Category Archives: Authors

‘The War of Art,’ by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art

Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.

Someone suggested to me that I might enjoy Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art (and yes, I caught the reversal on Sun Tsu’s The Art of War… eventually). I’ve been struggling with my work in progress (it’s coming, but I’m fighting for every inch of ground), and I thought, what could it hurt?

It’s a remarkable book. I’m still not entirely sure what to think about it, though.

It might save you the cost of purchase if I give you the basic message right here – the only way to succeed as a writer is to become a professional. Sit yourself down at your desk at the same time every day, and work at your craft. Don’t listen to the negative voices in your head. Especially don’t listen to the ones that say, “I’ll just skip it today.”

But the value of the book is (of course) in the reader’s journey. In polished, powerful prose Pressfield (author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, Gates of Fire, and other bestselling books) analyses the writer’s problem (we have an enemy, which he calls “Resistance,” and we must learn to tread it under our feet). And he tells the story of his own evolution from a blocked, self-pitying wannabee to a fulfilled professional (anyone can do it, he says, which I think is an exaggeration. Not for me, of course, but for you other folks).

What troubles me about the book is its religious nature. When Pressfield talks about his Muse, he’s not being metaphorical. He lays out a whole theory of reality and consciousness (based on Jung), and says he believes that his muse actually exists. He prays to her each time he sits down to write.

On the negative side, he condemns all forms of Fundamentalism. “Fundamentalism and art,” he says, “are mutually exclusive.”

I take that kind of personally. I think you could call the medieval Roman Catholic Church fundamentalist, by his definition, and they did pretty well on the art front. The Puritans themselves gave us Milton and Bunyan.

So I’m uncomfortable with Pressfield’s religious statements. Speaking as a fundamentalist, I worry that he may have sold his soul to a devil, or be possessed in some way.

So I can’t wholeheartedly recommend The War of Art. As a motivational book, it’s excellent (I had a pretty good writing day the day I finished reading it). But spiritually I found it hazardous.

Also, cautions for language.

We Loved Your Story; Write Another Just Like It

Danny Rubin, who gave us the wonderful movie Groundhog Day, thought he’d found his place in Hollywood after that film’s success. Everyone wanted to talk to him, and they all wanted him to do the same thing he’d done before. S. I. Rosenbaum interviewed him for Vulture.

He kept writing scripts for his own ideas, and he kept selling them, pretty steadily, over the years — to Universal, to Amblin, to Castle Rock, to Miramax. But none of them were produced, and even when one of them spent some time being developed, Rubin would often be booted off the project. He wrote a movie about a woman; they asked if it could be about a man. He wrote a silent film; they asked if it could have dialogue. “People weren’t responding to my stuff by making movies out of it,” he says. “They were optioning it, but then there were the same arguments over and over: They were trying to make a movie I said I was expressly not interested in making.”

The man behind Groundhog Day has proven Hollywood is stuck in a loop of its own making. (via Prufrock News)

Dostoevsky’s Characters Speak for Themselves

What makes Dostoevsky’s characters so real? They aren’t just mouthpieces for the author’s voice.  Peter Leithart describes it.

Dostoevsky’s polyphonic world is full of free subjects, not objects. We don’t know what they might say or do next, and we suspect that the author doesn’t know either. They speak in their own voices, and Dostoevsky doesn’t drown them out. His voice is only one among many.

But Dostoevsky is also concerned with the suppression and source of true human freedom. “True freedom is love, the capacity to sacrifice one’s Ego for the good of others.” And the only way to sacrifice one’s Ego is to surrender to Christ. (via Prufrock News)

Mano vs. the Oxford comma

Dave Lull sent me a link to this recent Boston Globe column by Jeff Jacoby. It includes a section on the Oxford comma debate, in which he cites the late D. Keith Mano:

The story reminded me of one of those great exchanges that for years made William F. Buckley’s “Notes & Asides” — the column in which he regularly reproduced his exchanges with colleagues, readers, and other correspondents — the best part of National Review. From December 1972:

“A ukase. Un- negotiable. The only one I have issued in seventeen years. It goes: “John went to the store and bought some apples, oranges, and bananas.” NOT: “John went to the store and bought some apples, oranges and bananas.” I am told National Review’s style book stipulates the omission of the second comma. My comment: National Review’s style book used to stipulate the omission of the second comma. National Review’s style book, effective immediately, makes the omission of the second comma a capital offense!”

Among the responses was this lament from D. Keith Mano, a National Review columnist, to the magazine’s managing editor, Buckley’s sister Priscilla:

“I have read with dismay WFB’s ukase on the serial comma. I can’t do it. No way. It’s just plain ugly. WFB says this is un-negotiable. . . . How serious is he? Can I arrange a dispensation?

“Look: I’ll compromise. There should be peace in the family. Instead of “John went to the store and bought some apples, oranges, and bananas” — how about if he just buys oranges and bananas? Or a head of non-union lettuce. You see what this sort of restriction leads to. And they ask me why fiction is dying. Erich Segal, I bet, uses the serial comma.

“You may tell WFB that, from now on and as ordered, I salute the red and white.”

I’m frankly a little disappointed — I’ve been won over to the Oxford comma side, myself. I have the idea the Forces of History are in its favor. Perhaps that was Mano’s fate, to be a genius forever tainted by his associations with questionable movements. Playboy Magazine. Dropping the Oxford.

Of course, my advocacy of the O.C. probably dooms it…

O’Connor: Life Is Violence

Life is suffering and it is violent, so overwhelming is it that we cope by voluntarily consenting to spiritual deafness,” Michael Rennier observes. “The reality of sin must be forced home to us by an act of divine violence so that our pretensions can once and for all be torn away.”

This is what he draws from Flannery O’Connor’s life, which is being featured on PBS in a new documentary, Uncommon Grace. Director Bridget Kurt agrees. “She wasn’t using violence to glorify it; she was showing how extreme moments in our lives are spiritual wake-up calls.”

Like the time when an escaped convict points a gun at a grandmother’s head. In that moment, all of her religiosity melted out of her, leaving her nothing but Jesus. She could have been a good woman had someone been there to threaten her everyday. That would have been respectable. But she didn’t need to be a good woman. She needed Jesus.

Perhaps O’Connor is just too Christian for secular schools. Kurt , a transplant from Northern Wisconsin, found less help than she expected when looking for material on O’Connor’s life.

“Even at her alma mater, GSCU in Milledgeville, very few students that we ran into on campus knew who O’Connor was,” Kurt told Milwaukee Magazine. “In Wisconsin, most of us know that Frank Lloyd Wright was a Wisconsin native because we are taught about famous Wisconsinites and we name libraries and schools after them. I’m not sure how much Flannery O’Connor is taught in Georgia schools.” (Via Prufrock News)

Colin Dexter, 1930-2017

Colin Dexter

Colin Dexter, the author of the Inspector Morse novels, has passed away at the age of 86. Born in 1930, he didn’t become a full-time writer until 1966. Success came to him fairly late in life, but it came big. BBC News quotes him as saying:

“I think Morse, if he had really existed and was still alive, would probably say to me, ‘Well, you didn’t do me too bad a service in your writing’.

“He might say, ‘I wish you’d made me a slightly less miserable blighter and slightly more generous, and you could have painted me in a little bit of a better light’.

“If he had bought me a drink, a large Glenfiddich or something, that would have been very nice, but knowing him I doubt he would have done – Lewis always bought all the drinks.”

Dexter took a shrewd tack with the TV series based on his books. Some authors hate to see their precious works disfigured on film – John D. MacDonald famously loathed every movie or TV show adapted from any of his works, including the original “Cape Fear,” which is considered a classic. But Dexter embraced the BBC series and deliberately accommodated it. For instance, Sergeant Lewis is actually two policemen in the first book, Last Bus to Woodstock. But seeing how well the pairing of actors John Thaw and Kevin Whately worked onscreen, he quietly blended the subordinate officers and carried on without missing a step.

I enjoyed the Inspector Morse books, and the TV series perhaps even more. And I think I like the new prequel, Endeavor, more than that. RIP Colin Dexter.

Milton, Our Contemporary

Milton, as much as Shakespeare, remains our contemporary. As Wordsworth put it in a sonnet from 1802, ‘Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:/ England hath need of thee.’ One half of a nation almost as bitterly — if not as bloodily — divided as in his day needs to understand how the blind, scorned radical, ‘though fallen on evil days… In darkness, and with dangers compassed round’, channelled his dismay at the failure of England’s revolution and the restoration of monarchy into a masterpiece that finds salvation through despair. In 1660, Milton was arrested, imprisoned and might have gone to his death as an impenitent regicide without a few well-placed admirers. His epic, with its aim to ‘assert eternal providence/ And justify the ways of God to men’, climbs from his pit of disillusion to find meaning and hope in calamity. A hero for Remainers, then.

Boyd Tonkin urges us to read Milton today, because he will speak to us if we will listen. April is the 350th anniversary of Paradise Lost‘s publication. (via Prufrock News)

Would Southerners Have Killed Spurgeon?

On March 22, a “Vigilance Committee” in Montgomery . . . burned Spurgeon’s sermons in the public square. A week later Mr. B. B. Davis, a bookstore owner, prepared “a good ore of pine sticks” before reducing about 60 volumes of Spurgeon’s sermons “to smoke and ashes.” . . .

Anti-Spurgeon bonfires illuminated jail yards, plantations, bookstores, and courthouses throughout the Southern states. In Virginia, Mr. Humphrey H. Kuber, a Baptist preacher and “highly respectable citizen” of Matthews County, burned seven calf-skinned volumes of Spurgeon’s sermons “on the head of a flour barrel.”

British newspapers quipped that America had given Spurgeon a warm welcome, “a literally brilliant reception.”

Christian George, head of the C. H. Spurgeon Library, has produced the first volume of lost sermons by the great London preacher. The dark history above comes from the preface of this volume.

Linkage

The great Dave Lull sends a link to an interview with Anne Kennedy on The Eric Metaxas Show. Anne is the author of the devotional book Nailed It, which I reviewed here.

And our friend Ori Pomerantz recommends this link to the Federalist, where John Ehrett imagines the “hot takes” (a new term to me, I’ll admit) that might have been published if C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books had been published today.

Reason: “Narnia Doesn’t Need Kings”
In “Prince Caspian,” the Telmarines were on the cusp of transforming Narnia into a successfully modern state that would’ve created job opportunities for everyone. Aslan’s violent return destroyed valuable capital and plunged the regime back into a preindustrial dark age. The GDP losses are incalculable. For shame, Aslan.

Recovered Essay on Extraterrestrial Life

Who comes to mind as a public figure who has written an essay on the possibilities of life on other planets?  Not a high school paper, but a fairly scientific essay that concludes, “With hundreds of thousands of nebulae, each containing thousands of millions of suns, the odds are enormous that there must be immense numbers which possess planets whose circumstances would not render life impossible.”

Would you believe Winston Churchill wrote these words?

The essay written in 1939 reportedly has a strong understanding of contemporary astronomy and how scientists would approach the question of extraterrestrial life. It was found by Timothy Riley, director of the National Churchill Museum at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. He recommended the essay to astrophysicist Mario Livio, who was thrilled to examine it.

Churchill did his homework, Livio reports. Though he probably didn’t pore over peer-reviewed scientific literature, the statesman seems to have read enough, and spoke with enough top scientists—including the physicist Frederick Lindemann, his friend and later his official scientific adviser—to have had a strong grasp of the major theories and ideas of his time.

Burned-out Author Forges On, Lands Deal

Nancy Peacock has done well as a novel writer, and her path has been a challenging one. Speaking of her mindset about ten years ago, she writes,

At the time, writing and publishing another book was the last thing on my mind. Although, even as I say it, that feels like a bit of a lie. I think publishing is always on a writer’s mind; I also think we have to forget about it. We have to write without feeding any fear regarding the future of a book, how we’re going to publish, how we’re going to reach an audience, and how the book will be received.

She describes how she soured on traditional publishing, chose to self-publish her third novel with professional help, and the key that turned her back to traditional publishing.

How an Indie Author Landed a Traditional Book Deal

Peacock doesn’t talk about her experience with queries, but whatever mistakes she may have made, I’m sure she didn’t make any of the ones agent Steve Laube lists in this post on odd queries he’s received.  Here’s one of them.

An email proposal with a cover note that reads, “I am sure you get a lot of proposals, but this one is worth your time to read.”
But the author claims they looked at what we agents want and then sent us something we specifically say we do not represent. Then says they followed our guidelines for submission but didn’t follow one of them. And then claims the Holy Spirit told them to write it and gave them the words. They must not have read what I wrote a while back “God Gave Me This Blog Post.”

Nevermore to forget…

Edgar Allan Poe

A book I’ve had for many years is Louis Untermeyer’s A Concise Treasury of Great Poems, English and American, published in paperback in 1958. In his introduction to Edgar Allan Poe, Untermeyer notes, “The quality of his gift as well as the tragedy of his life is indicated in the words of Sir Francis Bacon which are on the Poe Memorial Gate at West Point: ‘There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportion.'”

Oddly enough, that gate is not mentioned in Atlas Obscura’s list of 10 Places That Rejected Poe in Life but Celebrate Him in Death.”

Edgar Allan Poe pioneered a distinctly American brand of gothic horror and romanticism, and introduced the short story to the literary tradition. Yet throughout his career he never received much fame or money. “The Raven” was his best-known work, for which he was paid $9. Poe spent his life traveling up and down the Atlantic coast, working odd jobs and performing parlor readings to make ends meet, going from one failed relationship to the next. He ultimately died with no family, raving mad in the streets of Baltimore.

As if in an attempt to rectify Poe’s lack of success, numerous locations of import during his lifetime have been posthumously dedicated to him, or at least honor his presence there. Here are 10 places in the Atlas that trace the footsteps of America’s master of macabre.

Caimh McDonnell Listens to Audiobooks

Lars’ review of Caimh McDonnell’s first novel yesterday drew the attention of McDonnell’s publisher on Twitter. That lead to my discovery of this interview of McDonnell posted yesterday. Blommin’ Brilliant Books asked the comedian what genres he preferred.

Typically most of the novels I like to read either fall into the crime or sci-fi genres. Having said that, quite a lot of the ‘reading’ I do is actually audiobooks. I can often spend 16 or so hours in a week driving to gigs and I fill that time by devouring audiobooks. I think the influence of that can be seen very clearly in my writing. I write to be read out loud and I believe dialogue is usually the best way of conveying information. I have also read hundreds of TV and film scripts as I’m completely self-taught as a TV writer. People have said that dialogue is my biggest strength as a writer and I guess if you’ve spent as much time as I have forensically examining the work of Aaron Sorkin, that’s no great surprise – not that I’m anywhere close to his level.

He also said he drew one of his characters from an actual, living being. “Phil Nellis is heavily based on my friend and fellow comedian Phil Ellis. In fact, I did it specifically to annoy him.”

Standing In for Thomas Pynchon

Comedian Irwin Corey, who regularly lampooned the educated classes, died this week at age 102. The NY Times tells a story of how he impersonated author Thomas Pynchon to receive the National Book Award for fiction in 1974.

No one in the crowd had any idea what the reclusive Mr. Pynchon looked like, and when Mr. Corey arrived to accept the award for him (the novelist had approved the stunt), many people thought they were getting their first look at Mr. Pynchon.

They soon learned otherwise. Beginning his remarks, as he often did, “However,” Mr. Corey referred to the author as “Richard Python” and said, “Today we must all be aware that protocol takes precedence over procedure.” He continued: “Marx, Groucho Marx, once said that religion is the opiate of the people. I say that when religion outlives its usefulness, then opium will be the opiate. Ah, that’s not a bad idea.”

The Times reported the next morning that Mr. Corey’s “series of bad jokes and mangled syntax” left “some people roaring with laughter and others perplexed.”

See Corey and hear his acceptance speech from the National Book Awards here.

In memory yet Green

Roger Lancelyn Green
Roger Lancelyn Green

My friend Dale Nelson recently sent me a couple old articles on Tolkien he thought might be of interest. One of them was from Amon Hen, the journal of the Tolkien Society, #44, May 1980. It was a piece by Roger Lancelyn Green, in which he reminisced on his friendship with the professor. Green has sometimes been identified as a member of the Inklings, but he does not claim that honor (or honour). His article includes the following delightful paragraph:

I never saw The Lord of the Rings before it was published, but heard a good deal about it from Lewis, who kept saying that if only Tolkien would finish it, it would be one of the great books of the century – “But Tollers just won’t finish it! Every time he gives himself a month’s holiday to do so, he begins by reading over what he has already written, and sees how he can better that, and spends most of his month on revising!”