What I’m Working On–5.9.16

Grades are done for spring semester, and graduation has passed. I start teaching two summer classes in seven weeks, and once those commence there will be time for little else. In this interim I’ll be preparing for those classes, as well as my fall courses.

But from now until the end of June I’ll be focusing on two major writing projects:

1) Writing an essay for an anthology.

1917 marks the 100-year anniversary of the death of Oswald Chambers, and through a contact in a Facebook group, I learned of an upcoming anthology of essayists writing about a specific passage from his classic work, My Utmost for His Highest. Chambers’s book was foundational to my spiritual growth, and my copy has sentences underlined in almost every entry. I queried the editor and received a spot in the forthcoming book.

The next challenge was finding a passage upon which to write my essay. Over several evenings, I reread the book, starring many passages that might serve as an effective springboard for extended reflection. Finally, I found the passage that fit perfectly with some of the topics I’ve been exploring in my posts over at altarwork.com.

Although the length of the essay (1,500 words) is manageable, I’ve never done something quite like this before. There’s a nervous excitement about this project. We’ll see what happens.

2) Revising and organizing a poetry manuscript.

Just as in 2014, I received a summer research grant from my university to work on a book-length project. Unlike last time when my focus was a short-story collection, this summer’s project involves a manuscript of forty-plus poems, tentatively titled, Your 21st-Century Prayer Life.

I wrote the majority of these poems during Lent 2014 when I decided to draft a poem a day, narrowing my subject matter to prayer and the church. Those poems, along with less than a dozen others, constitute

Each day I’ll be working on a poem or two and also attempting a sequencing of the poems. I have some initial ideas about how the collection might be organized, but I have no dominate ideas. As a result, I’ll be passing on the poems to a writer friend for his suggestions on organizing and further revising them.


Beyond these two major projects, I’ll be blogging in this space each Monday, and blogging over at Altarwork.com each Friday. I relish in the challenge of writing something each week, feeling as though I’m some kind of newspaper columnist. The weekly writings help me stay grounded and well-practiced.

I’m grateful for this time of year that affords me the space to pursue these projects. Toward the end of May, I will be gone for six days, spending part of the time with a writing friend and her family and attending a writing retreat where I hope to work on these two projects even more diligently.

It’s going to be a good summer.

Confronting the Darkness


My writing in this space over these 6 years has focused mainly on writing, reading, and place. Occasionally I’ve ventured beyond those core topics (such as with music or running or teaching), and today is another venture, one that is long overdue.

I just finished reading Addie Zierman’s Night Driving, her second memoir, released on Tuesday. It is a thoughtful, honest book that doesn’t flinch in the face of darkness, silence, or ambiguity. Moreover, it has urged me to begin my own memoir, one that will deal largely with my own darkness. But first, I have to acknowledge that her first book, When We Were on Fire, helped me realize I had my own unacknowledged darkness. More bluntly, through rereading and teaching the book last summer I was finally able to admit something: I have an eating disorder.

These words after the colon are not necessarily “easy” words to write, but in so doing, I am speaking truth to the lie that I am who I am because of how/when/what I eat (and/or don’t eat). And I know that I am surely not the only middle-aged man who has confronted such an issue, but one wouldn’t necessarily know that from the ways eating disorders are frequently discussed.

So I am in therapy, yes, and I have made substantial progress since July, but I also know that I have further to go and that I have to guard against relapses, against the return to prior destructive patterns of behavior. There is a sense that therapy has, for me, cast its own searching beam through the hallways and rooms of my past, illuminating choices and situations that contributed to the disorder I now fight. At the same time, this detective work, as uncomfortable as it has been at times, has provided more freedom and joy than I thought possible.

I have learned that my disorder doesn’t define who I am. No, my definition, my identity, my worth stems from this truth: Imago Dei. So I press on, watching the landscape around me gradually lighten, sometimes barely perceptibly, but enough for me to keep on towards my destination.

(You can read this piece where I first confronted this issue here: http://www.altarwork.com/the-night-it-culminates/)



2015 in Review

It’s four days into 2016, so I’m due to offer some reflections on 2015. I’m grateful for so many wonderful memories I made over those 365 days. The year was significant for me in several ways, some of which I’ll be sharing here, some of which I’ll be sharing over at altarwork.com (where I’m now blogging every Friday). In the latter venue, I’ve already written about my most important day of the year.

But now, in lieu of a more cohesive post, I’ll share some random “tops” and “favorites” of the year.

Favorite New Album: Shockwave Supernova, by Joe Satriani

Other Favorite New Albums: Hand. Cannot. Erase. by Steven Wilson.

Love, Fear, and the Time Machine, by Riverside.

Helios / Erebus, by God Is An Astronaut.

A Head Full of Dreams, by Coldplay

Most Important Book: Life Without Ed, by Jenni Schaefer

Favorite Book: The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

Other Favorite Books: Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather.

Beyond the Bedroom Wall, by Larry Woiwode.

The Geography of Memory, by Jeanne Murray Walker

Love’s Labors, by Brent Newsom

Favorite Concert: The Choir (playing the full Circle Slide album)

Favorite Movie: The Peanuts Movie

Favorite Weekend Activity: playing keys and singing bgvs at Vista Community Church

Favorite “Athletic” Moments: running a 10k and two 5ks

Favorite Celebrity Meeting: Monty Colvin, bass player/vocalist in Galactic Cowboys, guitarist/vocalist for Crunchy.


Favorite Interesting Experience: sitting in on a Sunday-school class taught by Oklahoma Poet Laureate, Benjamin Myers @OKPoetLaureate

Favorite Teaching Moment(s): My summer Religion and Literature course (with works by Bret Lott, Tania Runyan, Gina Ochsner, Brent Newsom, Addie Zierman, Larry Woiwode, Jeanne Murray Walker, and Benjamin Myers).

Fun Trip Destinations: Minneapolis, Galveston Island, Kansas City, Lake Michigan, rural Minnesota

Favorite Publication: “The North-Central Iowa Spring Break Blizzard Tour” (published in The Cresset)

Favorite Photo I Took: 


I’m looking forward to a good 2016, filled with good books and music, lots of writing, good classes to teach, and supportive friends and family.

On Rejection

Two weeks ago in my prose Creative Writing class, we read and discussed Bret Lott’s essay, “A Home, a House: On Writing and Rejection,” from Before We Get Started: A Practical Memoir of the Writer’s Life. In the essay, Lott explores the relationship between the writing life and the publishing life, using the analogy of a lean-to in the woods for the writing space and a house built from rejections (and acceptances). He calculates, as of August 2004, that he has received 597 rejections (for stories and essay alone–not his books). This figure (understandably) startled my students.

As I visual aid, I brought my binder of rejections (those that I saved) beginning in 2003 and running through 2009, when I stopped saving them. The binder also contains my earliest acceptances, including my first post-MFA acceptance: a poem in The Chaffin Journal. I told my students how I had danced around my apartment, how Amy and I had celebrated by going out to eat at some fast-food place in Southeast Portland. Using the classroom projector, I displayed my Submittable account, showing them first the number of rejections, and then the acceptances. My disclosures added an up-close example of several of Lott’s points.

By my rough estimate, in 12 years I’ve sent out close to 500 submissions. As my website’s publications section attests, some fellow editors have decided to publish my poems, stories, essays, and reviews. I’m proud of each item on that list, not embarrassed by any of them, and I take great satisfaction in the places where some of these works were published.

Lott reminds writers that they “will be rejected,” and he suggests that writers need to view the submission element of writing as a “business transaction.” I understand both ends of the “business transaction” element of submissions: as a writer, and as an editor. Since I became editor of Windhover in 2012, my own comfort level with being rejected has increased. This isn’t to suggest that I enjoy rejection but only that I understand and “accept” the dynamics: I don’t take rejection personally. I reexamine the work (perhaps), and then send the piece (or pieces) out again.

In the closing section of the essay, Lott reminds writers that the real joy, the real delight is in the creation of (and reworking of) the pieces themselves. I agree. Probably because I hold on to that exhortation, I find that the submission process (the rejections, the acceptances, the unanswered submissions, the lost submissions) doesn’t wildly raise or drop my emotional barometer as it once used to. Perhaps as Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes in that famous passage, we might add that there is time for publication, a time for rejection.

On Editing (#2)

2 months ago I wrote about my experiences as a guest fiction editor for a newer journal, Driftwood Press. At the end of that post, I referred to other kinds of editing I’ve done, adding that I would write at a later date about some of those experiences. Today, I thought I’d share about a wonderful editorial experience I had two summers ago.

One of my pastors, Austin Fischer, approached me about offering a critique of his manuscript. Even though it was already accepted for publication, he wanted someone to read it from a literary angle, to read it at the sentence level. Having the summer open in front of me, and interested in his project, I said yes.

For a few weeks I spent time in the world of his book, Young, Restless, and No Longer Reformed: Black Holes, Love, and a Journey In and Out of Calvinism. The first pass involved reading the book from beginning to end, leaving aside my Pilot G2 .07 black pen. As I read, I was absorbed in his story. It sure makes editing more meaningful when you’re genuinely interested in the writer’s work.

The second pass I read with my standard pen in hand, looking for ways in which the language might be improved, stylistic glitches might be remedied. Where might sentences be combined? Where might sentence patterns be varied? Where might there be crisper verbs, sharper nouns? How could I help Austin’s message be more clear?

I gave Austin my marked-up copy one Sunday after church, and we made plans to meet later that week after he read through my line edits. I recall a sunny morning where we sat outside at Starbucks. I was drinking black coffee. I shared some further observations about the book, and there was the pleasure as he offered me words of affirmation in what I provided. I knew my work was not only appreciated and valued; my suggestions moved something already good toward the great.

And in those ways, I felt less like a line editor and more like a writing coach. I believed in his book from my first read, and even after “marking it up,” I had a more profound admiration of what he was sharing in his story. I’ve told him that I’m ready for the next book, whenever he’s ready to write it.

Note: if you’re interested in what editing services I can provide, please feel free to send an email to plainswriter.nlh@gmail.com or contact me via the Contact menu tab.