After completing the last major online course at KI, I decided not to take up another lecture series until I made a good dent in my reading list. It’s been building in numbers over the last year or two and threatens periodically to avalanche when I least expect it.
So, I jumped in with both feet and have finished most of my backlog of books I’ve been working on. One of those is Clay Writer: Shaping in Creative Writing.
If you would like to read more of my book reviews and other coursework for my Unschooled Master of Theology Program, then click here.
So, let’s get started….
Started Out Good
I have to admit, as the quintessential stupid American, I had no idea Serbia had colleges or authors. It really never crossed my mind, to be honest. Always consumed with my own affairs or the affairs of US politics or my own culture to consider there is life outside of the 50 states.
And when I first started this book I had, as usual, high hopes. The author kicked it off, too, talking about his background in publishing, his shift into teaching. The first few chapters talked about how he taught creative writing to new college students, and I thought maybe I would get a crash course on how to write fiction from someone who’s done it.
But, sadly, after the first few chapters, the book took a nose dive and spiraled right into the dirt.
How to Write Not Read What You Wrote
Just as I was getting into the book, I finished chapter one and found in chapter 2 a short story.
I thought maybe it was a small example and the author would jump back into talking about the craft, about the nuts and bolts of how to write better, condense his full course instruction into several chapters.
Instead, I just got more short stories. One about a phone call from the devil. Another one about Sherlock Holmes. And even more that I didn’t bother to even read.
It’s my fault, clearly. I take full responsibility for not reviewing the text before I took it on. This is one thing I’ve learned more than anything else thus far in my uThM program, “Review what you want to read before you actually read it!”
There is SO MUCH fluff being peddled out today as good quality fiction and non-fiction. This book is about 50 pages of information with another 75 pages of fiction jammed in afterward.
I will say this, I know this guy is not a household name. He’s not Stephen King. Nor is he Tom Clancy or Dean Koontz or John Saul. I will say, I think King is a terrible writer and his stories are drivel. But, I do know his name. Everyone knows his name. I’ve read his book on writing and got a whole lot more out of it than this guy has provided.
If he wanted to publish a collection of short stories, that would be fine. Go for it. But don’t mask it like it’s a how-to book on fiction writing when you don’t even talk about how to write fiction.
Disappointing to say the least.
This is Really All There Is?
But, lesson learned. And, it’s a quality lesson, too. Review, review, review. And it’s not just this book. In fact, most – the majority – of the books I’ve read to-date have been disappointments. Few have garnered more than two or three stars, most have barely gotten one stars from me.
I find it hard to believe there is not quality writing out there on the subjects I’m interested in. Yet, they appear to be illusive. I remember reading Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez years ago and I consumed it. Read it again and again. Marked it up (it was before I had a computer and still read physical books), even corresponded with the author for over a year, discussing the finer points of his tactics.
The same can be true for books like Lightning and The Magic Cottage and Nathaniel. These books shaped my childhood beyond words. I can still remember reading each of them for the first time. How they made me feel. How they changed me from the inside out.
I would love to be able to find books that so captivated me that they ruined me for television, where I just sat all day reading great books and great stories and great non-fiction. Unfortunately, I have to mix them together. Provide breaks for myself with television, so I can tune out and relax in between my struggles to find good quality books.
It’s a disappointing fact of life. There just are no good books in the world. Do any of you reading this have any ideas?
Until my next assignment….
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Excerpt from Ashen Monk Mountain:
There was an old elm tree near the end of the lawn, with a circular picnic table and several short benches.
“This looks like a lovely spot,” Mr. Eckey said, taking a seat.
He set his briefcase on the picnic table and flipped the latches, opening the lid.
Christopher took a seat opposite him and removed his hood, folding his arms in front of him.
“I have a tablet and a pen here somewhere,” Mr. Eckey said. “I had it when I left, that is. Not sure if I can find it in this disorganized briefcase of mine…”
He chuckled at himself.
“So – ”
Christopher ran a hand over his short cropped scalp.
“I’m confused about all this. I’m not sure I understand why exactly you wanted to meet with me.”
Mr. Eckey nodded.
“How long have you been a novitiate here?”
“Going on seven months now.”
He glanced up at Christopher as he fetched his notebook and ink pen.
“How are you liking it at Saint Joseph’s?”
“It has been – ”
Christopher thought about the question for a moment.
“ – wonderful.”
“I would assume it much different than – ”
Mr. Eckey flipped the first page over, scanned handwritten notes he had on the second page.
“I received some background from the Precept’s office, as well as from Abbot Greenly. You grew up in – North Platte, Nebraska? Is that correct?”
“I’m native of the Boston area myself,” Mr. Eckey said. “Tell me a little about how you came to the decision.”
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“To become a monk. It must have been quite a journey from Nebraska.”
“Not really. I guess. I just – ”
Unwanted images flashed through his mind.
Mr. Eckey took a deep breath before speaking again.
“Mr. Ward, I don’t actually know a whole lot about this request, to be perfectly honest. As you know, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Apostolic Life – that’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it – we are entrusted with monitoring abnormal behavior among those called to the consecrated vocation.”
He tapped his pen on the tablet.
“Tell me, what do you like about Saint Joseph’s exactly?”
“It’s the – well – I feel at home here. Like I belong. I very much enjoy the silence.”
“Yes, I know the Trappists to be quite ardent in their devotion.”
Christopher nodded in agreement as Mr. Eckey took a few notes.
“I enjoy the early mornings, the worship, the offices. The undivided devotion.”
“To God?” Mr. Eckey asked.
“Yes,” Christopher said. “Exactly.”
The stranger focused on his notes for several seconds, silently mouthing the words he wrote.
“Tell me, how does your life now differ from your previous one?”
Mr. Eckey stopped writing.
“Your military career.”
“Oh,” Christopher said, looking down. “I guess – I – I don’t know. There are lots of differences. I’m not – sure I – what is this inquiry about exactly?”
Mr. Eckey put his pen down.
“Mr. Ward,” he said. “The Vatican apparently has interest in your particular gifts and abilities for a – call it – a special appointment. I guess that’s the best way to put it.”
He shifted his weight on the hard bench.
“Normally, the Congregation does not get involved in appointments or a particular monk’s vocational choices. But, sometimes, when the need arises, special arrangements can be made.”
“Are you talking about another monastery?”
“Actually – ”
Mr. Eckey picked his pen back up.
“It’s an entirely different Order.”
Christopher leaned forward as a gust of wind billowed the long sleeves of his tunic.
“I don’t really understand,” he said. “Are you saying the Vatican wants me to move to a different monastery – to a different Order? But…I…”
Mr. Eckey waited a moment.
“Tell me, Mr. Ward, about your military training.”
“What about it?”
“Your experiences. You were a special operator, is that correct?”
Christopher shot him a quizzical look.
“How do you know that?”
“You were part of the 7th SFG? Assigned to operations in Afghanistan for the majority of your enlistment, surrendering your commission as a Captain. Is that correct? What did you like or dislike about your military career? Why was it you left?”
Christopher looked out over the cornfields in the distance.
“Sir,” he said, wringing his hands together. “I don’t really understand why you’re asking these kinds of questions. To be honest, they’re making me a little uncomfortable. I think I – ”
“Please, Brother Christopher,” Mr. Eckey said, putting up a hand. “I don’t mean to pry. As I said, this is a peculiar and rather sensitive situation, not at all normal procedure. So, I do apologize for my rather tactless approach. Let me explain a little, if I can – ”
Christopher tried to relax.
He struggled to repress the memories rising in the back of his mind, the bloody and gruesome images of dead bodies, a horrible, yet all too familiar wave of fear and dread washing over him.
A wave of putrid death enveloped and permeated everything.
He took a deep breath, tried to ignore it.
Mr. Eckey put down his pen again.
“There is a remote monastery in British Colombia. It is of a separate Order, not Cistercian, but similar. It’s rather distinctive, as I am led to believe.”
“What is the Order?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey shook his head.
“You would not be familiar with it,” he said. “There is actually only one monastery in the Order. But it has had a long, and quite fascinating history, to say the least. And, somewhat of a fantastic service.”
“So, why me, then?” Christopher asked. “I’m a novitiate. I don’t have much to offer. I’m not sure what you are asking of me.”
“The Vatican is asking a favor of you, Brother Ward. They are requesting that you take a leave of absence from Saint Joseph’s and visit this other monastery for a time.”
“I’m – I don’t – ”
“I’m honored that the Vatican has called on me,” he said. “I really do feel settled here, though. I would not wish to – ”
Mr. Eckey interrupted.
“Consider it simply a sabbatical of sorts. Without strings attached. We are interested solely in God’s working here in this matter.”
“Are you wanting me to relocate?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“How about we say the Vatican is open and interested in the Father’s call on your life. We simply wish to – test the waters – see if this would or would not be a good fit.”
“So, if I go, and it is not a good fit?”
“Your place here at Saint Joseph’s would be available to you at any time you see fit. Like I said, no strings attached.”
“I would not feel comfortable going without Abbot Greenly’s blessing,” Christopher said.
“You have it,” Mr. Eckey said, his smile widening.
Christopher said nothing.
“Think of it as a vacation. Though, if I’m hearing you correctly, you really are in no need of one. But, then again…. ”
The man shrugged.
“May I – ”
Christopher pondered his words.
“Is it possible to consider this awhile before I decide?”
“Certainly,” Mr. Eckey said. “Because of the situation, though, we would need you to go sooner than later. Is there anything upcoming that you are thinking about in particular?”
Christopher shook his head.
“No,” he said. “I would just like to sit with this for a day or two. Pray about it. How long would the visit be?”
“As long as you need to decide,” Mr. Eckey said. “Preferably a month to start. Longer is encouraged. Like I said, it is a unique situation, so tradition does not really lend itself easily. But, I would ask – ”
He put his notepad and pen back in his briefcase and closed the lid.
“Because of the sensitive nature, the Vatican has requested that you do not discuss this with anyone except me. Not the other monks here, your family, not even Abbot Greenly.”
“But, how – ”
Mr. Eckey put up a hand.
“I’m heading back to discuss the situation with Abbot Greenly before I leave the grounds. He will certainly not have an objection. Not that I can imagine, anyway.”
He fished out a business card from the inside pocket of his blazer.
“Here is my contact information,” he said, handing him the card. “You can reach me on my cell phone any time. Whenever you decide, one way or the other. There is a great need, though, so I do hope you will consider at least visiting.”
Christopher took the card, looked at it, then looked up at Mr. Eckey.
“What kind of need, exactly?”
The man just smiled.
“All in due time,” he said. “Just let us know as soon as you are able.”
Christopher looked back at the card.
“Thank you, Brother Ward, for your time. I do think I can find my way back to the abbot’s office from here.”
He briefly looked around the grounds.
“I do envy you a little,” he said. “What a majestic space you monks have created here. It’s like a slice of Eden. Really.”
He got up, shook Christopher’s hand, then left him there alone, as the stranger retraced his steps to the abbot’s office.
Christopher took a deep breath, then sighed.
The wave of putrid death still lingered as another wind gust blew across the fields, dredging up memories he would have altogether wished could have remained buried, soaking him again in the blood of the past.
He stayed there for a long time, just watching as the endless sea of cornfields waved in the winds.
Buy my book Ashen Monk Mountain to find out what this cryptic and mysterious appointment is the Vatican is asking Christopher to take on. An unheard of monastery, hidden deep in the Canadian Rockies? A secret mission and call? What in the world could be going on?
Click here and grab your copy today! Whatever you do, don’t let this fantastically epic story get away!
But, trust me when I say, you’re not going to believe the truth even when you discover it for yourself. Find out what secrets lay hidden underfoot at Ashen Monk Mountain!