Required Reading

I’ve spent my life around books.  With a BA in Literature, MFA in Creative Writing and MSLS in Library and Information Science, stories have embedded themselves in my personal and academic life.  Inspired by a conversation today, here are a few authors you should grab as soon as you can….

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1/ Graham Greene-a former military intelligence officer for England, Greene has a keen eye for character, struggle, faith, suffering, and life. Start with The End of the Affair and go to The Power and the Glory and The Heart of the Matter (which contains one of the most powerful paragraphs I’ve ever read).

2/ Flannery O’Connor-Taken from this world way too young, O’Conner is a master of the short story.  Check out the collection Everything that Rises Must Converge and particularly “The Lame Shall Enter First.”  It is a story that floored me to the point where I had to walk away from the book for a while to absorb it.

3/ Dante-I’m a fan of darker literature and Inferno, besides being almost required college reading, is something worth spending time in.  Look past the political allegory and get lost in his imagery. Dante’s contrapasso is creative, the environments deep and horrifying.  The final part of the trip, finding the devil encased in ice, is a masterstroke from a writer so deep in the tumultuous waters of his time.

4/ Marsha Pessl– In the dark lit vein, check out Pessl’s Night Film. She plays with form and style enough for a unique result, better than Danielewski’s House of Leaves. The novel split critics but could be, and probably will be, part of a movement that may change print output as we go.

5/ David Mitchell– check out Ghostwritten, a novel of scope spanning centuries and locations over multiple narrators. The chapters, despite their different locations, are connected.  Mitchell is one of the authors who consistently make me sit back in amazement at what he can do. This book put him on the map and rightfully so.

Check any of these out and you won’t be disappointed.

The New Deal

Graham Greene is one of my favorite authors. His novel, The End of the Affair, was the first to introduce me to the power of writing.  I read it in college, as Val and I were in the younger stages of our relationship, and Greene’s depiction of love spoke to my feelings.

The main character in the novel is novelist Maurice Bendrix.  He carries on an affair in the midst of WW2 that is ended when he survives a bombing in London.  He finds out that his married lover, Sarah Miles, had made a deal with God.  If Bendrix survived his injuries, she would break off the relationship.

The novel ends with Bendrix stating he has had enough of God.

Sitting in my dining room on this night hinting of winter to come, my thoughts drift over the shooting in California. We, as a country, are on the backs of our own deal with God. We’ve co-opted sorrow and grief, victim and violence. We are in the dark determined to find evil and destroy it.

We point fingers.

The religious establishment grasps hold of antiquated practices and wonders why it finds itself at the end of accusations and irrelevancy. Law enforcement officers are just as likely to be assaulted or killed as they are to be praised for their efforts.

Good people are lost in the noise.

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In the Bible, while Jesus hangs on the cross, he sees Roman soldiers dividing up his clothes.  He makes this statement:

Father forgive them for they know not what they do.

The soldiers didn’t know.

The government of the time didn’t know.

The disciples didn’t know.

The world didn’t know.

We’d taken perfect, selfless love and grace and punished it with death. The Truth had fallen against the weight of everyone too scared to listen. Those oppressed turned their back on freedom.

There are arguments to be made and conversations to be had. Violence is too easy. Guns are too easy. The intensity of faith and cause drives the lost to extreme measures to satisfy a far-off radical religious and political system destroying innocent lives in Syria and beyond.

The answer is not with Bendrix, turning away from our creator. The answer is changing the deal.

No more trading the world for authenticity.  No more chasing after things of impermanence.

The American Way has failed.

Generations are adrift in a sea of debt, anger, frustration, doubt, and sorrow for the past they never had and the future that seems to be no more than a figment of their imagination. This is solved by shorting vision to a microscopic level (If I get the next new thing, I’m good).

The new deal is hope. It is grace and service.  It is taking responsibility as parents to redefine value, to show our kids the meaning of friendship, love, choice and respect. It is understanding the power of a gun and the greater power of faith.

The new deal is peace. Taking time in silence and stillness. Turning off the screen and stopping the hustle for a moment.  It is getting back to nature and standing in the midst of a quiet forest while snow falls.

The new deal is life. It is embracing the small moments, holding doors and shoveling sidewalks. It is giving when we are spent. It is reaching out and inspiring someone lost in the depths. It is change found by a new fire deep inside.

The mass shootings can stop. Society can change. Hope is not lost and the journey has just started.

I believe.  As a writer, husband, father and follower of Jesus.  I believe.

~Matt

Real Neat Blog Award

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I want to thank my friend Roxanna for a Real Neat Blog Award nomination.  Her blog is filled with encouragement and she is passionate about making a difference for her readers.  You can find her blog by clicking here.  If you are ready for a positive change and new purpose, check it out and follow tonight!

Thank you for everyone in my audience.  I’m blessed that you’ve decided to join this community on a journey that can change your life.

In terms of the Real Neat Blog Award, here are the rules…

RULES

  • Put the award logo on your blog.
  • Answer 7 questions asked by the person who nominated you.
  • Thank the people who nominated you, linking to their blog.
  • Nominate any number of bloggers you like, linking to their blogs.
  • Let them know you nominated them (by commenting on their blog, etc.)

Here are the questions and my answers;

1. Who has been the single most influential person in your life to date?

-This could go so many ways.  Right now, I’d say my son Carter.  He’s six years old and he’s everything I never was in my childhood.  He’s athletic and outgoing. He had endless energy.  He’s funny and, in many ways, he’s my hero. He’s teaching me about myself as a man, husband, and father. I hope, and pray, I can live up to his expectations one day.

2. What book has impacted your life the most (so far)?

-I’m going with one from the fiction and nonfiction worlds.  The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a necessity for anyone looking to amp up their creative efforts. It is encouragement and a much-needed kick in the rear end. The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene is the other.  Greene is a master, the novelist I wanted to emulate from the moment I read him in college. There are parts of his books that have seared themselves on my heart. If you haven’t read either of these books, check them out ASAP.  You won’t be disappointed.

3. Share with us a link to a blog post by you that you think we ought to read (or re-read 😉 )

Why I Believe.

4. Share with us a quote which is either funny or cheesy :-p

-I love everything from Pressfield’s book that I mentioned above.  Here’s a solid quote that covers all the bases: a little funny, a little cheesy, and true.

There's a secret that real writers know

5. What do you want to change in your community?

-I want to see widespread social and economic change.  I want to see people living lives of faith and life in action.  I want people to know that God does cut through the cosmos and interject into our lives, that reality can be changed and hope is real. I want new lives, to draw attention to the people fighting to make a difference and give them the encouragement needed to wake up and do it all again tomorrow.

6. What inspires you (or pushes you 😉 ) to blog?

-When I graduated with my MFA in creative writing, I had a thesis novel in my hands and a major question waiting to be answered.  What would I do? The idea hit me like a hammer, what if I could write to make a difference? What if the words could change people and speak into their situations? That drove me to this blog and my current project writing about the battle against poverty in the city of Reading, Pennsylvania (named the poorest city in the United States in 2011). I believe we are all called to make a difference and I want to tell the stories that matter.  That drives me to every post and publication.

7. Share with us the happiest period of your life so far.

-I’ve been blessed by marrying my high school sweetheart.  We’ve had two amazing boys and any of these moments count.  I’d say these current times are my happiest.  They aren’t easy but, for the first time in a while, I’ve felt God’s hand on my progress and purpose.  I feel like a ship with new wind just starting to pick up the sails. Writing to serve has transformed my creative efforts and, on a deeper level, my life.

The only thing I’m missing is nominees.  Here’s some blogs you should check out, all deserving of recognition and your time!

Blogs You Should Check Out:

1/A Writer’s Path

2/ Wiley Coyote

3/ Memoir Notes

4/Anewperspectiveperhaps

5/ Words on a Blackboard

6/Keithgarretpoetry

7/Fiction All Day

 

~Matt

The Page that Changed My Writing Life

As writers, we all have that book, play, screenplay, short story, etc. that made us want to write.  You read it and your soul connects.  The words call you out of darkness and on the path to living a creative life.  For some, it may be all the works of a single author.  For me, it was a single page.

Yes, I can tell you the moment I knew that Val and I would be together forever and I can tell you the moment I knew that writing was the endeavor that completed my sentence, literally and spiritually.

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Photo Credit: Ravages via Compfight cc

Here it is, from Graham Greene’s, The Heart of the Matter, 1948:

Mrs. Bowles said, “Don’t be absurd. Are you qualified to dispense? I’ll only be away a few minutes. If the child shows signs of going, call me.”

If she had given him time, he would have thought of some excuse, but she was already out of the room and he sat heavily down in the only chair. When he looked at the child, he saw a white communion veil over her head: it was a trick of the light on the pillow and a trick of his own mind. He put his head in his hands and wouldn’t look. He had been in Africa when his own child died. He had always thanked God that he had missed that. It seemed after all that one never really missed a thing. To be a human being one had to drink the cup. If one were lucky on one day, or cowardly on another, it was presented on a third occasion.

He prayed silently into his hands, “O God, don’t let anything happen before Mrs. Bowles comes back.”

He could hear the breathing of the child. It was as if she were carrying a weight with great effort up a long hill: it was an inhuman situation not to be able to carry it for her. He thought: This is what parents feel year in and year out, and I am shrinking from a few minutes of it. They see their children dying slowly every hour they live.  

He prayed again, “Father, look after her. Give her peace.”  The breathing broke, choked, began again with terrible effort. Looking between his fingers he could see the six-year-old face convulsed like a navvy’s with labor.  “Father,” he prayed, “give her peace. Take away my peace forever, but give her peace.” The sweat broke out on his hands. “Father . . .”

 He heard a small scraping voice repeat, “Father,” and looking up he saw the blue and bloodshot eyes watching him. He thought with horror: this is what I thought I’d missed. He would have called Mrs. Bowles, only he hadn’t the voice to call with.

He could see the breast of the child struggling for breath to repeat the heavy word; he came over to the bed and said, “Yes, dear. Don’t speak, I’m here.”

The nightlight cast the shadow of his clenched fist on the sheet and it caught the child’s eye. An effort to laugh convulsed her, and he moved his hand away. “Sleep, dear,” he said, “you are sleepy. Sleep.”A memory that he had carefully buried returned, and taking out his handkerchief he made the shadow of a rabbit’s head fall on the pillow beside her. “There’s your rabbit,” he said, “to go to sleep with. It will stay until you sleep. Sleep.”

The sweat poured down his face and tasted in his mouth as salt as tears.

“Sleep.”

He moved the rabbit’s ears up and down, up and down. Then he heard Mrs. Bowles’ voice, speaking low just behind him. “Stop that,” she said harshly, “the child’s dead.”

 

The main character, Major Scobie, is stationed in colonial Africa during WWII.  The girl he’s with washed up outside his settlement, part of a group of shipwreck survivors.  He visits the medical ward and Mrs. Bowles tells him she must go get medicine.  He begs her not to leave and she says, basically, to man up and sit with the girl.

Greene accomplishes so much in these lines that you could teach an entire writing class about them.  Scobie’s character mentions the death of his own child.  He’s praying, bargaining with God as to not have to witness the death of the girl while thinking about the nature of suffering.  His nerves kick in.  The girl starts to repeat his prayer and Greene hits you with the image of the “blue and bloodshot eyes.”

Poetic and powerful

He makes the rabbit shadow and we can feel his heart breaking as he tries to provide some level of comfort. The end, where Bowles returns, slams the door on the moment.  Death, at this settlement, was a facet of everyday life. You could argue that Scobie does, and does not get his wish.  Bowles returns too late for the death that Scobie does not recognize.

The first time I read those lines, I had to put the book down and absorb it.  Greene became my literary destination and guide.  If only I could capture a fraction of that ability, I thought, I could make this journey work.

So what was your moment of epiphany, where you knew you were a slave to the story?  It is a point you never forget.

 

Soundtrack inspiration:

Discovered the worship band Waken and fell in love with their music.  Check it out: