‘Some Helpful Hints for Writers’ (2011)

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Rocky Bridges once said there are three things everybody thinks he or she can do: manage a baseball team, run a hotel, and write a book. And I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say, “Oh, I’d write a book, too, only I just don’t have the time!”

Assuming you now have the time, here are a few helpful hints to get your started.

Some Helpful Hints for Writers

It’s all about writing fantasy, which is the kind of fiction I write. I have no idea how to go about writing Serious Mainstream Literature, except to obey the cardinal rule of “Nothing happens.”

I’m still interested in learning what words you most emphatically don’t want to see in any fantasy. I’m sure you can add to my list.

The Art of Reading

The Original Art of Narnia (article and pictures) Pauline Baynes  (illustrator) | Las cronicas de narnia, Ilustraciones de cuentos, Narnia

“I only read non-fiction.”

“I only read comics.”

“I don’t read at all.”

The story-teller’s art is as old as humanity itself; and since the invention of the printing press, the story-teller’s audience has grown by leaps and bounds. Until now.

If you love a movie or a TV show, be it known that somebody had to write it before anyone could film it. And someone had to read it. But fewer and people are reading. Fewer and fewer are getting the stories.

Reading is one of those things you get better at, the more you do it. I can tell you that as a person trained to teach developmental reading. Even without someone to coach you, if you keep at it, reading will come easier and easier to you. And for a good reader, with the right kind of book, it’s like having a movie playing in your mind.

How much the poorer I would be, without reading! Never to have stepped through the wardrobe into Narnia, never to have watched Lord Peter Wimsey solve a mystery, never to have roamed the dead sea bottoms of Barsoom, nor visited The Shire, nor explored the ocean’s depths with Captain Nemo–oh, but I could go on all day!

Just to show you I’m not trying to trick you with a stealth commercial, let me say it out in the open: yeah, you ought to read my Bell Mountain books.

Now, what good does it do to fill our heads with stories that are not true? Always bearing in mind that the parables of Our Lord Jesus Christ were not about real people, real events, and so, strictly speaking, “untrue.”

For one thing, these fictional stories do contain abundant truth. They can serve as parables. They can teach moral truths.

For another, stories, like sleep, can knit the raveled sleeve of care (borrowing a line from Shakespeare). When your life begins to look like the lyrics of the Car 54, Where Are You? theme song, you can escape into your favorite books–or into new stories altogether, to see what you might discover.

The more you read, the more you’ll retain; and the more of your reading you retain, the better you’ll be at expressing your own thoughts. I realize that applies to all reading, not just reading fiction. But it certainly doesn’t not apply to reading fiction.

Reading is good for you! Period. Civilization would never have gotten anywhere without it.

 

‘American Atheism, Vintage 1960’ (2014)

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I was 11 years old in 1960 and wasn’t allowed to stay up on Friday nights to watch The Twilight Zone. So every Saturday, Bobby across the street would tell me what I’d missed. And I have a very vivid memory of him telling me about this episode, Long Live Walter Jameson.

American Atheism, Vintage 1960

I thought it was a cool story at the time; but now, very many years later, now that I’ve finally seen it–good grief: we let this into our homes?

The story, written by Charles Beaumont, is nothing less than full-blown atheism. And yet it went down without so much as a raised eyebrow. Was America’s Christianity already on such shaky ground?

Given everything that happened later on in the Sixties, I think we have to say, Yeah, it was.

We have to be better stewards of our heritage.

 

‘A Really Stinky Book’ (2011)

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I read this book, and a couple other clangers, in preparation for an interview. I think it was with Joshua’s uncle, Kevin, on his internet radio show. I look back with amazement that any published book could be this bad.

A Really Stinky Book!

Sometimes when adults write about teenagers, they come off as space aliens trying to write about human beings without having the slightest understanding of humanity, they might as well be writing about catfish. A book like this is an insult to every poor devil who ever tried and failed to get published. A monkey could write a better one, if you gave him a keyboard.

You owe it to yourself to give this book a wide berth.

‘BBC’s Old “Narnia” Series Was Better Then the Movies’

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I guess that next blockbuster Chronicles of Narnia movie isn’t coming, after all–even though they made a trailer for it, which is kicking around somewhere in the archives, I haven’t found it yet.

Those movies! I rooted so hard for them to be good, for them to succeed. But they never came close to matching the BBC Chronicles of Narnia from the 1980s.

BBC’s Old ‘Narnia’ Series Was Better Than the Movies

The movies spent a lot of money on special effects, but frittered it all away by cringing from C.S. Lewis’ story as he wrote it, in which “Aslan” clearly represents Our Lord Jesus Christ. Never mind what that bog-hopper Liam Neeson said about Aslan being Mohammed and Buddha, too. Really, sometimes I wonder what actors use for brains. Soggy cereal?

The old BBC series may have relied on unconvincing costumes, but one thing they did get right was the spirit of the enterprise.

It’s why so many of us keep going back to it.

Back to Narnia

The Chronicles of Narnia, 7 Volumes: Full-Color Collector's Edition  -     By: C.S. Lewis
    Illustrated By: Pauline Baynes

Lately I’ve been bumping into quotes by C.S. Lewis in unexpected places. I took that as a sign that it was time for me to revisit his Chronicles of Narnia.

Aaah! That’s fine! The book we had is falling apart, so we ordered a boxed set (the one pictured above: you can find it at amazon, or Christianbooks.com) with colorized illustrations by Pauline Baynes. I was quite surprised by how heavy the box was, until I discovered the high quality of the books: strong, glossy paper.

But it’s what’s inside the books that counts. I’ve just finished The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a parable in which the great Lion, Aslan, stands for Jesus Christ. I can’t imagine there’s anybody here who’s totally unfamiliar with these books. Suffice it to say that these are Christian books, truth brought out through fantasy, that are just as well-loved now as they were when they first came out in the 1950s. They have stood the test of time; and if our civilization survives, they’ll be part of it.

Really, you have no idea what a relief it is to put away the nooze and pick up a Narnia book. I’m in The Magician’s Nephew now, watching in delighted astonishment as Lewis uses a mere few words to mow down all the self-important self-anointed bogus intellectuals who ever lived. Gee, I originally typed that as “self-imported.” Now I think I ought to let it stand. Self-imported they certainly are.

I love these books, and they have inspired my own. If you haven’t read Narnia yet, there’s a treat in store for you.

Writing Tips: Getting Started

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Faith, 12, has asked me for writing tips, so here we go. The nooze can wait.

I was writing stories when I was 12. I was even writing “books,” longhand in one of those black-and-white composition notebooks. I was, of course, fully convinced that these efforts of mine were good enough to be published; but in the meantime, I read them to my friends.

Which is a way of getting started as a writer!

No one wants to hear this–I certainly didn’t–but it takes a certain amount of life experience to write about life. Maybe that’s why children experimenting with story-telling are so apt to venture into science fiction or fantasy: instead of knowing things, they’re free to make things up.

Ah! But your time isn’t wasted. I started telling stories when I was in third grade, nine years old. I had two friends who liked inventing stories, and we would sit together in their cellar and entertain each other with the stories we made up–mostly about monsters.

Writing itself can be tricky. Getting your point across the way you want it, saying what you really mean to say, so that someone else will understand it–these take years of practice. There’s no substitute for practice. In fact, let me emphasize it: THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR PRACTICE.

I couldn’t do at 15 or 16 the things I can do as a writer now. I couldn’t do at 12 what I could do at 16.

So don’t be discouraged if you can’t get stuff published when you’re 12 (although when I was 12, there was no such thing as self-publishing). The time is not being lost; it’s being invested. What you need to be doing is telling stories–whatever kind of stories you enjoy telling. Tell them to your friends. If your friends like your stories and want to hear more, you are very much on the right track.

And keep at it. Just keep at it. I didn’t get anything published professionally until I was almost 40 years old. You’re bound to do better than that.

Sorry, I Can’t Give You Final Victory

Sir Lancelot and Sir Gawain: A Contradistinction Among Chivalrous ...

The Lord of the Rings ends with all the bad guys destroyed and only good guys left. Why can’t my Bell Mountain series end  that way? At least one reader has called for me to stop the series and cap it with some kind of “final victory.”

Sorry, but I just can’t do it. My world-view won’t let me.

In the Bible, how many times did God have to give victory to Israel and Judah over their enemies? Mesopotamians, Moabites, Philistines, Ammonites, Midianites… Lost count, didn’t you? There was no final victory. No sooner had they vanquished one enemy than they faced another.

In recent world history: We beat the Kaiser, and Hitler came along; we beat Hitler, and there was Stalin; the Soviet Union fell, and now we’ve got Red China and the Democrats. One enemy falls, another one rises.

Final victory can only be achieved, and will be achieved, by Jesus Christ. The hard part of Revelation even tells us the enemy is going to win for a while, or at least appear to be winning–until Christ Himself puts him down, once and for all, forever.

But in the meantime, God does intervene in history to guide it toward the end which He has ordained for it. So the Nazis win big for a time, but in 1943 it all goes south and by 1945 it’s over. Someday we’ll look for Red China and not be able to find it. Assyria, Babylon: nothing but ruins and memories.

Bell Mountain is a make-believe history, created to provide a new vantage point from which to view real history. I admit I haven’t gotten much traction for the newest book in the series, His Mercy Endureth Forever. But I can’t let a couple of bad reviews put me out of business. The Wind from Heaven will be published next, and I’m writing Behold!

And I’m wondering if I ought to try writing a prequel or two: to go backward into Obann’s history, instead of forward into its future. I think it would be fun to meet King Ozias and share in his narrow escapes. If I never try it, I’ll bet I wind up kicking myself.

Some Mindless Entertainment

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With my brain pretty much stuck in neutral, Patty suggested I take a day of rest and watch some dinosaurs. Why not? I’m always up for dinosaurs.

Primeval New World is a Canadian sequel to the British series, Primeval. It very badly needs Ben Miller, but he wasn’t available. Oh, well–it still has really cool prehistoric animals. They inspire me. And take my mind off the schiff-festival that’s today’s nooze.

Now, this show really is mindless entertainment. There are these weird magnetic thingies that allow dinosaurs to wander into our world from theirs, and when they get here they’re always hungry because apparently they try to kill and eat anything that moves… etc., etc. And they’re opposed by a little group of hot sexy good-looking young heroes and heroines who have no personalities. The dinosaurs are more realistic than the people. I’m not sure whether the dinos in this “Primeval” are Tim Haines’ creations–but they could be.

Well, I wasn’t looking for King Lear, was I? Mindless I wanted, mindless I got–and I’m all the better for it. Give me a Baluchitherium, or even a Uintatherium, and those jagged brain waves go away.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll be functional.

Reviews, Anybody?

His Mercy Endureth Forever

So I finally got an amazon customer review for Bell Mountain No. 12, His Mercy Endureth Forever–and the guy panned it. Two stars.

It’s a waste of time trying to tell anybody why he should have liked something or other, but gee whiz. This book is unsuitable for young readers because some of the characters who are supposed to be the good guys… tell lies. Gallgoid, the chief spy, tells porkies to the bad guys. You mean he shouldn’t do that? This is supposed to be “un-Christian.” But in the Bible, Rahab is praised for hiding the Israelite spies and lying to deceive the men who are hunting for them; and Jehosheba is praised for hiding the baby prince when the wicked queen, Athalia, tried to kill off the royal family. Like, Rahab should’ve said, “I cannot tell a lie. The Israelites are hiding on my roof.” Really? Like, instead of hiding the Jews, you should’ve told the Nazis where they were?

The reader also expressed a feeling that Bell Mountain has just gone on too long, on and on without getting anywhere. Do any of you think so? I’ve heard from people who don’t want the series ever to end. Well, there’s no pleasing everybody.

Even so, I’d love to know what some of you think of this book, His Mercy. And then there’s The Wind from Heaven next, and I’m working on Behold! So we can’t stop the series just yet.

Anyway, writers live on feedback, it’s food and drink to us. Just sayin’….