No 58-Hour Writing Spree–Yet.

Circumstances have conspired against me and I won’t be sacrificing 58 hours of my weekend to writing the great American novel. My schedule has gotten a bit difficult on multiple fronts and I won’t be able to swing it.

However, I still want to give it a shot. I’m purusing the calendar for a semi-open weekend, and I hope to get it in between now and the end of June. If I put it off beyond then it probably won’t happen. Thanks for everyone’s comments and support. When you’re committing to such a crazy idea, it really helps to have some backing. So I hope everyone gives Jeremy a boost, a man with more guts and possibly more free time than I. Of course Jeremy won’t be trimming lilac bushes this weekend, so you can imagine who’s having more fun.

I have some kind of love affair with books, and this whole writing for an entire weekend idea just thrills me. The other night we went to Barnes & Noble for no particular reason (like we always do) and I just loved looking at all the books. Sometimes I wish I could get paid to just sit around and read books. I get paid to do that now, but it’s really crappy pay. I wish I could get paid boatloads of money to just read books, to the point where I would literally read a book a day. That’d be awesome. I have such a curious nature and a thirst for knowledge that there’s so many books I want to read. Yet I have so little time.

And adding my own book to the pile is a dream I constantly go on about. I’m currently stoking two little fiction fires, one of which I’ll probably butcher with my upcoming 58-hour writing spree. Putting off that spree gives me a little time to let the ideas simmer and figure out which one I want to tackle.

The first idea has been with me longer, and is basically a teen drama. It involves a couple teens struggling with love, faith, acceptance, life — the litany of things teens have to deal with. The teen years can be so dramatic, and I really empathize with those years. There’s so much passion, and everything is more important than it really is.

The second idea came to me while driving across the country, and it’s a much different novel. It’s basically a home-grown terrorist story, which is kind of weird because I half expect the FBI to come knocking on my door. The idea started because after 9/11 I thought of way too many ways a terrorist could inflict mass panic and death. I won’t publish those ideas for a lot of reasons, but they really made me think. This story basically involves a Fundamental Christian taking his beliefs to the extreme. It’s going to involve a lot of explosions, conspiracy, sex, and that open-road, drifter mentality. A lot of this story is going to come from the many miles I’ve driven between Detroit and St. Paul. This idea isn’t as well thought out, and I already know the biggest weakness is in making my “Fundalet” character unsympathetic and typecast. That’s easy to do, but it makes for a boring story. I need to find a way to make people (myself included) really care for the character. Of course feeling sympathy for a psychopath is never easy. Seems like there are probably a few movies that do that well.

So those are my ideas. Hopefully I can subject them to a 58-hour butcher job soon.

Madeleine L’Engle Riffs

Check out the interview with Madeleine L’Engle in Newsweek (link via Bloggedy Blog). She comes off as the fiesty 85-year-old woman you’d expect.

Some choice bits:

When asked if the recent ABC movie of A Wrinkle in Time met her expectations: “Oh, yes. I expected it to be bad, and it is.”

On God: “I sometimes think God is a shit–and he wouldn’t be worth it otherwise. He’s much more interesting when he’s a shit.”

So is faith not a comfort? “Good heavens, no. It

The Abu Ghraib Atrocity

You can’t really avoid the talk in the news about the torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Gharaib prison at the hands of U.S. soldiers. The digital pictures and videos make the incidents impossible to ignore, yet another impact of technology and our fast food media culture. While they’re not excusable, I imagine these kind of abuses have long existed beside war. Technology is only giving us a front row seat to atrocity.

As I read the articles and hear the reports, I’m struggling with how to respond. At times I feel like I’m witnessing another milestone that will make it into a thick and dusty volume of history ages from now. This type of incident is a turning point in history, like Sept. 11, a rallying cry, a tipping point, that first lethal spark. Unfortunately, it’s a spark for all kinds of bad things like hatred, revenge, and more fighting.

The U.S. military amazes me sometimes. For all our billion dollars of equipment, for all our capabilities to blow up a needle in a haystack from miles away, for our medical advances that save soldiers as good as dead in previous wars — for all of that, we stumble against ragtag guerillas, we’re tripped up by improvised bombs, we can’t maintain peace, and we can’t run a simple prison. I know it’s more complicated than all of that, but it amazes me. How can we invest so much in the latest technology, but we don’t bother to properly train prison guards? Or if we do allow that to happen, why is it that it continues for months until digital pictures are leaked to CBS? Then suddenly people care.

This is a sad time for our country. Justification for this war has been a hard fought case, the insurrection that followed didn’t help, and now we find incredible abuse within the ranks that ruins any rapport we had built with the Iraqis. While we can’t just pull out, part of me wishes we would.

I find the Christian responses intriguing, some condemning, some calling for Rumsfield’s resignation, some arguing about whether or not this is a case of a few bad apples, and others even throwing election year bombs and arguging about the role of women in the military. But I most resonate with Richard Mouw, Fuller Seminary President, talking about original sin:

“When I recoil in horror, then, at the sight of American soldiers torturing Iraqi and Afghan prisoners, it is not because I am witnessing an evil that is unfathomable to me. That kind of evil is all too familiar to me. I see it lurking inside me, and once again I cry out to God for mercy and forgivenness, on my own behalf as well as for people whose misdeeds right now have become a matter of public record.

“As a Christian, I certainly do not believe that our only recourse is a fatalistic acceptance of the reality of evil. Both my theology and my experience tell me that divine grace is possible. Humans can, with God’s help, resist doing the evil that might come “naturally” in horrific wartime situations. And, with grace, we can be forgiven for even the most depraved sins against our fellow human beings. With repentance, great sinners can recreate their moral lives.

“This is an important time for the American people to admit to the rest of the world that, though we often act like we are morally superior to the rest of the human race, we are as capable as anyone else of horrible acts of injustice.” (link via Bloggedy Blog)

This world is a broken place, and despite our perceived military might, our economic muscle, and our moral superiority, we are a broken people. To the Iraqis, Muslims, Arabs, and the world at large, I apologize. Words probably mean nothing in the face of such actions, but they’re all I have. I am dismayed that my nation steps forward against such odds with such noble and worthy goals, only to fall in the same places others have failed.

Powerful words about freeing Iraqis from the tortures of Saddam Hussien now ring hollow and bitter. We have replaced one tyrant for another. We closed the terrible Abu Ghraib prison where Saddam brutally tortured his people, and then reopened it for more of the same.

May God have mercy on our souls: the terrorists, the soldiers, the prisoners, the presidents, the civilians, the children, and me.

Want More Revenue? Go Online

Despite the uneasy relationship between print magazines and the web, online is the place to be for magazines that want to increase their bottom line. According to the Guardian article “What a .com can add to your brand,” the online versions of many print magazines are experiencing bigtime revenue growth. Print versions certainly aren’t going anywhere, but the Internet is giving new and more lucrative opportunities to put trusting eyeballs in front of eager advertisers.

Stop the Smoke

Ironically, after some friends and I fled a smoke-filled bar on Friday night, I read about proposed smoking bans in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

It seems there’s a fairly strong push to ban smoking in bars and restaurants as a public health measure. The negative effects of second-hand smoke have been well documented, but recent studies show the effects for short-term exposure can be just as deadly. A study reported in Time magazine last week found a 40% drop in the number of heart attacks when the city instituted a smoking ban. When a court order lifted the ban 6 months later, the number heart attacks bounced back.

From the smoker’s side it’s an argument of freedom and letting the people decide. They argue that government shouldn’t be involved and that people will decide simply by where they spend their money. If non-smokers stayed away from smokey bars and there was enough economic pressure, restaurants and bars would voluntarily ban smoking.

It seems logical enough to me, except that we’re not talking about a simple matter of choice. We’re talking about a health risk. One argument in the articles I read compared it to aspestos in a restaurant falling onto people’s food from the ceiling and the government doing nothing about it. The other side countered by saying that’s a false comparison — aspestos is illegal, cigarettes are not. Which leads me to the question why not? We ban drugs that have a harmful effect on the body, why not cigarettes? I don’t know of any positive effect smoking can give that might outweigh their negative effects (alcohol, on the other hand, has tremendous negative social effects, but it does have positive health effects when people drink responsibly). I don’t think it’s even possible to smoke responsibly.

But rather than just rant about it in my blog, I did a quick Google search to find the e-mail addresses of the St. Paul City Council members. A minute later my voice had been heard. The Internet: Is there anything it can’t do?

One Novel. 58 hours.

The Great Mahakali Write-a-thalon (think triathalon) is next weekend (link via Kottke). It’s a contest where writers have 58 hours (basically a weekend) to write a novel. The prizes are pretty vague, but it amounts to exposure and the satisfaction of writing a novel.

For some reason I’m intrigued. I’ve always wanted to write a book (and if you read these thoughts with any regularity you’re probably sick of me saying that) and writing a novel would be even better. I know the day I publish a nonfiction book (which seems easier and more commercially viable) I’ll revise my goal and say I’ve always wanted to write a novel. Not that I have any practice at it. I just want to do it.

Of course the usual factors always tear me down. I don’t have the time to sit down and write a novel. I haven’t come up with an idea I think is novel worthy. More than anything, I’m afraid.

I’m afraid of spending hours on something that doesn’t go anywhere. I know enough about writing to know you can work and work and work and sometimes all you’ve got is crap. I’m also afraid of committing to an idea. I never know if it’s good enough, if it’s strong enough, if it’s an idea that can carry any weight. I’m afriad I’ll write a phone book’s worth of pages before I can even know if the idea is any good. So rather than fail, I don’t even try.

But I know the lesson can’t be never try. One of these days I’m going to have to take a so-so idea and force it into a novel. Even if it’s the crappiest novel ever, I could say I’ve written one. I think I’ve even said that before in a similar ‘ooh I wanna be a writer’ entry. Yep. Anne Lamott recommends writing shitty first drafts, and maybe that’s what I should do. I kind of like the idea of forcing a novel out and then having to bury it in the backyard like radioactive Hemmingway.

So with all those thoughts you can understand why the idea of a 58 hour write-a-thon sounds appealing. Take a single weekend and give it a shot. Why not? It’s only one weekend. With enough caffiene and Radiohead I could probably crank out something worthwhile. Maybe it will only half-suck. But at least I could give it a shot, right?

Of course all the responsibility has a say. I was thinking of borrowing a friend’s truck and hacking back my rabid lilac bushes next Saturday. My lawn-addicted neighbors are getting to me. Abby’s also having a sleep-over with the girls from our youth group, which means I’m out of the house Friday night. The contest also officially begins Friday morning (9:00 a.m. Friday to 7:00 p.m. Sunday), which means I’d have to sacrifice a day of work.

So many excuses. I could always shorten the contest or change the hours and do it my own way. I could always raise support to make up for a day of no work (as if that’s effective). I could always auction the resulting novel to the highest bidder. It’d be like a crapshoot — is it radioactive Hemmingway or just so-so?

Of course if I am going to give it a shot I’d better decide on an idea so my brain can be percolating. The contest forbids pre-writing, but they can’t stop you from thinking about your novel ahead of time. I have a few ideas in the drawer I could fall back on, or I could develop some brand new half-baked idea. So many possibilties.

It’d be even better to post the novel here. Maybe even as I write it. I could start a different contest, a read-a-thon! You have 58 hours to read a novel written only hours before. Of course that would kill any chance to edit my suckiness. Or I could just post the novel in chunks after it’s all said and done.

I’ll have to think about this one.

One more thought: how come I never come up with normal schemes? Like getting a job or buying a car. It’s always something crazy like writing a novel in 58 hours or running an online fundraising drive to buy a computer. Sigh.

Weekend Warrior

Nothing like being subtlely chastised by your neighbor about your creeping charlie and then spending your entire Saturday working in the yard. I planned to get up and skip a shower, then mow the lawn early and shower afterwards so I could get on to some real work. So much for that plan. I didn’t get that shower until 6:30.

And now my arms hurt. And I’m sunburnt. But my yard looks nice.

Stupid neighbors.

Evening at the Turf Club

You can taste the tobacco, smell it on your clothes hours later. Granted I’m a clean-cut guy. A dork. But tonight I was painfully and forcefully reminded of it. After the stodgy, squeakiness of EPA I went to a local hole in the wall bar to hear Romantica play. Talk about culture clash. Alcohol trash and cigarette mash. Looking around the smoke filled room I felt like I was 12.

The show was at the Turf Club, a bar located right next to the bus stop I walked to for two and a half years. I always thought the Turf Club was just a hole in the wall little bar. I was only partly off.

We went to the show with a few other clean-cut friends, and watched the place fill up with hip, trendy folks who seem to frequent bars all the time, imbibe their drink of choice and chain smoke.

Now I come from a pretty conservative background that I’ve trying to distance myself from as much as possible. I’m so conservative that I’m just now getting used to the idea of drinking alcohol as an acceptable activity. When a friend orders a drink I no longer freak out. But that step has taken some time.

Then put me in a situation where it’s just one or two drinks, the pitchers keep coming. And the chain-smoking. I can understand drinking, sort of. But I don’t get smoking. Maybe watching my grandfather sneak a smoke behind the garage, and later puff away outside the nursing home like it was the last thing he could still feel has forever tainted me. My eyes were literally watering and I couldn’t have stayed in the bar any longer than I did. I actually couldn’t drive home my eyes were watering so bad.

Am I really so sheltered? Or is the bar scene just not for me.

What really made me wonder is the question of faith. I knew at least 20 people in that bar from Bethel, some in varying degrees of intoxication and lung cancer. I knew another 20 indirectly from some friend or another and could reasonably assume they were connected to some faith community. Like I said, I’m just getting used to the idea that Christians can drink alcohol, but there does come a line when it’s no longer responsible. I can only guess more than a few were crossing that line.

It reminds me of Jesus Sound Explosion and the recovering evangelicals Mark Curtis Anderson describes. I felt like I stepped into a chapter in that book. With so many connections to different faith communities at one time or another in that room, I wondered how many still had faith. I certainly can’t judge from a few drinks and a cigarette, but I couldn’t help but wonder. How many had become ex-evangelicals like Anderson? How many were simply disillusioned with the church but still had a deep-rooted faith in God? How many were feeling the same culture shock I was and were simply doing a better job hiding it?

It felt like different worlds colliding. The squeaky clean world of Christendom with the seedy underbelly of reality. With so many twenty-somethings gathered in one room with some sort of spiritual connection, it felt a bit like church. Except for the Marlboro branded incense.

To really drive the dorky feeling home, it wasn’t just the drinking and smoking that made me feel like I was 12. The trendy clothes, hair cuts, and accessories made it painfully obvious that I buy my clothes on clearance at Target and have no fashion sense whatsoever. Even my recent rock star haircut didn’t stand a chance.