Good Books and Recommended Reading
Here is a list of lists of recommended books from many different sources. Don't ever say you can't find something interesting to read!
The ramblings of an emergent-realistic-edgy-working-for-God-and-the-pay-isn’t-that-great-sometimes-confused-christian-fiction writer (uh, that would be me).
"Clive Staples Lewis was anything but a classic evangelical, socially or theologically. He smoked cigarettes and a pipe, and he regularly visited pubs to drink beer with friends. Though he shared basic Christian beliefs with evangelicals, he didn't subscribe to biblical inerrancy or penal substitution. He believed in purgatory and baptismal regeneration. How did someone with such a checkered pedigree come to be a theological Elvis Presley, adored by evangelicals?"I've always wondered about this. The article in Christianity Today attempts to provide an answer and they do a pretty good job. However, I suspect an additional answer is that many evangelicals have no clue what C.S. Lewis believed and some would be disturbed if they knew he did not share all of their beliefs. Biblical inerrancy, for example. That seems like a huge one.
"The worst part: Culling books. It’s hard work, and you feel a sense of shame when you find a good old book that once meant much; not only don’t you remember what it was about – I mean really about, not just jacket-copy blurb meaning – you’re consigning it to the storage room, a crypt from which it will never return. For decades I’ve had a book of Anthony Burgess’ book reviews on my shelf. I opened to the prologue, which has this entry about the reviewer’s inclination to go easy on his captives:I think I have to agree with Mr. Lileks about reading your reviews. Not that I've had that particular pleasure, but I do think I'll probably pass if and when the opportunity arises!
“Book-writing is hard on the brain and excruciating to the body; it engenders tobacco-addiction, an over-reliance on caffeine and Dexedrine, piles, dyspepsia, chronic anxiety, sexual impotence. Behind the new bad book one is asked to review lie untold misery and very little hope. One’s heart, stomach and anal tract go out to the doomed aspirant.”
-- Anthony Burgess, “Urgent Copy.”
Of course, I always assume the opposite, which is why I cannot read reviews. I apologize to reviewers, and beg their pity. I broke down a few weeks ago and noted a review in a rather prominent journal, written by a marvelous writer I have long admired, and while it was all quite flattering I took away one sentence that made me feel as if I have been on a great, steep, flaming, public decline for the last half decade. I do not think this was the author’s intention. But: it’s better for an author to be motivated by hunger than satiation; it’s the difference between, say, “Garp” and “Hotel New Hampshire.”"
"The Wizard of Oz is fraught with darkness, but cheery in mood and resolution; Batman Begins is soaked in decline, brave and determined without joy or defining triumph. Which ones came from a culture just getting over ten years of miserable economic performance, facing a world bristling with hostile collectivized militarism? I mean, for God’s sake, why, at the height of our civilization’s powers, can’t we make clear movies about good and evil and the triumph of civilized virtues?
Besides nine hours of the Lord of the Rings and six Star Wars movies and the Harry Potter stuff and also everything by Pixar."
"It was a dark and stormy night…just the right atmosphere for former gothic novelist Anne Rice's booksigning at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, Ill., on Monday. It was Rice's seventh bookstore event on a multi-city tour for Christ the Lord, and a chance to see how her change-of-genre gamble from horror to faith fiction is playing with her fans. Was she nervous when she started the tour? 'No, determined,' Rice told RBL. 'Whatever happens, happens.'
The downpour didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the estimated 400 fans that packed Anderson's. It was a mixed crowd: Goth meets the Brady Bunch. Middle-aged housewives with kids and businessmen in suits lined up next to teens with skull t-shirts, nose rings, and black fishnets. Some purchased Rice's backlist, but Anderson's pre-sold more than 200 copies of Christ the Lord, and sales built from that at a steady clip."
"What we really have is techniques, developed by trial and error (especially error). They work for most of us, the way recipes work for most cooks. When you don't want to create an inedible mess, you stick with the recipe. When you're more confident and feel experimental, you can throw in more or less than a teaspoon of salt. (A cookbook I saw recently recommends a 'glug' of olive oil for most of its recipes.) The result may be yet another inedible mess, or a wonderful improvement.Crawford Kilian, a writing teacher, has a great blog going here called "Writing Fiction." I love his answer to the age-old question of writing rules .. obey them slavishly or ignore them to your detriment? What he says makes sense to me especially since it's the direction in which I see myself going. After writing steadily for a while, and spending an inordinate amount of time worrying over every punctuation mark, syllable, word, paragraph, and so on, I find myself just writing these days. Which is how I think it's meant to be.
Learning almost any technique is really hard as long as you're keeping it in your conscious mind. Remember learning how to drive? If you still had to concentrate that hard every time you took the wheel, you'd sell your car. When I started learning a little Korean, deciphering hangul was physically exhausting. (I gained new sympathy for anyone with reading problems!) Time and practice have made it easier to recognize a sound or word at once, because it now goes on subconsciously.
The same is true with writing fiction. After a while you stop worrying about POV or narrative voice or the quality of the dialogue. Your subconscious writer is looking after the technical stuff, and your job becomes something like a stenographer's. You take down what's given to you, and sometimes you catch an error, but that's about it. When you stop thinking about technique, you've mastered it."
McKee is the most widely known and respected screenwriting lecturer in the world today. His former students' accomplishments are unmatched: They have won 26 Academy Awards, 124 Emmy Awards, 20 Writers Guild of America Awards, and 17 Directors Guild of America Awards and even Pulitzer Prizes for writing. Some recent notable former students to win or be nominated for Oscars include Akiva Goldsman (Winner - Best Writing: Adapted Screenplay) for his screenplay "A Beautiful Mind," Peter Jackson (writer/director of "Lord of the Rings I and II", Nominated - Best Picture) and many others.Story is used as a textbook at major American universities as well as overseas. And for good reason. You won't find another book like this, one that richly details what story is all about, that dissects the concept, puts the parts under a microscope, and teaches you what works and what doesn't. It makes no difference that he's talking about screenplays. Writers of every genre flock to McKee's seminars in L.A., New York, and London to watch him explain their craft. And the best part? What he teaches is not formalistic. He gives you the pieces of the puzzle, but leaves each writer to put it together as best suits her/his style.
Look closely at each scene you've written and ask: What value is at stake in my character's life at this moment? Love? Truth? What? How is that value charged at the top of the scene? Positive? Negative? Some of both? Make a note. Next turn to the close of the scene and ask, Where is this value now? Positive? Negative? Both? Make a note and compare. If the answer you write down at the end of the scene is the same note you made at the opening, you now have another important question to ask: Why is this scene in my script?This is a rich book, jam-packed with so much good information you'll read it not once but time and time again. It'll take your writing to a new level and, if you've found your excitement in your craft waning, pump up your enthusiasm. It's not a quick or an easy read. Think of it as a textbook, one that requires time and attention in order to master. But it is well worth your while to read it.
"Rice's new burst of creativity stems from her return to Roman Catholicism - though she seems a most unlikely recruit. Leaving aside those past novels (the more erotic ones appeared under pseudonyms), she quit church as a teen and never looked back for decades. Her late husband was a convinced atheist; her son is a gay activist.Note: I am currently reading Christ the Lord and very much enjoying it.
But some critics thought her vampires' angst reflected the author's spiritual restlessness.
As Rice describes matters, there was “a yearning, a nostalgia, a grief” toward Catholicism but “I had this idea lodged in my head, I could never go back ... the longing was tremendous. The desire was tremendous.”
“I gradually realized I could return, that I believed again.”
After years of pondering, the climax occurred in 1998 at her home in New Orleans. Rice asked part-time assistant Amy Troxler, a parochial school religion teacher, to recommend a priest. Troxler immediately took Rice to the Rev. Dennis Hayes of Arabi, La., who became her spiritual director.
The move wasn't easy because “I was tortured by questions I couldn't resolve.” She told Hayes: “I'll do my best on the unresolved questions.” Among these are her church's ban on women priests and opposition to gay sex. She's convinced both will vanish eventually."
"Six radio interviews today, including a nice one with a fellow who had not read the book. Didn't even have a review copy. That one went 25 minutes. He began with "How did you get the idea?" I have honed the answer in such a way that does not accurately reflect the book’s genesis, but is nevertheless accurate. The truth is that I was sitting in my editor's office after lunch in New York, full of an inordinate amount of beef and red wine, brainstorming. Since we were both lightheaded from digestion and indulgence, nothing was occurring to either of us. I excused myself to use the restroom, and en route to the well-appointed lavs of Random House, the idea just dropped into my skull, unbidden: the Gallery of Regrettable Parenting. Huzzah. Booyah. Et cetera. I pitched it when I returned, and that was that."Wouldn't you love to be in such a position?
"Whether Gregory's answers to hard questions are convincing or not, the bigger question might be: Will today's seeker be convinced by carefully packaged answers to difficult questions presented in an engaging format? The publisher is betting on it. As of September, WaterBrook had more than 210,000 copies of the book in print, its biggest printing for any book this year. Ditto for its marketing budget of $100,000, with ads in USA Today, Today's Christian, and Christianity Today. It's the type of book that many Christians will see as a way to witness to seeker friends. ('Have several on hand to give away to non-believers,' exhorts one reader on Amazon.com.)"This is the "novel" everyone is talking about, a fictionalized account of a meeting between a man named Nick and Jesus. I put it in quotation marks because I'm not sure how much of a novel it really is seeing that it's intent is clearly to evangelize rather than entertain. I guess you can do both, but I am so conditioned now to think of a novel as not being a piece of propaganda that I automatically doubt what's been done here. Whatever it is, it's been successful, so I guess there's room for both ends of this particular continuum.
When you're in Creating mode, you DO NOT WANT TO BEIt took me awhile, but I finally learned this rule and now, when I'm laying down words on paper, I'm doing it happily, my internal editor kicked to the curb until the thing is done. All kinds of wonderful things emerge this way. And to do it the other way, worrying over every single word that hits the page, is to invite not only an agonizingly slow pace, but an attack of perfection paralysis that ends up getting you nowhere except deep into Doubt and Despair. Take my advice (and, more importantly, Randy's): Don't go there.
BURDENED WITH RULES! If you get all hog-tied with
rules in Creating mode, you are going to die in a
rule-based writer's-block angst, and you'll deserve it.
When you are Creating, just write the darn story.
Blast that story out, baby!
Some people have trouble with that blasting thing. Some
people are just a wee bit retentive and can't bear to
let a mistake go without fixing it. I heard from a
friend today on how she learned to let go. She
scrunched up the window of her word processor so she
couldn't see what she was typing! Then she just whacked
out a scene. Hey, whatever works. I guess the only
thing I'd caution about with that method is to make
sure your fingers are on the home base keys, or you're
going to have one ugly mess of letters when you get
The family in Anne Rice's new novel has a secret. A really, really big one. These people have had a life-altering experience that they hide from their 7-year-old. When the boy raises questions - "But who were the men from the East, Mamma?" or "But what happened in Bethlehem?" - his relatives are mum.The review is here, but you need to be signed up to read the NYT--free and everyone should have such access otherwise how are you going to read the book reviews?
But the boy begins to sense the truth. He notices he has unusual abilities. He can make it snow or raise the dead. He can sense the presence of angels. He also has dreams of terrible, fiery destruction and is visited by figure who calls himself the Prince of Chaos. By the end of "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt," this young boy knows that he himself is the Prince of Peace.
Christ the Lord" is written in the first person. How dare Ms. Rice appropriate the voice of young Jesus? She is best known for maudlin, histrionic vampire tales, so the innocence of a 7-year-old would not seem to come naturally. But Ms. Rice makes the transition much more easily than might be expected. And she delivers the only shock effects still available to her, after a career-length cavalcade of kinks: piety and moderation.
Susan Howatch’s global bestsellers have appeared regularly since the 1970s, but a radical shift in her subject matter in the ’80s made reviewers and then academics adjust their glasses and stare hard at her pages. Howatch carried her loyal following of gothic and family saga readers into unexpected psychological and theological depths, while raising to a new level her experiments with narrative technique. She also introduced to her readers a character only half alive in Trollope, the Anglican Church. The twentieth-century church revealed in Howatch’s later fiction is a huge, sometimes monstrous, sometimes life-giving creature whose various dimensions make it entirely engaging and weirdly central to the centerless postmodern world.
Scandalous Truths provides a way into Howatch’s world by presenting for the first time some of her own articulations of her guiding principles, and by allowing a group of scholars to engage in a wide-ranging discussion of her art. A decade of scholarly presentations and articles now culminates in this book.