May 30, 2010

WRITING ADVICE: NATHAN BRANSFORD 3 – The Search for Literary Agent

Nathan Bransford (NOT pictured left) is a West Coast agent with the New York literary agency, Curtis Brown, Ltd. For the past nine years, he has been writing a popular blog reflecting on and illuminating the publishing world. Humorous, serious and ultimately enlightening, I’ll be looking at how THE ESSENTIALS (PLEASE READ BEFORE YOU QUERY) have had an impact on my writing. I am using them with his permission and if you’d like to read his blog (which I highly recommend) go to

This is a tough one for me to comment on as I’ve been searching without success for a long time for an agent for several projects:

a) INVADER’S GUILT: Three Humans on the alien WheetAh’s homeworld are trapped and must escape before a rogue Human fleet invades, a powerful WheetAh attempts to overthrow his government and set himself up as dictator and a mysterious disease sweeps out of the mountains. Unknown to all of them, aliens powerful beyond imagining have their own plans to merge WheetAh and Humans into one gifted organism.

b) VICTORY OF FISTS: Langston Hughes Jones is an 18-year old, biracial high school senior just weeks away from graduating and taking one more step toward his goal of attending the University of Minnesota, Institute of Technology. But even though Langston is extremely intelligent and enjoys writing poetry, his propensity for fighting has his future of studying biomechanics (so that he can help ultimately save his ailing grandmother) in grave jeopardy. And with an arch-nemesis whose goal is to provoke Langston into fighting him so that he can’t graduate, Langston’s entire life balances on a razor’s edge.

c) DEEP BLUE DUNK: A championship middle school girls basketball team struggles with friendships, grades and a talented new girl from out of town as the regular coach gets ready to have a baby and turns the team over to her assistant coach – who has a “new” way to practice.

d) THE BIZARRO FAMILY PROJECT: Fourteen-year-old Serena Jones was taken in by Grandma Esther when her parents died. Grandma’s boyfriend, one of Serena’s cousins and a host of other guests at the Bed & Breakfast they run together make up her bizarro family. When Grandma Esther dies suddenly, Serena’s family is in jeopardy of shattering and she tries to save it – while keeping a record of what happened for a school social studies project.

e) FERRETS UNDERGROUND: Prairieheart and her brother ferret, Rockfoot help an entire prairie dog town escape humans bent on killing them all. Ursula K. LeGuin’s CATWINGS stories crossed with Lois Lowry’s NUMBER THE STARS.

f) HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES – EMERALD OF EARTH: Emerald Marcillon’s parents are murdered while researching the Chicxulub Crater by a knife-footed robot that only Emerald sees. Newly orphaned, she is taken to the SOLAR EXPLORER, Humanity’s Last Greatest Adventure, where her great aunt is one of the vice-captains. Mysterious boxes are shipped up with her, too and the knife-footed robot shows up one night. Emerald and her unwilling new friends discover that the robot carries an intelligence that attacked the solar system sixty-five million years ago and that the robot is still programmed to destroy all of humanity.

I’ve entered contests (most recently the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award where I placed in the top 50); asked REAL writer friends about their agents (Bruce Bethke, David LaRochelle, Mary Casanova – to no avail); cold-queried agents (Nathan Bransford, Scott Treimel, Mark McVeigh, Susan Bent, etc); regularly read editor, author and agent blogs (Nathan Bransford, Chuck Sambuchino, Alan Rinzler, Rachelle Gardner, Janet Reid, Jennifer Jackson)…the only thing I haven’t done much of is accost agents at conferences. But that’s because I rarely go to conferences. Something about hordes of people drooling over agents and famous authors puts me off and makes me NOT want to be one of them. Because as “small” published as I am, I still have people assume I have an agent and then ask if I can recommend them. When I can’t, their interest in me VAPORIZES INSTANTANEOUSLY. *sigh*

At any rate, I am still looking for an agent. I know I’ll find one eventually. I update this entry when that happens. Until then, I continue to follow Nathan Bransford’s advice.

And so should you!


May 27, 2010


Daniel Keyes’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON: the story has stayed with me for decades, a symbol for both the overwhelming possibilities of the human intellect and the overwhelming impossibilities faced by a profoundly challenged human mind. I’ve started and stopped this novel a half a dozen times in eleven years. I want to bring the original idea into the present millennium. To read RECONSTRUCTION from beginning to here, click on the label to the right and scroll to the bottom.

Things returned to normal.

Sort of.

They were watching TV while Mai Li was working on the old desktop computer, which was somehow working now. And her cell phone. And Mom’s smart phone. And the laptop – which was somehow fixed now. She was typing on an old-fashioned electronic typewriter she’d dragged down from he garage rafters.

“She must have fixed it,” CJ said as he walked back to down with Mom, shaking his head.

“How’d she learn…” Mom began then stopped.

The landline phone rang. Mom picked it, listened then glanced down at CJ. He sank down into the couch as far as he could go. Mom said, “He’s here. The three day suspension was over Monday and I haven’t gotten any calls from anyone since then.” She paused, listening. “I don’t see how anything has changed. He still can hardly read. Being in the final rounds will only…” In the office, Mai Li had stopped typing and was standing in the doorway, looking intently at CJ.

“Wait,” she said. Three strides and she’d crossed the room. She knelt down and taking his face in both hands, looked at CJ, staring intently. Mom didn’t speak. All CJ did was blink. After another moment, she said, “You’re not stupid. Just slow.”

“Thanks,” CJ said through squished face.

That surprised a grin from her. She was serious a nano later. She released him and stood up, saying, “I can teach you to read in about an hour.”

“What?” Mom and CJ said at the same time.

Mai Li sniffed. “I’ve been doing a little reading since I got back. There’s an abundance of research on instructional strategies and methodologies involving the teaching of reading. I’ve devised a synthesis of multiple methodologies and I propose to teach you how to read flawlessly in less than 24 hours.”


She shook her head. “Unfortunately, I can’t do anything about stupidity.” She disappeared to the desk, calling, “If you want to learn how to read fast, come in.”

CJ looked at Mom, then stood up and sprinted into the room. He heard Mom say to Mr. Bates, “Let me get back to you for sure, but I think…maybe he can.” Then Mai Li looked at him and said, “Neural plasticity was only the beginning.”


She cut him off, “According to the theory of neuroplasticity; thinking, learning, and acting actually change both the brain's anatomy and functional organization from top to bottom. Neuroscientists are presently engaged in a reconciliation of critical period studies demonstrating the immutability of the brain after development with the new findings on neuroplasticity. That research has revealed the mutability of both structural and functional aspects. Michael Merzenich developed a series of ‘plasticity-based computer programs in the early Twenty-teens. I’ve made substantial changes in his programming.” She smiled.

While it was still a smile, it wasn’t related in any way to her old smile – the one she used when it was gap-toothed and drooly-mouthed and only for him. This smile? Not even close to what he remembered was normal. This smile was related more to the one you’d see on a Great White shark moving in on a kill…


May 23, 2010

A Slice of PIE: Finding God in IRON MAN 2

At its best, fiction is revelatory.

Most people would readily agree that “literary” fiction can reveal something we never knew about ourselves. They would agree that “contemporary” fiction can remind us of things we’ve forgotten. That’s because these fictions are “designed” to do that. Most people would tell you that science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance and every other brand of genre fiction is meant solely to entertain.


Take IRON MAN 2, for instance. In this brief discussion, let me remind you that at its best, fiction is revelatory. As such, it can reveal different things to different people. I am NOT saying what IRON MAN 2 is “about”. Only the filmmaker knows what he or she wanted IRON MAN 2 to be “about”.

But it revealed a few things to me.

First of all is that “It doesn’t matter how you dress up, what really matters is what’s in your heart.” With palladium as the only metal that could withstand the forces of the Arc unit, Tony Stark was being poisoned. It showed not only in the toxic levels of palladium in his blood, but in his behavior as well. He was a hero and the most powerful being on Earth, but things were not right in his heart.

Secondly, the only real power for his heart was a new element in the shape of a triangle that came from hints left by his father. Now if that doesn’t stir your Christian imagination, I don’t know what will! For me, the revelation was clear: a triangle – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – in my heart is ALL that can power my walk with Christ. It is the only thing that can stop my slow slide into eternal death. The place the power comes from is, of course, our Father, who art in Heaven…

Oh, third but not last, it also revealed to me that I can still enjoy a grand adventure with my son, late night movie and all!

What’s your IRON MAN 2 revelation?

image from:

May 21, 2010

WRITERS DIGEST PRESENTS "Dear Lucky Agent Contest"!

Hey folks!
I'm entering a little contest using my newest YA novel, HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: EMERALD OF EARTH!

One of the requirements is that I mention the contest blog: GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS ( ) plus add it to my blogroll below. If you're interested, go to the blog (it's got TONS of information), look around and enjoy!

May 20, 2010

A SHORT, LONG JOURNEY NORTH 11: July 7, 1946 to July 8, 1946

This series is a little bit biographical and a little bit imaginary about my dad and a road trip he took in the summer of 1946, when he turned fifteen. He and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, into Canada and back again. He was gone from home for a month. I was astonished and fascinated by the tale. So I added some imaginary elements and what's below is the result! To read earlier SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH, click on the label to the right. The FIRST entry is on the bottom!

Every time they heard a car coming, Tommy Hastings and Freddie Merrill jumped in the ditch.

After about the fifteenth time, Freddie said, “Can we go back home, now?”

Tommy didn’t respond, trudging along the asphalt road with the sun creeping up on being right overhead.

After another two cars, Tommy crawled wearily up the side of the ditch.

Freddie lay there, staring up at the sky. Tommy said, “Come on, we gotta keep going.”

“I don’t want to go to Duluth any more,” Freddie said.

From the top of the ditch, Tommy looked down and said, “What?”

Freddie looked up at Tommy, even though he was still on his back and he was laying feet first in the ditch. They were looking at each other upside down. Freddie said, “I don’t want…”

“I heard you the first time, stupid!”

“Then why’d you say ‘what?’ like you didn’t hear me?”

“I heard you just fine. I just couldn’t believe you don’t want to go to Duluth.”

“What’s in Duluth that you’re so all fired up to get to?”

Tommy didn’t say anything. Instead, he turned his back on Freddie in the ditch. Scowling fiercely, Freddie rolled to his belly and climbed out like he was a soldier in the trenches of France during World War I. His dad had fought in WWI when he was a really young. He talked about it a lot when he was drunk. Never when he was sober. Freddie got to his feet and went around Tommy and said, “What’s in…”

“I heard you the first time.”

“Well? What’s there?”

“Nothin’,” Tommy said and started walking toward Aitkin, which was still nearly forty miles north.

Freddie ran after him, passed his and stopped in front of him. He said, “Then why are we walking a million miles?”

“It’s only about two hundred,” said Tommy, walking around Freddie.

Freddie caught up with him and grabbed his shirt, yanking and pulling him around. “Why are we walking two hundred miles to Duluth?”

“To keep your dad from killing you.” Tommy tried to pull free of Freddie, who wouldn’t let him go.

“I can live with my dad. I been doin’ it for fourteen years.”

“Yeah, well…” Tommy stopped. He couldn’t think of anything else to say so he looked at the ground.

“So what gives?” Freddie said. “It’s not like I’m gonna turn around and go back home, I just wanna know why we’re goin’ to Duluth.”

Tommy stared at his feet a long time before he finally said, “You ever wonder why Ma married Dad?”


“Ma’s like, young, you know? Dad – he’s like older than your grandpa.”

Freddie looked startled. “What? Grandpa’s seventy-one!”

Tommy nodded. “Dad’s seventy-eight.”

Freddie cussed and Tommy punched him in the shoulder. “Shut up.”

Freddie said, “How old’s your ma?”

“You don’t ask a lady her age.”

“I ain’t asking her, I’m asking you. How old’s you ma?”

Tommy was quiet for a long time before he finally said, “She’s thirty-nine.”


Tommy slugged Freddie harder then said, “They met in Duluth. I wanna know how and why.”

“How you gonna find that out?” Freddie asked.

Tommy shrugged. “I ain’t figured that out yet.” He shrugged again. “I figured you can help me figure it out.”

Freddie let go of Tommy, bobbing his head a little bit and walked past his best friend then kept going. Tommy didn’t move. Freddie stopped, looked over his should and said, “You gonna lay down in a ditch and take a nap or you gonna walk with me to Duluth?”

Tommy grunted and hurried after Freddie.

May 16, 2010

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Rewriting History to Manufacture Evidence, Part I

“God gave leaders as gifts to the church for its mission. Some leaders gave voice to the movement in public forums, articulating the truth of the gospel, sharing the good news. Others taught new followers the spiritual and lifestyle tenets of what it means to be Jesus follower. Still others organized charity efforts within the community of faith, while some galvanized relief efforts for people in the larger community. Pioneer leaders extended the territory where the good news was shared. The kingdom of God was breaking through in unprecedented ways.

“Then something happened. Actually, several somethings happened over the course of centuries. Church leaders became captured by the institutionalization* of the church. Hierarchies of leaders developed with their efforts primarily focused on the church. This rise of a clergy class eventually turned the mission inward as the agenda of the kingdom of God yielded to ecclesiastical concerns. The biblical idea that followers of Jesus are called to live out his mission in the world became replaced by the substitute agenda of church members expressing their religious devotion through church activities superintended by clergy.” MISSIONAL RENAISSANCE by Reggie McNeal © 2009 (page 134)

Ah, the benefit of hindsight!

First of all, as Reggie McNeal is fond of saying in his book, “Don’t hear what I’m not saying.” I agree with McNeal’s premise: Christians MUST once again reach out past the walls of the church “building” and bring the love of Christ and the message of salvation to those who’ve been repelled by self-centered, self-serving Christians. I was a convert to his way of thinking after I read his “first” book, THE PRESENT FUTURE: SIX TOUGH QUESTIONS FOR THE CHURCH in 2005. I was on board as our church asked the questions and started to struggle with the answers. Reggie McNeal visited our church, spoke at a service and did a seminar, all of which I attended. I even have an autographed copy of TPF! Then we passed out from the shadow of the missional movement. It wasn’t long before we returned to business as usual. I tried to keep on, but began to question some of the framework he’d laid out.

When MISSIONAL RENAISSANCE was published, I bought it eagerly and immediately and I’m almost done reading it this time. Before I bought it, I reread TPF, taking more notes than I did before. The book stands up well, I still like it very much and though we’re at a different church now, the new church has a mission that seems to be in response to McNeal’s questions.

But my comments in the margins of MR are different from the ones in TPF. MR is markedly different. In fact, the tenor of the book seems entirely different. While its target is church leadership, the message seems to have shifted to one of putting the “institutionalized church” away and claiming that the “missional renaissance” is a return to the way church was originally done and the way it should be done – in fact must be done if Jesus is to be proclaimed in the 21st Century and beyond. He continually chants the mantra above, “Don’t hear what I’m not saying” as he slams and bashes the institutional church of the last 300 years.

I disagree with his rewriting of history and casting the organization itself as the sometime unwitting, oftentimes intentional villain of the Eighteenth, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. I also disagree that the church did anything that wasn’t already happening in society as a whole for good reason. The industrial revolution required higher levels of management because not only did more people have to work in concert, there were simply more people. The church had to respond in kind.

The church was not founded as an organization. McNeal points this out numerous times. It was a movement. But he always stops there! Once he says that Jesus birthed a movement, he skims over the necessity of following through to coordinate the increasing numbers of Christians. How else do you keep track of money, food, lodging, missionary trips and areas of coverage without some kind of organizational vine coalescing to connect branches with each other and draw sustenance from the main vine?

Jesus said it himself in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him will bear much fruit, for apart from me can do nothing.” The vine was necessary to keep the branches alive.

I agree with McNeal that the vine separated more and more from Jesus and eventually some of the vines removed Him altogether. I agree that we need Jesus today more than ever before. Even so, I have found more to disturb me in MR than I found to inspire me as I did in TPF. Mike Duran†, a popular blogger on all subjects spiritual and authorial, had this to say about the missional church – which includes McNeal’s plans and attacks – a part of the “emergent church movement”: The term ‘conversation’ has been attached to the emergent movement from its inception. Rather than a complete reworking of historic orthodoxy, the movement was framed as a second look into what we believe, and how those beliefs may have been tainted by modernity, politics, tradition, or religious institutions, polarized believers and anesthetized the Church.

I believe that in MR, McNeal has taken a stab at rewriting history and then using that revision to manufacture evidence to support his assertion that the church as we know it is done for. Of course, McNeal says repeatedly, “Don’t hear what I’m not saying!” despite the fact that over and over again, he attacks the institution and illustrates otherwise.

His repetition of the phrase becomes a practical mantra and a justification for saying just about anything he feels like saying.

The problem is the very real possibility that “Don’t hear what I’m not saying” is a copout made by a person who isn’t absolutely certain what he is saying. I’ve often used it as an angry retort; a response of frustration when my tongue is tied. Maybe he’s doing the same.

Saying “Don’t hear what I’m not saying” shifts blame for misunderstanding to the listener and implies that they are either reluctant to hear the message or have plugged their ears. It presupposes that the reader doesn’t get it, that the writer’s words are perfectly comprehensible and that the writer didn’t mean what you thought they meant – they MEANT something profound and moving and world-changing. If you didn’t get that, then you’re the one with the problem, not the writer.

The more times it’s repeated, the clearer it becomes to me that the writer – in this case Reggie McNeal – doesn’t want to take responsibility for what happens after people take hold of his prescription. That he’s washing his hands of the mess he’s stirred up. Sort of like what Pontius Pilate did after sending Jesus to the cross. I think, MISSIONAL RENAISSANCE, more than the other, is an attempt to rewrite history in order to manufacture evidence to support his contentions – and to sell books.

I’m not sure which irritates me more. While I have more to say on this, I’ll take it up in my next PIE post. But for now, I don’t think you can get any other message from what I’ve said above, so if you’ve heard it, it’s probably what I’m saying.


* institutionalization: The term institutionalization is widely used in social theory to denote the process of making something (for example a concept, a social role, particular values and norms, or modes of behavior) become embedded within an organization, social system, or society as an established custom or norm .

† Mike Duran, another and better thinker on this subject has this to say: (Begin here and follow the rest of the links to get a clear idea of his thesis.)

image: This image appears on the cover of MISSIONAL RENAISSANCE and is called "Vitruvian Man" -- Encyclopaedia Britannica online has this to say: "Vitruvian Man as a cosmografia del minor mondo (cosmography of the microcosm). Da Vinci believed the workings of the human body to be an analogy for the workings of the universe."

May 9, 2010

WRITING ADVICE: Nathan Bransford 2: What do literary agents DO?

Nathan Bransford (NOT pictured above) is a West Coast agent with the New York literary agency, Curtis Brown, Ltd. For the past nine years, he has been writing a popular blog reflecting on and illuminating the publishing world. Humorous, serious and ultimately enlightening, I’ll be looking at how THE ESSENTIALS (PLEASE READ BEFORE YOU QUERY) have had an impact on my writing. I am using them with his permission and if you’d like to read his blog (which I highly recommend) go to

To those of us who do not HAVE agents, this one can be a bit of a mystery.

Belonging to a few online communities, I’ve heard both horrible and wonderful stories about the agents people sign with. While it seems that the horrible stories outweigh the wonderful, my guess is that it’s because people want to a) warn others from a particular agent, and b) they are looking for sympathy.

There’s nothing wrong with either goal, but for those of us who have experienced neither the horror NOR the wonder, it seems to be a moot point. Those of us who have reached the point of knowing we NEED an agent and not having one would (might?) willingly suffer the bad to find the good.

Nathan Bransford expands briefly on the subject of what he does, but the bare bones are here:

1) acts as a filter between writer and editor

2) edits a writer’s work

3) submits to the right place

4) negotiates

5) monitors

6) retains

7) shapes careers

8) advocates

However, I notice that he left out the most important thing that he does. I don’t know if other agents do this, but reading his blog illustrates it VERY CLEARLY. It’s something I found out long ago that I value highly in my relationships with people. This particular skill is one I sought when looking for friends. It’s one of the main reasons I married my wife of 23 years. It’s one of the things that lets me connect with some students more than others as a teacher. It frequently dictates what I watch on TV or in movies.

It is something that Nathan Bransford has – and it’s something so intangible that I made the mistake of trying to capitalize on it when I began to submit my work to him while seeking representation. It’s something personal. I blogged about a mistake I’d made in assuming a personal connection that wasn’t there (read about the disaster here: just because I value this intangible quality so highly.

Though he doesn’t state it explicitly, it seems to me that Nathan Bransford could easily add to his list: Maintain sense of humor.

This sense of humor is implicit in almost everything he writes.

Corollaries to this bit of unspoken advice include, “Don’t take yourself too seriously”, “Keep a good perspective on things”, “Relax, things will only happen as fast as they happen”, “If an agent/editor/publisher/reviewer/reader rejects you, take any wisdom from it that you can and move on”, “Smile and the world smiles with you, weep and you weep alone”.

Even the Bible offers a corollary in Luke 6:21, “God blesses you who are hungry now, for you will be satisfied. God blesses you who weep now, for in due time you will laugh.

I’m looking forward to that day – and I’m looking forward to finding an agent with whom I might laugh.


May 6, 2010


Daniel Keyes’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON: the story has stayed with me for decades, a symbol for both the overwhelming possibilities of the human intellect and the overwhelming impossibilities faced by a profoundly challenged human mind. I’ve started and stopped this novel a half a dozen times in eleven years. I want to bring the original idea into the present millennium. To read RECONSTRUCTION from beginning to here, click on the label to the right and scroll to the bottom.

CJ Hastings was online with Mom a couple seconds after he called the paramedics – she wasn’t answering her cell. She was probably online. To soften the blow when he found her. Which she knew he would. ‘Cause he knew Mai Li better than she knew herself.

At least he used to.

For now, the paramedics had tossed his bike on the outside of the ambulance. He sat in front with them even though Mai Li had cried out when they split them. The paramedic chick had said, “We want to be able to help her fast. If you’re up front, we can move around easier. He’d nodded and climbed in. He was glad he was in front and could see that they were racing down the highway, lights flashing, siren blaring.

The paramedics were totally calm, so he was.

Mom emailed back that she’d meet them at North Memorial.

When the ambulance pulled up, CJ jumped out, unhooked his bike and made it to the back before the other paramedic had the doors open.

They opened on Mai Li cursing in Vietnamese and struggling against the cot straps. “I’m fine! I wasn’t assaulted! I went with them of my own free will! Now let me go!”

The guy in back looked down at CJ and said, “How old is your sister?”

He bit his lower lip for a moment before finally answering, “She’s 29.”

The paramedic’s head snapped around to look at her then back at CJ, started a different word then exclaimed, “What?”

“She’s…an experiment,” CJ said.

From the cot, Mai Li screamed, “I’m not an experiment! I demand you release me or I’ll sue your…”

The paramedic shook his head, looked at the driver, who’d come back then turned to the cot and released Mai Li. She stood up, smoothed her clothes down, glared at CJ then hopped down just as Mom pulled up in the car. She said to CJ, “This isn’t over yet, twit.” She walked past him and got into the passenger seat of the car, crossing her arms over her chest, ignoring Mom and glaring at the three people standing at the back of the ambulance.

The guy looked down at CJ and said, “Good luck, kid.” CJ nodded as the man continued, “Looks like you’re gonna need a lot of it.”


By the time they got home, the attitudes in the car were cold enough to freeze air.

Mai Li got out, went into the house and disappeared. Mom said, “What happened?”

CJ told her. She sighed and said, “She’s right. She’s 29. There’s no law on file yet that deals with people who were wards because of mental inability to handle their own affairs overnight becoming able to handle those affairs. The hospital told me to expect this. She’s going through mental adolescence all at once and she’s declaring her independence – but she can’t because she’s legally our ward.” Her voice trailed off as she leaned forward and rested her head on the steering wheel. “I did not think this through. I wish everything was the way it was before.”

CJ was about to agree when he paused. Did he really want the super intelligent, independent, thinking – if aggravating, annoying and downright hurtful Mai Li to go back to having profound cerebral damage? He shuddered and got out of the car, leaving Mom there.

Mai Li was sitting at the computer typing so fast, her fingers were a blur. But that was only one side of the screen. On the split, was a bank of text – which she was obviously reading scrolling down as fast as the cursor would move. She was also listening to something with her wireless earbuds.

CJ tapped her shoulder. She said, “What do you want?”

“What are you doing?” he said.

She replied briefly in a language he didn’t know but recognized from school as Vietnamese.


Mai Li sighed, shaking her head, “You are SO slow, Christopher! English is such a clunky language, so I just said in Vietnamese that why would you expect me to wait around for you guys to set me free. I’m ready now. I just applied to Yale, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Oxford. I’ll take the CLEP tests tomorrow at the hospital and by the end of the week, I’ll be out of here.” She stopped everything she was doing, spun around in her chair and said in plain English, “Then I can finally leave you two losers behind – where you belong.” She turned back to the computer as CJ headed for his basement room.

May 2, 2010

SLICE OF PIE: Grace, Surfing, and Emergency Preparedness

The past week has been exceptionally good: I found out I was a semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) contest – one of the 50 remaining from an editorial process of elimination; I also applied for a job as a guidance counselor at the high school I work at and got the job.

The ABNA contest isn’t the first one I’ve ever entered. I’ve been shopping my young adult/teen novel VICTORY OF FISTS around to agents since December of 2008 and had it returned eight times. I’ve been writing since I was 13 and published in pro markets since I was 35.

I got my MS in guidance counseling in 2004 and have been waiting for six years to get a job with an office instead of a classroom. Not because I hate teaching but because I love a challenge and guidance counseling looks to be a huge challenge in a completely different way than teaching.

In his book THE PRESENT FUTURE, Reggie McNeal relates the following story: “While on a trip to Hawaii, I encountered the surfing culture…In the weeks I observed surfers I never saw one plan a single wave, but I did see them prepare to ride the waves when they came…The future belongs to those who those who prepare for it, not those who plan for it.” (New Reality Number Five, p 92 ff)

I am guilty of planning. Truth be told, I’d planned on being well-published by the time the kids started school. Truth be told, I went to college in 1978 to become a counselor (in those days, you had to be a teacher before you could be a counselor) – and got side-tracked in the classroom on the way (there was also the little problem of paying for the MS degree with two kids and a mortgage…)

Neither plan was completed in the allotted time. All I had to show for it was reams of stories and novels (nine to be exact: Planet of Storms; Sarek and Amanda (A STAR TREK™ novel); Discipleship Christian Academy Hits Broadway; My Sister Is An Archangel; Love Forever, Dad; Red Demon; The Bizarro Family Project; Invader’s Guilt; Deep Blue Dunk; and my current work, Heirs of the Shattered Spheres: Emerald of Earth) and a classroom that stinks of sulfur twice each year.

But that all served as preparation.

Preparation to meet the grace of God. He says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works [or planning] that no one should boast.” And He adds in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in [your] weakness…”

At any time in the recent past, I had my degree and I had my novels. I was prepared, but God’s plan – the only plan I should have cared about all along anyway – was different than the one I had laid out. After the disappointment of my own failing, I must have finally been ready to fit into His plan and follow his timing. I was prepared when the wave came along. (As to the emergency part of my title: I found out about the ABNA contest through Bruce Bethke’s blog, Friday Challenge a few days before the entry deadline; I found out about the counseling job a few hours before the application closing time…)

This isn’t to say that my life is all glowingness and fluff. I put a new toilet in my son’s girlfriend and his new house. I have papers to grade to make Tuesday’s deadline for mid-quarters. The mortgage is still there, there are forty-nine other fine writers and their work to compete against and the guidance counseling job is a one-year position.

But God is teaching me. He gave me the skills to fill the works He’s called me to. I am ready to be an author and a counselor.

But I am even more ready to rest in His grace, which is also known as “the undeserved favor of God”. About time, don’t you think?