What I Did During My Summer Vacation


No longer soaking...I'm back as promised, toned, tanned, and terrific! Well, maybe only one of those. I'll let you decide which one.

As a kid, I remember the first day back to school started many times with an essay, "What I Did During My Summer Vacation." I wish I could say that such exercises passed away many moons ago, but the sad truth is they linger on. Especially at blogs run by harried bloggers.

So with that topic in mind, I present the rundown of my activities the last few weeks:

1. My son started HOMESCHOOL.

There. I started a flame war just by using that label. I'll be talking about labels soon, seeing that within the first week of my absence, labels assumed a prominent role in my life as other people went nuts trying to label me, or unlabel me, as the case may be.

Anyway, school's going fine. I should hope so considering I have an education degree.

A bit o' homeschooling fun: If you're a male and wish to experience "the other side of life," go to any meeting that revolves around homeschooling. For added hilarity, leave your spouse at home. While the homeschooling program we're using isn't quite as rabid as some, nothing spells "frightening loner" than showing up male at a homeschooling event sans your female consort.

2. I wrote—constantly.

Talk about being a prisoner of the keyboard! I think my nearly 44-year-old eyes finally waved the white flag. For years I maintained perfect vision. In the last two years, though, I've seen (no pun intended) a progressive diminishment of arm length. Oddly enough, when writing, if I stretch out my arm, my montor is six inches beyond my upraised palm. That explains much.

Anyway, I wrote a horror piece that got an encouraging rejection from the leading horror lit magazine. I wrote it as an exercise in developing a full story arc in under 2500 words. I think it works well, but the magazine thought it could profit from being longer. I may rewrite it. We'll see.

I also wrote a controversial piece of speculative fiction sure to alienate both secular and Christian readers. It's too Christian for the secularists and too sexual for the Christians. Definitely a redemptive storyline, but like most of what I write, I suspect no market will dare touch it. I submitted the first half to my critique group and they loved it. Later this month we'll see if they liked the second half as much.

I spent about sixty hours editing my novel and I'm STILL not finished. About a hundred pages to go. One thirty-five page section consumed nearly twenty hours. I've burned up more time editing than I did writing the first draft! Being used to works under fifty pages, which comprise about 99 percent of what I write, I totally mismanaged the editing process for my novel. I'm sure I tripled my work by failing to use a more logical editing approach. If any of you novelists out there have any advice or tools for editing, let me know.

Writing…always writing.

3. I read—constantly.

When I wasn't writing, I read. A writer needs a feel for what's getting published, so I sent out feelers by reading more novels during my hiatus than any other six-week stretch I can remember. Hoping to understand popular writers, I read outside my usual suspects.

Never having read a Dean Koontz novel in my life, I picked up The Taking. For the purposes of my mission, I'd hoped to avoid any kind of pseudo-Christian themes in any secular authors I read, but failed miserably by choosing this book. If LaHaye & Jenkins' Left Behind series met The Exorcist, Naked Lunch, and a large stash of peyote, you'd have The Taking. If you wish to speculate on what the Rapture would like like if Satan ran it, you'd have this book. By all means, skip. And let me end by saying that it's hard to read this book and not question whether a committee wrote it. The prose wandered between outright purple and brilliant. Unfortunately, the former won.

I read Ted Dekker's Obsessed, and by the time I'd completed it, I wondered if I'd accidentally picked up a Ted Dekker parody. More than once I checked the cover to see if the name on the book read "Tedd Dekker" or "Ted Dekkker." So over-the-top it bordered on camp, Obsessed had me in stitches when I should have been crying. I know Dekker can write, but this smacked of contractual obligation and a ridiculous deadline. Read anything else he's written, but avoid Obsessed like the plague.

At last year's American Christian Fiction Writers conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Kathryn Mackel. She told me the premise of her upcoming book, The Hidden, and it knocked me out. A psychiatrist who lost her mother and son to suicide (and her husband to a brain aneurysm) ventures back to her father's Colorado dude ranch when dad takes a nasty fall and mangles a leg. After botching the delivery of a prized foal that represents her father's entire financial future, she bolts into the mountains on an unfamiliar horse that tosses her into a ravine. To her astonishment, she finds a young man chained in the bottom of the ravine outside a cave, the key to his shackles a few inches out of his reach. Wow. How can you not want to read a novel with a premise that good? Fortunately, Mackel delivers on the premise with strong characters and enough chills to keep spec fic readers happy. Though I felt she threw readers a few too many false leads on the young man's identity, the story held up. If you like supernatural thrillers, you'll like The Hidden.

Randy Ingermanson served as my writing mentor at the same conference where I met Kathryn Mackel. His book Double Vision explores a high tech startup's woes when they develop a sophisticated cryptography method that could get them killed by competitors, the US Government, the mafia, or anyone else looking to crack RSA encryption. Obviously, Randy's got a hard science background. That makes him a rarity in Christian fiction. Though I wanted to like this one (since I worked for a startup), I thought Randy tried to please everyone with his ending. The implausible result undid everything that came before. I will give Randy a kudo for brilliant marketing, though. He creates storylines that tie-in characters from his other books. I liked that one of the characters in this book is the cousin of one of Randy's well-known characters. That's not easy to do without seeming forced.

I'm not yet through Carl Hiaasen's Skinny Dip. So far, this book's been my favorite of the bunch (despite being tawdry in spots). Hiaasen's world-building should be a model for all writers. His descriptions slay me, and his characters, despite their implausibility, live and breathe like real people. Though just about everyone in the book is missing more than his or her fair share of grey matter, I've met these people. That's good writing and one of my beefs with most of the Christian fiction I've read. In too many Christian novels, the lead characters don't resemble anyone I've ever met. Too often they're an amalgam of certain "writerly" traits, so much so that their Christianity feels plastic to me. They're not so much written as they are designed.

I also read some non-fiction, specifically David Fitch's The Great Giveaway, a book which made me wonder if the author had cribbed from this blog! I'll be discussing the book in days ahead. 

4.  Geocached.

I've been enjoying this new hobby, one of the few I have. Gets you into the outdoors. Can be great exercise. I'd encourage anyone reading this to consider the sport. Kids love it and so do adults. You can go as hardcore as you want, or just dabble in it. A GPS receiver and Geocaching.com are all you'll need to get started.That's it.

Not a very exciting vacation, eh?

I missed out on writing about the death of Steve Irwin (of Crocodile Hunter fame) in a horribly unlucky encounter with a normally docile creature. Even stranger was the wish fulfillment displayed by so many Christian fans of Steve when the rumor started that he'd come to Christ a month before his death. I'm not going to touch that one.

I didn't read blogs much, but I do have a few posts I'll comment on in the days ahead.

The Wall Street Journal, just days after my hiatus began, featured an article discussing what happens to a blogger's blog when he or she goes on vacation. Nice synchronicity on that one, huh? Cerulean Sanctum proved the article's point: you've got about three weeks before the traffic hemorrhaging begins. My first three weeks away didn't see much traffic fall-off. The last three, on the other hand, have been extreme. If I held out another two weeks, Cerulean Sanctum would probably die on its own. Or I could just post once a week on homeschooling and live off the weekly traffic spikes.

That's all for today. Stay tuned for what the rest of the week brings.

19 thoughts on “What I Did During My Summer Vacation

  1. Well, I’ve taken your hiatus to spend some time in your archives. Slowly making my way through your past posts. Ah, geocaching! My husband loves it! It is a great family activity and good exercise.

  2. Diane Roberts

    I don’t know if you caught my review of The Great Giveaway. I started it on Aug. 8 and ended on Aug. 19. I am looking forward to seeing your review as this is the closest emergent guy to what I am wanting to see that I have seen yet.


    • Diane,

      You always say that I beat you to the punch on certain topics, but you got me on the Fitch book! And yes, I did read your reviews. I had the book on my “Must Read” list, but I get a lot of the books I read from the library and that one hadn’t made it into our system until recently. Thus the delay.

      Even though the book has some blinders on, I think Fitch has the best insights I’ve seen so far on the fights he picks—and he definitely picks good fights. Every point of discussion was dead-on.

      My biggest quibble with the book is his failure to ask why some of the “old-fashioned” solutions he advocates failed in the first place, since the gist of many of his solutions begins with “Let’s return to….” For instance, while he loves liturgy, he never asks why liturgy failed to hold on in Evangelical churches during the 19th century.

      Look for a review soon.

  3. Welcome back! I haven’t attended a homeschooling meeting, but recently attended a couple PTO meetings. I did have my wife with me, but I would hate to go alone. Reading that cracked me up!

  4. Bonnie

    I completely agree with your review of Dekker’s latest novel…”a Ted Dekker parody” sums it up. I really enjoy his earlier stories. I wonder what happened.

  5. Well, now that you’re back in the saddle, I’m sure the traffic from your site to mine will diminish. I started noticing a few incoming hits per day from your apparently bored readers the very day you announced your hiatus.

    It was good to get the crumbs off the master’s table while it lasted! (Not that any of your readers are crumbs by any stretch!)


    • Rich,

      You flatter me. If you saw how little traffic I get compared to some of the big boys out there, you’d revise your opinions. A lot of people link to this blog, but you’d never know it from the traffic.

  6. Interesting about your homeschool group… in ours, we have a couple lead it, and we meet at times when the whole family can participate… and last time one of the guys said, “fathers, when you talk about homeschooling, it’s best to say ‘We homeschool’ instead of ‘My wife homeschools.’ This seemed to empower and include the fathers in such a simple way. So, of course, we are all walking around now saying, “We homeschool.” And, indeed, we do. 🙂

    • LL,

      I suspect that 95% of homeschooling dads do not contribute more than an hour or two to the homeschooling every month. At least that’s the way it seems to be in the “homeschooling families” I’ve met.

  7. Frankly, neither my wife nor I are interested in homeschooling our children.

    That said, however, we do homeschool.

    By that, I mean that every conversation is a teaching opportunity. And our children are either very bright, or they absorb everything we say.

    Imagine AJ’s kindergarten teacher’s shock when he began “assisting” the other students with their alphabet. He’s reading at the 2nd or 3rd grade level and they’re still learning their Ps and Qs. He asked the teacher about the filaments in the light-bulb .

    Unfortunately, he’s coming home now, every day, reporting that he didn’t hear anything in school that day that he didn’t already know. We’ll be talking to the teacher about challenging him some more. Meanwhile, our “teaching moments” at home continue without regard to what’s happening at school.

    It may be a little early, but I gave AJ a thumbnail sketch of evolution last week. I figure, he’s learned the planets of the solar system, and he’s asking if people live on other planets. He needs to know what he needs to know, even if the school isn’t ready to help him out there.

    I understand the traffic thing. I try not to compare myself with others, but my ego constantly drives me to watch my traffic stats. And I see other’s traffic stats, and I wonder if I’ll get there.

    To what end, though? I blog as a public spiritual discipline, so in many ways, it should not matter at all whether people read me or not. Yet, still, it is gratifying … and frightening all the same.

    Although I cannot keep up the writing pace that you and others do, and I don’t pretend to have the depth of insight you or others have, I try to invest as much into each post as though I were being paid to do so. The dividends, even without traffic, pay off in personal ways.

    And, happily, there is always the “social capital” that comes from blogging, and that can happen with or without traffic.


  8. Why do you insist on labeling yourself a homeschooler when you are NOT homeschooling you are doing public school at home.

    Since numerous “real” or “independent” homeschoolers have told you why they object to you mislabeling yourself why do you continue to do so? You are causing confusion and sowing discord. J.Q Public objects to his tax money being spent on homeschooling. When you mislabel yourself as a homeschooler using public funds J.Q. Public gets angry at real homeschoolers and attempts to enact laws to curtail homeschooling.

    That said I know what you mean about Dad’s and homeschool groups. We have very few Father’s in our group and I think that is a shame. BTW public school at home parents would be welcome in our group as long as they didn’t call themselves homeschoolers. We don’t want our homeschool freedoms curtailed because the general public doesn’t realize their is a DIFFERENCE between doing public school at home (funded by tax money) and independent or real homeschoolers (which is funded by the parents). Please stop referring to yourself as a homeschooler unless you stop doing public school at home and REALLY homeschool

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