Saturday, May 31, 2008

It's been a so-so week

Back at work; hard to concentrate; too much self-starter stuff and not enough firm deadline stuff. Somehow I've got to do better on the self-starter stuff. Discipline, discipline is the key.

At home, I have just barely finished my Life Group lesson for teaching tomorrow. I'm printing multiple copies of it right now. I was two weeks ahead, until I had to begin getting ready for Ridgecrest. Last night and today I spent a fair amount of cleaning gutters--not of leaves, but of accumulated dirt, pollen, and grit from the shingles. The house is 20 years old, and I doubt they have ever been cleaned. The gutter guards keep the leaves out, and taking the gutter guards off and re-installing them is a pain. In one gutter on the back, above the deck, about half the gutters (or 2 inches) was full of this stuff. I spent so much time on the ladder that my legs were quivering. A thunderstorm hit this morning before I was done with the back one, and, since I worked "upstream to downstream", it now has a small puddle.

I have found a new writing critique group. They meet on Thursdays, twice a month, including this week. I did not attend due to the busyness of life, but I'm hoping I can become a regular at this and somewhat find an answer to a question that's been bugging me: Is my writing good enough?

I was able to write this Life Group lesson only with great difficulty. I'm not sure why, but I couldn't concentrate, couldn't find the words to express what I wanted to. Part of the reason is I'm trying to help the class find things in the Bible based on what is not said, rather than on what is said; or to whom the words are spoken, instead of who else they might have been spoken to. I found that difficult to write. I may blog on that tomorrow.

I still have much follow-up to do from the Ridgecrest conference: e-mails and proposals and sample chapters and summary paragraphs. My schedule right now looks like I should be able to attack some of that in the week ahead.

Well, this was a dull post. Just a report on the week following the big conference in the life of one wannabe writer.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

More on the Culture Gap

At the Ridgecrest conference, the culture gap was again hammered home by a couple of classes I attended. In a class about writing "curriculum" for small group studies, all the examples shown were videos with a little bit of writing in a book; the intent being to watch the video and discuss it, using a few simple questions from the book. The videos were the typical run-from-scene-to-scene, or shot to shot, with almost no time spent on any one shot. No time to focus on what is being said, to absorb the points made. Just run, run, run. One video-based study we spent a little time viewing was The Trouble With Paris. We watched the first five minutes, which was totally unmemorable to me. I think the on-camera narrator said something about our culture being a problem, but the study title was not explained. After watching, our class instructor said Paris referred not to Paris, France, but to Paris Hilton, as a symbol of what's wrong with our culture. Funny thing was, the video itself seemed to me a symbol of what I don't like with the trend in the culture. I immediately decided this was Gen-X stuff, and I can't write it.

Another class was on fiction writing. The instructor, talking about the importance of conflict in the modern novels, said, "Knock your hero down with angst, then shovel angst all over him." Later, I talked with this same instructor in an informal setting, and mentioned I liked best the sagas, such as written by James Michener and Herman Wouk. He said, "You and three other people." They won't sell. A novel over 100,000 words won't sell. We live in a TV culture world, and books have to compete with American Idol, Survivor (another show I've never watched), Lost, etc. The population at large has fewer readers than we used to, as a percentage of population. Words aren't enough to captivate the mind. We must now have fast-paced visuals as well, and more of that than of words. Don't let description crowd out dialogue. Don't let dialogue crowd out conflict and angst.

I suppose every generation decries the culture of the next, and I'm no different. All this stuff saddens me. It seems like the culture has been coarsened by television and the Internet. More and more I find myself further and further away from the mainstream in America. I once wrote a poem that included this couplet:

for I, I must with sorrow state
was born two centuries too late.

More than ever I think that is true. Maybe not really 200 years, but at least fifty.

I leave most writers conferences, after some initial time of wondering "why am I here" with a feeling of "I can do this." Then, a week later I realize what "this" is. It means writing things I don't particularly like to read just to get published. It's a form of prostitution. I guess I'll have to think about it some more.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Culture Gap

Am I the only one in America who does not watch American Idol? Who doesn't talk about it at coffee pot or water cooler? Who doesn't care whether this David or that David won? Okay, obviously I've heard enough to know that it was David vs. David in the final, one young, one younger. And a bunch of us were sitting in the lobby that evening during the writers conference when people began receiving text messages saying which one had won. Last night and today I've been catching up on the week missed on the blogs I read regularly, and almost every one of them had something about that show. Most had several somethings. Christian and secular, literary and political, all were the same.

At the writers conference, Monday night was faculty talent show, and they did a sketch "Ridgecrest Idol", where the faculty played the part of famous writers through the ages, reading the first page of some famous work. Three others of the faculty formed the panel, acting out the part of the three judges. I've seen enough sound bites from the show to know what was going on. I couldn't have cared less, and probably should have left the show.

Why don't I care? Not my type of music in general. Not much enamored by pop culture. Not much swayed by hero worship. My life is not changed by who wins the competition, or by which judge is meanest to which contestant. I guess I have a choice to make: get with the culture, or remain out of touch, further and further out seemingly on another planet. It's bad enough I get pressured to watch Gray's Anatomy, and Lost, and now Battlestar Gallactica, when I could care less about any of them.

I conclude that I am cut off from the current culture, adrift in a world gone mad over singers and stage performers. What hope is there for writers?

Monday, May 26, 2008

2043 miles

We are home again. The direct route from Bella Vista to Ridgecrest was about 880 miles. A little bit of back-tracking in the Asheville area, the diversion to see my sister in Evansville, Indiana, and the diversion to see our children and new grandchild in Kansas City made for the remainder.

I'm now in the process of post-conference follow-up. Sent two e-mails tonight, and may get one more done. I have to work on two non-fiction book proposals requested by an editor, and a novel proposal and a series of book summaries (for books I have not yet written) for another editor. I have a bunch of other e-mails to write, and many web sites to visit--as well as catch up on sites not visited while I was gone.

Then, in order to not forever be an arrow through the air, disturbing unseen gasses but never hitting a target, I need to figure out what my correct target should be. That will take some time, hopefully not too long. Then the real research and writing will commence.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Strange things computers do

We are en-route from Ridgecrest Conference Center back to Arkansas, with stops along the way in Evansville, Indiana and Kansas City, Missouri. Today was an easy drive. But, before we left Ridgecrest, we hiked to the peak of Royal Gorge Mountain. This is not the world's tallest mountain, but it was a feat for us in the shape we are in. Maybe this will spur us on to do the things required for better fitness.

We took a couple to the Asheville airport, then double-backed a little and toured the Biltmore mansion in Asheville. This was an incredible house, and I may blog on it some day.

Here in the hotel, we tried to connect to the wireless Internet, and couldn't. We confirmed with the desk that they did not have a network/router/access problem, then called tech services. The man there talked me through the problem. It turns out the feature to have Windows search for available networks was turned off. I didn't turn it off, nor did Lynda. What caused it? One of the strange things that computers do. Then, on my user receiving e-mail is possible, but not on Lynda's user. And neither of us can send e-mail--at least not with Internet Explorer. Yahoo is doing fine, and we can check e-mail through's site--when we have Internet.

Why do computers mess up like this? We don't knowingly change the settings to cause this to happen. What gives? This is one of the reasons I describe myself as a techno-phobe.

I'm so tired I'm going to post without proof-reading. I'll look for mistakes another day.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ridgecrest Diary, 22 May 2008

[Lost the entire post; trying for a second time. I guess I'll do the short version.]

I intended to post every day of the writers conference; however, our Internet service was slow when available and often wasn't available.

The conference ended today with our last class, a closing assembly, and lunch. Ridgecrest is practically a ghost town right now. Perhaps it was just as well I wasn't able to get on-line. On Monday the usual writers conference letdown got to me, when once again I was reminded of the extreme difficulty of breaking in as a published writer. I don't know why I should think that breaking into this new field should be easy. I'd be upset if it were suddenly easy to break into engineering with minimal effort. Still, I had to work through those down feelings, which I did over the next couple of the days.

A few conference highlights:

- the class on novel plotting with Ron and Janet Benrey, husband and wife novelists.
- several other classes that proved most worthwhile.
- my meeting with an editor who asked for proposals on my two Bible/small group study guides.
- my meeting with another editor who asked for a proposal on my Bible study.
- my meeting with an agent who asked for a proposal on my baseball novel and for summaries of the series of "cozy" mysteries I'm planning as my next project.
- my meeting with another agent who has had my Biblical-era novel manuscript since November, and gave me hope for it.
- unplanned meetings at the coffee shop with other writers.
- late evenings in the lobby with faculty and other writers, discussing writerly things.
- meals, lines, pre-class sessions, and walking between buildings with other writers, with chances to discuss what we all are writing.

Lynda and I decided to spend tonight here. We'll take a couple to the airport in the morning, then do the tourist thing in Asheville for a couple of hours, then head west. It's going to be a couple of busy weeks.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Ridgecrest Diary: Monday, May 19, 2008

We arrived here yesterday about 1:30 PM local time, after a hard drive Saturday (757 miles) and a short, 2-hour hop yesterday. So we were able to check in early, and I was able to reconnoiter the camp for a hour or so. Met two fellow un-published writers during my wanderings.

At supper, one of the editors I was most interested in meeting came to sit at my table, and I was able to talk to him about my projects. I didn't do a real pitch, since both of our wives were with us and it was somewhat casual. The evening session was good, with a very good keynote speech by Alton Gansky.

After that, I went to the coffee shop and talked with a couple of ladies who were at their first writers conference. I was able to help them understand some of the conference organization, and made a few suggestions on which sessions they could go to and which faculty to try to meet. Then I went back to our building and hung out in the lobby with a group of guys. Four of them were faculty, all published authors (mainly novels, but some non-fiction). Did that for almost two hours, and learned much from those four experts in my avocation.

Time to head to breakfast. Hopefully today will yield much more results.

Friday, May 16, 2008

We'll try this one more time

Tomorrow morning Lynda and I will head east, to Ridgecrest, North Carolina, to attend the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. This will be my fifth writers conference in my eight years of serious writing. Classes to attend; agents and editors to meet with to pitch writing projects; meals with others in the industry; like-minded people to network with; a mountain setting; forgetting about work for a week. I'll be trying to gain publication for two different Bible study books I'm working on, as well as for my two novels and my poetry book.

The odds of publication are still minuscule, but higher with this face to face time than simply by the mail. We'll see what happens. I can't keep plunking down beaucoup bucks year after year for these things, so this may be the last one for a while.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

If you find a good metaphor

I found John Wesley’s “arrow through the air” metaphor in a letter he wrote to Anne Granville in 1730. After writing my first blog post on this, I decided I should see if anyone else had written about this. This resulted in numerous hits (including this blog!), but in reading a great many of them, I found they referred to a different passage in Wesley’s writing, to the Introduction to his printed sermons from about the year 1759. Here’s the passage.

“To candid reasonable men, I am not afraid to lay open what have been the inmost thoughts of my heart. I have thought, I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God, just hovering over the great gulf; till a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing, the way to heaven, how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end He came down from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. Oh, give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God!”

So twenty-nine years later, Wesley is still using his metaphor, still seeing in his life a comparison to that rushing shaft on its way to a target, momentarily disturbing those invisible gases it encounters and leaving no mark during the passage. Only at the target does the arrow have impact. Wesley refined the metaphor over time. Here’s how he used it in his earlier writing:

“Strange, to look back on a train of years that have passed, 'as an arrow through the air,' without leaving any mark behind them, without our being able to trace them in our improvement!”

First the metaphor was concerning personal improvement, looking ahead to a life that should be full of impact, and fearing that will not be achieved. Later he wrote of the temporary nature of human existence on earth. Different concerns; same metaphor. Wesley’s use of quotes around it leads one to believe this is not the first time that metaphor has been used in print. Perhaps he read it and appropriated it for a sort of life motto.

I’m not sure I’m quite ready to draw life-changing conclusions from all of this. I like the original use of the metaphor better than the latter. The latter, however, gets much more attention in the post-Wesley world, and who am I to dispute the scholars? In fact, ‘twould not surprise me to find this popping up several more times in the writing of this great man. “As an arrow through the air”; how apt a metaphor.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Move The Target

Today I continue with thoughts gleaned from John Wesley’s “arrow through the air” passage in the 1731 letter to Mrs. Pendarves. I plan on one more post with this passage, and will move on to other things as soon as possible thereafter.

In the letter, one of Wesley’s main concerns was that his life seemed to have little impact on the world. As I said before, he saw himself passing through life like that arrow, moving invisible gases, no apparent effect on the world. That would be true until…

…he hit a target. This is what Wesley doesn’t say. An arrow eventually lands somewhere; it hits a target. In the battles of old, such as depicted in Braveheart, the target was a long way off and sometimes unseen. As depicted in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the targets were visible, and significantly closer. The archer could see what he aimed at, and quickly know if his missile had the desired effect. How satisfying for Legolas to be able to count his kills.

As a wannabe writer, the target—publication—seems a long way off. And unfortunately, they (i.e. the publishing industry) seem to keep moving the target. First it was write words so compelling that no editor could turn them down. Then it was promotion; you, the writer, have to promote your own books because the publisher won’t. Then it was must develop a promotion plan before pitching your book. Now it’s platform; you must have a ready-made market for your book before pitching your book. All I can ask is, What’s next?

But I have one thing I can do to overcome this. I can move the target myself. I can move it closer; that is, I can aim at something much closer than a book. Perhaps my newspaper column, which is ready to go but for which I have hesitated putting in the marketing time, is a nearer target I should aim at. The reason for my hesitation? Fear that the time commitment, to research, writing, and marketing, will swallow up all the time I have for creative writing, leaving no time to write books, let alone market them. The same would be true for freelancing. That would be a closer target, much closer, but again would swallow precious time. Still, in terms of clips, platform building, networking, maybe those are the targets I should be shooting for.

My decision? Give me a minute, or at least until after the writers conference next week.

On losing strength

My morning reading over a cup of coffee, at my desk at the office, after my devotions and before beginning the grind, continues in John Wesley's letters--as it will likely do until retirement, which is just 8 years, 7 months, and 18 days away. I found a new passage in one of his letters today that is worth commenting on, but I will put that aside to a future post and continue with the 1731 letter to Mrs. Pendarves that has been the subject of other posts. Repeating the quote, with a new emphasis:

“…I am afraid of nothing more than of growing old too soon, of having my body worn out before my soul is past childhood. Would it not be terrible to have the wheels of life stand still, when we had scarce started for the goal; before the work of the day was half done, to have the night come, wherein no one can work? I shiver at the thought of losing my strength before I have found [it]; to have my senses fail ere I have a stock of rational pleasures, my blood cold ere my heart is warmed with virtue! Strange, to look back on a train of years that have passed, 'as an arrow through the air,' without leaving any mark behind them, without our being able to trace them in our improvement!”

After bemoaning about growing old too soon and not having his soul fully developed, Wesley continues with a similar thought: that strength may wane much too soon, well before he could enjoy what pleasures the body could afford. Or, might Wesley have been thinking of the whole man--body, soul, and spirit? Surely if bodily strength and pleasures exist, so to do spiritual and intellectual.

At a college graduation once (I attended four straight years, and am not sure of the year), the speaker encouraged the new grads to "peak at eighty." That is, as bodily health decreases the power of mind and spirit should increase, with the result that our most productive years should be somewhere around our eightieth on earth. That seemed like good advice. Of course, when I reach eighty, perhaps I'll change that to "peak at ninety"!

Now 56, my body sure doesn't work like it did even a few years ago. Why, back in 1995, on a pleasurable Saturday afternoon in August I raked an acre of cut grass and added it to a huge compost pile of leaves, thoroughly mixed the whole thing, then picked up and moved about 10 wheelbarrows full of dead fall apples to the same pile and mixing them in. I was exhausted, but not spent. Now, thirty minutes of weed eating leaves me ruined for the rest of the day. How did this happen? Surely thirteen years could not have reduced my strength that much.

Yet, I sense my mind able to grasp concepts that only five years ago would have been unfathomable. Writers like Emerson, Carlyle, and Macaulay speak to me in a way they once could not. New meaning in Scripture jumps from the page, and preparing Bible studies and Sunday School series is more than mere wishful thinking. Five years ago I had one book on paper an none in my mind; now I have at least twenty in the gray cells, patiently waiting in a disorderly queue for their turn to move to paper or pixels. Even as my body loses strength, my intellect--and hopefully my spirit--give me increased pleasures, increased productivity.

I've not given up on my body. I hope at 58 to be younger than I am at 56. I am determined not "to lose my strength before I have found it."

Monday, May 12, 2008

It's been a wonderful week

The turmoil of the week before last, which caused me to describe that week at "turbulent", has passed. I'm currently basking in the glow of Ephraim Todd Schneberger, now age 8 days. Saw him Wednesday through Saturday just passed, and what a cutie he is. Hopefully I will figure out how to paste in a picture. He is incredibly expressive in his face, with many worried, furrowed-brow expressions. He will be a serious person, just like his dad. The parents are doing well, though understandably stressed out, especially with their move to OKC next month, where Daddy will begin his duties as senior pastor in a church there. He's off today for a quick house hunting trip. Through the miracle of the Internet, they have found an agent they both know from college days there, and have narrowed the number of houses to look at. Sure was different in 1983, when we moved to North Carolina, and 1991 when we moved to Arkansas.

I'm gelling right now. I learned that someone has stolen my corporate credit card, and made four purchases in Australia. Yet, none of that will be my problem, since our corporate card company is on tip of it, and since it isn't tied to my SSN, it won't show up on a credit report. Last night I completed some major work on my non-fiction book proposal, and it should be ready for the Ridgecrest conference next week. That should be stressing me out, because I only have till Friday night to prepare (must leave Sat. AM to make it there by mid-day Sunday). Yet, I'm not feeling the stress at all. On Wednesday they are going to use my submission, a post from this blog, on the conference blog. Possibly that will give me some good pre-conference publicity.

I find the quiet in this part of the building makes for difficult working conditions. I will be shifting to a new cubicle sometime within the next three weeks, up to where others have moved, so will be back in the ambient noise of people, phones, faxes, printers, and copiers. It's also quiet at home, as Lynda is still playing grandma to Ephraim. Hopefully this week I'll find time to make three or four posts. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

For Ephraim

written 5/5/2008


born yestereday
amid parental joy
and God's protecting hand.
He thrives.

Self-starter stuff

Writers write, right?

Somehow I've got to carve out some time each day to write; posting on this blog might be that only time for a while. I've got to leave the television during this fascinating election season, leave the political readings and writings, leave the silly little writings I do now and then, and focus on my writing "career". Hopefully I'll post here more frequently, even if only short posts.

I want to go back to the quote from one of John Wesley's letters, which I wrote about in a couple of post recently. Here's the quote, with particular part I want to focus on today highlighted.

“…I am afraid of nothing more than of growing old too soon, of having my body worn out before my soul is past childhood. Would it not be terrible to have the wheels of life stand still, when we had scarce started for the goal; before the work of the day was half done, to have the night come, wherein no one can work? I shiver at the thought of losing my strength before I have found [it]; to have my senses fail ere I have a stock of rational pleasures, my blood cold ere my heart is warmed with virtue! Strange, to look back on a train of years that have passed, 'as an arrow through the air,' without leaving any mark behind them, without our being able to trace them in our improvement!”

"Before the work of the day was half done"--that is written for me. I feel like so much of my time is not productive, is not seeing results. It is the true "arrow through the air", doing nothing but move invisible gases. At work, much of what I do now is self-starter stuff. I work alone, waiting for people to call of come by my desk with their most difficult engineering problems. Yet almost all the people who came by on a regular basis, who cared about learning how to solve their problems, have been laid off. Now, with few exceptions, I only see those who want me to solve their problem for them, not teach them how to solve it. When waiting for these problems to come my way, I have my own residual projects with soft, self-imposed deadlines, and I have work to keep our corporate engineering standards up to date. It is all self-starter stuff, and I find myself not self-starting the stuff.

My writing is all self-starter stuff, except for this Life Group study I'm developing, writing, and teaching; well, I guess that is self-starter stuff, cause I self-started it. But all the other stuff I want to write, I have to make myself do it. In the words of Emerson, "the good world manifests very little impatience" for my writings. If I don't go after it, I'm not even moving invisible gases.

In all this self-starter stuff, especially the non-vocational stuff, something must yield to make way. Yet, with a fixed number of hours in the day, little is left to yield. While in my mind I embrace that "there is time enough for all that I must do", reality is that the days are clicking off toward that time when the night comes, "wherein no one can work." The road to publishing is so long and arduous, that right now I truly fear "the wheels of live [will] stand still" long before my self-starter stuff is done.

An arrow through the air.

Monday, May 5, 2008

It's been a joyous couple of days

Yesterday, at 5:17 PM, my first grandchild was born in Kansas City, Missouri. Ephraim Todd Schneberger first breathed on earth weighing 6 pounds 15 ounces, 19.75 inches long. Our daughter is doing fine, the baby is fine; son-in-law Richard seems to be doing okay, thought I haven't spoken with him since the birth. In fact all this news come from my wife, who drove to KC yesterday and arrived shortly after the birth.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.

Back to other subjects soon.