Smashwords Coupon

In light of Amazon’s latest grab at a bigger market-share Kindle promotional feature, Kindle Select, with it’s 90-day minimum exclusivity demand, I’m offering the RUNNING BLACK ebook at Smashwords for 25% off until Jan. 12th, 2012. Use code KJ59L at checkout to help support me and free market competition. Thanks.

But I like poetry.

This business is well ended.
My liege, and madam, to expostulate
What majesty should be, what duty is,
Why day is day, night night, and time is time,
Were nothing but to waste night, day and time.
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief: your noble son is mad:
Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
What is’t but to be nothing else but mad?
But let that go.

– Lord Polonius in HAMLET

Now liking poetry wasn’t a thing most guys admitted to, growing up in my neighborhood in Poughkeepsie. Definite ‘fruity’ material, but there it is. I checked Kipling out of the library. I read Shakespeare. I took the time to figure out Prufrock. I even wrote an angsty teenage lament in the same style. (and I thank God the Father, Jesus the Son, the Holy Spirit, and all the blessed saints that it’s lost and there are no surviving copies.) To this day, I still believe Tennyson’s ULYSSES is one of the greatest pieces of English language ever crafted. Read it out loud and you’ll hear what I mean. I have a steady diet of books on poets and poetry and am a fan of Slam-Poets like Taylor Mali and Anis Mojgani (Another A.M. and Another One.)

Each memorable verse of a true poet has two or three times the written content.
– Alfred de Musset

It’s not that I aspire to be Poet Laureate one day, (although, as far as goals go…) neither do I write poetry with any consistency, but as a writer, I’ve come to increasingly appreciate depth of meaning in economy of language. I say “increasingly” because a majority of the Writing Group material I encounter lately lacks this basic dynamic. I suspect it’s New-Writer Syndrome; the notion you have to construct sentences that ‘sound’ like prose, but more often than not, folks are simply putting three words where one would do. The result is constipated communication.

No No NaNoWriMo
I didn’t participate in this year’s National Novel Writing Month. No time. Other projects. But… I have attended local NaNo Meet and Greets twice prior, and both times the motivational speeches and little Ice Breaker Exercises focused exclusively on how to pad your Word Count. “Take this simple sentence and see how much you can inflate it. Free Pastry and Coffee for the one who has the most words at the end of five minutes. *giggle* Go!”

For God’s sake, I spend most of my writing time trying to do the opposite. Think about it: We all hate it when someone blathers one and on. After five minutes we’ve either turned the channel mentally or we’re seething inside, saying “Get to the Flipping Point, will you?” I’m hunting for that one Headshot word, not a Carpet-Bombing of Prose that hits everything but.

“Don’t Write Stuff people skip.”
That right there was one of the soundest pieces of Writing Advice I ever got. Not referring to Style or Subject preferences but the notion of Traction. Some clever author once said that when they sit down and look at their keyboard they’re reminded of something they heard at a horse track; when you look down at the betting list the names of the winners are right there in front of you. When I revise my own stuff, I constantly ask “What am I trying to say/show here?” and “Why is this even here?” If I don’t have a clear answer, if the material isn’t moving the story along towards the climax, it’s fat. Might be pretty fat, clever fat, cool fat, but it’s still fat. I have to cut it. That’s my goal; the right words in the right place. That’s the winner.

I’ll end with this recommendation: Ted Kooser’s Poetry Home Repair Manual. That little book ranks up there with Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art as one of the most helpful in my pursuit to be a better writer and communicator. Get it for yourself for Christmas and read it before the New Year. You’ll be glad you did.

“First time I ever went into a library I was amazed. It was a kind of magical place I’d only ever read about in books.”
– Unknown

“I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything.”
– Steven Wright

Jesus wasn’t very Christian…

Bouncing off Mike Duran again and the apparently Sisyphean debate over sermonizing in Christian fiction, I want to pull a Van Helsing drive a stake in the heart of this.

What would Jesus do?
When Christian writers use Scripture to justify heavy-handed sermonizing in their novels, I can’t help but wonder if we’re reading the same book. Jesus preached with sublime clarity. Take the Sermon on the Mount as your example. Dealing with individuals and their needs, whether demoniac, tax collector, prostitute, or Pharisee, He was direct to the point of discomfort. In telling stories (i.e. parables) however, He took a very different track.

When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,
“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”
Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? – Mark 4: 10-13

A Novel isn’t a Sermon
Freighted with meaning and divine truth, Jesus nonetheless gave room for His stories to be misunderstood or ignored. He knew there would be people who didn’t “get” them, and He didn’t mind. In fact, the tactic was deliberate. I know He explained them afterwards to His Disciples, but there came a point where He expected them to be able to figure them out. He never footnoted the parables or went chasing after critics begging them to reconsider.

Christian fiction writers must get over a bad case of “Medieval Morality Play Syndrome” and while writing prayerfully from their hearts, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, allow their work the possibility of being misinterpreted, mocked, or ignored. Once cured, that will allow both the author and the work to be true to themselves, and ring authentic before God.

“…this is the weakness of most ‘edifying’ or ‘propaganda’ literature. There is no diversity…You cannot, in fact, give God His due without giving the devil his due also. ”
― Dorothy L. Sayers, Mind Of The Maker

Why stained glass is like writing a novel…

It’s obvious I’m going to make associations between the two, but installing this latest commission in a public library in upstate New York, I was struck once again by several common struggles.

1. Patience is a virtue.
This is a long-term, incremental process. You’re not whipping out a 1,000 piece panel in a week and neither will you crank out a 100,000 word novel in a month. Or even two months of NaNo word-padded frenzy. Lock it in your mind that it’s going to take consistent applied effort over a considerable amount of time to make something with legitimate quality. The initial query for this latest commission began back in May. It was installed on November 25th, almost seven months later. I spent over a year writing, then re-writing my first novel. Take the time to do the job right, however long that is.

From thumbnail proposal sketches to the full-size cartoon of the final design; from the glass selection through the uncounted hours cutting, grinding, foiling, soldering and surface finishing; from obtaining accurate measurements to transporting the panels across two states for the install; large projects proceed in stages. You can’t move on until the earlier phase is complete and, more important, you can’t perform phase three tasks until you’ve finished phase two. You can’t grind and fit or solder and patina if you haven’t established the final design and cut out the basic shapes. Likewise, I have to resist the urge to revise, to polish my first draft. That’s second and third draft work. First draft is all basic shapes that make the whole.

2. Devil’s in the details.
Stained glass done wrong is tacky. Stained glass done right is breath-taking. Reason most folks don’t like it is you’ve got to pay attention every step of the way. Screw up at one stage and it effects the following stages and flaws the finished product. One piece too large or cut sloppy, it throws every piece it touches out of whack. It needs to be fixed before you solder and make it permanent.

Also, even though you’ve drawn an outline and are essentially filling in the lines/shapes, it’s what you fill them with that makes the all difference. Kelly green leaves and baby blue sky? OK. Or pay the extra to get hand-poured dappled greens and drawn German antique. Yes it costs more and more difficult to work with, but it’s the difference between Hallmark and Tiffany. I think it was Mark Twain who said the difference between a good word and a right word is the difference between a lightning bug and lightning.

3. Give blood.
It hurts sometimes. Give from yourself and don’t bypass that. There are no shortcuts. I’ve got my 10,000 plus hours in in glass work. I’ve got to do the same with words.

***

Memorial Window for Patterson Library, Westfield, N.Y. Overall dimensions: 36″ x 76″
Quotation in main panel reads
“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. – Cicero”
Designed, fabricated and installed by P. Todoroff, Glass Graphics Studio. Cape Cod, MA.

That’s for chickens to laugh at…*

Watched Serenity again the other night. (Orson Scott Card agrees with me that it’s the finest sci-fi film ever made. Hate it when he copies me…) There’s no way to over-state Joss Whedon’s skills. Plot, character, action, pace… the film’s a benchmark for shiny sci-fi goodness. The dialogue alone has some of the best one-liners ever uttered, and the scene with the Reaver ships confronting the Alliance in the skies over Mr. Universe’s planet is pure epic.

Watched it last night with a buddy who’d never had the pleasure of seeing it before, and after acknowledging its obvious awesomeness, he said “The guy (J.W.) knows the Bible but doesn’t seem to like Christianity very much. It’s the whole sub-text.”

It’s not my purpose here to dissect the film’s themes with its notions of creating a ‘world without sin’ and faith in faith. I’d be happy to discuss them some other time. Between the hullabaloo over at deCompose on Labeling Christian fiction and my friend’s comment, I was reminded of the obvious fact there’s a worldview driving every bit of media. It’s never really ‘just of movie/song/show/novel….”

“All art is propaganda. It is universally and inescapably propaganda; sometimes unconsciously, but often deliberately, propaganda.”
— Upton Sinclair

I’m not shocked to find that others hold different or opposing worldviews, neither am I sniveled that they would construct and infuse their creations with their perspectives. I expect it. I also hold to the conviction Christian artists shouldn’t use ‘bait and switch’ tactics trying to be clever.

What I do find odd are the shrill accusations of ‘proselytizing’ that come whenever certain folks encounter a novel/art with Christian themes, or the strident calls for warning labels on the same like those on gansta rap cds or household chemicals. Star Wars, Serenity, Avatar, Childhood’s End, Caprica or the new BSG, or (insert your own title) don’t feature lead-ins with “This film contains elements of secular humanism/re-constituted pagan belief systems, and was made in a facility known to hold condescending/denigrating attitudes towards traditional Judeo/Christian values.”

What’s ridiculous* (see below) is the double-standard employed, as if Christians aren’t entitled to the same integrated creative expression as other artists. When I was shopping Running Black around, one editor strongly suggested I lose the ‘definite world-view statement’ (read “Christianity”) to make it more marketable. Apparently, a child going to Heaven is offensive to some people.

As an adult functioning in the Open Marketplace of Ideas, I’m fair game. I’m expected to sort out different truth claims when I meet them, generally without the benefit of a warning shot across my bow. Being a free moral agent in a free society means I encounter those who have made different choices and engage in conduct I disagree with. That’s the burden and benefit of maturity and liberty.

Atheism insists it holds the intellectual high ground; that religious folks lack a chromosome or a matching pair of brain cells, or some equally debilitating condition, but isn’t what’s good for the goose also good for the gander? Don’t like my perspective? Deal with it… Deal with it the same way I deal with yours. Like an adult.

But given the hue and cry, the scorn often heaped on Christians, I’d say those folks are acting in the very manner they accuse believers of: myopia, fear, and shallow conditioned ignorance.

* In the film, the safeword phrase that Simon uses to shut River down, “Eta kuram na smekh”, is a Russian expression (“Это курам на смех”). Literally, it means, “That’s for chickens to laugh at” — a Russian idiom for “That’s ridiculous”.