Category Archives: writing

Ron, meet Kafka

King Ron is running into all sorts of trouble.  He’s now stuck in some sort of Catch-22 where the book’s status is Proof Review, i.e. it tells me I need to review the proof to get the book published.

Status: Proof Review

Status: Proof Review

But when I click on the link to take me there, this is what it shows:

Proof Approved!

Proof Approved!

And I can open the digital proofer, and approve it, but nothing changes.  So King Ron remains in an “out-of-print” limbo on…

First Picture Book Self-Published!

Welcome, King Ron of the Triceratops! The kindle version will go on a $0.00 special tomorrow, November 6th, for five days: be sure to pick it up!

The illustrations are by Milagros García of Venezuela, which encapsules the way globalization makes such ventures possible.  It was great working with her (through fiverr) and the story’s improved because of her contributions that went beyond mere illustrating.

The paperback is currently not available for ordering because the folks at CreateSpace thought I might have been trying to publish copyrighted material.  Even though they’ve since written they’d remove the suppression within the next 24 hours, it’s been over that much and the paperback is still suppressed.

Oh well.  I’m sure it’ll show up – I’d just hoped to get it to print sooner because it’s somewhat election-themed.

That’s rude, period.

I’m thankful blogging is clearly a written medium and not something existing in the netherworld of texting and chatting, and I’ve got a new reason why.  Folks at Binghamton University (NY, just north of the PA border) performed a study in which they presented the participants with several exchanges, either text messages or handwritten notes.  Some exchanges were filler exchanges; the other 16 were the experiment.  All 16 existed with two variations on the reply: with or without the period.  Each participant got eight with and eight without period.

It turns out that in text messaging, participants assigned a small but statistically significant difference in sincerity to the two messages, with the message with the period rating as less sincere.  The difference in the handwritten notes wasn’t statistically significant.

That’s some cause for concern for this chronically punctilious speller, but what’s perhaps more concerning is that with 1 being “very insincere” and 7 being “very sincere” on their Likert scale, the average ratings all hover around 4, “Neutral.”  Either it means participants couldn’t tell the sincerity of the message (“I dunno…”), they didn’t care (“I’ll just check the middle and get some easy course credit”), or just didn’t expect people in general to be sincere in their communication.  (The handwritten notes scored around 4, too.)

The take-home message appears to be to turn off that autocorrect and just bungle your texts.  u no waht i mean…

The Scandal of the Evangelical Taste

I recently stumbled across a blog post asking the question, “Why are Christian movies so painfully bad?”  I had to read that, because I’d asked myself the question before about Christian (Evangelical) arts in general, and wondered if the author, Mr. Ambrosino, had an answer.

He does, and I think he’s right, and recommend reading the entire post – but for my time-starved friends I’ll boil it down to this: We Evangelicals care about the factual content above everything else.  Tell (don’t show) me the old, old story, and then follow it up with a group discussion guide.

Mr. Ambrosino’s contention: Evangelicals love the Word over any “packaging”, and thus art takes a back seat to the message.  Wooden dialogue, endless exposition, predictable chord changes / modulations / rhymes: it’s okay for art to suffer as long as God is glorified and the gospel preached.  Except that only the choir is listening.  To quote Mr. Ambrosino:

Old Fashioned, like many Christian films of late (see: God’s Not Dead, Left Behind, Heaven is For Real), doesn’t understand this marriage of content and form. As a result, the lessons at the heart of the story — i.e., the whole reason the film exists in the eyes of its core audience — are easily dismissed by the secular masses the film is ostensibly meant to reach. This is the irony of the Christian film industry: movies that appeal mostly to Christians are marketed as if capable of bringing sinners to repentance.

This approach to art also explains the reactive nature of Christian art and writing, why it sometimes feels like there’s so little originality in the Christian bookstores.  Da Vinci Code?  Write rebuttals.  Fifty Shades of Grey?  Shoot a not-Fifty-Shades-of-Grey movie.  Harry Potter?  Promote Narnia.  I love Narnia, but it should be promoted in its own right and not with the nervous intent on keeping up with the Joneses.  The children of a creator God, who calls us to excellence (Php 4:8), should be leading the way with fresh, creative art – but as long as the obvious presence of a gospel message trumps quality artwork, we’re creating a self-sustaining market for lazy art, and if the world mocks us for our bad taste (if it even notices), well, Jesus promised us persecution, right?

But “how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”  True, they can’t, but can they hear any better with someone preaching to them poorly?  We ignore at their peril the basic principle that communication is more than just the factual content of phrases, and depends significantly on its packaging.  Articles like Mr. Ambrosino’s give me hope that some people may be catching on and taking more care to marry content and form, which I contend will not only give us art we can take pride in, but better and more effective preaching as well.


Over on sursumcorda’s blog, there’s a post about noticing the numbers we read. I’ve recently noticed wrong numbers in two otherwise excellent books – errors that I think are frequent enough that mentioning them here won’t hurt.

The first instance comes in “Switch,” the Heath brothers’ fascinating examination of what helps and what hinders change both in personal and organizational practice. In their tenth chapter, “Rally the Herd,” they discuss how apt reporting of peer behavior can be used to spread proper behavior. They tell the story of a review time turnaround at a peer-reviewed journal called MSOM:

When Gerard Cachon took over MSOM, most peer reviews were taking from seven to eight months… …Cachon announced that MSOM would review papers within sixty-five days – that was 72 percent faster than its previous average!

Now, the 72 percent don’t appear out of nowhere: 65 days are roughly 28 percent of seven to eight months, so it’s correct (albeit oddly accurate) to say Cachon wanted to reduce the average review period by 72%. However, “faster” implies speed, not duration: and then the Heath brothers understate their case. The original review cycle ran at a speed of about 1.6 reviews per year; Cachon wanted to raise the speed to 5.6 reviews per year. The difference – 4.0 reviews per year – is a whopping 250%!

The second instance comes in “Built to Last,” the business book by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras which investigates what attributes determine the long-term fate of a company.  In their eighth chapter, “Home-Grown Management,” they write:

Of 113 chief executives for which we have data in the visionary companies, only 3.5 percent came directly from outside the company, versus 22.1 percent of 140 CEOs at the comparison companies.  In other words, the visionary companies were six times more likely to promote insiders to chief executive than the comparison companies [emphasis theirs].

While it is true that 22.1 is roughly six times 3.5, that factor represents the relative likelihood of hiring an outsider, not of promoting an insider.  For insider promoting, the factor is far less majestic: 96.5 percent is only 1.2 times more than 77.9 percent, making the visionary companies only a good fifth more visionary than their peers…


Father’s Day

One specific advantage of marrying an American woman is that she’ll remember Father’s Day, and this time I got a whole day off to myself.  I got up bright and early to catch a 5:46 bus, so as to arrive in Stuttgart shortly after ten.  My goal: a writing workshop on historical fiction led by Tracy Barrett.

My Y chromosome set me apart from everyone else present, but that soon faded into the background (except for the occasional group “Yay”) as Tracy took us through the Ten Commandments for Historical Fiction (though I still haven’t found out which of them was condensed from originally two).  After lunch and a free writing exercise the workshop concluded with animated chatting and, for some of us, a manuscript critique.  It was the first time I’d had my manuscript critiqued, and I found Tracy’s comments encouraging and helpful, especially her suggestions on what might be painlessly cut.  Kirsten Carlson organized a lovely event for her swansong as Germany/Austria RA of SCBWI; her successor, Maria Bogade, has some large shoes to fill!

On the way home I got to finally sink my teeth into Stephen Lawhead’s “Skin Map,” a Christmas gift.  It’s a quick read, though everyday life has me stalled even on that.  Maybe it was the workshop, but I have some nits to pick about his research (nobody in Macao would call a foreigner “gaijin”).  Back in Lucerne at 21:49, I dashed into the Drinks of the World shop to use up my point cards I’d rediscovered while decluttering.  I figured that with a closing time of 22:00 and my bus leaving 22:02 getting enough Newcastle Browns to total just over 5 francs would be easy, but I’d discounted that the local youths would be grabbing their last breezers and swelling the line.  On a whim, I checked the Scottish beer section and – Happy Father’s Day! – discovered that Drinks of the World had heeded my plea and added Innis & Gunn to their offering.

The bus driver wasn’t too happy to see me board the bus with two beer bottles in my hands a minute or two before departure, but I assured him I wouldn’t drink those lukewarm, and set to gently arranging them in my backpack.  I emptied one the following day to go with my Father’s Day meal, and the other’s waiting for another momentous occasion.

I wonder if I can wait until July 14th…