Five of the Eighteen Reasons I Write (by William J. Torgerson)

Editor’s Note: This post is the third in a series that features former students of mine who have become professional writers. I asked each of them to focus on the topic, “Why I Write.” Today’s post is by Bill Torgerson, whom I first met when he was one of my writing students at Olivet and who is now an award-winning screenwriter, novelist and writing professor. His first novel, Love on the Big Screen, is set at a fictionalized Olivet in the era when Bill and I were there.  (To see the first post in this series, by Dr. Michael Clark, scroll down or click here. To see the second post, by John Small, scroll down or click here.)  

Five of the Eighteen Reasons I Write

By William J. Torgerson

Professor Joe Bentz was the first person I ever knew to be actively working on a novel. When I was his student at Olivet Nazarene University just south

of Chicago, I was an English teacher who wanted to be a basketball coach because I’d long understood I couldn’t play professionally.  I had no plans to write, but I’d heard that Joe’s house was wallpapered with notes for his book.

As a country kid from Indiana, I found Professor Bentz’s ambition exotic, as if he were a space traveller who’d gone to Mars and come back to tell me about it. Professor Bentz was the first person to encourage my writing. I wrote an essay in his class about a bad date, and he told me I should send it out for consideration for publication. Over fifteen years later, a revision of that essay appeared in my first novel. Upon receiving Joe’s request to write this guest post, I was quickly able jot down eighteen reasons I write. Here are five of them:

  • To Stand Out. Even when I used to think of myself as worth noticing because I could shoot a basketball from a long distance and make it go through a hoop, I was an everyday writer.  At first, I wrote because it was a way in addition to basketball that a girl would take notice of me. Even though I’ve always thought of myself as a latecomer to writing, I realize that even as a middle school student I wrote (by hand on paper!) regularly for a specific audience: a girl I liked. I revised like an obsessive-compulsive madman.
  • For Mental and Physical Peace.  I have a high-octane mental and physical motor.  There’s something about intense workouts and at least a page a day that allows me to get as close as I can to relaxing.  When someone asks me what I do for fun, one of my first thoughts is that I run. Writing gives me a mostly positive act toward which to direct my addiction prone energy.  When I write, I am somehow able to empty my mind just enough to get some sleep.
  • Because I Can’t Stop.  I received Prof. Bentz’s request to do this guest post via my iPhone at 5:08 PM when I was wandering around an outlet mall and my family was doing some school shopping. I could not stop Continue reading

Why I Write (by John Small)

Editor’s Note: This post is the second in a series that will feature former students of mine who have become professional writers. I asked each of them to focus on the topic, “Why I Write.” Today’s post features my friend and former student, John Small, whom I met during my early years of teaching at Olivet Nazarene University in the mid-1980s. I taught journalism and literature and advised the student newspaper. John was editor-in-chief of the paper and did excellent work. He has continued to thrive as a journalist ever since. (To see the first post in this series, by Dr. Michael Clark, scroll down or click here.)  

Greetings. My name is John Small; I am the news editor and columnist for the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, a weekly small town news paper headquartered in Tishomingo, Oklahoma. I met Joe Bentz while were were both at Olivet Nazarene University; age-wise we are contemporaries, but I was the student and he was my college advisor and journalism professor and I worked with him at the campus newspaper, the GlimmerGlass. We both left the same year as I recall, he to take his job at Azusa Pacific and I to take the job here. Always makes me think there was a reason we were both there at the same time, but I suppose that’s a topic for another time…

WHY I WRITE

by John Small

It occurs to me that there is no one easy answer to that question.

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I was fortunate enough to have parents who both love to read, and they saw to it that I earned to read as a much younger age than the other kids my age. My mother claims my love of writing stems from that; the story she likes to tell is that I started writing my own stuff because we ran out of things at the house for me to read. That certainly sounds like something I would have done.

My late younger brother Jimmy always said I took up writing as a defense mechanism. When you’re the lone bookworm in a class overflowing with jocks and jerks you tend to get picked on a lot – but the picking lessens considerably when they realize you’re the only one who can help them with their term papers.

My wife Melissa likes to say I became a writer to get her attention. That’s not entirely true, as I was writing long before I met her; on the other hand, why argue with success.

My own feeling is that I became a writer because Continue reading

Thanks for “Pieces of Heaven” Birthday Book Launch!

Today is my birthday, and I wanted to take a moment out of our regularly scheduled blog content to thank my wife and friends for the birthday book launch they sponsored for my new book, Pieces of Heaven: Recognizing the Presence of God. They asked friends to help celebrate my birthday and the release of the book by doing one thing, such as:

• Buy the book for themselves or a friend

• Post a review of the book on Amazon.com

• Review or mention the book on their blog, Facebook page or elsewhere.

I have heard from many friends over the past week telling me of things they have done, and I am very grateful. The book has spread to places it never would have reached otherwise. It makes me wish all my books had released around the time of my birthday! If you would like to get involved, it is not too late!
Here is the Amazon page about Pieces of Heaven:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/0834128861?tag=wwwlynnmaudlc-20

Here is a video interview that Alton Gansky did with me about the book a couple weeks ago for his Writer’s Talk video series:

http://altongansky.typepad.com/writersconferences/2012/09/pieces-of-heaven-an-interview-with-author-dr-joseph-bentz.html

Thanks you again for your encouragement and support.

This is How I Know I’m a Writer (by Michael Clark)

Editor’s Note: This post by Michael Clark is the first in a series that will feature former students of mine who have become professional writers. I asked each of them to focus on the topic, “Why I Write.” 

Dr. Michael Clark has had an inspiring journey as a writer. He has worked professionally as a journalist, a high school English teacher, and now as a college professor. I first met him at Azusa Pacific University, where he became editor-in-chief of the student newspaper while I was faculty advisor. He had extraordinary energy and drive. Once he graduated and became a newspaper reporter, I thought his career was set for life. He was good at it, and he could have stayed with that work for as long as he wanted to. He married another of my talented former students, Heather (Murphy) Clark, an Honors student who became a teacher and is now a part-time college instructor. Michael felt the urge to try teaching, so he completed the education and other steps necessary to move into that career. Once again, I thought he was set. Then he felt the urge to earn a Ph.D. in creative writing and pursue fiction writing. He applied to universities across the country and was accepted at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It took courage for Michael and Heather to move their young family a couple thousand miles away to pursue this dream, but they did it, and once Michael finished his Ph.D., he was hired as a writing professor at Point Loma Nazarene University, where he now teaches. 

This is How I Know I’m a Writer

by Michael Clark

I’m a writer. This is a reality I have finally accepted. I do not have a large number of publications. I may not be very good at it. I can’t really tell. But I am a writer nonetheless (if for no other reason than I use the word nonetheless unreservedly).

How do I know I’m a writer? Simple – it’s what I do. Two full novels written (unsold), a third well underway (40,000 words and counting), and more than 20 short stories (mostly on my hard drive) that I would show other people attest to the simple fact that writing is more than my hobby. My body of work is solid and continues to grow, whether or not anymore ever sees the light of day. This is how I know I’m a writer.

I have a stack of rejection letters, like every other writer I know. They’re from journals, publishers, and agents across the country. I have a spreadsheet that keeps track of all the times I’ve been rejected and accepted. According to this ledger, I’m deeply in the red. This is how I know I’m a writer.

When I hear stories of famous authors who struggled to find a publisher before they were finally granted a book, I am unabashedly soothed by them. The fact that Elie Wiesel couldn’t sell Night for years gives me hope, not that I will ever be Elie Wiesel, but that I can continue to try. This is how I know I’m a writer.

I simultaneously love and hate with the way I say things.  I want the ability to revise my conversations as they happen and fully expect that every time I try to put things into words the result will be fantastic. It is a frustrating way to live. This is how I know I’m a writer.

Every aspect of the world around me has the potential to be told. To live and breathe not just in the moment I witness it, but on the page and for much longer than it would have otherwise. Thus, I am alternately interested in everything and overwhelmed to the point of shutting out those closest to me. This is how I know I’m a writer.

I often forget to eat, but I never go long without coffee. This is how I know I’m a writer.

I live in San Diego, three miles from the ocean, but I spend more time in a chair wrestling with the next character, the next scene, the next story than I do in the water. This is how I know I’m a writer.

People tell me that fiction is a dying form and it makes me nervous to the point of feeling like a poet. This is how I know I’m a writer.

I only find mathematics understandable if it is part of a narrative with tension and great character development. When I studied math, I often critiqued the lazy form of word problems. This is how I know I’m a writer.

If you are my friend, part of you might just end up in a story. If you’re my close friend, I might just kill you in print. This is how I know I’m a writer.

I write because it is comparable to breathing. When I do it, it is so natural I don’t think about the fact that I’m doing it. When I don’t do it, it’s pretty much all I can think about and I feel like I’m holding my breath. This is how I know I’m a writer.

 

Michael Dean Clark is an author of fiction and nonfiction as well as a professor of writing at Point Loma Nazarene University. His work, most of which is set in the San Diego area, has appeared in Fast Forward, Relief (where he later became the fiction editor), and Coach’s Midnight Diner among other publications. He is currently at work on his third novel-length manuscript and will move on to number four as soon as he is done. He’s sort of obsessive that way. When he’s not writing, he is likely herding one of his three children around or speaking to his wife sarcastically because sarcasm his love language.

Is Literature Necessary? (Part 4) “Consumed by Story”

Note: This is the fourth in a series of posts that will consider the question:

What does literature have to offer (if anything) that no other art form or media (such as video games, social media, movies, TV shows, etc.) can match?

To view the first post in this series, scroll down or click here. To view the second post, scroll down or click here. To view the third post, scroll down or click here.

Consumed by Story

By Kate Sullivan, APU Honors Student

Throughout all of mankind humans have connected with stories. As Renita J. Weems says in an essay on the womanism movement, “Stories offer readers an inner script to live by, glimpses into the way things are, and more importantly reason and a way to talk about things ought not to be” (Weems 36). We were not simply content with knowing we live on the Earth, instead we make up stories to explain why we are here and make sense of the universe in which we are immersed. As humankind has evolved, the love for stories has not dissipated. Quite the opposite outcome has occurred. Instead of a vanishing media for story telling, a plethora has showed up. A challenge now arises as we go forward: where does literature fit in this high tech era? I hold that literature will always remain important and unique because it captures the imagination in a way different from any other type of media.

Literature connects with the imagination on a deep level because as a reader we dream up a story that is uniquely our own. Although the words are the same for each reader, the characters and imagery are unique to the possessor of the story. This is a quality no other media outlet can really claim, for in movies, TV shows, and video games the character and scenery are created by the authors, and the viewer simply joins their world. The limitation of such media is the viewer only imagines what is set before them. Literature is free from this problem for in reading, the imagination is only led by the words and the rest is entirely within the discretion of the person enjoying the story. This connection gives the reader a type of ownership to the story that surpasses other media sources.

This ownership gives literature its greatest asset that no other media can capture. The deep connection to a body of literature drives a passion for the story and the ideals held in that story. William Jong comments, “Literature preserves the ideals of a people; and ideals–love, faith, duty, friendship, freedom, reverence–are the part of human life most worthy of preservation.” (Jong). The more I connect with a piece of literature, the greater it consumes me and begins to affect my life. Literature has such a tremendous power to consume a reader as they read and as they carry the story on in everyday life.

There is no question that literature will continue to survive in the high tech era that surrounds us, the question is why does it continue to be a favorite medium of so many. It will always be my favorite because literature offers a way for me to escape the reality around me and enter a completely different world. Unlike other media where I am only a visitor, in stories on paper I am the co-creator with the author. No other media has the power to make me stop, think, cry, smile, and laugh quite as well as novels. Socrates’ writings did not survive because of the special effects and sound track, they survived because they captured the mind and heart. The power of literature will always be that the author never truly owns a story; it belongs to each person who sits down and is changed by what they find.

(Note: Kate Sullivan blogs at http://collegegirlonthemove.wordpress.com/.)

 

Works Cited

Jong, William J., PH.D. English Literature: Its History and Its Significance for the Life of the English Speaking World. N.p.: Gutenburg Ebook, 2004. Gutenburg.org. Gutenburg Press, 6 Jan. 2004. Web. 21 Aug. 2012. <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/10609/10609-h/10609-h.htm#chap1>.

Weems, Renita J. “Re-Reading for Liberation: African American Women and the Bible.”Voices from the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World. Ed. Sugirtharajah, R. S.  Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2006. 27-39. Print.

Is Literature Still Necessary? (Part 3) “Disrobing Its Allure”

Note: This is the third in a series of posts that will consider the question:

What does literature have to offer (if anything) that no other art form or media (such as video games, social media, movies, TV shows, etc.) can match?

To view the first post in this series, scroll down or click here. To view the second post, scroll down or click here.

Disrobing Its Allure

by Luis Marin, APU English major

It may interest you to know that this is not a pipe (as it is so eloquently indicated in French handwriting). It may also interest you to know that when playing a Mario game, you are not controlling a high-jumping plumber. In fact, when watching the Lion King, you are not witnessing anthropomorphic lions that break into song, and when tuning in to I Love Lucy, you are not viewing Lucy cooking up new schemes to get into show business. In all these instances, what you are actually seeing are representations. The pipe is actually a digitalized painting of a pipe. Mario is a computerized rendering of a plumber. The musical lions are drawings. And Television Lucy is recorded video.

But here, dear reader, is the kicker: The words you have been reading are also representations. They are literally groups of markings and scribbles you have assigned meaning to. The word “pipe” is not a pipe, but it signifies one. This is, by the way, the type of representation literature specializes in. Rather than using images and sound, literature utilizes written words. Video games, films, and television shows can all tell stories, create characters, and explore themes. But only literature specializes in the art of written work, and there lies its great appeal: its artful use of its mode of representation.

Through literature’s implementation of written words, readers enjoy an unparalleled level of imaginative influence. The author provides a general roadmap, but readers provide their own specific interpretations of the roadmap. Literature adds a gratifying layer to the representation process. Instead of going from an image to meaning, readers can opt for the scenic route of creating images from words and then making meaning out of them. In this regard, literature is much more interactive than any video game, television show, or film. This is also why literature cannot be replaced by music. Most music involves listening to someone else sing, but with literature, it is in your voice that the words are spoken or thought, but literature really should be read aloud, voices and all!

There are, nonetheless, other media that use words as their primary mode of representation, like social media with its user updates that are text-based. However, generic updates fail to qualify as art. Social media and literature provide different services to their participants. Both are interactive, but one aims at giving the reader formal pleasure, and the other aims at giving the reader day-to-day news about friends and family. Consider this William Carlos Williams quote: “It is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably everyday/ for lack/ of what is found there.”

And that, dear reader, is what makes literature irreplaceable. Even if other art forms and media are of equal caliber, literature is the only one specializing in the art of written work. If some other art form or media one day matches literature’s artistic mode of representation, it would merely be heralded as literature itself, wouldn’t it? Literature may no longer have a monopoly in mass media, but it will never, so help me, declare bankruptcy.

Is Literature Still Necessary? (Part 2) “Literary Labor”

Note: This is the second in a series of posts that will consider the question:

What does literature have to offer (if anything) that no other art form or media (such as video games, social media, movies, TV shows, etc.) can match?

To view the first post in this series, scroll down or click here.

Literary Labor

by Bethany Wagner, APU Honors student

After a long, exhausting day in the classroom or at the office, a book offers what no movie or TV show or video game can: the chance to kick back on the couch with a steaming mug of tea…and get to work.

Work? Who would want that at the end of the day when The Bachelor is on? Yes, reading is work, oftentimes hard work. But it is not the tiresome work of scrubbing food off plates or hauling stacks of dirty clothes to the Laundromat.

It is the work of figuring out what Dickens meant by that mysterious allegory, and deciphering exactly what apozemical means, and trying to solve who killed so-and-so before Sherlock Holmes does. Most of all, it is the work of finding how your story—where you come from, who you are, what you believe—fits into the story you hold in your hands.

Would I have been able to refuse the White Witch’s Turkish delight? Would I have been unselfish enough to make the ultimate sacrifice like Sydney Carton? Do I agree with this character’s philosophy? Do I agree with that author’s depiction of religion? Some questions are harder to answer than others, one book more difficult to place yourself in than the next, but all pull the reader into the story, and all call the gears of the mind to work—not to monotonous drudgery, but to a joyous, satisfying work that engages the imagination.

Compare the feeling of finishing a movie or video game to that of finishing a piece of fine literature. At the end of the average movie, I might think something along the lines of, Well that was cool…I guess it’s time for bed. A particularly good, thought-provoking movie perhaps leaves me with stronger feelings of contentment or conviction. Finishing a video game might leave me feeling a bit more accomplished, although there is always the nagging thought in the back of my head that maybe…just maybe…all those hours in front of the screen pressing buttons might have been better spent elsewhere.

But after turning the last pages of A Tale of Two Cities, The Great Divorce, Paradise Lost—even books like Harry Potter, a little bit less of a “task” to read—I have no regrets. I did it. I read the words, entered the world, took my part in the story, added my voice, and thoroughly enjoyed it (even when I came across words like apozemical).

As I write this I am sitting on the floor in between bookshelves in one of those buildings that are testaments to the wonders of literature—a library. Books of all sizes and colors and topics, each with its own story, surround me, and though I will sadly never read them all, I feel a sort of kinship to each one. I know that if I were to pick up any one of them, crack open its cover, and begin reading, that book would allow me to enter its world as a partner in its authorship.

A movie is a two-and-a-half-hour performance where I can tune out the world and relax. A video game lets me in a little bit deeper by allowing me to press a few buttons that result in the death of an Orc or a sword fight here and there. But it is the book…and only the book…that fully engages the mind, calling me to enter into its story, and at the same time allowing me to work at telling my own.