Icebreaker #11 | What’s your ideal vacation?

This is the eleventh installment of my Icebreaker series. Pack your bags.

What’s your ideal vacation?

This is actually a very timely post. My wife and I are trying to decide what we’re going to do for our 10 year anniversary. Will we travel? Should we wait and save up some money first? Do we want a relaxing seaside experience or a historically or geographically significant trip? Here are a few options that all sound pretty good.

Option 1 – Museum Central

My wife and I genuinely enjoy learning. I know what you are thinking. What nerds! Well, think whatever you want. We like learning.

To that end, we like going to museums and historical sites and places with little plaques full of writing. There are a number of places that could fit this description. We could go to the Guggenheim, the Smithsonian, the Field Museum or the Museum of Science and Industry. There’s the whole city of Boston or Philadelphia or Washington D.C. But if I’m going to choose the ideal vacation, I’m probably going to be thinking further afield.

eagle-and-child2As a huge fantasy nerd, I would love to have a pint at the Eagle and Child where the Inklings met, where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and Roger Lancelyn Green and all the rest of them read their work aloud. And as it happens, I just made a friend who lives in Oxford where the Eagle and Child (and a bunch of other historical highlights) happen to be.

Option 2 – Relaxation and Geological Features

palm_treeWind and waves and sun and volcanoes (the friendly kind, not the kind that cover villages). Yes, I’m talking about Hawaii. I wouldn’t need a passport, just a bucket of cash and a suitcase full of sunscreen. Oh, and a good book (or maybe a good used bookstore full of good books). I think my wife and I would want to divide our time between soaking in some vitamin D and exploring the unique features that volcanic islands offer.

I’m sure that I’d be happy with either of these options. And even happier if someone else wanted to bankroll them for us. Any takers?

What is your ideal vacation like?

The Other Inklings | Lord David Cecil

A while back, I started introducing you to the Inklings of Oxford. Why? Because the Inklings was a legendary writer’s group that gave birth to such masterpieces as The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.

But there were more people in the Inklings than just C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Let’s take some time and meet a few of the lesser-known Inklings.

* * * * * * * * * * *

I’m a firm believer that bad things happen for good reasons. I believe that this was the case with Lord David Cecil, Oxford professor, historian, biographer, and our next lesser-known Inkling.

Lord David was a delicate child who developed a tubercular gland at the age of eight. Due to the required surgery and recovery time, he spent large amounts of time in bed, where he developed his love of reading. And if you consider a love of reading anything less than a wonderful thing, you and I won’t see eye to eye on a lot of things (because you are wrong).

Cecil was the grandson of Lord Salisbury (a 19th-century British Prime Minister) and the son of James Gascoyne-Cecil (the 4th Marquess of Salisbury). Born on April 9th, 1902 in London, Lord David was the youngest of four children, meaning that his title of Lord was one of courtesy only.

Lord David attended Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford before becoming a Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford from 1924 to 1930. Cecil published his first book, The Stricken Deer, a study of poet Thomas Cowper, in 1929 and made an immediate impact as a literary historian. He went on to write studies on Walter Scott and Jane Austen.

In 1939, Cecil became a Fellow of New College, Oxford. After a brief stint in 1947 at Greshem College in London, Lord David returned to the University of Oxford in 1948 as a Professor of English Literature until 1970. During his tenure, Lord David published studies of Thomas Gray, Thomas Hardy, Dorothy Osborne, Walter Pater, and William Shakespeare. But he did not limit his studies to literary figures, covering distant relative Lord Melborne, visual artists Max Beerbohm, Edward Burne-Jones, Augustus John, and Samuel Palmer, as well as a number of others.

Having established himself as an authority on the arts from his volume of work, Lord David Cecil appeared frequently on BBC television in his retirement.

Cecil died on January 1st, 1986, leaving behind three children: actor and journalist, Jonathan Hugh; historian, Hugh Peniston; and literary agent, Alice Laura. He was preceded in death by his wife Rachel, author of popular novel, Theresa’s Choice.

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My sources for information:

The Other Inklings | Nevill Coghill

Last week, I started introducing you to the Inklings of Oxford. Why? Because the Inklings was a legendary writer’s group that gave birth to such masterpieces as The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.

But there were more people in the Inklings than just C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Let’s take some time and meet a few of the lesser-known Inklings.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When I think of the Inklings, I think of stalwart men who express themselves through high fantasy or high academic interests. I do not think of someone who worked with stars of the stage and screen, and yet Nevill Coghill was just such an Inkling.

Coghill was born in 1899, saw action in World War I as a second lieutenant in the trench mortar division of the Royal Artillery, then went on to an education at Exeter College in Oxford, earning a first-class degree in English in 1923.

It was during his time at Exeter that Coghill befriended C. S. Lewis. Lewis, an atheist at the time, viewed Coghill’s Christian faith as an archaic value system.

Coghill became a fellow of Exeter in 1925, demonstrating his talents as a dramatic producer in his leadership of the Oxford University Dramatic Society. Among the actors whom Coghill directed in those years was the young Richard Jenkins, who later earned worldwide fame under the name of Richard Burton. In 1957, Coghill was elected the Merton Professor of English Literature.

Nevill Coghill is best known for modern translation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canturbury Tales, which was originally translated for BBC radio production, though now is a standard text for students of English Literature.His translation took on a second life by being transformed into a West-End and Broadway musical with Martin Starkie. This production earned one Tony Award for Best Costume Design in 1969, and was nominated in four other categories as well.

Coghill was married, fathered a daughter, and divorced. According to a memoir by Reynolds Price, Neville “lived a quietly homosexual life thereafter.”

He was Merton Professor of English Literature of the University of Oxford from 1957 to 1966. He died in November 1980.

The Other Inklings | Warren Lewis

Hang around any bookstore or writer’s group for more than a few minutes and you are bound to hear something about the Inklings of Oxford. Why? Because the Inklings was a legendary writer’s group that gave birth to such masterpieces as The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.

But there were more people in the Inklings than just C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Let’s take some time and meet a few of the lesser-known Inklings.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Warren_LewisWarren Lewis is best known for being the elder brother of C. S. Lewis, but he was also one of the founders of the Inklings of Oxford, a writer of French history, and secretary for his brother later in life.

Born in Ireland in 1895, Warren blazed a trail that his little brother would follow. When their mother died while the boys were still young, they clung to each other as their father grieved. Together, they imagined, wrote, and illustrated books on the fantasy world of Boxen.

Warren attended an English boarding school outside London, where his brother would join him, under the regime of a harsh headmaster.

After school, Warren joined the military and served for eighteen years, seeing service as a supply officer in WWI and traveling the globe. He retired as a captain in 1932, only to be called up again for service in WWII in 1939 where he served as a major.

At the end WWII, Warren took up residence with C. S. Lewis near Oxford, where they lived together until his younger brother’s death in 1963.

Warren renewed his Christianity in 1931 and was one of the major influences in bringing about his brother’s conversion. He enjoyed walking tours, writing French history (a lifelong passion of his), and quaffing ale at Inklings meetings.

C. S. Lewis described him as “my dearest and closest friend.” But Warren was more than just a friend. Ironically, though most people only know Warren Lewis as the brother of C. S. Lewis, the world would not know C. S. Lewis at all but for Warren, his life, and his influence.

Why I Sold Half my Facebook Friends to Mere Inklings in the Waiting Room – or – Links

This is Frigg, the reason Friday is called Friday, as in "I'm so friggin glad it's Friday!"

Friday is named for the Norse goddess, Frigg, wife of Odin, step-mother of Thor. Now you’ve learned something you can share with your friends tonight when you go see the  Avengers movie. Just point to Thor and say, “His step-mom is why today is called Friday.”

I like the format of listing interesting links on Fridays for two reasons. One, the internet is a vast and potentially frightening place and it helps to have a guide. Two, it doesn’t require as much time, so I have more time for working on my novel.

That said, here are four links that I think you should click:

Why I Sold Half of my Comic Book Collection by Andrew Rogers | First, the disclaimer, Andrew is in my writers’ group and he’s a good friend of mine. Second, the pitch, this is a good post the helps us evaluate whether we are hoarding things that would be better sold in order to gain things that would be better applied. Be sure to leave him a comment if you visit.

Mere Inkling | This is a site dedicated to the writers’ group, The Inklings, of which C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were members. The blogger, Rob Stroud, does a wonderful job in looking at life through the works of The Inklings. If you enjoy Narnia or Lord of the Rings, check out Rob’s blog.

The (Writer’s) Waiting Room | I stumbled across this blog this week and think it is a must-read for anyone with hopes of getting published. The blog is hosted by Hannah Karena Jones, an assistant editor at Transaction Publishers. She is insightful and encouraging as she guides would-be authors through the publishing process. I particularly enjoyed her post on query letters.

My Facebook Profile | Are we friends on Facebook? If not, we probably should be. Here are a couple reasons why you might want to befriend me: if you are a writer hoping to be published, publishers like to see a big friend list because it says that you aren’t afraid to self-promote and you have a built-in network of people who might buy your book; if you are not a writer, it is still good to have friends; I’m quite nice. All potential stalkers please ignore the above reasons and stop being so weird and stalker-y.

But Josh, how did you do with your writing goals this week?

How I did this week. Also, fun links!Good question, faceless stranger! I did pretty well. Twice in the last week, I set aside a few hours at a time to work on my novel. I feel like the story is coming along nicely (probably about 1/3 of the way there) and my characters even gave me a plot surprise that was pretty good. After posting this week’s book review, I wrote to the author of the book and she wrote back, which was a lovely surprise. And last, but certainly not least, I posted something every weekday, which is my goal. I’m going to give myself and A- for the week.

Thanks for reading this week. If you’ve made it this far into the post, you are probably either related to me or genuinely interested in my blog. Either way, your thoughts matter to me. I would appreciate any feedback or post ideas that you would care to share in the comments below!

I am a Weakling.

It I am a Weakling.probably started at a baseball game. Now, I’m not a big baseball fan, but when my mom asked whether my wife and I would like to join her at a Whitecaps game with her work, Cornerstone College, we came along. It was a good family outing.

As it happened, we sat next to the then-president of the college and his wife, with whom I struck up a conversation. I told her that I worked in the music department at a bookstore and she told me that her son, Andrew, was a musician who was moving back to the area and that he’d be looking for a music-related job. I promised her that I’d give him a call and try to connect him with something.

As promised, I called him. But rather than be all that helpful, I told him that Grand Rapids didn’t have a big recording industry and he’d be better off moving to somewhere like Nashville, the hub of all things music. He didn’t listen and moved to Grand Rapids anyway.

A month or two later, Andrew applied at the bookstore where I work. Remembering his name, and the promise to his mom that I’d try to help him find a job, I encouraged the management to give him a chance. He would have gotten the job anyway, but I like to take as much credit for other people’s accomplishments as possible.

We hit it off. Two weeks after he was hired, I asked him to help my wife and I move out of our apartment. Here’s a bit of truth for you: There is no better way to cement a friendship than to ask them to help you move. Andrew and his wife, Kristen, came over as strangers, but within a couple hours of seeing and packing our belongings, lifting heavy boxes, and maneuvering awkward pieces of furniture up stairs backwards, they emerged as friends.

While moving, we talked about our interests, and one of them was writing. Andrew mentioned that he and a guy named Bob were meeting for Bible study once every couple weeks and that he enjoyed writing as well. I was invited to Bible study and the three of us agreed that we should meet again solely to talk about our writing. Along the way, Bob ran into a guy named Matt, a writer friend from college, and invited him to the meeting.

The night we met, the Weaklings were born. Taking inspiration from the famous writers’ group, the Inklings, which included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, we formed our own writer’s group, the Weaklings. Matt had been part of the a few writers’ groups over the years and lent his experience and some structure to our meetings.

The early meeting ran along these lines: grab some refreshments – 5 minutes; chat about life – 10 minutes; read something we wrote since the last meeting – 5 minutes each; discuss what was read – 10 minutes each; discuss any writing challenges or goals – 10 minutes; schedule next meeting & leave.

We met at least once every two weeks, usually on the opposite week from Bible study. Inevitably, Andrew and I would discuss writing a lot at the bookstore where we worked (and continued to move furniture together). That encouragement and accountability helped make writing part of my routine.

Since those early days, Matt has  moved to the other side of the state, Bob has two kids, Andrew has one, and I have one with another on the way, but we all still make time for writing. And we all continue to encourage each other.

There is power in writers’ groups, and I am proud to say that I am a Weakling.