHING FOR GOD ON THE ROUGH ROAD OF DOUBT (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), Andrea Palpant Dilley uses John Bunyan’s story of THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS as the model for her own journey of faith, a journey which she acknowledges is a lifelong pilgrimage.
FAITH AND OTHER FLAT TIRES is her first book, but I hope not her last. I enjoyed this book for its realism. Her journey is mine, also. The decision to follow Jesus Christ is only the beginning. There is far more mystery in Christianity than any of us can begin to understand. Our risen Lord invites us to stop at the inn, to share a meal with Him, and listen as He explains the great parable, the greatest story ever told, or as C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien put it, the “true myth.”
I choose to end my review with a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke from his book of poetry titled, THE BOOK OF PILGRIMAGE, as quoted by Ms. Dilley:
Whom should I turn to,
If not the one whose darkness
Is darker than the night, the only one
Who keeps vigil with no candle,
And is not afraid—
The deep one, whose being I trust.
Those of you who read my blog are aware that I entered a short story in NPR’s contest, “Three-Minute Fiction: Round 8.” As expected, my story, “Return to Brighton Manor,” was not chosen as the winning entry from among the more than 6,000 short stories submitted. Nevertheless, I had fun writing what was only my second attempt at fiction. I am looking forward to entering Round 9 in the fall.
Author Luis Alberto Urrea was the judge who made the final selection. He read more than a hundred of the stories, himself. He was assisted by members of several writing workshops and university writing programs. All of the stories were read, yes even mine, by some courageous volunteer.
The winning submission is “Rainy Wedding” by Carrie MacKillop of Charlotte, Vermont. Listening to it read professionally by Susan Stanford on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” I can see why it was chosen. I love it.
I find it interesting that Carrie MacKillop does not have any formal training in creative writing. She has a bachelor’s degree in English UCLA, but failed to be accepted into their creative writing program. I’ll bet they now wish that they had made a different decision. I wonder how many agents have called her, since she was announced as the winner.
I do hope that she will write more. Luis Alberto Urrea predicts that she is America‘s next great writer. Perhaps. She is off to a good start.
And so I say congratulations to Carrie MacKillop.
To listen to “Rainy Wedding”: http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=153115410&m=153152952
Other entries considered exceptionally good can be read on NPR’s webpage: http://www.npr.org/2012/05/20/153115410/three-minute-fiction-the-round-8-winner-is
Posted in Opinion & Editorials, Uncategorized
Tagged All Things Considered, Arts, Carrie MacKillop, Creative writing, fiction, Luis Alberto Urrea, NPR, Rainy Wedding, short story, Three-Minute Fiction, University of California Los Angeles
This afternoon I sat down at my laptop computer intending to write something really profound to post on my blog. I thought about writing a book review. I currently have four books awaiting my assessment.
That was my plan when I sat down, but it has changed. Why? I am not sure. I thought I knew what I was going to say about the book, but I just couldn’t think of the right words to get started. Perhaps my brain is numb, foggy, or tired. Perhaps it is a lack of inspiration.
I felt I must write something. So, I asked my dear friend Google, “What is the meaning of life?” Now if that doesn’t get the brain working, it is time to admit defeat and turn off the computer.
According to Google, there are 390,000,000 websites with something to say about the meaning of life. I am not surprised. I imagine that the first conscious thought of that first human-like creature was a question like, “Who am I, and what the heck am I doing here, wherever this is, or isn’t, or . . . ?”
The existentialists say that meaning is not something we can discover, but rather something we must create. How? By choosing to act, that is, by making a choice the individual can affirm and give meaning to his or her existence in a universe that is cold and indifferent.
In contrast to the existentialists, the structuralists assume a universal structure, or a kind of hidden harmony, or universal code, that exists independent of human beings and determines human behavior. The self-conscious autonomous individual, who controls his or her environment and is master of his or her fate, gives way to the individual as a social creature controlled by his or her environment.
Failure to uncover the hidden universal structures led some to embrace poststructuralism, commonly referred to as deconstruction. The deconstructionists deny that the individual can arrive at a true understanding of reality through the application of reason. There is no one hidden meaning to be discovered. Instead, there are an infinite number of possible meanings. Each deconstruction can itself be deconstructed.
The contemporary quest for meaning has run into a dead end with postmodernism, sometimes referred to as posthumanism. Beginning with the conviction that all is meaningless, postmodernism sees no value in pretending otherwise. Rather it revels in the chaos and absurdity of everything. For the postmodernist, reality is a universe of random chaos, without meaning for either the individual or for history.
Contemporary intellectuals have concluded that the individual is only a cosmic cipher in a cold, dark, and ultimately meaningless universe. But such a conclusion is no conclusion at all. There is ample evidence in popular culture that the masses of people are not willing to accept the pessimistic conclusion of the intellectual dream spinners who find themselves adrift in a fog. The average man or woman today, as has every human being since the dawn of time, lives in a universe filled with hope, a universe in which the future is brighter than the past.
Perhaps the intellectuals are asking the wrong question, when they ask, “Who am I?” By asking the wrong question, they place the burden of finding meaning on finite human reason. The end can never be anything more than despair, the answer to which is an escape into nihilism.
In the fifteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, the reader is told of an incident during which Jesus of Nazareth asks his disciples who the people think he is. They say that the people have concluded, having applied reason, that Jesus must be one of the Old Testament prophets back from the dead.
Jesus then asks the disciples, “Who do you say I am?” It is Simon Peter who answers the question: “You are the Christ [i.e., Messiah], the Son of the living God.”
Peter has spoken the truth, but how does he know it? Did he discover it on his own by reason? Did he learn it from reading the great books? No! Jesus tells Peter that what he knows has been revealed to him by God.
Reason can make us aware of the problem of finding meaning and purpose for life. Reason can propose answers to the problem. On the basis of reason, one might even conclude that the Gospel makes more sense than any other answer, and therefore must be true. But, as Simon Peter discovered, knowing who Jesus Christ is, and by implication finding the answer to the problem of meaning, can only be known through revelation, not reason alone.
Perhaps before asking the question, “What is the meaning of life?” one must first answer the question, “Who is Jesus Christ?” The answer that question will determine whether one lives with hope or despair.
Enough thinking for today. It is time for me to get to work on that book review.
Until next time, be good to all of God’s creation, and always live under the mercy.