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This past Friday, I interviewed Rob Stennett, author of The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher, The End is Now, Homemade Haunting, and the the new short story, Chicken.

At the end of the interview, I promised to enter everyone who commented into a drawing for a chance to win a Kindle copy of TATSORF (The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher).

Not counting comments from Rob and myself, five of your commented. This made the giveaway easy to conduct. I assigned a numeric value to each commenter, and using random.org, I plugged in those values into a number range.

The number that came up was 5–the number assigned to Rachel Voris.

Congratulations, Rachel!

Thanks, everyone, for commenting, and for supporting what I do here.

Blessings!

Folks, here’s a sneak peak at the memoir I mentioned yesterday. I hope it doesn’t disappoint. Please be aware that it’s very much a work in progress, so as Donald Miller says, “forgive the rough patches. Here’s the writing in progress:”

I’m Alright: a Memoir of the Power of Little Words

Introduction:

I was born in an era of both promise, and tragedy. The world was just weeks away from seeing men walk on the moon, yet America was still deeply embroiled in the Vietnam War. It was the era of Woodstock, free love, and Stonewall. Nixon was president.

In short, it was a time not terribly unlike our own.

It was 1969. As Dickens had so aptly said a over a century before, “It was the best of times, it was worst of times.”

And it was into this time that I was born. Into a world full of both hope, and despair.

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Chapter 1

The occasion of my birth caused no little despair for my parents, as I arrived–mewling and messy–some six weeks early. I came into the world weighing in at five pounds four-and-a-half ounces. As babies do, I lost weight after my birth–dropping under five pounds. I was not allowed to go home with my parents until I had gained back the loss, and then some.
If my initial cries were not lusty, they were unusual; instead of the “wah” sound one normally associates with newborns, mine were predicted upon the “L” sound: “lah, lah.” Or so I’ve been told.

I was also different in another way: I was born with a concentric ring around my left thumb that persists to this day. At the time, doctors speculated that perhaps the cord had wrapped around it in utero, or it had–for some reason–suddenly stopped, and then just as suddenly started, growing. In any case, people ask if I wrapped something around it as a child, or whether it was reattached subsequent to an accident. Neither of those is the case, but I did show it to my own daughter, in an attempt to get her to stop sucking her thumb, telling her “Daddy used to suck his thumb, and it fell off. Doctors had to put it back on.” For a second, a split-second, I thought it would work; then she said “Tell the truth, daddy. Your thumb didn’t come off, did it?” This from a five year-old.

She, and her brother, keep her mother and I on our toes. Much as I’m sure my brother and I kept our parents on their toes thirty or more years earlier.

In fact, I know this is true.

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Chapter 2

My earliest memory is of a nun playing piano in a cold room. My mother tells me I attended a Montessori school, one run by nuns, when I was very young. Had I known, at the time, what a penguin was, I’m sure that’s what I would’ve equated those sisters with: giant penguins. Giant piano-playing penguins. Lord knows, if my recollection is true, that it was cold enough for penguins.

Of course, it was Pennsylvania in winter, and I was two.

It wasn’t too long after this that I was introduced to that fateful phrase that has shaped my life to this day: “I’m alright.” We because close companions, it and me, as you’ll see.

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As you can see, I don’t have any problems being brief. And that may in fact be my biggest problem. How would you flesh the foregoing out were it your story? Is it engaging enough to hold your interest for about 200 pages? Have I given you enough of a sample to answer that?

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The other day, posted a piece about being “alright.” It seemed to resonate with many of you. And for that I’m very glad. I take it as a both a gift, and a privilege, when my writing connects with you.

I also take very seriously the scriptural mandate “let not many of you become teachers.” Although I may not be so in any official capacity, what I say here doesn’t exist in a vacuum; in fact, I take it very much to heart that you’ve told me over and over again that my words have touched your hearts. I feel a weight of responsibility, a burden, to bless you.

Which is why I’m glad that “I’m Alright… Are You?” moved you–because it is a piece that is dear to my heart. So much so that I feel we’ve only scratched the surface. In simple point of fact, I think there’s quite a lot more story there, about how those two little words shaped a life, and of a man who–in his fourth decade–is just now beginning to break of their shackles. You have come with me thus far on my journey as I’ve poured out my heart here. Will you follow me a little further, dive a little deeper, as we delve into the depths of just how not alright I am (and truly about how none of us are)?

I have to tell you that this idea both enervates, and frightens, me. There is exhilaration, and intimidation, in equal measure. That the tale will be told is, I think, a good thing; that I’ll be telling it scares the pants off of me. It keeps me up at night. Some people close to me may not care at all for it, and it may not even be your cup of tea. But everything I’ve done here comes back to this. It will be deeply personal, and will contain things I’ve never shared before. About that I can only say, with Anne Lamott, who said: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”

I take that to heart: I own what happened to me, but it’s also high time to break free. And I hope you will join me in this process of discovery. Because it’s not just my story–it never has been–but yours as well.

So I’m asking you: If I wrote it, will you read? Will you read of how two little words almost ruined me, and how God is building a new life, phoenix-life, from the ashes of the old one? Will you stick with me if it means time away from working on this blog to pour myself into something deeper?

What I’m asking is: if I wrote a book, would you read it? (Very) Tentatively, I’m calling it “I’m Alright: A Memoir of the Power of Little Words.”

Do you have a better idea for a title?
Please share in the comments.

(Please note: I don’t usually like to talk about works in progress, but in doing so here today it’s my hope that you will keep me accountble. Very simply: if I didn’t believe in this, I wouldn’t tell you).

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I was recently privileged to host author Tosca Lee here for an interview. (You may read that interview here). Today, after a long hiatus, I’m bringing you a random book review: Ms. Lee’s Demon: a Memoir.

Demon was published some five years ago (and was subsequently rereleased in 2010), but is new to me. It has been–rightly so–compared to Lewis’s classic Screwtape Letters. As apt as that comparison is, as the books cover similar thematic ground, I feel it in some ways misses the mark.

What do I mean?

If you know the story of Screwtape, you know it’s a book comprised of a series of letters from a senior demon (Screwtape) to a junior tempter, Wormwood (his nephew), with advice on how best to lead “the Patient” (a human) away from God. Ms. Lee’s approach eliminates the middleman–the “Wormwood,” if you will–and poses the question:

What if “Screwtape” showed up in person?. How would the “Patient” react? Would he, dare I say, perhaps be entranced?

And that is exactly what happens: Lucian (the “Screwtape” figure here) makes an appointment to meet with Clay, a man recently divorced, onr who works for a midlist publisher, and who has failed as a novelist. I don’t want to give anything of this delicious novel away, but suffice it to say that Clay is, despite solid proofs of who Lucian is, entranced, and agrees to tell Lucian’s story.

Which is really Clay’s story (and ours). More I can’t say.

I’ve given you the bare bones there above, but in brief:

Ms. Lee has a strong sense of place–one feels as if one is in Boston (where the story takes place). The main characters of Clay, and Lucian, do indeed feel like a real person and/or demon, respectively, and their motivations are solidly believable. (A note on this: Ms. Lee, as Lewis before her, doesn’t set out to prove the supernatural: it just is. She takes it for granted from the outset. As a Christian myself I do as well, but as the book is true and consistent to its own inner laws, I don’t feel like a non-believer would have any trouble willingly suspending their disbelief. And indeed emerge on the other side maybe reconsidering things. That said, the book’s primary purpose is not as a polemic, but a work of art.

And it delivers.

The book is that well written.

Supporting characters feel like real people, and the broken relationships depicted feel suitably broken. Nothing feels forced, fake, or contrived. Her descriptions are lush without bogging down the story, and her prose crackles with an electric tension from first page to last.

Do yourself a favor, and read Demon: a Memoir.

This has been a “random” review. Come back for more in the coming weeks.

Have you read Demon, Ms. Lee’s book, Havah, or either of the Books of Mortals she’s working on with Ted Dekker, Forbidden, or Mortal? What did you think?

Have you read any other books lately?

Share in the comments!

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Building A Life Out Of Words, by Shawn Smucker, isn’t Henry James, but it is indeed gripping. (And probably far more accessible to the modern reader than Mr. James. Truth be told, I’ve never read any James; I heard that line in a movie, and just like the way it sounds. Shawn’s prose is both lush and lyrical). It is the story off how how one man, with a wonderful woman at his back, left a life that was robbing him of joy to pursue his God-given purpose: being a writer. More than that is a story of faith, of staying true to the course even when things looked bleak, and trusting God to provide. Shawn’s story is the closest thing to a real life “Rocky Balboa” that I know: this little guy showed that he wasn’t just a contender, but a champion.

What his story isn’t is (yet another) “how-to” book: you’ll find no advice here–ala Jon Acuff–on how to be a “quitter.” This is how Shawn became that quitter in his way, on his terms. Or rather on God’s terms. It seems to me that if we as Christians buy into notion of the sovereignty of God, then that God had a hand in getting Mr. Smucker to a place where giving it all up was the best decision for both him and his family. (None of which to say that there is no value in this book for the non-believer; far from it).

And the world is a better place for it. Those of you who have read Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (or have seen the films based on those excellent books) will understand what I mean when I say that Shawn has the faith, and tenacity, of Sam Gamgee. For Sam is the only one who both stayed true to Frodo, and indeed just plain true, to the end. Even when Frodo himself was overcome by temptation, Sam was not. To my mind, Mr. Smucker is a man of that kind of faith. And the world is a better place for it.

Would that I had these gifts: his faith, and his facility with words.

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Interspersed throughout the text of Building a Life Out of Words, you will find practical advice, and life experiences, from other folks who are either themselves building lives out of words, or trying to. While I appreciated their inclusion, and see the value they add to the book, in a way I resented the intrusion: I wanted more of Shawn’s story. (And indeed that I could meet him; alas, his journey is not bringing him to the Phoenix area).

I’m given to understand that Building a Life Out of Words is available for Kindle, Nook, and in PDF format; links to purchase it can be found here.

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Shawn blogs (almost) daily at http://shawnsmucker.com. He is currently traveling the country for four months with his wife and four children in a big, blue bus named Willie, looking for service opportunities as well as other writers to meet up with. You can find him on Facebook (Shawn Smucker, Writer) and Twitter (@shawnsmucker).