Audience Participation Friday: Wizard of Oz

I was at the Waffle House the other day with Father Thomas McKenzie (you may know him from the One Minute Review). Thomas had recently read The Wizard of Oz–something I’ve never actually done. I’ve seen the movie more times than I care to remember; that’s the only Wizard of Oz I’ve ever known, so I should say up-front that my opinions aren’t as well-informed as they might be. But even poorly informed opinions can be dearly held.
Thomas thinks very highly of The Wizard of Oz. Its characters, he says, have been damaged and diminished by the stories the world has told about them. The reader sees how false those stories are long before the characters do. We see the Cowardly Lion act out of bravery again and again. The Scarecrow believes himself to be stupid, but his wisdom and ingenuity pull the travelers through one scrape after another.

The Wizard tells the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man the truth about themselves, and in so doing he sets them free from the falsehoods that had enslaved them.Read More

Feechie of the Week: Lester Warner

It’s true: there are a couple of non-feechie details to the following story. One doesn’t think of feechiefolk sitting in recliners in the woods, for instance. Nevertheless, fans of feechiefolk will appreciate the spirit of Lester Warner of Dover Township, PA.
Mr. Warner is eighty-six years old and dying of metastatic prostate cancer. He recently stopped chemotherapy. But deer season was coming up, and he wanted to go hunting one last time.

It didn’t seem very likely, given his weakened state, but he did his exercises and as deer season approached, he thought maybe he could do it.

Opening day of deer season, Lester and his sons woke up at 4 a.m. and headed out to the woods. Lester’s son Brian had hauled a recliner up Broadtop mountain, and there Lester sat in the 19-degree weather.

Around 8 am, a big buck came out of the woods. Lester told his son Brian to shoot it, but Brian insisted that his father take the shot. He dropped the deer with one shot. Then he looked at his son and said, “Never give up.”

It was the biggest buck Lester ever killed.

You can read the full story at the York Daily Record.

BONUS: Also from the York Daily Record: Resident Stunned After Deer Ransacks Dover Township Home. I love the fact that it’s in the Crime section.

A Charlatan’s Review of The Charlatan’s Boy



The CSFF Blog Tour is featuring The Charlatan’s Boy this week. The long-come-short: a loose confederation of book bloggers read the same book and review it the same week as a way of building internet traffic for said book, as well as for one another’s blogs. If you’re interested, a good place to start exploring the two dozen or so blogs that are talking about The Charlatan’s Boy this week is Rebecca LuElla Miller’s blog, which summarizes the highlights of the tour and has a link to the participants’ blogs.
I want to bring to your attention one of those blogs–Frederation, written by Fred Warren. I caught him trying to write a review of The Charlatan’s Boy without having read the book. My first impulse was to turn him in, make an example of him. But he seemed like a good kid with a lot of talent, just a little misguided. I thought it best to give him another chance. If I gave him something to keep him busy, it might keep him off the streets. So I issued Fred a challenge. I wrote the following on his blog:

Thanks, Fred. Your post is very much in the spirit of The Charlatan’s Boy. The mind boggles to think what a great review you would have written if you had read the book.

Mind if I issue a challenge? I’d love to see what kind of review you could write just from the chapter titles. You have to promise not to cheat and read any of the actual book–only the chapter titles and the back cover copy. If you’re up to the challenge, I will post your review on my blog. If you want to go back and read the book later, fine, but according to the terms of this challenge, you have to review the book sight unseen.

What say you?

Fred rose to the challenge, and very much so. His review is hilarious and brilliant, going chapter-by-chapter through the book and making observations that, in the tradition of charlatans everywhere, are vague and general but give the impression of insightfulness. It’s quite masterful, and I highly recommend that you go here and read it.

Fred, nicely done.

I should also point out that Fred is an author himself. His book The Muse is available at his website. I haven’t read it, but his chops as a writer of fake reviews bode well for his authorship.

How Sally Apokedak Rescued The Charlatan’s Boy



The Charlatan’s Boy was an exceedingly difficult book for me to write. Before writing this book, I had never experienced writer’s block. I didn’t, in fact, believe it existed. “Writer’s block” conjures up images of the tortured artist, misunderstood by the world. Me, I’ve always been a plain procrastinator. I thought it would be distinctly unhelpful to dignify my procrastination with the term “writer’s block.”

But in the writing of The Charlatan’s Boy, I experienced something that went beyond procrastination. I don’t know any word for it besides writer’s block. I had set a task for myself that I wasn’t at all sure I could accomplish. I’ve always been comfortable writing raucous, whoop-it-up stories, but The Charlatan’s Boy, for all its robustiousness is really a story about a boy’s inner life. It’s one thing to write about alligator wrestling; it’s quite another to write about a boy’s wrestling with his loneliness, his hurt, his ugliness. Writers often talk about how terrifying it is to write; I usually dismissed that as mostly self-indulgence. But I was pretty terrified by the thought of trying to go deeper into a character’s inner life. I literally pictured readers saying, “Really? That’s what you call insight into the human condition? Why don’t you stick to alligator wrestling?”

A certain amount of pressure is motivating, but I had crossed some threshold; the pressure was paralyzing. I fell into an awful cycle of self-absorption and terror. I had come to view my unfinished book mostly as a source of personal misery. Time came to turn in a manuscript and I didn’t have a manuscript to turn in. My editors, Shannon Marchese and Jessica Barnes, were very patient and understanding. They gave me an extension. Which I missed. Then I missed another extension, if I remember correctly. Eventually they very sweetly laid down the law and gave me a genuinely hard and immovable deadline.

That sho-nuff deadline was bearing down on me, and all I had was big pile of scenes that didn’t yet fit together into a coherent story. They were great scenes; I loved everything I had written. But they were highly episodic, and there weren’t nearly enough of them. I was at a critical point; if I hadn’t already spent the advance long before that time, I would have just told Waterbrook Press never mind and given them their money back.

It was at that critical moment that I got an email from Sally Apokedak, whose name you will recognize from the comments section of this blog. Sally has been a huge supporter since The Bark of the Bog Owl came out in 2004, but we had lost touch. I hadn’t heard from her in a couple of years or more. She had heard that I was working on another book. She scolded me for not telling her and said she wanted to start telling her friends and blog readers about it:

Really, Jonathan, just because you don’t know us, you have to realize that your loyal fans feel like they know you after reading and falling in love with your characters and they WANT to know what is going on. You could put out a little newsletter. It wouldn’t kill you. It doesn’t have to be cheesy and braggy like others we get in our in-boxes. You could do it with humility. We like you and want to know what you’re up to.

I wrote Sally back,

Sorry for not telling you, but I’ve been genuinely worried that the book would be bumped from the fall catalog or worse…this has been the most painful writing experience ever. Which is to say, my lack of communication with readers…has more to do with self-doubt than stuck-upness.

If you don’t mind, let’s hold off on telling your loyal readers about The Charlatan’s Boy until I’m a little more confident that it’s going to release in the fall. I’ll know in about a month, and then I’d love to shout it from the rooftops.

Meanwhile, would you pray for me, Sally?

Sally did pray for me. She also offered some encouraging words that bordered on flattery, and she offered to read the manuscript. After some dithering, I decided to let her read what I had. She read it (that very day, I think) and told me that she really loved it.

And then something shook loose for me. It wasn’t many days later that I was done with the manuscript. In praying for me, Sally turned out to be the answer to her own prayer. I had descended into a closed spiral of self-doubt, self-indulgence, self-flagellation…self, self, self. I had come to think of this book as my personal nemesis. My interaction with Sally reminded me that this wasn’t just about me. Other people had a stake in this thing–real people who would read and benefit from my book. The realization jarred me out of my solipsism, and I was surprised by a joy of writing that had long been absent. Sally’s willingness to step in kept me going.

So here’s to Sally Apokedak.

Audience Participation Friday: Your Least Favorite Narnia Book

Earlier this week I mentioned that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is my least favorite of the seven Narnia books. I clarified that I love all the Narnia books; I just love VDT a little less than I love the other six books. It’s true that I consider Eustace’s dragon sequence to be among the very best scenes of the Chronicles. But as I said in a comment earlier this week,
“My biggest problem with VDT (and it’s not a huge problem) is that I don’t much like its episodic structure. Something about it feels cheaty to me, as if Lewis wanted to work in a lot of different little stories, and instead of figuring out a unified story that would let him tell those stories, he just let his characters bounce from place to place. That, I realize, is what some readers love about that book. The Odyssey works the same way, and nobody complains. I should also confess that The Charlatan’s Boy can be a little episodic itself, so I don’t have a lot of room to talk.”

Speaking of cheaty, how cheaty is that–quoting oneself from earlier in the week, and not even the body of the post but a comment!

Anyway, a couple of you chimed in to speak of your favorite Narnia book(s), but we didn’t hear much about people’s least favorite book. So today’s Audience Participation discussion topic is this: “Which Narnia book do you love the least, and why?” Here’s hoping for vigorous (though, of course, friendly) debate.

Audience Participation Friday: Scouts’ Honor



A friend of mine spent a little time in jail in Carrollton, Georgia. By “a little time” I mean however long it took for his momma to come pick him up. (He had been driving on an expired license, in case you were wondering.) It was a short stint, but he was in jail long enough to witness a remarkable scene. He was in a holding cell with a young man named Russell, who was sobering up after his night of roistering had been interrupted by the police. It was just the two of them until a third criminal was brought to the cell shouting and scuffling. “I aint going back to New Mexico!” he was saying. “Don’t make me go back to New Mexico!”
They had picked him up on a parole violation. He wasn’t supposed to leave the state of New Mexico, but there he was, in Carrollton, Georgia. The officer slammed the iron door behind him, and the cell seemed very crowded all of a sudden. My friend and Russell stared at the wild-eyed probation violator. He stared back, eyeing first one, then the other of his cellmates. Then the parolee got a peculiar look as he focused on Russell. He lifted a finger and pointed at him. “Say, you’re from Whitesburg, aint you?”

“Yeah,” Russell said warily. “I’m from Whitesburg.”

“I know you,” the parolee said. “You was in my boy scout troop! I’m Billy Womack.”

Recognition dawned on Russell’s face. “Your dad was the scoutmaster, wasn’t he?”

It was a happy reunion those two had in the Carroll County jail. When my friend’s mother arrived, the former boy scouts were still reminiscing on better times.


We have a fiction-writing assignment for Audience Participation Friday this week. Write a scene in which you envision a pack meeting attended by young Russell and Billy. This should be good.

In Which I Talk To Canadian Radio Listeners

Last week I was the guest on “Wednesday Bookmark,” a drive-time book discussion on Ottowa’s CHRI Family Radio station. Host Care Stevens was very gracious and informed, though she was under the impression that I had a thick accent. If you’re so inclined, you can listen by clicking the link below. All the “um’s” and “er’s” and pauses you hear from me were apparently added in later. As I remember it, I was perfectly articulate.

BONUS VIDEO: I also was on the WSMV’s Better Nashville midday program earlier this week. Click here to see me wear tweed and sit next to a guy in a bowtie–the esteemed Ken Cheeseman, headmaster of St. Paul Christian Academy.

Audience Participation Friday: Domestic Wildlife

Friends, readers–I am thankful for Audience Participation Fridays. Keeping up with a blog is hard work, and as you may have noticed, I haven’t exactly been up to the challenge this week. On Fridays, however, it becomes your problem rather than mine. A friend from high school has a “critter control” company that catches wild animals that end up in people’s houses. I noticed on Facebook today that he had gotten five raccoons out of one house. And it got me to thinking…”There’s an animal in the house!” is a whole subgenre of the amusing anecdote genre.
I’m sure you have a story of a time a wild animal got into your house or the house of somebody you love. Why don’t you take a moment and share it?

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