Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Trinity Arts Conference and A Fiction Update

An update:  We have officially decided to go to the Trinity Arts Conference!  My wife wrote her way through the decision-making process in this post, we sent in the check, and BAM!  We're conference bound.  Mary Ann decided not to attend the conference, but she, the kids, and her parents will be visiting her Aunt Pam in McKinney, TX.

This is a big deal for me.  I've wanted to write at least since I was a young teenager (it was comic books back then), but this is really the first step I've taken toward putting my fiction out for public consumption.  Well . . . not quite the first step.  The first step came yesterday, when I read the first chapter of my novel (you read that right!) to my fellow-students in my Christianity and Imagination class.

I was nervous.  As I said to the class, I've preached before, bared my soul on this blog, and sent out a non-fiction paper for publication, but I've never shared my fiction with anyone outside of my family (My "Vintage Furniture and Oddities" post doesn't count since I didn't really invest myself in it).  I have never been a 'reviser' either, but I actually tried to craft this story, not just to barf it out onto the page.

A negative response would have been depressing indeed.

Fortunately, the response was quite positive.  For one thing, three people actually made comments.  No response might have been worse than a negative one.  Three of my classmates spoke to me as class ended, two of them saying they wanted to hear more of the story.  The third said, "So you've finished the novel?"  I decided to interpret that as interest.

And no, by the way, I haven't finished the novel.  Just chapter one and a few important scenes.

The professor also told me he looked forward to reading what I wrote, so that counts as a positive response too.  He is an extraordinarily kind man, though, so he might say that even if the story stunk out loud.

Anyway, I'm taking the chapter and whatever else I can complete before June 12 to the conference for the writer's workshop.  Nerve-wracking, but if I want people to actually enjoy reading my stuff that's what it will take.  I don't want to make any sweeping pronouncements, but this may just be the start of a new direction.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Reciprocal Linkage

You know, I didn't realize that so many of my fellow Covenant guys were regular bloggers.  Jeez, you think you know people . . .

Anyway, a few of my friends have had me linked for a while, and since they have some decent stuff to say I thought I'd link 'em back:

Chris Gensheer at Intersection
Jeff Kerr at The Sojourner
Dave Lindbergh at Changin' Times

Thanks guys!  Now write something earth-shattering.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Church Supporting Art: What Does it Mean?

Tim Challies has provided some 'blog-fodder' for me again.  If ever I run short of ideas again--see my total 4 posts in 2007--I think I'll just hitch my wagon to his, commenting on every post he makes.  Anyway, Tim has read a book called Why We're Not Emergent, which he reviewed here.  A few days back he posted an excerpt about the Church and artists.  It was by Ted Kluck, and Tim found some humor in the article.  I usually agree with what Challies writes, but I read the excerpt, and not only did I not think it was funny, I found parts of it a little insulting.

Am I being hypersensitive?  Am I just grousing because, since I would like to write literature, my ox got gored?  Maybe and maybe.  Still, the excerpt seemed unnecessarily sarcastic toward people who are trying to positively contribute to culture in a self-consciously Christian way.  I wouldn't mind if it seemed like the author was approaching the topic with humility.  He might have said, "I don't understand this movement of the church toward supporting artists, and I am afraid they're missing the boat in some important ways."  Instead he wrote about 20-30 somethings looking like Sufjan Stevens ("skinny, hip, and misunderstood") and trying to "out-dishevel" each other.

For one thing, I ain't skinny.  And I ain't hip.  And I'm only slightly disheveled.  But apparently I am misunderstood, as are the rest of the people who want to support artists in the church.  Kluck himself demonstrates the misunderstanding:

My hunch is that there is this feeling that churches aren’t adequately “supporting” artists (musicians, writers, visual artists) in their midst. However, I don’t exactly see churches “supporting” software designers, salesmen, or farmers either. That’s not the church’s purpose. And it seems that the artists who are making the most noise about “not being supported” are the ones who may not have the talent to really cut it in the marketplace anyway. I don’t know of any working artists (musicians, actors, writers, painters) who complain that their church doesn’t “support” their efforts. Art is tough. Making a living at art is tough. It’s tough on families and marriages. That’s simply the nature of the game.

The Church's support of the arts is not about financial subsidies.  It is about striving for creativity, about pushing the envelope to communicate God's grace in new forms.  It is about creating an environment in the Church that is conducive to producing art that is not 'safe.'  It is about having room for Flannery O'Connor and Frederick Buechner and not just Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.  The latter have their place, though I am not a fan of the Left Behind series, but the former can challenge and transform us in ways we might not have otherwise imagined.  The Church is enriched by art, whether the Church enriches artists financially or not.

Many of us grew up in traditions that denigrated art, treating it like sin or a path that leads straight to sin's door.  We just want our churches to acknowledge that art and literature are good things when done well.

Challies post is not all bad news, though.  The response from those who come from a 'support the arts' perspective has been excellent.  It has been measured, humble, and well thought out.  They pointed out Kluck's misunderstanding and explained what we actually want in a gracious tone, and that is just the sort of art we can all appreciate.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Speed-Writing, Anyone?

Interesting day I had today.  As I mentioned in a previous post I have a "Christianity and Imagination" class this semester.  It's been a great class, and I'll be sorry to see it end.  My professor, Dr. David Calhoun, is a wonderful Christian man who loves to really grapple with good literature.  He introduced me to Frederick Buechner, for which I am thankful, and we will be discussing his work as well as Flannery O'Connor's.  She's been a favorite for a long time, so I'm looking forward to that day.

There is only one grade in the class.  Each student has to put together some form of imaginative art.  It could be a poem, a painting, even a dance.  I planned to write a short story because at any given time I have a number of short stories kicking around in my head.  As I feared, the story has begun to creep beyond the bounds of 'short storydom.'  It's on its way to becoming a novel, I think.  Don't get me wrong:  I will be happy to have a novel if I can complete it.  I'll shop it around.  Finishing it for class will be the problem.

On monday we had 'drawn lots' to see when we would do our presentations.  I drew May 2, which seemed good to me.  That gave me more than a month, and I thought if I aimed at writing 1000 words a day I could have a decent amount of work done.  1000 words a day is a tall order, but it was something to aim for.

But that was before Friday.

It seems that when Dr. Calhoun set up his lot-casting system he was using an outdated list of names.  There are three more people in the class than he thought.  That means that he needed to add an extra day to the presentation schedule.  But that's not a problem.  He thought the most fair thing would be for us to draw lots again.  Suddenly the room felt a little hotter.

The basket went around the room for the second time.  After a few minutes it came to me and I drew my paper.  I opened it, checked the date, and laid it on the table.  My new date is the 18th.

APRIL 18th.

I lost two entire weeks.  If 1000 words a day was unlikely, 2000 is in the realm of the absurd.  I don't suppose I have to have the whole novel finished, but I would like to have most of the first draft done when I do my reading.

So if you'll excuse me, I've got some work to do.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Because You Were All Wondering . . .

No, this is not me:


Though I did teach him everything he knows about basketball . . .