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Three book lovers’ books

our cat bellaMention Paris in the title, and I probably will buy the book. That’s a promise.

The word book itself will get my attention.

jon books in review 150xDescribe a bookshop of vast proportions, with a resident population of birds flying in the dusty distance, with shelves towering over my head, and you will be my friend forever.

Three authors whom I have read lately have given me the book fantasies that I so much appreciate –

  • In A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night, by Deborah Harkness, the plot moves on the discovery and concealment of a manuscript that will either unite or destroy a world of witches, vampires, daemons, and warmbloods that the writer builds before our eyes.
  • In the latest book available in English translation by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Prisoner of Heaven, that vast bookshop with the dust, the birds, and the book with your name on it makes another appearance, to give me dreams of the beauty of the word, on the page, crowded together on the shelf.
  • In a first novel for book folk, Robin Sloan, In Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, sticks that magical realism of the book on the shelf and gets a perfect score of 10.

I have recently sung the praises of the two books in a trilogy promised by Deborah Harkness. I have reveled in the third book in English from Zafon, who writes in Spanish, about Barcelona, and sets his story in a bookshop, with an even more amazing bookshop lurking on the edge of the reality of the story – a bookshop where you can buy but one book and only once. That is praise and promise enough for me. When it comes to the offerings of Carlos Ruiz Zafon, I am a big fan.

penumbra picHowever, in this review I wish to focus on the third of the book lovers I am considering. Robin Sloan has produced a first novel of perfect pitch. The characters satisfy, the plot grabs. Of the three writers in question, this one has the least of magical realism in his approach, but his story would not fly if he had not earned his wings in understanding the magic of stories that turn on the mystery and power of books on the shelf.

Mr. Penumbra himself, halfway between the dawn and the dusk, on a cloudy day of diffuse light, runs a bookshop in San Francisco that has shelves of truly towering size, and books that defy readers who lack the inside knowledge of how to unlock their secrets.

The hero of the story, Clay Jannon, badly needs some magic in his life, to get him going on a career path. What he secures, in becoming the graveyard shift clerk in the 24-Hour Bookstore, proves to be not just something to keep the pot boiling but also a path to a future bright with promise.

On Clay’s way from misery to mastery, there is this geeky girl who works for Google; Clay’s best friend, a dot com millionaire; and Clay’s two housemates, who bring quirky and necessary skills to the table.

If you like books about books on the shelf, you will love this permutation.


Rules and/or tools for the language: Being right vs. being in relationship

our cat bellaIn reading The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary by David Skinner, with attention to the Webster’s III dictionary that is the subject of The Story of Ain’t, I have been musing on the difference between a labyrinth and a maze.jon books in review 150x

A labyrinth, I know from personal experience, is a geometric path meant to promote an attitude of prayer and meditation.

A maze, I know from various depictions in movies such as The Shining, is a random set of paths meant to frustrate you to the point of angry prayers of the I give up, so help me sort.

The distinction between labyrinth and maze, in itself, is a contrast worthy of attention, but a related and larger issue has been bothering me for some time — the question of whether language is best-served, and whether we as users of language are best-served, by adherence to rules that govern our  use of words or by celebration of diversity that sees words as tools in our service.

What happens when each person is the arbiter of standard usage?

How importance is it that the difference between a labyrinth and a maze gets no acknowledgment in a dictionary as widely consulted as Webster’s III?

I have some thoughts.

I bounce between two poles – permissive celebration of the power and vitality of language (tools) and prescriptive grumbling about the poor state of the language (rules).

I bear inside me a lifetime of attention to the details of words. I can edit a piece of writing to conform to the conventions of standard English usage, which is for me a source of pride, a source of income, and a source of fierce protective feelings.

I want to celebrate the music of the street.

I want to distinguish between the regular beauty of a labyrinth and the maddening convolutions of the maze.

I want both rules and tools.

I want your books and my books to be free of typos and glaring inaccuracies based on simple ignorance or inattention.

I want speakers and writers to be free to communicate with me without my sneering and grumbling striking them dumb.

In sitting with these desires, I have come up with this idea –

When I write, I will make sure that my writing is the best that it can be. When I read, I will seek to find the deeper levels of intent that the writer has. If I notice typos or poor usage, by my standards, I will bracket those concerns and look for the peace hidden in the confusion. Above all, I will cease and desist in pointing out the blemishes that I see in others.

In the end, I am not worried at all about the state of language. I am concerned with the ability of each of us to communicate what is most dear, in a way that others can apprehend, appreciate, and respond to.

I will split infinitives, I will make mistakes, I will be one who stands with real people and seeks to understand their strange and wonderful songs.

I ain’t no elitist. I ain’t no elitist. I ain’t no elitist.

You know what I mean.

I would rather be in relationship than right.


The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary by David Skinner is available in hardcover on Amazon. As is Webster’s III.

Note: I do not embed any link to an associate account when I link to books on Amazon or anywhere else.


Christian vampires, clueless witches, and those bleeping lil daemons

our cat bellajon books in review 150xI came to Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness by my usual path. A year ago, I bought a book that caught my magpie eye at the local Barnes and Noble, A Discovery of Witches, also by Deborah Harkness.

It was a near thing.

deborah harkness dj picI noticed the author photo was of a pleasing-seeming woman of a certain age.

I noticed that the book is the author’s first work of fiction and the first of a promised All Souls trilogy.

So far, good and better.

I noticed my personal associations with other authors of the genre as I imagined it and almost put the book down.

Historical fiction usually does not interest me.

However, I do like reading about witches, and vampires, and I did like the fact that books and libraries figure strongly in the story. I find it hard to pass up books about bookshops and libraries, and manuscripts.

So I bit.

Glad that I did.

two books in seriesThe  books pair —

  • … a professor who spends a lot of her time with rare manuscripts …
  • … with a scientist with an odd interest in genetics.

She is a witch. He is a vampire. They come together like oil and water. In this world, vampires can be Christian, witches can be clueless about their spells and gifts, and daemons exist to keep everyone in an uproar worthy of any penny-ante Borderline Personality type. The two books in the trilogy that are currently available have 600-plus pages apiece of pleasure for anyone who follows such matters.

Witch and vampire unite in every imaginable way, to save the world as they know it and all the creatures together. Plus us warmbloods.

I recommend starting from the top, with the first title. I do this as often as feasible (I seek first edition hardcovers with dust jacket intact, if I can afford the result. You may not be as picky.  Important thing is to read and enjoy.)


 Next (from my magpie eye): Books about books, bookstores, typography, and the plural of codex (gotta Google that) – comparing and contrasting Deborah Harkness, Robin Sloan, and Carlos Ruiz Zafon.



A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night, by Deborah Harkness, are available on Amazon.  The first book in the series is available for Kindle and as a hardcover or paperback. The second book, newly released, is available for Kindle and as a hardcover.

(Note: I do not embed any link to an associate account when I link to books on Amazon or anywhere else.)


A tale of two mystery series authors – Cora Black and Louise Penny

our cat bellaCertain things cling like a willowy blonde to a bald millionaire when it comes to mystery novels written in a series —

  • jon books in review 150xYou get to enjoy the same attractive characters time after time.
  • You get to see the characters develop over time.

These positive points of light, however, can cast negative shadows —

  • You may grow weary of plots that do not vary from a set pattern.
  • You may wish for more than a drip or drab of gripping plot aspects that extend over a number of books.

In this review, we will look at two fine mystery series writers, Cara Black and Louise Penny.

And I will give my personal reaction to each writer and her series.

cara blackCara Black

I am current, but just that, with the Aimee Leduc series that Black has been writing since 1999. I must admit to a certain fatigue concerning the series. I find that I have become restive concerning the way Aimee gets banged around in each title and the way that the author is stingy with details about Aimee’s mother, who disappears when Aimee is a child. From the 12 books that I have read in this series, I could collect the details about Aimee’s mom and fill about ten pages total. This is what drives Aimee, but it gets treated like a cheap trick.

For the first time in the many years that I have been following this series, I read a few pages of the 12th title and set the book aside and did not pick it up for a number of months. A new book in the series was announced for a 2013 release while I was sitting on Murder at the Lanterne Rouge like a broody hen.

Aimee Leduc, a spike-haired woman detective in 1990s Paris, works in computer security with her partner, Rene, a dwarf with a taste for fine clothes and cars. Aimee is continually derailed into detective work, to Rene’s constant irritation. She has a hard time saying no, and I am not talking about the string of bad boy lovers she has had over the years.

Rene’s irritation at Aimee has long since started to irritate this reader. The bad boy thing, too.

Mind you, I am likely to buy and read any book with Paris in the title, and this is how I found this series. It pains me to admit that I am tired of a certain sameness that has crept in that is just not the thing.

And the plot decision of making each book a month or so later than the book before means that Aimee has been banged up and in the hospital far too many times in an alarmingly short span of time.

In the real world, she would be a vegetable by now.

Leave the girl time to heal, already.

louise pennyLouise Penny

I am happy to report that I am current with the Chief Inspector Gamache series written by Quebec writer Louise Penny. The eight titles in the series, which started in 2005, have a depth of plot and character that keeps me coming back.

Black is the smoother writer of the two, but Penny delivers a deeper experience and a wider cast of characters. The occasional roughness in her writing points to a problem in the editing department but does not detract, and may just add, to the appeal of this writer for me. I have a connection with her, warts and all. Mine and hers.

The latest title, The Beautiful Mystery, takes place in a monastery, which is a departure for this series, which to this point has been set in a small, out-of-the-way village in Quebec named Three Pines.

I had a powerful experience, far beyond the usual for series novels, when I read The Beautiful Mystery. It all but invaded my dreams and certainly occupied several of my waking hours even after I had finished the book.

I love it when a book does that for me.


Go to and type in Cara Black in the search box. Start with the first book in the Aimee Leduc series and get it as a used hardcover from Amazon for about ten bucks. See if the tough, pretty Aimee in her vintage designer dresses and heels grabs your heart. This is likely to happen, and I know that this is what a reader wishes.

Go to Fantastic Fiction and type in Louise Penny, and start with the first novel in the Chief Inspector Gamache series. Expect to pay considerably more for the first three titles in the series if you wish them to be hardcover first editions. If memory serves, I paid about forty bucks for a signed first edition. Or you can get all the titles for your eReader. I switched to Kindle versions after reading a number of the earlier titles in hardcover.

Both of these writers will give you good value, and depending on your tastes, can continue to do so.

I cannot wait to read the next Gamache title. There are at least three characters in crisis, and I care about each one.

I can wait to read the promised 13th title in Black’s Aimee Leduc series but one day I will, and I suspect that I will be glad that I did.

In reading over my comments on the Aimee Leduc series, I am startled by how snarky I sound, but maybe not as startled as you will be to hear me say that I recommend both writers’ series with equal zeal. My intention is to speak truth in love.

As a writer currently blushing like a flower unseen and wasting his sweetness on the desert air, I wish I had problem-reviews like this thing of light and darkness, mine.


Riding with Lipkin

our cat bellaGetting there is usually half the fun, it’s true, and sometimes getting there is all the fun. And why is it that old guys like me enjoy books about old crazies like Harry Lipkin, private eye, the eponymous character who lives and breathes and has his being (barely) in a novel by Barry Fantoni.

I usually choose my books from among the reviews in the New York Times Book Review and get them at Amazon discount prices and free shipping for Prime folk, or from the shelves of the local Barnes and Noble. Harry Lipkin, Private Eye jumped out and jon books in review 150xcaught my magpie eye that locks on any novel that treats age with humor. At B&N. Where my answer to the ubiquitous question – Do you have a Barnes & Noble card? – is, Why, yes, I do. The rest of this conversation, which continues with Swipe it is really not worth the telling.

Like Harry, I rarely pay retail, at least for new books.

Harry Lipkin, 88 next birthday, maintains at least the fiction that he is a private eye for hire in and around Miami, Florida, where he rents a house that is barely a home. One of the many jams that Harry sticks his spoon in gets resolved by a hurtling slate roof tile that thinks it is a guillotine. The lowlife that the slate hits isn’t thinking at all any more.

Harry detects for fellow Jews and has done for years beyond any but his own count.

A rich and well-preserved widow of 70 or so, of a sort that Harry describes as someone who decides to look 50 for the rest of her life with the aid of surgery and pampering, shows up at Harry’s dive and asks him to figure out who has been stealing precious trinkets from under her well-formed (re-formed?) nose.

The widow suspects her chauffeur.

The widow suspects her butler.

The widow suspects her maid.

The widow suspects her chef.

The widow suspects her gardener.

By the time Harry gets done with his investigation, Harry knows more about the help that the help does. But is it enough? You will have to read to find out.

The novel, written in the first person, is more about riding with Harry than arriving at the destination of all detective stories. By the time we get there, everyone except Harry has figured out who dunnit.

And who cares. Harry alone is worth the ride.


Harry Lipkin, Private Eye, by Barry Fantoni, is available in hardcover, new or used, at Amazon.

(Note: I do not embed any link to an associate account when I link to books on Amazon or anywhere else.)


Just some fun is there

our cat bellaI am not sure what got me started on the Vish Puri Mystery series (from the Files of Vish Puri, India’s Most Private Investigator) by Tarquin Hall. Probably it was the cover on the first of the three titles – The Case of the Missing Servant. The colors caught my eye at the bookstore. I loved the book. When the second title, The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, came out a year later, I was right there to continue my acquaintance with the great detective himself and his band of trustful helpers.

jon books in review 150xThe third title in the series is freshly out, and The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken both extends and deepens the reader’s sense of this talented writer.

I especially enjoy the rendering of the Hindi speech patterns of the characters into English, with an inverted syntax that reminds me of Latin and of Shakespeare. The celebrated detective would have no trouble parsing this bit from the beloved Bard (from The Taming of the Shrew) –

 The oats have eaten the horses.

 Just some inversion only is there, sir, the detective might say.

Two particularly pleasing things about the books in the Vish Puri series are the inclusion of recipes of Indian dishes mentioned in the stories and an extensive Glossary. The first of three recipes in the third title is one for Butter Chicken.

Detective Vish Puri, (with a name that sounds to me like a shortening of Vishnu, like calling a bishop Bish), wears a driver’s cap and a well-waxed handlebar mustache. These trappings match his pompous self-esteem. It works, because Vish Puri always solves his cases. His love of Delhi street food keeps him in the doghouse over his weight. His wife, Rumpi, with occasional support and occasional sabotage from Puri’s Mummy-ji, insists on weekly weigh-ins. No surprise that his nickname with these two is Chubby.

Mummy-ji is something of an amateur sleuth in her own right, in spite of her son’s constant demands that she desist, and this time around she is the point around which the great detective revolves to inscribe the size of his success.

Just some collaboration is there, na, Mummy-Ji might say.

butter chickenIn the third book of the series, Hall turns his attention to corruption surrounding illegal gambling in the world of Cricket. And as always, there is a sub-plot, this time concerning a daring mustache thief. Puri’s client here is the Moustache Organization of Punjab, or MOP.

The incredible collision of India with India, like a train wreck that you cannot look away from, puts its mark on every sentence in the books.The main story in The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken revisits the shocking particulars of Partition, when India in 1947 divided into three pieces – a demonic sandwich with India as the meat and East and West Pakistan as the bread. Millions of persons were displaced, and millions of women were forced into marriages or killed, sometimes by their own families who did not want them to fall into the hands of the other side. Mob behavior on both sides was the order of the day.

The fun on the surface of The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken moves in a counter-current to the tragic undertow of the shameful story of Partition.

Just is there some good and some bad, na.

This series is all to the good and well-worth your time.



  • The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken, by Tarquin Hall, is available in hardcover on Amazon and the first and second books are available in hardcover or paperback. All three titles are available in Kindle format. (Note: I do not embed any link to an associate account when I link to books on Amazon or anywhere else).

Stranger than/to fiction?

our cat bellaI’m a writer.

I write things.

When the boat overturns, I write it.

jon books in review 150xAs one who writes, I am aware of the messianic quality of writing down what I see and hear and feel and taste and smell and know. The creation of story, the making of sense from words otherwise dumb, it can puff you up.

David Eggers has written a book (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) that puts me in mind of Mark Twain (Huck Finn), Jack Kerouac (Sal Paradise), and Holden Caulfield (J.D. Salinger).

eggers djWhen I started reading A.H.W.O.S.G., I was caught up in the question of whether the book is fiction or fact, memoir or invention. It seemed important at the time, and continued to be so as I continued the reading. Day after day. I had received a copy in the mail from my brother-in-law (let us call him Bil), who was responding to some kindness of mine. I promptly ordered two copies of Eggers’ latest work, A Hologram for the King, which I had read about in NYTBR a few days prior. I sent one copy to Bil, knowing that he would be as obligated to read it as anyone who eats all that is placed on his plate, whether he wants to on not. I have yet to read the other copy. But will. I like to begin at the beginning with a writer new to me, and this book is older by a decade and more than the current offering. So this is the one I review first.

Bil, whose privacy I prize far beyond my own, found a copy of A.H.W.O.S.G. at a library sale of used, stamped books. A buck. He drew on the title page a small drawing of a severed hand (why, at the time, I did not know) and included a 3×5 card with the following, which serves as well as anything I could say about A.H.W.O.S.G. –

July 2012

For Jon

From [Bil]

It occurs to me that you may

not have read HWOSG … I did

again just now when this became

available … I still find it

magically hopeful about the

slacker generation.

Here is the deal about the truth vs., fiction thing.

I do not intend to Google this until I form an answer for myself, but I will muse on my experience of reading the book while wondering about its veracity. I begin with the fact that the younger brother of the main character or hero or narrator has the same level of expression (rivaling that of his older brother) as a late adolescent that he does, at the end of the narrative, as a high school student. And the fact that the writer in his zeal for detail includes details from his mind’s flow of thought – the type of creative process that sometimes goes by the name of fiction and rarely as fact. It is as if the mind cannot overcome its reputation for fibs and excess, so fiction it is, in our minds, most of the time.

In the end, what does it matter (though now that I have written my own original piece about this book, I will enjoy researching the question of the author’s intent and size of debt to his own story). Jack Kerouac, from all that I have read, barely disguised his own story in telling stories that he and all others label as fiction. Twain makes Huck your friend forever, and you can take him with you everywhere you go. He fits in your pocket, your backpack. Holden Caulfield is far better known than that reclusive guy who created him. I had to Google it to retrieve the author’s name.

our three catsFact and fiction participate in the same race and can be mistaken for one another, just like twins from a distance, or cats. Two of my cats were so alike as kittens that save for a slight variation in the markings on top of their dear little heads, I would have had to look under their tails to tell the boy from the girl. Even one who sets out to tell her story in truth and accuracy will fall back upon the silent corrections that the flow of time will demand, and memory will add its amazing ability to take facts from different places in a person’s life and make a new story, and you will hardly notice but will tell the new story as if it were your own.

The story told in A.S.W.O.H.G., about a family that loses the father and the mother, in quick succession, to cancer, and how the youngest, Toph, is raised by his older brother Dave, is arresting. And Eggers as a writer is arresting. At some point, I stopped actively caring like some kind of book cop about the truth of the story and began to allow the truth of the writing to capsize me. When I finished, I wiped away my tears and began to write myself.


  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers, c. 2000, is available on Amazon (note: I do not link to an associate account when I link to books on Amazon or anywhere else).

*Timbuctoo* writer strikes gold

our cat bellaThe best parts of John Updike, in my experience, total at least two.

Three things leap to mind –

  • The Rabbit books.
  • The word zoftig.
  • The observation that some books, well-worth reading, can only be opened in bed (because they are so big and heavy).

jon books in review 150x150Tahir Shah’s new book Timbuctoo at 526 pp. in hardcover is one such big and heavy book that is well-worth reading. I bought the hardcover special edition with six fold-out maps ($50 minus one penny). There also is a Kindle option costing $2.99.

I’m glad I went the extra mile. Love books with maps.

I also am a big fan of this writer.

I believe that I own each book of Shah’s available in hardcover. And one or two paperbacks, too. Since I buy many books and leave them in piles, waiting for shelf space to appear (sound familiar?), I am gong on memories that stretch back at least ten years. Five years anyway. At my age it would be as well to walk across the Niagara River gorge, just down from Horseshoe Falls, on a high wire. I could be there from home in less than 30 minutes, but my performance would be spotty at best.

sorcererMy favorite for a long time was Sorcerer’s Apprentice: An Incredible Journey into the World of India’s Godmen.

I would have described Shah, based on this and other titles, as a travel writer and one of my favorites. Even when he came out with Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca — about moving his family to Casablanca and buying a rundown compound complete with house and a few servants (loosely speaking) — I still considered Shah to be a travel writer, lately at home. At work on a novel, as it turned out. His first.

That Timbuctoo is Shah’s first published novel was another draw for me. I especially like to collect first novels.

The novel has some distinctive features –

  • Shah has gone over to self-publishing. Not because he must, I believe, but because he can — and will, I suspect. Score one for us.
  • The story, about an American man (Robert Adams of Hudson, New York) who is kidnapped and thrown on a departing ship and ends up as a slave in Timbuctoo, has been a touchstone for Shah for a long time. He writes a historical novel based on many years of study and dreaming. The book includes a bibliography.

I want to support a writer of standing who turns from big-house publishers.

I was not that interested, out front, in the fact of a historical novel.

However, Shah’s simple and clear style in telling a hair-raising tale, was pleasing to me as I hung in there. I quickly went from curiosity to commitment, finishing the book in a few days of enjoyable reading.

The narrative frame is simple and effective. Robert Adams suffers for love of a woman whom he marries in secret. When her evil father finds out, he sets up years and years of misery. Adams after bouts of escape and recapture ends up in London, all but dead, and is taken in by a wealthy man with ties to a subscription-supported attempt to grab the fabled gold of the North African desert city of Timbuctoo. Adams tells his story in daily public sessions as the gold plot unfolds.

I give Timbuctoo all possible stars.


When I’m in my write mind

our cat bella logoI do not need to go back in my mind to the Record-Searchlight newsroom, silent witness to my days as a cub reporter. The rooms of the newsroom, the two of them, often are with me without bidding when I sit down and set out to write.

don speaking logoThe mind, it seems, anchors memories with images. I learned in seminary that the discipline called Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) speaks of this phenomenon in terms of its therapeutic applications. If you do not like the feel of a memory anchor, you can swap anchors in a simple mind process.

Basically, you close your eyes and pick a new anchor image.

And it works.

I have noticed, for a long time now, that the mind anchor that accompanies many of my efforts at writing is that old R-S newsroom.

A few details might help.

My hometown newspaper was, and is, the Redding (CA) Record-Searchlight AKA the Wretched Flashlight to certain of  its critics, detractors, and employees, at least in my tenure at that newspaper. As a boy of 10, I begin delivering the R-S and kept my paper route until I was a manish boy of 17. Within a year, I was working the phones on weekend nights during football and basketball season. I talked with a lot of high school coaches and passed my notes and stats on to the sports editor and his sidekick.

In the lesser of the two rooms of the newsroom.

Sports and Society.

During the following summer, I graduated to the bigger room, and obits, and features, and press release rewrites. Plus an occasional school board meeting and anything else I was told to do.

After securing a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature at UC Berkeley, I returned as a full-time editorial employee, first as a copy boy and quickly on to the copy desk. Four years later, I moved to Oregon and stayed there ten years on the copy desk of the Statesman-Journal, going from the rim to the slot with time as night news editor on Sundays.

By going to seminary, I followed the advice of Ernest Hemingway — that newspapers are good for a young person who knows when to get out and do something else.

The Record-Searchlight building anchored a short block on the edge of downtown at the edge of the steep slope that marks the lateral edge of the floodplain of the Sacramento River. The building was made of concrete blocks. The newsroom’s two rooms held a couple of sports reporters, the society editor, and the Green Sheet editor on one side and about six reporters and a couple of city and copy editors on the other side. The Editor/Publisher had an office off the main room. He was a patrician old man with a round face and red cheeks like hard drinkers develop in age. Those of us in the know knew that he was not really Shasta Sam, who would write wry and amusing blurbs on local topics for the Saturday editorial page.

We all wrote Shasta Sams at one time or another.

The images that I anchor with when I write come from a visit that I made, on a hellishly hot afternoon, to the newsroom with a friend who let me in, to see the new computers that sat on the desks. The walls were a clean white and no posters or other untidy things adorned the walls. In my mind the place is deserted — clean and white, with a hum in the background and dust mites in the diffuse light of the weekend-empty room.

I do wonder why these particular images and not some other images pop up when I sit down to write. After all, I also have anchoring images when I read novels, and they are different each time, and it is a surprise and a pleasure to notice the images that link up with my reading time. A set of images will persist until I finish reading the novel of the moment, returning if I put down the book for a while.

But why the newsroom? I was not particularly happy during that time. I was a piggie little SOB, frankly, who had a long way to go. However, none of that clings to the newsroom images. Decades later, the images give me peace and draw me into the mystery of creation.

▪ ▪ ▪

When I asked my shrink, an older and wiser man who has forgotten more about NLP than I ever knew, he refused to engage with me on the subject.

“I don’t know how people create,” he said. “What is important is how you create. See you next time.”

I pick up my pen, or I sit down at the computer, and I write an essay or snatch of novel that I have been day-dreaming about. I anchor my mind with images that seem to be meant to occupy the parts of me that fret and prattle. I move along quickly without worrying much about my word choices. There is time for word-fishing when I revise, and I revise in rounds of polishing that have a charm of their own.

As a person of faith and as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament, I find myself in awe of the flow from outside me, through me, and out onto the page, to you. My writing is a gift, I believe, to you via me with the Spirit in a consulting sort of role that some wise persons call co-creation. I write out of gifts that God gave me, I believe, and I cannot write or speak of this without weeping, which is probably tiresome for others but not for me.

I weep as I write, when I know that the writing is good.

This is what writing is like for me. I do not suffer from writer’s block. My newspaper background grounds me in solid skills of expression and the exponential perfecting of my work. I am a heavy reader, as well, and this paired with study, I believe, makes for an effective method of writing. I want to say it is like playing in the fields of the Lord, and it is, but the words of E.B. White come back to me, too.

About writing, White said something like … All of it was hard and some of it was fun.

That is my memory, anyway.

▪ ▪ ▪

My preaching has its moments, too, from a creative standpoint. In the twenty years that I have been preaching, the lion’s share (what is the lion’s share? … anything the lion wants!) has been from an outline rather than a manuscript. I draw upon my writing, my reading, my day-dreaming, and my real-time grasp of English grammar and usage. I get up and start talking. I introduce an image or an idiom, or both. I tell stories from my life, and I listen to the Spirit, for the Spirit’s leading.

At first, preaching this way felt like tightrope walking without a net, but now it is a joy. My years of copy editing taught me to monitor the flow of everything I hear or say, for sense and for adherence to certain core principles of grammar and usage. As with my writing, my preaching comes to me as gift and goes through me, and does not stop.

When I preach, I am not usually aware of any anchoring images, but I frequently am aware of being in a light hypnotic trance (another piece of learning from seminary). From what little I know of hypnotism, I know that if I have achieved a light trance state, my listeners will be in a light trance state, too, if they enter into the experience and accept my leading.

This may sound hard, or odd, or whatever, but what I am aware of when preaching is the joy of creating stories and of speaking from my heart and mind, in the presence of the One who calls me and gives me gifts.

▪ ▪ ▪

I have been blessed in my working life. I have done creative work of many kinds, as a cub reporter, headline writing copy editor, book reviewer, and preacher, plus now as a novelist, essay writer, and print-on-demand publisher. By these measures, I have grown from a piggie little SOB to be a person who can follow his inclination when speaking or writing. There is no finer thing that one can do with both feet on the floor.

I fell so grateful.

Anchored and free.


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