Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The bigger picture . . .

I hate to paraphrase the Bible, but I haven't been able to find a verse I came across a long time ago. I'm not sure of the exact wording but it makes a point that goes something like this:

"If our hope is in this world, we are the most miserable of all men."

I am saddened by how many Christians don't understand this. Defining our lives by so-called successes of this world is the biggest problem facing Christianity caused by Christians. This view leads many to prosperity preaching, the word of faith movement, give to get tithing, and wish-list prayer.

Our hope lies in the next world - Paradise restored. Throughout the ages, Great Christians have lived entire lives in poverty, sickness, and successive tragedies. They viewed this life for what it is: a momentary furlough from Paradise caused by the stain of sin. Their trials are not punishments from God for not being good enough or Christian enough.

I could go on and on but here's a couple of people who've said it better:

From Mercy Me's Bring the Rain,

Bring me joy, bring me peace. Bring the chance to be free. Bring me anything that brings You glory. And I know there'll be days, When this life brings me pain, But if that's what it takes to praise You -- Jesus, bring the rain

To see this personified, read this post by Author Mike Dellosso:

The Gift I Received

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

In conclusion . . .

For me, the perfect example of Christian fiction is:

Stephen King's Pet Sematary.

It deals with death, resurrection, and the separation of the body/soul unit. And, it never gets too preachy. I'm sure King touches on these issues enough to spark that universal human turmoil which leads to a re-evaluation of one's place in the world and eventual decision to either accept the gift of salvation through Christ or . . . not.

Okay, I think I 've made my point.

My real answer is Demon - A Memoir by my friend, Tosca Lee. ( Btw, whether she likes it or not, I'm going to start calling her my friend since I'm mentioned in the acknowledgements of Havah. :) ) Besides being my all-time favorite novel, Demon embodies both definitions at once. For believers, it reaffirms our story while providing a deeper understanding and appreciation for God's grace. For non-believers, it forgoes the sales pitch and simply lays the truth bare for all to see and judge on their own accord.

Her newest novel, Havah, is a superb follow-up and another perfect example of Christian fiction.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Defining Christian Fiction Part Deau

If you haven't read the last post yet, go ahead. I'll wait. Hmmmhmmhmm.

Good you're back.

Before we get to the novels that fit my ideal definition, lets go one step further. (Or is it farther?) There are two types of Christian worldview novels:

The first is Christ identified worldview. These are novels about Christians, that mention the word Jesus, but don't necessarily provide Biblical exegesis. Christian readers identify with the characters and the situations sparking a connection--therefore a reaffirmation of one's faith. Donna Fleisher's novels are a wonderful example of this. These novels minister to the faithful, but don't often evangelize. Some seem not to regard ministering as important as evangelizing. Personally, I believe pastors are just as important as evangelists.

The second is a Christian philosophy worldview. These are novels penned by Christians who strive to keep their faith or at least, the word Jesus out of the story--narrated through the prism of overarching Christian tradition. These novels are hard to identify. Mainly because Christian philosophical worldview encompasses most of western civilization and a shared portion of Eastern religions. For me, the value of these types of novels is in providing a counter to the garbage pervasive in TV, books, and movies. A great example is one of my favorites: Ted Dekker's Thr3e. A great novel which explores a philosophical point, but does not point to Christ or even to Christianity for that matter.

Back to my main point. For ME, the perfect example of Christian fiction is . . .

To be continued . . .

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Defining Christian Fiction . . .

What is Christian fiction? . . . Actually, I'm not gonna go there. It's been done to death. There are varied answers to this question. Some valid, some not.

So, what I'd like to do is explore what it means to me while simultaneously respecting and not disregarding the opinions of those who disagree.

By the way, there is an easy fix to this quandary. Why don't we just create another category called "Christian worldview fiction". For example, this category would include some of my favorite writers and novels-everything by Robert Liparulo, roughly half of Ted Dekker's works, and even a couple of Dean Koontz's novels. Loosely defined, it would include any novel written by a professed Christian without the effect of providing the characters or reader with a ministerial or evangelical point.

So I emphasize: TO ME, Christian fiction must point to Christ. Without pointing to Christ, a Christian worldview novel could just as easily be considered a Jewish worldview novel. Without Christ, who happens to be JESUS, the two worldviews presented in a non-specific thriller plot-line, for example, would be indistinguishable.

This is not to say that CWN's are not important. I assume this false assumption is why so many get offended.

MY goal in writing Christian fiction is to take a complex issue and convey it, through story, in a way that makes it more understandable and/or reaffirming. (You can tell it through sermon, or show it through story.) This is what I hope I've done with my novel.

I've read many Christian novels that fit my definition. Including . . .

To be continued . . .

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Trying something new . . .

I don't really appreciate (read disdain) modern art. A yellow dot on a green background is not art. There has to be some skill involved.

I'm also not a big fan of Impressionism as a whole, but some of it is very good. Same for abstract. Here's my attempt at the two.

I call it Exodus.

It also looks interesting turned upside down.

Abstract is great for decor, but I consider Expressionist Abstract to be true art. I call this one Specter.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

All storms are different . . .

Terrebonne Parish took a direct hit from Gustav causing 100% loss of power and wind damage to homes and businesses. There was, however, virtually no flooding.

Ike hit Galveston. But because of the trajectory and storm surge dynamics, we got hit again. Early estimates are that 10,000 homes have been flooded in Terrebonne Parish alone. (my apartment was spared) Not to mention that the sustained 40-50 mph winds with gusts up to 60 knocked out power for many again and hampered recovery efforts.

I assume everyone knows that the Louisiana marshes and wetlands are eroding at an alarming rate. Since the Mississippi River no longer is allowed to flood the wetlands with the tons of silt it now carries into the gulf, those silts no longer rebuild the coastal marshes. The natural protection they provide is virtually gone. I've seen it in my lifetime. Vast marshes of my youth are now open water.

I'm afraid it's time for drastic measures. Either we allow the Mississippi to change course as it now would without our levees, or allow controlled flooding to allow the silts to rebuild the marsh, or implement some other erosion aversion plan without which it may be time for a methodical withdrawal from South Louisiana.

Problematic because most domestic oil, natural gas, and seafood comes from Louisiana. Sidenote: Yes, we fish right next to oil platforms and capped wells and pump stations and all other structures dotted across the marshes. The fish love them.

Many people ask: Why live there? Move.

This is not as easy as it seems. What are homeowners to do with a home they can't sell, but still owe on? They can't default on their mortgage and buy a house somewhere else.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I'm back . . .

Just got power (and internet) yesterday. That makes 10 days without power. Although I only had to endure 2.

Evacuated Friday August 29th. Spent 4 nights in a cabin in Gatlinburg. 1 night in a seedy motel in Tuscaloosa. 2 nights at my sister's house (they got power before I did.). 1 night at my cousin's house (had it all to myself). 1 miserable night in my apartment with no power - Keep in mind the low for the night was 82 degrees and 90% humidity.

We weren't allowed to return to our parish until Friday the 5th. A curfew was in effect until yesterday. No one allowed outside after 8:00.

Our parish is pretty much devastated. No flooding, though, because of the dynamics of the storm causing the storm surge to only reach 9 ft.

Most stores, including Wal-Mart are still closing at 6 p.m. making it difficult to replace all the food in every one's refrigerator which was lost due to the extended power outages. Not to mention the shelves are not exactly full. The supermarkets are only letting a few people in at a time due to the lack of staff. All I've eaten for the past few days are MREs. Which are pretty good, by the way. I finally made it inside a store today. Dollar General. I now have a bottle of mustard and ketchup in my fridge. Freezer is still empty. Excuse me, I still get emotional thinking of the approximately $150 in food I had to throw away.

The long lines at gas stations have finally ended. There are still long lines at the relief distribution centers.

Several out of state church groups are in town giving away hot meals. I don't have any hard numbers, but they seem to out perform FEMA every time. I don't remember them all, but the Arkansas Baptist Convention set up in the middle of town cooking food. The Mormons are giving out hygiene and clean up kits. Many others.

The state, under new governor Bobby Jindal, did a great job in not waiting for FEMA this time. They can mobilize faster and more efficiently than FEMA, although it was expensive.

One example: During a crisis, emergency commercial generators are needed to power hospitals, gas stations, grocery stores, etc. Instead of waiting for FEMA to approve leases for generators, which would have taken time for red tape, the governor authorized the purchase of needed generators to the tune of 20 million bucks. He's hoping to get reimbursed. But if not, we've got them for the next one.

Well, that's the highlights.

Oh, one more thing, I've had a horrible cold (or something) for the last 4 days and counting.

Almost final tally of my financial losses: $1000.00 and counting. I also missed a week of work.

Well, I gotta go, my MRE is almost ready.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

I'm outta here!!!!!

In case ya'll are wondering, I live in Houma, Louisiana (Terrebonne Parish). I'm sure everyone knows by now that Houma will likely take a direct hit from Gustav.

I evacuated Friday night to beat the rush. I'm in Gatlinburg, Tennessee hiking in the Smokies. Unfortunately, the resort I'm staying at charges for internet access so I'm currently in the parking lot of another hotel checking my e-mail. Is that ethical?

Anyway, I'm not sure when I'll be on-line again.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Excuse me while I vent . . .

Last month I hopped on over to a great new resource for Christian fiction writers: Christian Fiction Online Magazine.

After perusing the site, I entered my name in the book giveaway contest and . . . I won. The prize: Two autographed books by Robert Liparulo. Mr. Liparulo is a talented author and I was happy to not only win autographed books by an author I admire, but, also the fact that I won the inaugural Christian Fiction Online Magazine contest.

Well, yesterday I received my prize. An empty box with a postal note saying: received without contents. So, I called the post office, knowing it was an exercise in futility, and they said there is nothing they can do about it. That is how it arrived in their office.

Thus the problem with media mail. Although it's never happened to me before, it seems that at any point on its journey, a media mail package can be looted and simply forwarded empty to the recipient who has no recourse.

Of course, I hate to accuse anyone of stealing. I'm sure most postal employees are honorable hard-working people. And, it's quite possible something else happened. The books could have fallen out of the taped box, remained unnoticed, and swept away with the refuse.

But then again, someone other than me is probably the proud new owner of two autographed books. Maybe I'll check e-bay.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The flipside . . .

It's not that men don't want to ask for directions, it's that women always think we're lost.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How many calories does typing burn?

The darkside of writing: weight gain.

I once declared that I'd never weigh more than 140lbs. I was pretty successful at it, too. I made it to age 33 without crossing the 138 barrier. That's when I got into a car accident which put me on the sidelines for a year. I rocketed up to 145. No problem, I told myself. As soon as my neck healed, I'd be back on the basketball court burning up those calories.

But alas, fate intervened, and I decided to become a writer. I quickly learned that sitting behind a computer every spare minute of your life combined with anxiety-eating caused by trying to write a novel, is not conducive to maintaining a decent weight. I shot up to 174 lbs. Of course, it's all muscle so I'm not too worried about it. Except that the muscle around my mid-section has triggered a mass migration of buttons away from my pants.

The good news is that thanks to the internet, I've learned to sew on buttons. So if you think about it. The cause of my button problem was also the solution.

How's that for a paradox?

Note to reader: there is no point to this post. I'm just upset because I bought a gallon of milk yesterday only to find that it expired 13 days ago. The tragedy is that I always look at the date. But because this particular store has always been so good about having fresh milk on the shelf, I skipped that step.

So the point is: there are no shortcuts. Every step of the process is important. I think . . . uh, excuse me, I need a drink. The cold stuff. Milk.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

One man's garbage . . .

In a previous blog life, I wrote Christian fiction reviews. I did this mainly because of my frustration with the lack of honesty in Christian reviews. Something I find ironic. Of course, there's a big difference, albeit a fine line, between honesty and accidental cruelty.

For years, I subscribed to CCM magazine. The reason I finally cancelled (and never looked back) was due to the singular fact that I've never read a review of an album that wasn't deemed "groundbreaking", "a milestone", "a landmark achievement", "a solid effort", and so on, and so on. According to CCM, the Christian music industry managed to string together an unblemished record of great albums.

So, I had to learn to read between the lines. Basically, if the reviewer didn't come right out and say something like: "this is one of the best albums of the year", then the album was probably bad.

Reviews are what they are, but awards should be something else. Awards get to pick from the multitudes and almost guarantee not to "miss".

But . . ., the subjectivity of differing tastes, as usual, raises its ugly head.

Case in point, The Christy Awards. (I would love to win one of those, by the way.) It just sounds good, don't you think. But I digress.

I had once assumed that reading a Christy Awards winner would assure a good read. But, out of the five (that I know of) winners I've read: I loved two, I liked one, disliked one, and couldn't finish one.

*** disclaimer: I'm not saying they're bad books, they just didn't suit me.

But I was surprised that the award didn't equal a sure thing. It's hard enough to get published, much less win an award. In a perfect world, the transitive property should establish that any self-published book passed on by the industry, be inferior to an award winner.

Not true. My friend, Nicole Petrino-Salter's book, The Famous One (available at amazon), is a better read than two of those award winners. At least that's my opinion.

*** disclaimer 2: I'm not saying the award judges were wrong, I'm just pointing out the subjectivy of it all.

Individual tastes are a factor. This INCLUDES when an agent or editor rejects (or accepts) your manuscript. Don't take it personally. Award winners and published authors deserve congratulations. And pre-published authors deserve encouragement and respect.

But that also means that editors, agents, and awards judges deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to exercising their individual tastes.

Disagreeing with them does not mean their incorrect. It only confirms that we're all human.

epilogue: I quit reviewing books when I decided to try to become an author myself. I believe in professional courtesy. That's why those books will forever remain nameless. Except the two I loved: River Rising by Athol Dickson and Thr3e by Ted Dekker.

That is unless this post is a breach of courtesy, then I apologize. (Feel free to let me know)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The evil of pack mentality . . .

. . . not one of us lives a perfectly normal, ordinary life in every regard. We are, after all, human beings, each of us unique to an extent that no member of any other species is are different from others of its kind.

We have instinct but we are not ruled by it. We feel the pull of the mindless herd, the allure of the pack, but we resist the extreme effects of this influence--and when we do not, we drag our societies down into the bloody wreckage of failed utopias, led by Hitler or Lenin, or Mao Tse-tung. And the wreckage reminds us that God gave us our individualism and that to surrender it is to follow a dark path.

- excerpt from Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz.

It's great to see something I've always believed so eloquently stated by my favorite author. The idea that the congregation of man seems to be the most fertile soil of evil. . . . Or at best, willful ignorance.

What scares me is that I've seen this in churches. That dark magic moment when a preacher says something so outlandish that although it would, in a one-on-one conversation, immediately garner outrage and dismissal, instead, under the credibility brought by the pulpit and the assumption of acceptance of the flock, receives applause and blind acceptance.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Losing my religion . . .

That ShamWow guy is driving me crazy.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Birthday Lesson . . .

On Sunday I officially became an old man. That's right, I hit the big 3-7. I'm sure all ya'll gifts are on the way via UPS, but just in case anyone forgot, tomorrow at work there will be steaks and potatoes (and chocolate cream cake) in my honor. If you're in the area, stop by. But only if you have my gift. That is, if you know what's good for you. Capiche?

I found out today, via Creflo Dollar, that the reason I will get published will not be because of my talent or hard work or sticktuitiveness, it will be simply because I've said so. Apparently, the words I use have great power. Whatever I say - will happen. In fact, that truth was apparently the whole point of the gospel. Not that whole sanctification through faith in Jesus Christ and acceptance of His sacrifice on the Cross thing.

So here it goes: "I will be published." Oh wait, "And I'll make lots of money."

Well it's a cinch now. I'm just gonna sit back, pop open a root beer, and wait for those royalty checks to pour in.

Wow! Just think of all the time I've wasted actually working on my novel, learning the craft, and ugh, rewriting. What a shame.

Well, I gotta go. Time to throw all my "Writing - How to" books in the garbage. Wait a minute, I'm not using my powers. "Books. Get in the garbage. ......Now!"

Oh well I guess it takes practice.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tuesdays with Todd . . .

Delfeayo, Conquistadors, Pharisees, and Wisdom

It is so easy to overlook the wondrous things around us. Though they are always there, or perhaps because they are always there, we take them for granted. This spring I have been on a conscious quest to make some time to appreciate at least a few of these things.

In the past few months I have discovered Franklin, St. Francisville and the Clark Creek Natural Area and rediscovered Grand Isle, Mandeville, Abita Springs, Ponchatoula, and several other relatively nearby locales that I have long taken for granted.

In keeping with my motif of getting out and doing things I have not done before and discovering and rediscovering my own back yard, I did something this weekend that I had never done before.

Just up the road, about an hour away, lies New Orleans. The wealth and diversity of cultural and epicurean delights to be found there are virtually endless. Now, I have lived between one hour and one half hour from N'awlins all of my life, and yet had never been to a jazz club. Can you imagine living that close to the home town of Harry Connick Jr., Wynton Marsalis, Irma Thomas, and multitudes of other notable musicians, a place where you can find world-class jazz pretty much any night of the week, any week of the year, and never having taken advantage of that?

Now, in my defense, I just wasn't raised that way. Having grown up in a pentecostal church, in my mind jazz clubs were smoke-filled, tawdry, dens of iniquity wreaking of cheap cologne and stale booze, ... or cheap booze and stale cologne. And you could definitely make the case that there was little reason for a good Christian man to be in that environment. And there are many places in the French Quarter like that, places there would be little reason for me to patronize.

But, there are also some real gems to be found. I, and a couple of dear friends, found just such a little nook and enjoyed a wonderful evening of music provided by a member of one of New Orleans' premier musical families, Delfeayo Marsalis, and his band.

The scene I beheld was exactly NOT what I expected or had long envisioned. Instead of drunks trying to hit on my friends, I saw nice, polite people of many ethnicities enjoying very sophisticated music. I saw an older couple tenderly holding hands during a particularly romantic tune with a long lulling trombone solo. The mood was happy and the music was great. Musically I heard intricate melodies, subtle phrasing, complex chord constructs, mathematical rhythms, and a joyous energy that ranged from frenetic to genuinely romantic in the best sense of the word.

Preconceptions are very rarely accurate. Whether they be about people, places, or things, they usually mislead us ... and you know what they say about when we ass-u-me ...

Sometimes we have a gut reaction upon meeting someone that turns out to be exactly right. Other times, we make assumptions or sweeping generalizations, sight unseen, based upon no information, or second hand information, that lead us to faulty conclusions and preclude us from experiencing all of the good things that God provides for our enjoyment. I was recently speaking with a friend about these things. We ended up exchanging cliches like "don't throw out the baby with the bath-water" and "eat the fish, but spit out the bones". Sometimes cliches stick around for a reason - they encapsulate a fundamental truth about life.

Unfortunately we, as Christians, are sometimes the very worst regarding this. In our vain attempts to portray ourselves as what we believe appears spiritual and holy, we end up like the Pharisees, believing that holiness is derived by not going certain places, not eating certain things, and not interacting with publicans and sinners. This leads to an arrogance that is very unappealing to the very people we say we hope to win to God's Kingdom.

I am reminded of some of the first missionaries to the new world.. On the whole, they simply trashed the local religions. This stands in sharp contrast to the way Paul used the Athenians belief in an "Unknown God" as a starting point to bring them knowledge of The One True God. I believe that we make the same mistake when we simply trash other's way of life. It would be more profitable to start where they are and show the way from there.

For instance, it seems to me that starting with the beauty, emotion, and mathematical structure of music and working toward God from there, is much more in keeping with Paul's methods and much more effective than simply saying repent, you evil man with your devil music!

Of course, as with all things, there is balance in this. I am not saying that we should all get out and start going to clubs and that if you don't you're a Pharisee! I guess I'm just saying that we should not simply dismiss things out of hand. Maybe we should give a little thought and some prayer as to what things we do or do not do, and why we do or do not them.

This requires wisdom. Happily, this is something that, when asked for, God gives liberally.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Where's Dayledo?

What I've been doing instead of posting: (I know ya'll are wondering.)

1.) working on my re-write.
2.) trying to buy a house.
3.) eating blueberries.
4.) working on a proposal to officially change the spelling of bologna to baloney.
5.) trying to figure out where that strange smell is coming from.

So once again, I apologize to those of you who depend on my once semi-daily musings to get through the drudgery that is your daily life.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Theater curse . . .

I went to see Indiana Jones Monday. During the coming attractions, someone hit me in the head twice with what I assume were small pieces of candy. Without thinking I turned around and said to the dark forms behind me, loud enough for everyone to hear: "Whoever's throwing things better quit." Of course a hush fell over the crowd. . . . The throwing stopped.

Side note: Really good movie. And, something happened that I've never witnessed before. At the end of the movie, the audience applauded. Strange.

A couple of years ago, I went to see Spiderman 2, (terrible movie). I went during the day several weeks after the movie released to avoid the crowds. Four punks sat behind me and in the span of about one minute, although conveniently seeming accidental and followed by an apology, kicked the back of my chair four times. After the fifth time, I'd had enough and informed them that it better not happen again. They didn't kick my chair again, but they talked the whole time. Three people answered their phone and had a brief conversation.

I went to see Dekker's Three (pretty good movie). I traveled two hours to Baton Rouge to find a theater showing it. To my luck and Dekker's dismay, there were only five people in the theater. Of course, the curse struck again. Sitting in the same aisle as I, in a mostly empty theater, a mentally disturbed looking woman proceeded to answer her cell phone and engage in a twenty minute conversation at a volume required given the fact that the rest of us rudely refused to ask the manager to pause the movie. ( sidenote: I didn't say anything to her given her mentally disturbed look.)

I could go on and on, but it is clear that the dark forces of the universe are aligned against me and my quest to occasionally attend a movie.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

As far as I'm concerned . .

Blue Lagoon should be declared child pornography and ripped from the shelves, the director and producers should go to prison for peddling child pornography, and Brooke's parents should be arrested for child abuse.

She was fifteen years old.

Before you disagree on the child abuse part, watch the movie Pretty Baby starring 13 year old Brooke Shields, then decide. (All of the above goes for that movie, too.)

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Double Sin of Pyramid Preaching . . .

Besides getting rich off the TV tithing of poor people, the real crime of these scammers is the diversion of funds away from the duty of Christians: To give to the poor.

The Bible teaches us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked . . . basically give to those less fortunate than us regardless of our own situation.

But I don't see this burden in the Christian community. What I see is a burden for Christians to prosper their churches or their pastors. How much money does it cost to build the 80 ft. crosses that are becoming popular in front of the mega-churches. How much did it cost to build the Crystal Cathedral? How much food could that have purchased? Clothing? Rent? Transportation? Health care?

How much does the sets on TBN cost? The globe behind Joel Osteen's pulpit?

Far be it for me to speak for God, but He must be displeased to watch us spend millions of dollars supposedly given to Him, on monuments to our own egos.

I believe God would rather my church spend less money on decor and more on food and care for the poorest among us.

Don't get me wrong, we're all guilty of this. I played golf yesterday to the tune of $50. I could have and maybe should have given that money to my local food bank.

This is my main problem with jewelry. Instead of someone buying a $5,000 watch, did it ever occur to them to help someone pay for an operation? Help roof a poor person's leaking house? Help an elderly person or a child pay for their medication?

I am often reminded of the closing scene of Schindler's List. Oscar Schindler is grieving over the fact that although he saved many Jews from the ovens, he could have saved more. He starts listing the items he should have exchanged for lives. In one example, he throws his watch to the ground and yells out the number of lives he could have saved if he could have parted with it. The true reality of the value of things compared to lives became a vivid reality to him.

Is there anything in your life that you have valued over obeying God's command to give to those without? (obviously, you don't have to answer here.)

What does your church do with your money?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A More Personal Memorial Day . . .

I don't have much time, but I wanted to share this.

I met a woman from Korea today. The topic of her native country came up and I just happen to know a fair amount about Korea (primarily the war). So after a brief conversation, she mentioned her hope that one day North and South K would become one again and the topic of the war came up.

So I mentioned my uncle who had fought in Korea. After I shared what I knew of his experience there, she asked me how she could get in touch with him. She wanted to thank him for fighting for her country and for giving her and her family their freedom.

Unfortunately, my uncle died a couple of years ago.

I've heard stories of this gratitude before. Several years ago, another Korean veteran who had traveled back there a couple of times since the war told me that as soon as anyone would find out that he fought in the war, they would thank him.

I say if you're planning a trip to Paris - go to Seoul instead.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

With regards to my last post . . .

Please note that I'm hypoglycemic and a co-worker brought a jar of Nutella to the office. Oh yeah. Good times.

A few weird facts about me.

1.) I wash my spatula between flips.
2.) I wash my hands about 300 times a day.
3.) I think the so-called supermodels are fairly unattractive.
4.) I have never watched a single episode of Baywatch. And, I think the swimsuits they wore were kind of silly.
5.) When it comes to bullfights, I pull for the bull.
6.) I think dancing is stupid.
7.) I think jewelry is stupid. If it takes an expert with a microscope in his eye to tell the difference between a diamond and piece of broken glass, I say why spend the extra money.
8.) One of my dreams is to be a comedian.
9.) I once went 14 hours without a shower.
10.) I think lists of weird facts are stupid.

Did I mention he brought another jar of Nutella to work today?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

One Year Bloggerversary . . .

What? Nobody bought me a cake?

When I started this blog one year ago today, my goal was to finally write down all the incredibly brilliant points about, well, everything that I, much to the good fortune of those around me, make everyday. And, yes, you faithful visitors have, unfortunately, witnessed only a SMALL portion of my genius.

However, I have discovered that I'm a better talker than a writer. The reason is that I'm very poor at preparation and organization of thoughts. My phenomenal brain seems to work best off the cuff and without the speed bump that is my incredibly fast, but ultimately inadequate typing speed. For some reason, typing throws my brain off rhythm.

No problem again, you say. Just record yourself while you're in the zone. Tried it - didn't work. You see my incredible brain knows that my voice sounds horrific on tape. So when I try to record myself, it goes on strike. All of a sudden I'm stupid. In fact, if my brain gets anymore independent, I'll have to call it Hal and figure out a way to shut it down.

With that said, I have concluded it is time for me to shut this blog down.

Just kidding. :)

Here's my prediction for the next year:

1. I'll get an agent
2. I'll get published
3. You'll buy it, read it, cry, laugh, and tell all your friends about it.

predictions for the next 3 years:

1. Daylemania will sweep the nation.
2. T-shirt sales alone will surpass one-hundred-dollars.
3. I'll tell Oprah her show isn't big enough for me.
3. My dog will write a tell-all book and appear on Oprah where he'll destroy my career when he reveals that he actually wrote my books through telepathy and I didn't even upgrade his tennis ball with all the money I stole from him.

Friday, May 16, 2008

I Hope This is True . . .

Young writers must learn the difference between ambition and pretention. I am convinced that the very best writing is born of humility; the truly great stuff comes to life in those agonizing yet exhilarating moments when the artist is acutely aware of the limitations of his skills and the poverty of his philosophies, for it is then that he strains the hardest to make the most he can from the imperfect materials and tools with which he must work.

-Dean Koontz, From How to Write Best Selling Fiction.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Speaking of Moms . . .

This is the only picture I have of mine. (In case you're wondering, I'm the baby.)
Unfortunately, I have no memory of her. She died when I was three.
This is the story as best as I remember the telling. We pulled into a gas station. (Everything was full service then.) The attendant lit a cigarette and the fumes caught fire. He then pulled back with the nozzle in his hand spewing gas into the open window and the inside of the truck went up in flames with all five of us in it. My father, while his legs were on fire, pulled each of us out. Unfortunately, on my mother's side of the truck, the broken door was tied shut with a rope. She couldn't get out and thus had severe smoke inhalation. From what I understand, she could have survived but the doctor (or nurse) gave her the wrong medicine or dose or something. She died in the hospital.
As for the rest of us, we all had 2nd and 3rd degree burns, with my dad and sister getting the worst of it. Long hospital stays and multiple skin graphs. In fact, my earliest memory is of a nurse holding me down in a tub while I'm screaming in pain. My scars are still visible - the burn-distorted outline of my 3 yr old hands can still be easily seen.
Now please understand, I'm not trying to bring anyone down on Mother's Day. My dad did a great job filling both roles and, well, let's be honest - I turned out fantastic. :)
What I am trying to convey is the fact that life can change at any moment. Sometimes tomorrow doesn't bring a chance to make up for today. Sometimes tomorrow doesn't even come.
Contentment can be an elusive virtue. It's easy for us to focus so much on our "small" problems that we fail to see the bigger picture. But the same is true for our "big" problems. Sure, I could have turned into a bitter person - full of resentment and mad at God for letting such a terrible thing happen. But what good would that do? Instead, I became a Christian. And since I am a Christian, I believe my mom is still alive. And what would she want me to do? Live my life wallowing in despair? Or, live my life to the fullest - happy and content? The answer is obvious.
No, I didn't blame God or get mad at Him. For my hope resides in God, who so loved me that He gave His only begotten Son. You see, even God suffered the loss of a family member. Before He conquered death, Jesus died on the cross. I truly believe that when we do pass from this world to the next, the scope of eternity will make all of our problems in this life, this twinkling of an eye, seem unimportant. Even my mother's death.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

My life will now be Stephen King free . . .

At least when it comes to buying his books. I may read them, but I'll never give him a dime. (not that a multi-millionaire cares.) And, I'm proud to say, that I've never purchased a King book, and now, I never will.

Why? Yesterday, (I assume), King pulled a John Kerry - suggesting that our troops are in the military because they can't read and didn't do well enough in school. Well, that would be news to all the troops who requested books - including King's - to be sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. I even sent a couple of his novels that someone donated.

The fact is our troops actually test higher than the national average. They are not dumb slobs who couldn't cut it in the real world. Dummies can't operate military equipment or perform complex operations with the precision that they do.

Now, I'll admit that maybe I'm being too hard on King. Maybe he's referring to the few Americans who did join for the chance at a paid education and a small paycheck because they didn't do well in school. (by the way, what's wrong with that?) But he didn't say that. If that's what he meant, he should have qualified his statement. And even if it were true, keep it to yourself until our troops come home.

I wonder if he's even met a solder or taken the time to visit Walter Reed. I don't know, but I'd guess probably not. He's too busy living his dream life under the very protection that our troops provide.

It's well established that King is on the extreme left. In one interview, he was railing against the Bush adm. for taking away his rights by illegal wire-tapping. When the fact is, the policy only allows for wire-tapping Americans who are receiving calls from known terrorists. In other words, the govt. is monitoring terrorists and when the terrorists call an American, they no longer have to hang up. They're not listening to you talk to your agent or check up on your money, S.K. They don't have the time. Now I don't hold it against King for being a leftist. That's his prerogative. But he crosses the line when he insults our troops.

I don't own a King book, but if I did, I would have probably thrown it away (among other actions I won't mention) this morning when I heard his comment. Maybe I'll buy a used one at a garage sale just so I can . . . Never mind.

What do you think? Am I overreacting?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Here's one of my sloppier works.

Or, as I like to call it: Impressionism.
It was my first try at using a more pastel laden color scheme - which became en vogue a few years ago.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

I should read the Bible more often . . .

A while back I posted An Argument Againt Arguing. This morning, I came across this verse from 2 Timothy 2:24-26:

And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him him must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

We miss you George . . .

“What students would learn in American schools above all is the religion of Jesus Christ.”

-George Washington [speech to the Delaware Indian Chiefs May 12, 1779]

Monday, April 21, 2008

They have been warned.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!

Galatians 1 6-8

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

1 Timothy 6 6-10 (partially)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

What do you think?

Agent Rachelle Gardner held a two-part contest on her blog. Stage one required the submission of a first line.

Congratulations to Richard Marbry who won with the following great line: Things were going along just fine until the miracle fouled up everything.

Stage two required using Mr. Marbry's line (or one out of a few honorable mentions) to write the first 300 words of a novel.

Congratulations to Lea Ann McCombs for her winning entry. Very Good. And Congrats to you Mark for honorable mention.

Now back to me - While I didn't enter stage 1, I did enter stage 2. Something about Richard's line got me going. And, while my entry is not nearly as good as Lea Ann's, I was really happy with the results.

My Entry:

-----Things were going along just fine until the miracle fouled up everything. There was just one problem: Deaver didn’t believe in miracles.
-----Time to investigate.
-----He immediately ruled out human error since he was the only human involved. Oh, it’s not that he considered himself infallible. But his rare past mistakes came at those few moments of the day when he couldn’t stay focused on the task at hand. Those few instances when the need for food or sleep required some of his attention. Drawbacks of being stuck in the body of an imperfect species. Fortunately, that would soon change. After his transformation, he wouldn’t have to worry about such mundane tasks. Unfortunately, for now, he’d have to deal with his present reality.
-----Back to the investigation.
-----Though he supposed the wind could have gusted, he doubted that explanation. He had monitored the wind speed up until the moment. One to three miles per hour without exception. Not enough to cause a problem. Besides, considering the day’s weather, that possibility, if it occurred, could also be deemed a miracle.
-----Since he had personally calibrated his equipment and re-checked them several times in the three hours prior to the moment, he also ruled out the possibility of their failure. No, there must be another explanation.
-----Maybe the girl had something to do with it. A sixth sense, maybe? Did she know to turn out of the bullet’s path in that minute moment of time? To turn just enough to make sure the bullet hit her barrette? Is that why, in that moment, she ¼ smiled?
-----He picked up his rifle and focused the scope on her hospital room window. Can you feel my presence? The drapes opened revealing her form.
-----She turned and looked directly at him. And smiled.

At the moment, I want to continue writing this story. But, it's tough to judge your own work. So, what I want to know is: Would you keep reading this? Does it intrigue you? Is it weak? Any other thoughts?

p.s. Remember - It's impossible to hurt my feelings.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

In case you're wondering . . .

I am feeling better but I still have a bad cough. Nothing like the throat and sinus problem I had for almost two weeks.

I never went to a doctor growing up. When we got sick, which was rare, we sweated it out. Orange juice, chicken noodle soup, and the sofa.

I remember one time when I got a bad case of poison ivy which caused my face to swell so much my nose almost closed up, I had to sweat it out. No medicine, no itch cream. Only aspirin and aloe vera plants. I don't blame my dad - that's how he grew up. He didn't know they had all them new fangled drugs out there.

As a kid, when I was told that a friend went to the doctor, I thought the worst. If he had to go to a doctor, it must have been really bad. Nope - I found out later - people go to the doc even for colds. Really!!

( Hey Ryan, You were at the doctor's office so much, I can't tell you how many times I thought you were going to die. Then later I found out your experience was normal, not mine. )

Okay, I'm starting to babble, so I'll sign off now . . .

Sunday, April 6, 2008

And the winner is . . .

Not me, but I did have my first name-calling this weekend at the Jambalaya Writer's Conference. Honorable mention (which means I came in second or third) for novel excerpt (1800 words).

Unfortunately, I missed it because I've been ill for the past five days. So I'll have to wait another day to hear my name called in recognition for my work - which as you writers know, means a lot in this solitary endeavour.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Christianity is not a religion . . .

"Moses could meditate on the law; Muhammad could brandish a sword; Buddha could give personal counsel; Confucius could offer wise sayings; but none of these men was qualified to offer an atonement for the sins of the world" -R.C. Sproul.

Christ alone offers eternal life through his sacrifice. Religious freedom applies to religions and Christian denominations when it comes to the application of rights and laws.

Christianity is beyond religion. It is not man-conceived, but God ordained. It has no moral equivalent or philosophical competitor.

Contrary to some popular belief, Christianity is not a set of principles to live your life by. It is not simply an owner's manual to govern the human existence. It is the road map to salvation, the receipt for the gift of grace, a love letter written to you by God.

Treasure it, Revere it, Embrace it, but do not belittle it by calling it a religion.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Local landmark . . .

This is a small, very old church on Deadwood Road a few hundred feet from where I grew up.

This is the church where they filmed the movie The Apostle by Robert Duvall.

The church is actually sitting on a parcel of drained swamp surrounded by a levee. During heavy rains and localized flooding, the graves, sometimes, pop out of the ground. As a teenager I rode my bike there to find two had floated across the street and came to rest on some cypress knees along the bayou where my dad said they did submersion baptisms when he was a kid.

In New Orleans, in some of the older graveyards, bones have reportedly "seeped" to the surface. The older caskets were not placed in the concrete tombs. So, when the wood rotted away, the bones were free to move with the water table.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Resurrection Day ! ! !

Hi. My name is Teddy.

Dayle can't blog right now because he's taking a break from working on his manuscript to eat dinner.

I just wanted to wish you all a happy Resurrection Day.

I would also like to thank y'all for all the kind words regarding my mother's recent passing. For those of you curious about what Chelsea looked like - she looked like me except with white fur and more wisdom in her face.

By the way, I'm a lot older than I look. Believe it or not, I'm 12 years old. But I've got the heart of a puppy. That's the key to staying young. You have to believe that you are young.

Anyway, I have to go now. Dayle's almost finished eating and he'll need the computer back to continue working on his manuscript (or so he says).

Till next time,


Rose-colored glasses . . . Part 2

Okay, back to where we left off. The '07 ACFW in Dallas.

I had a great meeting with agent Y representing superagency X. The meeting went twice as long as it was supposed to. Very good back and forth. I was told how well I represented myself and how well I summarized my manuscript. Agent asked for my proposal and . . . well, I've never heard from her. Still this was not a rejection. Either I will eventually hear from her. Or, my manuscript doesn't fit the vision of this agency.

Agent B didn't waste much time asking for a full. AB told me my first page passed the test and AB definitely wanted to see more. I still haven't sent AB my full. Why? Because I'm not sure we're a good fit. Result: No rejection.

Editor D seemed promising. Again, meeting went real well. D asked for a proposal and full manuscript. Two months later, D informed me that my book wasn't a good fit for D's House. Okay, this is as close to a rejection as I've received. But still, all it meant was that my manuscript wasn't a good match.

Also, I couldn't miss the bright side. I was a conference newbie who received 5 requests. Not too shabby. I've yet to meet with someone who said: "Your way out of your league. Don't send me your stuff."

More bright side: Editor C from my first conference asked for a full, sent me a page and a half of notes, requested a rewrite and re-submission. Which I'm taking a long time to do, but I am doing.

Alright, I'll confess, I'm not made of stone. I do feel the sting of rejection briefly. But we're talking less than a minute. But the sting is not based on any resentment against the reject-er. It's based on realizing I did something to cause it.

Maybe I...

sent it to the wrong publisher/agent.
didn't pitch it effectively.
pitched it before it was ready.
did everything right, but it wasn't a good match
etc, etc, etc.

Okay, it's possible that the agent/editor is a narrow minded idiot who passes up bestselling books from new authors everyday because they're just upset that they couldn't sell the book they've been working on for the past 12 years, . . . But I seriously doubt it.

My advice, for what it's worth, is to look at rejections in a brand new light. Consider them information sources. Put on your special rose-colored glasses and maybe you'll see the real message behind the form letter.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Rose-colored glasses . . .

I would like to propose a new way of looking at rejections. I think the word "rejection" in this context is a misnomer. You are not being rejected. Your manuscript is not being rejected. There is always another meaning. The key is to discover that hidden meaning.

So far, I've been pretty fortunate. I don't have a drawer full of rejections. Let's review - Immediately after I finished my manuscript, I queried an agent. A big one in the world of Christian publishing. Two weeks later, my SASE arrived with the form rejection. Oh, it said something like "although your writing has merit, it blah, blah, blah". I would tell you exactly what it said, but I can't find it. Anyway, the point is I wasn't rejected - I was informed that I wasn't ready yet. So I decided to seek and devour all the information I could about novel writing. I also made another great decision - I sent my manuscript to Donna Fleisher to have it edited. I did not immediately query 20 other agents. I did not deem that agency to be blind to real talent.

I then attended the fantastic "Writing for the Soul" conference in Colorado Springs. All three interviews went great. All three editors asked for either a partial or a whole. I still haven't heard from editor 1, therefore no rejection has occurred. Editor 2 informed me that publishing house X has changed its focus to YA fiction - therefore no rejection. Editor 3 sent my manuscript back and asked me to do a minor re-write and send it back. (still doing that) Again, no rejection.

I decided to query an agent again. And, although I made her final cut of three out of 160+, she didn't offer me representation. But she didn't reject me. She was kind enough to send me her thoughts about my writing and I must say that for the first time in this journey, I disagreed with a professional. So, she didn't reject me, she just informed me that we weren't a good fit. She has to represent the kind of writing that fits her eye. That wasn't me.

SIDENOTE: A few other editors who asked for partials over lunch at the conference also said no. BUT, these were not rejections. You see, they came so fast, that I really think they just asked for a partial because of the uncomfortable environment. I mean, really, who wants to say no to someone over dinner? So, still - no rejections.

Fast forward to ACFW conference in 07. I met with two agents and one editor. Again, all meetings went great. Apparently, I make a good impression in person :).

But . . .

To be continued.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Growing up Arceneaux . . .

For those of you (cough-Kay) wondering what this area of the world looks like, here are some pics COURTESY OF TODD.

I grew up surrounded by this stuff. Miles and miles of it. No kidding. 30ft behind my house and extending for miles.

Click on the picture to see the little ones. Good work, Todd.

Monday, March 17, 2008

It takes one to know one . . .

I wasn't born with any musical ability or sensibility whatsoever. It took years of hard work, practice, and dedication to arrive at that place where playing a guitar is almost a subconscious event for me. I don't really have to think about it. I can do it with my eyes closed. I can even worship while playing without missing a beat (for the most part). But it wasn't always that way. And after all this time, I still can't tune a guitar by ear. I can, however, hear when it's out of tune.

When I first became the worship leader for my church youth group I wasn't very good. The lyric sheets (with the chords written above the words that indicated the correct timing) had to be in front of me or I was lost. I had to listen very intently to the other musicians and the singer so I wouldn't lose my place. Despite all of this concentration (which explains all the dumb faces I used to make), I made multiple mistakes per song. The result: no one noticed (I actually got compliments). No one noticed except my fellow musicians and the 1 or 2 musicians who happened to be in the audience that is.

However, even though the general public did not notice my mistakes, no record company on the planet would have signed such a sloppy musician as I. I would have had to prove my technical ability before I would have been allowed to waste tape on their dime.

For example, I went to a concert by classical guitarist Peter Fletcher. Outstanding musician. At one point in a particular selection - he messed up. So I thought. But he did it on purpose. Or shall I say with purpose. He allowed the strings to vibrate against the fret. Usually this is a mistake. But he did it while doing a walk down with the top (bass) string creating a wonderful effect.

See my point? If I do it, it's a mistake. When he does it, it's genius.

How does this apply to writing? Even though the audience can't hear (read) your mistakes, they're not the ones running the studios (publishing houses). You have to prove your technical ability before they allow you to vibrate the strings (break the "rules") with purpose.

Of course, all of this is very SUBJECTIVE. Some really good writers will never get published and some not so good writers will. This is the nature of the human element. And, contrary to popular belief, editors are human, too.

Is this fair? Maybe not, but it is the reality.

On the other hand, one of the mistakes really great technical musicians make is that they play to impress other musicians. So the result is usually over the heads of the general listening public. This is why they rarely produce a hit. The key is to evoke emotion. No matter how simple the song. The great ones can do both.

See the parallel? Story is king. A great story poorly presented is still better than a bad story perfectly executed. But it probably won't get you published.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

It's a conspiracy I tell ya . . .

I know Dean Koontz has a twisted sense of humor. If you don't believe me, read his answers to questions 1, 5, & 10.

I'm starting to think Dean Koontz has been playing an even bigger and more elaborate joke on the publishing industry. You see, in some of his recent books, he has been doing things he doesn't normally do.

Exhibit A:

In these examples from The Darkest Evening of the Year, he's putting his dialogue tags before the dialogue. I must say that I found this very distracting. I've checked his older books. He didn't do this then.

She says, "You know what's the worst thing?"
Brian said, "You always carry two thousand bucks?"
He said, "You aren't seriously telling me that Seeing Eye dogs can drive."

Exhibit B:

Look at these dialogue tags from Velocity :

Ned said impatiently, Ned explained, Ned clarified, Ned confirmed, Ned agreed, Ned grumbled, Billy added, Billy judged, Billy assured him, Ned replied, Billy conceded, Steve protested, Lanny objected, Billy suggested, Cottle said anxiously, Billy said plaintively.

and my personal favorite "Science fiction," Jackie emphasized.

Because of his past track record, I'm starting to think there's a method to this madness. Like he's thumbing his nose at the experts who say you shouldn't do these things.

The experts usually say that most writers do the above 'don'ts' due to a lack of confidence in their writing. I have never agreed with this charge. Most new writers do this because that's the example they've seen in the books they've read. They see it in a novel and consider it accepted practice. Not to mention it's a good way to get the word count up.

It would be ridiculous to say that Koontz is doing this because of a lack of confidence. That's almost too absurd to even think about. If it were his standard operating procedure then you could just use the "when you sell a hundred million books then you can do whatever you want too" argument.

Personally, I think he's just having fun.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dayle the adventurer . . .

More pics from Clark Creek.

Pics by Todd.

Backpack by Ryan.

Higher than it looks. ---->

Todd getting artsy.

Bigger than it looks. That's me in the upper left. --->

Monday, March 10, 2008

Well . . . it ain't the Smokies

but it does have its own charm.

Three things I learned while hiking in the Clark Creek wildlife management area in Mississippi this weekend:

1. Pictures still don't do nature justice.

2. Either a miracle has occurred or I'm no longer allergic to Poison Ivy .

3. I look fat when I put my hands in my pockets. ------>

Friday, March 7, 2008

Speak of the devil . . .

I took this one in North Carolina at Chimney Rock Park.
The dangling rock formation is called Devil's Head. (click on the picture to get a better look)
To me, it looks like one of those creatures in Lord of the Rings.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Blue Ridge Parkway hike

I never thought I'd find myself here. ---->

<---- It's at the top of that outcropping.

Looking back at the car. ---->

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Your novel's only got one shot at . . .

making a good first impression.

I don't like having a story set up for me. You know those novels that have three of four paragraphs telling you the backstory or setting up the real opening. I'd rather that info be threaded in while the opening scene is taking place.

Before I even considered learning anything about writing a novel I knew one thing: The opening has to be good. In fact, the only thing more important than a good opening is a good ending.

But on the other hand, some of my favorite books have okay openings. Especially when it comes to the first line. Silly fact about me - - I'm obsessed with opening lines. (When I'm in the bookstore I often grab a few books off the shelf and read just the first line.)

The truth is: you don't need a great first line - you need a good opening. This could mean the first line, the first paragraph, first page, or first chapter.

Consider these examples from some of my favorite books:

From Demon by Tosca Lee : It was raining the night he found me.

Not too spectacular. Brown and King recommend never starting a sentence with "It". "Was" is also discouraged. And, we have a weather report - albeit a short one. The second sentence is even worse. But the opening chapter is good. The result - one of the best books I've ever read.

From Thr3e by Ted Dekker: The office had no windows, only electric lanterns to light the hundreds of spines standing in their cherry wood bookcase.

Well that's just awful. In fact, the whole first paragraph is awful (for an opening). A single lawyers lamp spread its yellow hue over the leather-topped desk. The room smelled of linseed oil and musty pages, but to Dr. John Francis it was the scent of knowledge.

Okay. . . So far this is not a good opening. But look at the next line. The line I would have chosen to be the first.

"Evil is beyond the reach of no man." Now we're getting somewhere.

Despite the awful first paragraph, the opening chapter is fantastic. The result - one of the best books I've read.

Now on to my all-time favorite novel. Watchers by Dean Koontz.

On his thirty-sixth birthday, May 18, Travis Cornell rose at five o'clock in the morning. To quote Homer Simpson: Boring. But don't stop - keep reading the first paragraph. He dressed in sturdy hiking boots, jeans, and a long-sleeved, blue plaid cotton shirt. He drove his pickup south from his home in Santa Barbara all the way to rural Santiago Canyon on the eastern edge of Orange County, south of Los Angelas. He took only a package of Oreo cookies, a large canteen full of orange-flavored Kool-Aid, and a fully loaded Smith & Wesson .38 Chief's special.

Now that's an opening paragraph. The first few lines are used to set up the impact of the last.

So it seems my obsession with great first lines is a little misplaced. It's the opening that has to be good. Be it first line, paragraph, or chapter. (Of course it's great to have all three.) But even a great first line is nothing if the opening scene is not good. So actually, you need to have a good opening scene. Just don't waste too much time getting to it.

I went through my "To be read" stack and found this opening from Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas:

My name is Odd Thomas, though in this age when fame is the altar at which most people worship, I am not sure why you should care who I am or that I exist.

Now that's an opening line.

With all of that said, this is all very subjective. Let's look at what could be Dean Koontz's best novel in the deep, rich, literary thriller sense. From the Corner of His Eye. It does everything "wrong". The first chapter (half a page long) is told from omniscient pov and is just an info dump. The second chapter (three pages long) has no action. But it does give some rich characterization. The third chapter (9 pages long) is one of the best "opening scenes" I've ever read. No one will put that book down after that third chapter.

These three chapters are not connected and use different pov's, but the first two set up the third and add impact to the true "opening scene".

The result = one of the best books I've ever read.

**sidenote: Koontz almost always does something I'm told you shouldn't do - he switches tone. He almost always has two storylines running simultaneously and they are usually juxtaposed between good and evil, the miracles of good humanity and the relentless detructive force of the evil side of mankind.

Friday, February 29, 2008

This course stinks!

There's been a lot of talk about the rules of writing lately. When I explain some of them to my non-writer friends they are usually surprised by how complicated and subtle they are. They also question the validity or value of following the rules (or as I like to call them: the guidelines).

As my friend (and writing teacher), Donna Fleisher, taught me: there is a difference between writing a story and writing a novel. Most beginners have a good story in mind when they decide to "become a writer". They just haven't yet learned how to put it in novel form. So I don't really hold it against a newbie for going through a brief period of rebellion against the rules, the snobs who made them, and the publishing cabal that propagates their required adherence. But it must be a brief period or he is lost.

You don't just become a writer - you learn the skills involved. The rules (guidelines) were not created in a vacuum. They were cultivated by professionals over years of experience through trial and error.

At some point, the new writer needs to accept this and embrace the guidelines as a gift from those who have gone before him.

I once heard a story about Jack Nicklaus (the man Tiger Woods is chasing in the record books).

He said that before a tournament he knew who is competition would be that week just by listening to the other players exchange their ruminations about the course. Anyone who complained about the course, he scratched off the list. They were not going to win.

As a fan of golf, it has occurred to me that I've never heard Tiger Woods complain about a golf course or the playing conditions. Whether it's a links style, old style, straight style, or target style course, he always says the same thing - "I love this type of course. It's gonna be a good test and I'm looking forward to the challenge."

So, you can either complain about the course and watch Tiger Woods raise yet another trophy or you can embrace the course, welcome the challenge to learn the skills required to navigate it, and one day watch Tiger Woods (or someone else) buy your novel in your local bookstore.

Easy choice for me.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Alright, I'll play this time . . .

Today I've been tagged by my friend Janet Rubin (or, as her millions of fans will know her by: J.L. Rubin) to participate in a game of blog tag.

The Rules:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.So, here's mine:

Well, I was going to be a smart alec and use my book. But I turned to the appropriate passage and it stunk. So here's the real, and surprisingly, good one:

and when I am finally unremembered maybe then i too can forget that this world is what it seems to be: a hurtful, hateful place where people carve apart souls from the bodies of men and women and children. and themselves. until in ultimate hypocrisy they scapegoat God judging him as guilty for the wicked, wounded world their very hands have made.

From Sinner by Sharon Carter Rogers.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On Being a Writer . . .

Ever feel this way?

A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down . . . If it is a good book nothing can hurt him. If it is a bad book, nothing can help him.

- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Hmmm . . . I wonder where I stand?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Maybe this will help . . .

I'm a member of a small writer's group. One of our members, Myrna, writes beautiful poetry. Saturday, she shared samples of her new collection of tankas. I had never heard of this form before but I was instantly drawn to it. If you're not familiar with it, it consists of five lines following a syllable count of 5,7,5,7,7. From what I understand they don't rhyme and usually try to capture a moment in time.

Okay, okay, I'll get to the point. I'm a very literal person. I'm a musician who can't write songs. Song lyrics are tough for me because I have trouble with the poetic license needed. This problem bleeds over into novel writing. I tend to say exactly what I mean instead of finding a fresh indirect way of getting the idea across. So, as an excercise, I will try to write a few of these. Here's my first attempt:

Clouds of mist and rain
Barren fields all but dead
Life from water flows
Blood from the lamb washes clean
Love on the cross all I need

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Apprehensive worship . . .

The following song was played several times during the 07 ACFW conference. I couldn't bring myself to sing along. In fact, I felt very uncomfortable just standing there listening to it.

The lyrics come across as a little self-important to me. Who are we to demand what Jesus is thinking or feeling? I have to assume the lyrics are based on scripture, so I'd like to give the author the benefit of the doubt.

Can anyone help me with this one?

Jesus, here I am your favorite one,
what are you thinking, what are you feeling, I have to know
And I am after your heart,
I'm after your heart,
I'm after you
And I'll crown you with my love

Friday, February 15, 2008

Christian athletes . . .

Yesterday, Jason Elam of the Denver Broncos was on Fox News pushing his new Christian novel - Monday Night Jihad

Well, I'm not going to root for the Denver Broncos because of Jason Elam, but I will root for him.

For those of you who may not know, here are a few other athletes I do root for because they are not only Christian, but they actively work to spread the gospel:

Aaron Baddely - Golf ----- His website has a faith section.
Zach Johnson - Golf ----- He doesn't have a website, but the Master's champion took the oppurtunity to give the glory of his victory to his Lord - Jesus Christ.

Jeff Gordon - NASCAR ------ He links to a ministry on his website. By the way, if you've never watched a NASCAR race, watch the opening invocation one day. They always mention Jesus.

Danny Wuerffel - Former Saints quarterback ---- What I like about Danny is that he doesn't seem to care that he didn't "make it" as a starter in the NFL. He believes . . . Well, go here and read what he says about finding true fulfillment. You gotta love this guy.

I know there are others, but I gotta get back to work on my manuscript. Do you know any who fit this criteria?

sidenote: spellcheck ain't working and I don't have time to paste and copy from word.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day pet peeve . . .

Okay, I'll just say it - I hate Valentine's Day. And in the spirit of the holiday, may I add "I hate it with a passion."

The reason is that it has nothing to do with the "couple". It's not him and her - It's all about her and her friends. He can't just give her anything, it has to be something that she can show off or brag about. And the guy better come through or he's in for a lifetime of resentment.

The problem is, for the most part, that men are clueless about what this entails. It's an unfair expectation placed on males. They're out of their element. You may as well ask a Klan member to sculpt a statue of M.L.K. You probably won't like the results becuase you and the klan member would have a different idea of what a "tribute" to the civil rights leader should look like.

This explains why corporations take advantage of male ignorance on this issue and actually sell those silly Vermont bears. Most men don't know any better and they're grasping at straws.

To the male logic, a gift given to a significant other out of cultural extortion has no meaning and he'd rather not do it. However, women place enormous value on the guy doing what is socially expected.

Tip for you ladies: You want to know how your hubby really feels about you. Look at some of the practical things he does for you. Works at a job he can't stand. Always makes sure your car is in good working order. If he's constantly checking your oil and anti-freeze, putting on new wipers, checking your tires, etc, that is more meaningful to him than giving you flowers on V-day. Does he hold your purse while you're shopping? (trust me - he hates this and only does it for one reason.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

More Gator pictures . . . (Reposted for Kay)

This monster was crossing a street near my home. 10-12 ft. long.

This little guy made me nervous. Momma had to be close by.
Camera shy?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Divine Intervention . . .

The tornado rampage killed 59 people. But according to one potential victim, it didn't kill 62 because God saved her family.

I'm always torn when this happens. On one hand, I'd like to believe her. The thought of God intervening in our lives is a great source of hope and a testament to the power and goodness of our Lord. But on the other hand, I hope it's not true.

When this particular person said, "It was God who saved her family", she also said to the families of those who did die: "God didn't save your family." At best, this comes across as arrogant to non-believers. At worst, this comes across as mean-spirited and she will be deemed an authentic representative of the simple-minded hick group of people who represent an antiquated and flawed philosophy called Christianity.

What did she do to deserve God's intervention? What did the others do not to deserve it?

I'm afraid I don't have the answer. All I can say is I believe God is just. We are only on this earth for a blink of an eye. This truth causes us to focus too much on this world. To put far more value in this brief moment than we do on eternity. There will come a day when the sorrows of this world will seem like an ancient bump in the road. Like when a baby cries because he dropped his bottle.

But until then, life does seem unjust, full of sorrow, and often times - meaningless. Therein lies the hope of knowing Christ. To trust in Him is the only way to bring beauty into the chaos of our lives spent here on Earth.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Today is Mardi Gras . . .

Or, as translated in English, Fat Tuesday - which means I have the day off. Yes, it's a holiday here. The city just about shuts down. Well, except for the 100,000 people who will line the streets of Houma to view the two parades.

I'd rather be somewhere else, but I'll take advantage of the day off and work on my manuscript.

Here's where I was last year: Note: ignore the date stamp. I didn't know it was on. It ruined these pictures and on top of that it's the wrong date.

Garden of the gods - Colorado Springs. February - 2007.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

More on Chelsea . . .

Chelsea did live a good life. Besides checkups, I never had to take her to the vet. She lived her whole life in comfort and had pretty much had her way.

She never tore anything up, was house-trained very early, and obeyed commands without fail.

I remember one time I told her to "stay" - for some reason I can't remember now (we were in the back bedroom). When I finished what I was doing, I went lay on the couch. About an hour later I heard her trademark "I need something" whimper. I looked down the hall and she was standing in the same spot she was when I told her to "stay". Needless to say, I felt terrible and gave her several pieces of cheese and plenty of attention to appease my guilt.

My only regret is that the scientific community never got a chance to study her. There's a theory that says animals are incapable of a creative thought. They simply act on instinct and application of chance observations. I truly believe Chelsea disproved this theory. Unfortunately, she may have been unique in this matter because I can't say the same thing about any of my other dogs. Including her son, Teddy. Who - bless his heart - is as lovable as can be, but he's not nearly as bright as his mother.

One more point: I think the sadness we feel is rooted in more than just our loss. It's because we can never give them as much love as they give us. They would love us 24/7 if they could. The only thing stopping them is they have to wait for us to give them the opportunity. The only thing Teddy wants in life is to be next to me.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I would never treat a dog like a person . . .

Fourteen years ago, me, my new bride, and her dog, Chelsea, moved in my father's house at his request. We didn't mind - He needed help and we needed the free rent. The only problem is my dad's attitude was a little old school when it came to dogs. We grew up in the boonies and he had no compulsion against carrying out his policy of shooting all strays. Several times I had to go dispose of "the body" after school.

So . . . I was a little apprehensive about leaving Chelsea all day with my dad. Don't misunderstand - I knew he wouldn't hurt her- he was a good man. I just wasn't sure how attentive he would be to her needs. After all she was "just a dog".

A couple of weeks later, I came home early and heard my dad talking to Chelsea through the window. I remained outside and watched as he called her "his baby" and proceeded to prepare both of them a plate of food. (Even though he knew I didn't want to give her table food.) He filled both their plates with white beans and rice and beef roast. He then poured both of them some milk. His in a glass and hers in a bowl. He put her plate on the table next to his, pulled a chair out for her and they both sat there -at the table-and ate while he periodically let her lick his face.

For the next few years, the man who hated dogs became our daily babysitter for Chelsea. Even after we built our house next door, he would call and ask me to open the door so she could go visit. All I had to do was tell Chelsea "Go see paw paw" and she would run to his house.

Yesterday, I held Chelsea for the last time as she entered her final sleep. I've had many dogs and I can honestly say she was by far the smartest dog I've ever encountered. In fact, smart isn't the right word - it goes beyond that. She was exceedingly brilliant and touched the hearts of those around her. Yes, there have been and will be other dogs, but there has never been and will never be another Chelsea.

Every now and then I'd run across someone who'd say in a condescending tone "You treat that dog like it's a person." Instead of getting mad, I always replied "No, I'd never be that cruel."

Dogs give unconditional love, they never let you down, they never betray you, and they would give their life to defend you.

So you see - I would never treat a dog like a person - because they deserve better than that.

Especially Chelsea -- 1993-2008.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

To Mardi Gras or not to Mardi Gras . . .

Much like the "To Halloween or not" question, I believe this is a matter of personal conviction. But am I wrong about that?

To participate in Mardi Gras by way of being a member of a Krewe and riding on a float inherently, in most cases, involves fashioning an idol of a god and printing the image of that god or goddess on doubloons, cups, t-shirts, etc.

Such as Zeus, Dionysus, Bacchus (the Roman god of wine and intoxication - equivalent to Dionysus), Aphrodite, Isis, Thor, etc. Of course, there are Krewes with more innocuous names such as Mona Lisa, Excalibur, Ceasar, Cleopatra, etc.

While these actions may violate the letter of Mosaic Law (namely the 2nd Commandment), they certainly don't violate the intent. I mean, really, are the Krewe members actually worshipping these gods. Of course not. (Although the legalists might think so.) Besides, most of the Krewe members are Catholics - therefore Christians.

For me, I don't attend the night parades as a matter of personal conviction. But occasionally, I don't mind attending a day parade. Especially if the day parade is the children's parade. (Btw, by occasionally, I mean every five years or so.) As a child, I enjoyed them. I remember when I first saw the Budweiser Clydesdales pass by. I didn't think those horses actually existed. I had seen them in movies and thought they were special effects, not real animals.

The important thing to remember about a personal conviction is not to judge others by it. For example, the Bible doesn't say you can't drink. It says "don't be a drunkard." It is my personal conviction not to drink. But I'm careful to tell my non-Christian friends that I don't condemn them for drinking. I only mention to them the verse that says "don't be a drunkard." But in the end, it is their choice to be a drunkard or not.

So if a fellow Christian decides to participate in Mardi Gras, I may share my opinions with them, but I never judge them based on my decision. A pastor at one of my former churches, actually told our youth group that if Jesus comes back and they're at the movies, they will get left behind. I immediately packed up my guitar and began looking for a different church. While it may be a good thing to try and convince our youth of the dangers of certain types of movies, it is never a good thing to pass judgement on them on God's behalf. I'm sure this pastor understands the concept of being judged by the same measure which you judge. I wonder if he could pass his own scrutiny.

It is important to consider how difficult it is to live up to the Law. Thankfully, we don't have to. That's why Jesus was born. But we must also consider how difficult it is, over a lifetime, to live up to our own "Law" which we judge others by.