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Archive for June, 2011

One of the pieces of blogging ettiquette I’ve always been fuzzy on is how one best answers another blogger’s question. Generally a comment on his blog is the best thing, I think. The worst kind is a comment that says “as I say in my book, now on sale, I think….” and then links to the Amazon sell-through page. Blogs are not Johnny Carson’s couch.

Somewhere in between is answering the question on your own blog. Because you ARE acknowledging that you are reading the other person and that they have engaged your mind. But you are not paying them the compliment of keeping the conversation in their bailiwick. Thank heavens for the pingback/trackback. Those make me feel far less guilty. Although it does mean that people are pulled off the original site.

Then again, my answers can get very wordy. What is tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) on a comment space is not always so bad as a blog entry. And that’s usually when I resort to moving my response back here to the Farce.

A few days ago, Pat Todoroff asked Why Do You Write? It was a two-parter and in the first part he lists several reasons that people nowadays take up the pen.

Cathartic? The therapy of getting your mind’s meanderings at arm’s length for better examination? Story haunting you like some poltergeist demanding exorcism? The challenge of writing a novel was on your “To Do” list? A burning sense of calling? Disgust/disillusionment at current crop of type x fiction? … Dreams of fame, fortune and movie deals?

I’ve heard every one of those reasons at blogger meet-ups and writer’s workshops. I’ve read them online and every now and then one of those reasons will cling like a lamprey to the underside of my primary reason and assert itself.

But for me the main reason I write is because I can’t not write. Even before I “wrote” I told stories to myself, standing alone for hours on end holding a stick and making my parents wonder what I was up to. Even now when I don’t put the letters down on paper or into the screen I am shaping stories in my head, dancing with words. I write the way other people eat, I stash pieces of story in my mind the way a drunkard hides bottles about the house.

I have friends who run, and when they talk of running I see the need in their eyes. They have to get out there to feel their feet on the pavement and juke the endorphins. I used to run in college and remember how unright I would feel until I strapped on the Discman and hit the dorm stairs for punishing ups and downs. It’s like that with me and writing. And even though I haven’t finished a book worth selling it’s like those runners who don’t ever do marathons, but only stay on the morning route.

I write because my mind craves it. Because my fingers itch without it. At night I wake up often to find that I’ve been typing my dreams in my sleep.

I write because I am a writer.

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It’s been a good fifteen or sixteen hours and I’m still miffed. At least it’s downgraded from blazingly furious after a few hours of stopover in fuming.

A couple of days ago, Mike Duran asked his audience (which seems to include my audience more and more since I keep linking to him) if Flannery O’Connor wrote Christian Fiction. Which is sort like asking if Margaret Mitchell was a Southern writer. Because while both women were clearly from those traditions–O’Connor was a devout Christ-follower and Mitchell was born and bred in the South–their work generally stands well apart from the works that comprise those literary traditions.

But before I go any further, let me explain to those of you on the outside of the fence that within the circle of Christian Fiction there is a movement afoot that reminds me of the Disney movie making establishment prior to the advent of Touchstone films. Just as some within the halls of Disney wanted to make family fare that appealed to slightly older sensibilities, these writers want to write fiction for Christians’ leisure reading that is more PG-13 in nature. In other words they still want to have overt Christian themes but they also want to get away from the rigid strictures imposed by the Inspirational publishing houses. This debate generally centers around the code-word “edgy” and usually takes off when someone says they wish their characters could say the occasional Carlinesque Ess Word. It makes me fervently glad that God has called me to write something else, because if I had to spend vast amounts of my time worried about accidentally using the word “panties” and how I should not use the word “panties” I just might go back to booking travel for people who want to use their Sears card to pay for a Hawaiian vacation.

So when Mike asked folks if Flannery was a Christian author he pulled one paragraph out of the short story Parker’s Back to serve as an example. It happened to be the paragraph where the main character, Obediah Elihu Parker says

“God dammit!” he hollered, “Jesus Christ in hell! Jesus God Almighty damm! God dammit to hell!” he went on, flinging out the same few oaths over and over as loud as he could.

Based on that information alone, a man who had not read any of O’Connor’s works and was wholly unfamiliar with her biography decided that she was not only not a Christian writer but had standards far below that of any good Christian. From that point on another discussion ensued about whether or not writers should have their characters swear.

This? This is why Christian art is floundering in the ghetto of Kirk Cameron direct-to-DVD videos, Thomas Kinkaide’s paintings of light and blood and hair and endless stories of Amish girls and quilts. In the presence of true art we are getting hung up on the things we take out of context to fuel our Bowdleresque outrage. As I said over there, debating the use of profanity in that paragraph is like looking up at the Sistine Chapel ceiling and only noticing the strange nudity.

There was much discussion about how bad that paragraph was for taking God’s name in vain. Yet, if you were to read the entire story you would see that not only is the character’s use of those words at that time symbolic of his first supplication to God but it also echoes his disdain for his OWN name that he refuses to speak. So if you were to just see that paragraph you would of course say “yep. He took the Lord’s name in vain.” You’d be missing the whole story.

What good is a writer who misses the whole story?

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Ever since 2000 I have read all the Harry Potter books at least once a year. Most years twice. In the spring of 2009 I realised that it was no longer feasable to do anything heavier than Prisoner of Azkaban, and I had to look elsewhere for my mental comfort food. That wasn’t entirely bad, especially since Casey and Jason shoved me into the world of George R.R. Martin and nm-the-unnicknameable provided me with a lengthy and intriguing reading list to reintroduce me to sci-fi that didnt depend on misogyny and fantasy that didnt depend on retellings of some dude’s AD&D games.

But now, today, comes the news I have not only been waiting for but for which I’ve actively campaigned.

Starting in October, the Harry Potter series will be available in digitally-watermarked DRM-free e-book for-m. (sorry…got carried away with the hyphens.) That means that anyone, whether they use a Nook, an iPad, the Kindle (my personal favourite)…and even the six people who use the Hailmary e-reader Borders finally started selling can read the books in the much more accessable digital format.

Okay. More accessable to me, atleast.

It’s been three years of me sending emails and letters to various functionaries at Scholastic and Bloomsbury, three years of me begging them to sell me a product. Now at last I can again have access to Little Whinging and beyond.

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Here’s the thing. I know I’m a good writer. I know I’m a good storyteller of a certain kind of tale. That is, you won’t find me weaving tales of corporate espionage or pounding out one of those medical thrillers where people are given drugs that make them secretly turn into monkeys just to satisfy the super-rich of China by supplying them with extra-smart simian pets. I tell bildungsromans, hero’s journey type things and I seem to tell them well.

For the longest time I wanted nothing more than to sell one of my stories and see it become a Real Boy Book. Then for awhile I decided I’d try my hand at writing commercial romance. The plan was to write a series of best-selling things so that I’d make some money. Even though that was never the kind of story I cared to tell. I have romance in my other things but I can’t do the romance-only type of story that I’ve enjoyed in the hands of other writers. So I’m here writing a book that I’m sure is very interesting and very good and has elements of so many good things that I’m enjoying the taste of it very much as I knock it out day by day.

It is such hard work, though. There are so many things that have to happen to take things from the Point A I have already nicely laid out all the way to the Point Zed that sits dimly shrouded in fog. And a days work will pretty much get me from Point B.3 to about Point B.5 if we’re lucky.

And then there’s the issue of what I do with it afterword. I’ve got a few friends in different stages of manuscript selling and I don’t know a single one of those stages that isn’t frought with peril.

I am beginning to think that the only truly HAPPY moments a writer has are the various days behind the ink when things go well in the telling. After that I can’t think of a single time in the life of a writer’s work where there is a feeling of ease. Once it’s finished it has to be submitted. If you don’t have an agent, the finding of an agent is something to try your soul. If you do have an agent and a publisher there’s all the anxiety of what they want to carve out and add back in to the thing you’ve slaved over. If you do get an agent after shopping the manuscript then you worry about whether the agent can sell it and what the house will do to it after it’s sold. If I were feeling more ambitious I’d flowchart the process of an author’s grief.

So I’m being a very craven person as I sit here thinking that I want to finish my book because I want to see my stories being enjoyed by other people. But then again, maybe I don’t want to deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

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In the comments to my post on Saturday, one of my friends’ daughters left her heartfelt insight and opinion.

I always love receiving heartfelt insight and opinion, whether I agree with it or not. If I agree with it I think “yeah! I’m not alone and may not be crazy after all.” If I don’t agree I get to spend time comparing, contrasting, discerning and honing my own opinion.

More than once in this life I’ve altered my opinions slightly based on disagreements with other people. In spite of what some would accuse me, that alteration is not because I want to be a people-pleaser but because sometimes the other fellow just has a very good point that needs to be considered.

In the vast number of cases where I have disagreed with others and NOT altered my opinion I have more and more found myself tempering the way in which I present that opinion to other people. No matter how much I disagree with anyone, be they Aunt B., NM, my brothers or Fred Phelps I think every person on this earth is entitled to be treated as I wish to be treated. Kindness is never a bad thing. And it is not kind to insult or degrade another person for her views. I try to remember that, even in the specific cases of one or two people who always make me want to smack them when they open their mouths.

As troubled as I was by the way Piper framed her position (we’ll get to that in a minute) I was equally troubled by someone else telling her she was a “messed up” person. Granted, since I opened that very post by calling someone a “twit”, I can hardly claim the moral high ground. But both of those comments served well to remind me of why I so very much prize courtesy in debate.

As for the comment that

The Pill liberates men to indulge themselves without the God ordained consequences of children.

I can only shake my head. I come from a culture similar to Piper’s, and so I know this language. It’s a sort of English flavoured by a type of religiousity. I completely understood “men” to mean “all people” and “consequences” to be of the more arcane meaning of “natural outcome” as opposed to the automatic negative we now assume the word to have. There ARE happy consequences, but modern speakers of English seem to no longer associate those two words. What Piper is saying is standard for the teachings of The Quiverfull Movement.

I myself have numerous places where I depart with the QF philosophy, but as far as I’m concerned it’s no skin off my nose for folks to practice those beliefs. As long as they extend the same courtesy to others. I begin to have more trouble with Quiverfull when they accuse the barren of being cursed by God, and when they seek to limit the access of others to birth control.

There are a lot of consequences in this lifetime. Some good, some bad. But in my book a child is not only a consequence but an individual entity with potential and purpose. I have no doubt that the Quiverfull folk I number among my friends and family are happy with the life they’ve chosen. Yet I do prefer that they consider that they were able to make those choices without interference and respect that others would like to enjoy the same basic courtesy. That’s pretty much how I feel about everybody, to tell the truth.

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On Twitter yesterday one of the Twits* said “forget birth control pills. The real liberator of women was the washing machine.” I may be paraphrasing slightly, but that was the gist. And I was irate. Irate enough to write a blog post on Saturday.

Because I know the person who came up with this half-witty remark thought they were being cute. But there were so very many ignorant, anti-woman, anti-family things about that statement that I was seething.

First off, let’s start with the basic truth that this day in age babies are wonderful and wanted and welcome. That’s a bit of a change from 150 years ago–even 100 years ago. Back then, for most women “having sex” invariably meant “having babies”. Which meant that you ended up pregnant a lot of the time. Pregnant in a time when giving birth was a lot more risky for your health. Pregnant in a time before prenatal vitamins, ultrasounds, fetal monitors, ready blood transfusions. Pregnant in a time before doctors knew about the benefits of washing hands between deliveries, a time when dying in childbirth was a heavy statistical probability.

Assuming you lived through the pregnancy (which could have been your first or your ninth) and your baby lived through the delivery, you had to find a way to feed her and clothe her. If you were lucky enough to live on a piece of land that you owned or had permission to work that meant you could grow the food yourself. If you lived crowded in a city you had to buy from wherever you could. Keep in mind this was also before the FDA. You’d have to get your food from a market where flies swarmed on the meat and the vegetables were dirty with soil and fertilizer. Fertilizer made from feces. And no matter where you lived you most likely made all the clothes for your baby yourself. Every new baby was an exponential increase in the amount of work the mother would have to do. And she would have to do most of it while pregnant with yet another baby in many cases.

Before you get a wrong idea in your head let me assure you that I love the idea of babies, of big families (like the one I come from). I’m not one to think we should stop having babies altogether or that babies are a curse. I do think they are a blessing. But I am not ignorant enough to assume that a baby is just a cute accessory that requires no pain, no work and no food. So I think it is a very good thing that there is birth control that prevents conception.**

Compare that to a washing machine. Something that, yes, does save time and effort. But let us go back to that baby. The washing machine will clean the clothes more easily but will it make the clothes? Feed the baby? Ensure a healthy pregnancy, uneventful delivery and living child who makes it to her third birthday without dying?

And let us also examine the more insidious hidden idea (boy was I glad Rachel caught it too.) The idea that the laundry is the “woman’s work” and that she is liberated by having a machine to do some of her job. A healthy family is one where all parties share the workload as best they can. Washing machines are a family convenience, not merely a “woman’s tool”. My husband does the bulk of our laundry, actually. He’d scoff if you told him the washer and dryer were as liberating as the pill. Because he’d tell you just how much harder he would have to work to pay for all those babies. The pill liberates men by keeping their responsibilities managable. Even in a family where the mother is the breadwinner the father still has obligations which only increase along with the number of children. It helps families by making sure that the parents can have as many children as they can afford.

There is just no contest between a time-saving device and a life-altering medical choice.

**still no fan of those methods of birth control which terminate a pregnancy.

*yes. I meant it this way.

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If you were over at Mike Duran’s and part of the conversation about the drop-off in church attendance I made (a tacky) reference to my own past writings on the subject. Here they are.

1. My Problem With Youth Ministries Pretty much as described.

2. Why People Don’t Go To Church A few of the top reasons I’ve gleaned from discussion on the topic with former, now embittered, church attenders.

3. At Least No Wives Have Yet Been Set On Fire. A discussion on the nature and cause of church splits and their effect on children growing up in the church community.

4. Mega-churches Part II A short (very) discussion about the effect of Mega churches on modern church culture.

5. A List For Modern Worship Leaders. A controversial post where I express some frustration with my experience with worship leaders of multiple churches of late. Several commenters take this criticism as a sort of betrayal of the faith as a whole.

6. Is Christianity Too Insular? More of a discussion on the structure of the culture of the faith. But with church implications

7. Dear Churches In America A discussion about church finances during the recession

There are more, but these, I think, are the key posts in my mind.

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When Mother’s Day was here a few weeks ago I did my usual infertile woman thing and just pouted a bit. This in spite of the fact that I’ve got a perfectly wonderful mother. Now that Father’s Day has at last come rumbling along I therefore don’t feel right about gushing over the wonderfulness of my Dad. While he is indeed wonderful I don’t want to give him odes and sonnets while making my mother suffer through a bellyful of bellyaching.

Although I suppose it would be both appropriate and well overdue. My parents were Christian people. ARE Christian people (even though they no longer have dictates over my churchgoing habits.) They made sure we were in church as often as possible. Sunday Mornings, definitely, Sunday nights usually, Wednesday nights most of the time. But my father hated Father’s Day in the church. He would claim–and later be proven right by my own experience in a half dozen other churches–that the Mother’s Day sermon is always about how great Moms are but Father’s Day messages are about how all fathers are lousy and need to do better.

I suppose that would’ve been different had we been Roman Catholic, where the women have a more serious spot of reference. Say what you will about Marianism and the Saints, but they DO give women a role model in the Holy Pantheon. Other than that chapter in Proverbs (39) that tells us to be all things to all people, we Protestant and Anabaptist women have nothing hanging over our heads that’s as daunting as the fellows do. After all, folks get their concept of God the Father from their dealings with their earthy fathers. So I suppose ministers feel they’d better get cracking, lest a plague of indifferent or awful sires bad-parent them right out of business. Who wants to go worship a father-God when your own father left you fleeing at 18 screaming “FREEDOM!!!” like a freshly-gutted William Wallace?

I suppose by that reckoning–41 sermons on bad dads versus 41 sermons on the utter cuddliness of moms–it wouldn’t be so bad to give my dad some love on Father’s Day even as I slighted my mom five weeks ago. He is an awesome father for sure and not deserving of all the pulpit-born disapprobation of his lifetime. Still and all, I think I’ll save the real odes to both of them for a time of my own choosing. Especially given my circumstances of the moment. I am too drug- and pain-addled from these kidney stone babies I’ve been delivering to do much other than mumble incoherently and drool. I’ll be announcing my candidacy for the Senate any day now.

Besides, I don’t like Father’s Day either. Not because of the day itself but because every time it gets here I feel like the invisible hand of fate–the one that jabs and pokes me for Fate’s own amusement–is clicking a giant stopwatch to let us all know that summer is s t a rtingNOW!!!! Boom! The ignitions on 15 million grills are the blast of a starter’s pistol that sends summer charging out of the gate. When Fourth of July comes the fireworks are all the hopes and plans we had for the cool stuff we were gonna do exploding in the air. Summer goes by too quickly, faster than the other seasons it always seems. And to me Father’s Day just rubs it in.

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Note to self. Write about not being able to write more often. You will have topics to write about all freakin’ day.

Via Gawker via my husband we are alerted to movement on the Pottermore front.

There was some buzz about it when Rowling registered the domain name two years ago, with everyone hoping it had something to do with the Encyclopaedia. (That’s my long-awaited dream. I expect it’ll be out in time for my 50th birthday.)

The fan world–which I’m hiding from, leery of chansex fan fiction–has been buzzing about it being Rowling’s homegrown version of Leaky Cauldron or Mugglenet. Because you know the world needs more compendia of book facts, fan fiction and social networking fora.

According to Gawker the new “coming soon” has something to do with a branded smartphone.

From where I sit, deeply entrenched in my publishing geek world, my money is on this:

The last movie is coming out tout de suite, and that means that the revenue stream and awareness are going to peak* this summer. If Rowling hopes to ride the wave, she’s got to hop on it now.

And if she’s learned anything at all from George “my goiter has its own congressional representative” Lucas, she knows that it would be a great idea to re-release the books in 3-d. Errr, make that “e-book format.”

So my bet is that we’ll be getting a branded smartphone with the long-awaited e-book formats available for purchase. And don’t I hope so, having not been able to hold my copies this year and do any Potter reading.

(*note to various blogauthors and commenters. “Peak” means “the top of”. “Peek” means “a furtive glance or stolen look”. “Pique” means “to poke at with something sharp.” Therefore when something is sharp enough to stick into you and grab your awareness it PIQUES it. I have seen this misusage no fewer than 14 times in the last 9 days.)

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I know I already gutted out my 500 words for today.

Then I opened my email.

The nice thing about email is that it often reminds me of these little tirades I usually have only with myself. The ones I forget by the next time I make it to my desk. How fortunate you must feel that I am here already, and primed for tiradery!

I read The Help last summer and didn’t like it. Yet another book about how a bored white woman exploits the troubles of black women to make a career for herself. If I were a black woman I’d be mighty sick of books and movies implying that I am good for nothing until a nice, open-minded white lady comes to teach at my school or write a book about the struggles of my life. I’d also be mighty sick of those same white people deciding for me that all black men are worthless unless they play a sport and play it very well. Of course I’m not black, so maybe I’m wrong. I can’t speak to that experience first hand and maybe my take on it is patronising too.

What I can speak to is how these stories are marketed to white women like me, sold to us as a “feel good” summer picture. Hey, the WHITE characters do feel good. They make friends with the black women after a fashion and get to make nice little careers and homes for themselves, carved out of the pain of their new “buddies”. (No, I didn’t like that Sandra Bullock movie either. What was that…Oh yeah. _The Blind Side_.) I just am not into those “hey, white people! feel good about yourselves for throwing the occasional black people a bone!” At their core those stories are all based on perpetuating racial divisions.

::sharp noise as I steer this thing back on track::

So there IS a movie of The Help coming out pretty soon here. And that means there is a NEW version of the book. Unlike the book I paid $9.99 for, this one has a commercial for the movie on the front. The four main actresses from the film are aligned across the cover, positioned nicely above the words “Now A Major Motion Picture”. That commercial is going to cost you extra, because now the book that was $9.99 is $10.55.

It’s not new, but it always drives me nuts. That once a book has major advertising in the form of a TV show (Pillars of The Earth, Game Of Thrones) or a movie (The Lincoln Lawyer) the cost of the paperback goes up anywhere from a dollar to three bucks. In a way maybe it’s just us book snobs punishing all the Johnny-Come-Latelys for only being interested if they see the story playacted. But it still really speaks poorly of publishing, in my opinion. In any other industry you pay less when there’s a commercial attached. In books you pay a premium for the priviledge of being advertised upon.

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