Writers, in one sense, can write whatever they please. They can follow their creativity and curiosity wherever it carries them. They can ponder mysteries, investigate unknowns, and build narrative worlds, with possibilities as limitless as an empty page.
Real life, of course, imposes limits. Adult responsibilities pile up—kids to raise, bills to pay, chores to complete. Age, illness, and misfortune slow the mind and the pen.
And that’s before factoring in the dynamics of book publishing, which often funnel writers into familiar grooves rather than unleashing them to chase unpredictable muses. Some authors become experts in one thing, diminishing their bandwidth for writing about other things. Some gain a following among fans of one genre, who expect more of the same. And don’t forget the nontrifling matter of the reading public, who has to possess some appetite for what the world’s wordsmiths might wish to serve up.
Therefore, in the spirit of honoring dreams deferred though not forgotten—and also because we couldn’t help being a little nosy—CT asked eight authors, all with several books to their name, to outline writing projects that, for one reason or another, they’re unlikely to commit to print.
Matt Reynolds, senior books editor
The Parkinson’s Perspective: An Uncertain Journey Through My Stages of Unhealth
When I wrote a memoir, Where the Light Fell, I chose an “emerging person” style. As much as possible, I wanted to reflect my perspectives and sensibilities during the time periods I was writing about. Readers encounter me as a timid, fearful kid who related more to dogs than to people. Then a smarty-pants in elementary school vying for the teachers’ attention. Then a do-gooder in a fundamentalist church learning how to act “spiritual.” Then a morose, sassy teenager beginning to question adults. Then a cynical college student trusting no authority source. Then, finally, comes the unexpected collision with grace that changes everything.
Just over a year after the memoir was published, I received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. At this point my symptoms are mild and mostly controlled by medication and exercise. I’ve heard plenty of stories, though: “My uncle was bedridden for 12 years.” “My mother had dementia so bad she didn’t recognize her own kids.”
I would like to write about the stages of unhealth that await me. Parkinson’s is a one-way degenerative disease: As neurons die, you get worse, never better. It could be helpful, to caregivers especially, to read the private perspective of someone going through those stages. As a writer, I would find that a creative challenge. I’ll probably never get to fulfill the task, however. I can describe the early stages, but if cognitive decline takes over, how will I present my inner life in a coherent way?
Philip Yancey has served as a CT editor at large. His books include The Jesus I Never Knew and What’s So Amazing About Grace?
Leslie Leyland Fields
From Hair to Glory: Theologies and Stories of Tresses Lost, Distressed, Dyed, and Freed
I could sit on my hair until I was 27. Strangers would shout after me as I passed, “Never cut your hair!” Then, at nearly 28, and much to my husband’s dismay, I hacked it off to within an inch of its life and kept it short for more than two decades. This year, I made another radical cut: I tossed the box of dye and went solidly silver, leading to new comments from strangers: “You look like Rita Moreno!” (a movie star who’s my mother’s age). Most women and men I know have their own hair journeys, through hippie days, chemo, mullets, alopecia, Brylcreem, and perms.
There’s theology here. Our strands twine through our lives, inspiring vanity, humility, thoughts of mortality, and more. God says the very hairs of our head are numbered, and he calls women’s hair their “glory” (Luke 12:7; 1 Cor. 11:15). Paul admonishes us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Surely that includes thoughts about hair.
For 20 years I’ve wanted to write a book collecting and reflecting these thoughts. But I won’t. Every writing project extracts two to five years of my life, and I parse out the books I want to write from the books I need to write using the measure of Frederick Buechner’s oft-quoted words: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
I cannot turn away from so much hunger. I write to forge a path for myself and others from fasting to feasting, from silence to speaking, from slavery to freedom. For me, hair doesn’t quite make the cut. But I cheer on any who would take a long look at locks and coifs.
Leslie Leyland Fields lives in Alaska, where she works in commercial salmon fishing with her family. Her books include Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers and the forthcoming Nearing a Far God.
Jen Pollock Michel
Violette: A Life
I’ve heard from fiction writers that stories can begin with the smallest seed of an idea: a final sentence, an opening scene, a complex character. The novel I’d love to write—if I had time and capacity—would be based on my great-aunt, Pauline Geneva Carpenter. (I’d change her name to Violette for the project, Pauline not having exactly the ring I’d intend.)
Pauline was born in 1910 on a farm in rural Tennessee. She moved to Akron, Ohio, to work at the Goodyear plant and eventually married a man to whom she was unhappily wedded for many years. They never had children together, and when she was in her late 80s, I learned why: Pauline had had an abortion in her late teens, scarring her physically and emotionally. I never knew the circumstances of that pregnancy, only that my great-aunt Pauline stood as a spiritual giant in the family lineage. She taught me to drink coffee at her small Formica kitchen table; she also taught me to pray there. As a child, I can remember the stacks of small notepads that accumulated on that table where she kept a record of her constant conversation with God. Although this wouldn’t be a novel for Christian readers alone, faith would be an unavoidable theme.
Pauline Carpenter lived a full and flourishing life, yet there was obviously hardship and unhappiness and regret. I think about the parts of her story she chose to share with me and the historical backdrop for those stories: the Jim Crow South, the Great Migration, the Great Depression, World War II, the ’50s, the sexual revolution, the Equal Rights Amendment, the Moral Majority. I think the research for this kind of project would be absorbing—and perhaps along the way, my own curiosities about this woman I knew and loved and admired might be satisfied.
Jen Pollock Michel is a writer and speaker living in Cincinnati. Her books include Teach Us to Want and Surprised by Paradox.
Between David and Odysseus: What We Learn by Reading the Works of Homer Alongside the Books of Samuel
A few years ago, I found myself reading the two major works of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, at the same time as I was going through 1 and 2 Samuel in my devotions. The parallels were astonishing to me. They still are.
Here we have two epic tales of heroes, battles, gods, and kingdoms. Both are told in two parts, with both set in the Eastern Mediterranean around the 11th century B.C., as the Bronze Age world collapses and new powers rise at the start of the Iron Age. Both are replete with deities fighting, cities falling, champions representing their nations in battle, jealousy, violence, bizarre disguises, poetic justice, brotherly love, trash talk, tussles over dead bodies, witches, mediums, rivalries for honor and women, shadowy spirits conversing with the living, foolish kings, treacherous advisers, vengeance, big guys with swords and spears being killed by little guys with projectiles. And both feature a wily and brave hero trying to make his way home against the odds.
More importantly, these two stories are utterly foundational to the modern West. Whether or not we have read the Iliad or the Odyssey, or even the Books of Samuel, we are children of both. Intellectually, morally, mythologically, and spiritually, we are all caught between David and Odysseus, between Jew and Greek.
Yet it’s the contrasts I find really fascinating, not least because of how our cultural values are much closer to David’s than Odysseus’ (again, whether we are Christians or not). How do these stories portray honor, sacrifice, and glory? Or friendship? Or women? Or justice, heroism, or the afterlife? What can we learn from the differences between Agamemnon and Saul, or Penelope and Abigail? Or the bonds between Achilles and Patroclus as compared to David and Jonathan? Why is our world so much closer in values to the Davidic than the Homeric vision (such that many of us want Hector to prevail and the Trojans to win)? Most importantly, what can we learn from the differences between the Olympians—Zeus, Hera, Ares, Athena, and company—and the God of Israel? I could imagine a chapter on the divine use of thunder alone.
Sadly, for now at least, I cannot imagine finding the time to write this (even if I could find an audience, which I also doubt!). Still, it is nice to dream. I can imagine the epigraphs already:
“Tell me about a complicated man.
Muse, tell me how he wandered and was lost.”
—Homer, Odyssey, 1:1–2
“Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
—1 Samuel 17:26
Andrew Wilson is a CT columnist and the teaching pastor at King’s Church London. His books include Remaking the World and God of All Things.
Joni Eareckson Tada
The Perfect 10: Springboard Diving Techniques from a (Somewhat) Reformed Daredevil
As I packed up for college orientation in the summer of 1967, I had a goal. I hoped to make the diving team at school that fall. I was good at aquatic sports and performed rather well on the one-meter springboard. I saw myself climbing the ladder to the three-meter board and impressing collegiate judges with my variety of straight, pike, and free dives.
Of course, I never made the team. I never even made it to that college. And as far as diving goes, my last one was a doozy—I was attempting an inward pike dive off a wood platform floating ten or so yards away from the beach. Who in the world is crazy enough to do an inward pike into shallow water? A daredevil like me, that’s who.
Although that reckless dive ended my aquatics career—plus my life as an able-bodied person—I still know a lot about springboard techniques. Whenever I am around a pool and have the chance, I love to coach kids on diving. Yes, I think I could even compile my knowledge into a small book.
In the interest of full disclosure, however, there was the time a mother caught me teaching her little boy how to approach the springboard. She glanced at my wheelchair, gave me a wry look, and asked in a slightly disapproving tone, “Aren’t you Joni, the one who broke her neck … diving?” I’d been caught. She gave me a stiff smile and tugged her child in a different direction.
I think I’ll shelve my idea for a book. I’ll leave it to divers who are less of a daredevil than me.
Joni Eareckson Tada founded the Joni and Friends International Disability Center. Her books include The Practice of the Presence of Jesus and A Place of Healing.
Incarnation Now: A Jesus Novel
I love fiction, but I am not a fiction writer. With a little more gifting and training in this area, I’d love to consider what the story of Christianity would look like if Jesus came to earth in the here and now, rather than 2,000 years ago. This literary exercise would require a lot of imagination and creativity, but it could help us understand just how revolutionary the Incarnation really is. Because we have inherited a sentimentalized Christmas story with lowing cattle and a little drummer boy, many of us ponder the birth of Christ with storybook nostalgia. But this would have been a really crazy concept for a Galilean commoner like Mary to wrap her head around.
And when Jesus launched his ministry, he used every means at his disposal to spread the word about the gospel. In today’s context, I can think of several questions that would be thrilling to consider. For instance, what languages would Jesus speak? Would he stay in the Middle East or travel around the world? Would he post on TikTok or write a Substack? Would he denounce Elon Musk or Vladimir Putin? Would skeptics insist his YouTube channel of miracles was “all CGI”? A book like this could be dramatic or funny, but it could help us contemplate the full meaning of “God with us.”
Nijay Gupta is professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary. His books include Paul and the Language of Faith and the forthcoming Strange Religion.
Torture, Degradation, and Hope: The Cross as a Guide to Christian Witness in Troubled Times
Twenty-plus years ago, when I first began to write my most ambitious book, I planned three major sections. The first would address the central importance of the brutal execution of Christ in Christian faith and the problems it presents. The second would examine some of the major themes and images that the writers of the New Testament found in the First Testament and the new interpretive themes that appear in the apostolic age. The third section, which I envisioned as the most important, would be a series of reflections and illustrations showing how the death of the Son of God in a public display of human cruelty in the distant past could become the central guide for Christian witness in our terribly troubled present times.
The first two sections were published as The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ in 2016. It is more than 600 pages. Alas, the hoped-for third section does not exist in any publishable form. I have a substantial number of files on my computer which were originally destined for it, but none are anywhere near complete. I ran out of steam, it appears.
I am sad about this. I had hoped to show—by illustration—how powerful the church can be when it takes up its calling to be a community of resistance to fear, inhumanity, hatred, and violence. We need this gift of the Spirit now more than ever, as we see the Holy Land violated by murderous enmity and our own churches riven by identity politics run amok. May God grant us leaders to help us become, in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, a people of transfigured repentance, subversive courage, and conquering faith.
Fleming Rutledge is a writer and an Episcopal priest. Besides The Crucifixion, her books include The Bible and The New York Times, a sermon collection.
Who Programmed the Computer? The Weakness of Simulation Theory and the Logical Alternative
Our existence on a Goldilocks planet in a Goldilocks universe is so statistically improbable that many scientists believe in the multiverse. In other words, so many universes exist that it’s not surprising to find one planet in one of them that’s just right for human life. Other scientists don’t want to make such a leap of faith. They see this world as the result of intelligent design. That, however, suggests God, so atheists seeking an alternative are following Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom, who got the debate rolling two decades ago with an article arguing that we “are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.” Neil deGrasse Tyson gave the theory credibility by saying it was a 50-50 possibility, and Richard Dawkins has taken it seriously. Elon Musk semipopularized it in 2016 by saying he thought it true.
That raises the question: Who or what is the simulator? Some say our distant descendants with incredibly high-powered computers. One of the theory’s basic weaknesses is that, as Bostrom acknowledges, it assumes “substrate independence,” the concept that silicon-based processors in a computer will become conscious and comparable to the neural networks of human brains. Simulation theory has many other weaknesses, and those who understand the problems of both the simulation and multiverse hypotheses should head to the logical alternative: God.
I’d like to dive into this, but I’m 73 and haven’t taken a science course since high school, so I have neither the credentials nor the time to pursue this. With the book-writing time I have left, I’m staying with what I know: history and poverty fighting. If a younger person is interested, I have a list of a dozen people worth interviewing.
Marvin Olasky is a Discovery Institute senior fellow and former editor in chief of World magazine. His books include The Tragedy of American Compassion and Reforming Journalism.
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