The folks over at Hipster Conservative released the Advent Issue in time for Lent!  Check it out; they have a few contributors this time around, including yours truly. 

Also, articles on Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy in one issue.  The South done rose again, y’all!  

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It’s All Right to be Little Bitty

I’m a fan of the little and the local.  A smile and a handshake goes a long way; not having to call corporate headquarters to set up a book-signing or wonder about who took care of the meat that was shipped from halfway across the country or eat the red sponges that masquerade as supermarket tomatoes–it’s a good thing.

I haunt my local neighborhood bookstore. Haunt, as in I’m there every other afternoon at least, and the owners have begun referring to me as part of the furniture.  Besides having internet, the company and coffee is well worth the walk from my house (and not having internet at my house).  They’ve taken me in as part of the family–when I started working the Farmer’s Market across the street from them, I ended up babysitting the middle-school boys in exchange for them telling marketgoers that they should go check out my table (this was an unplanned transaction, let me assure you).  

One of the coolest things about Around the Block Books is that they are small, family-owned, community-oriented, and they support their local authors.  They have an entire bookshelf near the front of the store dedicated to their local writers–yours truly, among greater lights.  

So today, I had a class at a local elementary school; one of the girls looked at me and said “My mom bought your book.”  Small world, eh? Then, at the end of the day, one of the boys mentioned that his mom was an author; then he said her name and I realized that she, too, had books at Around the Block.  It’s not a small world, just a small town. And I like it.  

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Everyone’s a Critic…and Writers Should Be

I was recently reading a collection of interviews with Flannery O’Connor when I ran across her response to the question of how her time in the University of Iowa’s M.F.A. program contributed to her writing.  After saying that “the kind of writing that can be taught must then be taught not to be read,” she goes on to say that what she learned was not “writing so much as how to read critically–her own work and others’.”

The R.D. my first year on campus had a reputation as a grumpy intellectual, but he was kind enough to grab me and a few other students from different majors for a literary pow-wow over the school literary journal whenever it came out.  We’d go line by line, poem by poem, story by story, discussing how a given piece worked.  Not just “do I like this?” but “Was this well-crafted and were there opportunities or words wasted?”  Things from breaks in meter (were they intentional?) to word choice to alliteration received discussion, debate, and many swift strokes of a pencil.  Verse crafted by use only of the enter and tab key received short shrift.  A few of my own pieces were subjected to this same treatment.  

This was my first experience with reading critically.  While I had been taught to think critically about content, I had little experience with judging form–that which is, properly, art (or craft).  But it moved me from merely being a reader and consumer and writer toward actually being an artist and scholar.  Not a master yet, by a long shot, but consciously moving in that direction.  

A carpenter knows wood and woodworking tools; he doesn’t just know what a type of wood looks like, but its weight, its strength, its grain.  A writer needs to know words and forms: their weight, their strength, their connotations, denotations, their effects (aural and mental), and needs to use them to their best effect.  This is what makes the difference between a fun read and a book that changes your life.  A well-crafted piece of carpentry doesn’t have bits sticking out, but works as a whole.  The artistry is significant in what isn’t seen–unless you take a good look and know what you’re looking for.  Writing is the same way: the satisfaction and (sometimes or) revelation comes most profoundly when most subtle–but those willing to take a good, long look may find something taking a good, long look back at them and forcing them to take a good, long look back at themselves.  

Writers, if they want to achieve this effect, must read critically, asking themselves “what makes this particular story or poem work?” “What words seem out of place?” “How could this character been developed differently?” “If the ending had been different, what implications would this have?”  And then they need to apply these same questions to their own work.  It can be as much fun as pouring isopropyl alcohol over scrapes, but I’ve never had an infection after I cleaned with that stuff.  Pour it on.  

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The Eve of All Hallows’

Happy All Hallows’ Eve to some, Reformation Day to others, blessing on all, and may the Light of Heaven warm your hearts as we descend into winter.  

Amidst the noise of elections and hurricanes, it has been a fairly quiet month for The Ward of Heaven and the Wyrm in the Sea, but we’ve seen a fair number of online sales and had a couple book-signings.  Earthworks of Leesburg is now carrying copies on consignment, and I have 5% off discount cards for anyone in Northern Virginia who wants to go check them out. The Walkens’ store is dedicated to showcasing the work of local artists, from painters to potters to authors and musicians.  They are very much worth checking out.  

Also, E. Biswell recently interviewed me for an article for Hollywood Jesus.  Keep an eye out for her review.  

Colin

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All Hallows’ Eve

Happy All Hallows’ Eve to some, Reformation Day to others, blessing on all, and may the Light of Heaven warm your hearts as we descend into winter.  

Amidst the noise of elections and hurricanes, it has been a fairly quiet month for The Ward of Heaven and the Wyrm in the Sea, but we’ve seen a fair number of online sales and had a couple book-signings.  Earthworks of Leesburg is now carrying copies on consignment, and I have 5% off discount cards for anyone in Northern Virginia who wants to go check them out. The Walkens’ store is dedicated to showcasing the work of local artists, from painters to potters to authors and musicians.  They are very much worth checking out.  

Also, E. Biswell recently interviewed me for an article for Hollywood Jesus.  Keep an eye out for her review.  

Colin

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Rhetoric and Army Chow

This last Thursday, I did a book-signing in Farmville, VA, a quiet little Piedmont town whose name usually requires me to tell people, “It was around before Facebook.” The book-signing was a quiet gig, but I had some interesting conversations.

I had a friend along, and over the course of the conversation, he commented that the art of rhetoric is nearly dead in America.  At this, the young man sitting with us began to scrunch his eyebrows and scratch his head and stutter.  “You’re right, you know…the…what am I trying to say…people just don’t talk like…yeah, you know what I mean?”  

Friday through Sunday was spent running a rifle range with the National Guard.  I know that Army chow is proverbial, but this weekend took all prizes.  The yellow mush actually tasted vaguely like eggs, but more nearly inedible were the hockey pucks masquerading as biscuits and the meat that tasted like a cross between dog food and cat food.  On the bright side, the gravy was fine, and we had MREs for lunch.  But the best indication of the food’s quality was that a sergeant specifically forbade taking pictures of it for Facebook.

Best quote from the weekend: “So the third time [my M-4's] charging handle flew back and hit me in the nose, my nose started bleeding all over the place.”  

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A Time It Was, and What a Time It Was

I wrote most of this last year, just before I left for Fort Benning.  A year later, the same thoughts arise (it’s something about autumn).  So here they are.  

The maples are afire as the Piedmont forest puts on her fall colors, while the woods of the coastal plain have a simpler yellow against pines’s green. The year is passing away into winter’s quietus.

I’m leaving Virginia for a temporary assignment, and leave behind three years’ worth of friends and memories. The friends I miss; the memories I keep. The memories I keep are, I expect, what will keep the friends in the long run.

I spent today with my grandparents looking over old family photographs. My dad and uncles packed into the car and making faces at the camera as little boys are wont to do, my brother and I in our early days in Nebraska (back when flat-tops were fashionable: “Holy cow. What happened to my head?”), my grandparents as newlyweds, my great-grandfather (“Gunfire”) laughing with a pint-sized version of my dad, and a series of portraits of my great-great-grandmother Louella Mame Feightner Sheppard.

Then there were the family portraits of Cutlers on the wrap-around porch of the family farmhouse. That was back before it fell into disrepair, which in turn was before it was rebuilt with the insurance money from Hurricane Floyd. In one picture, one can see a walnut tree standing beside the house, in a curve in the sandy road. That tree is still there, hung with Spanish moss as with a long gray beard. It is a fixture in my memory, and I wish it had a memory to share all that has happened around it.

It seems that memory’s what keeps people together, and we’ve got memories enough to have and to hold until the world ends and all’s put back together again.

A friend once asked what the place will be of the memories of evil, error, and ugliness in the goodness, truth, and beauty that will be shown in the new heavens and new earth.  I thought for a minute before John’s epistle came crashing down on my mind with the words: “Christ still bears His scars.”   He remembers, and we will, too.

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