Why Is Brevity So Rare?

BLOG #9, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WHY IS BREVITY SO RARE?
March 4, 2015

I really didn’t know just how difficult it was to be brief until one day, in Colorado Springs, when I delivered a one-minute short for Focus on the Family. There, in that broadcast studio, the sound people were all business. Their injunction all too precise: “We need a 60-second short from you—not 59 or 58, and not 61 or 62. Just 60 seconds.” And so we did take after take after take before I finally completed my task in exactly 60 seconds.

As a story anthologist, I’m always searching for powerful short stories I can read on the air. Believe me, they are mighty rare!

Same for poems. One of my favorite poets is the late Edgar A. Guest, one of the most beloved folk poets America has ever known. In one particular poem, he pulled off a twelve-line masterpiece that captured the essence of one of the most difficult words to perfectly define in the English language. Here it is:

WISDOM

This is wisdom, maids and men:
Knowing what to say and when.

Speech is common; thought is rare;
Wise men choose their words with care.

Artists with the master touch
Never use one phrase too much.

Jesus, preaching on the Mount,
Made His every sentence count.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
Needs not one word more nor less.

This is wisdom, maids and men:
Knowing what to say and when.

From Guest’s A Heap O’ Living Along Life’s Highway (Chicago: Reilly & Lee, 1916)

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CHRISTMAS IN MY HEART 23 NOW AVAILABLE

BLOG #38, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
CHRISTMAS IN MY HEART® 23

September 17, 2014

N E W S R E L E A S E

Just out is this, our 89th book, and 74th story anthology!

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Hard to believe but, after 23 long years, Christmas in My Heart® is still alive! Clearly God’s plans for the series are not yet complete. As long-time readers of the series know, there is no resting on laurels where this series is concerned: for an entire year I winnow the stories down to a pure gold fifteen to nineteen stories; hundreds may be rejected for every one that makes it in. It normally takes me ten to fifteen prayerful winnowings before I feel the slate is perfect. I take special care in creating kind of a roller-coaster trajectory between laughter and tears, long and short, child and adult, love stories and stories with some other appeal. I make no apologies for the love stories since God created love, and love and Christmas are inextricably woven together. Indeed, I’ve come to the conclusion that, judging by our mail, the romance element is one key reason why the series is still alive today.

During the last two years, there has been a run on complete sets. Today, as more and more publishing houses fold their doors or are bought out by a bigger company, out-of-print books have swelled into epidemic figures. Not surprisingly, most of our now 89 books are today out-of-print. Consequently, if you or someone you love is a Christmasaholic—there are so many of us terminal cases out there!—, you might wish to take this occasion to take advantage of our Christmas sale 40% discount (close to our cost) for the complete set!  Scan_Pic0113

So let’s look at the line-up of what’s in the new collection. First of all, all 23 covers have timeless, Currier & Ives artwork on the covers, a veritable art gallery if you are lucky enough to own them all.

Secondly, most of the stories are illustrated with a timeless woodcut, most at least a hundred years old; thus contributing to the heirloom look. Since most of our stories don’t come with illustrations we can use, I usually pour through tens of thousands of pages in old magazines or books in search of those few unique ones that seem born to illustrate certain stories.

I also vary the time-frame story-wise: a story may date back to Bible times or hundreds of years ago; or it may have been set in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries. Or written during the last year or two. What matters is whether the story remains relevant today.

Nor does the name of a given author mean much to me. I believe I am one of the very few story anthologists who are convicted that the power of a given story alone ought to determine whether it makes it in the collection or not.

Now for the Gold list of the stories that did make it in:

•      Introduction: “Psst! I’m Giving Away All My Secrets” – Joseph Leininger Wheeler. In it, I pass along many of my anthologizing secrets so that when I pass off the stage of life, perhaps someone else will be ready to take my place.
•      “Two Christmas Mornings of the Great War” –Edward Hulse and Wilfred Ewart. I’ve been saving this powerful story until 2014, the 100th anniversary of an unbelievable Christmas Day truce in the World War I trenches of France. It had to be the lead story this Christmas.
•      “Santa for Certain” – Earl Reed Silvers. Earl Reed Silvers is one of the most beloved of all writers of stories for young people. This is his second inclusion in our series.
•      “The Gift” – Bruce R. Coston. A little girl who longed for a kitten, and parents who definitely did not.
•      “Father Carter and the Herd of Elelphants” – Pat Thornborough. Had to go clear to England to land this very special story.
•      “The Crinoline Lady of March Manor” – Irma Hegel. Whoever heard of falling in love with an old painting?
•      “Flight of the Second Section” – Edward S. Marshall. Just imagine flying an airliner that had an altitude ceiling at barely 8,000 feet—and in a Christmas storm at that!
•      “The Children Who Played with the Manger” – Iones Haynes Keene. Manger animals are to be looked at, not to be played with; well, doesn’t that make sense?
•      “The Return of Christmas” – Marlene Chase. The unadulterated nerve of her sister Lexi: trying to foist off on her a thirteen-year-old going on twenty-three girl at Christmas. This is Marlene Chase’s fourth inclusion.
•      “The Christmas Doll” – Jeanne Bottroff. A poor little girl who had not realized she was cold—read it and find out why.
•      “Christmas at Bethlehem” – Anna Brownell Dunaway. What could be worse than being marooned in a one-horse town in a rickety old hotel at Christmas? This is Dunaway’s second appearance.
•      “Sweet Singing in the Choir” – Deborah Siepmann. You’ll never again be able to listen to a boys’ choir the same after you read this poignant story from England.
•      “Twenty Acres for Christmas” – F. McKinnon Morton. What if you are sitting on valuable land you’ve long considered your own, but discover someone else owns it? But if you don’t say anything about it, it’s most unlikely anyone else will ever find out about it.
•      “The Monkey Manufacturing Company” – Harold D. Robinson. The boys were out of business—or were they?
•      “Personal Delivery” – Gail Courtney Rittgers. Marcia stopped Kent from reaching for his checkbook. Why?
•      “A Christmas Triumph” – Frances Lewis. Father never participated in Christmas. Said he couldn’t afford it.
•      “Because of Christmas” – Phyllis Naylor. What to do with leftovers at Christmas—find out!
•      “The Tides of Life” – Joseph Leininger Wheeler. She never wanted to see him again—not unless, a very unlikely “unless”. But she got on a cruise ship anyhow.

The hand-tasseled bookmark is worth $5.00 by itself!

ORDERING INFORMATION

Publisher: Pacific Press Publishing.

Binding: Trade Paper

Pages: 128

Price: $13.99

Shipping: $4.50

Personally inscribed by Joe Wheeler, if requested, at no extra cost. You may secure your copies from us, so give us a call, or email, or letter, and we’ll fill your orders for you.

Mail your request to: Joe Wheeler, P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433.

Or Phone us at: 303-838-2333.

Or send an email to: mountainauthor@gmail.com.

COMPLETE SET OF 23 BOOKS

Available this Christmas at only $170 (a 40% discount), plus shipping. Inscribed too, if specifically requested.

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

PROPOSED: DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB

For Oct. 26, 2011

“Read the best books first, or you may not have

a chance to read them at all.”

                                                                        —Thoreau

Last week’s blog on the Williamsons’ travel books appears to have started something totally unexpected.  Or perhaps it would be more apt to say “restarted.”  Our daughter Michelle suggested I organize a series of blogs having to do with my favorite books—and I had a tough time sleeping that night.  Should I devote one blog a month to a favorite book?  I’ve since become convicted that I ought to do just that.

Former students of mine who are kind enough to check in with the daily tweets and weekly blogs will remember that for years I taught such courses as Great Books of the World and Modern and Contemporary Literature, as well as individualized Directed Reading courses.  Many of you actually took some of those courses.  In those courses, I had the opportunity to share some of my most loved books with my students.  I miss those courses.

After I left the classroom for a full-time career as an author, over a five-year period, I edited special editions of some of my favorite books for Focus on the Family/Tyndale House.  The twelve we created are: Little Women and Little Men by Louisa May Alcott, Robinson Crusoe and The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, A Christmas Carol and David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, The Christmas Angel by Abbie Farwell Brown, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter, The Twenty-fourth of June by Grace Richmond, Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz, and Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace.

At the front of each book, under the heading of “A Life-Changing Letter,” were these words:

 

                                    Several years ago I received a letter that changed my life.  Sadly, I don’t

remember who wrote it, only what she said.  In essence, this was her plea:

                        “Dr. Wheeler,

    I have a big favor to ask you.  First of all, though, I want you to know how much I enjoy your story collections; they have greatly enriched my life.  Now for the favor: I was wondering if you have any interest in doing with books what you are doing with stories.

    You see, while I love to read, I haven’t the slightest idea of where to start.  There are millions of books out there, and most of them—authors too—are just one big blur to me.  I want to use my time wisely, to choose books which will not only take me somewhere but also make me a better and kinder person.

   I envy you because you know which books are worth reading and which are not.  Do you possibly have a list of worthy books that you wouldn’t mind sending to me?”

   I responded to this letter but most inadequately, for at that time I had no such list.  I tried to put the plea behind me, but it dug in its heels and kept me awake at night.  Eventually, I concluded that a Higher Power was at work here and that I needed to do something about it.  I put together a proposal for a broad reading plan based on books I knew and loved—books that had powerfully affected me, that had opened other worlds and cultures to me, and that had made me a kinder, more empathetic person.

 

You see, we have so little time in this tragically short life in which to read books worth reading.  If, over a seventy-year period, we read only a book a week, that would total only 3,640 books during a lifetime.  A book a month would come to only 840.

So my question to you is this: Would you be interested in such a book club, beginning this November?  Most of these titles would not be new but rather would have stood the test of time.  Some might turn out to be books you once read but might enjoy re-reading.  Others would be new to you.

There would be no cost for joining.  You could either purchase a copy of each book at a bookstore or from the worldwide web (Amazon, ABE, etc), or check it out from your library.  There is another option for some of the titles I’d choose: Eric Mayer of Bluebird Books (8201 S. Santa Fe Drive, #245, Littleton, CO 80120 (303) 912-4559.   books@bluebirdbooks.com  www.bluebirdbooks.com   Reason being that for most of my life I planned to open up a book business when I retired, and so purchased many thousands of books over the years for that purpose.  Well, I’ve ruefully concluded that I’ll probably never retire, so I turned over a good share of those books to Bluebird Books for him to dispose of.  He is aware of this book club concept and is enthusiastically on board.  He is honest, conscientious, prices out-of-print books at market norms, and is dedicated to securing books in the best condition possible.  You’ll find him special to work with.  Let him know you’re part of this book club.  Me too, as I’ll be making up a list of names and addresses of each of you who joins.  Would love to hear from you as to reactions to the books we select.

Years ago, I joined the Heritage Book Club and, over time, purchased most of their classic titles.  They tended to cycle through certain authors.  I would too.  Not all at once, but over time.  If you’re like me, however,  you’re not likely to wait but if you fall in love with a certain author you’ll start adding others of their books to your personal library.

As to my favorite books, I’m a sentimentalist who loves romances, family favorites, adventure, historical romances, classics, etc.  I gravitate to books that move me deeply, take me places I’ve never been to before, make me laugh or cry, incorporate values worth living by—pretty much the same criteria I’ve used in selecting stories in my 60 story anthologies.

I’ll be candid with you: I really miss the one-on-one interaction with my students.  Such a book club as this would be second best to actual classroom interaction.  I’m really looking forward to such contact.

BOOK #1 – OUR NOVEMBER BOOK OF THE MONTH

THE CALLING OF DAN MATTHEWS        

—Harold Bell Wright

 


Have you ever noticed that it is only in retrospect that we realize that if certain days in our lives had never been, how different our lives would have been.  Well, there was just such a day I’d like to share with you.

It was a heartstoppingly beautiful spring morning along California’s Feather River.  Since my missionary parents were far away in the West Indies, relatives stepped in to keep me from being lonely during vacations.  On this particular day, two of my favorite relatives, Aunt Jeannie and Uncle Warren, pronounced it picnic time.  We stopped en-route to Feather River Canyon at the Tehama County Library where my aunt steered me to certain authors she thought I’d relate to.  I checked out a number of books that really looked interesting to me.  One of them was this particular book, first published in 1909 by the Book Supply Company.  After settling down on a blanket under a great oak, I opened this book, and was almost instantaneously drawn into it—so much so that I lost all track of time, only remaining aware of the haunting riversong.

I was more than ready for this romance.  Having grown up in a conservative Christian church my world view was a bit limited.  Wright, a pastor himself, disillusioned by church politics and broken in health, had come to the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas to see if he could find answers.  In time, he was strongly impacted by the Social Gospel Movement of the 1890s, the discovery of the Didache being at the root of it.  Only during the last year have I discovered (during research for my second biography of St. Nicholas) that for four centuries the early Christian Church exploded across the Roman World, not because of doctrine but because of living out Christ’s injunctions to serve others, to help those who were ill or in prison or who were in need of humanitarian aid (known as the Didache).  Wright concluded that if he incorporated Christ’s injunction to make service to others the highest calling of his life, he could revolutionize American life.  But not through sermons but rather through fiction.  He wrote three books in what has become known as the Social Gospel Trilogy: That Printer of Udel’s, The Calling of Dan Matthews, and God and the Groceryman.  Not until years later did I discover those other two books.

But the book proved to be an epiphany for me.  It radically changed my life: gave me a vision of selfless service and revealed that God was not owned by any one denomination but rather that He found ways to relate to every human being on earth, regardless of nationality or religion.  He was—and is—Father of us all.

I set out on a life-long search for all of Wright’s other books.  Wright has that effect on his readers.  I know of one woman who cried when she read the last Wright novel.  Cried because never again could she listen to Wright in an unread book.  Not all our mentors are still with us—many speak to us from the grave through their books that live on and on.

So this is why I’m starting with Wright.  As you begin building a library—or expand it to include these books—, I strongly encourage you to buy your own books, choosing First Editions or special editions, keeping in mind that in books, as in art, condition is everything.

I’ll be talking a lot more about books in blogs to come, among our other subject areas.  Next Wednesday I’ll be discussing the importance of journaling and why, if we don’t, we’ll be losing out big time!

No, I haven’t forgotten the Southwest National Parks.  I just got sidetracked!

If you wish to write me, I can be reached at Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433.