Monthly Archives: April 2012

Monday Meditations: Under Bridges


Under Bridges” by Brave Saint Saturn

I am very reluctant to show songs on this blog that are as explicitly Christian as this one. However, the music moved me so much that I can’t not post this. Which is funny, because this song starts out with a simple guitar strumming; usually songs that start out this way tend to be cliche and annoying. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something different about this one.

When Reese Roper sings, “Hallelujah” at the end, I get a feeling that I rarely feel when I listen to music. When you hear it, you know you’re not hearing some generic youth group singalong, but an authentic and passionate exclamation of joy. You’ve got to give it a try.


“Yesterday while walking

Beneath an overpass

I saw the figure of Jesus

Standing barefoot on broken glass…”

Brave Saint Saturn


The Storyteller Reports: Mein Kampf Republished

Oh, the horror! Did you hear? Germany is republishing Mein Kampf! The Hitler book! The Nazi book! The Devil’s Bible! Who has allowed this? Has the Antichrist come back to earth? Is Satan taking over the world? What are we coming to?

I apologize. I couldn’t resist laying the sarcasm on thick today. The Atlantic  has indeed reported the decision by a German government to re-issue Hitler’s infamous writings. The first issue will be out by around 2015. It will be annotated.

The only thing shocking about it is why it didn’t happen before. Germany has had some rough times since World War Two, but I don’t think banning Mein Kampf would have helped things very much. I like The Atlantic‘s take on the issue; Jacob Heilbrunn comments that “Hitler himself would surely be displeased to know that his book was, in effect, being further defanged by a democratic Germany, which is treating it in a calm and clinical manner.”

Why bother banning Mein Kampf in the first place? I’ve been told it has terrible prose. The ideas are terrible, too, but there’s a difference between saying that and then actually reading the ideas. Banning books makes people suspicious in these times. .

At least they do on my side of the Atlantic. This incident makes me want to understand more about German society in the last couple of decades. Was it indeed wise to have the book banned for a while? I’d be interested to see the answer; I think it might be more complex than I understand right now. Also, to be honest, I do want to read Mein Kampf, if ever I found the time. I want to know my enemy.

Monday Meditations: Lost In The Flood

Bruce Springsteen is awesome. What more must I really say?


“Lost In The Flood” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Nothing starts your week like Bruce whispering fearfully and howling like a wildcat about the apocalypse.


“And I said, ‘Hey kid, you think that’s oil? Man, that ain’t oil, that’s blood!’

I wonder what he was thinking when he hit that storm, or was he just lost in the flood?”

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

The Storyteller Reports: No Pulitzer This Year?

The recent decision of the Pulitzer Prize committee to refuse to pick a winner for Best Fiction strikes me as odd. According to The New York Times, they claim that because they could not select a suitable winner among the finalists, they could not pick a suitable winner. The article further revealed that this has happened several times before in Pulitzer Prize history.

What on earth was stopping them from picking a winner anyway, or picking new finalists? When you are at an ice-cream store, you are not being considerate by refusing to choose; you are being a sissy. Human decision-making is never perfect. Just go with your gut and name a book. There are thousands of great novels floating around up there. Didn’t they deserve a chance?

While you’re chewing on that, I thought I might also mention a delightful opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal about fiction. Cynthia Crossen thinks that all fiction is escapist, and that what is criticized as escapist fiction is “bad escapism—books with cartoonish characters, outlandish coincidences, nonsensical plots, strings of clichés and tidy endings.”

I have little to add, except to tell you to go read it, and to say this: fiction concentrates our imagination and our passion on something other than where we are. What have you done when you have yearned to go somewhere else? You have yearned to escape.


Monday Meditations: Cheerfulness in the Face of Evil

I think it’s in The King and I  where you’ll find a song about whistling when you’re in disconcerting circumstances. It being spring and all, I decided post something similarly cheerful for dark times. Elmer Bernstein has something wonderful for us to listen to. I will hum this song to myself if I’m ever walking through a graveyard at 3 in the morning.


“Main Title/Theme” from The Great Escape Soundtrack by Elmer Bernstein

This song sounds so cheerful, and to everyone who’s seen the movie it sounds so exciting. The music describes Hilts and Bartlett and MacDonald perfectly. They’re always so charismatic and chipper, even when they’re preparing to sneak past killers armed with machine guns. I confess a desire to act just like them.


“Colonel Von Luger, it is the sworn duty of all officers to try to escape. If they cannot escape, then it is their sworn duty to cause the enemy to use an inordinate number of troops to guard them, and their sworn duty to harass the enemy to the best of their ability.”

The Great Escape

Notes Of A Storyteller: Spontaneous Storytelling Is Not As Awesome As It Sounds

When I was writing The Quest, I was a big believer in spontaneous storytelling. I’m still guilty of it from time to time, and I do still think it helps, but it wound up wasting precious time for me.

By spontaneous storytelling, I mean writing without a plan. I have a tendency to get a random idea when I’m writing a story. Usually it leads me in a different direction with the passage I’m writing. I’ll sit down, intending to write about a unicorn galumphing down a field, and then get a cool idea and have the unicorn make a detour to visit a family of leprechauns, to show off his character traits.

Needless to say, this method soon backfired on me.

When I wrote the rough draft for The Quest, I wrote a 15,000-word detour for Arman and his friends that had absolutely no point. They went around these little kingdoms giving the same message that they had given in previous chapters (boring), they met characters that never appear again in the darned trilogy (boring), and they pulled a prank on some warriors that didn’t make any sense, in order to reveal character traits that had already been established (BORING).

It is with great reluctance that I show you the beginning lines of this detour…

   Over a month, as spring burst into its resplendence, and began to mature towards what another few weeks would make a summer, Hiriam led his charges through what Arman at least considered to be the most eye-opening leg of the journey so far.

In Horoan’s toungue this is known as the Plain of Treachery,” said Hiriam, with a slight contempt.

     “We simply dubbed it the Land of Many Crowns,” said Vertaen matter-of-factly.

     “We call it,” said Larsor, with a peculiar gravity, “The Sea of Kingdoms.”

     Although they had long and lengthy arguments upon which of those names held the greatest prominence, Arman, though he joined in them gladly, secretly lodged thoughts that all of them and others unsaid would be a more apt expression of the land they travelled through.”

Ugh. Ugh, ugh, ugh. All you learned from that could have been used in one freaking sentence. Our heroes are travelling through a hodgepodge of tiny little kingdoms.


Eventually, I did. In fact, when I began editing in earnest in the summer of 2011, I cut the whole detour. I hadn’t planned for it at all in my outline, and it wound up wasting my time. There were other places where writing with my whims helped. They helped greatly with details like how exactly people talk to each other, or what they’re holding in their hands when they’re thinking about a problem. I can improvise stuff like that quickly and effectly.

But I can’t improvise basic plot points, and neither should you. Learn from me. Think long and hard before making significant changes to your plot, especially while you’re writing it. If you make a sudden change because it just feels right, you risk writing something really bad, and something which causes disharmony in your story. Oh, and you’ll make Sorcerer Tim up there angry. You should always trust his judgement.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from The Quest as it is today, from about the same point where the detour used to be.


“No, not yet, Larsor!”

Arman woke to see Larsor and Vertaen standing at the cave mouth, and Oarath sitting next to him.

“You should sleep some more while you can,” said Oarath, “We leave in a few minutes, while we still have the cover of darkness.”

Arman nestled his head back onto his arm.

“I hear bootsteps,” he mumbled. “Lots of them. Another army?”

“The same as before. The orcs are still with them. They’ve won a victory of some kind.”


Isn’t that better?

The Storyteller Reports: Jodi Picoult Speaking Her Mind

I like honesty in people, especially when it comes to matters of life and death. That’s why I was glad to read an interview of bestselling author Jodi Picoult about her new novel that touches on euthanasia. I don’t agree with everything she said, but she said it loud and proud. She didn’t leave any doubt where she stood.

Hurrah, says I. Jodi stands in a long line of writers who have made their politics clear. John Milton, the famous English poet, spoke against Parliament for freedom of speech. Allen Ginsberg, to whom we owe “Howl” and other gripping modern poetry, protested the Vietnam War. We need people like that. Writing literature can make you a little crazy. The world needs crazy people so it will keep asking questions. A bold voice can cure many evils.

With the recent furor over the HHS mandate, and unresolved issues like gay marraige and abortion, we need more bold voices. I applaud any fiction writer who stands up for what he/she believes.

But be careful.

That can be a dangerous move, and it’s not just because it makes enemies. Think about this. How far can you go before you tangle literature too much with politics? You don’t want to come to the point where you write blatant social novels, like Upton Sinclair. I read a Nobel Lecture the other day by a Chinese writer named Gao Xingjian that touched on this issue…

“In order that literature safeguard the reason for its own existence and not become the tool of politics it must return to the voice of the individual, for literature is primarily derived from the feelings of the individual and is the result of feelings. This is not to say that literature must therefore be divorced from politics or that it must necessarily be involved in politics. Controversies about literary trends or a writer’s political inclinations were serious afflictions that tormented literature during the past century.”

I’ll leave you to think about that. Does a writer have the right to speak out about politics? If so, to what extent? If an influential writer, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, gathered a lot of support with political statements, what would that writer do with that support? Power can be deadly. As Marquez himself told The Paris Review

“The more power you have, the harder it is to know who is lying to you and who is not. When you reach absolute power, there is no contact with reality, and that’s the worst kind of solitude there can be.”

What do you think?