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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?

BY READING INTELLECTUAL FICTION.

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??

il_fullxfull.212813993ncfceltice.jpg5535543095_d6436c7969

 

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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