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“The War of Art” for-two-bucks sale is here!

I warned you last week and now it’s time. Get your credit card ready to pay a measly little $1.99 to get your electronic copy of Steven Pressfield’s phenominal book, The War of Art. It’s on sale today and tomorrow with a price spike after that so get in while the sale is good.

FastPencil offers the book in both .epub and .pdf formats. I’m still new to electronic books (I still don’t have a Kindle, though my relatively-new Droid X displays Kindle books, no sweat) and thought I may have more use for a .pdf file. At least, I know what I can do or not do with it and so that’s the route I went. If anyone wants to tell me why .epub is the better route to go, I’m all ears and willing to shell out another $1.99 for one of the most inspirational books about changing my life I’ve ever read.

Does that last sentence sell you, dear reader?

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Elmore Leonard’s new book, Djibouti, has arrived!

Elmore Leonard is pretty much my favorite writer ever (I say that today; tomorrow I might say Neil Gaiman, the next day I might say Walt Whitman but for today let’s stick with Dutch).

Monday was Elmore Leonard’s 85th birthday, his fortieth novel, Djibouti, came out on Tuesday, and the trailer for the second season of the FX series Justified came out Wednesday. Three great reasons to celebrate what a prolific, generous writer has gifted readers like me. Here’s the man, the book, and the video after the jump: Read more…

“War of Art” for two bucks.

Steven Pressfield announced the eBook version of his excellent, inspiring, and challenging book on creativity The War of Art will be on sale next week, October 20 and 21, for only $1.99.  He’s working with a company called FastPencil to get the job done (while Amazon reported they sold more Kindle books than hardcover books this summer, the Amazon Kindle version of this book has a few kinks to work out, apparently, if you read Stephen’s post) and if you miss the sale it will still be available for a fairly low price beyond the sale dates, according to Stephen.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can see what I’ve written about The War of Art on this blog here.

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Michele Norris wrote a new memoir

The only thing I want more than to read Michele Norris’s new book, The Grace of Silence, is a few hours freedom to actually sit and read it. Norris relates stories of her own family’s experience to the overall backdrop of race relations in the United States, both then and now. Specifically, Norris examines how her family remained silent on some of their most personal racial incidents, including Norris’s father being shot by a police officer after serving in WWII and her grandmother’s job – no joke – as a traveling Aunt Jemima.

Using the intimacy of personal story to extrapolate grander issues is one of the most powerful ways memoir can touch us as readers. It’s a way of using true-to-life specificity as a relatable experience that readers can compare and contrast with their own. I say this as one who detests anecdotal evidence and meandering anecdote, something one of my instructors would likely call a “bathtub story.” However, listening to Norris report on a wide variety of prescient, fascinating topics over the years, something tells me she knows precisely how to make her family’s story not only interesting but relevant and meaningful to readers who are willing to explore their lives and how race relations affects it.

Listen to Tom Crann’s 12-minute interview with Norris from Minnesota Public Radio news today.

If you’ve read the book, please let me know what you think.

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My Ten Biggest Missed Blog Opportunities of 2009

I have a little saying around my desk that goes, “Thinking about writing isn’t writing. Writing is writing. So write.” I didn’t take my advice very well this year and ended up thinking about writing a lot more than actually doing it. Here are ten examples of how I could have written more here. These are missed opportunities, folks, learn from my mistakes.

10. I didn’t finish blogging about the Chicago Improv Festival.

I had grand intentions of reviewing the shows I saw (most were great), reminiscing about the fun times I had with friends (there were plenty), and doing a little self-critique of my own show (it went pretty well, if I do say so myself). If you think that’s bad, I didn’t touch upon my headlining at the Milwaukee Comedy Festival one bit. That was one of the best shows of my life.

9. I didn’t follow up on my reading list for the summer.

Mostly because I only read about half of what I intended to read. I can’t say I’m surprised.

8. I didn’t follow up on my summer writing plan.

See above.

7. I didn’t tell you what I thought of Road Dogs.

This book is great and deserves a review. I want to make that happen.

6. I didn’t finish blogging about LYFE Camp.

This one’s a real bummer because I receive more comments from readers on these blogs than anything else I write. On those days when I feel like I’m writing in a vacuum I could do worse than to remember that when I actually know I have readers I’d best give them something to read.

5. I didn’t post the “retro posts” I said I would put up.

Like numbers eight and nine, I can’t say I’m surprised. They’re still on my dashboard, half-written and waiting for my return.

4. I apparently choose to quit blogging the day I turned thirty.

Here’s where the truth comes out – I’ve had a tremendous year of stress. I’ve often used writing to get me through stress. Instead, I turned my back on it and the result is a near five-month stretch of radio silence.

3. I didn’t write about teaching.

This one was a difficult decision but I made it on purpose. I didn’t feel it was appropriate to write about my classroom experiences while teaching though now that I think of it, I certainly could have written about which texts I was using and other technical issues. Perhaps my reflections on teaching will crop up in the future here.

2. I didn’t write about getting laid off.

I taught for one full academic year outside of my MFA as a temporary part-time instructor and got an email that I wouldn’t have any classes to teach in the fall five days after my wife was in a serious car accident. I really didn’t tell anybody about this and for the last nine months or so I’ve seen surprised face after surprised face as I casually mentioned that I wasn’t teaching anymore. Can I just say that no matter how noble it is to support one’s partner and let the support others give them be at the forefront of how you handle their bad luck, it’s completely okay to acknowledge your own simultaneous bad luck. Kelly would be the first to agree with me, and it’s a lesson learned.

1. I didn’t write about enrolling in seminary.

I’m a first-year Master of Divinity student at United Theological Seminary and a candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church. Those who read this blog with regularity in 2009 – not that there was a lot of regular blog posts in 2009, but whatever – probably put two and two together with mission trip stories, LYFE Camp tales, and church men’s book club selections that this was on the horizon. I’ll give this one more attention in 2010.

I’m not down on myself for any of this and don’t think this post a pity party. Rather, this is me acknowledging how I could have come up with some great writing and I just didn’t do it. I was stressed, I was busy, I was overwhelmed. Was writing there for me? Certainly. But for some reason I resigned myself to letting go of it for a while. I hope you don’t do what I did. If you have, write to me and let me know about it. And if you haven’t, kudos to you, dear reader.

If anything, it’s made me hungry to stop thinking about writing and to just plain write.

I hope to see you in 2010.

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A storyteller passes away.

A great man named Merlin Dewing passed away this morning at the age of seventy-four. I was shocked and stunned, as Merlin was as young as they get, full of life and an interest in bettering the lives of others. There is a mix of grief and gratitude in me this week. Grief for his death and gratitude for a chance to get to know him in this last year of his life.

I met Merlin at Excelsior United Methodist Church where I’ve worked the past five years. My being assigned to youth and young adults, our paths didn’t cross all that much and so I didn’t have the opportunity to get to know Merlin until I started the church’s Men’s Book Club in February, 2009. When I started the group, I didn’t know who would show up or who would show up consistently or who would enjoy it. It was my first program aimed exclusively at adult men and I was nervous at whether or not it would succeed. Since its inception in February, attendance has been low, not everyone who comes one month continues to the next month, and there’s still a struggle to discover what’s needed to make this club grow.

Merlin was the only man who showed up from day one and who had never missed a meeting. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.

When he showed up the first night, I honestly had to play the, “I Know Your Name, I’m Just Not Going to Say It” Game. It’s the game I sometimes play with adults who I recognize at church but don’t know very well. My constituency, the youth group, is downstairs while the adults are upstairs and to make connections outside of youth and their parents, I have to make a concerted effort. So here came a man who I recognized by face but not name and as our first book discussion unfolded I not only learned his name but it soon became clear I’d been depriving myself of an excellent connection for years.

Merlin contributed so much to the Men’s Book Club. In order to be a close reader, I’m (unfortunately) a slow reader and I admired Merlin’s ability to read so quickly and yet simultaneously savor the story. At our meetings, he always had something of substance to say about the books we read. He recognized writers’ stylistic choices, how stories connected to other pieces of literature, and embraced new stories without hesitation (I’ll never forget how excited he was to finally read his first Stephen King novel, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and the way he was impressed by King’s writing and how it went against every stereotype he’d heard of the man’s macabre storytelling). Most importantly, Merlin knew how to connect the story on the written page to the stories of our lives.

While our reason to gather was to talk about books, I must admit a major contributor to my personal enjoyment of attempting to pull a handful of men together every third Tuesday of the month was my getting to hear a slew of fascinating personal stories from Merlin. The man had a million of them, never a dull one and always pertinent to the discussion at-hand. There were stories about business and tales of the military, stories of overcoming hardship and lore of local history, great jokes with great timing and touching love stories. When I was told Merlin passed away, I was upset with myself in the same way as was I was told my Grandma Phyllis died (the day before our first Men’s Book Club meeting back in February, to tie things together a little more tightly).

For years I’d meant to get Grandma’s stories down on paper or tape and barely scratched the surface on this goal. It was a missed opportunity I’ll never get back and not having her stories and the story of her life recorded as completely as possible – straight from her lips – is the pain I try to avoid most when I think of her these days. This feeling rose in me as I learned of Merlin’s passing because I remember clearly, every month, sitting there with a kid’s grin on my face as Merlin recounted story after story and thinking to myself, “I have to get with this man and write everything he says down.”  I didn’t do that and it’s a regret I’ll carry with me.

Merlin chose last month’s book club selection, The Sweet Season: A Sportswriter Rediscovers Football, Family, and a Bit of Faith at Minnesota’s St. John’s University by Austin Murphy. He’ read it before and had high hopes this locally-focused pigskin tale smackdab in the middle of the football season would bring in more members and though we didn’t have a large group show up, Merlin lead the discussion with ease and enthusiasm. He chose Murphy’s book because he admired Gagliarti’s leadership style and we had a long talk about what it means to stand out from the crowd as a leader. Through an online search to read his obituary, I came across a business website Merlin was involved in and saw this quote from him splashed across the top of the page:

“Leaders should be measured not by how much they lead, but by how little they have to lead. Their success comes from knowing how to select and develop gifted people.”
~ Merlin Dewing

This attitude was reflected in how Merlin saw Gagliarti as coach in the book and in how Merlin contributed not only to what I personally witnessed in Men’s Book Club but also in what I saw in how he interacted with his church family, entreprenuership opportunities, and his marriage. Reading his obituary it was clear he was well-loved and well-respected with many accomplishments under his belt that I never heard about. Maybe that’s because I was downstairs with the youth group. But more likely, it’s because Merlin was humble and sought to build up others before he built up himself. I anticipate learning even more about him at his funeral this Saturday and while I’m grieving, this impending time of celebrating Merlin’s life leaves me with gratitude to have known him at all.

(Postscript – At Merlin’s funeral, there were indeed tales of his being humble and for as many wonderful stories as he told me about other people in his life, it was an absolute joy to hear so many wonderful stories about him. The man has done so much, including playing an integral part in keeping the Twins in Minnesota in the early 1980s, not that one would have heard about it from him.)

On December 15 the Men’s Book Club discusses The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Knowing how quickly Merlin could get through a book, our group will be left wondering if he finished, what he thought of Sebold’s style, and especially how he viewed the portrayal of the afterlife. I would have loved to hear what new stories he’d be able to relate to the novel, and I wonder if I would have finally made time to work with him on writing them all down.

Merlin Dewing was a man of character and he enriched the story of my life.

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My Summer Reading List

I have an ambitious reading list for this summer. Just like my dedication of two hours to write a day (or ten hours per week), I’m challenging myself to read for ninety minutes a day on Monday thru Wednesday plus Friday, or six hour a week. I tend to read 40 pages in an hour, 50 when I’m really feeling it, so if we take my optimistic number and combine it with six hours that’s 300 pages per week. Starting this week through the end of August, that’s fifteen weeks or 4500 pages. …That seems like a lot. I may have to re-think this. In the meantime, let’s get a little ambitious this morning!

All of these are selections I’ve never read before, so I have a completely fresh slate of stories awaiting me. Here they are in no particular order:

Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard (fiction novel, 272 pages)

The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry (fiction novel, 288 pages) * Excelsior UMC Men’s Book Club selection

On the Road by Jack Kerouac (nonfiction novel, 307 pages) * Excelsior UMC Men’s Book Club selection

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (nonfiction novel, 274 pages) * Excelsior UMC Men’s Book Club selection

The View From the Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockemeier (short story collection, 288 pages)

Tin House #39 (short stories and poetry, 200 pages)

I’m Sorry You Feel That Way by Diana Joseph (nonfiction short story collection, 208 pages)

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (nonfiction, 320 pages)

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (fiction, 528 pages… I can’t find the abridged version, which the Ron Book Team has decided is just fine for our summer reading) * Ron Book Team selection

How to Think Theologically by Howard W. Stone & James O. Duke (textbook, 126 pages)

Best American Short Stories 2008 (short story collection, 384 pages)

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier (fiction novel, 272 pages)

I also have the following to “read” on audio, all of which are re-reads for me:

On Writing by Stephen King (nonfiction novel)

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman (short story collection)

Up in Honey’s Room by Elmore Leonard (fiction novel)

The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman (kinda-sorta-not-really nonfiction novel)

From a Buick 8 by Stephen King (fiction novel)

That’s only 2235 pages – a far cry from the 4500 pages I calculated above. I think I’m going to be reading a lot slower than at my 50-pages per hour clip. I’ll be reading short stories and each one of those deserves to be digested slowly like little meals unto themselves. Some of the novels are for Men’s Book Club and I want to slow down and annotate them so I can better lead discussion sessions. And others I hope are so good I’ll need to slow down and savor them (Road Dogs). I’ll keep you posted as I finish different stories.

Right now, Kelly and I are almost finished with the audio version of From a Buick 8 and I’m about forty pages into The Last Picture Show and really enjoying it. I hope to finish it before I go to camp and start on a new book by then, too (that’s June 13, for readers who aren’t in the know).

What are you reading this summer?

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