Derek Johnson Muses

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Writing Lessons

Since I finished writing an embarrasing manuscript almost four years ago, I’ve been trying to kick start writing another work of fiction. I have numerous attempts and failures at starting a new narrative, but in the last month, I’m happy to report that I have sustained a fiction story for 25,000 words now (38 single spaced word document pages). I learned a lot from that first failed attempt of a novel.

First of all, I know better than to put things into it that I won’t be too proud to show others later. Second, I have taken to write what I know well: Huskers and college football, travel, and a case of boy meets girl. Early in the process, I did feel that what I was doing than stuff I’ve read, so I’m happy on that front. I also have a defined structure that my narrative will take place in, so that keeps me on track.

Writing turns me into a miserable person. I don’t want to go out or talk to anyone else when I write. I take a schneid attitude toward my work. I can’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything until I’ve written. I download lots of music I’ll eventually hate. I’m this close to discontinuing showering, and if I had a girlfriend right now, I’m pretty sure she’d dump me.

But I’m happy doing this. I’m happy to be back to pursuing my long-term goal of being a novelist. I’m doing this to silence my own self-doubt. The manuscript I wrote four years ago, while good, was ultimately a work I wasn’t proud of and had to put in a drawer. This time around, I’ve told myself not to invest the time in writing it unless I’ve got a plan for releasing it. I’ll submit it to agents, but if no publisher takes it, I’ll self-publish it to e-books, perhaps with a few hard copies as well

I have two go-to staples in this project: I know I’m good at writing dialogue, so when all else fails, I turn to two characters speaking to each other. Like a lot of guys, whenever I get into trouble and don’t know what to write, I just write dialogue. While I haven’t plotted everything out, I do write guidelines before I jump into write scenes. I have arcs that I want my characters to go on. In my concordance, I have written down what each character’s relationship is to the other characters in the work. From watching a lot of spy shows, I’ve devised a principal: good conflict is created when Character A has loyalty split between Character B and Character C (or Characters D and E, if you’re really ambitious). I also keep in my mind that Character A not only process his/her relationship with Character B, but when Character C enters, Characters A must simultaneously process his relationships with both Characters B and C, but also the relationship between Characters B and C. (Got that insight in The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.)

As far as the plot of this novel, it is set around a Nebraska football game in recent memory. That’s all I’m saying for now.

But as of right now, my goal is to have a full draft done by February 28. I am selling out to this, and I will be proud to make it my future, thanks be to God.



Appealing Flaws

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” Matthew 23:23 (ESV)
John Grisham’s novel The Appeal, while a work of liberal propaganda, raises many issues conservatives must confront. Grisham, a self-described moderate baptists who supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 election, draws his lines clearly, using a tort case against a big company: on the one side, there are the big corporations who use “Christian values” to mask their agenda of advantages for the rich. Then there’s the real church, the one that’s concerned with helping the poor above all else. Just judges, in Grisham’s mind, will always take the side of helping the poor. While I do think that helping the poor needs to be an important part of the judicial system, Grisham draws too many generalities when it comes to religion and excludes the obvious connection between the liberal philosophy he’s advocating and abortion.

Grisham’s perspective, however flawed, does provide insight as to how the Democrats have won the upper hand in the current political arena: cast them as rich, out-of-touch bureaucrats who use empty values to mask greed. Jack Donaghy has done as much to ruin Republicans’ image as George W. Bush did. Growing up, I always thought of Republicans as a party primarily defined by religious, traditional values, but political parties are much more complex. In light of the financial crisis where big corporations share much of the blame, it does give me second thought about the party I belong to. Truth be told, I get my political news from SNL most of the time. Being a true Lutheran, I’m politically apathetic.

Politics aside, there is a bigger problem in this regard, and Grisham takes advantage of American’s (and even Christian’) lack of religious knowledge). There’s more to churches than just large, suburban, and callous, and urban and outreach oriented . Grisham writes little about specific beliefs in The Appeal, andI wonder if he would be surprised to find out that churches who preach social activism over Christ forty years ago are now dying off in America.

As Lutheran, I understand this personally. My own church body, the LCMS, while trying to resolve its issues, has congregational practice that can vary quite a bit from congregation to congregation, and with that, teaching also can very. Not to get into that debate, but churches just can’ be judged actions only. Their teachings (and specifics) should be debated too.

Yes, many Christians have abandoned missions in the cities for houses in the suburbs. Repentance is needed, but we cannot go into these neighborhoods with just food and money. If we don’t preach Christ to these people, than they are worse off than before. This is something that cuts at me personally, because my own church body, while doing notable acts for the poor, does have a track record of pushing doctrine, sometimes too hard.

As far as cases like the one Grisham describes, sadly there are instances where families who suffer injuries aren’t compensated fairly by the courts system. But the judicial liberalism that Grisham advocates for victims is the same logic that legalized abortion, which in many ways slaps the poor in the face by telling them, “The world doesn’t have room for your unexpected babies.” Grisham subtly ignores this fact and does his readers a great disservice by doing so.

But conservatives should read and deal with the issues raised inTthe Appeal, because these are the tactics that lifestyle left are using in their arguments against them. The winning side of a political debate isn’t the one that’s right, merely the one who frames its argument the best.


"The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore." Psalm 121:8

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