I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Passion

I've been thinking a lot lately about the things I enjoy. Why do I love tennis, baseball, and reading? I really can't say for sure, but I think it's because I saw how passionate other people were about them and how much those activities enriched their lives.

I started to love tennis after seeing how much John McEnroe cared about it. I started to love baseball after seeing how much my uncle loved to listen to the Kansas City Royals on the radio each night. And I started to love reading after a high school English teacher shared his love of books with us.

I've noticed the reverse to be true. I've interviewed athletes and I've witnessed the actions of athletes who lacked passion and it caused me to feel temporarily disillusioned. If they don't care, why should I? But then I catch myself and shake off their indifference because the last thing I want to live is a passionless life.

With that said, how much passion is too much? Can we get so engrossed in our passions that we fail to do the things we ought to be doing? Surely, the answer is yes, but at the same time, our passions, even if they seem menial to others, are important because they are the avenues we take to express ourselves.

In Nicholas Sparks latest novel, Dear John, the protagonist, John Tyree is bitter about the upbringing his father provided for him (who raised him by himself). John's dad was introverted, socially awkward, had no friends, and he rarely showed any emotion. His routines kept him going, but his passion was coin collecting. He'd inherited a huge collection from his father and all of his social ineptness melted away when he spoke about coins.

As a young boy, John enjoyed going to coin shows with his dad. And he had some great memories as they went on a search together for the illustrious 1926-D buffalo nickel. When they found it, John's dad had a coin dealer snap a photo of them with the coin. As John got older though, he began to resent his father's coin collection. It's all his father seemed to care about.

John later found out that his father had Asperger's. At that point, John knew that they only way to get into his dad's world was to talk about coins with him. And he began to realize that they really did have some great times growing up.

Passion for the things we enjoy not only benefits our own lives, but when we stop long enough to figure out other people's passions and then enter their worlds, we have a marvelous opportunity to interact with them in their most heightened sense of adventure.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

When God Steps In

One of the many aspects of writers' conferences that I enjoy is the one on one interaction. Sometimes it's an encouraging conversation between two writers who wouldn't have met any other way. Sometimes it's spending time with more seasoned writers who are willing to share their knowledge or pass along a bit of information. And sometimes it's helping another writer to learn how to better craft a story, book, or article.

At the Glorieta Christian Writers' Conference in November, I was one of twelve mentors for a class called "Get Published Now." The class is sponsored by CLASServices (who runs the conference) and Essence Publishing. Here's the premise--writers apply for the class, and if they are selected, they meet with mentors (two writers for every mentor) for four days to rework an article that the writer wrote before he or she came to the conference about a preselected theme. In this case, the topic was "true stories of transformation by God's grace."

I spent four days with two writers who were assigned to me and we covered the basics of good writing--showing instead of telling, active voice instead of passive voice, solid structure, believable dialogue, proper sentence structure, staying in the correct person, etc. By the end of the last class, both writers had a finished article which turned out to be a chapter in a book that was scheduled for release by Essence Publishing before Christmas called "When God Steps In." The book contains twenty-four such chapters.

I received a package the other day and as I ripped it open, I became as giddy by what I saw as I do when one of my own books arrives on my doorstep for the first time. It was a copy of "When God Steps In." I quickly turned to the two stories that I helped with and I read them both. I loved seeing how the stories came to life after both women implemented what they learned.

Oddly, the book isn't available on the Essence Bookstore website yet, but if you are interested in getting a copy, you could probably go to their Contact page and give them a call.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Cocktail Party

Plays have never held much appeal for me--especially in written format. I've seen a couple of plays performed in community playhouses and I enjoyed them, but not enough to make it a regular habit. But I'm trying to branch out a little when it comes to the arts. Classic literature has never held a great appeal to me either, but I joined a literature group recently as part of my effort to grow in this area.

For our last meeting, we discussed The Cocktail Party, a play written in 1950 by T.S. Eliot. I found a copy at a public library and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It's purported to be a "modern verse play about the search for meaning, in which a psychiatrist is the catalyst for the action." I was much more interested in listening to Edward (the host of the cocktail party) and his wife, Livonia, speak about who they were and who they weren't.

Edward and Livonia have been married for five years. They really couldn't say why the got married. They were attracted to each other, "well suited" for each other, and they eventually seemed to mistake such things for love. As the play opens, their marriage is in trouble. Edward has been shutting Livonia out in an apparent attempt to not go crazy and his indifference drove her to leave him temporarily.

By the end of the first act, they have it out--pointing to each others annoying habits. But that's just surface stuff. The real problems are much deeper. We eventually find out that Livonia feels like she is unlovable and Edward feels incapable of loving somebody.

Here's how Edward describes it:

"The one thing of which I am relatively certain
Is, that only since this morning
I have met myself as a middle-aged man
Beginning to know what it is to feel old.
That is the worst moment, when you feel that you have lost.
The desire for all that was most desirable,
And before you are contented with what you can desire;
Before you know what is left to be desired;
And you go on wishing that you could desire
What desire has left behind."

Lavinia eventually makes this statement: "It seems to me that what we have in common [her feeling unlovable and him feeling like he cannot love anybody] might be just enough to make us loathe one another."

But at the same time, it also is enough to make them realize that they can meet each other's need. And in spite of everything, they do.

I don't know that I'll be gobbling up more plays to read at my leisure any time soon, but I won't be so quick to discount them either.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ray Blackston

Continuing with our Top Ten Series featuring my favorite authors:

#6: Ray Blackston

A few years ago, a friend handed me a novel and told me that I needed to read it. She's a member of my local writer's group that meets in a coffee shop once a month and we've gotten to know each other pretty well, so she knew I like movies and novels that are more character-driven than plot-driven and she knew that I enjoy love stories. The book she handed me was called Flabbergasted by Ray Blackston.

The novel is about a single man named Jay Jarvis who decides to go looking for love in Christian singles' groups. He meets some rather quirky people along the way and they eventually become good friends. But early on, Jay has his sights set on Allie. Problem is, she's already decided to become a missionary in Ecuador.

My friend was right about me needing to read this particular book. I devoured it and I thoroughly enjoyed reading a novel about the pursuit of love from a male protagonist's point of view. Helen Fielding started the chick-lit craze with her Bridget Jones's Diary series. Then along came books by Nick Hornby (About a Boy and Fever Pitch are just a couple of his titles), and Kyle Smith (of Love Monkey fame) in a new genre called lad-lit. Ray Blackston's Flabbergasted fit perfectly into this category.

Unfortunately, lad-lit was already on the down-trend by 2004 because men just don't buy these types of books. I'm the exception to the rule and I'm completely fine with that. But it does bum me out a little because poor sales means less contracts for such books in the future. But for now, I'm gobbling up all the books I can find in this genre and enjoying them.

Blackston wrote a sequel to Flabbergasted called A Delirious Summer about many of the same group of friends from the first book who decide to go to Ecuador to help rebuild huts after a fire. It's another great read about Christian singles who struggle to figure out their place in the world.

Blackston concluded the series with Lost in Rooville in which several of the same characters take a trip to Australia. Jay and his best friend Steve are planning to pop the question to their girlfriends and I just love the dialogue between them as the talk about how they are going to do it.

Jay becomes a new man as this series progresses after realizing that life takes on so much more meaning when a person lives to help other people. His struggle to find love was real. His struggle to become the type of man who is worthy of being married was real. His struggle to overcome his fear of leaving everything he knows behind is real. And I found myself challenged many times as I followed him on his journey.

Most recently, Blackston wrote a stand-alone novel called A Pagan's Nightmare and it looks hilarious. It's about a man named Larry Hutch, a novelist who isn't a Christian. He's witting a novel about a "reverse rapture" in which Christians are left behind--along with a few unbelievers. Given that Blackston is writing for a Christian audience, I admire his willingness to take a poke at one of our sacred cows.

I haven't had a chance to read this book yet, but I hope to soon. I picked up an advance copy at the International Christian Retail Show in Denver this past summer and I had a chance to meet and talk to Ray briefly while I was there. His first three books were with the same publishing house (Revell) that published my singles book, Single Servings.

I love many things about Blackston's books--his understanding of human nature, his understanding of the Christian singles seen, and his willingness to challenge the church on occasion. But most of all, I love the characters he creates. I actually feel like I know them and I suspect that any novelist would be happy to hear that.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

"But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days." --Micah 5:2, ESV

The One whose origin is from old has come to make all things new. He is Christ, the Lord. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 22, 2006

A Christmas Carol

A couple of months ago, I decided that one of the ways I was going to enjoy Christmas this year was to read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I’ve never actually read the book. I saw the cartoon when I was little, but that hardly counts. As it turns out, the literature group I’m in decided to read and discuss the book for the month of December, so I read it this week.

As I was thinking about the various different themes in the book, I came across this passage after Scrooge has seen the light:

“He [Scrooge] went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted the children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk—that anything—could give him so much happiness.”

If Scrooge had taken that same walk before his perspective changed, he wouldn’t have went to church, or noticed people hurrying to and fro, or patted any children on the head, or cared about beggars, or found happiness in seeing others celebrate Christmas in their homes. His new attitude gave him compassion for his fellow man.

We don’t have to search far and wide to find real life examples of people in need. They are all around us this Christmas season. Some are lonely. Some are missing a spouse who passed away. Some are missing a parent. Some are recently divorced. Some are missing a soldier who is deployed. And some have made recent moves and are feeling desperately out of place.

Stay alert for such people this weekend. Listen to them. Laugh with them. Cry with them. Invite them to dinner. Meet their needs. It might just turn out to be the best Christmas you’ve ever had.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Funny Sayings

I read a post over at WonderGirl and the Sift yesterday and it brought back all sorts of memories. WonderGirl has a bad knee and decided to slow down to rest it for a day. She encouraged others to take a break as well, saying, “Don't shop, wrap presents, or even get out of your pajamas all day. Don't do a durn thing.” Seeing the word “durn” cracked me up and it instantly reminded my of my grandmother who used to use that word. I haven’t heard it used since she died in 2002.

Grandma was full of such euphemisms and sayings. I already told you about this one: “I have to go to the bathroom so bad I can taste it.” If you don’t get it right away, give it a minute. It’ll sink in and then you’ll be grossed out.

Here are a few others she used to say:

“Over yonder.”

“I’ll be there dreckly.” (I always assumed this meant “soon,” but I was never sure.)

“I need to fix my medercine.”

She also used to call windows “winders,” and pillows “pillers.” And when she said Hawaii, it came out sounding like, “How aw ya?” Oh, and she pronounced Iowa as “Io-way.”

My niece continually corrects me when I mispronounce the names of current singers, actors, and other entertainers. I butchered Avril Lavigne’s name the first time I used it in my niece's presence and she giggled. I suspect that twenty years from now, she’ll write a post on her own blog about her uncle’s funny sayings or the way he pronounced things. I’ll be completely fine with it when she does because it means she’ll remember me and the times we spent together—much like I’m doing right now regarding my grandma.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christina Rossetti

As much as I love quote books, and websites devoted to quotes, and jotting down quotes—something about them has always bugged me. Keeping a quote in context is impossible when it’s plastered autonomously all over the place. You just have to hope that the person who did the plastering attempted to grab the essence of what a person was saying, but even then, you never really have the full context.

A couple of days ago, I read a stand alone quote in my local newspaper by Christina Rossetti, a British poet from the 1800’s. Here’s the quote: “Better by far you should forget and smile than you should remember and be sad.”

My first thought was—wow, what a horrible way to live. Memories are part of who we are. I’d much rather have memories with tears than to have no memory and feel like I’ve failed to live the full human experience. I was prepared to write a post telling you why I felt that way. But, if possible, I wanted to find the context in which she spoke.

So, I did a search for the quote and Google provided me with 15,000 links. I quickly discovered that the quote comes from a poem she wrote called Remember. How ironic is that? One quick read of the poem will tell a person that she wasn’t against remembering. In fact, earlier in the poem she tells someone to remember her after she’s gone. But she knew how easy it is to forget and she seemed to be offering a person comfort in case he did forget her.

This just confirms my reservations about quotes. I still think they have value. And I’ll still continue to write them down when I’m inspired by them. But I’m more conscious than ever that they are but a sliver of what the writer or speaker originally intended, and sometimes they might even be the opposite of what he or she was trying to say.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Elisabeth Elliot

Continuing with our Top Ten Series featuring my favorite authors:

#7: Elisabeth Elliot


A couple of years after I became a Christian, I read a book called Discipline: The Glad Surrender by Elisabeth Elliot, and in her simple, yet powerful way, she immediately called me to go deeper in my faith than I’d ever gone before. I was always struck by the title of the book. Some people are wired to follow routines. Some are a little more on the free spirit side of things. But regardless of where a person fits on the spectrum, the idea of discipline being a glad surrender doesn’t seem natural. And truth be told, it’s not. I think that was her point. When we get beyond our natural desires and seek to obey God, the process becomes a glad surrender.

Over the years, I’ve heard Elisabeth speak many times. She often refers to a phrase that Amy Carmichael, the great Irish missionary who spent fifty-three straight years in India without taking a furlough, used all the time: “in acceptance lieth peace.” I’ve taken great comfort from those words over the years. I’ve wanted to change many of my circumstances—from relationships that haven’t worked out, to a father who died—but great truth lies in Carmichael’s small but profound statement. In accepting what the Lord wills or allows, peace follows. I bought Elliot’s biography about Amy Carmichael recently called A Chance to Die and I’m anxious to read it.

Last year, I read a book by Elliot called The Path of Loneliness. I wrote a couple of posts about it here and here. It’s an incredibly powerful book for people struggling with loneliness—and who among us hasn’t done so at some point? Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: “Loneliness is one kind of ‘dying’ most of us learn about sooner or later. Far from being ‘bad’ for us, a hindrance to spiritual growth, it may be the means of unfolding spiritual ‘blossoms’ hitherto enfolded…”

Elliot is a graceful woman who is filled with wisdom about faith and life. And I have such respect for her. I asked her to endorse my singles book, Single Servings, several years ago and she had her husband call me to talk about it. In the end, she felt like she couldn’t relate to singles in the way I was addressing them—meaning the world had changed a lot since she’d been single and she was losing track of the new terminology singles use and the way singles were living their lives. I totally understood why she couldn’t endorse the book. I’m already feeling like I’m losing touch when the generation behind me. I told her husband to thank her for even considering an endorsement.

By my count, she’s written 25 books and I doubt if you’d go wrong by devouring any of them. I have several of her books in my “to be read” pile and I can’t wait to get to them.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Holiday Lights Festival

On Saturday night, a couple of my friends and I continued a few of our Christmas traditions—one of which is to head downtown for the Holiday Lights Festival. Usually, the temperature is hovering around five or ten degrees when we stroll through the park to take in the sights and sounds, but this year, it was probably close to forty degrees. So it was a beautiful night.

That didn’t stop us from visiting a nearby Starbucks to grab a cup of coffee before we hit the park. Here’s a picture of the first lights we saw after we left Starbucks:

We walked slowly and took in the lights that hang in every tree along the route. Once we got to the other side of the park, we found a group of carolers. They were a group of children and I was quite impressed by the number of songs they were able to remember. They sang most of the old standbys—including “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and a couple of songs that are probably on the ACLU no-no list—as one of my friends pointed out. Here’s a picture of the kids in action:


And we saw a several other groups of carolers and musicians. Here are a couple of pictures:

And here are a couple more pictures of what we saw:

I can’t believe that Christmas is a week from today already. I hope you are enjoying the season.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Publication Notes

I popped into Borders last weekend and saw a book called A Christmas Wonderland (published by Regal Books) on one of their front tables. Then I remembered that I wrote a short non-fiction Christmas story for that book about a year ago. My copy hadn’t arrived in the mail yet (still hasn’t), so I enjoyed flipping through it to find the story I wrote. It’s called “Turkey, Coffee, and Transformation.” It’s a story about a Christmas tradition that a couple of my friends and I started a few years ago.

I visited Barnes & Noble last night and they had the same book available on one of their front tables as well. How cool is that? Ironically, I haven’t seen my own Christmas book, The Experience of Christmas, on too many front tables in bookstores, but I did get a neat e-mail from a friend yesterday saying that she saw the book close to the checkout aisle of a Price Chopper grocery story in Kansas City. For all of these reasons and more, I find the entire publishing process to be both fascinating and nerve-wracking.

When you sit down to write something for publication, you have no idea where it is going to end up or who might pick it up and read it. I still get nice e-mails once in a while from people who have read my singles book, Single Servings. I’m always touched when I receive such e-mails. In fact, I print them and put them in something I call my “encouragement file”—something I turn to when I’m having a bad day.

Voting is Closed

Voting for the 2006 Weblog Awards is now closed. Thanks so much for those who voted for Little Nuances in the Best of the Rest of the Blogs (8751+) category. Unfortunately, Little Nuances didn’t even come close to winning, but I’m still thrilled that it was a finalist.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Final Chance to Vote

Today is the last day to cast your vote for the 2006 Weblog Awards. As you know by now, Little Nuances is a finalist in the Best of the Rest of the Blogs (8751+) category and it could definitely use your support. If you get a chance, click here and vote today. If you’ve already voted once, that’s okay. Vote again if you want to. People are allowed to vote once a day if they so choose.

Dear John

I read Nicholas Sparks’ new book, Dear John, this week and like every other novel he’s written (yes, I’ve read all eleven of them), this one takes readers on an emotional roller coaster. Here’s a blurb about the book from Sparks’ website:

“An angry rebel, John dropped out of school and enlisted in the Army, not knowing what else to do with his life—until he meets the girl of his dreams, Savannah. Their mutual attraction quickly grows into the kind of love that leaves Savannah waiting for John to finish his tour of duty, and John wanting to settle down with the woman who has captured his heart. But 9/11 changes everything. John feels it is his duty to re-enlist. And sadly, the long separation finds Savannah falling in love with someone else. ‘Dear John,’ the letter read...and with those two words, a heart was broken and two lives were changed forever. Returning home, John must come to grips with the fact that Savannah, now married, is still his true love—and face the hardest decision of his life.”

As I was driving down Interstate 29 from Omaha to Kansas City ten or twelve years ago, I passed a sign that announced a town in Missouri called Savannah—population 4,762. I knew nothing about the town, but as I drove by that sign, and then the city itself, something hit me. Savannah would be a beautiful name for a daughter. Being a single guy with no marriage prospects on the horizon, I attempted to shake off the rather odd thought, but it never really left me. I just love the name.

So, I was immediately drawn to Savannah Lynn Curtis when I began reading Dear John. And that made me root for John even a little harder than I normally would have as he met, fell in love with, and pursued her. Sparks, as he always does, makes the entire journey a joy to read. Here are a few of John’s early observations about Savannah:
“I suppose I should explain why I jumped into the waves to retrieve her bag. It wasn’t that I thought she would view me as some sort of hero, or because I wanted to impress her, or even because I cared in the slightest how much money she’d lost. It had to do with the genuineness of her smile and the warmth of her laugh.”

“She laughed, and the sound was so melodic that I knew I wanted to hear it again.”

“As she answered, I got the feeling she was the kind of person who would never say a bad thing about anyone. Her regard for others struck me as refreshing and mature, and yet, strangely, I wasn’t surprised. It was part of that indefinable quality I’d sensed about her from the beginning, a manner that set her apart.”

“And as she sat beside me, I found myself wishing that I could be more like her.”

With all of that said, one of the things I love about the way Sparks crafts a love story is that no matter how much two people love each other, he never makes things easy for them. His characters always have to face their own demons. They always have to consider what life might be like without the one person they love the most. They always have to be willing to think about making huge sacrifices—because after all, that’s what love is all about—not because a person has to sacrifice, but love should prompt a person to want to.

Here’s how John said it toward the end of the book: Love means “that you care for another person’s happiness more than your own, no matter how painful the choices you face might be.”

I won’t spoil the ending for you, but even if you already knew the ending (which you’ll partially figure out as you read the Prologue), it’d still be worth reading this book to follow and experience the journey of two people who loved each other deeply and then had to make gut-wrenching decisions as circumstances demanded.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Normal Cup of Coffee

My stepfather is in the hospital right now. I went to visit him yesterday and as I entered the lobby of the hospital I spotted a Starbucks. Since it was morning time, and since I hadn’t had my normal amount of coffee yet, I got in line behind an elderly man who was wearing a Kansas City Royals’ baseball hat—ah, a fellow kindred spirit. The guy just wanted a “normal” cup of coffee. I giggled internally because I can relate. Several years ago, if you would have told me that I’d be ordering a vente skinny vanilla latte I wouldn’t have had a clue what you were talking about. Now it’s the only thing I order when I go to Starbucks.

The barista handed the man an empty cup and pointed him to the self-service coffee pots at the end of aisle. I ordered my latte and as I was waiting for it to be made, I saw the same man trying to figure out how to get milk to come out of one of those steel containers you often see in coffee shops—the kind with the screw on lids. I went over to help him, but by the time I got over there, he’d screwed the entire lid off and just poured the milk in that way. It reminded me of something I would have done if I were in his position and I laughed a little.

“They don’t make getting a normal cup of coffee very easy in places like these, do they?” I said.

“They sure don’t,” he said and then he laughed.

That’ll be me in twenty years. Whatever the new trend is will befuddle me and I’ll struggle to figure out how to find my normal again. I won’t find it, but I’ll figure out a way to come as close as possible. I just hope I have the same gentle spirit as this man.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Match Point

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen Match Point yet, but plan to, you might want to skip this post since I’m going to be talking about the end of the movie.

I don’t know why, but I’ve sort of been on a British movie kick lately. Recently I’ve watched Emma, Shakespeare in Love, and Love Actually. And a few nights ago I watched Match Point starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers (as Chris), Emily Mortimer (as Chloe), and Scarlett Johansson (as Nola). It’s about a tennis pro named Chris who is near the end of his career. He meets a woman named Chloe, he falls in love with her, and he marries her. But shortly before he is married, he is smitten with his brother-in-law’s fiancĂ© and he allows himself to succumb to his desire for her.

Before long, he finds himself trapped between the two women. I thought that the main message of the movie was going to be that “choices have consequences” and in Chris’ case, I thought his choices would probably lead to Chloe divorcing him. But I probably should have known better since the movie opens with a voiceover from Chris saying this:

“The man who said he’d rather be lucky than good, saw deeply into life. People are afraid to face how great a part of life is dependent on luck. It’s scarey to think so much is out of one’s control. There are moments in a match, when the ball hits the top of the net and for a split second it can either go forward or fall back. With a little luck, it goes forward, and you win. Or maybe it doesn’t, and you lose.”

Throughout the movie, Chris seems plagued by the fact that randomness reigns supreme. And after he gets Nola pregnant, something has to give. Either he needs to tell Chloe and end their marriage to be with Nola or he needs to end things with Nola and face the possibility that she’ll tell Chloe about their affair and the pregnancy. I was stunned when Chris loaded a shotgun and murdered a friend of Nola’s and then Nola in premeditated cold blood. He set things up to look like it was a burglary, but eventually the police come calling.

Chris tosses the jewelry he took into a river, but one piece of jewelry doesn’t quite make it—it bounces off a railing and falls back onto the sidewalk. In this case, it looks like Chris’ “luck” would cause him to lose his freedom. But somebody else picked up the ring. It turned out to be a guy who was also a murderer on the loose and the ring linked him back to Nola’s murder and Chris gets off scot free.

You’d have thought that he would have been relieved as can be. But as the movie comes to the end, Chris and his entire extended family are gathered around Chris and Chloe’s new baby boy. Chris’ brother-in-law issues a toast saying, “I don’t care if he’s great. I just hope that he’s lucky.” The camera pans away and allows us to see Chris who is bothered by that statement. It’s as if he’d been hoping that his belief in randomness had been wrong, but now that he thinks it is right, life seems to have no meaning.

I think he would have been more at peace if he would have been caught. He would have lost everything, and he would have been proven wrong regarding randomness. But he desperately wanted to believe that justice and order and meaning do exist, and getting caught would have proven (in his mind) that indeed they do.

Unfortunately, Chris was only focused on the physical realm and what he could see. He seemed to give little thought to Judgment day or any other type of judgment while here on earth. And that to me was a shame because if he had thought about and believed in such things before committing such atrocities, then he would have found that life always has meaning, and that while randomness seems to occur all around us, that such a thing doesn’t even really exist in God’s economy.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Vote Today

Voting is still open in the 2006 Weblog Awards—of which Little Nuances is a finalist in the Best of the Rest of the Blogs (8751+) category. You can vote once a day until Friday. Little Nuances could use your support. If you have a little time, click here and vote today.

Richard Ford

Continuing with our Top Ten Series featuring my favorite authors:

#8: Richard Ford

Richard Ford is the consummate character-driven novelist. And I love that about him. His critics say that his characters spend their lives in their heads and that they need to get out a little more. I suspect that most of those people are plot-driven fiction fans. I’m not one of those people. I love to be part of a protagonist’s internal wars—to see the way he processes information and emotion.

I read The Sportswriter a few years ago and was really taken with Ford’s protagonist, Frank Bascombe—a divorced, middle-aged sportswriter who seems more content in his discontentedness than anybody ought to, but he has a way of looking at life that intrigues me. About a third of the way into the book, he’s contemplating a new relationship and wondering if he can really trust his instincts again. Here are his thoughts:

“I have relinquished a great deal. I’ve stopped worrying about being completely within someone else since you can’t be anyway—a pleasant unquestioning mystery has been the result. I’ve also become less sober-sided and “writerly serious,” and worry less about the complexities of things, looking at life in more simple and literal ways.”

He continues a little later on:

“When you are fully in your emotions, when they are simple and appealing enough to be in, and the distance is closed between what you feel and what you might also feel, then your instincts can be trusted. It is the difference between a man who quits his job to become a fishing guide on Lake Big Trout, and who one day as he is paddling his canoe into the dock at dusk, stops paddling to admire the sunset and realizes how much he wants to be a fishing guide on Lake Big Trout; and another man who has made the same decision, stopped paddling at the same time, felt how glad he was, but also thought he could probably be a guide on Windigo Lake if he decided to, and might also get a better deal on canoes.”

How good is that? How few people ever reach a point where they are able to do the very thing they desire to do and then are able to bask in the realization that they made the perfect choice?

Ford wrote a sequel to The Sportswriter, called Independence Day that covers a later period of time in Bascombe’s life. I’ve written quite a bit about the book here, here, here and here. Obviously, since I’ve written four posts about one book, I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the first book in the series. Just recently, Ford released the third and final book in the series, called The Lay of the Land. I can’t wait to buy it and read it. I usually wait for the paperback version of most books, but I may break down and buy this one in hardback.

I find Ford’s books to be slow reads. Not because they are bad, but because so many of the pages are full of characters living inside of themselves that I can’t just plow through them. I find myself thinking and feeling along with the characters and that’s a bit draining. I’m not complaining in the least though. I love a book that makes me think and feel deeply.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Heidi Joy

This past weekend, my friends and I continued a Christmas tradition that we started four or five years ago. We went to see Heidi Joy perform her annual “Holiday Joy” concert at the Joslyn Art Museum’s Witherspoon Concert Hall in Omaha, Nebraska.

She has one of the most unique and powerful voices I’ve ever heard. And as I said in a post about her show last year, she has the ability to capture listeners and she takes them on a journey that often leads to the heavenlies. Her rendition of Mark Lowry's Mary Did You Know? is so powerful that it's not possible for me to hear her sing it without getting tears in my eyes.

I don’t think her music can be defined by genre. If you forced me to try, I’d say that she’s a mix between opera and gospel. I know—it’s hard to imagine, but she pulls it off wonderfully. At times, she sings a-capella and the concert hall is otherwise dead silent as people experience her music in personal ways. At other times, church breaks out when her eleven-member band lends her support in singing gospel-style tunes.

Heidi has five CDs out—two of which are Christmas related. You wouldn’t go wrong in buying any of them (I own all five), but I’d highly encourage you to pick up her two Christmas CDs: Holiday Joy and her recently released Heavenly Peace. Just go to her website and click on “cd’s” at the top. You can click on many of the songs and listen to samples if you are interested.

Heidi’s annual Christmas concert is one of the highlights of my Christmas season. She beautifully calls us to remember the birth of the Savior and to be thankful for what he has done.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Renting a Cabin

A friend called me yesterday and told me that his wife had a great time recently on an all-girls outing to a cabin that sits near a huge lake about thirty miles away from our home town. The cabins there don’t really sound like cabins though. They have heat (a major plus during the winter months in the Midwest), real beds, televisions, kitchens, and even multiple floors. Sort of sounds like a house to me, but that’s my kind of cabin.

My friend wants to get a few of the guys together at one those cabins for a little guy time. We could bring the sports movies (yes, somebody would have to bring a DVD player, but that wouldn’t be difficult), and the board games, and the cards, and lots of junk food (hey, if we have to cook, it isn’t going to be healthy). I told my friend that I’m in and that I’m already looking forward to it.

I go fishing about once a year, but I wasn’t able to swing a trip this year, so I haven’t been out of town with the guys for a long time (well, unless you count a number of baseball trips to Kansas City every year, but those are mostly about the baseball). Depending upon how long we are there, we may end us just staring at each other most of the time, but I doubt it.

The group of guys that I hang out with aren’t afraid to talk about real life and I’m anxious to find out how things are really going in their lives. So we’ll have our fun, but we’ll also have some great conversations. Hopefully I’ll be able to snap a few photos to post here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Voting is Open

Voting is now open for the 2006 Weblog Awards. Little Nuances is a finalist in the Best of the Rest of the Blogs (8751+) category. If you'd like to vote, please click on the banner below:

The 2006 Weblog Awards

Here are the rules, taken from the Weblog Awards website:

* Polls close at 11:59 PM (US - Eastern) December 15, 2006.

* You may vote once every 24 hours in each poll.

* After voting in an individual poll you will be locked out from voting again in that poll (on the computer you voted from) for 24 hours.

* Each poll has it's own separate 24 hour lockout control. Voting in, for example, Best Blog will not lock you out of voting in other categories.

* Vote totals are not final until certified.

* Vote totals are subject to periodic correction for identified cheating.

* Cheaters will be banned from the site.

* We reserve the right to close some or all polls earlier than the posted end date.

December 1 Winner

I forgot to announce the winner for the December 1 drawing. Kathy C. won a copy of my latest book, The Experience of Christmas. Congrats Kathy. If you are interested in being eligible for future drawings, just place your e-mail address in the subscription box on the top right hand side of the page. You’ll begin getting updates once a day that include the most recent post(s).

Rocky Balboa

In 1976, my mom took my sister and I to see Rocky. I was ten years old, and much like every other boy anywhere close to that age, I wanted to be Rocky. I had the boxing gloves, I drank the raw eggs (don’t try this at home), and even started jogging (hated it). Something about seeing an average guy filled to the brim with guts living out his dream inspired me.

Over the years, I saw all of the Rocky sequels, many many times. Then, this summer I heard about another Rocky movie that was being made. I pointed you to the Rocky Balboa Blog. It only had a few pictures and a couple of posts, but it still got my blood pumping. You’ve probably seen previews for the movie because it is about to be released. People can say what they want to about how ridiculous the premise is (a very old fighter climbing back into the ring), but many of those same people will go to see the movie.

Why?

To a degree, all of us are Rocky. We’re all either chasing dreams or trying to relive them.

Check out the trailer for Rocky Balboa and see if it doesn’t get your adrenaline running on overdrive:

I love this line from the trailer (from Rocky’s trainer): “To beat this guy, you need speed. You don’t have it. You’ve got calcium deposits on most of your joints. So sparring is out. So, what we’ll be calling on is blunt force trauma—heavy duty punches that will rattle his ancestors.”

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

2006 Weblog Awards Finalist

The 2006 Weblog Awards

I’m thrilled to say that Little Nuances has been chosen as a finalist in the Best of the Rest of the Blogs (8751+) category for the 2006 Weblog Awards. Voting begins tomorrow. I’ll put a link here when one becomes available so you can vote for Little Nuances if you are so inclined.

Starting a Blog

Blogs aren’t for everybody, but I like to ask people who don’t have a blog this question: If you were going to start a blog, what would it be about? Some know right away, some have no idea, and some just say, “I’ll never have a blog.” All three answers are perfectly acceptable, but I enjoy seeing some people’s faces light up as they say, “Oh, I know…” and then they go and and tell me about it.

But then they usually quickly follow it up by telling me that they couldn’t set one up or that they couldn’t think of something to write every day. Setting a blog up is so easy it’s almost ridiculous. Customizing and tweaking it takes some work, but neither are absolutely necessary. But these would-be bloggers do have a point—blogs need to be updated frequently.

I have three blogs, but I often only tell people about two of them. I just can’t keep the third blog updated often enough. My blogging time is limited and I just choose not to spend any more of my free time on another blog. But enough about that.

I’d like to encourage the person who has been thinking about starting a blog, but is a little afraid of the time commitment. While the concern is legitimate, you also need to consider the reward. When you start a blog, you’ll be scratching an itch that has been driving you crazy for a long time. And you’ll get to meet some great people online who have the same interests as you do.

Here are a few links to free blog hosts. Just click on one (I’m partial to Blogger because it is so easy to use) and you’ll be up and running in minutes:

Blogger (Blogspot) 
Windows Live Spaces 
Blog City
Diaryland
Live Journal

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Nancy Moser

Continuing with our Top Ten Series featuring my favorite authors:


#9: Nancy Moser


I’ve written about Moser a number of times here at Little Nuances. In January, I wrote a post about how I took one of her classes at a writers’ conference in 1998 and that it really gave me hope as a writer. In May, I wrote a post about the way a scene from one of her novels made me think about the way I recorded my thoughts. I’ve mentioned a few of her other books here as well.


I became interested in her work after the release of her first novel: The Invitation. Here’s the basic plot that comes from a review on Amazon.com: “Four strangers receive invitations to a small Nebraskan town…no explanation, no signature, no RSVP information. Add to that a number of supernatural incidents and “coincidences,” and these four strangers are on their way, willing or not. Of course, a number of unexpected invitees show up as well.”


I was drawn immediately to this book because Moser’s four main characters are flawed, or, in other words, real. I followed them on their journey for that entire novel and for two sequels (the trilogy is called “The Mustard Seed Series”—and the other two books are called The Quest and The Temptation) and I can still remember quite a bit about each character. Julia was a reluctant politician. Del was a pony-tail wearing former priest who had walked away from the ministry. Walter was a businessman who had lost his way. And Natalie was a writer who just couldn’t let go of her manuscript long enough to let anybody help her improve it.


I read and enjoyed one of Moser’s stand alone books called The Seat Beside Me about how lives are linked and ultimately changed after a plane crash. Then I read a two-book series (A Steadfast Surrender and The Ultimatum) by Moser about a woman named Claire. She’s an artist who feels called to sell everything, including her art studio, to follow God. I love the way Claire struggles to make sense of her calling. And then I read another two-book series (Time Lottery and Second Time Around) by Moser about people who get a second chance to fix something in their past by going back in time. This is a fascinating series that made me wonder if I’d take such a chance if given the opportunity. I also read a book called Crossroads by Moser and I wrote a post about it.


Just recently, I purchased two of Moser’s latest novels, but I haven’t read them yet. Hopefully that’ll happen soon. I love the way she portrays struggle in her characters. And she isn’t afraid to show them for who they are—mistakes and all. I’ve been able to identify with many of her characters in my own struggles. That’s why I’ve purchased every novel she’s written (except for a series that was bit too girly for my taste).

Monday, December 04, 2006

Re: HTML Coding Help

I figured out a coding fix so that the date will appear with each post—even when I post more than once a day. If you sent me an e-mail trying to help, I really appreciate it.

The Power of Memory

I’m still reading Pat Buchanan’s State of Emergency and one chapter in particular really has me thinking. The chapter is entitled “What is a Nation?” He points out that two basic definitions exist.

The first one, held by our current president and neoconservatives at large, says that a nation is her common set of abstract ideals, like freedom. The other camp says that a nation is her common language, faith, culture, and memory—or as John Jay said in Federalist No. 2: “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people—a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in manners and customs…”

We could argue about which definition is right (for the record, I’m in the second camp), but I don’t necessarily want to do that here. Instead, I want to talk a little more about the power of memory. Buchanan makes this statement in his book about Stalin. “Stalin yet knew that men do not die for secular creeds like Marxism or Leninism, but for the ‘ashes of their fathers and the temples of their gods.’”

Memories are powerful. Whether it’s rubbing shoulders with a co-worker who has become a blessed confidant, or with a best friend in a coffee shop on the weekend, or with a spouse in a hospital room who pledges unending support against a common enemy like cancer—those who “do life” together form bonds (and memories) in the trenches and it causes them to go the extra mile for each other.

I was a teenager when my grandfather died, but watching the way my grandparents interacted for the last year and a half of his life can only be described as beautiful. Sometimes they laughed about their struggles. Sometimes they said things to each other that only the other person could have possibly understood. And I’m guessing that sometimes they cried together.

We’re all in the process of forming bonds and making memories with people. When we recognize this, life takes on added meaning.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

HTML Coding Help

Any techies out there who know how to get the date to appear on multiple posts on Blogger within the same day? I know it has something to do with these tags:

<BlogDateHeader>
<$BlogDateHeaderDate$>
</BlogDateHeader>

I’ve tried removing them and using this tag:

<$BlogItemDateTime$>

But this only produces the time for each post.

What am I missing? Do I need to remove the <BlogDateHeader> tags? If so, what tags do I use to get the date (and time) to appear in every post—even if I post more than once per day?

Blog of the Week

A big thanks goes out to K. over at Weird Cake for naming Little Nuances as the Blog of the Week. I really appreciate that!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Christmas Thoughts

I finally bought a new tree this year—the kind that comes in three sections and all you have to do is to connect them and the branches just sort of fall into place—and I love it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have quite enough garland to make it all the way to the bottom, but that’s probably a good thing since my cat, Midnight, loves to chew on it.

Here’s picture of the new tree (notice Midnight hunkering underneath it—just waiting for me to turn my back):

As a single guy, I’ve always considered putting up a Christmas tree as an act of defiance against the part of me that would prefer to wait until I could really “start living” (read: marriage). But I just won’t give in to that voice—partially because I don’t believe a person has to be married to “live,” and partially because if I gave into to it once, I’d be prone to do it many other times and I don’t think I’d like the result.

Besides, I love Christmas. I wrote a post last year in which I explained how I buy one new ornament each year as a way to commemorate whatever happened in my life each particular year. This year, I bought this ornament:

Yeah, it looks a lot like Midnight:

Nothing special happened with her this year, except that maybe I grew even more attached to her than ever before. That was enough to buy an ornament in her likeness. We have an entire daily routine worked out and I'd lost without her.

And today is when people who purchased a copy of my Christmas devotional book, The Experience of Christmas, will hopefully begin reading it. The book has a reading for each day in December and I just love the idea of playing a small part in bringing families together to celebrate Christmas.

Have a great weekend everybody!

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