Archive for April, 2011


April 5, 2011

So here I am back in Illinois, as still-raw winds blow over the unworked fields and the world slowly awakens into spring. I have some ambivalent emotions, just like the season. It’s a big change, and it will take time to make the adjustment. But I’m on the path, and well-supported, and trusting. I miss the people in Japan. My heart is with those who are suffering so greatly. My mind is boggled at the timing of my departure. There must be some meaning there that may become clearer in time. The overwhelming message I get is that my life is being guided with a purpose, and I need to live it with awareness and care, redeeming the full value of the days.

Another thought I’ve had: in the speculative fiction field, we talk about the genre of epic or heroic fantasy. We read and write of heroes. Our society at large venerates its sports “heroes.” But today we’re seeing the truest of all heroes — those workers in Fukushima who have committed themselves to remaining at the nuclear reactor site, sacrificing their lives for their fellow human beings. At one point, a report said there were 300 of these workers, and I thought, “Wow! It’s Thermopylae again, the Brave Three Hundred at the Hot Gates.” I believe the number who stayed after the radiation levels got so high is much smaller. Books will be written about these selfless people. Movies will be made. These are heroes, and I pray for their success.

While we’re on this serious topic: I don’t normally do “causes” on the blog, but I’m guessing no one will be too offended if I post one address. If you’re looking for a way to help the people of Japan and aren’t sure which organizations you can trust to use your contribution properly, here’s one that I know is rock-solid and genuine. Checks (noting “Japan Disaster Relief” in the memo line) can be sent to: LCMS World Relief and Human Care, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO  63166-6861.

Okay, onto brighter subjects:

On the writing front, it’s an exciting time. I am just now checking what’s called “first pages” for The Star Shard. This is the typeset copy, exactly how it will look in the finished book. At least two other capable pairs of eyes at the publisher’s are also going over it, so I hope among us, we can catch any typos that may still lurk. And if we don’t . . . well, remember those tiny flaws the Amish deliberately work into their magnificent quilts, to maintain humility before God?

Also exciting: Head for your newsstand now! My article “Riddles: An Ancient Game” is in the April issue of Cricket! It’s beautifully illustrated by Julie Collins, who did a fantastic job of visually portraying my riddles without giving them away. Cricket also secured permission from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for me to quote a few riddles from The Hobbit by way of example! But it gets better! The writing contest at the back of the magazine is based on a writing prompt in my article. So we’re hoping young readers will be coming up with their own Anglo-Saxon style riddles and/or poems, the best of which will appear in a future issue. And in the magazine’s Cricket Country cartoon panel, the buggie characters are telling riddles — so the entire issue is riddled with good stuff! (Pun fund . . .)

I did some detective work and found out that my article “The Great God Pan: Myth, Horror, and the Divine” appeared in the November/December 2010 issue of FATE Magazine. If anyone wants to track that one down, it can be ordered from their website at I believe they’ll sell you either a hard copy of the magazine or a very inexpensive pdf version.

It’s good to be back at my home church again, worshiping in English, singing in the choir, and even playing with other instrumentalists. I’ve been practicing my trombone, and this past Sunday we did a trombone trio plus flute on “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.” Fun!

It’s very nice spending time with aunts, an uncle, and lots of cousins. Since coming back, I’ve done some yard work, been through a week-long bad cold, and am trying to help around the house as I do some job-related research and explorations. One of my main duties at my aunt and uncle’s house is to take the dog Cassie on her daily walk. Thanks to the blessings of a CD Walkman and an iPod (the latter very kindly given to me by one among you — a wonderful present!), I’ve been listening to a lot of music on these walks.

A couple days ago, out by the fair grounds, Cassie caught the scent of a large groundhog. I saw the animal at a distance as it came out of a shed, hid briefly beneath a storage trailer, and then headed for the trees along the edge of a field. Cassie didn’t see that, and she was convinced the groundhog was still hiding under the trailer. She had a fantastic time sniffing and running back and forth, around and around the metal unit, poking her nose into every groundhog-scented space. That day was perfectly windless and we were away from traffic noises — the ideal listening experience — so I let Cassie take us around and around the trailer — good exercise, good canine fun, excellent music.

The other day in the comments section of this blog, Chris made a point that, coincidentally, I had just been thinking of myself: how one great thing about albums is that they often introduce us to songs among their contents that are actually greater treasures than the songs that may be getting the most attention and radio time. I also have been thinking that songs are like people in the way they make their impressions on us. Sometimes we’re not particularly impressed when we hear a song for the first time, but on subsequent listenings, those same unassuming selections can rise to become dear friends.

My favorite new (to me) songs and albums in these spring days:

The Celtic Circle: Legendary Music from a Mystic World. It’s by various artists — a two-disc set. It includes most of everyone’s favorite Celtic artists as well as a suite from The Lord of the Rings  and “Hedwig’s Theme” from Harry Potter. My favorite on the album is a track by Phil Coulter featuring Sinead O’Connor singing “The Shores of the Swilly.” It’s a haunting, achingly lovely song.

Priscilla Ahn’s album A Good Day. (This one is not Celtic.) Favorite songs: “Dream,” “Lullaby,” and “A Good Day (Morning Song),” although the whole album is well worth owning.

The Tannahill Weavers, Dancing Feet. I’ve had this one for awhile. Lately I’ve been revisiting it, and it gets better and better. Lively, driving, merry, sad, living Scots songs. I love “Wild Mountain Thyme” and “The Final Trawl.” Courage and inspiration!

Loreena McKennitt’s new album, The Wind That Shakes the Barley. Absolutely lovely stuff. Favorites: the title piece, and also “Down By the Sally Gardens,” text by W.B. Yeats.

Finally, Sinead O’Connor’s Sean-Nos Nua. Hard to pick a favorite on this one — it’s all superb. Sinead O’Connor has been impressing me more and more lately. The following songs of hers, not from this album, are all extraordinary: “Song of Jerusalem,” “Three Babies,” “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace,” and “Mna Na Ha Eireann.”

So I move forward, with a dog straining at the leash — into the wind, into April, into the undiscovered country. Talk to you again soon.