Merry Christmas

“And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)

“Let the Stable Still Astonish”

Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain,
And then, the child,
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough.
Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said: “Yes,
Let the God of all the heavens and earth
be born here, in this place.” ?
Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms of our hearts
and says, “Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth be born here –
in this place.”

– Leslie Leyland Fields


Interesting discussion

over at The Miniatures Page regarding religion in Science Fiction settings. Read the Thread here
The conversation does indeed reveal a ‘venerable tradition’ of anti-religious phobia. Oddly enough, I just finished a guest-post for another blogger on ‘realistic sci fi settings’. I’m told it will appear mid-January.

The Drop City Co-Op

No, I’m not talking about a hippie commune in Sonoma. I’m throwing out an idea for a collaborative writing effort; a compilation of Short Stories in a common setting. Anyone read THIEVES’ WORLD when they were younger? That idea, but set in a spaceport. Put Blade Runner, Serenity, Lost and The Wire in a blender, sweeten with a dash of Babylon 5, then mash the Frappe button hard, fast and repeatedly.

Think about it: Addicts, Au Pairs, Bankers, Buskers, Cabbies, Cops, Dealers, Doormen, Prostitutes, Politicians, Smugglers, Soldiers, Terrorists, Tax Collectors… Whoever fires your imagination. The boundaries are the futuristic common setting, one submission per month of quality work not to exceed 7,500 words per, and realistic but redemptive themes. Other than that, it’s Open Season on anything. It’s a chance to exercise some writing skills, cross-pollinate with other creative types, and exorcise some characters or thoughts that have been haunting you.

So here’s my invite to you: Think about it over Christmas/New Year break. Leave a comment if you’re interested or have questions. The plan is to start January 2012 with the first postings at the end of the month. If there are a couple legit responses, we’ll hammer out the details and I’ll add a new section to the site. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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