Miscellany, First Edition
May 12, 2013How do you launch the first issue of a newsletter? "Dear Readers"? "Hi, Folks"? "To Whom It May Concern"? "Hello Out There"? (Former creative writing students should recognize that last one.)
One way is to just jump in, so that's what I'll do. We had our graduation ceremony on campus a week or so ago, which means it's summertime for me. These are supposed to be the three months when I do all the things I've neglected during the school year because of paper grading. I'm not complaining, though maybe whining a bit. It's just a fact. Teaching writing classes, even part-time, requires a lot of paper grading.
So now I'm making a list of things I intend to do this summer, with "Write!" at the top of the list, followed by everything from the mundane (such as cleaning out closets) to the very exciting (such as traveling to Indiana after our new grandson is born).
Some writers seem to be able to do it all--raise a large family, keep a house in order, conduct Bible studies, bake bread, plant a garden, do craft projects, plan elaborate birthday parties, accept speaking engagements, etc., etc., AND write. I'm not one of them. Not only do these other writers turn out a couple of books a year, but they also blog regularly. I'm not a blogger myself, but I thought I might be able to publish a newsletter, maybe a few times a year, on my website.
Speaking of blogs, I discovered this one recently and was very impressed by the following thoughts posted on August 30, 2007, by Sherry Early in her blog "Semicolon/Books we must have though we lack bread" (http://www.semicolonblog.com). I realize this might be cheating to fill up a newsletter with something written by someone else almost six years ago, but I love the way she said this.
"If you want to ridicule or denigrate a subculture, you read the worst diatribes and pulp fiction that subculture has to offer, use excerpts to support your prejudices, and go merrily on your way. If you want to understand a subculture or group, you could read the best fiction or apologetics that group has to offer and see if there’s a connection, something to value. So because I read and learn from fiction, I try to read fiction by all sorts of authors in lots of genres: young adult fiction, science fiction, Islamic authors, African authors, graphic novels, postmodern novels and many others. Sometimes I get it, and sometimes I don’t. At least I can say I tried.
"I say all that to preface my contention that 'Christian fiction' has gotten a bad rap, partially deserved. Some so-called 'Christian fiction' (just like some YA fiction and some post-modern fiction) is nothing more than a bad sermon disguised as an even worse story. However, some of the fiction published by Christian publishing houses is not only exemplary and literary, but also just good reading. If you are a Christian and you want to be challenged to think more deeply about the world and about God’s hand in this world, or if you are not a Christian and you want to read something that challenges you to see Christians and the world in general in a new light, from the inside out so to speak, I have two authors to recommend who are 'under the radar' because their books tend to be marketed only in Christian bookstores or in the religious section of Borders or Barnes and Noble."
[This woman is intelligent and fair. Her post continues below. I know including this next part is a bit self-serving, but the first few sentences make me laugh.]
"Jamie Langston Turner: Ms. Turner lives in South Carolina. She graduated from Bob Jones University, and even worse, she teaches there. (I’ll admit to a little prejudice myself against BJU.) However, put all that aside, and take a look at her novels. Her first novel, Suncatchers, was published in 1995, followed by Some Wildflower in My Heart, By the Light of a Thousand Stars, A Garden to Keep, No Dark Valley, and Winter Birds. Winter Birds, published in 2006, received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly and a Christy Award for excellence in Christian fiction. It was the first book by Ms. Turner that I read, and I found it fascinating and insightful.
". . . . I found one of Ms. Turner’s other novels, A Garden to Keep, at a used book sale. I read it and liked this story of the dissolution and redemption of a marriage just as much as I liked Winter Birds. Not only does Ms. Turner have stories, she also creates real characters: an 80 year old woman who bribes her relatives with promises so that they’ll put up with her bitterness and sarcasm, a substitute teacher who loves poetry so much she takes night classes, a teenager whose parents homeschool her to keep her away from a toxic boyfriend, a nephew who talks too much, is somewhat pretentious, and still turns out to be a decent guy. My descriptions of these characters are, however, over-simplifications. The characters in Ms. Turner’s books grow and surprise you and stick in your mind."
I can't think of a compliment I prize more highly--to hear that my characters "grow and surprise you and stick in your mind." Thank you, Sherry Early! Oh, and the second author she recommended in her post was Athol Dickinson.
So that's my first newsletter. To sum up, I'm out of school for three months, I have a second grandchild on the way, I hope to write a lot this summer, I appreciate Sherry Early's blog, and I believe characterization is the heartbeat of fiction.
One final bit of news for anyone still reading: My editor now tells me that because of the production schedule at Penguin my next book (still untitled) can't be published this year. I'm still absorbing the disappointment and frustration of that, but I suppose "2014" has a nice ring to it. In the meantime, we've begun the editing process for the new book and I have one chapter of another manuscript started, so I'll work on that this summer. Onward and upward.