Season 3, Episode 13: Featuring Malcolm Guite

The poet Malcolm Guite wears waistcoats. He smokes a long-stemmed pipe and blows smoke rings. He often ambles about in the countryside. He’s not very tall. He loves breakfast. Draw your own conclusions. In this episode of The Hobbit Podcast, Malcolm Guite and Jonathan Rogers (who is not himself a hobbit, only hobbit-adjacent) discuss first breakfast, second breakfast, and elevensies.

Thanks to Drew Miller, the visionary for this podcast.

An April Fool’s Day Story About My Grandmother

Writing with Jane Austen starts in five days. According to my marketing plan, I’m supposed to remind you that time’s a-wasting and you only have a few days left to sign up. It’s April Fool’s Day, so I thought maybe I’d write something about Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice, one of the great fools of English literature. Then I could say something clever like, Don’t you be a fool. Sign up for Writing with Jane Austen today! But I decided to spare you. Instead, here’s an old favorite April Fool’s story, about my grandmother:

On April Fools’ Day my grandmother and her sisters packed their lunch pails like any other school day. Their mother walked them to the dirt road and kissed them goodbye, but instead of turning left to walk toward school, the girls turned right toward the train tracks. They walked up the tracks a piece until they got to a little marshy pond, a favorite spot of theirs. They lay beside the pond in their school dresses and watched the clouds drift by and giggled at the thought of their classmates sitting at their desks that bright spring morning. They pulled out their lunches and ate them. It was only nine in the morning, but they felt like eating, and it was April Fools’ Day, and who was going to stop them?

They caught some bugs and picked some wildflowers and got mud on their dresses, and then decided to catch the last half of the school day. So they walked back down the train tracks and up the dirt road toward the school. When they passed the house, their mother waved at them from the porch.

When they got to school the teacher said, “Where have you girls been?”

“At the marshy pond,” they said, “beside the railroad tracks.”

“And why were you at the marshy pond?” the teacher asked.

“It’s April Fools’ Day.”

The teacher made the girls stay in from recess for a couple of weeks–a punishment they willingly accepted. From what I understand, this happened more than once. Apparently it was sort of a Dowdy family tradition, to act the fool on April Fools’ Day, and to receive the punishment for that foolishness without complaint or rancor.

I love that picture of my great-grandmother waving to the little truants as they pass back by. Having given them room to try out a little harmless foolishness, she waves them on toward its logical outcome, not intervening on either end, but rather letting her daughters experience the truth that wisdom and foolishness are a matter of choice, and that choices have consequences.

A Fond Farewell to Beverly Cleary and Larry McMurtry

Last Thursday, March 25, was a sad day: both Beverly Cleary and Larry McMurtry died that day. Cleary was 104. McMurtry was 84.

Beverly Cleary
Beverly Cleary was a children’s librarian before she was an author of children’s books. She had a great sense of what children wanted to read, and what they needed in a book. She thought about writing books long before she started actually writing. In her autobiography, My Own Two Feet, she wrote about a time she found a ream of paper in a house she and her husband Clarence had just moved into:

“I guess I’ll have to write a book.”

“Why don’t you?” asked Clarence.

“We never have any sharp pencils” was my flippant answer.

The next day he brought home a pencil sharpener.

May we all have such supportive people in our lives.

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Season 3, Episode 12: Andrew Peterson and Friends on the Wingfeather Saga

Wingfeather Tales started out as a Kickstarter stretch goal for The Warden and the Wolf King, Book 4 of Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga. Andrew recruited five of his friends to write stories (and a poem) set in Aerwiar, the world of the Wingfeathers. He also recruited some of his favorite illustrators to illustrate. That compilation has been re-released in hardcover by Waterbrook Press.

In this episode, five of the contributors—Andrew Peterson, Jennifer Trafton, Pete Peterson, Doug McKelvey, and Jonathan Rogers—discuss collaboration, community, and Wingfeather Tales.

Jane Austen Breaks All My Writing Rules. I Love Her Anyway.

In Chapter 3 of Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bingley makes his first visit to Longbourn, the home of the Bennet family. He spends a few minutes in the library with Mr. Bennet, but he doesn’t even get a glimpse of the Bennet sisters, whom he really wanted to see:

He had entertained hopes of being admitted to a sight of the young ladies, of whose beauty he had heard much; but he saw only the father. The ladies were somewhat more fortunate, for they had the advantage of ascertaining from an upper window, that he wore a blue coat and rode a black horse.

I think this is a pretty good joke on Jane Austen’s part. By this point, we readers are starting to feel that we know the Bennet sisters a little bit. But when it comes to their physical appearance, we scarcely know more than Mr. Bingley does. We have heard from Mrs. Bennet that Elizabeth is only half as beautiful as Jane. We know already not to take Mrs. Bennet’s assessments at face value, but even if we believe Mrs. Bennet, we don’t know whether Jane is unusually beautiful or Elizabeth is unusually un-beautiful. And if Jane is unusually beautiful, what kind of beautiful is she? There are many ways to be physically beautiful.

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Season 3, Episode 11: Winn Collier Talks About Eugene Peterson

Winn Collier is the Director of the Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination at Western Seminary in Holland Michigan. He was friends with Eugene Peterson and was chosen by the Peterson family to write his authorized biography, A Burning in My Bones.

In this episode, Winn and I discuss friendship, “earthy spirituality,” and writing that goes beyond the informational and motivational.

 (The Eugene Peterson Center is currently taking applications for a Doctor of Ministry cohort focused on “The Sacred Art of Writing.”)

Concision and Brevity: Not the Same Thing

At breakfast the other day, somebody commented that my friend Pete* had lost some weight.

“I’m always losing weight,” said Pete.

There was much merry-making at Pete’s expense as everybody envisioned him always losing weight—less Pete and less Pete until he finally disappeared.

“You know what I mean,” said Pete. But we didn’t.

“I mean I’m always trying to lose weight,” he said. “I was being concise.”

More laughter at Pete’s expense. Because that’s not what concise means.

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Season 3, Episode 10: Hannah Anderson on Gardening, Woods-Walking, and Writing

Author, gardener, and woods-walker Hannah Anderson wrote, “More than a metaphor, the natural world is a living, pulsating experience of truth that surrounds and enfolds us, teaching us deep realities without words.” She puts words to many of those wordless realities in her new book, The Turning of Days: Lessons from Nature, Season, and Spirit.

In this episode, Hannah and I talk about observation, repetition, “gardening shame,” and cooperating with forces of a broken world.

Want to Give Good Feedback? Stop Giving Advice.

In writing classes, workshops, critique groups, and similar gatherings of writers, the giving and receiving of feedback is one of the most valuable things that happens. It is also one of the most dangerous. When writers start giving one another advice, it can end up being the blind leading the blind—especially when a) the advice-giver is simply parroting rules that he has heard somewhere and b) the advice-receiver doesn’t have enough of herself to judge whether the advice is helpful or not.

In a day-long workshop I once taught, there was a woman who had removed every “that” from a book-length manuscript because a critique partner had told her that “thats” were bad. But another critique partner had told her that “thats” were ok, so she was in the process of putting them all back in.

Here’s a truth that I hope will give you some freedom both as a feedback-giver and a feedback-receiver: FEEDBACK ISN’T THE SAME THING AS ADVICE.

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