My Apollo 13 Moment
Being a child of the 80s, I am, at heart, a space buff. I poured over my kids’ science magazine detailing the Space Shuttle's specifications. I was devastated when Challenger exploded in 1986 and Columbia did as well in 2003. Then when Atlantis landed for the final time in July 2011, I was saddened we had lost something as a country. Our collective drive to discover, I suppose.
Although the Apollo 13 failed lunar mission took place before I was born, I watched with fascination many years later the Ron Howard film of the same name. I knew from history that the crew lived, but I was riveted to the screen as astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise scrambled to cannibalize their supplies in order to limp back safely to earth. They realized they had to give up on their dream so they could live to fly another day.
As a writer, I have discovered that the writing, pitching, publication and sales of each book seem almost as complex as a space mission. There are so many items on the checklist and if any of them go wrong, the entire project can crash and burn. For full-time writers, such failure might mean less food on the dinner table. Thankfully, that’s not the case with me.
On a recent book project, I realized I had to jettison my plans and disassemble the component parts. The manuscript, which was written as much from my heart as my imagination, was good but not good enough. I was passionate about the tale, but those I trust broke the news to me it wasn’t as well crafted as I thought. After the first person told me this, I dug in my heels and refused to listen to the sage advice for months on end. It took some deep reflection, insight received at a recent writers conference and the counsel of another close adviser before I knew for sure the project needed to be shelved.
Now, all is not lost. Parts of the book may find their way into future projects. They will need to be re-tooled to be sure, but like Lovell, Swigert and Haise, I am not willing to lose sight of the greater mission. Being a writer has never been just a passing fancy for me, so I won't end my career because of one shipwreck. I’m taking what I can from the experience and moving on.
One of the space-related groups I was part of as a teen had the following motto: ad astra per ardua (to the stars, with effort).
With a little effort, I am hoping to soar to reach my own stars.
As a storyteller, I’m always looking for a good tale. When I’m on vacation, for example, I tend to sacrifice a few hours on TV shows not normally programmed to record on my DVR. Recently, I tuned in to Revelation: The End of Days on the History Channel.
While the cinema verité nature of the pseudo-documentary makes it feel like a cross between The Blair Witch Project and Left Behind, I like the boldness of the film. The movie may take some liberties with the narrative, but when you're dealing with prophesy, you quickly learns it’s all about interpretation.
Having read and watched a great deal of apocalyptic literature, particularity from a religious perspective, I am used to a certain quality and unfortunately, it’s not always very good. More concerned with giving a sermon than telling a story, these pieces typically have characters spout Bible verses with a purity and näiveté that seems unrealistic to the average reader or viewer. Although I am thankful the storytelling in this genre is improving, it has taken some time for the Christian community to accept tales that haven’t been sanitized for its protection.
Which brings me back to Revelation, a film I thought was quite well done in one regard: the characters seemed authentic. They often were filled with doubt about the reason behind their circumstances and used language you probably won’t hear from a pulpit anytime soon. They were, in a word, real. They were like normal people living through extraordinary events.
Whether or not you believe in the claims of the Bible, you have to respect Revelation from a storytelling point of view. The Bible tells a good, and often dirty, tale. For a movement that frowns on sex and violence, there sure is a lot of it in the pages of Scripture. While the Christians don’t have to like the bad behavior described in the Bible, the reason people connect with this story is because they can relate to it. They may not have committed murder, theft or adultery, but they probably have thought about it once or twice.
Having the courage to telling stories like this, warts and all, is what will take the telling of Christian tales from the wings to center stage. You can leave the job to those who don’t respect the source material, but when that happens, you get films like Noah and Exodus, which look good but have been lambasted because they took turns from the original narrative. Wouldn’t it be better if Christians told these stories rather than leave them to others?
In the Lewis classic, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Mr. Beaver says Aslan, who is a classic messianic figure, “is not a tame lion”.
If you consider that story as an allegory of the Passion of Jesus Christ, as many do, and that the rest of the stories in The Good Book aren’t very tame either, then to clean them up is not being honest to the original material.
When you mess with one part of a story, then people are less likely to believe the rest of it. And that defeats the entire purpose of telling this particular tale, doesn’t it?
I've been writing stories and taking photos since I was old enough to hold a pencil and stand behind a tripod.