Being an associate editor is kind of like little Mikey on the Life cereal commercials, always handed the stuff no one else wants because Hey, he likes it! He has to like it. He’s the littlest. It’s a bit annoying. There’s only so much you can take.

Actually, there’s only so much of most things you can take. I can’t really think of anything–okay, well, maybe one or two things–that don’t get tired by about the 4th or 5th round. And we’re supposedly creatures of habit and routine. So why do we all tend to resist doing the same thing over and over no matter what it is?

Well, some of us don’t. I’m listening to Rachmaninov. It’s the London recording of the Ampico recordings made in 1979, “Rachmaninov plays Rachmaninov.” (Who else should he play?) So it’s actually him performing his seriously unbelievable music (and some rearrangements of familiar pieces). Some future Jeopardy contestant is out there thinking, But Rachmaninov wasn’t alive in 1979. That’s true. He died in 1943. The Ampico was an original “player piano” presented in America in 1913. The recordings were made from one of these specially-adapted concert grands. All of this is in the liner notes for any inquisitive freakoes who actually care. But it’s incredible to think of the time and energy spent developing this system to keep original performances of this music “alive.” Obviously, it wasn’t made just for Rachmaninov, but I can understand that impulse to commit day after day to bettering one’s piano proficiency. But the technicians who assigned themselves to the tedium of developing a better system for recording and reproducing the music, working for so trivial and secondary a goal to the actual art being preserved, it seems less worthwhile a role to carve out for oneself in history. Yet they had to because it was there, much like climbing the mountain. And it’s a good thing they did, because we would have never heard Rachmaninov play his own music the way it was meant to be played. It truly is a glorious thing to hear.

What the heck this non sequitur silliness has to do with any of my earlier points is that these men dedicated their lifetimes of learning to this endeavor because it was there, it was possible, and it hadn’t been accomplished before. It strikes me that this has been going on for some time now, since the first caveman saw the first mountain and thought, I’d be willing to wager that of yet, none of my cohorts has ambitioned to scale that eminent massif. . . (Okay, it was probably more a series of impassioned grunts and club waving, but you get the idea.)

Want to know what I think? (You’re reading, aren’t you?) I think the entire human race is doomed because that old saying Mom was fond of saying about following your friend over the cliff just because he jumped is actually our inescapable human instinct. We can’t help but push the button on that nuclear warhead because it’s there to be pushed. It’s what so many authors and philosophers and musicians and artists throughout the ages have been saying: Not only can we not save ourselves, we will be our own ultimate demise. We won’t have to wait for Armageddon because if Jesus doesn’t come back and defeat Satan soon, we’ll beat Him to it. The button is waiting to be pushed, God, in case you didn’t notice. I don’t mean to be pushy here, but we keep climbing the mountains, advancing, and pushing the buttons, and pretty soon there won’t be any more to push. The longer we live, the further from fine we be.

And if that isn’t reason to be writing your ever-loving guts out, I just don’t know what is.

Inspiration / expiration

I feel like I’m talking a lot about motivation as it pertains to writing. The major reason for that is writing doesn’t happen without it. With as many people out there as there are, most of whom carrying around some vague, unrealized notion of writing a book someday, how many do you think actually will? Only the ones with sufficient motivation to get their hineys in the chairs.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about motivation–particularly, my motivation when it comes to authoring my book. It’s not easy to justify spending so much time away from family and friends and other worthy pursuits like learning and reading and exercise in order to scribble, which seems such a selfish, unproductive thing to do with your time. But it’s not easy to write either. You don’t just sit down and write War and Peace–or even The Cat in the Hat–without a truly mind-blowing amount of energy and effort, devising and editing and building and organizing and crafting. It’s not sitting by the stream, languidly jotting your musings and ruminations. If you’ve ever actually done it, you know it’s just not.

And besides, it’s likely that drivel you wrote by the stream wouldn’t be readable anyway. It is my strong suspicion that unless writers slog it out in an uncomfortable, dingy hole, sweating, fingers cramping, fighting against the urge to quit with every word, birthing each thought through hard labor without the aid of laudanum, morphine, absinthe or Nyquil, it’s not going to be any good whatsoever. The world is simply not prepared to give you such an easy time of it. Of course, you want to take that at face value and not become masochistic about it. I’m not suggesting you go live in New York or anything.

But I’m convinced it is, in fact, struggle that keeps writers writing. If it was too easy, most would find something else to do–like play with the kids and go on long vacations to deserted islands. Maybe writers, like politicians, defense attorneys, and professional athletes, simply possess a weaker survival mechanism than most, which allows them to court their own expiration with such abandon. Maybe it’s good more people aren’t so motivated.

Story for story’s sake

Apologies for the quick post today. Haven’t much time.

But I found this post from Dave Long’s site (faithinfiction.blogspot.com) so intriguing, I couldn’t resist the chance to commandeer it and use it here. He’s talking about the state of Christian fiction, but he may as well be talking about the church, every Evangelical ministry in America, and anyone who’s ever picked up anything with a distinctly Christian flavor and sensed there was something rotten in Denmark:

“I hurt myself today, to see I still feel. I focus on the pain, the only that’s real…”

“All around gloomy guy Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails wrote that in his song, ‘Hurt.’ He’s on the other extreme of us, the guy who could use a shot of hope, a snug pair of fuzzy bunny slippers. We have to realize that we can become just as desensitized as Reznor if all we do is feed ourselves pablum endings. We need the good and bad. The yin and yang. The perfect sunsets and crappy, terrible days.

“We need, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, some folks to come to a bad end.”

Happy endings in your typical Christian fiction are emblematic of the smiling veneer that passes for Christianity these days. What is a story without truth? What good does it serve? What redemption can be found if it sacrifices reality for nice, neat, and comfortable. And what, for that matter, does any of our “thinking of things pure and lovely” do for people when to do it, we sacrifice relevance with the larger culture?

To write a story for story’s sake is to live your life in a such as way as to be truthful to the work and not sell out to the idol of comfort and tasteless “pablum.”

Greg talked about this in his editorial this month, which covered Paul Elie’s book The Life You Save May Be Your Own: www.imagejournal.org/current/editorial.asp.

The status quo can change, but only if you want it to.

Faith in Fiction and the Arts

Tonight I feel compelled to let my faithful readers (all two of you) know about two indispensible sites, from which I will be stealing (let’s call it “sharing”) much of my principled discussions and foundational ideas.

The first is Dave Long’s “Faith in Fiction” forum here: http://p220.ezboard.com/bfaithinfiction

The second is Greg Wolfe’s brand spankin’ new Image Journal Forum outfit here: http://forum.imagejournal.org

Though I don’t typically consider myself a raving patriot, both of these sites illicit a response in me along the lines of, “Is this a great country, or what?” Dave’s schtick is increasing the talent pool and expanding the literary sensibility of the CBA fiction market from his post as top fiction acquisitions dog at Bethany/Baker. Greg is a literal walking database of knowledge and insight into the larger world of working Christian arts (with a more decidedly acedemic/orthodox bent). Both get my vote for sites of the week/month/decade since there’s nothing that holds a candle to them that I’m aware of. And since I have no special award or grant money to bestow on either of them, I’m simply hoping that both my readers will consider them in their evening prayers and be encouraged that they aren’t alone in their desire to see more support like this in the much-neglected area of Christian arts.

Justify Yourself, Blog! 2

So I’ve been deliberating this blog for a while, not wanting to simply replicate or undermine (heaven forbid) any of the really impressive blogs out there (Here and here and here and here and here . . .). But I finally got over that.

The problem is that I am an editor at a publishing house and I write fiction and creative nonfiction in my “spare” time. I don’t have a lot of time to devote. I’ve found that it’s easy enough to say “just write,” but it’s really hard to do. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that was the reason I needed to do this. Have you ever considered what it really means: to “just write”? It means, “Beg, borrow and steal from all your other involvements—family, friends, full-time job, volunteering at the orphanage—and invest in this frivolous, unfounded, pie-in-the-sky, pipe dream of yours.” Writing may not be the most selfish, egomaniacal thing you can do with your time—but it probably is. And novelists? Don’t even get me started.

Aside from being someone who thinks the world is entitled to your opinion, to be a successful writer, you need contacts. For many who write, networking skill is not a shining strength. But the fact is, the writers who get published are often not as strong at writing as they are at selling and “performing” by the publishers’ modus operandi. Given the choice between a fabulous writer who doesn’t make deadlines, and a hack who consistently produces, guess who gets the cheese. Not that I’m against honing the craft and being the best writer you can be. But writing is merely the first thing you need to do well to be published.

And maybe that’s reason enough for a site like this one. An online writer’s group is just a natural use of the technology in my mind. So I’m glad you’re here. Let me know what you think of some of the other sites out there and how we might make this one the best it can be. Next time, I’ll share a little more of my “vision” for what we might accomplish here. Until then . . .