Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Finding the Time to Write: Part 2

Last week I posted my interview with author Richard Couser. Here is a little teaser from his book. To order it visit Amazon or http://www.winepressgroup.com/.


Fiction Excerpt
The Deuteronomy Project: A Journey into the Mind of God
Richard Couser

I found Hal in his study on a late summer evening, when the early chill of fall was in the air. He was sitting in a deep red chair, facing the hearty flames of a fireplace. A soft, dim light flowed from the floor lamp over his shoulder. Two others lamps, on a table and a desk against opposite walls, helped illuminate the room. The study walls were floor to ceiling bookcases on every side, broken only by the entrance door, two west-facing windows with small panes, and the space where his desk was set into the bookcases between the windows. Like a condensed library in an English manor house or an expanded office of a university professor, bathed in the suffused orange of gentler light, it spoke as the dwelling of one who lived by words. Hal invited me to sit in the shallower and harder green chair across from him. Would he help me study and understand Deuteronomy? I had purchased some commentaries by various academics and others about the book, and I was willing to read them—in fact I had already begun to do so. But I wasn’t getting to the spiritual heart of the book, so I pressed my case with Hal.

He needed little persuasion. He didn’t have a lot of people to pastor anymore, he told me. It would be a joy to his heart to share what he could with me. He asked me to commit to meet with him regularly and to prepare for the meetings, not just by reading Deuteronomy but by reading some background on it, studying it so we could talk at more than a superficial level. When I assured him I would, he reached for his Bible resting on a nearby table.

“Open your Bible to Deuteronomy and follow me while I read,” he said.

“Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all the Lord had commanded him concerning them. . . . The Lord our God said to us at Horeb. . . . Then, as the Lord our God commanded us. . . . When the Lord heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore. . . . Because of you the Lord became angry with me also and said. . . . But the Lord said to me . . .” (1:3, 6, 19, 34, 37, 42).

“You see, Chris, that’s only the first chapter of Deuteronomy, and already the words you are reading have been given six times as the very words of God. You are not reading the great American novel. And this is not a ‘page turner’ to hold you breathless until the next fictional adventure. Rather, you have come onto holy ground, where the author of all that is—the only final and ultimate reality—has shared with you a glimpse of that reality. You are peering into God’s mind more surely than the scientist who studies the far reaches of the universe through images from great satellite-mounted telescopes, or one who teases from DNA molecules the secrets of the chemistry of being. And your author is about to take you on a journey that will carry you farther and reveal more to you than journeying to outer space on a rocket ship.

“Contemplate the very term word. The acts of creation themselves occur as spoken word—‘God said’—let there be light, an expanse between the waters, dry ground, living creatures, man in our image. God reveals himself to humanity through both word and deed, but the deeds in turn are remembered and told and retold through the word. Word is communication, and communication is the essence of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. ‘Word’ expresses thought, logic, rationality, relationship, feeling, and finally becomes the expression of God himself: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ It is in this—the living Word—that all things hold together. Martin Luther wrote, ‘But to hear God is bliss, even if He were to sound out the same syllable all the time.’2 “In your soul, you have sensed what ‘the words’ really are and are really about. You’re afraid to see God. You’re afraid to know him. That’s why you’re stuck in your journey. You aren’t the first, but you have this—few who read these words have any understanding of the Awesome Presence in which they stand. You have felt the fire and seen the cloud. Don’t turn back. Press on!”

It was enough for the evening. I was seized with awe and a dread. I thanked him for his words and fled into the night journey home. Hal had pried the scales a little bit loose from my eyes. I tried to see into the dark, beyond the short range of the headlights, all the while keeping my mind on worldly things enough to stay on the right side of the road and not be blinded by the oncoming masses of glass and steel.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Finding the Time to Write

Recently I had the priviledge of interviewing an amazing man named Richard Couser. Here is his story:

Perhaps you are one of the many who has said “I want to write a book about (fill in the subject),” only to lament in the same breath, “but I don’t have time.” Maybe Richard Couser’s story will give you a much-needed kick start. He managed to find the time amidst the demanding schedule of life as an attorney and partner in a law firm. For his first book with WinePress Publishing this Concord, New Hampshire resident chose a topic not often tackled in fiction—the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy.

“I didn’t want to write another commentary on Deuteronomy. I figured there are enough of those.” He should know—Richard has over 70 books on Deuteronomy in his library. Instead, understanding that people respond to story in a unique way, he chose to weave it into the lives of two true-to-life characters.

The Deuteronomy Project: A Journey into the Mind of God centers on the mentoring relationship between Chris, a young lawyer seeking a deeper understanding of his Christian faith, and Hal, a retired pastor. The two men read through Deuteronomy and in the process take a journey that allows Chris and others to see how this ancient book applies to their contemporary lives. When asked if he patterned the characters after real people, Richard admits, “I’m Chris.” Hal, he says, is based on many pastors and mentors he has known throughout his life. And his life is as interesting as a book. He is certainly no stranger to the discipline and perseverance that it takes to write.

Raised in Lebanon, New Hampshire by working class parents, Richard earned a work study scholarship to the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy. “My main job was doing dishes. That’s how I covered my tuition.” He recalls the challenge of living and going to school with teens from more privileged backgrounds. He had to work and earn his way through while they didn’t. But he did get involved and make friends, his closest friendship being with a Porto Rican student, also attending Exeter on work study. “Of course I went to Exeter in the late fifties so things were pretty different,” Couser says. “Now the school is much more balanced when it comes to race and social status” Couser says.

In the end Richard’s hard work paid off when he got another scholarship, this time to Yale University. His studies at Yale prompted him to choose law and accept another incredible opportunity—Stanford Law School. “I chose law late in the game. When it came time to graduate and decide what to do next I saw that my interests pointed to a career as a lawyer. I had many offers but chose Stanford for the chance to go to California.” It was there that he reconnected with an old friend from New Hampshire. Linda had moved to San Francisco about the same time that Richard started law school.

“Linda was instrumental in me growing in faith and going from the point of saying ‘I go to church so I’m a Christian,’ to being a real Christian.” Linda’s father was a minister and both lived their faith in a way that opened Richard’s eyes. Linda quickly became the love of his life. They married in 1966 and now have 2 children and seven grandchildren, including a son who followed Dad’s footsteps to Phillips Exeter and Yale.

In addition to over 30 years as a partner at D'Amante Couser Steiner Pellerin, P.A., Couser is an active member of Christian Legal Society, serving on the board for several years and as president from 1998-2000. His church work and participation in Boy Scouts and other community organizations kept him busier still. So when did he ever find time to craft a 500+ page book?

“The bulk of the writing happened during a 4-month sabbatical that the firm offers. I never would have finished without that.” Even with the sabbatical he had to discipline himself to finish, rewrite, and work the story into something that people would want to read. In the end it took nearly ten years, but he did it.

He is thrilled to see the response to The Deuteronomy Project. It has been read by his fellow lawyers, as well as non-lawyers, men and women. “People like the characters and find the subject matter interesting.” Some read it because they gravitate toward character-driven books that make them think. Others are simply interested in Deuteronomy. As Chris discovers in the story, readers see that this often underappreciated Old Testament book is still important to the contemporary Christian—that it is the basis for how God wants us to live. “It’s one of the most quoted Old Testament books.” Couser points out. “Jesus and Paul both refer to it often in their teaching.”

This week Richard is signing and promoting The Deuteronomy Project at the International Retail Show in Orlando, Florida. He looks forward to seeing what God will do with the results of his ten years of making the time to write.
Tune in next week for an excerpt from the book.