#TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter

Twitter is channelling writer angst, gripes, and chuckles over things people say to established writers.

“Oh, you’re a writer? When I retire, I want to write a book too.”

“So are you still writing or are you working now?”

“I really like your work! Will you write for us? Oh, we don’t pay.”

How do you spell conflabigation? You’re a writer, aren’t you?

I love your work. It’s just like, oh, that other guy, you know?

And then there’s this one from Guy Gavriel Kay.

‘I, Ripper,’ by Stephen Hunter

Stephen Hunter, after years of writing successful sniper novels, has taken a flyer with a change of genre—a historical thriller. I, Ripper is a fictional retelling of the Jack the Ripper murders which is not intended to solve the historical mystery, but to illuminate the history of modern ideas.

The story is told through the eyes of three characters. One is a young London reporter who calls himself “Jeb” (we don’t learn his true identity until late in the story). By luck he’s the first newspaper man on the scene of the initial prostitute murder in Whitechapel, and he becomes his paper’s chief man on the story. He even bestows on the murderer the nickname by which he’ll be known to history.

The other narrators are the Ripper himself, in a fictional journal in which he does not reveal his identity, and a young prostitute who describes in a series of letters how she and her fellow streetwalkers react to the killings.

Jeb wants to do more to uncover the killer, in the absence of effective work by the official police. He makes the acquaintance of a renowned linguistics scholar, who produces what today we’d call a “profile” of the killer. Armed with this profile, Jeb and the professor reduce the pool of suspects to a few men, and then one.

Then the investigation explodes in surprises and a dramatic confrontation.

I, Ripper isn’t a bad novel on its own terms. I found it difficult to read at the beginning, because the murders are described in unpleasant detail. The final working out of the story was much to my liking, however.

But I don’t think I can recommend it to our audience, unless you have a strong stomach.

World’s Largest Published Novel

Yahaya Baruwa, is an ambitious entrepreneur, who wrote a novel in college and now intends to have it printed as the largest published novel in the world. The novel, Struggles of a Dreamer, is about a farmer and a beggar who must reject traditional restraints in order to pursue their dreams. In keeping with that theme, Baruwa will get the whole book printed on pages 8.5 feet tall and 5.5 feet wide. He’s already raised more than enough money through kickstarter, where you can still learn more about the book, project, and author.

The current Guinness World Record holder for largest published novel is The Little Prince, published in Brazil at seven feet, seven inches tall, and 5.05 feet wide.

Evangelicalism in America

Ed Stetzer writes, “For Evangelicalism, the Sky Is Not Falling but the Ground Is Shifting.” It’s one in a series on Evangelicalism in America.

Stetzer says, “Recently, I interviewed Rodney Stark, one of the nation’s leading sociologists, and asked him about the state of Evangelicalism today. He was perfectly blunt. ‘I think the notion that they’re shrinking is stupid. And it’s fiddling with the data in quite malicious ways. I see no such evidence.'”

In his article, Carl Trueman explains, “Conservative Evangelicalism may be more robust in terms of recruitment than other Christian alternatives at this point but it looks singularly ill-equipped to face the challenges of the coming days. It simply lacks the identity and the resources that come with historic rootedness, a point which makes it perennially vulnerable to becoming simply American culture in a Christian idiom.”

How To Write a Poetry Review, And How Not To

Glynn Young offers six overused words in poetry reviews, words such as “luminous” or its variant “filled with luminosity.” “Breathtaking” is another one. There’s nothing like a slim book of poetry that hits you like a punch in the gut.

“I consider poetry and book reviews highly subjective endeavors,” Young says. “It is someone’s opinion, after all, of someone else’s creative work. There’s no textbook approach I could cite that would meet all conditions and situations.”

He suggests using the journalist’s 5 W’s and and H for reviewing poetry.

Farm Storm

With Great Power Comes Great Quotations

Spiderman's Vision StatementWho first said, “With great power comes great responsibility”? Was it Marvel Comics writers for Spiderman? Was it Voltaire? Quote Investigator says there are better references, such as this from the French Revolution: “They must consider that great responsibility follows inseparably from great power.” A similar idea is found in Luke 12:48.

Learn more uses of this idea in QI’s post.

Would They Defend Salman Rushdie’s ‘Verses’ today?

If Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses were first released today (assuming even that is possible), would the literary world defend Rushdie as they did in 1989? He doesn’t think they would.

“Instead of realizing that we need to oppose these attacks on freedom of expression, we thought that we need to placate them with compromise and renunciation,” he said.

When the PEN American Center moved to honor Charlie Hebdo with a freedom of expression award, over 200 writers signed a letter of protest. Rushdie reached out to one of them, who replied to say he would defend Satanic Verses and that Hebdo was a different situation. They were accused of racism, but Rushdie was accused of blasphemy.

“It’s exactly the same thing,” Rushdie said. “I’ve since had the feeling that, if the attacks against The Satanic Verses had taken place today, these people would not have defended me, and would have used the same arguments against me, accusing me of insulting an ethnic and cultural minority.”

In a 1991 talk, Rushdie said, “Throughout the Muslim world today, progressive ideas are in retreat. Actually Existing Islam reigns supreme, and just as the recently destroyed Actually Existing Socialism of the Soviet terror-state was horrifically unlike the utopia of peace and equality of which democratic socialists have dreamed, so also is Actually Existing Islam a force to which I have never given in, to which I cannot submit. There is a point beyond which conciliation looks like capitulation. I do not believe I passed that point, but others have thought otherwise.”

Is Everyone Real Nice When You Get to Know Them?

Anthony Daniels talks about his concept of Harper Lee and the memories To Kill a Mockingbird provoke for him.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, the blacks in the courtroom stand when Atticus, who has just defended Tom Robinson vigorously and decisively but unsuccessfully against a false and malicious charge of rape, goes by, such is their grateful respect for him. The next day Atticus receives a large quantity of such humble presents as very poor people are able to give. And when the children, Scout and Jem, are taken by Calpurnia, the family’s black cook, to the church for blacks, they are treated virtually ex officio as very special. These are similar to experiences I had in South Africa and in other parts of the continent.

He eventually draws it down to questioning the novel’s conclusion, that “most people are real nice when finally you see them.”

Memory for the Willfully Forgetful

Memory is dangerous in a country that was built to function on national amnesia. A single act of public remembrance might expose the frailty of the state’s carefully constructed edifice of accepted history, scaffolded in place over a generation and kept aloft by a brittle structure of strict censorship, blatant falsehood and wilful forgetting. That’s why a five-foot-tall, 76-year-old grandmother poses enough of a threat that an escort of state security agents, at time as many as 40 strong, has trailed her to the vegetable market and the dentist.

Louisa Lim has released a book she didn’t want to write: The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited. How did China systematically forget what happened June 4, 1989, in Tiananmen Square?

Joy Beyond Agony by Jane Roach

Jane Roach has written a strong, deeply moving study of Christ Jesus and the cross that I hope becomes the talk of many congregations. Joy Beyond Agony: Embracing the Cross of Christ, new this year from P&R Publishing, takes twelve lessons to dig into the immeasurable wealth of Christ Jesus’ character and his work on the cross.

For readers who don’t skip the introduction, Roach encourages us to set goals for our Bible study in order to clarify our intentions and pray that the Lord will help us meet them. “Lurking behind our goals and best efforts are our past failures in keeping up with them,” she explains. Part of that failure may be simply leaving our goals undefined and consequently unfulfilled. “We find ourselves captive to empty pursuits that gobble up precious time,” she says. If we identify those pursuits or the time slots they fill, we will be better able to replace them, and then we’ll see the spiritual growth we’ve been hoping to see.

In the study itself, she leads readers through a full 360 review of the cross and its implications for us. In one lesson: “How can God’s gracious promises come true for guilty people? How can the Holy One of Israel bless sinful people?” In another lesson, she walks through Jesus’ seven “I am” statements, such as “I am the bread of life,” to reveal the character of one who hung on that cross.

With prayers, faith stories, insightful questions, and personal instruction, Roach has written a beautiful study on the joy that was set before our Lord.

In one story, a woman with cancer describes how her church communities poured out their love for her. “The more kindness I was shown, the more frustrated I became, and the more frustrated I grew with myself for being so ungrateful. When I finally put words to my frustration, I realized I was angry that I was utterly undeserving. . . . I must–there is no other way–I must abandon my pride and self-reliance and cling to his cross and his mercy.”

I hope Joy Beyond Agony will be able to drive home that one glorious idea to thousands of American Evangelical families this year and next, so that we will know the joy of Christ far more intimately than anything in this world.

‘Flashback,’ by Dan Simmons

It was a spooky experience, reading this book. Not because of its inherent scariness (though there’s plenty of that), but because I started reading Flashback just about the time President Obama signed his nuclear arms deal with Iran, and finished it in the aftermath of the Chattanooga terrorist killings.

Both events resonated with this story.

In the world of Flashback (which might be compared to the world I envision at the end of my novel Death’s Doors, but more fully realized), the United States still exists, but barely. Texas has seceded, and the Nuevo Mexican Reconquista has torn away other southwestern states. Order in the US is maintained by several Japanese corporations, and American soldiers fight as mercenaries in various world conflicts, the major source of what’s left of US federal revenue. Israel no longer exists, and the Islamic Caliphate is on the march world-wide.

Most Americans don’t even care. They are addicted to a new drug called Flashback, which enables its users to experience their happiest memories in full detail.

Nick Bottom (same name as the character in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream), is a Flashback addict. He will lie, steal, and betray his friends in order to get a little more of the drug, so he can spend time again with his beloved wife.

He used to be a top detective with the Denver police department, but after his wife’s death he descended into addiction, sending his young son to live with a grandfather in Los Angeles.

Then one day he gets an offer too good to refuse. The Japanese “protector” of Denver promises to pay him well to learn who murdered his own son several years ago. At first Nick, junky that he is, tries to take the money, buy Flashback, and hide away, but these people are smarter than he is. Eventually he begins to take a real interest in the mystery. Then he discovers the puzzle is closer to home than he imagined. Then he begins to care about other people, including the son he abandoned.

Flashback is a long book, but it sucked me in. It’s splendidly crafted, with artful allusions and foreshadowings. It provides a frightening picture of the near future that’s all the more disturbing for its plausibility. And there’s a twist at the end that genuinely scared me.

Cautions are in order, mostly for language and violence. It’s a peculiarity of this book that Christianity seems hardly to exist anymore. I sometimes wondered if the Rapture had happened, but I saw no hint that author Simmons had that in mind.

The Vicious Satire of Lolita

abandoned dollPeter Leithart quotes from an Ira Wells piece on how we’ve forgotten who Lolita originally was, the 12-year-old victim of a monster.

Forgetting Lolita is also a problem because the book has never been as relevant: “the novel itself constitutes a vicious satire of a culture that fetishizes young girls . . . while simultaneously loathing pedophilia as an absolute moral evil on par with genocide.” We are that culture.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture