Tuesday, November 11, 2008

These are the times that free men's souls

Yes, like many an amatuer blogger, I have fallen behind yet again. I will not bore the reader with the reasons for my delay, but will instead jump right into my entry for today.

The recent election has been on the hearts, minds and lips of the world for nearly two years. I apologize for being among the number keeping the spirit of discontent alive. However, I hope to assuade the dejection of those who were upset by the outcome.

There are no shortage of naysayers out there and of course there are even more singing the praises of our newly elected President. I myself had a pretty strong feeling that the current situation is where we would end up. The only suprising thing for me was that I was not dismayed on the morning of November 5, 2008.

Yes, a controversial yet popular political leader has risen to power. Yes, a liberal congress has grabbed the reins of the most powerful country in the world. So what! That is what I have to say.

I don't say this due to any cynical or dejected mentality. What the election results did to my mind was free it to accept and embrace the promises of the gospel. Recent sermons and conferences have persuaded me to believe that peace and prosperity is not the hot-bed of religious reform.

Sure, it is nice to have a comfy, cozy place to go to bed at night and to wake again in the same cradle of security. But...when things go bad, who do we turn to? As I look back at my life, and the lives of countless Americans, it has not been the King of Kings. We have absolutely relied to heavily upon the promises of politicians and processes to further our cause. We have turned away from where our true hope lies.

So what if we lose our jobs, our homes, our cars. It would certainly be uncomfortable, but then again, which of the apostles had any of these things? Is it so amazing that they too were happy without a mortgage and a paycheck to pay it with?

I will leave the reader now with two verses from the Old Testament and hope that they will speak what my feeble mind is unable to convey at this point.

Psalm 20:7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Isaiah 31:1 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wherefore Art Thou?

You may be wondering where I have been as of late. To answer the question, in addition to preparing for NaNoWriMo, I have recently been converting some of my short stories into scripts. I have been really enjoying some great quality Christian Audio dramas online and thought, "Hey! All of my children love to act and most are involved with theater in one way or another."

Thus, I ventured to a couple local electronic stores and invested in some beginner-level audio equipment (a condenser microphone, a mixer, and audio editing software). I turned the little closet under our stairs into a "recording studio" and began recording my children's attempts at the lines I wrote for them. If all goes well, hopefully there will soon be at least one of our family audio dramas online!

In a similar twist, I also am rewriting a story into a script for a group of Christians who met online for the purpose of seeing what it would take to put together our own quality audio drama. That show too will hopefully be available for your listening enjoyment.

November promises to be a very busy time so please bear with me through this blogging dry spell.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

On a Whim with No Prayer

Our Heavenly Father saw it coming, did you? On September 29, 2008, the United States stock market dropped 777 points. Is this just a coincidence? Although I am no apocalyptic soothsayer, I am no believer mere chance or coincidence.

I typed in “pray for our economy” and the result was 4030 hits. I have not had the opportunity to peruse through each solitary instance, but what has been striking to me has been the lack of any of these hits, minus one, to be linked to a single government official.

The very first link in my search leads to John Piper’s “Desiring God” website, and the date for his article was September 19, 2008. John Piper saw it coming, and he encouraged us to pray.

The second link was from the Presidential Prayer team. Unfortunately, the underlying message in that article is a discussion about legal attacks on the National Day of prayer. Really? When we are in the midst of a global economic catastrophe and should be on our knees, people are suing President Bush regarding a single day of prayer. This single article explains very well why we are in this mess in the first place.

One shining moment among the list of Google links is an article dated October 4, 2008. In that article is a single, obscure quote by Democratic Representative Marcy Kaptur, "Pray for our republic, she's being placed in very uncaring and greedy hands." My concern for this is that it doesn’t seem as much a prayer to God for our Republic, but rather a political plea against the Bush Administration. Never-the-less, it is a public call for prayer.

A vast number of the remaining links are to apocalyptic naysayer websites doing little more than sounding an alarm and pointing out that the end is near. Yes, it is, and it has been for quite some time.

I must confess that I am not a news channel junkie, nor do I subscribe to any newspapers, but I have yet to hear any of our government leaders, minus the one quoted already, to call for prayer for our nation.

Our government jumped in overnight to throw $700 billion dollars at a problem whose price tag they really have no clue about. Hmmm… 7 hundred billion dollars. Another interesting number.

Christian, our country does need prayer. I have been neglectful in my responsibilities in this regard. Have you? Where will our help come from? I dare say it is not the government, but that is where we seem to be placing our highest hopes.

Please join me in praying for our economy, our country, our leaders, our world and the peace and security of Israel. Let us not fret over hard times. After all, it has traditionally been the hardest of times that the gospel flourishes.

"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." 2 Chronicles 7:14

Friday, October 10, 2008

An Historic Debate

As the saying goes, "timing is everything." Such it is with the timliness of my reading and research for Uncommon Brethren. Whilst we are in the throngs of the hype and hysteria of a loud and tedious Presidential campaign, the two leading contenders have engaged is somewhat of a civilized debate.

In the summer and fall of 1858, there too was somewhat of a civilized debate in progress. Not between Presidential candidates, but the outcome of that series of debates did propel the next President of the United States onto the national public stage.

The debates between Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln were essentially a debate between slavery and abolitionism. As a result of these debates, path was laid and a coures was set.

I have known for several years that part of my story would involve these important historical events, yet I still have not decided to what degree. I have spent the past several weeks pouring over material related to the debate, and through the incredible resource of the internet, stumbled across an astonishing resource.

The fine people at Google Books have been spending untold time and energy making digital copies of historical manuscripts available to the public. One such resource is "The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858." While I have no intention of pouring over every one of the 630 plus pages, my focus on a specific two of the debates has been fascinating.

Reader, if you love history and you have the time, I highly recommend reading this tremendous historical text. If you do not have time, wait for the publishing on Uncommon Brethren for a brief and small taste of the spirited exchange!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Unveiling of a Title

I have been keeping the title for my first novel under wraps since the very beginning. However, I let the cat out of the bag on another forum and thought it would now be appropriate to "unveil" my title and a short synopsis.

"Uncommon Brethren"

Johnathan McClain has big ideas for the future of his son. While his father expects him to take up the family business and evangelize the countryside with the religion of the dollar, young Robert McClain has his heart set on a different path. His heart for the gospel drives him to a desire to spread the word of God, but three things stand in his way: a lack of faith, a general disdain for people, and a war on the horizon.

Almost as soon as the graduation bells toll around the campus of Shurtleff College, another ringing of the bells signals a call to arms. With an intensely ideological view of peace, Robert is thrust into the chaos and pandemonium that ensues. His greatest desire is to build a loyal congregation in a time when loyalty itself is called into question. His mission to establish a true and lasting legacy takes him into the heart of danger and to places he dares not go.

With the future uncertain, Robert McClain clashes with the ideology of bigotry, racism and hatred, but perhaps from the least likely places. The deafening boom of cannon rattle his every thought. The grotesque mass of dead and dying surrounding him challenge his heart. As the smoke lifts from the battlefields of the American Civil War, a path is laid before him and his own loyalties are tested.

This novel has been a labor of love (and consternation) for several years. I have wrestled to no end various plots, character and scenarios, but through it all, God has had a plan for this story. It has been an adventure, to say the least, to watch the story unfold first-hand.

From time to time I have toyed with the notion of expanding this work into a trilogy, yet as I compile the narrative, it is becoming clearer to me that there is but one story here. I am not closing the door on the idea that others may follow, but one thing is clear. There is a valuable message in Uncommon Brethren and for now, the reality of a trilogy is unclear.

In fact, in preparing for NaNoWriMo, a sequel has become very apparent yet there is much room between the two stories to be able to go back and fill in. I hope that once Uncommon Brethren is complete, you will agree that the message comes not soley from my own pen.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Here Comes ... NaNoWriMo!!!!

While I have been bogged down with some technical research for my novel, I realized that NaNoWriMo is just around the corner. I do not think my current novel will be finished by December due to some major changes I have made in the story. In fact, while the story itself is tremendous and I cannot wait to get it to you, it may be time for a necessary diversion.

The last thing I want is for my major project to begin to feel like a burden. It is a fun and engaing story and it is my greatest desire to bring that excitment forward through the telling.

As such, I have a fun and exciting Western series that I plan as a sequel to the Civil War trilogy. I believe those books will be just as much fun to write and will not involve the degree of technical research as the trilogy. I believe you will find the first book in the sequel series in my quest for NaNoWriMo!!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ah, the good ole days!

If you are like me, you likely often find yourself asking, "Where does the time go?" In my study of history, my romantic notions of days gone by create yearning in my soul to venture back in time. A time before blackberries, PDA's, online calendars, and scribbled notes lost in the recesses of my untidy car. Ah to relive those "simpler" days of yore.

But wait, my day starts at about 7am and ends around 10pm. I drift off to sleep on a warm, padded mattress and wake to the smell of already brewed coffee. I saunter into a relaxing, hot shower and have my pick of any number of comfortable cotton fasions hanging in my air conditioned closet. There is no hurry to bustle out onto the crowded city streets and I simply take my time.

My workday is spent sitting in a padded chair, staring into a glaring white screen. From time to time, when the need arises, I pop up a little window that tells me what is going on, not just outside my window, but upon almost any street corner around the globe. My time up, and work accomplished, my steel chariot carries me home to a hot, cooked meal.

Yes, there are the parent-teacher meetings, Scout gatherings, Church events and family get togethers to contend with, but there is fresh milk and eggs in the refrigerator. Except for the stray invisible germ, my hands rarely get dirty.

I sit down in the evening in my favorite cushy chair and read about the simpler times. The times when my great-grandfather, and many like him, rose before the sun tossed off the veil of night. The trips to the exterior outhouse in the dead chill of winter and then to the barn for the morning supply of newly laid eggs and warm milk. For bacon, well, he had to slaughter the pig, with his bare hands! The fields needed plowed, maintained and harvested. In the heat of summer, there was no solace from the shimmering waves of sunshine, except for the shade of the solar-heated porch. Time to go to town? Its off to the barn to hitch up the horses that needed to be watered and fed, then up to the hard wooden seat and a bumpy ride on steel-girded wheels.

Enough of this! I put the books down, turn of the electric light and head for my private sanctuary. The denim is traded off for cool cotton jamies, then it is under the covers while the fan blows 70 degree air down upon me. Oh, such a stressful time to live in!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Meanwhile...Way Out West

I apologize for the delay in new blog entries over the last week. Its back to school time here in Texas and also back to Scouting! We've wrapped up our first phase of the annual popcorn sale and did quite well for our little band of brothers. We ordered $3500 worth of popcorn and while the final tally is not in yet, I expect that we sold at least $3200 of it. If that holds true, our boys earned nearly $1000 for their camping and outings for the coming year, and this is only the first phase!

I've also been working on my novel, when I can find time, but aside from that I have found a bit of Uncommon History that is rather intriguing. A bit of history that, had the South not seceded, might have altered the course of existence of the Mormons in Utah.

Here is a bit of a teaser...

In 1862, the US Congress enacted the Morrill Act which declared that in any given territory, the practice of bigamy a crime and punishment could range anywhere from a fine up to a five year prison sentence. This Act was aimed directly at the growing Mormon presence out West, but due to the "distraction" of war in the East, it was essentially unenforceable. The more reading I have done sheds light on the fact that Abraham Lincoln, as well as a growing populace, were no friends of the Mormons. A look back at history, without the occurrence of a war in the East, is an interesting episode that may have led to a fight out West.

More interesting evidence is forthcoming, but here is a teaser photo of eight Mormon men imprisoned for practicing plural marriage.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Civil War Tract # 356

From time to time during my reading and research, I discover some fascinating written material. Among such items are Civil War religious tracts that were handed to soldiers during the war. These tracts are timeless and shed light on an uncommon aspect of our history not taught in schools. I will likely write more about these tracts, but for now I would like to share one of my favorites. Tract # 356, The Act of Faith:

"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."--Acts 16:31.

I once saw a lad on the roof of a very high building, where several men were at work. He was gazing about, with apparent unconcern, when suddenly his foot slipped, and he fell. In falling he caught by a rope, and hung suspended in mid-air, where he could neither get up nor down, and where it was evident he could sustain himself but a short time. He perfectly knew his situation, and expected that in a few moments, he must drop upon the rocks below, and be dashed to pieces.

At this fearful moment, a kind and powerful man rushed out of the house, and standing beneath him with extended arms, called out, "Let go the rope, and I will receive you. I can do it. Let go the rope, and I promise you shall escape unharmed."

The boy hesitated a moment, and then quit his hold, and dropped easily and safely into the arms of his deliverer. Here, thought I, is an illustration of faith. Here is a simple act of faith. The boy was sensible of his danger. He saw his deliverer, and heard his voice. He believed in him, trusted to him, and letting go every other dependence and hope, dropped into his arms.

So must a sinner distinctly apprehend his guilt and his awful exposure by nature. He must know where he is, and what he needs, before he will apply to Christ for help He must see distinctly, that he is a sinner--a transgressor of God's law, and a rebel against his throne. He must see that he has incurred the sentence of the law; that it is a just sentence, and that he is liable every moment to sink and perish under it. He must see that, so far as his own efforts are concerned, there is no possibility of escape. He can make no amends, no expiation, for his past sins. The long catalogue of his transgressions stands arrayed against him; and for aught he can do, there it must stand. The sentence of the law has been passed upon him, and for aught he can do, it must be speedily executed; and if it is executed, it will sink him for ever; for this sentence is no other than eternal death: "eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power." 2 Thess. 1 : 9. In this awfully exposed, and so far as he is concerned, helpless and hopeless condition, he must see himself, before he will consent to drop into the arms of the Saviour, and accept deliverance on the conditions of the gospel.

And he must see more than this. He must see who the Saviour is, and what he has done, and what is his ability and readiness to save. Suppose the boy, suspended by the rope, had seen another little boy like himself come out of the house and stretch his weak arms, and call upon him to trust to him for deliverance. He would have cried out at once, "You cannot save me. Get out of the way, or I shall fall and crush myself and you." Just so the convicted sinner fee's, when invited to put his trust in a man like himself. "A mere human deliverer!" he exclaims--"do you mean to mock me? What can such a deliverer do for a wretch like me? What can he do with those mountains of guilt which are pressing upon me, and with that deathless worm which is gnawing within me? What can he do with the dreadful sentence of the law which hangs over me, and the devouring flames which are kindled to consume me?" The sinner feels now that he needs a divine Saviour, an almighty Saviour--one who is able to "save to the uttermost"--one whose "blood cleanseth from all sin." He feels that no other Saviour can meet the fearful exigencies of his case, or can ever do him any good. And when he looks into the Bible, and finds that just such a Saviour is provided and freely offered; when he finds that a holy Saviour, whose word is truth--a glorious Saviour, altogether deserving his confidence and love; when, with the eye of faith, he sees the Saviour standing beneath him, extending his mighty arms to receive him, and calling out to him to let go all his false dependences and hopes, and drop at once into his faithful hands: what should prevent him from doing it--from simply putting forth the act of faith, and falling into the kind and gracious arms of his Deliverer? He obviously has all the knowledge and conviction that are necessary, and he has only now to believe in Christ, to trust to him, to fall into his embrace, and live for ever. But suppose a man, while hanging, as it were, over the jaws of death, begins to doubt the ability or the readiness of Christ to save. Suppose he begins to reason with himself, "My soul is of great value, and the difficulties in the way of my salvation are great. How do I know that this Jesus can save me--that he can cleanse such a polluted heart, and rescue such a vile and guilty sinner? Or if he can, how do I know that ne will? He may not be sincere in his offers. It may be he only intends to trifle with my misery." Would not this be a high affront and indignity offered to the benevolent Saviour? Would it not provoke him soon to withdraw his gracious hand, and say, "Well, sinner, if you are determined not to be saved, then you must perish. If you will not trust in me, then you must be cast off forever."

Or suppose that, while the Saviour is crying, "Look unto me, and be ye saved," you should say, "I am not worthy to come to Christ as I now am. I must wait till I have done something to recommend me to his regards." And suppose the Saviour should continue crying, "Come just as you are; come in all your vileness, and be cleansed in the fountain of my blood;" and you still hold back, and persist in the struggle, and hang upon the vain excuse; might he not be expected soon to withdraw, and leave an unbelieving rebel to perish?

Or suppose you should say, "How came I to be a sinner? Why did God permit me to sin, or permit sin to come into the world?" Or, "how can I believe of myself? Is not faith the gift of God? and until the gift is bestowed, what can I do but patiently to wait for it?" Or suppose you fly to the other extreme, and say, "I can believe and secure my salvation whenever I please; I need be in no haste about it. I will put off the work till a more convenient season." Or suppose you alledge that you are not yet enough convicted; have not had enough feeling, enough distress, to render it possible for you to come to Christ. Suppose you speculate and trifle, and think to throw off present obligation in either of these ways; what must be the feelings of the Saviour in regard to you? Here the poor rebel hangs over the pit of destruction, ready to drop at once into the burning lake; and here the Saviour stands in all his fulness, offering to rescue him, and pleading with him to submit, and live. What more likely method could he take to seal and secure his own destruction?

Suppose the boy suspended by the rope, instead of dropping into the arms extended to receive him, had insisted on first knowing how he came to fall--"How came my foot to slip, and I to make this fearful plunge? Why did not the men on the roof take better care of me? Or suppose he had said, "I have no power to let go the rope. My hands are fast clenched upon it, and how can I open them of myself?" Or, "I can let go and be delivered at any time, and I choose to hang a little longer. Perhaps I have not yet had enough distress." Would he not be evidently beside himself? And yet such is the conduct of the great mass of sinners, and of serious, awakened sinners under the gospel.

Reader, what is your state? Are you yet in your sins? Do you see your dreadful guilt and exposure? And do you anxiously seek and inquire for deliverance? If not, it will be in vain to direct you. You will not follow any directions, if given. But if you see yourself to be all guilty and exposed; if your feelings prompt you to inquire, with the trembling jailer, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" then it is easy and pleasant to direct you, to point you to the compassionate Saviour. There he stands, with outstretched arms, waiting to intercept your fall. Hear him calling.

Hear him inviting. "Come, come, for all things are now ready." Sinner, yield to him. Yield at once. Do not doubt his ability to save you. Do not doubt the sincerity of his offers. Do not wait to make yourself better. Do not hesitate or speculate a moment. Remember, that the question before you is one of right and wrong; and it is also one of salvation or destruction. You cannot delay without adding to your sin, and hazarding the interests of your immortal soul. Now, then is your time. Now, while you are reading and pondering these lines--now, while the pressure of obligation is strong upon you, let go, at once, every other dependence, and fall into the arms of your all-powerful Deliverer.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A lesson from the strangest place

This past week, between frenzied scout meetings, fundraisers, the beginning of a new school year and the constant attention I place upon my novel, I somehow found the time to write an entry for the FaithWriters Weekly Challenge.

Over the course of a few days I outlined, sketched, drafted, edited then submitted “Slough of Despondence.” I had little illusion that I could repeat the previous week’s first place finish, but I thought the entry was splendid.

The next several days I received numerous “yellow boxes,” the comments of other writers. Their glowing reviews of the entry puffed me up greatly and I began thinking that perhaps I just might pull off two top-three finishes in a row.

Today, the results came in and as I read the list, I felt the air slowly buzz out of my self-made balloon. I didn’t see my name in the top three, the top fifteen, or even the top forty. I even used the search function on my browser just to make sure I didn’t miss it. There was nothing to be found.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I was or am heart-broken, but it was a huge let-down and did not connect with the comments I had read in the course of the past week.

As I sat at work, pushing out my digital projects, I listened to many of the speeches and commentaries that have surrounded the political air of the Democratic National Convention. Now, it must be noted that I am a fervent Independent and lean neither towards the Democratic or Republican parties. I find it difficult in these troubling times to honestly trust anything that comes out of the mouths of the wealthy elite of our nation.

However, when I came across a few stories about Joe Biden, something he said is still ringing in my ears. Failure and success is not marked by how many times you get knocked down, but how quickly you get back up. I am certain I have heard this pep-talk innumerable times from my own parents and elsewhere, but for some reason, the tone Joe Biden took and the look in his eyes spoke directly to me.

My life has not been marked with success after success, rather, failure after failure. Yet through it all, I have always gotten back up and moved forward. This little blip on my writing portfolio will not mark my downfall. I will get back up and I will continue on. Rejection is a most common aspect in the life of a writer and it is time I get used to it. Thank you, Joe Biden for the reminder. I’m probably still not voting for you, but thank you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Trilogy Progress - Book One

To begin, I have decided to withhold the title of the books and series for added suspense ;)

The outline of this decade long project has been "complete" for nearly six months. As happens in the course of such a large project, the outline is dynamic and prone to tweeks here and there. There was one small gap, but a month ago a moment of inspiration hit and all of the blank spots are filled in. Once that final piece was written in, it felt almost as if the novel was now done. The relief I felt was indescribable.

My goal is somewhere between 80,000 to 90,000 words as I am certain it is likely to shrink during the editing process. I am making great strides and so far have nearly 20,000 words written. Now, it may seem surprising to those that I tell that the novel is nearly written when the word count has not even reached the 50% mark.

So why do I make this claim? The reason is simple, to my mind anyway. The first several chapters are used to build up to the part of the novel my mind is most familiar with. I believe that once I get to the 30,000-40,000 word count, the rest of the words will flow rapidly. I have those places, dates, characters, and settings so memorized in my head that sometimes I wished I could just plug a USB drive into my temple! It is setting the story with interesting historical fact, character development and plot driving material that has so consumed my time. I have also begun making research contacts and identifying locations for book two. That put some of my creativity time for book one on hold, but I think it is important to make these contacts. Having my facts straight for book two will aid in moving that book along at a much faster pace than book one.

I have also send the first chapter of book one to some trusted FaithWriter companions for critique and am anxious to hear their feedback.

It is my hope to have the completed draft for book one ready for edit by Christmas, 2009.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Know What You Write

Years ago, when I first began to realize a personal ambition to become a writer, I thought it was as simple as putting pen to paper. As any writer will attest, the process is nowhere near that cut and dry.

Of course I do not mean to say that writing is difficult. With few exceptions, anyone can write. My problem was that I actually desired people to read my words. Therein lies the rub. Writing something that is not only readable, but enjoyable, suspenseful, and perhaps even meaningful.

If you want to write for readers, you can't afford to cut corners. It is reasonable to expect that more experienced, published writers may indeed cut corners, but I tend to believe that to be an exception to the norm. The success rate for a person who sits down at a table and pens, from beginning to end, a best-selling work is astronomically low.

There are scores of great blogs and how-to's out there that cover the necessary mechanics to a well-written manuscript. This entry however focuses on only one aspect of the process.

When I first began to realize that my writing was sub par, I too began looking into the how-to's of writing, and still do. One of the themes that kept recurring in my research was this: Write What You Know!

I went through self-inventory processes to define just what it was that I knew so that I could begin writing. The problem was that upon honest reflection upon the things that I knew, I realized I didn't know what I wanted to write. Oh I knew what I wanted to write, but I didn't know much, if anything, about the subjects. What was I to do?

Two obvious options surfaced:

1) I could change what I wanted to write about and focus instead on what I already knew
2) I could learn more about what I wanted to write about

I chose option 2, but the subsequent question was, "Where to begin?"

Those were the days before the internet so I began in the library. I wore out my library card even had to pay a hefty overdue fine when I discovered one of the books had travelled around the world with me on a US Navy vessel. I spent so much time at the library, and visiting battlefields, that it wasn't long before my friends began wondering who my secret lover was!

The advent of the internet has made such research more accessible, but it has been incrementally more essential to check and recheck sources. The internet can be a great tool, but if you remember back to the beginning of this article, anyone can write.

Over the course of the last two decades of reading and research, I do not claim to be an expert upon the US Civil War, but I have arrived at the same understanding that most scholars come to. I know something about the subject, but the more I learn, the more I realize I do not know.

I think it is important for any writer, especially one engrossed in historical fiction, to reach this pinnacle. A writer who presumes to be an expert, often with little education (whether it be colligiate or personal), is bound to write a heap of garbage. People may read it, but what they have read is propaganda, not history. That, of course, is a hot topic for another time.

To return to the theme of today's topic, if you want to write today, write what you know. If you desire to write on a subject you are unfamiliar or relatively unversed in, you need to read and research to a point that you know what you write.

Friday, August 22, 2008

What's In a Voice?

"Speak up! Project! I can't hear you!" The gentle yet commanding words of the lengendary theater arts teacher, Mr. Ford, still ring in my ears. I loved the artistry of live theater and the words written by Mr. Shakespeare have no equal. I would read the scripts and feel their power, but the minute I was on stage, the triumphant words of Shakespeare might has well have been coming from the likes of Remy (the mouse of Ratatouille fame).

Throughout my highschool years I served several times as a patrol and senior patrol leader for my Boy Scout troop, but never mastered the art of speaking above the masses. The trend continued through my experience in Navy bootcamp and that is definitely not the place to have a sheepish voice. Years of working alongside Navy Chiefs, Lieutenants, Captains and Admirals, in the bowels of a dirty, noisy, busy ship did help, but I still needed to find my voice.

Years later, through Civil War reenacting, I gradually increased my skills in speaking with others as I was repeatedly called upon to explain aspects of the war and the life of the soldier. Those experiences helped me dramatically. Even so, when speaking to classrooms of middle-schoolers or university students (shameless plug intended to invoke your desire to have me as a speaker), I often find the audience, once actively enaged, to be reaching for something to hear.

Then I found FaithWriters. I posted a few articles and entered a meager number of writing challenges, only to discover that my writing voice echoed my speaking voice. Over the course of the years I have taken the wise counsel of many a FaithWriter and put the advice to the test.

I took a short break and worked intently upon my written words. I went back to the beginning of the novel I have been working on for several years and tweaked a sentence here and removed another there.

As soon as my sabadical from FaithWriters ended, I took some of my reasearch and applied it to a FaithWriters challenge. The comments began to roll in and my jaw nearly hit the table. As the week came to a close and the judging results were posted I expected nothing more than perhaps a brief "honorable mention." When I discovered my entry had earned second place and finally moved me up from beginners to intermediate, I literally jumped from my chair, did a little dance that would have embarrassed me in public, and sounded a great number of personal cheers.

I returned once more to my novel writing and another short break from FaithWriters for some needed vacation and rest. The summer drew to an end and I entered another challenge. Again, having moved into a higher bracket, I didn't expect much. The results came in and I nearly fell out of my chair.... FIRST PLACE!!!! There had to be a mistake! The next day the list of overall rankings came in and out of nearly 200 entries, my little 750 word piece was ranked 16th!

I believe, Mr. Ford, I have found my voice.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Pits and Pendulums of Writing

Anyone who has tried their hand at writing has experienced swings from inspiration to boredom and creativity to lucidity. For me, what causes these things is not as important as how to handle them. Certainly being a husband, father of five and a Boy Scout Scoutmaster lends itself to periods of pure exhaustion. Still, there are those oasis periods in that I find hours upon hours without something "scheduled" to do.

Naturally when these periods occur I tell myself to run to the computer and begin writing. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. Although I'm not much of a television person, I have been known to fill some of these downtimes with mindnumbing video excursions. Other times however I can be found sitting at my computer staring at a pure white screen that begs me to begin typing, but nothing comes.

The rarer of these occasions will find me at my computer, typing like a madman, unable to type as fast as my brain comes up with ideas. If I am writing on one particular project, those are some of the most fruitfull experiences. If instead I am simply writing to keep my mind excercised or to compose a short story or article, the files get saved and remain dormant somewhere within the recesses of that electronic black box.

In the past, I have had the luxury of specifically set aside times each day to write, but lately I primarily have only one small time slot during the week to write my great American novel. Sadly, these boxed in timeslots are often accompanied by an internal conflicted desire to simply relax. Sometimes that is just what I do.

Because my current status as a writer is more as a hobbyist than a career, I find it suitable to enjoy both the times of creation and relaxation. It has taken me a number of years to accept the fact that my novel will not be written this week, but each time I pen a scene or chapter, I feel a sense of accomplishment.

I rest in the hope that one day the story in my head will land in your hands, and the years of toil and rest will bring you joy and excitement.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Spirituality and the US Civil War

What could possibly stir up more controversy concerning the US Civil War than the issue of slavery. If nothing comes to mind, the next time you are at a Civil War roundtable or reenactment, ask someone thier religious convictions about slavery.

To me, this was (and is) at the very heart of the matter. If modern historical-revisionists insist on their claim that the United States was not founded on Christian principles, let them tackle the slavery question from an atheistic point-of-view. Of course this is tried time and again through socio-economic terms, but those views simply fall flat upon the revelation of historical documentation.

I no longer actively participate in Civil War reenactments but did so for the better part of a decade. The groups I participated in were considered "hardcore" representations of historical units. Our efforts were less on the dates and battles that history textbooks are ripe with and more upon the realistic portrayal of the private soldier. The problem was, everyone seemed to want to play the part of the drunkard or irreverant and profane backslider.

Few to none actually felt inclined to play the part of the reverent Christian of which the majority of both armies consisted of. Most wanted to be the general or the captain or the lieutenant, but few wanted to represent the revered regimental chaplain. In fact, in my early days as a reenactor, it was my own personal disdain for the chaplain that caused me much strife on a weekend event.

Through fervent study to try to revise the chaplain from the field, I discovered a most uncommon history.

Favorite Books

  • Portals to Hell
  • To Die In Chicago
  • While God is Marching On

Favorite Movies

  • Dances With Wolves
  • Gettysburg
  • Glory
  • Master and Commander
  • Red Badge of Courage