Archive for August, 2013

“Pleased to meet you.   Won’t you guess my name?”


All of Rock and Roll exists in this song.   The beat, the sheer MICK JAGGER of the vocals.   Now you all know that I think Freddie Mercury is peerless…peerless…peerless.  But Mick Jagger TEARS IT UP  in this  song.

You’d think a Christian wouldn’t love a song called “Sympathy for the Devil” but if you listen to the lyrics the Stones do a fairly  darned remarkable job of telling you exactly who and what the devil is.    The devil is silkily sexy and dashing and attractive…and at the root of all the dark that has happened throughout history.     “Made damn sure that Pilate washed his hands and sealed his fate.”

The Stones put forth a more orthodox view of Satan in this song than you’d get from Rob Bell or Joel Osteen.

So, you know, there’s my apologetic on this song.

What does weird me out as a History geek is the fact that there are people who have to look up what each of the events mentioned in the song is.   Like “What’s up with St. Petersburg”?   I think we’ve failed if people get their primary world history lessons from the Rolling Stones and Billy Joel.    Of course we didn’t start the fire…we don’t even light the match when it comes to inspiring curiousity in our shared past.

If I were going to tell you to listen to only one version of Sympathy I’d say “the live recording from Flashpoint” because that is where Mick sells it the best and you don’t have all the beeps and boops of the studio track.   And it starts with a better guitar riff that comes in just before the drums with this “something AWESOME is about to happen.”

And just because I won’t slight Freddie I have to say that if you’re really juiced after listening to Sympathy you can always transfer all that energy to this…

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I’ve loudly decried the state of Christian-targeted fiction over the years.  As for Christian-targeted speculative fiction–science fiction, fantasy, alternate history–there hasn’t been enough to have an opinion.    That’s beginning to change, slowly but surely, as more faith-based publishers are acquired  by conglomerates who have familiarity with speculative fiction in the mainstream and are thus less reluctant to risk inventory space on the “weird stuff.”

What’s been out there in the past, though, has been…mostly not good, trending toward the “really not good” end of the spectrum.  So I’m skeptical to say the least.   Becky Miller  has been one of the best advocates the genre has, spending her time to foment interest in new titles and to patiently prod holdouts into taking courtesy bites*.

At Becky’s urging several of us dove into Cast Of Stones, the first entry in new author Patrick W. Carr’s The Staff & The Sword trilogy.    The book was holding steady at 4.5 stars on Amazon, and loudly praised.   Still, I was skeptical, given the  well-known grade inflation in this market.

I’m not a generous reviewer.  The suspense was riveting.  Would Carr’s novel stand up to the scrutiny of a tough skeptic?  Would Becky be able to walk to her mailbox without getting grudgemail from my disappointed self?  What would happen when the immovable Katherine met the usually-resistable Christian-targeted speculative fiction?   (more…)

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The main topic for writers in the Christian-targeted fiction space this last week or so has appeared to be “intellectual rigor”.

Everyone wants more of it, even though no one is entirely sure what it looks like, other than “C.S. Lewis!”.*

Because I’m always trying to keep at least a window open in my mind to catch a breeze I joined in the Christian Spec Fic Reading Challenge thrown down by Becky Miller and initially taken up by Mike Duran.      For this challenge I’m–we’re all–reading Patrick W. Carr’s A Cast Of Stones.

It was midway through reading this book that I hit upon a realisation.

Carr’s first novel in his The Staff & The Sword trilogy reads less like the Christian-targeted fiction of a decade ago and more like something I’d pick up from Tor or Orbit.   I don’t mean in terms of theology (a topic for a different post) or plot;  I mean, simply, it’s written in the STYLE of those books.    As I’ve followed more and more authors of Christian-targeted fiction I realise they’re all getting the same advice from the same editors at the same workshops and it is making many of their books read like the same subpar reading experience.   “Don’t have a prologue!”  “Stay away from adverbs!” “Use short sentences to build suspense!”  “Don’t change character POV! [which they phrase as “don’t head hop!”]  Meanwhile I think upon all the true classics of literature, the BEST-SELLING classics that have had prologues, lots of adverbs, longer sentences, POV changes.   And I realise that Christian-targeted fiction has been held prisoner by one specific style of writing tailored to a specific audience.

I read romance novels; I write romance  novels.  This is not an indictment of the romance genre.   But I will say that when most readers of romance pick up a book in that category they are looking for an easy, escapist read.  If they want more challenging stuff they’ll go for classics like Tolstoy or Austen.  It’s not that they don’t read challenging material, it’s that the genre is shaped around easy escapism.

Since that’s the far-and-away top-selling genre for Christian-targeted publishers it’s going to stand to reason that many of the editors and successful writers are going to be seeking and writing those types of books.  Hence all of those seminars with all of those pointers on how to make your book fit this market.

That’s what I realised when reading  Carr’s book last night.  I first read his bio** and saw that he credited folks like Robert Jordan and Guy Gavriel Kay as his influences instead  of just regurgitating “C.S Lewis!” and “Tolkein!” as so many in this space do.     That’s why his book sounds different.  He’s reading outside the bubble and being influenced by THOSE stories, not just going with the same influences and seminars as everybody else.

And that’s when it further hit me.

Do we want intellectual rigor in our fiction?   Yes.  How do we get it?


I’m not saying that you can only read Marquez and Salinger and those other ponderous literary works.  I’m actually giving yet another reason why I think it is essential for any writer to be well and diversely read.   Intellectualism is just wrestling with ideas.  You’re not going to be finding many ideas to wrestle with if everything you consume has the same ideas, the same style, the same point of view.

If Christian-targeted fiction wants to branch out it has to believe that there are other books to read besides what’s on the shelf at LifeWay and it has to believe  that there are other ways to write a book besides Janette Oke and Ted Dekkar.









*  This is becoming the default response to ANYTHING that comes up in the Christian Fiction space.   It’s like a special subset of Tourette’s where no matter  what the question or argument folks can respond with “C.S. Lewis!” and feel like they’ve made a point.

**I had to know if he was old enough to grok who Martin and Lewis were when he called two of his characters Martin and Luis.

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I spend about three hours a week on various fora for people with types of chronic pain.    It’s not atypical for people to include their condition and  medication profiles in footers to every forum comment, so you get used to 90% of the folks you interact with wearing their medical business on their sleeves.   The TYPICAL footer looks like this:

“Osteoarthritis, Type 2 Diabetes, Gout, Ankylosing Spondilytis, CRPS [*Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome], Hashimodo’s Disease, Reynaud’s Syndrome, Fibromyalgia.      Percocet, Humulin N, Esterese, Soma, Tramadol, Lyrica, Valerian Root, Vitamin D.”

These people (like me) collect diseases and medications the way my husband collects Grateful Dead recordings.

Lately, though, I’ve been reading more and more conversations where these folks are open about the stuff they take off the books.   As more and more press comes out about how much of a good thing Marijuana is for people with chronic pain, more and more patients are taking matters into their own hands.

I cannot blame them.  I know what this life is like, how hard it is.  I’m far from the worst off in the Chronic Ailment Sweepstakes and I suffer to a saddening degree.  I can’t imagine the suffering of people whose spine is held together by the medical equivalent of knitting needles.    I also know many people aren’t as stubborn or as raised by rampant ethicists as I am.   So I can fully see how the pressure of living this life can lead them to say “screw it.  I’m buying some pot.”

So here’s the problem–if you haven’t already pieced it together.   We’re all taking enough drugs to start our own cartel.  Many of these drugs DIRECTLY AFFECT the chemistry of the brain that influences  your mental processes.     They require a lot of fine-tuning; it took me about 40 months (that’s three 1/3 years) to get a workable cocktail together.

In a conversation recently one of my friends admitted to taking “natural supplements” along with the regular Rx–which included both Tramadol and Lyrica.  Just yesterday another friend mentioned enhancing their routine tramadol with cannabis.  Both of these people were also expressing that their pain was out of control and they were also struggling with depression and fatigue.

The interaction of the chemicals in the THC can cause that if your brain is already on the mild anti-depressant found as a booster in the Tramadol.   But folks don’t know that because they aren’t doctors.   And they won’t tell their doctors they’re taking illegal medication.

If marijuana is legal we can finally get doctors to manage those who are using it already and who may be complicating their situation.

And if you don’t care at all about marijuana, just know that this is also the same argument I use when they talk about making oral birth control available without an Rx.

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I didn’t care about Irish things growing up.  My family wasn’t Irish–they still aren’t, actually–and my community was largely German in origin.  There was one Irish person from Ireland in our church who cut our hair; I don’t really remember her talking about Ireland that much and she didn’t have Irish things around the shop.

In college I became obsessed with studying the links between Judaism and Celtic languages, specifically Irish and Scots Gaelic.   That was when I started being interested in Knotwork, and from there in all things Celtic.

Knotwork is one of those things that I’ve always loved but only recently realised I could actually create.   When I started on Pinterest a couple of years ago there wasn’t much about Knotwork–it was all bathroom fixtures and recipes for desserts.    So I started my Me So Knotty board.*  And that’s when I found that you can draw your own Celtic knots.    It was bad enough that I sat around and doodled knots on my iPad.

This week I have made a possibly injurious discovery.   It turns out you can use i-cord (one of my favourite things to knit) to make celtic knots.  I did know this a few years ago, but you know how you find something out and think “that’s cool, I’ll have to do that” but it’s not something you’re really into at the time?   Yeah.  That.  When I first found out about i-Cord Knotwork  I  was in a knitting hiatus phase and so it got filed  away and then lost.  Now that I’ve found it again I’m chomping at the bit to finish my washcloths so I can start the i-Cord.

But the question is this.  With as much as I love all things Celtic Knotwork, and as much as that’s my preferred (i.e. only) jewelry, do I dare do THIS??



Yes.  These are necklaces made of i-Cord knotwork.    And they’re fun and wonderful.  My favourite–and the one I’d likely do a variation of–is the one which uses a chain and just has the knot as a pendant.   But still.  Fun, yes.  Wonderful, yes.   Something I’d be caught dead wearing in public?  I’m really not sure.  I mean, yes, I’d wear it to a celidh or a bookstore or maybe even to our wonderful Irish pub.   But just in general?  Like, to the doctors’ office or Walgreen’s?    I’m already fairly eccentric.  I think this might be the thing that pushes me over the edge from “little bit strange” to “That weird lady with the limp and the yarn jewelry.”

Ah.  But do I care?

Either way, knotwork is wonderful, knots are wonderful and I love that I can be a Maker.




*I almost wish I hadn’t.  It seems like something gets repinned from there every half hour and I get an email telling me so.   In other words…I am spamming myself.

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Forty-one years and a week ago I ended a visit at my grandparents’ farm when they took me home.   To this day I remember walking up the front walk, into the front door.  I remember a lot of brick and my parents seeming really a lot more enthusiastic to see me than seemed normal.*  In fact, this is my earliest confirmable memory, and it probably sticks because of how out-of-the-ordinary it was.   Up to that point and for many years after that point my life was largely a routine of reading, eating, voiding.  Small children lead spectacularly uninteresting lives if they’re fortunate.

There were cashews in the cupboard.  I don’t know if we brought them from the farm or if mom had them on hand as treat for my grandpa.   But they weren’t a usual thing to have in the house and there was a lot of fuss over them .  I remember my grandpa–a big man, former basketball star–holding me in his arms as he pulled the jar from the cupboard to grab a handful.    It was a spectacular view for a two- and- a -half foot tall child.

My parents were very excited to show me my new table and chairs.  My father had painted them a deep blue.  There was a great fuss made over them as well.  Look, Kathy! Aren’t they pretty?!   Now you have your very own table where you can have a snack!   I’m not sure if they gave me a snack.  One would think they should have, and with as much as eating formed our family events one could assume they would have.  I just don’t remember.

What I do remember is that eventually they got around to introducing me to my new baby brother.   His name was David “just like your daddy”.  Once  I cleared up the fact that I called him “Davy” and NOT “daddy” (Come on…you can see how I had a point…) I don’t remember anything else that happened.    From that point on, though, Davy was a part of my world.

I remember all of those things.   The smell of the cashews, my grandfather’s impish smile as he snuck another handful.  I can still feel the new paint on the table, the  hard seat of the chair under my tiny little butt.   I can smell my grandmother’s perfume, the baby powder, the breast milk.  It’s all right there just as though it had all just happened.

The house is another family’s home and I don’t know what they keep in that high corner cupboard.   My grandparents have now both gone home to heaven and my brother who was a soft and milky new baby is now an attorney with his own children in his own house.

I think the blue table and chairs are in my parents’ basement.   At one point I was saving them for the babies I never had, but it’s been fifteen years since that was a topic addressed.    Wherever they are they no longer fit.   They are small and old and rickety and I am large and old and rickety.   Time is a melancholy piece of music and I am by nature a fermata.   Yet I know that I didn’t want to be two forever, or twenty, or even forty.   Still and all it would be nice to see my grandfather sneak cashews again, to have my brother be someone I could show new things to again.

*Yes, I know I was only two and a few months.   I have a good memory.

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I’ve looked at the blank WordPress screen for a few minutes now, trying to decide which topic to write about.  Phone calls and emails and Facebook Status Updates have left me more frustrated, angry and depressed than I’ve been for a long while.

I toyed with writing about one of those topics that has upset me but it occurs to me just what a blue language waste of time that would be.   I’ve written about all of these subjects before.  I’ve included links to scientific data which underscore my point.   I’ve been incredibly candid about my personal life in order to make a point–at great cost to my natural introversion.   Yet the points go not only unconsidered but, frankly, it appears they go unheard as well.

Now I’m left with only frustration and anger and the millstone of hopelessness.

Where do I put that?

I’ve seen a lot of people who share the same faith background and culture that I grew  up in and I see them so blinded by anger that they would rather embrace the hot stew of heedless hate than come to grips with changes  in the world.

I can’t be that and I can’t do that.   But here I am watching what are essentially human rights violations caused by government intrusion and being unable to do anything about it.  Anything.

Yet I don’t want to be that angry person who hates everything and grudgingly moves about in society.   I don’t want my anger to be more important to me than my sanity, my relationships, my faith.

So what do I do with it?   Where do I put it?  How do I make it productive or minimise it so that at the very least it isn’t intrusive?   I don’t want anger to rule me as it festers.

But I am angry.

I’m allowed to be angry.  I remember at one point speaking honestly about the things that made me angry got me censured by someone who told me  I had really bad manners and they weren’t speaking to me anymore.   Actually they said that behind my back.  Which strikes me as really bad manners now that I think about it.    Anyway, I thought about that a lot and I thought ” you know what?  That’s bull.  I have just as much right to be angry as another person. ”   So yes, I’m allowed to be angry.  Please don’t think that by my asking where I put that anger that I’m looking for folks to tell me to not be angry.   Anger isn’t a sin, it isn’t part of the Dark Side.  (What a philosopher that greedbag Lucas turned out to be, eh?)

Anger is ok.   It can be an engine of change, theoretically.   But when it isn’t, what do you do with it?


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I think it was because she was a farmer’s daughter.   Or it may have been that she just didn’t care for surprises.

By the time I came along the year she turned 30 my mother had developed the mantra she’d pass down to me oft-used and well-worn.

“Expect the worst, hope for the best.”

That was the philosophy that was designed to see you through drought and flooding and broken tractors;  it also worked nicely for waiting for boys to call and for pizza to be served at  lunch.    Somewhere along the way, though, I started to realise that this particular way of looking at the world was turning me into a decidedly grim and fretful woman.   Every time I have an annual exam I expect the phone call telling me the cells were abnormal.     Every time I plan for a vacation I expect that some turn of events will force me to cancel and fly instead to northern Michigan.   Every time my husband leaves on a business trip I expect a phone call with news of disaster.

Of course I always HOPE for the best, as I was taught.   Granted, when you’re expecting the worst, the bar for the “best” is set pretty low.   When you’re expecting that the mail will bring news of an IRS audit the “best” becomes “Oh good, I didn’t get audited.”  I don’t ever hope for nice notes from my mother-in-law or coupons to Bellacino’s.

This applies also to my work.  I expect that I won’t get published, so I’ll be pleasantly surprised if I ever do.   But there’s the sticky wicket of not being motivated at all to write anything since I’m expecting that it’ll never see the light of another person’s eyes.   Expecting the worst has gradually evolved into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Lately it occurs to me what a long and tiring trip this has been, and how actually contrary to the spirit of Grace this all is.   When you’re a Christian you live by the philosophy that God loves you so much that deep and ancient magic of love transpired to bring you into an eternity of fellowship with God.    It is literally the BEST outcome for any human being.   Moreover, we’re told to BOLDLY APPROACH the throne of Grace to claim this gift and this love and this eternity.    We aren’t told to expect damnation and be pleasantly surprised when we turn up in heaven instead.*

In thinking through all of this I’ve gotten to the place where I’m actively working on revising my life mantra.   I’ve stopped expecting the worst.  Well, halfway stopped.  I’m still working through it and occasionally catch myself expecting police with a warrant instead of UPS with a package from Bath & Body Works.**

I’m redesigning my philosophy.  The new phrase is


Live with Joy, Harbour Hope, Accept the Worst With Grace and Resolve.”



*Although my mother did tell me I should expect to be martyred for my faith by the Communists.  I think this falls under “expect the worst”.

** I haven’t, to my knowledge, done anything that, well, warrants a warrant.  But these days I wonder if that even matters.  Actually I wonder if they have warrants any more or if they just do that thing they do on the television where they show up and whine about how hard the paperwork is so since you’re a good person and all you’ll let them search your house without going all the way back downtown for one of  those pesky warrant things.

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Someone is wrong on the Internet.

It happens every second of every day.

Someone is wrong on the Internet.

The natural response (eg. my natural response) is to spend hours pointing out to her why she’s so very wrong about Benedict Cumberbatch being sexy and not looking like Voldemort*, why she is wrong about Twilight being a timeless classic, why she is wrong about funding social justice programs with tax dollars.

Lately, though, I’ve discovered a mantra that is working quite well for me.   It came about when I started realising just how much of my time I’ve burned through–FORTY THREE YEARS!–and just how much I presumably have left.

“I don’t owe you the courtesy of my time.”

I rarely say it to the wrong person.   I just stop engaging.  I figure I don’t even owe them the courtesy of telling them I don’t owe them the courtesy.   Half the time they aren’t even people I KNOW at all.   They’re friends of friends or “manager”s of friends (why does an author have a “manager”?).   Or they’re strangers on a forum for A Song Of Ice And Fire or strangers who like to visit Walt Disney World.

I don’t owe you the courtesy of my time.

It’s been very freeing.

It also can serve as proof to the people that I do engage with that I value them and their opinions.  If I’m reading your stuff or talking to you about shoes and cakes and Calvinism I am giving you the one currency I have at my fingertips, the once currency I can’t borrow.

Someone will always be wrong on the Internet.  Long after my time is wholly  spent this will continue.   I can’t stop it.  But I can live my days without the grief of trying to hold back the tide.


*I realised once that I thought he was attractive.  Then I realised it was the commutative principle of Sherlock Holmes’ innate attractiveness whereby I think anyone who plays him is attractive not because of who they are but because they are playing him.

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George Lucas…I loved him when I was a kid.  When I was 10 there was no genius more creative.  There was no one in my universe who did what George Lucas could do.  He made myths come alive in new ways that I’d never even thought of.   I spent five years obsessed with all things Lucas and Lucasfilm. I could tell you pretty much any fact about any of the players behind the scenes in Star Wars.

I’m older now; three decades have passed since Return Of The Jedi’s opening day.   In that time I’ve had a good long look at George’s crumbling clay feet and tarnishing bronze.  I still admire him on the one hand, while harbouring a sad loss of innocence in the other.    But hang on a second.  Where does all this fit in with the topic at hand?

Well, one of the things I knew about George Lucas was that his diabetes seemed to be a roadblock that kept him from biologically fathering a child.   After initially adopting Amanda with his wife Marcia (before their marriage went tets up) he then adopted more children during the years he was single.  Now he’s seventy years old, ridiculously wealthy and married to a woman who is my age and is wealthy in her own right.  

So what do you buy when you already have more everything than anyone previously knew existed?

It would appear that you buy a baby.

Don’t misunderstand, please.  I’m happy for them, and happy for the new life they’ve brought into the world.   Life is always good and it’s especially celebrated when it arrives after the time  one thought one’s reproductive days were over.

But I can’t help looking at the picture released yesterday, with them both standing and smiling in business attire, talking about how their biological child was born via surrogate and thinking  “wow, this is kind of weird.

Weird doesn’t mean wrong.  (Land! If it did can you imagine how much trouble I’d be in?)  It just means that something is so far out of my scope I just can’t look at  it without thinking “I have got to sit here and wrap my mind around this.”

In trying to wrap, I’ve come up with a few questions.  If you feel like answering, hop right on in.

1.  How did they conceive the child?   It clearly involved some measure of scientific assistance.  I’d be a bald liar if I didn’t say I wondered what that was.  How does a theoretically fertility-challenged man contribute material?   (As an infertile person myself I’m always fascinated by the new reprotechs.)

2.  Did they do any fiddly things with the genetics?  For instance, did they screen for diabetes?   Obviously this kid is streets ahead in the scientific creation aspect.  I wonder how far.

3.  This is the worst and most shallow question I have–which is saying something.   How wise is it to bring a child into the world when you’re  nearing the finish line?   As I told someone yesterday, I imagine he has enough money to prolong his life further than the average person.   He has access to top flight medical care, and that’s the best way to stave off the inevitable.    But still, even if he lives to 90, he’ll only see 20 years of his daughter’s life.  Granted, we are none of us guaranteed a tomorrow so I suppose anyone having a child could be cut short before spending much of the child’s life along side her.   Still and all, the odds are greater in his case that he’ll run out the clock sooner than a thirty-four year old father.

4.  Everest.  Her name is Everest.   DID THESE TWO PEOPLE NOT GO TO JUNIOR HIGH?!?   How many “Climb Everest” sex jokes are going to bandied around that girl?  Honestly.  The only thing worse would have been naming her Town Bicycle.   I swear.

5. Would I have a designer baby if I had the chance?  If I could pay people to be pregnant for me, to stay up the infant nights for me?   I honestly don’t know.  Ten years ago I would have said yes.   Now it’s a solid “maybe”.

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