Writer’s Log: Stardate 14-1-10
This has been a great day to be a writer. I spent the better part of the day in Rockport at a writing retreat, hanging out with interesting people, sharing ideas about books, blogs, contracts, agents and all the other stuff that goes with being a writer. Kudos to Alex Foran, one of my former writing students at ENC for her sterling work in organizing the workshop. And kudos to Carolyn Meckbach, one of my current writing students at Gordon College, for coming back to the North Shore—from Pennsylvania—a few days early to attend the workshop.
The writing workshop is the brainchild of my long-term friend and colleague Marianna Krejci-Papa who has been organizing the event for years—a task she successfully passed on to Alex this year. The workshop this year had a mix of ENC and Gordon participants and there was discussion of some official collaboration next year. I know I am looking forward to it.
Also of interest today, and related to the larger story of how books get written, was a substantial piece in a global news service about the biography of John Polkinghorne that Dean Nelson and I published last fall. This book, Quantum Leap: How John Polkinghorne Found God in Science and Religion, was an interesting collaboration. I do not consider myself a journalist—at least not a very good one—and did not think that I could do the “on the ground” work necessary to produce a biography. And Dean, of course, being a very good journalist and trained as such, did not think he could get all the physics right for such a story. Hence the need for what turned out to be a wonderful collaboration.
Here is the account from the story of how this book was conceptualized. It matches my recollection but I never thought this story would make it into print.
“The idea for Quantum Leap came from Giberson, who was the editor of the magazine Science and Spirit out of Boston. Nelson had written for the magazine, covering religious persecution in Tibet, among other things. Giberson called Nelson and said that a science/theology conference was coming up in Boston, with Polkinghorne as the main speaker. Giberson wanted to know if Nelson had ever heard of Polkinghorne.
“I had read some of Polkinghorne’s books years ago, and thought he was one of the clearest thinkers I’d encountered,” Nelson said. “I told Karl I’d love to go to the conference and do a story on Polkinghorne.”
Giberson’s idea was bigger, though. Given the culture wars in the U.S. about science and religion, he thought it was time for audiences to hear Polkinghorne’s ideas on a bigger book-length platform. He put Nelson and Polkinghorne in dormitory rooms next to each other at the conference, arranged to have them sit together at meals, and organized social times where Polkinghorne and Nelson would have considerable time to talk.
“It was like literary speed dating,” Nelson said.
At the end of the conference, Giberson sat down with Nelson and Polkinghorne and described his idea for a book. He then asked the other two if they wanted to proceed. Both quickly agreed.
Nelson spent the next two years researching Polkinghorne and following him to speaking engagements, interviewing him in a variety of locations in Europe, as well as spending weeks at a time with him in his home and favorite haunts in Cambridge.
“It’s a daunting thing to spend that kind of time with a person who is such an intellectual giant,” Nelson said. “But his clarity of thought is so attractive, and he’s such a humble guy, that I felt like I was hanging out with greatness itself.”
You can read the full story here.