Creating Provocative First Lines of Your Imaginary Novel

Leonid Pasternak's Throes of Creation

Leonid Pasternak’s Throes of Creation

I don’t know how many other folks do this, but I sometimes spend my free brain time thinking up creative and enticing first lines for short stories or novels.

Here are some that have come to mind in the past few days.

Sitting here in the dentist chair, his hands all up in my mouth, wondering how the kids talked me into such a mess.

This particular morning was colder than any I can remember. But remember that I don’t remember so well ever since the incident.

The grocery clerk was checking me out with obvious intention. And I don’t mean scanning my packages.

The man was droning on about the stomach problems he’d suffered on his recent vacation, which made me miss my father’s call. Dad died unexpectedly later that evening.

The teacher scratched her chalk across the board as if she’d both gone to bed and woke up on its wrong side. Perhaps she had.

He was running for public office, the kind of man hard pressed to get his mother to cast a vote his way. Perhaps that was his most attractive quality.

Sometimes I get scared.  This time was not one of them.

The apples were just coming in. But not in the way she expected.

It’s fun. Give it a shot and share some of your own…

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The Fall of Man and It’s Four Deaths

Wanted to share an important, short article Focus on the Family has at our website for The Family Project. This article gives a greater picture of how the Fall of humanity, as it happened in the garden, brought four different and devastating deaths upon humanity and each of us as sons and daughters of our original parents. It draws fuller picture of how the Fall diminished our humanity and our most important relationships in four different ways.


The art attached to the article is entitled The Entombment by Peter Paul Rubens. It is one of  my favorite paintings because of how it conveys the real, deep, human drama of our Savior’s death for the sins of the world and how a real mother on a real day had to experience the terrible death of her boy.

Look at her eyes, eyes of pain and dramatic mourning. Rubens has them deep, painfully red and swollen from her travail. She is not heroic as in Michelangelo’s Pieta. She is us, how any of us would be at the death of our child. But she also knows the bigger picture of who her boy is and why he had to die. That is why her eyes are directed to the Father, as if to ask “why” but also seeking comfort and assurance.

It is a powerful image.

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How So Many Got it Wrong About Fiorina Getting Planned Parenthood Wrong

fiorina gop debate

One the biggest moments in this second GOP debate was Carly Fiorina deftly taking control of the exchange and pointing it toward the macabre group of folks Planned Parenthood are and how the two top leaders of the Democratic party are quite content to defend and let them go about their grisly business. She said, with great seriousness and passion,

I dare Hillary Clinton [and] Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully-formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’ This is about the character of our nation.

A host of media outlets, as well as Planned Parenthood, went to great lengths to explain that Mrs. Fiorina was deeply mistaken.

Planned Parenthood quickly released a memo claiming she’s  a liar:

The images show nothing like what Carly Fiorina said they do, and they have nothing to do with Planned Parenthood. The video footage that she claims exists — and that she ‘dared’ people to watch — does not exist. We have a word for that: It’s a lie.

Politico’s Rachana Pradhan was quick on the draw to “fact-check” Carly’s statement, also concluding she was wrong,

The videos that have stirred up so much trouble for Planned Parenthood don’t show what Fiorina claims. …In one video, a former employee of the fetal tissue procurement company StemExpress…alleges that she saw an aborted fetus’ heart beat after a clinician tapped its heart. That video relies solely on the interview and does not include footage to support her claims. [But]…at no point do they include footage of an entire aborted fetus.

Huffington Post joined in of course (See #6), bluntly claiming,

That footage doesn’t exist. …[T]here is no moment where Planned Parenthood discusses procuring fetal tissue for profit, nor is there the scene that Fiorina describes.

A writer at Vox claims Carly was just making things up, explaining they know this because they watched every inch of the tapes,

Fiorina is wrong: Nobody watching the Planned Parenthood tapes would see those things. I know, because I recently watched all 12 hours of the footage. …[T]he things Fiorina describes — the legs kicking, the intact “fully formed fetus,” the heart beating, the remarks about having to “harvest its brain” — are pure fiction.

George Stephenopoulos interviewing Fiorina on ABC News the next day said that “analysts who watched all 12+ hours said the harrowing scene you describe isn’t actually in those tapes” and then asks her if she misspoke.

Mrs. Fiorina certainly did not misspeak. Each of the above sources are the ones who got it exactly wrong. Everything she described in the debate is all plainly here in the video. You can see it starting at 5:37. (WARNING: It is graphic and upsetting.)

Here is where each point she made is found. You be the judge as to who got it right.

  1. Watch a fully-formed fetus on the table” (see 5:59)
  2. “…its heart beating, its legs kicking” (see 5:37 – 6:10)
  3. “…while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’” (see 6:07 – 6:49)

At the end of this video, you hear an employee – Holly O’Donnell – explain why she quit her job. She was asked to cut this baby boy’s face through the middle, from its tiny chin up beyond its forehead in order to “procure” the brain which was to go immediately to market. That was the work she was in.

Reflecting on that day, she says she held that little boy, surprised at how big he was, how heavy, how substantive his body was, holding him in her hands while everyone else was busy about their business. She was the only one who humanized the baby boy, saying:

It’s just really hard knowing you are the only person who’s ever going to hold  that baby. I held it and thought, this could have grown up to …be a lawyer, a firefighter, this could be the next president. …Getting pregnant can be an accident, but its not a mistake.

That baby was real. The people who killed it that day in the clinic are real. And the footage of its last seconds of life are real, regardless of how badly some want to deny it.

Carly was right.

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Little Trip to Mexico

In San Diego to speak at a conference this week and had some free time, so decided to go somewhere I’d never been before: Mexico. Drove down, right through the border check without a line, no waiting nor any stop and check. Just drove right through and easy to understand when you consider how honest I look.

I wanted to go down to Ensenda, a nice little coastal town, where my nephew was born. I took the back way through the country side. I really loved it. It was remarkable to me how definitively the “feel” changes immediately when you cross the border. The US and Mexico are very distinct, but I thought the two “feels” would transition slowly – blend – as you drove from one into the other. But that fence separates is indeed a significant divide. Two very different worlds, and all really based on two different ideas about economics and political policy. Ideas matter for how real people live and their well-being.

Here are some pics from the quick trip. (I usually take pictures of buildings and people, rather than “views” and touristy things. I find them much more interesting.)



Big ‘Ol 75-foot tall Jesus near Rosarita

011021019 024

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My Five Favorite Lesser-Appreciated Dylan Albums

Being a considerable and long-time Dylan fan, people will ask my favorite Dylan songs and albums. Those are hard to pick, as they are far too many. Dylan’s body of work is like an iceberg. What’s above the water, what most people know of, is small compared to what’s beneath the water, those less familiar works. That’s where my favorites are.

(On the topic of his massive body of work, one reviewer said that Dylan’s official and very successful collective bootleg albums themselves – all the golden material that never made it onto albums –  would amount to a successful career in themselves for most artists. He’s right.)

But I can list my favorite albums if you ask about them by more precise categories. Here’s the list my five absolute favorites that are under appreciated – if not totally unknown – by most.

Bob Dylan, 1962

Upon release, Bob’s first albbob dylanum was quickly referred to as “Hammond’s Folly” in reference to John Hammond who took a big chance on signing the young man from Hibbing, MN to Columbia Records. The album hardly made a bump its first year, selling only about 5,000 copies. There are only two original compositions on the album, the rest are great folk bits from others.

Featuring simply Dylan’s strong and organic voice, his acoustic guitar and harmonica, this album is an absolute explosion of energy, the most powerful being “Fixin’ to Die”, “Freight Train Blues” and “Gospel Plow”. “Freight Train” has an unbelievably long dragged-out one breath hold on the last word of the refrain…”blues”. Longest I’ve ever heard and never have been able to come close to following it as I sing it along with him.  The disc also features “House of the Rising Sun”.

This one is arguably Dylan’s most energetically performed albums. And the cover photo is classic. It is the only one from those early days where he doesn’t sport some sort of attitude, either good or bad.  It is really a great photo, allowing his boyish innocence to stand evident.

New Morning, 1970

new morningDylan has a small handful of albums that are very distinct from everything else, regarding the songs and manner in which he performs them. His picture on the cover of New Morning tells you this is different, as it presents a different kind of Dylan. New Morning is simple – his voice and some backing musicians. Each song is beautiful and a winner, one of those works where it is hard to pick a favorite tune.

One favorite, a wholly unique tune, is “If Dogs Run Free.” It is the only Dylan song featuring scat. Yes, scat. Who knew? Rolling Stone gave the whole work a glowing review in 1970, including this gem: “‘If Dogs Run Free’ puts me in mind of a beatnik poetry reading at the Fat Black Pussy Cat Theatre in Greenwich Village.” “The Man in Me”, “New Morning” and “Time Passes Slowly” are all gems. Deeply performed from the depths of his soul. It features two good gospel songs to close up the LP: “Three Angels” and “Father of Night”.

Any even semi-serious Dylan collection should have New Morning, as well as this next one.

Street-Legal (1978)

Street LevelStreet-Legal was the studio album just before Dylan’s world-shaking emergence as a born-again Christian with his best-selling “Slow Train”. Every song on Street-Legal is absolutely rock solid, many of them heartfelt confessions of broken or troubled love. This is not surprising given this album appeared the year following his divorce from his first wife, Sara, with whom he had four children and adopted her daughter.

My favorites here are “Changing of the Guards” (which Patti Smith does a wonderful cover of on her remarkable collection of great covers, Twelve), “Is Your Love in Vain” and “True Love Tends to Forget.” “New Pony” is a creative and different little song, save for the fact that his new pony’s name is Lucifer.

The noted critic, Greil Marcus, couldn’t have been more wrong about this LP in his Rolling Stone review, saying “Most of the stuff here is dead air, or close to it.”  He notes that some of the performances are “wretched” and one is “particularly cruel” to any listener’s ears. If you have any interest in Dylan’s music, get this album and see just how embarrassingly  wrong poor Marcus is.

Empire Burlesque (1985)

empire burlesqueNot many Dylan fans would list this one as a favorite in any category, but I’m not most Dylan fans. I just like so many of these songs because they are clever and have so many great lines. The opening track – “Tight Connection to My Heart” – bursts forth with this great line:

“Well I had to move fast, and I couldn’t with you around my neck. I said I’d send for you and I did, what did you expect?”

As well as,

“Someday maybe, I’ll remember to forget.”


“While they’re beatin’ the devil out of a guy who’s wearing a powder-blue wig.
Later he’ll be shot for resisting arrest, I can still hear his voice crying in the wilderness.”

No doubt the guy deserved the beatin’ because of his wig choice.

In “Clean Cut Kid” he tells of a promising young kid – he was clean cut supposedly – who got turned into a killer by the powers that be. Dylan explains how this young man had quite a diet after his defilers got finished with him.

“He drank Coca-Cola, he was eating Wonder Bread, he ate Burger Kings, he was well fed.”

So, if you ever have the trivia question come up, “Did Bob Dylan ever sing about Wonder Bread or Burger King?” you now know the answer.

There are two particularly beautiful songs, “Emotionally Yours” – the wonderful arrangement transfixes me, particularly the violin – and “Dark Eyes”, a hauntingly beautiful song, of which Judy Collins does cover that will silence you.

Good As I Been To  You (1992)

Good as I Been to YouI listened to this disc constantly in graduate school, serving as background music during long bouts of reading and writing my thesis. I love this one because it is a collection of very old folk gems performed by Dylan’s voice, acoustic guitar and harmonica. Clean and stripped down. We have to go back to 1964 to find his previous scaled-down offering. Oh, and it includes “Froggie Went a Courtin'”. Who can’t love that?

My two favorites are “Canadee-I-O”, a traditional Canadian ballad written in the early 1800s of a young maiden who dresses as a sailor so she can follow her love to sea.  “Authur McBride”, an Irish folk song, written in the early 1800s as well, if not before, tells the story of two men who resist the invitation of a military recruiter to join the war because they know he’ll “send us to France, where we would get shot without warning.” It is a remarkable story and performed so uniquely and creatively by Dylan. “Jim Jones” is another favorite, another sailing song, about Jones who is a convict banished to New South Wales, but he promises to get his revenge on those who have sent him there.

What I love about this album is the classic folk ballads, the simpleness of the arrangements – Dylan and his acoustic – and the total soulfulness with which he performs each number. He puts all he has into them, allowing you to reach right into his very heart.

So there you have it, my top five under-appreciated Dylan discs. If this were a list of six, I would include his second gospel album, Saved, which features songs written and performed with such passion of spirit, conviction, humility and anointing that they could have only been created by a man who possessed an unquenchable evangelical faith. You can’t fake stuff like this.

(And for the record, he has never denied that faith in the intervening decades and will often perform a number of these songs, even though nearly no one is clamoring for them. He does so because he still wants to, because he believes they still say something worth saying.)

Enjoy the enrichment to your music collection.

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Practical Help in Navigating Relationships with our LGBT Neighbors

JavaWithJuliBanner_ProgramBannerWas recently invited by my good friend Juli Slattery to be a guest on her wonderful show, Java with Juli recently. She is a great interviewer, asking very practical question. Listen in for some good advice in dealing well in relationships with our LGBT family members, co-workers, friends and neighbors in both truth and grace.

She also asked me to write up a quick post providing more advice on her website, Authentic Intimacy at Christianity Today’s Today’s Christian Woman.

Thank you Juli!

Listen and read, then share with your friends. No, right now!

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Stalking John Travolta

A few years ago i wrote about going by Bob Dylan’s house while in Malibu. I like to find the interesting houses of interesting people.  I am driving through Ocala, FL today so naturally I have to swing over to the little town of Anthony to see John Travolta’s home. It’s worth seeing, no so much cuz it’s Mr. Travolta’s, but because of the house itself. Like no other in the world.

Travolta HouseHe and his family live in a community centered around, not golf, but airplanes. Instead of each house backing up to a golf course, they each back to a huge runway. Large enough for Travolta to get his Qantas 707 airliner aloft. Pretty cool, uh?

The neighborhood is off this non-descript, country two-lane road. As you would imagine, you can’t really see his house from the road. Although it is relatively close, but hidden by trees. But if you are tooling down this road one day and see this sign, you are there.

007And I did get a slight glimpse of his airliner’s tail through the trees.

travolta tail

…which you can see in this pic of him taking from LAX.

travola planAnd I got this picture of one of his neighbors. No kidding. This was only one of about 7 similar trucks I saw around there, letting their thoughts and values be clearly known. Wow.

truckAnd then finally, posting about Mr. Travolta’s house gives me the opportunity to post this picture I took two years ago in the main plaza in Orvieto Italy. I knew it would come in handy one day.

Vini BarbarinaNow I’m headed to Palatka, Florida, where my great aunt lived and a my dad’s extended family, where my brother and I spent summers with Aunt Mable and where my parents are buried. Oh, and a very young Billy Graham preached his first sermon there at Bostwick Baptist Church, which still stands.

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