Friday, October 20, 2017

What I'm Learning Writing Short Stories

I'm writing a short story every two days for the next month or so. Who knows? I might just keep up the habit once my #60DayChallenge is over. I'm also learning a ton along the way.

Quite a few things my brain hasn't even processed yet, I'm sure.

But one thing that pops to mind - after finishing 20 stories since the middle of September - the (good) pressure to finish a project every two days helps me 'forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead.' (Extra credit if you know what chapter and verse that's from.) In other words, there is always another story to write. One down, another to go. Then another. And then another.

This leads to two conclusions I've stumbled upon...
A) I won't run out of ideas (or exhaust my creativity).
And B) I won't devalue what I've already written by adding more stories to my personal opus.

Those two thoughts, in the negative, are actually two myths I've been busting with all this writing lately. Here they are in two simple statements often taken as posits: ideas are precious; my stories are precious.

First, let me address the myth that ideas are precious. Look, truth is ideas are a dime a dozen. There are no original plots or ideas or concepts. (Okay, maybe some really really creative takes on various themes can count as 'original,' but you get what I'm saying.) Someone has done what I think is so neat and precious - and original - before and did a lot better job at it than I could ever hope to.

Since that's the truth, I can lay to rest the myth that I only have a few good ideas so I better not squader them unless I have a perfect story, a perfect voice, a perfect POV, etc. See where that leads? If ideas are like gold nuggets, then I better hoard the few I have. And that leads to paralysis.

But if ideas are a dime a dozen (and they are), then shoot, whip 'em out as fast as you can and put a story to them. What makes the difference between two stories with the same idea is the telling of the story. Duh. My goal, then, is to just get better at telling stories.

Which leads to busting myth number 2 - the stories I've written are precious. That's a lie. Most are pretty bad and not at all worth hanging around for a hundred years. They ain't classics and they ain't gonna be. So adding more stories to my catalogue will not devalue them in any way. They're already cheap entertainment. Which is what I enjoy writing and reading.

See, I'm the kind of writer who likes everything he writes. (I'm a guy, thus the maculine pronoun. ;) I know some writers who are insecure about their it any good, does it pass muster? Heck, that's not me. I think everything I write is beautiful, perfect, and entertaining. I even cry at what I write. And I make my wife cry too, but that's a bit different than what I mean here.

Now I'm a realist. I know not everyone will think that way about my stories, but that's their loss. For me, though, I get a kick out of what I write, especially when I re-read them. And I re-read my stories a lot. I laugh at my own jokes and cry even before I get to the sad part.

But the danger in this is that I can very quickly wander into the territory of thinking that my stories are 'precious.' There's a difference. See it? I think my stories are great. But they are not precious commodoties to be guarded like Gollum's ring. Thinking so leads to paralysis.

This happens to quite a few writers, I imagine. They publish a book or two and wonder why they are not selling. So they edit it some more, put new covers on them, buy Facebook ads... Dang, people, write another book. That first one stunk anyway. Mine do too. Write more so you find people like yourself who think everything you write is great. They're out there, I'm sure.

So finishing a project every two days has tremendous benefit. It's helped my thinking, and of course, I believe it's helped my writing. I practice POV, I test word order and phrases, I figure out pacing, I experiment. Fun stuff.

And I've learned it's easier than writing a story a week. Really. If I had a week to write a story, I'd never get it done. I procrastinate and then get all wiggy. But if I'm writing like a leaky faucet, always adding words during my free time (which means I've cut TV from my diet as well as scrolling FB and gaming too), then a story every couple of days is quite do-able and exciting. I like the thrill of accomplishment.

So when I finish that one story and glory in it for an hour or so, re-reading it, laughing and crying (some times at the same time!), and congratulating myself on finishing the best story every told, I eventually remind myself that another story is due in two days. It's becoming a habit. A good one.

Remember, there's always another story to write.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Short Story Challenge

I took Dean Wesley Smith up on the challenge to write 30 short stories in 60 days (Oct/Nov 2017).

I know, it sounds crazy. But if I clear my plate and write like a leaky faucet every day, then it seems do-able. It's only a story every two days. I like that way of thinking about it. Start a story one day, finish it the next.

So I'm going to give it a shot. Dean will then read and comment on each story I send him. Should be great fun. In fact, I've started the adventure already. I'm challenging myself to just get going and not wait until October 1st.

I'll post my progress here. Plus, I'll indicate which stories are in submission and/or accepted online for publication. Feel free to check in and see how I'm doing. Comments welcome as well.

Pre-Challenge Challenge (9 stories in 18 days)
1. Exit Ramp (modern day fantasy, 2380 words, finished Sept 16) * (s)
2. Tucker and Mr. Chilly (speculative, 3400 words, finished Sept 17) ^ (s)
3. An Uneventful Flight (slice-of-life, 1000 words, final draft Sept 17) + (s)
4. Race Ya! (memoir, 350 words, final draft Sept 18) +
5. Maysi’s First Assignment (urban fantasy, 2230 words, finished Sept 21) * (s)
6. An Obadiah Riddle Story (supernatural western, 2650, finished Sept 23) *
7. When the World Ends (humor/modern day, 515 words, final draft Sept 25) + (s)
8. Friley's Friday Night (humor/fantasy, 560 words, final draft Sept 25) + (s)
9. Exorcising Judgment (supernatural, 1500 words, final draft Sept 27) + (s)

October/November Challenge (30 stories in 60 days)
1. One Midsummer's Night (dark fantasy, 2830 words, Oct 4) ^ (s)
2. More Fun Than a Barrel of Space Monkeys (humor, space opera lite, 1900 words, Oct 5) *
3. The Newbie and the Zombie (middle grade adventure, zombie-lite, humor, 3140 words, Oct 6) *
4. My Song Request (experiment in flash fiction, 900 words, Oct 8) +/^ (s)
5. Tornado Drakes' Last Day of School (mainstream literary, YA, 1900 words, Oct 9) ^
6. The Engagement Ring (experiment in flash fiction, 900 words, Oct 12) +/^
7. Blood Feud (historical/literary, 3440 words, Oct 15) *
8. Surprise Date (romance, 5400 words, Oct 16) ^
9. To Tame a Demon (dark fantasy, 3520 words, Oct 19) ^ (s)
10. Memory Dish (children's fantasy, humor, 2000 words, Oct 20). ^

* brand new story, start to finish
^ finished an abandoned story start
+ edited unfinished story or scenes
(s) in submission to a magazine

Monday, April 24, 2017

Some Thoughts on the Eucharist

Thinking out loud for a bit on the matter of observing the Eucharist (communion, Lord’s Supper) weekly instead of monthly. I grew up in the monthly tradition. I know of some who partake of it quarterly. I never really questioned the pattern; it was what I was used to and that was that. Mainstream free church Protestant.

But these past few years I’ve been embracing a more liturgical tradition. Some of you know I’ve been on a spiritual journey (we all are, really) and as a Baptist pastor who preaches Sunday mornings I began, awhile back, attending an Anglican-style worship service Sunday evenings.

At Church of the Resurrection we celebrate communion every time we meet. That’s because the structure of the worship service has two focal points – the service (liturgy) of the Word and the service (liturgy) of the Eucharist. I’ve grown to appreciate this pattern and understand why – biblically, theologically, spiritually, historically – it’s, well, the way to do things.

And so I introduced weekly communion at our church this past Advent season as well as during this (recently completed) season of Lent. As an experiment. I explained the purpose. Got a consensus. Took the leap. It was well received, I think.

Most everyone appreciated the emphasis on the Lord’s Supper during these special seasons. I was hoping we’d continue this new tradition the rest of the year. I took an informal poll, however, and while a solid group of folks wouldn’t mind celebrating the Eucharist weekly, a good number – with absolutely no complaining or grumbling (we have a magnificent spirit of peace and unity at our church) – stated they simply preferred monthly observance.

So we ended weekly communion on Easter Sunday. And this past Sunday felt quite odd for me when we concluded the service without a trip to the Lord’s table. The new pattern had become very meaningful to me.

Now the main reason I think a lot of us who fall into the monthly tradition category are hesitant about going weekly is this: we say we want communion to be meaningful and a too-oft repeated observance may somehow make it less so. I can understand this concern to a degree.

The challenge I have with this view is that it could be said for almost any aspect of worship. “We shouldn’t sing each week, songs becomes less meaningful.” “We shouldn’t read the scripture each week, it will get old.” “We shouldn’t receive a weekly offering, that diminishes its impact.” See what I mean? And yet this idea is front and center with regard to communion.

So I got to thinking, what perspective of the Lord’s Supper prompts this position? You see, I’m pretty sure how we view the Eucharist influences how often we want to observe it. So my question is: how are the “monthlies” viewing communion? Not sure about everyone else, but I can certainly ask myself: When I was a monthly observer, how did I view this sacrament?

My answer for me: I didn’t view it as a sacrament.

That’s the key issue, I think. For most of us “monthlies” (I’m including myself because I still struggle with this perspective), we want to make sure we do communion “right” so we “get ourselves ready” and “examine ourselves” to make sure we aren’t partaking in an “unworthy manner.”

(Sidebar: See 1 Corinthians 11.27-28; but for a fuller context be sure to read verse 29 in light of verses 17-22 which reference the body of Christ, the church. This warning is about division, not whether we are worthy or not to receive communion…because we aren’t, that’s the miracle of this event!)

Did you hear the implication of this view? “Get ourselves ready.” “Prepare for communion.” Do you see the inherent self-effort in this approach? The Lord’s Supper has (for some, not all) subtly become primarily about us. It’s what we do to pretty ourselves up; it’s about our attitude and approach to God. This then changes how we handle communion. We think we need to safeguard the ceremony because if we don’t, it will no longer be special.

But if this event is viewed as a sacrament (an expression and means of God’s grace – a free gift of love), then the Eucharist is really about what God has done, is doing, and will do in our lives. It’s primarily a celebration of Christ’s victory over death (and thus our victory in Christ), not a solemn remembrance of his suffering. In fact, eucharisteo means to give thanks and is based on the words of Jesus himself. (See Luke 22.19; Matthew 26.26; 1 Corinthians 11.24, even Matthew 15.36.)

In other words, the bread and cup are God’s gifts to us, not our gifts to God. The bread and wine are symbols of the body and blood of Christ and are therefore our spiritual nourishment given by God so that we might truly partake of Jesus. In the Eucharist we are welcome guests at God’s feast that gives life to those who participate in faith.

If that’s the case, why wouldn’t we want to eat and drink of Christ every chance we get? We feed on God’s Word (the scripture) each week (daily, one would hope), why not feed on God’s Word-made-flesh (represented by the bread and wine) each week (or even daily, for that matter)?

Or, completely different metaphor, imagine my wife’s response if I told her I was thinking we should only go on date nights once every quarter or so. After all, I don’t want to cheapen the experience by going out each week…

Well, those are some thoughts. I hope I haven’t offended anyone. I’m not implying the “monthlies” are self-centered. I simply think if we view communion as a sacrament it can help ease the burden of having to “make it special.” After all, if the bread and wine are truly gifts from God, then every time we receive them something special happens. Now for me, that’s a refreshing perspective.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Proclaiming the Year of God's Favor

Citizens of a New Kind of Country
A reflection on the life and politics of Jesus by Lyndon Perry

I’d like to tell you about a man who was born in Palestine a number of years ago. He was seen by more than a few as a revolutionary figure. A Yassar Arafat, if you will; a polarizing figure who spoke of a new government for Israel. This really disturbed the higher-ups, of course, but excited many of the common people who had been living like refugees in their own country – occupied territory! – for many years.

It’s strange, the story of this man. Predictions about him becoming a kind of prime minister, king even, of Israel began when he was born. His mother Mary, for instance, believed God was going to throw princes from their thrones so that her son could reign. His uncle, Zechariah, called him a political savior - like King David of old. When he was born he was even named Yeshua, or Joshua, which means “God will save.” (Of course, we know him by way of his Greek name, Iesous, or Jesus.) It was prophecy fulfilled: this Yeshua was destined to save his people from their oppressors. At least, that is what so many people believed.

You see, foreign armies had occupied the Eastern Mediterranean Seaboard for nearly 400 years. The enemy’s presence was a constant reminder of their once free nation. And the people were bitter, some were divided. All anticipated a day when things would be better.

Yeshua grew up with much the same anticipation, but he was not bitter or alone. There was his cousin, John. They were likely good friends. They must have played together, talked with one another, dreamed of the future – a future where God would rule through one person chosen especially for the task. A messiah. They yearned for this future and had a feeling that they were going to be a part of it somehow.

 As John and Yeshua grew they saw the political climate of Israel change. Revolutionary groups sprung up, died away, and sprung up again. Would-be saviors were killed and their cause humiliated. Yet one loosely organized underground resistance force gained strength and numbers. They were known as the Zealots. Their purpose was to overthrow their oppressors and reestablish a government by the people, for the people - the chosen people!

Neither John nor Yeshua joined the Zealots but each knew the day was coming when they would have to act, when God would call upon them to fulfill their destinies as agents in the new government. So they continued to talk and dream and prepare. For they would have to be ready; one day they would have to act.

One day John did.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Key Ingredient for Friendship


I think that may be the one key, necessary ingredient for any long term relationship. There has to be reciprocity for a friendship to work. The reason I'm thinking about this is because I just finished a book by William Shatner called "Leonard." It's as much a memoir from Shatner's perspective as it is a remembrance of his friend of 50 years, Leonard Nimoy,

The book was good. The somewhat rambling story telling style fit the tone of the bio and it revealed quite a bit about Nimoy's career and his many and diverse avocations. Shatner also pulled back the curtain on the golden age of television and explained how they, when both of them were starting out, scrambled from job to job simply trying to make ends meet. Nimoy struggled for 17 years in Hollywood (never working in a project for more than two weeks!) before landing his first recurring role as Spock. He then spent the rest of his career alternately running from and embracing that identity.

What I found most interesting, though, was their relational history. Most of us know of the - at times - turbulent friendship between these two icons. But their deep, deep love for each other isn't as well attested, I don't think. And then, near the end of the narrative, I was struck and saddened by an apparent crumbling of their friendship which occurred about two years before Nimoy's death. The breakdown happened, seemingly without cause and, much to Shatner's disappointment and regret, never found resolution.

Shatner writes (page 268/269): "Essentially, he stopped speaking to me....It was very painful to me. As I'd never had a friend like Leonard before, I'd obviously never been in a situation like this, and I had no idea what to do about it. If I knew the reason Leonard stopped talking to me, not only would I admit it, I would have taken steps to heal those wounds. If I had done something wrong, if I had said something that was perhaps misunderstood, I would want to know it so I might make amends. But none of that took place. I have no idea what happened....I was mystified. It was baffling to me. I kept asking people, 'What happened?' But no one could give me an answer. It remains a mystery to me, and it is heartbreaking, heartbreaking. It is something I will wonder about, and regret, forever."

This is a poignant reminder that life is often like that. And it's sad. Without reciprocity, friendships fail.

True confession: I've had friendships crumble and can't for the life of me figure out why. I've reached out, I've tried making amends, but for whatever reason some people in my life who were once good friends have left me behind. That's what it feels like. And it hurts. Now I would gladly renew those relationships - as I think most of us would - but something is preventing it. A misunderstanding, a perceived slight, a misspoken word. Would that these relational potholes could be patched. But like Shatner, after doing my part to heal the brokenness and not finding any reciprocity, I'm left wondering what went wrong. And I'm left with feelings of regret.

If you're one of those friends who feels something is wrong between us, would you reach back out to me? I didn't want the relationship to crumble. I just don't know what to do about it anymore. Now if we're kosher, then I still want to hear from you. Let's do lunch. But give me a call - even if it's my turn at this reciprocity thing - and you can tell me it's my turn! Because maybe I didn't know.

Having said that, I do wish you the happiest of New Years.
Here's to reciprocity.
Here's to friendship.
Here's to 2017.