Archive for the ‘Major Authors’ Category

A curious thing seems to be happening in MFA workshops and critique groups.  Criticism regarding spelling, grammar, and punctuation is considered hypercritical and offered only with considerable apologies for nitpicking.  “Your editor will catch and correct those problems” seems to be the widespread assumption, which disregards entirely the fact that, as unpublished, amateur writers, we don’t yet have editors.  Moreover, we have less chance of ever having one if our query letters and submissions reflect a bungling of or indifference to the fundamental rules of writing.

Personally, I think relying on others to tidy up our work is a slippery slope.  More often than not, a seemingly minor punctuation edit such as the addition or elimination of a comma or an ellipsis will change the carefully wrought tone of a passage entirely.  Further, many of these “petty” edits are stylistic.  Will my editor know, for instance, that I intended to capitalize “It” when referring to a personified Fate?  The portrait of the resplendent but doomed Dorian Gray might have been inelegantly smeared rather than excruciatingly seared “with the lines of suffering” had Oscar himself not corrected his typist’s error.

Writing well is more than the generation of an engaging plot and well-developed characters and the correction of inadvertent POV shifts; it is the ability to inspire, evoke, engage, and transform through words and syntax and rhythm.  But none of that can be achieved if the passage is a distracting, irreverent jumble of comma splices, dangling participles, improperly used apostrophes, and misplaced semicolons.  Such blatant disregard for the fundamental mechanics of writing would destroy any stylistic or substantive merits of the piece and undermine the credibility of the author.

As both a Christian and a writer, I feel a heightened responsibility to write well and to confront and overcome any prevailing issue of ordinariness at all costs.  The standards for writing that is divine or inspirational should never be compromised for the sake of the enterprise or message.  “Christians,” according to screenwriter and script consultant Barbara Nicolosi in The Making of a Christian Bestseller by Ann Byle, “tend to allow mediocrity because of our penchant for looking at the heart, not the art.”  She goes on to criticize some of the “slop” in Christian literary art that is justified by the market because of the artist’s good intentions.  “We’re ending up giving a false witness to what our faith is. It’s devastating.”

I agree wholeheartedly with this assertion, having encountered faith-based writing that is both technically inadequate and thematically trite, and I deem the deficiencies even more objectionable than I would if I came across them in the secular realm, considering what is at stake.  My intention as a Christian writer is not only to support an unfettered approach to genuine and controversial subject matter but also to advocate the highest standards of technical imperatives and artistic excellence in Christian fiction and nonfiction.

So let’s master the semicolon and colon and solve the lay/lie/laid/lain mystery once and for all.  Consult grammar manuals in relentless pursuit of accuracy, and find a critique partner or group that isn’t reluctant to point out grammatical errors or other weaknesses.  Let’s eliminate our beloved adverbs where possible, and murder our darlings.  And, for heaven’s sake, please tell me if I mean “sow” rather than “sew.”  Let’s utilize our talents in a way that exalts unabashedly the One who bestowed them.  If that means revising and editing ad nauseam, so be it.  After all, as William Zinsser reminds us in On Writing Well, “a good editor likes nothing better than a piece of copy he hardly has to touch.”


This post appeared on the American Christian Fiction Writers website on November 19, 2015.


Draft of Chapter Four of "The Picture of Dorian Gray"

Draft of Chapter Four of “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

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There is perhaps no branch of work amongst the arts so free at the present time as that of the writing of fiction.  There are no official prohibitions, no embarrassing or hampering limitations, no oppressive restraints.  Subject and method of treatment are both free.  A writer is under no special obligation, no preliminary guarantee; he may choose his own subject and treat it in his own way.  In fact, his duty to the public—to the State—appears to be nil.  What one might call the cosmic police do not trouble him at all.  Under these conditions, hitherto kept possible by the self-respect of authors, a branch of the art of authorship has arisen and gone on perfecting itself in mechanical excellence, until it has become an important factor of the life of the nation.  Today if the supply of fiction were to be suddenly withdrawn the effect would be felt almost as much as the failure of the supply of breadstuffs.


~ From “The Censorship of Fiction” by Bram Stoker, born on this day in 1847


Bram Stoker, circa 1906

Bram Stoker, circa 1906

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The seasons send their ruin as they go,

For in the spring the narciss shows its head

Nor withers till the rose has flamed to red,

And in the autumn purple violets blow,

And the slim crocus stirs the winter snow;

Wherefore yon leafless trees will bloom again

And this grey land grow green with summer rain

And send up cowslips for some boy to mow.


But what of life whose bitter hungry sea

Flows at our heels, and gloom of sunless night

Covers the days which never more return?

Ambition, love and all the thoughts that burn

We lose too soon, and only find delight

In withered husks of some dead memory.


                            ~ Oscar Wilde, born on this day in 1854


Oscar Wilde with "Poems" (Napoleon Sarony, New York, 1882)

Oscar Wilde with “Poems” (Napoleon Sarony, New York, 1882)

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Early-bird registration for the largest and most essential literary event in North America is now open to attendees, presenters, and exhibitors through October 30.  The Association of Writers & Writing Programs is hosting its Annual Conference & Bookfair at the Los Angeles Convention Center and JW Marriott March 30 through April 2, 2016.

Each year AWP Conference attendees participate in “the big literary conversation” and networking, with unparalleled access to the most influential organizations and voices in contemporary literature. The 2016 conference will feature 2,000 presenters and more than 550 readings, lectures, and panel discussions on modern fiction and poetry, writing technique, publishing, and teaching, and hundreds of presses, literary magazines, online journals, and literary organizations will be exhibiting at the upcoming bookfair.

Featured presenters include keynote speaker Claudia Rankine, who is the author of five collections of poetry and recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award, as well as Rabih Alameddine, Richard Bausch, Peter Ho Davies, Jonathan Franzen, Kelly Link, Joyce Carol Oates, Roxana Robinson, and many other award-winning authors and poets.

With more than 12,000 writers, teachers, students, editors, agents, and publishers in attendance, the 2016 Conference & Bookfair promises to be the most informative and inspiring literary gathering of the year.

For more information or to register, go to www.awpwriter.org.



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In visions of the dark night

   I have dreamed of joy departed –

But a waking dream of life and light

   Hath left me broken-hearted.


Ah! what is not a dream by day

   To him whose eyes are cast

On things around him with a ray

   Turned back upon the past?


That holy dream – that holy dream,

   While all the world were chiding,

Hath cheered me as a lovely beam

   A lonely spirit guiding.


What though that light, thro’ storm and night,

   So trembled from afar –

What could there be more purely bright

   In Truth’s day star?


                        ~ Edgar Allan Poe, died on this day in 1849


John Anster Fitzgerald, 1858

John Anster Fitzgerald, 1858

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Words have a magical power.  They can bring either the greatest happiness or deepest despair; they can transfer knowledge from teacher to student; words enable the orator to sway his audience and dictate its decisions.  Words are capable of arousing the strongest emotions and prompting all men’s actions.


~ Sigmund Freud


Portrait of Samuel Johnson (born on this day in 1709) by Joshua Reynolds, 1775. Johnson's "A Dictionary of the English Language" was published in 1755 and has been described as "one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship."

Portrait of Samuel Johnson (born on this day in 1709) by Joshua Reynolds, 1775. Johnson’s “A Dictionary of the English Language” was published in 1755 and has been described as “one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship.”

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Life, it seemed, was such that it was impossible to wish for better: there was abundance, there was health, there was the child, and they both had their occupations. Anna paid attention to herself in the same way without guests, and was also very much taken up with reading – of novels and the serious books that were in vogue. She ordered all the books that were mentioned with praise in the foreign newspapers and magazines she received, and read them with that concentration that one only finds in solitude.


~ From Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, born on this day in 1828


"Анна Каренина" by Henrich Matveevich Manizer

“Анна Каренина” by Henrich Matveevich Manizer

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