Last week the students in my Writing Close to the Earth online class read George Orwell's classic essay, "Politics and the English Language." In it ... Read More
Travel safely from far and wide. Arrive in good cheer. Settle in and set your mind to good music, old stories, and lively conversation. We’ve got some surprises in store and I can’t wait for you to see what’s lined up. It’s going to be a mighty fine weekend.
But wait, there’s more…
Hutchmoot 2012 marks the launch of The Molehill: Volume 1. What’s The Molehill you ask? That’s a very good question. The short answer is that it’s a sort of Rabbit Room journal including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, recipes, and art by people like Walt Wangerin, Jr., Sally Lloyd-Jones, Justin Gerard, and G. K. Chesterton—in addition to each of the Rabbit Room contributors. But to give you a better idea of what this 300-page collection of unpublished work is all about, I offer the long answer in the form of my editor’s letter entitled “Say You, Say Molehill.” I can’t wait for you to see what we’ve cooked up. The Molehill will hit the streets on October 2nd and is available for pre-order in the Rabbit Room store. If you’re coming to Hutchmoot, there’s no need to pre-order; you can pick up a copy when you get here.
“Say You, Say Molehill”
by A. S. Peterson, Editor, The Molehill
Several years ago a good friend, aspiring curmudgeon Jonathan Rogers, stabbed his bony finger my way, stepped onto his well-worn soapbox, and proclaimed: “It’s time the Rabbit Room stopped talking about culture and started creating it!” I’ve forgotten what happened next, but I’ll bet it involved either a waffle or an alligator.
A few months later I started to think seriously about assembling a sort of Rabbit Room annual. We made our first go of it thinking that maybe we could get off as easily as dredging up old posts from the website, polishing them off, and binding them in a shiny cover. It would be like a greatest hits record, we thought—only in book form, and with old blog posts. This idea died a deservedly miserable death.
But attempting that “greatest hits” idea did have its uses in the end. We went through all of our posts (over a thousand) and pulled out the cream of the crop—those we felt were the best written, or were the most important, or didn’t get the attention they deserved. And when I’d collected all those chart-toppers together, I began editing. That’s when the real flaw in the plan revealed itself.
What we hadn’t considered was growth. The Rabbit Room has been around in some form since 2006, and in the four intervening years, we had all become better writers. When I looked at those old posts, what I saw was a herd of greenhorns trying to find their way—I saw underdeveloped ideas, poorly structured essays, horrific punctuation, a heck of a lot of adverbs, and a rat’s nest of aimless metaphors. I don’t suggest that we’ve polished away all those weaknesses (far from it), but I could see a definite progression. That was good news, right? Well, yes, but the bad news was that trying to beat a meandering four-year-old essay into shape didn’t seem to be a good use of my time, nor did it seem to be the best representation of the writers in the Rabbit Room community. It would have been like trying to convince people that Lionel Richie was still cool—a mission that’s simply not worth the effort no matter how profound “Say You, Say Me” seemed back in the ’80s. The writers on our masthead were in vastly different places from where they had been in the beginning—which was the point of the Rabbit Room all along. By locking arms and working in community, we had hoped to sharpen one another. It seemed to be working. Why take a step backward?
So we scrapped that first attempt at a Rabbit Room annual. But like the declamation of a prophet, Jonathan Rogers’s words nettled me.
When the time came to try again, we decided to stop looking backward. We didn’t want a collection of greatest hits. Had there really been any hits in the first place? I mean, does anyone want to get Jason Gray talking about Halloween again? Or read about Andrew Peterson musing on the intersections of Harry Potter and the Gospel? If you define a “hit” by its comment count, those were certainly our biggest singles. So instead of rehashing something old, we decided to furrow new ground. It was time to start “creating culture” as Jonathan might prophesy.
Now let me stop right here and assure you that none of us have the highfalutin idea that the book in your hand constitutes “culture”—well, maybe Jonathan does, but he tends toward hyperbole when he’s dressed in sackcloth and standing on his box. Creating “culture” has, to me, the smack of pretense. I think it’s safe to say that none of the writers included in this book (not even Jonathan) write for the sake of altering the landscape of our society. However, I think we all hold a fundamental belief that good writing and good stories can alter the inner landscape of a reader. And those readers, in turn, will go on to constitute the culture we inhabit tomorrow. The distinction here may be pencil-thin, but it is, I think, important. A story, essay, poem, or illustration intent on “creating culture” is easily swept into a torrent of pretense. But a piece of work intent on honoring its reader (or viewer, or listener) is built on a surer foundation of care, love, and responsibility. So are we “creating culture?” That’s not for us to decide. You, our readers, will bear out that answer. We are in the business of “creating”; whatever impact our creation has on the culture is a matter best left in the hands of each one of you.
So what is The Molehill exactly? Our initial idea was to settle on a theme and send out assignments. After all, a journal needs to feel cohesive, doesn’t it? And writers are notoriously fearful of being given carte blanche, most preferring a specific topic or theme to write on. But all our attempts to hammer out a theme produced little more than a list of specious titles like “Creativity and the Creative Soul: Mapping the Artist’s Inner Journey.” Okay, maybe they weren’t that bad, but trust me, they weren’t much better. So in the end, we threw the map out the window and forged ahead blindly. So be it. Let’s see what’s out there.
I gave each of the Rabbit Room writers a loose, non-binding assignment based on what I perceived to be his or her strengths, and they took it from there. I even invited Hutchmoot alums Walter Wangerin, Jr., Sally Lloyd-Jones, Don Chaffer, and Justin Gerard to submit work, and to my great delight they agreed. While waiting for those pieces to come in, though, I wrung my hands and worried. How on earth would I be able to put together anything coherent from such a varied cast of characters? I foresaw the coming of a glorious train wreck, and I was tied to the tracks.
Then the work started coming in. Walt Wangerin’s was first, and right away, he raised the bar. It was a ghost story. I read it immediately. I loved it. And then I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. Could we live up to the precedent his story had set? But then the rest started rolling in: a short story from Lanier Ivester—an elegant blend of O’Connor and Berry, yet wholly her own; a couple of amazing poems by Don Chaffer; a fascinating memoir from Matt Conner that was born out of tears, grief, and renewal; a trifecta of meditations by Sally Lloyd-Jones from her forthcoming book; a series of hand-drawn recipes from Evie Coates; the good stuff just kept coming.
As the raw work came in and I started editing, unexpected shapes began to take form: parallel lines of thought, echoes, complementary ideas, over-arching themes. To my great surprise, an unlooked-for cohesion emerged. While many readers will most likely skip around as they read favorite writers or head straight for topics that interest them, the adventurous reader who begins on page one and proceeds diligently toward the end will, I think, be rewarded by the shape and flow of the journal as its themes arise and interact with one another. So set your mind at ease; what you hold in your hands is no mere collection of regurgitated Rabbit Room posts. While there are a couple of entries that have appeared in other forms, those have been greatly revised, expanded, and refined. Overwhelmingly, the works you’ll find in these pages are fresh and unpublished—All-Singing, All-Talking, All-Dancing.
If you stand back and look at it, I suppose you could see this collection as a family photo. It’s a snapshot of a group of people and where they are at this moment in time, in their writing, in their lives, in their spiritual journeys, in their understanding of stories and songs and the world around them. This book is, you might say, an Ebenezer stone erected in the wilderness to mark the passage of a common people. It’s not an end point; it’s a signpost marking the ways we’ve gone. Whether those ways are right or wrong, good or bad, fine art or rough draft—we invite you to make those judgments on your own.
N. T. Wright was here in Nashville not long ago and he told us that working for the Kingdom is something like being a stonemason. The architect gives us instructions, saying: make this stone in this particular way, and don’t ask why. And in faith we go about it. We grind and cut and measure with no idea what the purpose of the stone might be. And when we’re done, the architect sees the work and knows its proper use. He tells the strongman on the scaffold to hoist it up, and he tells the man with the mortar and trowel to fit it into place and secure it. And in the end we’ve all done our little parts and there’s a great cathedral that stands tall and blesses the land around it. Out of small efforts, the Architect builds great works. So here we are, an assembly of friends trying to hear the Architect’s voice. We haven’t set out to create a masterpiece. We’re just following instructions. Tolkien’s Niggle painted a leaf that became a tree. God knows what may become of this Molehill.
Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he's the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.