Hardcovers of Bret Lott‘s new book Ancient Highway are everywhere. And that’s reason for rejoicing.

The blurbs tell me that Lott’s latest “weaves together the hopes and regrets of three characters from three generations as they reconcile who they are and who they might have been.”

  • a 14-year-old boy in 1925
  • a 10-year-old girl in 1947
  • a young man just out of the Navy in 1980

As I have spent too much time as a critic, I went looking for something — anything — negative that might have been written about this work. And I found it in a Los Angeles Times review of one of his novels. The critic had the courage to speak the whole truth, not just the good stuff. Yes, he described one incident in one of Lott’s novels as… and I quote… “a bit too poetic.”

Well, for crying out loud… for me, that’s yet another reason to read the book!

As you probably know, Lott is best known for his novel entitled Jewel, which became (and remains!) the best-selling of all volumes selected for Oprah‚Äôs Book Club. I haven’t read that yet. I’m just starting out as a Bret Lott reader, and I must say that The Hunt Club is keeping me up at night.

It’s a tightly-wound thriller that really should be a feature film directed by somebody with a strong sense of place. David Gordon Green?

Do yourself a favor. Pick up a Bret Lott book. If you’re a writer, pick up Before We Get Started, an inspiring collection of essays on the writing life. The opening essay, “Genesis,” is a gem.

I interviewed Lott in 2007, and I keep much of that transcript close at hand. Here’s a piece of it:

The challenge for a writer who is Christian is going to be the wrestling with himself to see himself as not the center of the universe every power in the world would have us believe we are. And that means showing sin for what it is: the distance we have made between ourselves and God.

We must be able to see that when Christ hung around with the prostitutes, they weren’t the be-robed harlots of a Cecile B. DeMille epic. We must, when we think of Him being with them, see Christ standing next to the prostitute on the corner of any major city in America … the world … waving down johns from cars cruising by slowly, lifting their tops or skirts to entice someone to turn a trick. We have to see Christ as being on a street corner with a meth addict hopping up and down, and see Him in a hotel room with a man and woman who are married to other people, and to see Him in a strip club, or gay bar, or dinner table at which the father slaps his daughter for the tattoo she has gotten … and we must see all of them … all of us … as fallen before Him, as lost, as confused and perplexed and as cursed as anyone in the New or Old Testament.

Somehow we’ve become convinced that we are advanced … that our sins aren’t the sins of those who have come before us, that we know better and that things are different. But they aren’t, and we aren’t.

He’s not just a great writer. He also uses his time in the spotlight to celebrate other great writers. Last year he edited The Best Christian Short Stories, which began with a beautiful story, “Loud Lake,” by Mary Kenagy, managing editor of Image journal, and included others by Erin McGraw and Larry Woiwode.

He recently edited a new collection of excellent short stories, Eyes to See, by writers such as Flannery O’Connor, Leo Tolstoy, G.K. Chesterton, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Shusaku Endo.

In a couple of weeks, Eyes to See Volume Two arrives, featuring some of those great authors and others like Frederick Buechner and my friend, the lovely and generous Gina Oschner.

Last week in Santa Fe, at the Glen Workshop, Anne and I invited people to our apartment for the fourth annual gathering of The Thomas Parker Society. I’ve been hosting Thomas Parker Society events in Seattle for 17 years, and it’s been exciting to host four of them them in Santa Fe. The purpose of the gathering was, as always, to read original or favorite pieces of writing out loud to each other. Each reader gets about 10 minutes. In Santa Fe, the gatherings have grown each year. This time, there were 33 people in the apartment, and almost all of those good folks read something. Even better, most of it was original work, ranging from poetry to science fiction to memoir.

It was a privilege to have Bret Lott in attendance. Humble and encouraging, he let the readers have the chairs, and he sat on the kitchen floor, listening attentively. You would never have known that the fellow sitting in the corner and giving good attention to the rest of us was an accomplished, best-selling author.

I’m becoming a big fan of Bret’s work, and I wish I’d discovered him earlier. I’m an admirer of the way he strives for excellence, and I appreciate the way he praises and preserves the excellence of others. It is a great privilege to call him a friend.

Bret Lott teaches Sara Zarr how to open a bottle of wine.
One writer’s wisdom to another: Bret Lott teaches Sara Zarr how to open a bottle of wine.

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