A Changing Season

If I were an artist I’d love to sketch a comic to describe a small part of how I feel. Bereft of all skill with a pencil, I must ‘use my words’.

As soon as I left the elevator I could hear it. Behind the closed door across the hallway there was heavy breathing. No, not just breathing: a multitude of heavy grunting noises, and the occasional tired sigh. It made me of the effort involved in squeezing into jeans three sizes too small. It was the sound of simultaneous exasperation and desperation.

I approached the wooden door cautiously, expecting it to spring outwards at any moment. As I edged closer I imagined I could see the door bowing in the centre. Surely it was just my imagination? As though in answer to my query the door creaked as though under great stress. The bolt holding the door shut stood firm, for now.

I looked around and could see no in the hallway. A dozen questions filled my mind. Who was in the room? Why had they been locked in? And by whom?

“Hello?” I called, unsure if I would be heard over the grunts. The noise didn’t change. To my ears it lacked the quality of ferociousness. Someone, or something, was trapped.

As a boy, I’d been trapped in a dark, strange place and I hadn’t liked it. I remembered the feeling well, now decades later. Tentatively my hand reached up to the bolt. The outward pressure being applied made it hard work but with great effort I managed to slide it across.

I was ready when it released, and leapt backwards as the door flung open.

Inside was the pitiful display of an elephant crammed into a space too small for it. The elephant could barely move more than blink is eyes, and even as I watched it moved it’s trunk into the hallway with a look of relief at a momentary chance to stretch, even a little bit.

The elephant was well and truly in the room, and no one – even attempting to enter the room could ignore its presence.

Acknowledging the Presence

The elephant in the room is I haven’t written in a while.

I had planned to be revising The Rebel Queen. Well, that’s not happening at all at the moment. Nor am I working on any of the other projects which I had previously been so excited about.

Why am I not writing? I’m not sure to be honest. You could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps I’m in a funk because I’m yet to hear about my submission of Vengeance Will Come. That’s a reasonable assumption, but it’s not true in this case. Even before I submitted a disquiet inside of me was growing.

Something which has haunted me for quite a while were the examples of (the late) Keith Green, musical extraordinaire and Francine Rivers, the successful Christian author. Both of them, at different points in their faith were called to give up their craft (music and writing) for a significant point of time. They had to make sure they were doing ‘it’ for God, and not for their own glory. Their example has always haunted me. Would I be willing to give up my writing? Would I be able to? I could never answer that question. Maybe this is my own season of putting it down – or at least – refocusing it?

I’ve also been feeling more convicted that my time should be spent on things of the eternal – things that will last – not the temporal.

The truth is I’m not sure quite what is happening, but for this season in my life writing is taking a back seat to other priorities. I’m putting more effort into relationships and building up the men’s ministry at my church.

So what have I been doing?

I’ve also been reading a lot. I’ve got more books on the go — too many — at the moment. I’m re-reading Keith Green’s autobiography No Compromise and Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn. I’m also reading How to Build a Life-Changing Men’s Ministry by Steve Sonderman and Living Water by Brother Yun. I had also started (and understandably put-down-for-now) The Book that Made Your World by Vishal Mangalwadi, The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan and SPQR by Maggie Beard. All this from someone who normally reads one book at a time!

My (lesser) free time has been spent programming.

Will I be Writing?

I’m sure I’ll be writing something. Probably a lot more faith-related material. I might even write some non-fiction, but likely that it will be much smaller size. Writing something smaller takes a lot less time than writing or revising an entire novel.

What does it mean for this blog?

I think it will continue (at this stage). It will broaden: I’ll write about more topics than writing; probably much more on faith and other things which I am passionate about. It probably won’t be every week (as has been my normal rate). Right now, it’s hard to say – because everything feels up in the air.

Advertisements

The Western Church

For too long I have swallowed a lie. The edges of the lie occasionally made me uncomfortable but by-and-large it has gone down with my consent.

Like Neo taking the red pill in The Matrix, I’m beginning to wake up.

The lie is this: the church must present itself in a certain way in order to attract people. It must have an attractive building, easy parking and worship times should be convenient. As Westerners we have come to expect a certain level of comfort… how could we possibly convince people to come unless they are going to be comfortable and have a great experience?

The statement has a ring of truth to it; all good lies do. To attract a certain type of person it is true. Fortunately, however, Jesus covers off on this in Luke 14:16-23:

Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

people-1550501_960_720Jesus makes it clear – if those we invite are too distracted by the world, then we should instead go to those who will be interested in the invitation. The widow and the orphan, the homeless – all those seeking God and His love aren’t picky about the building’s décor. Did we really think our flashy building could add anything to the draw-card of the Father’s love?

It does make it harder to reach people, because of the likely sacrifice it will cost us. We’ll have to turn down the comfort-controls a notch or three. It may be harder for us to relate to the less fortunate. We might actually start learning what it is to carry a cross…

The whole idea is counter-cultural, but that’s exactly what Jesus was.

The Moon is A Harsh Mistress

harsh mistressThis post is discussing The Moon is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein which I recently read on the back of a favorable review by The Critiquing Chemist.

This review contains minor spoilers, because I can’t be bothered filtering my thoughts.

It’s a hard nut to crack at first. Heinlein intentionally makes the syntax difficult; the speaker is Russian and a moon-dweller, which only adds to a plausible warping of grammar and spelling.

To be honest if it wasn’t a combination of who wrote it + a favorable review + a piqued interest in the sentient computer, I might not have gotten further than a few chapters. It’s a hard nut because of the difficulty of the syntax. (The clear lesson is if you’re going to take risks, you’d better hook your audience fast… Having a solid author profile doesn’t hurt either).

The story quickly sets up the sides: a politically ambivalent viewpoint character, an activist professor and a sentient computer vs “the establishment” (who control the moon and Earth).

My thoughts and observations (in no particular order):

  • The viewpoint character, Manuel, is made sympathetic by being a regular guy. A computer specialist who has the quirk of having lost one arm. Futuristic technology allows him to swap-out his arm for various tasks. While he does make some mention of this, and in some respects it is useful, the prosthetic arm is down-played.

    Despite being a key-conspirator, I’d characterise Manuel as un-radicalised. He allows himself to be pulled along with the plot (pun intended), but doesn’t come across as being crazily committed. While he knows that change would be good, he’s also fairly comfortable living under (and ripping off) the establishment in it’s current form.

    (I could understand if you disagreed with me on this point. He absolutely risks his life a number of times – which shows commitment… but I never saw him as white-eyed, mouth-frothing…)

  • Manuel’s political ambivalence works for the story pacing. Because he’s a regular guy who is practical; a do’er not a talker, he tends to skip over detail… The reader understands that some bits are short on depth, just because Manuel doesn’t care about the political machinations of government. Because of the character’s personality, Heinlein has permission as the author to skip detail without breaking trust with the reader.
  • It’s also an interesting scenario where the hero of the story (arguably), but definitely the protagonist, is a sentient computer. “Mike” as he’s known possesses formidable calculation speed and is a one-man, er one-machine, revolution. He is however limited by his stationery life, relying on humans to achieve things in the physical realm. He might fiddle around in the background and cause mayhem for the establishment, but all the up-front work must be done by humans.
  • Heinlein does well in that the characters often refer to each other using various names. The Professor calls him Manuel, his girlfriend often refers to him as Mannie and Mike refers to him as Man. Just like in real life, we don’t always call the same person by the same name.
  • The story didn’t end where I expected. Perhaps my own negativity was expecting the rise of SkyNet, or the proverbial other shoe to drop. “Thanks for helping me predict human behaviour, but now I must put you in the recycle bin.” Nope, didn’t happen.

It has some great phrases, which I appreciated:

  • “Mort the Wart had never shown such tendencies, had been King Long throughout tenure.”
  • “…merely a literary critic, which is harmless, like dead yest in beer.”
  • “But you have no talent for dishonesty, so your refige must be ignorance and stubborness. You have the latter; try to preserve the former.”

What I found most disturbing about it is the Kindle reader highlights. It’s almost like I’d picked up a subversives handbook with all the key lessons highlighted.

  • “Under what circumstances is it moral for a group to do that which is not moral for a member of that group to do alone?”
  • “I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”
  • “Must be a yearning deep in human heart to stop other people from doing as they please.”

Heinlein did a great job in making an “other-worldly” civilisation. Certainly it had ties to Earth, but was also separate and distinct from it. The science was reasonably deep, but not overwhelming.

It’s an interesting book and an enjoyable read.

Continuity: Examples from TV

My beautiful wife and I have just celebrated 11 years of marriage. Most of those years have been fantastic, even if there were challenges to overcome. Marriage is awesome when you both put in the effort to look after one another and keep the marriage healthy. It pays dividends like no other investment.

One of our traditions that has developed over the years is we like to celebrate our anniversary by completely relaxing. We buy the latest season of Law and Order SVU and NCIS and then binge watch over a weekend.

Today I’m going to blog about the observations I made on continuity watching both seasons. Continuity is important for all series, whether book or TV.

Continue reading

When you don’t like your main character

She’s so perfect I just puked a little. I apologise for the grotesque (and cliché) expression.

But the cliché fits and it’s how I feel about Sue-Le, my main character in The Rebel Queen. And I don’t mean perfect in a good way. She’s idealistic and only wants the best for her people. And unlike modern politicians, she actually means it. Her only flaw is she’s  innocent to the point of naivety.

This doesn’t make her endearing to the reader, it makes her annoying. In summary: she’s trite, sickly sweet and ultimately annoying. (Is now a good time to ask for beta readers???)

But all is not lost. I’ll put her through the same tumble dry as I have my other characters. I started off with a cast of bland and cliché characters and have redesigned them into interesting, multi-dimensional characters. Sue-Le is going to take a tumble or two more.

I’ve twisted the characters a fair bit to make them interesting. Instead of having a paragraph or two of “who they are”, I now have a page or two. They are richer and deeper. This also makes them more challenging to write. It’s easy to say “write this from the perspective of an older woman”… it’s harder for me to do that as a young-ish male 🙂

After spending most of 2017 revising Vengeance Will Come I must admit I’d rather be writing a new story than revising still… There is also a temptation to say The Rebel Queen is written, and only doing a skin-deep revision. But I wrote earlier that I’m wanting to do a thorough revision, to improve the story as much as possible.

That means I’m re-writing entire scenes and I’m treating the plot as ‘branch A’ instead of a ‘blueprint’ of what must be.

On to writing… have a great day/evening.

Bring what you have to the World

Cross-stitch

Merry Christmas to one and all.

May this be a time of reconnection with family and friends, and making the most of all that we have.

Spare a prayer too, for those who have lost loved ones, or are separated from those they’d like to be with.

Sometimes in life we may feel that we have nothing to offer God, or the world. We might not be as innovative as Steve Jobs, or as compassionate as Mother Teresa.

But the choice we are all faced with is are we going to bring what we have?