Saturday, March 31, 2012

free copies of WINGS

THREE FREE autographed copies of The Wings of Morning, the book Publisher's Weekly called "meaty", "masterful", and "intriguing" are up for grabs. Follow this link if you don't have a copy yet!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

100 years ago - what kind of world?

Cheers. Welcome to my guest blog for freshfiction. If you'd like to leave a comment after reading the blog, please go ahead. This will automatically enter you into a giveaway for an autographed copy of my new novel THE WINGS OF MORNING. All the best!

This winter saw the film War Horse coming to our local cinemas, a story about a boy and his horse set during World War One. At the same time, the popular British series Downtown Abbey was sweeping an ever-growing number of fans into its embrace on Sunday evenings in Canada and the US. Part of Season 2's story in Downtown Abbey was World War One. But the series also takes a look at the coming of the motorcar and electricity.

The first decades of the 20th century were a period of momentous change. The motorcar and electricity were part of that. But so were the telephone and the airplane. Try to put yourself in your grandparents' and great-grandparents' place. For hundreds of years, thousands of years, you use a horse and a cart. Suddenly people are driving past you in a car. It's never happened before. You always needed a horse. At the same time, except for going up in hot air balloons, flying was unheard of – who could even think of ever really flying up with the hawks and starlings? Yet it happened and by 1914 airplanes were buzzing over people's heads in ever increasing numbers. Flying! How incredible was that? Toss in flicking a switch for your house lights, instead of lighting candles and oil lamps, along with talking with your brother or sister in Denver while you were living in Boston, and the first years of the 20th century made most people's heads and brains spin.

Then there was the lethal aspect of those years – a world war for the first time, unprecedented in its scale of destruction and loss of human life. And right on its heals, the horseman of disease and pestilence – The Spanish Influenza, the first modern pandemic, rivaling the Middle Ages' Black Death in terms of its global scope and the numbers slain. More died from the pandemic than died in the trenches and skies of Europe's war. Imagine all that loss of human life taking place in a short span of five years, 1914-1919. It must have staggered families in every country affected – and almost every country was affected.

So in this mix we see the Amish of the United Stares trying to hold onto their distinctive take on the Christian faith and their distinctive lifestyle. A lifestyle that wasn't really that distinctive until 1900-1920 came along. For it was when they said no to telephones when everyone else was saying yes, no to motorcars, no to electricity, no to airplanes, that they began to look different, even odd. But the oddness was nothing to how they looked when they refused to fight for America in the first global conflict – then they looked like bad neighbors and unpatriotic. In fact, with their German language and accent, they looked a lot like the enemy American boys were being killed by in France and Belgium. So people took it upon themselves to burn down their churches, vandalize their homes and farms and crops. And some people in the government and the military took it upon themselves to imprison and even kill those Amish-and Hutterites, Quakers, and Mennonites.

Which is where my early 20th century story comes in. Not like War Horse or Downtown Abbey. But with a young man who is a whiz at flying and a young woman who loves to go up with him into the heaps of white cumulus and golden sun. With a military who sees how brilliantly he flies and manipulates him into enlisting and fighting in the sky over France, even though the Amish are against war and will cut him off once he climbs into a cockpit. With a woman who loves him and believes in him despite all those around her who scorn and reject him for what he is doing. With bloody warfare that the Amish youth swears he will not take part in, choosing to force planes down without killing their pilots, until the day comes when so many of his own men have been shot down his fingers turn in rage towards the machine guns mounted on the fuselage of his plane.

That's THE WINGS OF MORNING. I invite you to pick up a copy and get into its world with that young man and woman and find out what happens in the years 1917, 1918, and 1919 to them, their love, their people, their nation, and their faith.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

the day I gave up writing forever!

from the website:

Murray Pura earned his Master of Divinity degree from Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia and his ThM degree in theology and interdisciplinary studies from Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. For more than twenty-five years, in addition to his writing, he has pastored churches in Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Alberta. Murray’s writings have been shortlisted for the Dartmouth Book Award, the John Spencer Hill Literary Award, the Paraclete Fiction Award, and Toronto's Kobzar Literary Award. Murray pastors and writes in southern Alberta near the Rocky Mountains. He and his wife Linda have a son and a daughter.

Favorite Verse: Psalm 27:1a – “Light, space, zest – that’s God!”

The Day I Gave Up Writing: by Murray Pura

My first novel was published in 1988. It received some decent critical attention and was short-listed for a couple of notable awards. Over the next ten years I also published several dozen short stories. It looked to me as if everything was beginning to come together for my life as a Christian who wrote books.

Then everything dried up. The novel went out of print. Publishers who said they would put out a second edition reneged on their promises. I had a second novel that was looking for a home but no one was opening the door for the book or me.

Meanwhile I had two toddlers and was trying to pastor a church while my wife nursed as an RN and the pressure of trying to find time to write books and stories no one seemed to want got to be too much. One morning I hatched a plan while my wife was at the hospital, the kids were playing, and I was sitting in the basement office in our house – be done with it! Be done with writing and submitting manuscripts and bearing editors’ rejections and broken promises! End the suffering quickly and effortlessly! Crumple all plot notes, delete all links, trash all computer files, get rid of anything and everything that had to do with creative writing.

So I did. I erased a number of links to publishers and editors, moved files to the virtual wastebasket, deleted emails that had to do with my “dried up as a wine skin in the smoke” writing career, and placed everything that was on paper – and this was more than ten years ago so there was more paper correspondence then –straight into the fireplace. It took several hours but soon I was happy to see my bridges back into a life of writing had all been burned – except for setting a match to the mounds of paper in the fireplace and permanently removing the contents of my computer trash can (I rubbed my hands with glee at the header in the trash menu that read: DELETE FOREVER).

I can honestly say I felt like a new man. No more worries about badgering editors regarding the manuscripts I’d sent them. No more hours spent pounding away at the keyboard when I was already dead tired from fathering and pastoring. No more looking in the mail for an acceptance letter or scanning emails for names like Zondervan, Baker, Barbour, or Harvest House. No more longing for royalty checks that had at least four or five figures instead of two. I felt like dancing. Imagine all the extra time I’d have again just to live and pray and play and – read! It was a good feeling. The cross of trying to be a Christian author no longer had to be borne.

The first glitch in my plan was the early return of my RN wife to the house. I knew she would never agree to my torching of ten years of plots and book ideas and semi-promising correspondence. So I didn’t tell her. I just drew thick metal curtains over the mouth of the fireplace so an interior crammed with white sheets of paper could not be seen. And waited for nightfall when she would be fast asleep in the bedroom, door tightly closed.

The second glitch was worse and, in a way, I am still not over it. I went to the mailbox in the afternoon sun. We were living in the Rockies, literally right in them in a mountain town, and I crunched my way light-heartedly over a snow-packed back lane to get to what we called a superbox. Here boxes for dozens of residences were located. I opened our box, tugged out our envelopes, and headed home, dreaming of matches, and combustible paper, and the removal of a 16 ton weight from my back and mind. All remained well until I sorted through the mail. One letter jumped out at me.

Ah, you will think it was the publishing offer from Alfred A. Knopf & Sons, or Harper & Row, or an announcement from the Pulitzer Prize Committee. But my story did not take that twist. Instead, what jumped out at me was a letter with the massive seal of the US government on it – it practically covered the face of the envelope –and an address that included words like US Consulate, Istanbul, Turkey. And I thought: Oh, great! Now what have I done?

I opened it. It was a letter from a person on the consulate staff, a US citizen. He told me what a difference a story I had written had meant to him. It was a long ago story in a long ago magazine but somehow he had gotten his hands on it, read it through several times, and realized that God was, somehow, speaking to him through it. He’d thought about it, prayed about it, and realized an embassy career was not for him. He was going to be a pastor, the best pastor he could be, and love God, love people, and love the human race with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Then came the curve ball. It seemed to come from this young man but I knew, by its sheer power and velocity, who it had really come from, who had really pitched it. Thank you for what God has done through you, the young man wrote. I pray he will continue to use your writing to bless, challenge, encourage, and refresh. The Lord be with you and in all the stories you put on paper.

I was out. I sat stunned in my chair, one part of my mind trying to calculate when the letter had been written and posted, how long it had been in transit across the Atlantic, how it could have arrived at our mailbox on this very day above all other days. But it didn’t matter, in the end. There it was. I had no arguments left. I pulled the sheaves of paper out of the fireplace and tidied them. Brought my files out of the virtual wastebasket and never clicked on DELETE FOREVER.

Published or unpublished, famous or infamous, for richer or poorer, I was a writer, a Christian who told stories, a man selected by God to be an author whether I liked it or not, through thick and thin, dark or light, good times and bad times. Whatever else I might do in my lifetime, I was a writer, a God writer, and that was now settled, period, end of sentence, world without end, amen.

So what happened next? Well, I hugged and kissed my children, loved my wife, served the people in the church God had called me to, and kept writing. A couple of years later my first novel was republished. Then, because the short stories were somewhat popular, a volume of them was put together and launched. Followed by a second volume. Then a man who liked the stories told Harper One San Francisco I would be a good candidate to write commentary in a study Bible they were putting out. Then the man who republished my first novel and my two books of short stories told a man in the USA about me and he soon became my literary agent. And because of him, and my work with Harper One, and a zealous editor at Zondervan, two inspirational books called Rooted and Streams were published. And because an editor at another publishing house liked Rooted I was invited to submit a proposal for a book in the same vein and in a few months a contract was offered.

Then, due to a challenge by my agent to write a piece of popular fiction set in America, a contract from Barbour popped up a year after finishing the book that met my agent’s challenge. Another editor from another firm had seen the manuscript and, too late to pick up on what Barbour had picked up on, waited for my next manuscript, pounced on it, and I had an offer from Harvest House in Oregon six weeks later. Then another offer.And another offer.And another offer.

My head spun on its axis. In 2010 I had left my church in the hands of another and committed myself to doing more writing, with not a single contract on the horizon, other than having two volumes coming out with Zondervan. Then came the contracts from Barbour and Harvest House and Baker. A trickle became a flood. In 2012, three or four books I’ve written will be published. In 2013, it will be five or six.When people ask what I do now, I tell them the truth: I’m a full time writer. I couldn’t do what publishers and editors are asking me to do without being anything less.

I kid you not. God, after pitching me out at home plate with a letter from Istanbul, set me up with bases loaded a little over a decade later and gave me a Grand Slam. I’m still astonished at the turnaround in my fortunes. It did not happen overnight. But happen it did.

So this is my roundabout way of telling you that if you feel it in you to be a writer, and you really can’t get away from wanting to create and publish what you create, if it’s in your heart and mind and soul and you know God is in it somehow or other, then go ahead and make the time and write. Write and never give up. Never. Never. Never. Never.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

is there a future for the amish?

Is There a Future for the Amish?

If you watched the show on the Amish on PBS last week you will know the greatest challenge facing followers of The Amish Way is the fact that half of their members – so over 100,000 people – have outside jobs. (It is reckoned that there are about 250,000 Amish in the US today – the only other Amish churches are in Ontario, Canada.) There are no farms for half their people. Many work in “English” factories all day and return to their rural homes at night.

The Amish are not dying off as some thought they would in the 20th century. In fact, they are growing. But land in traditional Amish regions like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, to take just three examples, is simply too expensive to permit the Amish to keep buying up acreages for their offspring. So there are only a few options: stay with Mom and Dad’s farm, if that’s possible for all the grown children with families; move to other regions of the US and Canada in a hunt for less expensive land; move away from farming as a source of income altogether.

Most of us are aware that Amish have opened businesses selling homemade Amish furniture. You can go online and find the information. Other Amish sell the beautiful handmade quilts. Again, you can go online and find them. But not all the Amish can make a living on selling traditional Amish arts and crafts. That is why so many are working for non-Amish employers and companies.

What will this do to shape the Amish over the next 10-20 years? Since the early 1700s they have always lived off the land and have built their lifestyle around farming and agriculture. They have worked side-by-side growing crops and raising cattle and hogs and caring for dairy herds. They haven’t punched clocks.They have been their own masters, moving in rhythm with the seasons. What happens to The Amish Way if half of them do not farm like the other half do? Or do not spend their days in the Amish communities but miles away doing all kinds of other work in order to earn a paycheck? Will The Amish Way eventually fall apart?

Where I live the Hutterites live in colonies on the land, are prosperous (though they live simply enough) and, so far as I know, don’t have to seek employment outside their communities or farms to survive. The Holdeman Mennonites, on the other hand, who have distinctive dress like the Hutterites and Amish, don’t live off the land primarily, but have their own businesses among the “English” and often seek employment in non-Mennonite stores and firms. The Holdeman have their own churches and schools and lifestyle and none of it seems to have been threatened or compromised by working apart from other Holdeman Mennonites. Indeed, they have their own private residences like the rest of us do and live miles apart from one another, often in urban or town settings. Yet their distinctive approach to the Christian faith thrives.

It is because I have seen the Holdeman Mennonites making their way successfully “in the world” that I believe the Amish will do just fine. Of course there will be a period of adjustment, something they are already going through with 100,000 of them employed away from the farm. But I think they will find that, as connected as they have been to agriculture, what really makes them who they are as a people of faith is how closely bonded they are to The Ordnung and how closely bonded they are to God. While they may have found that farming as a lifestyle assists that bonding I think they will also find that it is not the real glue that holds them together. The Holdeman are bound by their common faith, prayers, and worship of Jesus Christ, regardless of where they live or what work they do or who they work for. I believe the Amish will also find that what truly matters is their common faith, prayers, and worship of Jesus Christ, regardless of where they live or what work they do or who they work for.

The Amish may choose to live in colonies or in close proximity to one another, no matter where they work during the day, and not dwell far apart. The goal for many may continue to be to earn enough money to purchase an acreage. But I don’t think it will be long before they come to fully appreciate that they are Amish even if they work in factories or don’t own a barn or teams of horses and oxen. That they are Amish because of what they believe and hold in common no matter if one is a grain farmer and another builds motor homes and another nails down roofs in the suburbs of a nearby city. That they are Amish because they feel called by God to worship in a certain way, live simply and plainly and abstain from violence. That more so than being tied to the land for their identity, it is being tied to God that makes them who they are.

That will be a good thing for them to realize afresh. And I believe they will thrive, because of this realization, throughout the 21st century.

Last 5 posts by murray

* what our Amish friends fear - February 14th, 2012
* Are the Amish Quaint? - January 17th, 2012
* Reader's Review from New Mexico - January 4th, 2012
* Virginia City Released - January 1st, 2012
* RT Reviews Top Pick - December 21st, 2011