Monday, July 23, 2012
I've been sad for many years because the main Christian bookshop chains in Australia don't support their compatriots the way we would like them to. The saddest thing is, they honestly believe that they are. They think that poking a few copies of our books on their shelves is really going all out for us. They declare, 'We support fellow Australians' but they never give our books the huge exposure they give to American ones. When asked why, they reply, 'Australian books don't sell! But we're still supporting you. We have them on our shelves. Anybody who is looking for you will find you. Or if they can't, they only need to ask us.' If that doesn't give the impression that even fellow-Aussies (the bookshops) think we're producing second rate material, I don't know what does. The fact is, Australian authors write wonderful, thought-provoking, entertaining and compelling books. I know I'm very biased here, but please take my word for it anyway.
Over the years, I've had many moments of deep depression over this, thinking, 'If our bookshops aren't giving us the support we need, what's the point of going on?' Now that we're in the middle of 2012, I'm beginning to realise that I've been shortsighted. For over a decade, I've been regarding the bookstores as monoliths I need to scale, and getting featured in Koorong's catalogue is making it closer to the top. Well, I'm figuring out that you don't need to be Sir Edmund Hilary in this business. Huge structures can crumble suddenly while you're trying to scale them so it's wise not to pin all your hopes on them.
In 1989, the Berlin Wall, an apparently permanent and impregnable bastion if ever there was one, was dismantled seemingly overnight. After hundreds of years of supremacy, the Roman Empire ended in quite an unobtrusive way. The strength of its citizens was undermined by the lead pipes of their water system, of all things. Poor Henry V died of dysentery soon after winning the Battle of Agincourt, when he was on the pinnacle of having both England and France under his feet. Napoleon's topple from his pedastal has become a proverb, as he faced Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar and 'met his Waterloo.' And King Belshazzar of Babylon was feasting and carousing when he and his company suddenly read 'the writing on the wall.' In the morning, his reign was over. And just last week, my son, Blake, and I learned during a history lesson that the mighty Attila the Hun died of a nosebleed! History reinforces the folly of relying on huge structures, but it's a hard lesson to believe when they appear so solid.
As for bookshops, I think I can sense their foundations beginning to tremble. Not long ago, I was browsing in Borders bookshop, near the iconic silver balls in Adelaide. After passing their cafe, where many people were eating and drinking, I took the escalator to the top storey and sat in a plush armchair to look at books. Nothing could have seemed more opulent and substantial. But before I had time to make another trip down from the Hills into Adelaide, it was gone! Angus & Robertson followed on its heels. And Word bookstore, which has been in the heart of Adelaide for as long as I can remember, has been forced to shuffle out to some obscure suburb I never visit.
I have some idea of what is shaking the ground for bookshops. In January, I was given a kindle. Now, my days of driving down to Adelaide especially to visit Koorong are over. Electronic books are cheap, swift to download and don't have a shelf life. I'm pretty sure that if I have a recommendation for some good old book written years ago, I'll have more chance finding them on Amazon than in Koorong, Dymocks or any other shop. It seems that e-books may be the iceberg to the Titanic of the bookshops. Just twenty or even ten years ago, whoever would have imagined it?
Although there is sadness in this situation, there are a few positive thoughts for writers like myself to take out of it. We no longer need to get downhearted because the big bookstores aren't interested in us. 'Big' seems to be shrinking daily. If you're like me, take courage. We need to keep our chins up, never stop writing or producing whatever we do best, and trust that more opportunities are opening up to spread our voices further than we might believe possible. As King Hezekiah was warned by God not to trust in the horses and chariots of Egypt, I believe He would say the same thing to authors regarding bookshops.
Monday, July 16, 2012
Writing fiction is always what I want to do because it drives me and enthuses me like almost nothing else. The only other thing that might be up there with it is living the simple, homeschooling lifestyle. Other things that stimulate other people don't affect me. Why is writing my choice? It can be difficult, it doesn't earn money (with the exception of those household names we all know), it takes months, maybe years to complete a long term project and then people forget the books once they've read them and moved on to the next novel on their piles. I'm aware of all the drawbacks to my choice but I still want to do it.
It's because I like the heart-thumping, skin-tingling excitement. I promise, I'm not exaggerating. At the risk of sounding like a wimp, exciting or deeply moving fiction is like sky-diving for me. I love the inner nudges I get when I'm reading other people's and thinking, I want to do that too! I can mention a few cases when that has happened strongly to me. Once, when I was reading the "Thorn in my Heart" series by Liz Curtis Higgs, which is basically the story of Jacob and his wives adapted to eighteenth century Scotland, tears were pouring down my cheeks and I remember putting my feelings into a simple prayer, "I really, really, really want to be able to move other people like this too. Please let me be able to do it."
The other occasion that springs to mind was the Harry Potter series. At the end of Book 4, when Harry had his stand-off with Lord Voldemort, their wands clashed and there was such a lot at stake that I was at the edge of my seat. I found myself saying something similar. I want to take up the challenge of doing something like that too.
Being able to weave a cool story that gets readers crying, panting, loving and getting their whole gamut of emotions stirred up, twisted and wrung out again is what I really want to do. I can't think of any better aim for me, and that, I think, is the crux of dreams. The most significant question when considering your life direction is possibly, "Do I really want to do it?"
I may bake a yummy cake from time to time but my daughter, Emma, is actually developing a passion for the food industry. We have to be sure she doesn't miss "Alive and Cooking" when we're home mid-morning and the competition element of "Master Chef" excites her. She enjoys concocting recipes and recently, when there was a quiz which included a question about a where a certain cut of meat comes from, she shouted, "It's the loin!"
Emma loves doing art too. She attends lessons with an artist on Wednesday afternoons and nothing delights her more than having an empty slab of canvas or plywood and taking weeks to replicate old masterpieces on them. Recently, she's been watching episodes of "The Cake Boss" which incorporates both cooking and art. I think he is awesome too but never feel inspired to rush for a spatula or paintbrush as Emma does.
"God will give you the desires of your heart." I used to interpret that to mean that He'd give me resources for overseas holidays, cool clothes and a reliable car. I'd shrug and ignore this verse when these things weren't forthcoming. Now I've learned that you can interpret this promise another way. God will give you the desires of your heart. He'll give me the passion for writing, Emma for cooking and art, Andrew for playing saxophone and Logan for computer games, (which he assures me is a very lofty, complex and legitimate passion).
In Salzburg in the Regency period, Antonio Salieri heard the young man, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart play, and was filled with a burning desire to compose music just like him. In the 20th century, Mother Teresa left her European village as a young woman to travel to the poorest of the poor in Calcutta partly because she earnestly wanted to. Another friend of mine says she'd love to work with the intellectually disabled.
What is your heart's desire? I'd love to know.
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
When I first started reading the Bible as a child and came across Cain and Abel's story, it didn't impress me much. It seemed to me that God's attitude was petulant and demanding. I'd always been taught not to turn my nose up at any present because it's the thought that counts. For God to accept Abel's gift but reject Cain's upset me. I imagined Him in the clouds with arms folded, chin tilted, complaining, "You didn't give me a good enough present." Well, okay, because He's God, He can get away with attitudes and behaviour which is unacceptable for us.Needless to say, it didn't make me feel loving toward Him.
Kids left to themselves with Bibles can get into all sorts of theological tangles. Years later, I started figuring things out and making new connections. It wasn't as if God really badly wanted Cain's produce offering, as He already owned not only the cattle on a million hills but everything else in the world. It was Cain's own heart God cared about far more than his measly offering. Cain didn't realise that generosity is the fuel God's designed to fill our tanks and God didn't want his attitude to get him into trouble.
Basically, holding back and wanting to keep the best for ourselves is a narrow, blinkered attitude that leads us to all sorts of other feelings that shut us off from God and other people - attitudes that Satan and his followers have long been renowned for. God wanted to shield Cain from heading off in a direction of priorities that only bring people misery. Living in a selfish, grasping, "Me first" type of way is like trying to run our tanks on the wrong sort of fuel.
We are made in God's image and in reality, He's the opposite to that idea I got from the Bible in my childhood. He's generous and loves to give lavishly. I guess Cain's story is really a good reminder that nothing is just given to us by God for our own sakes, including those things we call our 'gifts' meaning our aptitudes and talents. Their purpose is so we can widely use them to bless God and other people.
God told Moses that He'd given Bezalel and Oholiab all sorts of 'gifts' in the fields of carpentry and artistry so that they could put their skills to work by building the Tabernacle. Their skill was plainly for the benefit of God and everybody and not just so that people could tell them, "Well done, you guys are good."
I think Cain's story is an ancient reminder that we're happiest when we're working with generosity as our motivator. It's all tied in with that reminder I've heard often, that we're intended to be God's hands and feet in the world through what He's given us. You might have come across something like this too.
"I wanted to ask God why there's so much misery, lack and suffering in the world, but I was afraid He'd ask me the same question." I like to think that what do, which includes writing, homeschooling, even house cleaning, is all done with generosity at its heart. Sometimes when I'm depressed or grouchy, it only takes a moment to figure out that the reason is because my attention has veered to think too much of myself and what I'm getting for my efforts.