Thursday, January 30, 2014

Defiance


Continued from "Forty Days."
After forty days, the Philistines must have decided that Israel had had her chance. They made their move, putting their army in array along the hills across the valley. The threat of battle was looming, Israel had moved into place and was waiting, when an unassuming shepherd boy walked over the hill behind the army of Israel, a load of bread and cheese for his soldier brothers on his back. David’s father had sent him to bring them food and see how they did. The sight of the impending battle sent the blood rushing to his head. I can imagine how his eyes must have lit with the excitement, his cheeks red and his heart pounding. 
  He gave a shout of excitement at the sight of the impending battle, delighted at his timing. Leaving his burden with a camp keeper, he rushed down the hill into the army, to where his brothers were standing grimly at attention, watching the Philistines maneuver into position.
  David saluted his soldier brothers and greeted them with excitement. His smile must have been brilliant, his hair windblown, his spirit indomitable, and all of it must have been rather difficult for his brothers to take. They didn’t have time to begin crushing his spirit down to their level, for the Philistines were making their move.
  Once more Goliath of Gath pushed forward out of the ranks of the Philistines. So close this time, he must have towered above the army of Israelites like something from another world, his imposing bulk looming before them, his face twisted in a sneer.
  Once more he gave his challenge, once more his voice rang off the hills, and once more every man in camp turned pale.
  “I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together!”
  But the armies of Israel responded to his challenge by beating an undignified retreat up the hill. David was swept along in the rush, Goliath’s derisive laugh echoing behind him.
  As the generals pulled themselves together and managed to stop the retreat, a livid shepherd boy emerged from the confusion of his brothers’ division and demanded,
  “What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine, and taketh away the reproach from Israel?” He looked around at the men around him and in every face he must have read the answer. No one was going to kill the giant Philistine, and there was no other way to take away this reproach to Israel. The army of Israel had been shamed, and there would be no reprieve.
         David’s eyes flashed. “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
  The men around him shook their heads and turned their faces away, but insistently, David asked again what should be done to the man that killed the giant champion.
  “So shall it be done to the man that killeth him,” someone said, telling this hot headed boy what had been repeated about camp. “The king will enrich him with great riches, and will give him his daughter, and make his father’s house free in Israel.”
  I would have given a great deal to know which daughter was in David’s mind when he heard that. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that a reward like that meant that no one was expected to kill Goliath. It was so unfathomable that even with that kind of incentive, no one had felt compelled to take the risk.
  David’s oldest brother Eliab heard the conversation and, understandably, got angry. He grabbed David’s arm.
  “Why camest thou down hither? and with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness?” he asked roughly. “I know thy pride, and the naughtiness of thine heart; for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle.”
  “What have I now done?” David replied coolly. “Is there not a cause?” He was right, of course. He had a good reason to be there. And ignoring his brother, he continued to question the men about the situation surrounding Goliath of Gath.
  A commotion like the one David was causing travels fast, and it wasn’t long before his questions were repeated to my father, and he was sent for.
  My father did not recognize his youngest armor bearer in the young shepherd standing before him with blazing eyes and righteous defiance. He wasn’t in the habit of noticing servants. Before my father had a chance to question him about his reasons for berating already beaten men and damaging camp morale, David said boldly, without bothering to use a respectful address to the king of Israel,
  “Let no man’s heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine.”
There was a dead silence in the king’s tent. The generals watched my father to see if he would take offense at this hot headed boy. My father stared at David, and David met the king’s eyes as fearlessly as he would meet Goliath. Then my father smiled, and the atmosphere relaxed.
  “Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him,” my father said gently. “For thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.” My father may have thought David was foolish, but he was a king, and a man of honor, and he appreciated bravery. But David’s declaration was not foolish boasting, nor did he imagine that his own strength or experience would prevail over Goliath of Gath. He didn’t hesitate, but his manner was more respectful to the king as he said,
  “Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by the beard, and smote him, and slew him. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God.” 
  My father looked at his generals with a flicker of amusement and they returned the private mockery. This youth thought that because he had been able to fight wild animals, he would be able to win against a giant enemy soldier? David saw their smiles and knew what they were thinking. His face serious, his voice steady and insistent, he said,
  “The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.”
  Again, the tent was dead silent. My father’s generals looked ashamed, suddenly struck by the faith David showed that they did not have. My father avoided their eyes.
  “Go,” he said to David, “and the LORD be with thee.”

Monday, January 27, 2014

Forty Days


This is a scene from For The Love Of David, taken from 1 Samuel 17. Told from the perspective of Saul's daughter, Michal, as she heard the story from others.

The Philistines gathered at Shochah, their red suits of armor, protected by heavy, black grease, staining Judah’s green hills like old, darkened blood. My father, King Saul, and the men of Israel pitched on the hills opposite, the valley of Elah between them, a green and golden belt of fields and trees along the river, unperturbed by the battle brewing on its flanks.
  They expected this to be a routine battle of hundreds against hundreds, massing over the battlefield, a nightmare melee of swords and heat and blood, always blood, the sickening smell mixed with sweat and dust catching in your throat, the metallic, warm taste of it on your lips and tongue, the sight of it smeared on shields, and gushing from deathly wounds, the slippery feel of it soaking your sword hilt, or the dry crusty feeling of dried blood on your own tunic when you’re not sure how it even got there or whose blood it is, yes, even the sound of it as men screamed in agony while the life poured out of them.
  But it wasn’t that. And though at first it was a relief, the curiosity soon gave way to chilling, paralyzing fear when they saw the Philistine’s champion.  

Goliath of Gath was over six cubits tall. He was fully armed, and his greasy red armor must have made him look like his huge chest was one great wound. His spear staff was like a slender tree, a fence post, a weaver’s beam tipped by a six-hundred-shekel iron knife. He was so fearless that when he came to give his challenge, he didn’t even carry his own shield; he had a servant carry his shield for him.
  The army of Israel watched his approach with trepidation and shaking. He was still several hundred yards away when he stopped at the base of the hill and bellowed his challenge across the hills. Even for such a large man, his voice was surprising, a shout like an ox that somehow formed words, twisted as they were by his heathen tongue.
  “Why are you come out to set your battle in array? Am not I a Philistine, and you servants to Saul?” He had answered his own rhetorical question and no one moved. The giant laughed.
  “Choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me,” he shouted, and his challenge was already like an insult.
  Israel was frozen, even my father speechless. Goliath of Gath continued.
  “If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us.”
  No one moved. My father was staring at the giant, and his lips moved soundlessly for a moment, but he did not speak.
Goliath met my father’s eyes across the camp and his booming, mocking laugh echoed off Israel’s hills.
  “I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together!”
  My father turned to face his generals, his paralyzing fear mirrored in their pale faces. 
  And for forty days, they did nothing.

Continued on Thursday.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

All There Is


It’s hard to follow up on a post like the last one. What do you do after telling your engagement story? 
Well, apparently, you start talking about plans and the date and life for the next…rest of life. My life is changing. Dramatically. Wonderfully. Amazingly. 
I wanted this to happen. I’m thrilled that it has. And I never wanted my life to stay the same for very long. But still, my reaction to all this looming change is not always joy and excitement. There are times that it’s something akin to terror. 
I can’t count the number of times the Bible tells me not to fear. God says fear not, he says be of good courage, he even puts the fearful in the same category as unbelievers and liars. Fear is nothing less than a complete lack of faith in God.
Sometimes I am fearful. I am afraid at times that I can’t write, for example. I am afraid that my decisions will be mistakes. I am afraid that I won’t be able to handle something, that I will hurt people I care about, that I will fail at the things that matter most in life.
But even if I have legitimate reasons to be afraid, even if I am facing something I’ve never dealt with before, even if the reasons to worry are building up, even if this was just a bad day, to fear is not just unhelpful, it’s wrong. 
God has promised that He will take care of me. I have given my life to Him and he has taken me to places I could never have imagined. I have been afraid so many times before and seen Him work. Even when things went wrong, He has brought good things out of it. 
I don’t know how to do everything that is ahead, and I don’t know what kind of mistakes I will make. But I do know that if I keep my eyes on Jesus, the fears that overwhelm me when I look at the world will fade away. This life is such a tiny part of all there is, anyway.

Monday, January 20, 2014

True Love Story


TJ and I were planning on driving up to Sahalie Falls and going hiking, including going behind the waterfall. Rather, I was planning on going hiking. His plans were slightly more dramatic.
That morning at my house, as I finished cleaning the kitchen and he was waiting for me, he was on the phone almost the whole time. He’s not usually on the phone, so I wondered vaguely what he was doing, but I figured maybe his boss was talking to him or something. Well, as it turns out, among other preparations, he was calling my cousin Paul to ask him if he wanted to meet us at the falls, hide, and surreptitiously take pictures. Paul, who is a good friend as well as my cousin, dropped everything, called his college teacher to ask if he could be late to class, and drove two hours to be at the falls, in hiding, when we got there.
Hiding was almost unnecessary. I was busy looking at the falls and trying not to slip on the icy trail. As we stood up there on the path, TJ suggested going under the waterfall then. And, still under the impression that this trip was for hiking purposes, I said maybe we should hike first, while we were still dry. There’s a trail that goes down from Sahalie Falls past Koosah Falls and across a bridge downriver at a tiny little reservoir. TJ and I have hiked the trail several times, it’s beautiful. The whole area is one of my favorite places ever. Anyway, to avoid raising deep suspicions, TJ agreed to hike first. So we struck off down the trail, leaving Paul waiting at Sahalie. TJ had no cell reception and no way to tell Paul what was going on. I was completely oblivious to his dilemma and we walked along the trail talking and looking at the scenery around us. The last few times we had walked down that trail, TJ’d stopped to look at things and gone off trail for better views of the river, and stopped to look at the falls. There were no such detours this time. I remember noting that, but I didn’t think anything of it. After all, we’d been through the area before. Maybe he’d seen it all or something. 
All the way down to the reservoir, all the way back up to Sahalie. Looking back I can see that TJ was trying to move fast, moving on every time we stopped. It’s probably about a forty-five minute hike. At some point I wondered if he was planning on proposing that day. Then I looked at him and dismissed the idea. TJ often gets really quiet, even quieter than usual, when he’s preoccupied or nervous, and he wasn’t acting quiet at all. He was talking and acting completely normal. So I figured there was no way he was planning something. 
When we got back up to Sahalie, I suggested hiking further up the trail, to look at the river above the falls. There’s a pool up there we had seen before that’s an incredibly beautiful spot. Again, to avoid acting wierd, he went along with it and we hiked up a little further. We reached the pool and looked at it, then he started back down. Well, I kind of thought we’d explore further up, see what else was up the river, but it looked like he wanted to get back, so I followed him without questions or further suggestions, thankfully. He led us straight to the bare hint of a trail that leads behind the waterfall.
The idea was to cross the river by walking behind the waterfall and coming back out the other side, placing us right next to the path, the truck, and the bathrooms to change in. We’d been back there before and knew we’d get completely soaked. I had a change of clothes, due to unforeseen circumstances, he was not so fortunate. 
That part of the plan actually completely worked. We went behind the waterfall, in the deep moss, mud, and rocks, with water seeming to come from every where, the sun shining through the sheet of water in front of us. Within seconds we were both completely soaked, except for where protected by he heavy coats we were both wearing. We then picked our way along the hill side towards the front side of the waterfall, where a rock outcropping provides an up close and soaking wet view of the falls. As we moved around the falls, he kept trying to get me to stop without actually saying, “Stop!”  an endeavor which was completely unsuccessful. I thought he wanted to look at the scenery, and while yes, it was beautiful, I was soaking wet, cold, and picking my way along a steep hill covered with moss and deep mud. It was not a place I wanted to stop. So he waited until we got around, where he gestured towards the rocks in front of the falls and said, “Let’s go over here for a minute.” Those rocks are an amazing place, slightly less wet than behind the waterfall, so close to the falls that the mist rolls over you in sheets. Also, the footing is relatively good there. I wasn’t so wet and cold as to be unwilling to go up there, and I followed him up gladly.
As we were standing there, he took my hand in a rather unusual way, facing me, and you know that thrill you get when when you know something good is about to happen? That’s what I got. He looked at me and smiled and said, “I love you.”
I smiled and probably blushed and muttered, “I love you too.” (I’m not accustomed to saying that.)
Then he got down on one knee and I knew that finally, this was really happening. 
“Sara-Anne Louise Leavitt, will you marry me?”
He said I barely let him finish his sentence before I said  “Yes!” 
So then we hugged and I said, “I thought you’d never ask!” I’d had my answer ready for a while. He laughed and we started walking back up to the path. 
It felt almost matter of fact, actually. There was no music score, no sweeping camera shots. I mean, that is one of those moments where music is supposed to crescendo from somewhere, right? I wasn’t shaking or nervous or wildly, emotionally happy. I was just kind of like, “Wow, OK, that just happened.” On the way back up the trail I said, “Did you really just propose to me?”
And he smiled at me and said, “Yes I did.”
All right, that just happened. I guess you might say I was in shock. As we got up to the path and it sank in, I felt happy and settled, like finally this thing that I’ve been waiting for had happened and he really does want me to marry him. He knows me, knows who I am, knows all my most common mistakes and foolishnesses, and he still wants to marry me. He knows me, and he loves me. 
Like Jesus does, I guess. He know everything about you and still loves you.
When we reached the parking lot, Paul walked up behind us with a cheerful hello and then I was really confused. The idea that he may have just happened to be there crossed my mind and was discarded as completely unreasonable. No, this had to be planned. But…wow!
Paul congratulated us quickly, shook hands in leiu of hugs since we were both dripping wet, and left to go to class, taking his pictures with him. Hopefully someday they will be released to an eager family.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

I Want...


“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33

I want to be on the bestseller list. 
I want people to read my books the way they watch the Hobbit, the way they listen to Owl City. I want to be a genius, a prodigy. I want to fly straight to the top.

I used to think that to be a best seller, you just had to write a good book and then find a publisher who would publish it. That is not true. For one thing, “good” does not necessarily translate into “will sell.” If that was true, bestseller lists would be full of books like The Chronicles of Narnia, instead of the Twilight Saga. Being a best seller has nothing to do with writing quality literature. It has everything to do with writing what people will read.
I would rather write something quality. I’d like people to read it, too, but if I had to choose, I would rather write something good than something popular. I am not saying that nothing popular is good. I’m just saying that just because something is good does not mean it is popular, and vice versa.

I want to be a bestseller. More than that, I want to write good literature. But there is something even more important than writing good literature.

I want to bring glory to God. I want to introduce people to Jesus. I want to spotlight truth. I want to serve God with my life.
I should want those things far more than I want to be on the best seller list. I should want those things far more than I want to write good literature. Just as I focus more on writing quality than on writing what people want to read, I should focus more on seeking God than I focus on writing at all.

It is very easy to put writing before God. Many times I have asked myself, Would I give up writing if Jesus asked me to? Sometimes it’s a hard question to answer. I know what the answer should be, but I’m not always sure that’s what my answer is.
I don’t believe that Jesus is asking me to choose between him and writing. I believe that I can bring glory to God through writing, that I can introduce people to Jesus through writing, that I can spotlight truth and serve God by writing as well as in the other areas of my life.
But I cannot do that if I care more about writing than I care about God. It’s a paradox. To serve God through writing, I have to be willing to give up writing if that is what He asks of me. 

To seek God may be simple. But it is not easy. It means being willing to give up everything I care about, if that’s what it takes. Even if that’s being a bestseller. Even if that’s writing good literature.
Even if that’s writing at all.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Beginning Well


The beginning of a book, ideally, grips the reader from the very first page, with an opening that sets the mood, begins the story, and enthralls at first sight. 

Once upon a time….
Once upon a time is a magic beginning. It instantly brings to mind princesses, horses, knights in shining armor, evil dragons, and enchanted forests. Once upon a time means pretend you are a little child and it’s bedtime-story-time. It means start dreaming of swords, crowns, and bows and arrows. It means get a cup of tea, wrap yourself in your grandmother’s quilt, and listen to the tale. It begins with Once upon a time and it will end with and they lived happily ever after.

“Call me Ishmael.”
The first line from Moby Dick. I’ve never been able to get very far into the book, but the first line intrigues me.
“Call me Ishmael.” It sounds like a secret agent or a outlawed prince. It smacks of intrigue and the untamed and a last desperate stand. This is an amazing, enchanting, dramatic first line. I wish Herman Melville hadn’t gotten it first.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
Charles Dickens’ famous first line from A Tale Of Two Cities. It’s famous for good reason.

Those books are kind of in the Hall of Fame of first lines. Not all great books have great beginnings. Ivanhoe, for example, starts like this:
“In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest, covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster.” And from there on it talks about the setting (and the language) for two or three pages before a single character is introduced. One must be determined to get to the good parts in Ivanhoe.

So while the first line or even the first chapter is not everything, it is still extremely important, especially in a culture where few are willing to read through a boring intro no matter how good the rest of the book is. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Blue Tree


This is something I wrote for a writing course. The assignment was to write about a character who needs to learn to stop asking for help:

  “Can you help me out?” Danny asked. I looked down at him. What is it now? He’s asked me for help five times in the past ten minutes.
  “I want you to draw a tree so I can trace it,” Danny said, holding out a piece of paper and a pencil.
  “Danny, Grandma will want you to have drawn the picture, not me,” I said. “I already helped you draw the cow.”
  “But I can’t draw a good tree,” said Danny. “You do it and I’ll trace it.”
  Even when you’re busy it’s hard to resist five-year-old blue eyes. I sighed and took the pencil and paper.
  “Danny, you’re going to have to learn to draw your own trees and cows and barns and windmills someday,” I said as I sat down at the table.

  Danny leaned into me and watched as I began to sketch the trunk. “You’re the best at it,” he said.
  Yeah, and the way I learned was by actually doing it, I muttered to myself. I gave the tree a few squiggly lines to suggest foliage and handed Danny the paper. “There you go. And try to do it yourself next time.”
  Danny took the drawing with a big, gap-toothed smile. “Thank you!” he said, dashing into the living room where his crayons and paper were strewn all over the wood floor.
  I went back to making dinner, but I hadn’t yet gotten the water for the steamed green beans to boil before Danny was back.  “Can you help me out?”
I looked down into his hopeful little face. “What is it now?” There may have been a bit of annoyance in my voice.
  He held out a handful of crayons. “What color should I use for the tree?”
  “What color do you think you should use?”
 He hesitated, then went with a safe answer. “I don’t know.”
  I took a deep breath. This is going too far. He’s got to make up his own mind.  “I’m not going to help you with coloring your picture, Danny. You decide by yourself.”
  He stared at me for a moment. “But what color should I use?”
  I shrugged. “Figure it out. Think about what colors Grandma likes and what colors trees are. Use colors you like. You don’t need me to decide for you.”
  Danny frowned and went back into the living room with a bit of a pout on his little mouth. But there were no more interruptions from where my youngest brother was drawing a picture for Grandma, and I had almost forgotten about it when he came back into the kitchen, beaming with pride, displaying his picture for my approval. I took the paper.
  Blue tree. Purple cow. John Deere green barn. Purple windmill.
  “Grandma likes purple and green and blue,” Danny said. “Her house is green.”
  I smiled down at him. “Beautiful, Danny. Grandma will love it.”
Danny took his picture back and gave me a huge grin.
  “Thanks!” he said.


(I don’t really have a five year old brother. But I have had siblings who want me to do their artwork for them.)  

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Stack Of Notebooks


There is something very satisfying about the idea of a stack of notebooks filled with a first draft. Handwritten words on lined paper, edits written on sticky notes, sharpened pencils. The smell and feel and aura of a fresh notebook.

But despite my love of paper, I do all my writing on a computer.

Computers have definite advantages over paper. The "delete" button is much easier to use than an eraser, it can be easily carried where ever I go, posting online is much easier, it's fast, and the mess of beginnings and edits is kept contained in folders on the "desktop."

Paper also has definite advantages over computers. It can be used anywhere, like outside or even up a tree. Scribbling on paper is much more beautiful than hitting keys. It's slower than typing, at least for me, so it makes me think more about my words. And the rewrite necessary to get the first draft in paper onto the computer is a great chance to edit.

Sometimes I think about switching to paper. That way I have an analog back-up if my hard drive
crashes. That way I have a stack of notebooks filled with first drafts. That way I have to rewrite everything at least once.
But I have bad hand posture when I write with a pencil. That stack of notebooks would become a heap on the floor of my bedroom, probably dog eared because I would take it everywhere.
So I stay with the computer most of the time. Maybe someday I'll use paper and pencil and a stack of beautiful notebooks. For now, the convenience and efficiency of my computer trumps the beauty and romance of paper and pen.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Editing vs. Writing

One thing about writing I've found difficult recently is switching between "editor" mode and "writer" mode.

Moon Shine Red, a full-length novel that I finished about a year ago (or was it two?) is currently in the editing stage as I work towards self-publishing it. I'm finding that I like the publishing process much less than I like the writing process.

Reading someone else's editorial notes has a tendency to paralyze me. The ideas and revisions being suggested may improve Moon Shine Red, but they also spotlight my writing weaknesses, and make me painfully aware of the mistakes I make daily.
If I made that many mistakes in writing, re-writing, and self-editing Moon Shine Red, what am I doing writing anything new?

Part of me wants to throw out the book and move on, forget all the work I put into it, forget that people enjoy reading it, forget the entire 100,000 words. Anything requiring that much editing isn't worth it. I'll just write something new and better.
But the rest of me says that I can't give up now. That anything I write is going to need the help of others. That I will never reach perfection no matter how many manuscripts I throw out.
(Which would be upsetting, except perfection is over-rated. Nothing I have ever read was "perfect." Does that mean it was useless or bad? Absolutely not!)

Still, I want my writing to be as good as I can make it, and that means being analytical and ruthless with it, which is painful, and then, even worse, letting other people be analytical and ruthless with it, which is even more painful.

Then I start trying to work on one of my new stories and the analytical and ruthless part of my brain has trouble turning off and letting my creative and inspired side work. I keep trying to edit as I write.

And that doesn't work. I have to allow myself to make mistakes, knowing they will be there to edit out later. I have to let myself change the plot as the story grows and add new characters, even though that means I will have to rewrite the beginning, probably multiple times.

It's a skill I'm learning.

Letting myself write, in spite of the editing that I know will follow.