Writing is my first love. But travel is a close second.
Amalfi Coast, Italy, 2014

Blog Posts About Writing

5 Lessons I’ve Learned about Writing

By | Writing | 4 Comments

1. Have something worth saying. In his book Culture Care, artist Makoto Fujimura tells a story he confesses may be legendary about a Yale student taking Hebrew from the great Old Testament scholar Brevard Childs. The student, discontent with his grades, asked the scholar how he could raise them. Childs’s answer: “Become a deeper person.”

Peggy Noonan writer of seven books on politics, religion, and culture, and weekly columnist for The Wall Street Journal, was at one time the speech writer for the man considered The Great Communicator. In her book Simply Speaking, she says that what moves people in a speech is the logic. The words “Tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev” are not all that poetic when taken at face value. But they express something that resonates in the human heart. In the words of Robert Frost, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”

In the …

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What I’m Reading

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I have a bunch of stuff on my nightstand right now.

My Bright Abyss, by Christian Wiman feeds my need for wedding art with deep thinking.  Check out Christian Wiman’s interview with Mako Fujimura. Some of his comments around minute 15 intersect with other reading I’m doing that reminds me of how  believers wrestle with doubt but don’t talk much about it.

I just finished reading select chapters in Spiritual Traditions for the Contemporary Church. It’s on my reading list because I’m headed to Orvieto, Italy, later this month for a study program on Medieval Christianity. The program, sponsored by Fuller, includes a focus on some of the key women of that era such as Catherine of Siena and Clare of Assissi. The book introduces some spiritual practices common in the church before believers had a choice between “Catholic” and “Protestant.” In other words, we can embrace some shared history.…

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Good Reads

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As I prep to attend
the biennial Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing, I have enjoyed reading some
terrific books. Lately I’ve focused on those by the keynote speakers.
American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang
Gene Luen Yang’s book, American Born Chinese, was a finalist
for the 2006 National Book Award. And I have to tell you—it’s freaking
brilliant. Picture a graphic novel, or a comic book thick enough to become a
book, and you get the format. Yang’s plot involves three separate story lines
that ultimately tie together. The first is a contemporary retelling of the Kung
Fu-practicing Monkey King and his journey west. The Monkey King is unhappy with himself as a
monkey and continually tries to become something different, but Tze-Yo-Tzuh, the creator, helps him embrace his true form. The second story follows an
American-born Chinese boy who moves to a suburb and rejects his …
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Calvin’s Festival of Faith and Writing

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Every other year, Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, hosts the Festival of Faith and Writing. It is fantastico! Def my favorite conference. And we’re coming up on another one, April 10-12, 2014. Online registration will open later this month. The early registration rate–in effect through January 31, 2014—is $185. After that, the regular registration rate of $200 takes effect. The student registration rate is $85.
Okay, on to the good stuff. Today I received lots of news about books and authors along with Festival announcements:  
–The list of featured speakers, recommended reading, book club resources, and lots more is now available on the Festival of Faith and Writing’s web site.
–Recent additions to the speaker list include New York Times columnist Verlyn Klinkenborg, journalist Jeff Chu, novelist Suzanne Woods Fisher, poet Sean Hill, pop-culture writer Donna Bowman, novelist Okey Ndibe, young adult author Swati Avasthi, and fiction/nonfiction …
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Recap: Festival of Faith & Writing

By | Writing | One Comment

Every other
year in Grand Rapids the Festival of Faith and Writing comes to Calvin College. (That’s Calvin as in John, not Klein or the cartoon
character.) I’ve wanted to attend for more than a decade, and this year it
finally happened. My writer
friends Diane McDougall (roommate) and Heather Goodman, with whom I took a press junket to
Israel, are here, as well as my former teaching assistant, Kelli Sallman. 

Because I
teach a class on Wednesday nights, I missed the Thursday morning events,
which included a keynote by Gary Schmidt. But when I went to board my flight Thursday,
I found I was on the same plane with my friend Mary DeMuth. So she’s here too.
Before going
to the Calvin Campus, I had arranged to visit my publisher at Kregel
headquarters here. Since they’ve sold 200,000+ copies of Glahn/Cutrer
books, I figured it was high time I …
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Book Recommendation for Fiction Writers

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Lots of people feel they have the GAM (Great American Novel) inside of them. Even people who don’t live in America.

If you’re one of those people, I hope you’ll write that book. And to get you started I recommend a resource: Fiction Writing for Dummies, by Randy Ingermanson. (If you’re one of my writing students, you know Randy as “the snowflake guy.” If you’re not one of my students, no, Randy’s not flaky. He’s just got this snowflake metaphor that works for novel-writing.)

Randy is a wonderful teacher of fiction-writing. He has the best newsletter out there on the subject. And he’s taken some of his great content from seminars and blog posts and experience and stuffed it all into one resource. You can read the book in print or download it to your e-reader. And no, he did not pay me to say this. He did not

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On Writing Fiction

By | Writing | One Comment

Rather than give you a summary of what William Dean Howells had to say about fiction, I’ll share with you some favorite quotes from his work, Criticism and Fiction:

Moods and tastes and fashions change; people fancy now this and now that; but what is unpretentious and what is true is always beautiful and good.

The mass of common men have been afraid to apply their own simplicity, naturalness, and honesty to the appreciation of the beautiful. They have always cast about for the instruction of some one who professed to know better, and who browbeat wholesome common-sense into the self-distrust that ends in sophistication…. They have been taught to compare what they see and what they read, not with the things that they have observed and known, but with the things that some other artist or writer has done. Especially if they have themselves the artistic impulse in …

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Book stats

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Thinking of writing a book? Check out these stats from an article by Chris Anderson in the July 17 issue of Publishers Weekly. In 2004:

• 950,000 titles out of 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies
• Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies
• Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies
• The average book in America sells about 500 copies
• Only 10 books sold more than a million copies
• Fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000
• Nearly 200,000 new titles are published each year

Speaking of books, the winner of my drawing for The Angel is Erica Aguilera. Congrats, Erica!…

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What Should I Read?

By | Writing | One Comment

This morning I ran into Erica at church. Well, not literally. Anyway, she said she read my blog and identified herself (humbly, I thought) as the kind of person Stephen King said he would chase down the driveway a decade from now and ask where the (expletive deleted) books were. Then she asked a great question: “What does an educated person read? Where should I begin?”

I thought of a book my dad recently gave me. It is an out-of-print compilation of 101 classics. It has excerpts and summaries of works by Homer and Austen and Dickens and Dante and Chekov and Descartes and Plato. Lots of great writers. I would start somewhere like that, with an overview of some wonderful stuff that has stood the test of time. As you read you can note the works that particularly appeal to you. When finished with that familiarizing introduction, go to …

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Voice Lessons

By | Writing | 2 Comments

You’re trying to write the GAM (great American novel), but you can’t concentrate. Why? Someone in an adjacent room sits clicking through Viagra ads. The surfing stops and you hear an announcer say something about a family network. When the commercial ends, you’re pretty sure you recognize the British-accented voice that’s saying, “spit-spot,” and “practically perfect in every way.” It has to be your favorite nanny.

The clicking resumes.

Now another nanny’s voice grates through the walls with a Jersey “Oh-h-h-h, Mr. Sheffield!” followed by a snorty little snigger.

Next thing you hear, Tony Soprano’s asking, “How you doin’?” before ordering calzone. Capisce?

The time you’ve lost may actually help you write better if you focus on how spoken voice is to TV what written voice is to novel-writing. “Voice” shows up in each character’s use—or non-use—of accent, pet phrases, favorite subjects, metaphor, slang, vocabulary, contractions, sentence structure, and even …

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Favorite Book Ever

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What is your favorite book? Singular. Not a list. What is the very best book you have ever read? And why is it your fave?

The novel that shook my world is a combination of satire on human depravity, meditation on faith, murder mystery, love story (or two), legal thriller, testament to courage, and ultimately an apologetic for grace, grace, grace: Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. One of the numerous Amazon reviewers who commented on this classic said, basically, “I’m an agnostic, but almost doth Dostoevsky persuade me to become a Christian.” This book convinced me it was possible to tell a story in such a way that people would fall in love with grace. And it could be pulled off without including one sermon, altar call, sinner’s prayer, “Four Spiritual Laws,” or iota of Christianese.

Your turn.…

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