Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Help Bring Christmas--and a Warm House--to CWC!

Well, we did it....we're on the way to bankruptcy protection. Chapter Seven, to be exact.

This will actually be a great relief, after what we've been through over the last two years--but in the meantime, it's going to make for a rather bare Christmas.

Unless, of course, there are some angels out there ready to kick in. :-)

I never, ever like asking anyone for anything--but in this case I'll make an exception, so that I can provide at least a giftie or two in a stocking hung by the chimney with care...and buy a tree.
Yanno, little tiny things like that. And I'm waiting for a furnace man as we speak.

Anything anyone feels drawn to give, trust me...we will appreciate it beyond words.
Contribution button to the right!


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

What Is It About Groups of Three?

...Just an observation.

I've been editing a lot of work recently in which authors have an absolute obsession with series of three. Case in point: ". . . family structure, societal factors, and economic circumstances made us gravitate toward the positive side of an arduous situation."

This is just one of many, many, MANY (now they've got me doing it) lists like this. What I don't understand is WHY? Do authors not realize that endless series of threes like this produce their own rhythm when read? Do they not realize that, after endless paragraphs with endless series, the rhythm they've produced is soporific? Do they not realize that this will, in fact, induce their readers to read and forget the text almost immediately--if they don't fall asleep first?

I suppose I should count my blessings. I just finished editing one book where the author not only indulged in endless lists of three, but also branched out into other varieties of lists with many MORE parts to them, lists that were in themselves repetitive. (Think, "apples, oranges, pineapples, peaches, grapes, figs, and various fruit salad components of other kinds..." etc., itemized EVERY TIME one needs to mention fruit.) After awhile, I started looking around for someone swinging a watch and murmuring, "Look deep into my are getting very, very sleepy...."

So what is it with groups and series? Are authors so afraid of Not Including Everyone and Everything that the alternative is writing prose that sounds like a book of grocery lists? Anyone have a thought on this? (or three? or a series?)

(heh heh)

Monday, December 07, 2009

Temporarily Out of Order

For those of you wondering where I've been lately, blame my Dell Latitude 620...the second Dell machine in the past six months that I've had a keyboard go out on. Is there a problem with Dell laptop keyboards?????

So until that thing is fixed, my blogging activities will be severely curtailed, even more than they have been already. Of course, with Christmas baking to attend to, this may be a blessing in disguise...depending on how much you like cookies. :-) the meantime...GO BEARCATS! (heh heh)


Friday, November 20, 2009

Can YOU Spot the Counterfeit Christian?

Ladies and gentlemen: a moment, please, while we interrupt this normally perky, upbeat blog for some rabble-rousing. (Yeah. Okay. Point taken. :-)

This last weekend, I attended my local ACFW chapter meeting. Lots of great Italian food, lots of good information, but most markedly—lots of love. Hugs, genuine concern—like I’ve seldom felt from “smiley Christians” in other circumstances—and lots of genuine celebration for each other. I will freely say that, out of all the writers’ groups I’ve been affiliated with, this is one of the most loving I’ve ever experienced.

Yet when it was over, in the clear light of day, a little naggy voice returned to the back of my head. A voice that’s been clutching at my proverbial sleeve for a long, long time. A voice that says, “Technically, my dear, you don’t belong in this group…and you’re really in there under false pretenses.”

Let me explain.

Years ago, RWA had a bit of a kerfuffle when they began recognizing “inspirational” fiction as a category for the Golden Hearts and RITAs. A Jewish author, no doubt speaking for a great many people, objected strongly to calling the category “inspirational”—because in essence, the word had been pre-defined to mean “evangelical Protestant Christian religious fiction.” She maintained that a true “inspirational” category would have room for Jewish fiction, Muslim fiction, Wiccan fiction, New Age believers…and the whole spectrum; that by accepting the delineation that “inspirational” would only mean “evangelical Christian faith as an element of the story,” RWA was in effect lying to its membership.

Subsequently, the guidelines for the category were written in such a way that “religious faith” was the wording involved; I don’t know if they’re still that way, as I’m out of RWA loops nowadays. But the reality of the situation was—and maybe still is—that if you sent a Wiccan romance to the inspirational category of the Golden Heart, you might have a hard time getting a judging panel to evaluate it fairly; you might even get some nasty feedback from the contest coordinator herself.

So, in effect, RWA may still be lying to its much the same way that “Christian” publishing lies about who it represents. And it’s really starting to bother me that by belonging to ACFW, I’m in effect saying that that’s all right.

It’s a cruel irony that ACFW is such a loving place; that they’re one of the few writers' groups I can belong to where the name of Jesus will not be mocked. That’s a good thing. But what’s not so good is that sometimes, ACFW seems to stand for “Anything-But-Catholic Fiction Writers”...and that’s something that’s started to convict me on a personal level. Because, frankly, what am I doing in an organization that has that attitude?

I can get a lot of “information” from ACFW meetings—but in many cases, it’s information that does me as a writer no good. I can hear about publishers’ guidelines—but I can’t meet those guidelines without writing something I don’t believe in. I can pitch work to “Christian” agents and editors at ACFW conferences—but, with very few exceptions, most of those “Christian” editors and agents won’t want to see my work, or will demand that I change it so their “audience won’t be offended.”

Yet I’m a Christian…and so is their audience. So HOW CAN I OFFEND THEM?


Yes, it’s wrong. But it's more than that: it's a lie. The “Christian Booksellers Association” moniker that is the actual meaning of what we refer to as the “Christian market,” in effect, doesn’t represent many Christians AT ALL. It represents only one PORTION of Christianity: the conservative, evangelical, Protestant side of Christianity. Which means it can hardly, by ANY stretch of the imagination, call itself representative of the "Christian market." As for writing Catholic characters in these "Christian" books—even in historical situations where Catholic would be all the Christianity there IS? Good luck trying that one. It’s liable to hit you in the back of the head on the walk home from the post office.

For an illustration of how ridiculous this attitude is, let’s consider a secular hypothesis.

Imagine, if you will, a newspaper publisher marketing its paper as “the definitive American newspaper” when its entire market and contributor base is limited to the population of Naperville, Illinois. Naperville residents are Americans—but are they the DEFINITION of Americans? I think common sense would tell us, “Well, no, not hardly.”

So, considering that as a reasonable assumption, suppose that someone born and raised in the city of Chicago decides they’d like to write for “the definitive American newspaper.” They certainly qualify as an American. They probably qualify as an American with a much broader range of experience than a person who only knew, lived in, ate, slept, drank, and was educated solely in his hometown of Naperville. Since the city of Chicago’s settlement predates most of Naperville, you might even say they could consider themselves to be “more authentic” Americans than even the Napervillians were. But when this writer submits his story (which by the way, is not insulting in any way to Naperville!), it’s not only summarily rejected, but the “definitive American newspaper” tells this author in no uncertain terms that “you don’t represent Americans with this. Naperville is America, and if you don’t write about it, you’re not writing about Americans at all.”

How would we feel about this? What would we say? Would we take it lying down? Would we give that “definitive American newspaper” a moment’s credibility?

So then why, in heaven’s name, do we continue to allow CBA (and “Christian” arms of secular) publishers to get away with calling their products CHRISTIAN fiction, when they have editorial guidelines that force at least part of us to compromise, to water down OUR faith, in order to fit in? And why does ACFW, in its close relationships with said publishers, allow this exclusion of so much of Christianity to go unchallenged?

It’s time more of us step up to the plate and call on CBA (or any other alleged "Christian") publishers to quit the absolute hypocrisy of not allowing Catholic characters and plots and writers to be portrayed positively, or even accurately, in their lines of allegedly "Christian" fiction. Either that, or we need to respectfully insist that they change their name to Evangelical Conservative Protestant Booksellers of America, and demand equally that “Christian” publishers do likewise with their “Christian” lines. Choosing to ignore—and to refuse to publish characters who belong to—the only Christian Church in town for 1,500 years of recorded history, yet still defining themselves as representative of quality “Christian”writing, is almost as laughable as RWA’s claim to be "author advocates." Neither is true, and it's time to stop pretending and lying about it.

We’ve talked about this before, as individuals. We’ve lamented it. We’ve complained about it. We’ve tried to change it. And we’re getting NOWHERE by doing so. It’s clear, therefore, that individual authors railing against the pubs or bewailing the plight will do nothing. But maybe, there could be strength in numbers. If ACFW accepts Catholic members, and it does, could it not object to their faith not being a legitimate part of the Christian fiction printed page?

It’s not just Catholics who suffer in this climate, of course. As the "Christian" publishing world stands now, it doesn’t even represent Protestant Christian belief in all its varieties and possibilities. (There's a reason that Jan Karon didn't pitch her Episcopal rector to a Christian fiction house first. ) But Catholicism is certainly the largest and most objectionable trigger for most of these houses—for no discernible reason except fear. Yes, some people may have issues with the Catholic Church; but so what? The Amish have a largely works-based religion—surely something abhorrent to most evangelicals. Yet Amish fiction has been embraced as “Christian,” when many aspects and behaviors of that faith are more “off the wall” than Catholicism has ever been or will ever be. So who, or what, has decided that seemingly anything ELSE goes BUT Catholicism in “Christian” fiction?

I, as a Catholic, am increasingly being nagged by that still, small voice inside. The one that says I’m not being true to my faith by pretending it’s OK that so much of my professional life is tied to an organization that at times, in effect dismisses me as not being Christian at all. I’m sailing under false colors, pretending it doesn’t matter. It DOES matter. It DOES hurt.

The question is, what do I do about it.


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Why I Love College Basketball...

...because things like this can happen.

As someone put it this morning, "It's a shame that the story will be 'What's wrong with Syracuse basketball?'" Because, in the end, THAT's not the story at all. There's just something tremendously right about those Cinderella times when a Division II school wins hearts and headlines.

Congratulations, Dolphins!


Monday, October 26, 2009

Catholic Wild Horses...and Others

I’ve been mulling a blog entry for a long time about some downright nasty sites that are out there, put up by some of my fellow Catholics seemingly for no other purpose than to snipe at some of my other fellow Catholics...and how sick I am of that whole mess.

Mind you, I’m not talking about calling fake “Catholics” like Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden on the carpet: the more of that we can do, the better our Church will be for it. And no, my Church’s primary reason to be on this earth isn’t to be “inclusive.” It’s to be the Body of Christ on earth. If you don’t LIKE what the Body of Christ on earth prescribes for you—i.e., if you can’t find it in your (misguided) conscience to just obey the Magisterium—then, fine, go somewhere else. You’re already not Catholic to begin with; we won’t miss you.

But, just as the Pharisees and Sadducees and many other sects of Judaism started arguing about who was the better Jew—when they were all basically obedient—there has developed, and continued to develop, a chasm between ordinary obedient Catholics and people who’ve taken a stance that being a “real Catholic” entails a LOT of things it, in fact, doesn’t mean.


Denying the legitimacy of a) the present pope or b) various other popes (on bases that can run anywhere from “mistranslation” of the English Mass all the way to some pretty wacky conspiracy theories about Paul VI “wanting to turn us all Protestant”);

Declaring that the Novus Ordo Mass isn’t “really” Mass at all (see Paul VI reference above);

Harping on the “fact” that any liturgical music that’s not Gregorian chant is a waste of church time (most ESPECIALLY if it’s ANYTHING by Marty Haugen, David Haas, or a host of others of like ilk);

…and even...

Opining that a woman who wears anything other than skirts/dresses (below the knee, thank you very much) or doesn’t keep her head covered in church isn’t truly obedient and submissive to God. (I kid you not.)

Make no mistake—I’m not saying that some of the people who do, believe, and practice such things are not trying to be the best Catholics they can be. If I go and say that, I’m as guilty of error as they are.

But the plain fact of the matter is…
Jesus instituted His Church on earth and He continues to keep it in His hand.
That INCLUDES our present popes.
That INCLUDES a well-prayed, reverent Novus Ordo—and yes, for the smartasses out there, THERE IS SUCH A THING. (Just because YOU don’t encounter it—maybe because you don’t look for it?—doesn’t mean it doesn’t EXIST.)
And yes, the Body of Christ on earth can even include women who wear blue jeans, the occasional sleeveless top or bathing suit (heavens!) and who don’t worry about whether they’re going to Hell simply because they don’t have the mantilla on at Mass.

(Note: I’m not saying I think blue jeans or such are appropriate for Mass. I don’t much care for them. Nor are shorts, nor is anything else that’s “playclothes”—but that’s another issue, for another time. These folks who insist on the skirts below the knees, the elbow-length or longer sleeves, and no slacks for women are talking about it outside church.)

In short…I’ve had it with bloggers, magazine editors, book authors, and various others who hold forth in various media with personal opinions presented as Gospel truth and slam anyone who dares to think otherwise. I don’t mind a good chiding for those who deserve it; but these posts and blogs and editorials and published pieces don’t fall under the category of good chiding for those who need it. They are little more than personal religious tantrums, thrown under the guise of “shaking things up,” but really are nothing more than attempts to grab a little (in) fame by being “rad trad” or some similar coloring. And God help you if you take issue with one of these jerks…you may as well paint a target on your back.

This does not strike me as edification. Sarcasm, yes. A narcissistic conviction that “I” have the Truth and “you” don’t (neener, neener, neener), yes. But I don’t see anywhere in my Bible where it says to correct a brother or sister with sarcasm or public humiliation…do you?

Or is that just because I read an inferior BIBLE to yours, too?

Some very big names in the Catholic apologetics/blogging/writing biz are guilty of this. Some otherwise pretty darned good magazines and publications are allowing themselves to be totally ruined by this smartass mentality…and driving away honest, earnest Catholics whom they could be educating, edifying, and blessing instead of berating, browbeating, and ridiculing.

Does the Church need this?
Do ANY of us need this?

There’s an old story about the difference between wild horses and wild jackasses that you probably know, but it’s very remiscent of this situation. Supposedly, when wild horses sense a threat, they put their heads together—literally—in a large circle, back hooves facing outward, and they kick the blazes out of the potential predator. But when wild jackasses sense a threat, they do the opposite—they gather in a circle, all right, but facing outward, braying like fools, while their back hooves are kicking the blazes OUT OF EACH OTHER.

Which are you?

A fellow blogger
echoes these sentiments quite well, and I nearly let her say it for me. (Amen, and Amen.) But then again, when more than one of us sees a threat…it’s probably better if more of us put our heads together, and more than one of us kicks the crap out of it.

I hope more of us who are sick of this nonsense will start kicking back. And soon. The Church needs excellent catechesis, reform, and obedience—and a good housecleaning. But she won’t get it through sarcasm, paranoia, superiority complexes, and backbiting. Not now, not ever. And those of us who continue to engage in this nonsense, I believe, do so at our own peril.



Friday, September 25, 2009


I have long thought this...but this man says it out loud, finally, and way better than I could.



Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Sometimes, one word can mean infinity.
Sometimes, you’re not even aware of the depth of a word until you experience a bit of that infinity.

I was closing up my lunch bag and my novel this afternoon, closing up the umbrella over the outdoor lunch table, and reluctantly preparing to go back to my desk and resume my day’s work, when the sensation came over me that I was returning from a lot more than a half hour’s lunch break.

I had been rereading, leisurely and with enjoyment, over my lunch. Rereading one of the Mitford books by Jan Karon—spending time in a place I’ve spent much time in before. Dipping back in for another visit…

…and away, for just those few minutes, from everything else.

When immersed in a truly good book, we do go away. Sometimes, we can be so transported that when someone taps us on the shoulder to bring us “back,” we react with a start. Or resentment. Or weariness…because it’s hard to come back from that place to which we’ve escaped.

Chances are if we find books like that, we keep them…and we go back to them. We remember that pleasant, relaxing place, that virtual vacation, and we want to have the chance to go to that place again if need be. Just like a real geographic location that we love, books that we can “lose ourselves” in become a quick route to refreshment and restoration.

And what better way to write—or reason to write—than to give ourselves, and others, those kinds of books?

Many of us, I suspect, have been led astray. We’ve been taught about character arcs and plot structures and Acts I-III, and climax and denouement…but how many of us every get taught about AWAY? Far too few, if the truth be known.

And some of us who do know about “away”—but who may not be the most polished writers in the world—get ridiculed for that. We may be able to take readers to another world, another place, another time, and immerse them thoroughly—but that, we’re told, is not what contemporary fiction is all about. Contemporary blockbuster fiction nowadays is supposed to grab a reader by the throat, shake her a few times until she begs for mercy, and slap her around a little bit before we drop her to the floor, just to make sure she GETS OUR POINT. After all, we only have milliseconds to hook a reader and draw her in, and…and…!

And…over time, reading most blockbuster fiction has become, if not an exhausting experience, certainly not a refreshing one. A reader who’s whipped around, shown the seedy and frenetic and fast-paced—but little else—cannot come out of that book much refreshed. She might enjoy the ride, much as some of us enjoy rollercoasters, but exhilaration—or sheer terror!—is not what any of us wants when we need a break from reality, a bit of respite, time for ourselves.

Sometimes, we just want to get AWAY.

So I’d suggest we try thinking about AWAY when we write.

Getting “away” is what we try to do when we need to recharge. Coming “away” is what the Lord asks us to do to get closer to Him. And a real trip “away” takes time. It shouldn’t be a road race but a Sunday drive in the country.

It’s worth thinking about. It’s worth working to get to. And it’s what I, truth be told, want to give my readers. I don’t care about grabbing them by the throat and shaking them. I would much, much rather they be so immersed in my book that they only reluctantly fold the umbrella over the outdoor table, only reluctantly close up their lunch bags and gather their trash, only reluctantly come back to the “real world”—because then they will not only look forward to going back to my book, they’ll keep it. They’ll want to go back to that lovely place where they feel so at home, a place of refreshment and comfort and relaxation. Even if I’m tingling their spines with a deliciously suspenseful story, I don’t intend to do it at 120 miles per hour; I want to enjoy the trip…and I want them to as well.

AWAY. It’s where I want you to be when reading my books. AWAY: where you can breathe…where the Lord can whisper in your ear if He needs to…where for just a few moments, life’s hassles recede and you amble through a world that welcomes you, entertains you, uplifts you, and leaves you feeling more able to come back to reality when you need to.

AWAY. It’s a great place to be. I want to write much, much more of it. I hope you will, too.


Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Thanks to Charlotte over here, I get to enjoy Starbucks for free in not so many days! Or, as my daughter refers to such things, "Mocha goodness in a card."

May this be the first of many things I win this week. :-)
Happy Tuesday!


P.S. Charlotte, d'you think you could send some of those people over here, too? I'd love to have the kind of readership you do!

Monday, September 07, 2009


There’s only one thing wrong with most holidays…
And it’s not even that they’re over too soon. Never mind that they usually ARE…but that’s not it.
One aspect of holiday weekends that makes most of us writers salivate at our keyboards is the thought that, for at least some of that time, we CAN be salivating at our keyboards, and no one’s going to say a word. The husband’ll be sleeping late on one or all of those days…the kids’ll be outside (at least on these summer holidays) tooling around the neighborhood or sitting in a cool basement playing video games…and there we’ll be, with nothing but a few hours ahead of us, a computer in front of us, and a pot of coffee beside us.

Should be an idyllic creative moment, right?
Not necessarily.

I found myself this evening in an interesting conundrum. I had a busier weekend than I should have, in that I had to play catchup on some freelance work that fell by the wayside last weekend. Long story, health related, daughter is OK, we think…(budget won’t be, but daughter is). But when your Sunday and Monday are interrupted with ER visits and X-ray errands, not to mention pharmacy runs and the other draining or daunting side trips, writing tends to take a back seat. Writing something funny or heartwarming at that point might be just what the doctor ordered—but you haven’t got the strength or the energy for it, either. (!)

Nevertheless, now that things are calmer, I’ve been scrambling to get current with my nonfiction writing assignments. Some of them are pretty well caught up or—dare we say it?—even, for all practical purposes, done. One still has multiple parts left to it, and has taken way too long…but at least the collaborator seems generally pleased with the work once we finally get past his broken English and my complete ineptitude at writing “techie” and meet in the middle. :-) I did send back some of the documents he had made suggestions on, rewritten and the like—but I didn’t do that until I ran smack into a brick wall looking at my own work.

And there’s the rub. The idea that “when I get time over a weekend, I’m going to use it writing,” versus the reality of what actually happens when we do so. As in, sometimes, panic.

Yeah, I know, writing’s easy for me. It’s supposed to be, anyway. But I’ve been had. Hornswoggled. Led down the garden path…of nonfiction editing and freelance pieces. These pieces, on the whole, come together without a whole lot of angst on my part. They’re not easy, necessarily…but they just don’t take a lot emotionally out of me, either, which is good—because ideally, then, that leaves the emotion for the fiction.

Until I sat there this evening looking at the work I had to do on one book, and thought, “This is too much. This is going to be SO hard. I’m not even sure what way to go yet.” So I pulled out the short story…and had much the same reaction. I didn’t want to get back into it. I was scared I couldn’t do it…again. And I retreated to the safe, easy stuff I know I CAN do now. Even if it’s sometimes boring as sin—at least I know I CAN do it. And I will get paid something for it.

Which, even if I were to finish the fiction I’m working on now in the next twenty minutes…won’t be something that happens any time soon from it.

It can’t be denied that right now, my most pressing need is money, and so it makes sense that writing for pay—even if it’s not all that dependable pay—tends to be more attractive than writing fiction that may, or may not, sell sometime before I’m supposed to officially be “retirement” age. (No comment.) But I wish it had not also turned into something that’s become more “fun”—because it’s easier—than fiction.

I’m a novelist. I’m still feeling called to be a novelist. But quite honestly, where is the energy and emotion going to come from for it if I chicken out and write the stuff I know I’ll get paid for first? And where am I as a responsible working writer if I shun things I really can do, things that will pay things like daughter’s ER bill…in favor of trying to eke out some of my novels again from the unsettled states and pieces in which they find themselves?

If I had the answer to this one, I’d not have to worry about trying to apportion time properly on a holiday weekend. A
nd I would have had a more successful fiction “go” on this one, too.

But maybe, just maybe, if I approach my fiction the way I started out doing nonfiction…which was tiny pieces at a time…I can get my “fiction feet” back under me again. I can get the novel’s sea legs again...and once again, find the most relaxing, exhilarating, and rewarding end of my work coming from where it always came from before.

Maybe. I’m hoping so. Because this alternative of having novels in pieces, short stories half done, and feeling like a failure every time I don’t crank out a couple thousand words of my OWN stuff a weekend…this ain’t a good place to live in for long. I don’t like it. And I can’t believe it’s remotely good for my Muse or what I still feel called, after all this time, to do.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

"C" is for...

I've been rereading an old version of a novel I really, really need to sell. (My salesperson friend is giving me all these visualization hints, the "acting as if" advice, and the whole shebang--which I already know how to do!--but that's another post for another time.)

This version is much longer than my present 95K--almost 10K longer (which is, any way you look at it, quite a bit). Some of that 10K extra comes from an extended, and unnecessary, denouement at the end of the book, a habit I've learned since not to do. I mean, we don't really need to sit though reading how our heroine tells our hero all the details of what he didn't know for the first 90K words...we can assume that since our hero and heroine end up getting married, that she probably fills him in on what we've watched unfold! :-)

But some of that 10K comes from extra words that serve another purpose entirely, one I had forgotten about--and one I suspect I shouldn't have.

I spent a great deal of effort cutting and trimming what I thought was "romance speak" from the book in order to make it a straighter thriller, years ago. And, to be fair, while I was writing this BIG version, I was reading a lush historical book, and you can tell a little more "historical speak" crept into this book than should have. But that aside, I was struck when rereading this how many emotionally in-your-face sentences I had utterly discarded...and how many of them I really liked when I read them again.

Sure, I would rephrase them now. I had my heroine asking endless questions before. Was he warning her of a sinister force from beyond...or from himself? Things like that. Endless examples of things like that. Almost--dare we say it?--a book that edges dangerously close to melodrama.

The problem is, now I'm wondering if maybe some of that melodrama was actually something readers enjoyed. Some of it may have enabled a reader to get into character better, to understand where my characters were, what went into the decisions they made and how those decisions cost them...and that when I cut those "excess" sentences, I cut away a layer of emotional painting that might now be making a difference in how this book is being received.

Which, to put it bluntly, ain't great.

And it was better before.

So in the interests of bringing this book to the point where it gets good attention again--where it makes people sit up and take notice more--I'm going to experiment with undoing my cuts, putting some of those sentences back in, and see how I feel about them. Some of them, in present form, are a bit "purple"--but I can fix that. In an effort to make this book into something it probably was never meant to be...I "overfixed" it. So now I get to undo that. Unlearn the subtle. Unlearn the sterile. Unlearn the sparse, and let myself and my readers enjoy, savor, and fret--at the proper time--a bit more.

"C", in some schools of thought, is for cutting. And, make no mistake, this book will more than likely not be 104K anymore. But "C", in my case, needs to stand for compelling. As in what I need to bring this book back into being. As in "getting the feeling back."

And, it is to be fervently hoped, as in finally getting a contract.

Wish me the proverbial writer's luck, I guess....


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Just What We Need, Another Crappy Role Model For Young Athletes

This, unfortunately, speaks for itself.

What is depressing--and infuriating--about this is that there's so much pressure on young athletes to do the wrong thing as it is; to have one of the coaches in a major college program, one that kids will certainly look up to, involved in this kind of sordid , sinful nonsense... beyond the pale.

Many people are standing by this coach. Many people will say he did the "responsible" thing by "getting rid of the problem."

They're wrong.

The responsible thing, especially for a man who calls himself a Catholic, would have been to keep his pants on. To remember his marriage vows. And not to compound the sin by adding murder to the rap sheet.

I hope this guy gets booed from now until the end of the year. Forgiveness? Christian charity? A spirit of mercy?

Not until I see some evidence of genuine repentance here. I don't. And the university, by demanding no further accountability of him, only reinforces the notion that there's nothing for him to repent of.

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Cardinals.
There have got to be better men out there to let your babies play for.


Thursday, August 06, 2009

And Then They Wonder Why People Don't Read Anymore...

From Publisher's Lunch:

Gotham Chopra's SPIRITUALITY FOR DOGS, written with his father, Deepak Chopra, pitched as Tuesday's with Morrie meets Marley and Me, a moving conversation between a father and son on the spiritual lessons we can draw from our dogs, their loyalty and instincts in particular, and Gotham's effort to find resonance in the teachings of his father so that he may be able to pass them onto his young son, to Brenda Copeland at Hyperion, in a good deal, by Robert Gottlieb and Eileen Cope at Trident Media Group.

I know it's considered bad manners to complain about agents, editors, or the like passing on your work...but it must be said, Trident passed on my novel a year or so ago. I guess it's my bad not to realize that a romantic suspense novel with a heck of a paranormal element to it couldn't possibly hold a literary candle to Gotham Chopra's DOG.

Silly me. Shoulda had the cats write it.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An Epiphany’s An Epiphany, No Matter How Small

…and even at almost eleven at night. Well, okay, when I’m beginning this it’s only 9:50 PM. And no, I didn’t particularly intend to put off writing this long. But Wednesday night is normally Bathroom Cleaning Night, and I did owe the bathrooms a good swish and swipe…and with litter boxes in them, the floors need constant attention. (Kind of like the cats. But, I digress.) That is, of course, on top of the normal things one does when one gets home from work: the bubble bath (not necessarily a long soak, but a soak is necessary), the making of the dinner, the washing of the dishes…and so on, and so on. You get the idea. So here I am to blog, at last. With any luck at all, this will be the first day of keeping up with this thing for a change. My epiphany? Yes. Let’s get to that. I’ve had various revelations over these past several years about my particular corner of the writing life. But a frequent, and constant, aspect of a lot of this navel-gazing has been…how do I put this delicately? Okay, forget delicate. I’ll just come out and admit it. It’s been…whining. I can’t do my writing because of ______, or ______, or _______. This is getting in my way, or that is, or I’m hacked off at my work situation, or I’ve got these clients who are driving me out of my tree, or… Yeah. That whining. Now, within limits, it’s not whining to admit that you’re having some challenges. And I have had…er…a few challenges over the past several years. I did feel on top of things for awhile there. I think. I don’t remember for sure. I have fleeting moments of it now and then, in between the dropping of 16-Ton weights of various types in my path. (That’s for all you Monty Python fans, and you know who you are.) Beyond whining, however, was the real concern about whether I had the heart to write fiction any more. Whether I had the heart for romance was one question; but over the months, it’s become a much more basic question about a much more fundamental issue: whether, in fact, I really have what it takes to be a novelist at all. In any genre. I used to think I did. And then…something happened. A lot of somethings happened. I succeeded in selling a book that totally bombed, AND wasn’t really my most comfortable genre to begin with. I won a Golden Heart, but couldn’t sell that book. I joined ACFW, and promptly found a whole new set of hoops I was supposed to jump through, was slapped around for several instances of simply being myself, and… …I ended up in a place something like, "I guess I really don’t have the talent to write and sell a novel in today’s market. And I ain’t getting any younger, and it ain’t gonna get any easier, and…" But I didn’t use to feel this way. And today, I figured out what the root is, finally, of all this nonsense. It all stemmed from the day I learned that Writing Is Hard Work! You see, when I went to my first writers’ conference in 1988 (yeah, it really was that long ago), I didn’t know Writing Was Hard Work. I knew it took time, but hey, that was fun time. Even more important, I was good at it, because writing came easily to me. I had all these story ideas that were just popping all over the place. I dreamed books, for pity’s sake. And I knew—I knew—they were all good. I knew that even if they were a little corny, that was okay…I could make ‘em more realistic with a little tinkering. The important thing was that I not only knew I could write…I knew it was easy. I KNEW it. You know how Robert Redford’s character in The Natural (movie) hits that last home run that shatters the lights? That was me, as a budding novelist. I knew that eventually, I’d walk down the street and people would say, "There goes the best that ever was." Why? Because writing was easy, and I was good at it. So it was only a matter of time before I cracked the code, and sold a lot of books. If I’d stopped at that level of development of the craft—if I’d stopped in 1988—I probably wouldn’t have gotten to the Golden Heart stage. But in the process, I started learning…and learning…and learning. I learned about character arcs, and archetypes, and the 26 basic plots (or the 100, or the 8, depending on whom you talk to)…and the "hero’s journey"…and the "three-act novel," and GMC, and Snowflakes, and… And all of a sudden I figured out why people kept saying that Writing Was Hard Work. Because even though they all gave lip service to "Do what works for you," the fact was that they could fill three to five days from 8 AM to 5 PM with "classes" on how to do that. And they could do this year, after year, after year…. …which certainly doesn’t translate to anything like walking to the field, putting on my spikes, and "sittin’ on red" all the way out of the ballpark. Here I was…a writing "natural." I could write. I could tell stories. I blew away people in my English classes, even in high school. It was easy to do that. It was fun. But somehow in there, somewhere in learning more about this wonderful field of putting those stories to paper…I found out that no one was a "natural." Not even me. Especially not me—the proof being, all those rejection letters I was getting. Never mind that my rejection letters went from form paragraphs to personalized pages. That meant I was So Close…so if I just learned a little more… Little did I know that that "learning" planted the seeds of this crisis I’m in now. Because, you see, I have all kinds of "head knowledge" now about writing—but it’s so much knowledge that over the ensuing years, it drowned me. I lost my way. I’ve been paddling as fast as I can, trying to keep up with all this stuff, trying to find the "key" that will turn the lock…because, you see, Writing Is Hard Work. Which means that, if I thought it was easy…I must have been wrong. Right? I’m here to tell you that, as of today, I realize that’s a crock. I had been had, and didn’t even know it. It’s going to take me awhile to lose all that head knowledge and get back to the heart of it all. It’s going to take me a few readers to look at my stuff—people who don’t know anything about the craft—and lose themselves in a story, and rave about it. I’ve had that experience with one friend already. I need it with many more, I suspect. But today, I remembered, on a flash of insight, why I went into this business. Because it’s easy. And it’s fun. And I’m good at it. The world needs more "naturals" to step up to the plate and, with one swing, give people something they’ll never forget—and there’s nobody better than me to do that and show them all that telling stories doesn’t necessarily have to be so dangblasted complicated. If writing’s that hard for you, maybe you were never meant to do it in the first place. But for those of us for whom it’s easy? Maybe we "experts" should all resist the urge to clip the wings of people for whom it isn’t so difficult, and just rejoice in the gift they have. Even if the main person for whom we need to rejoice the most, and that we need to appreciate the most, is looking back at us in the mirror. Thoughts? Janny

Monday, July 20, 2009

Screw It.

I need to update this blog, and desperately. Look for more entries as the week goes on! There’s been much to mull over in my writing life and a lot of both good—as in encouraging—and bad—as in depressing—news out there. I think I need to focus more on the former, because the latter just makes me want to throw in the proverbial towel and forget I ever heard of the publishing business…

More in a bit...


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Set Free…Explained

There’s been a key change made to this blog.
You will note, in the sidebar, that my “day gig” is no longer linked here.
The reasons why are long and not worth going into.
The results, however, are.

Not to worry—I do still have a day gig. That in itself is no small feat, and we’ll leave it at that. But also make no mistake: that stuff about not having the “corporate gene”?
It’s still true. :-) And that is still good news.

You see, the pressure’s off now.
If you’ve read this blog over a long enough period of time, you know that not a small part of my time and energy has been devoted not only to learning a lot about the Catholic publishing world, but to trying to find a good niche for myself in it.
Trying, as the old saying goes, to get ahead.

But what was “ahead” in my sphere?

The logical next step in my progress in the halls of publishing would be to get into some variety of acquisitions or management.

Trouble is, folks, I ain’t management material. Not because I can’t do the job, but because quite frankly, I don’t care enough about contemporary modes of management to want to do it. Because management involves working with endless numbers of people, in endless situations where people have to collaborate, with all kinds of “team” nonsense and “stepping up” nonsense and “affirmation” nonsense, and…


After long years of desperately trying to think and act as if those things are important, of desperately trying to “play nice with others,” I’ve finally decided it ain’t worth the trouble. As Popeye put it, I yam what I yam, and what I “yam” is not a “people person.”

I am an idea person. I am an information person. I am a creative person. I do things with words, with ideas, with materials.

With people? I don’t do so hot.

That’s no crime, in and of itself; but in our modern workplace, you’d think it was.

And for awhile, I bought into that. I bought into the whole notion that if you’re smart (which I am), and if you’re educated (which I also am), you owe it to yourself, not to mention the world at large, to eventually be in management. That’s where you’ll stretch your wings, make your mark, bake your brownies…you fill in the cliché, I’m tired of them. :-) But management—or at least high-level editorial supervision—might be called the golden calf we’re all supposed to want to cook for lunch.

(There, now, is that a mixed enough metaphor for you?)

Trouble is, like I said…this ideal of next-grade-up-aspiration ignores the fact that, I, like Lucy Van Pelt, love humanity…it’s people I can’t stand. Give me a book and a red pen, a pot of coffee, and a nice window to look out of and/or breathe air through, and you might never hear from me for days…unless you poke your head around the doorway and say hi. It isn’t because I don’t like you. It’s because when I’m working, I’m working…and when I’m socializing, I’m socializing.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t like having fun with coworkers, either. But there’s a catch to this: I am apparently the Jessica Fletcher of the workplace-friendship game. Not that people I socialize with die…but they tend to—er—lose their jobs.

I’m sure it’s not because of their being friends with me. (I hope.)

But I digress…

Anyhow, I have discovered over a long period of time that, while I can try and grunt and groan and do a lot of heavy lifting to impress people with what a good girl I am, what a conscientious team player I can be, and how worthy I’d be for management…

…none of it really plays into what I’m best at, where my heart is, and where I want to end this adventure when my number is called.

So what’s the point?


The breakthrough in this thought pattern actually came one day in a still, small voice that said to me, simply, “You can stop trying to make it in this business, you know. You already have.”

So I’ve been missing the point by “trying to get” to somewhere I already am.

Fact is, I’m not on the bottom rung of a ladder.
I’m way closer to the top than I realize…and it’s time to start acting like that.

Management, whatever it means in this business, may be a real boon to lots and lots of people. And it certainly would be a boon to any company I work in to have me manage anything.
But if that should happen, it’s going to have to happen on terms I can actually stomach.

If I can see the light ahead, and it’s an oncoming freight train…
…well, maybe I can just let that one pass, because it’s clearly not meant for me.

I can stop pushing so hard.
I can stop plugging things for the sake of cheerleading.
I can stop being anyone but who I am…which, in the end, never was a hotshot editorial management type; it was, and is, a storyteller.

I’m a novelist, thank you very much.

That doesn’t mean I can’t do anything else, but it does mean that I daren’t waste any more energy attempting to cultivate fields and grow crops I don’t, in my heart of hearts, care about. That way lies frustration, burnout, and madness…and I’m not taking it anymore.

I’m free.
Within my cube or outside it, wearing my editor’s hat or my freelance-writer superhero cape and wielding my red pen…I’m free at last. Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last. :-)



Monday, June 22, 2009

Set Free

I need to get back into the habit of blogging when I’m home from the day gig, so’s my day gig won’t get hissy about my writing on their time (good point). But in the meantime, snatching a few moments here and there to write a few sentences—in between all the stuff I’m doing that’s technically also not part of my job, but something that’s expected anyway (!)—doesn’t seem to be totally a wrongheaded idea. I am, after all, encouraged to write in my Performance Journal about various things I accomplish, how I feel about changes in my job, etc., etc…

Suffice to say that, for now, there’s a new sense of freedom in the editorial cubes. I’ll elaborate in more detail later, but for me, the last post I did that was work-related (see the “missing genes” posts for explanation) was in itself an epiphany that has really, really helped move me into a new place in my writing career. I’ll talk more about this later…

Also in the meantime, check-in would be good. What’s everyone working on? What’s on the horizon? What’s your biggest gripe of late? Any really really nice writing achievements to brag about?

Write on!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Fear Not!

I’ve been temporarily sidetracked from extensive blogging during normal business hours (!), but I’ll be back posting regularly soon. I promise. Really. Just wanted to let you all know that I am, in fact, still alive and kicking.



Monday, May 25, 2009

Missing Genes, the final part

Finally, the gene that appears time and again in others, but not in me...the lack of which I’ve finally had to surrender to, once, for all, forever:

The “Corporate Maven.”
This final gap in my internal chemistry has probably cost me untold wealth (at least that’s what many executive-types will tell you) over the years; the battle to “acquire” it after the fact—or “act as if” in the meantime—is one I’ve waged for much of my adult working life. You see, I know that Proving Oneself to the Mighty Corporation is the way that leads to advancement, and advancement is always a Good Thing…right?

Well, for me, the answer to that is, “Not necessarily.”

I probably cooked my goose several times over, in different situations over the years, simply by being very upfront and honest with potential employers instead of speaking “corporatese” at the proper times. I remember interviewing for a job as a legal secretary in which I said that I didn’t see any particular reason why most legal secretarial work couldn’t be done in a normal eight-hour day. The lawyer I was interviewing with said, “Interesting,” which I took at face value…until I learned that he was probably trying not to laugh that my unbelievable naïveté. He was probably in the midst of billing a 70- or 80-hour week, more than likely had secretaries there from early in the morning until well past five, and he probably found it terribly amusing that I thought that legal work would, in the course of ordinary business, fit into a neat 40-hour-week time frame.

And yet…I had a reason for saying what I did. The law firm in question, as I recall, dealt primarily in commercial and residential real estate. Contracts. Closings. Yanno…all the things you normally do during a customary business day? As in…a nine-to-five schedule? So, while my statement may have sounded really stupid to him—I still believe at its heart, it was actually saying, “If this office learns how to use their time rather than wasting it, you can send everybody home at 5 and still get everything done that you need to do.”

I didn’t say it that way, at least not to my recollection. (Maybe I did. Maybe that’s why he thought it was interesting. :-)) All I do know is, following that interview, the placement person at the agency seemed almost angry with me…only she never really told me why. (!) Looking back on it now, I know I probably violated the laws of Corporate Speak, costing me a great job and an employer a great employee (and the agency person a great commission). I know it’s happened before that, and I know it will happen again, as long as I’m placed in the position of feeling like I need to “take a side” and “make a stand.”

Because, you see, at heart I am not corporate.
I never have been.
And, despite repeated attempts to tell myself I could be, inevitably I end up speaking or acting in a way that, while it’s very honest and straightforward, probably shoots the tips of my corporate toes off…and I can’t stop myself from doing it.

I know. I’ve tried.

So I’m in that unenviable position of discovering, indeed, that I do want advancement and recognition and promotion and the corner office, for the prestige’s (and, let’s face it, money’s) sake of them. But when the chips are down, apparently, I’m not wired to be on the management side of the desk. Not because I can’t handle people…but because I can’t handle the personal sacrifices and compromises necessary to get there.

I’m not talking about hard-work sacrifices. Those, I can do. I’ve already proven beyond the shadow of any conceivable doubt that I’m willing to work hard. So if working hard were all there was to getting ahead, heck, I’d already have the corner office of corner offices.

No, the sacrifices I’m talking about are more like enduring a zillion little paper cuts…or swallowing many bitter pills along the way of getting the presidencies or even the managerships in the corporate culture; problem is, I’ve never been able to swallow pills—literally or figuratively. They just don’t go down, and I have to find ways to punt.

This isn’t an easy thing to come to this point and realize. But it’s a true thing. It’s an honest thing. When the rubber hits the road, I side with individuals: the worker bees, the authors, writers, artists, and/or their agents. And, as an individual, I cannot, no matter how I try, countenance the notion that a company “owns” me. No one owns me but Jesus, thank you very much. But, while yes, that is a healthy psychological attitude to have, it’s not the mindset one needs in order to progress to increasingly bigger “individual” rewards in your average company. In the end, if my possible promotion will depend on the company being able to have me at their beck and call...I’ll be a worker bee forever. Because I simply can’t do otherwise. Not without paying far too high an emotional price.

I can only conclude that the many people who can do what I cannot—can look the other way when a company stiffs a friend, can compromise, can shrug their shoulders, make cynical jokes, and get on with stuff—with seemingly no ill effects at all, have a hidden (and really useful) gene that renders them able to see what’s really happening, yet ignore it; hear things they don’t like, yet give a benefit of the doubt that would choke a horse; and act “as if” they neither heard nor saw nor experienced any of the things that, bit by bit, chip away at my soul until I want to scream.

Funny thing is, in the mental health field, ignoring what you see, telling yourself you didn’t “really” hear what you actually heard, and pretending that reality is different from your actual experience, is the definition of codependency.

And that’s a bad thing…right?

But the inability to consider a company as more important than any individual leads to…no advancement, no promotions, and the wary eye of a supervisor who may end up considering you a “loose cannon.”
Also a bad thing.
(Kinda shoots the old corporate buzz-term of “win-win” right in the foot, though, doesn’t it?)


So, the end result of all this navel-gazing?

I’ve got some deficiencies in areas I wish I didn’t have…for the sake of just being able to live with a bit less emotional upheaval in my heart of hearts. I wish I could run around dispensing the most positive slant on everything and everyone; I’m not made that way. I wish I could be the “it” girl in an office, not worry about whom I could or couldn’t trust, willingly gossip and chatter and flatter; I simply can’t. And I do wish, and have wished, that just once I could perfectly align my values, my gut instincts, and my beliefs about how to treat people and their work with some corporate entity that would see me as the gem I am and make me the boss, as in yesterday. :-) But that ain’t gonna happen.
So what to do?

Well, there is a silver lining here. It’s called acceptance.
Real acceptance.
Not the kind that says, “Well, I’ll work on these things,” but the kind that says, “Yanno what? Working on these things is lot of hooey. It gives me a headache, and I’m at the point in my life where it’s just too dang much work to keep trying to be something I’m not.”

In short, I’m sick of trying to mold myself, improve myself, build myself or grow myself so that I fit someone else’s idea of what success looks like. I’m at the point where I need to just be myself—and let the chips fall where they may. They’re going to anyway, even if I play all the games right. Because we all know people who played every game right, all their lives…and all they ended up with was regrets in the end.

I don’t want to be there.

I don’t want to regret what I think I don’t have. I just want to enjoy, and cultivate, and start really having fun and blessing the world with what I do.

I’ve often decided this, and then gone right back to trying to remake myself. Whether I “should” or not. But I’m just too tired to do that anymore.

That, in itself, is probably a blessing in disguise, and one I will endeavor to make the most of.

So if I’m missing a few genes, oh, well. I’m a pretty resourceful woman; I’ll cope.
(I can always stop and buy K-Mart. Right?)


Missing Genes, Part 2

Very few people would deny that, say, the ability to hit a golf ball like Tiger hits it is more than just “practice, man, practice.” Most of us figure there’s more than a little genetics involved in being able to cook like Child, sing like Ramey, or paint like Monet.
But, now and then, I start to wonder if there’s some degree of genetics at work in some “smaller” things…more organic things. Personal stuff. Ever wonder about that?

For example, I mentioned last time that if there were such a thing as a “tact” gene, I was definitely born without it. I will never be an instinctively tactful person; I can work at it, but it’s not going to come naturally.

But there are a lot of other “parts” that, apparently, I lack, and people I cannot be. Like:

The “Self-esteem Fairy.” This, of course, is the person who runs around sprinkling affirmations like pixie dust. This is the person who first thought that giving grades in school damages precious little egos—yeah, we can all see how great an idea that was—and was no doubt behind the institution of those colorful Participation Ribbons for kids, so that everybody gets “rewarded” with something…no matter how “average” their performance may be. (The fact that this practice rewards mediocrity, thereby diminishing the self-esteem of the kids who really do excel, apparently escapes this chick. And why is it almost always a woman?)

I do envy this person both their desire and ability to make everyone feel wonderful about themselves—something I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically lack!—and their status, since in today’s culture, their “gift” seems to be particularly valued. However, I have yet to be able to cultivate this particular talent…which leads me to think this deficiency is chemical, rather than psychological, in origin.

Another gene, apparently, I’m missing…

The “Social Butterfly.” All my life, it seems, it’s been that when it comes to social situations, I’m the one on the outside looking in. I’m not the Girl Everybody Wants to Go Out to Lunch With. (Heck, I’m not even the Girl Everybody Invites to Lunch.) I’m not The Girl Considered to Have Fun Ideas. Sometimes, I’m not even considered The Creative One, or The One Most Likely to Keep Everyone Else Loose. And I have to admit, this lack in my life hurts.

This might well be due to my personality: I do tend to sit back and listen first, and jump in with both feet later; because I do that, people may think either that I’m a snob, or that I don’t like them, or that I prefer my own company 99% of the time. From time to time, any or all of these assumptions might be true (!), depending on the person, but that doesn’t diminish the sense of loss I feel when people don’t even think to ask me if I’d like inclusion. Odds are, I would. I’m just shy enough—and I’ve just been burned by rudeness enough times—to want them to go first. My experiments, and experiences, at “insinuating” myself into groups turn out, at best, lukewarm…and I’m rarely over the feeling that I’m a sixth wheel somehow. (Yeah, sixth. As in the one that’s not even necessary in an emergency.) After you go through enough of these experiments, you get the hint: apparently, I lack a key social gene, and that’s a shame. Because there are very few things I love better than making people laugh—and I think that, should I get invited out for a few more lunches, there might be a lot more smiles in the offing for everybody.

The final gene, however, that I’ve discovered missing…well, that’s a bigger one. And that matters more. But realizing its lack has led me, finally, to a place I needed to be all along—one I actually was in all along, and just didn’t want to admit it. But this place is a place of peace, and I really, really need that kind of peace in my life at this point.
So I’ll talk about that one…next.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Missing Genes

No, this isn’t scrib about the pair of pants you left in the dryer!

It’s actually wondering, which I’ve been doing a lot lately, about what seem to be key—and in some cases, embarrassingly obvious—elements in human chemistry that other people possess, yet I lack. I’m beginning to think Nature shorted me several genes in there that she gave other people, and I can’t help but wonder why.

Like…for instance…

The tact gene.

I never cease to marvel at the people I know who seem to edge into tactful behavior as naturally as breathing. While I struggle to keep my eyes from rolling into the back of my head, and bite my tongue to keep from saying the things I desperately want to say, these people find the exact right words to convey the same thing nicely.

Not that this effort doesn’t occasionally backfire, of course. If you’re trying to tell someone, prior to their going out the door, that lime-green and pomegranate together in the same outfit might cause onloookers fits of nausea, framing it in terms of their “unique use of wardrobe color” isn’t going to serve anyone. What’s worse, later on, some of these people will come back and say, “For Pete’s sake, why didn’t you tell me how awful I looked?”

But how to say it? Aye, there’s the rub.

I’ve always been in favor of “direct” as a communication style. This doesn’t mean “brutal” (we all know someone who thinks of herself as “brutally honest” when, in fact, she’s cruel and insulting); it just means, “The message I intend you to get, I don’t want you to miss.” To me, it’s way more loving to “speak slowly and use small words,” even if those words might sound brusque or harsh, than to risk the message going completely over their heads.

Yet I wonder if that’s not a weakness on my part. A way I just didn’t completely “grow up” and learn how to “talk nice.” When I see so much overwhelming evidence around me of people who seem to be able to frame “Your son is a terrorist” into “My, he truly seems absorbed in something way bigger than he is”…I wonder.

Tact’s not the only thing I figure I missed out on early in the Dishing Out Lovely Attributes department. I’ll get to a few more of them in the next post. In the meantime…


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

…And Then There Are The Others…

It’s always great, and sometimes even moving, when you’re watching a movie or TV show or reading a book and come upon little nuggets that make the scene worthwhile—that rise above the norm, that give you more meat than the usual “Hi, how are ya” types of interchange—such as the couple of quotes we’ve mentioned from Stranger Than Fiction. Kind of renews your faith in writers and scriptwriting, at least in the broadest universal sort of sense.

Unfortunately, then there are the other lines that do the opposite.

I’m not talking about lines written for deliberate shock value, outrage, or humor, although heaven knows we’re up to our proverbial eyeballs in vulgar, lowbrow sarcasm and just plain filth that passes itself off as “humor” nowadays. (The sad thing is, it gets away with doing so because many of our kids, growing up with Simpsons and South Park [despite our best efforts!], laugh uproariously at things that, a generation earlier, were called sophomoric—and that didn’t mean they belonged in a college student’s lexicon.) On the contrary…the line I encountered this past weekend was in a movie that was aimed at an audience light-years away from the bathroom-humor crowd. Which is what made it all the more jarring.

The movie was The Holiday—not the classic Holiday with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn (one of my all time favorites) but the more recent movie, with Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz. For those of you who don’t know the story, the premise involves two women, an ocean and a lifestyle apart, whose love lives are in shambles; they each decide they need a change of scene, exchange houses for the Christmas holiday, and—naturally—in those new situations, find the loves of their lives. It’s romantic, and of course, it pushes a lot of delightful “buttons,” all the way from two adorable kids (No, really. Truly. Adorable. And I hate kids in romantic movies.) to a script that’s on the whole pretty squeaky-clean.

…except for one setup that I still haven’t forgiven the writers for, one I’m surprised Ms. Diaz was willing to do with a straight face.

The scene occurs after the house exchange has happened; at that point, Ms. Diaz’s character, Amanda, is settling in to a cottage somewhere in Surrey…and discovering that the “peace and quiet” she thought she sought is actually boring her out of her mind. Enter her hero-to-be, the original occupant’s brother, who arrives more than a little drunk and clearly expecting to crash at his sister’s place. After a few catchup explanations, Amanda invites the brother to sleep things off there, prepares to go get him a blanket and a pillow and put him on the couch—the usual things. But then, suddenly and for no real solid reason…the brother kisses her. And she likes it, and asks him to do it again.

And then the next thing out of her mouth? “Well, yanno, with this situation—I mean, we’re never going to see each other again, I’m leaving, and you’re really good-looking…I think we ought to have sex.”

To which my daughter and I said, in unison, “HUH?”

Of course, the brother’s more than willing to take her up on it—which in this age of STDs, is at best disingenuous—and they proceed to act accordingly. Not on screen, at least. We get the usual morning-after scene, we get Amanda reassuring this guy she’s not going to fall in love with him, yatta, yatta, yatta. (Considering she’s just broken up with a guy she was living with the day before, the odds are that she doesn’t know how to love anybody, period. But I digress.)

The problem was, no matter how they “salvaged” the story or kept it PG-rated at that point, the damage was already done. We went from feeling gently amused and laughing at the heroine’s crazy Type A behavior to sputtering at the screen in indignation and incredulity. Or, as my daughter put it, “What a whore!” (Which I thought said it all quite well.)

I doubt this is the reaction the writers wanted from a twenty-something who otherwise is caught up in the romance of the thing. I really doubt they wanted us muttering for the next few minutes to ourselves about women who are too stupid to live. Nowhere else in the movie do they stoop to pandering; so one has to ask oneself, why then? Why there? Why that dialogue/scene at all?

It may come down to the simple fact that Hollywood doesn’t know how to express attraction, romantic sparks, or a carefree attitude toward life except by having their characters engage in free and easy sex. It may have been a temporary brain spasm on the part of the writers. It may be that they literally didn’t know how else to bond these people on screen, so they took the cheap shortcut.

What it does mean, sadly, is that no one had the good sense, the talent, or the taste to step back from the script for a moment and say, “Whoa, wait a minute, this is not going to work!” Which baffles me, since in the context of the rest of the screenplay, the writers hit home run after home run. So why did they let that major-league fly ball just drop through their hands in favor of the cheap injection of sex?

I don’t know. I still don’t know. But for all the world, I want to write those screenwriters and say to them, “Look, you don’t have to do things this way to prove you’re not religious-right nutjobs. This was just plain stupid in any context, even yours. Next time, use the red pencil God gave you and make yourselves do something more creative.”

The only reassuring thing about that scene, I suppose, was my daughter’s reaction to it. Not moral outrage. Not tsk-tsk. Not wink-wink, nudge-nudge. Just plain irritation and disgust at a character who threw herself around so cheaply. Which, in reflection, is a good thing for a twenty-something to be thinking about thoughtless sex with a stranger: “Not on my watch, thank you very much.”

If that was the lesson these screenwriters were trying to teach…they succeeded. But somehow, I doubt their motives were anything near that lofty. And that’s too bad. Because romantic, lighthearted, positive, and uplifting movies deserve better than heroines written in at any part of the story as little more than whores. It’s time someone in the entertainment business learned to trust their audiences enough to leave some things out that ought not to be there in the first place. We’ll still enjoy the story. Some of us will enjoy it more for that restraint, and we’ll keep coming back to those people for more stories…

…which I always thought was the whole idea.

Isn’t it?



Sunday, April 19, 2009

Words to Live By, Part II

Last time, I touched on a great line from Stranger Than Fiction about “making the world better…with cookies.” Seems to me that about captures a lot of our lives, and indeed, it was meant to—as evidenced by the rather ham-handed emphasis on the Point Of The Movie at the end. Which you already caught onto, if you’d been at all attentive for the 100 or so minutes of the film that came before it…

But there’s one more great line. And I think it’s a great line to start out a new week with.

At one point in the movie, our hero is staying with an acquaintance from work, and they’re talking about what he would do if he found out he was dying “in the near future.” After much wheedling, talking about superpowers (!), and the like, when the rubber meets the road, the character finally blurts it out:

“I’d go to Space Camp.”

Our hero is astonished. Isn’t Space Camp just for kids?
“Oh, no,” his friend assures him. “You’re never too old for Space Camp.”

I think if there’s any banner a writer, especially a novelist, can fly over her particular ship, it ought to be something like that.

Interestingly enough, it turns out you never are too old for Space Camp.
As, in reality, you’re truly never too old for a lot of things. (Just ask Susan Boyle.)
But most of us forget this. To our peril.
Some of us…remember in time. Many of us don’t.

Let’s us, this week, be among the people who remember it.

You’re never too old for Space Camp. But you can wait too long for it.
So, whatever your Space Camp is, stop waiting for it. Start now. Do it this week.
And then come back here and tell us all about it.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Words to Live By, Part I

Last evening, I got two pleasures I rarely enjoy.
First, I dug the first of my garden; if everything comes up that I planted last night, by August, I may be inviting you all over for strawberry shortcake.
Second, I sat down to watch a movie.

Yep. A whole movie, with no popping up for commercials, no pauses to go and do a quick cleanup of the supper dishes…just me and homemade meatloaf and the couch, for two solid hours.

Even without homemade meatloaf, that would have been good stuff. But I was also watching a movie I’ve seen once before and wanted to see again—to find out if my first impression had rung as true as I thought.

The movie was Stranger Than Fiction, a story with one of the great creative premises in the world, one I still wish I’d thought of and written down first.

I saw this movie originally in the theater (another rare pleasure) with my son and daughter, and I was most flattered when Matt told me that the author character reminded him of me. (!) Except for the chain smoking, I would love to be that character. Especially the skinny part…

But I digress.

I found the movie more affecting the second time around. More human. More touching. And I could, obviously, see the foreshadowing of crucial scenes now that I knew they were coming. (I still don’t buy the romantic relationship of our hero and a heroine I pretty much wanted to b***h slap the first time…but that’s a whole ‘nuther story, too.)

The pleasant surprise about this movie this time, for me, was a couple of good words of wisdom, especially nice to hear at a time when it can be hard to hold onto wisdom and perspective.

When Christian values are under attack on all sides; when the Constitution is pretty much being walked all over by our present leader of the free world, without challenge from the media and without the vocal criticism that came to his predecessor for “offenses” that are kindergarten-level by comparison; and when the world around us seems to have gone absolutely berserk in its lemming-like rush to oblivion, to nihilism and to the godless void that focuses on “feelings” as arbiters of good and evil…it’s hard to keep perspective.

It’s hard to have any faith that what you did today is going to have any impact tomorrow; it’s hard even to know, sometimes, what you should be doing versus what truly needs to be someone else’s fight. The fights are myriad and endless; every time you turn a corner, someone else is pleading for action on your part and screaming scary consequences of your failing to act strongly, right now, and this instant, whether you’ve ever felt called to act in those particular ways before or not.

At times like this, it’s good to remember things like what the heroine said in this movie. How she came to realize that, even though she was at Harvard Law School because she wanted to “make the world better”…that what she really loved to do was bake.
She finally relates that, after being on the verge of flunking out, she realized something: that she could “make the world better…with cookies.”

And I thought, ain’t that the truth.
As a writer, I can’t tell you how many times I day I wonder if what I do ever makes a dent. Even though I edit some pretty effective literature, it’s hard to see how our little books are going to make a dent in the prevailing mythology by which so many people live. And when I consider my little fiction stories…it’s harder yet to feel like they matter.

But then I sit back on the couch, and I drain my wineglass, and I realize—a movie has just made my life better. It’s just given me both insight and comfort, in a line that was probably put in more for whimsy, maybe even for laughs, than for any statement about the profound nature of little things in life

That statement is, in fact, made at the end of the movie, in a way that makes it impossible to miss. Just in case the moviegoer was too dense to catch it the first time. But if you weren’t…if you were paying attention…you got the message of the movie way earlier than the narrator “told” you it.

Which made it all the sweeter.
Especially since I, too, love to bake. :-)

So here’s to making a difference with cookies. Or novels. Or movies.
Or “merely” by raising kids with aforementioned Christian values, with enough smarts to know when they’re being had and enough energy to fight for future generations if they have to.

And never, ever forgetting that with one cup of cold water, we can and do change the world.

This movie also has another great line in it…which I’ll blog about in Part II, for the sheer fun and the sheer uplift it’ll give us all (I hope).
Stay tuned!


Better Things to Do Than Be Bullied

It is my fervent hope and prayer that you and your children have not been shamed, threatened, and otherwise coerced into participating in National Day of Silence (otherwise known as National Bully Day), an unfortunate instance of our culture's having the idiocy to cooperate in advancing the repression, cultural indoctrination, and outrageous discrimination that is part and parcel of the homosexual lobby. The fact that this has even been considered for a MOMENT to be a legitimate use of school time is an insult to people of integrity, morality, and conviction; the fact that school administrators are going along with it is the clearest sign of all that our school system in this country is terminally ill, and the sooner we dissolve the public school system in favor of something else, the better off we will be.

There's still hope.
Real hope, not that counterfeit nonsense coming out of Washington.

Watch the Comcast video, read the page, and see if it doesn't choke you up.
Go ahead. I dare you.

This school literally saved my daughter's life...and it goes without saying what it did for my son. So, although the place has had its faults--I'm there.

I hope lots of you will be, too.
It's a whole lot more productive use of your time than being kowtowed into "silence."


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Way Too Much Fun

Yes, I know it's impossible to have too much fun, but this comes close. I know I, for one, am having a ball...bringing back my days of reviewing stuff for Wild Rose, only much less pressure!

Stop in if you're brave enough to give it a try...


Monday, April 13, 2009

So when people start pitching YOU…

You know it’s been too long since you’ve posted, when people come out of the proverbial cyberspace woodwork saying things like, “If you need ideas for posting, here’s some stuff to write about.”

I had that happen over this past weekend, and it’s a sobering experience.

Actually, I wasn’t sure whether to be flattered (someone thinks that if I post about their subject, it’ll get attention!) or insulted (what, you think I don’t have enough ideas on my own?) I did have to reassure the person involved that I had plenty of ideas for stuff to write about…it was taking the time to organize said ideas into some kind of post and get it here that was the problem. (!!)

But it does bring attention to the unfortunate situation of being a Writer Chick yet not writing enough on this blog to let people know I still know how to do it. :-) Well, yes, there are reasons for this situation. Many good ones, in fact.

One reason is the Book From Hell I’m presently editing in the day gig.

Now, don’t misunderstand me (as people seem to be doing a lot lately)…it’s not that the book itself is hellish. It’s only that the book is about complex subject matter, it’s very detailed, and it takes a great deal of attention and energy to make sure one is Getting It Right As Much As Possible. I know there will still be glitches when it goes out, which is always galling. But for right now, until next Monday when we really need to get it to production, I’ll be doing my best to make sure as few of those glitches happen as possible. I have a full manuscript from a proofreader to go through, plus an index to paste in and format today, so my little fingers and brain will be more than occupied enough for the angels, thank you very much.

Another reason is that I spent what writing time I could carve out of the freelance wilderness putting together an entry for ACFW’s Genesis contest, something I didn’t even think I was eligible for until I got together with some folks in the Indiana group and had my attention brought to the fine print that said, “…unpublished in the last seven years.”

I have to say that truthfully, most of the time I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the fact that yes, I’ve been unpublished in book-length work for long enough now that, in many contests, I have the same standing as someone who’s never sold a book at all. In this case, I chose to laugh, in the sense that at least it will enable me to get VOI back into a place where more eyes can see it, more people can appreciate it, and maybe some wonderful editor will look at it and say, “Where has this woman been all our lives? How much more has she written? Can we buy it all?”

(N.B. to those of you who don’t know this by now…when I dream, I tend to dream big. It’s a weakness. Deal with it.) :-)

So that, by way of explanation as to where the long, thoughtful blog posts are. Honestly? I get ideas for thoughtful blog posts about three times a day; I have scarce time in which to actually type them out and get them coherent, however, and that’s why you haven’t heard from me…not because I don’t have ideas to blog about.

And that brings to mind the second issue that may have prompted this kind of “helpful input” —a misunderstanding of just what my blog is meant to be about. Maybe because it’s listed in Catholic blog directories, some people might have the wrong idea about how I gather, find, or choose what I write about here.
So let’s get something clear: if you are a Person with a Cause, have seen that I do in fact write rather well, and think this place might be a great spot for me to act as your “mouthpiece” ...I have a piece of advice for you: save your breath and your fingers.

Rest assured that for every post you read here, there are a dozen more ideas going through in my head that I could write about…and sometimes have even started to write about…only to have a different one float to the surface because that’s what is the most compelling to me at the time.

Which is, in the end, what this is about. Lest we forget. :-)

I “ghostwrite” as a freelancer now and again, a profession in which one’s personality and style are submerged beneath someone else’s byline. So this place I doubly treasure as being all mine. This is where I can shine. This is where I can squawk, or do a happy dance, or expound, but most of all, where I can be me, and it’s all original.

I’m sorry if some of you may find this myopic approach disappointing…but, the fact is, this is not a public service blog. By and large, it’s not going to deal with topics people suggest (unless they’re questions about writing, which are pretty much always welcome). There are many things this blog is; one thing it is not is a bulletin board upon which, if you send me enough URLs and suggestions, I’ll start blogging about what’s important to you.

Because that, quite simply, ain’t the idea here.

Don’t get me wrong. If you ask me a direct question, I’m liable to answer it. And I love to see people happen by, and if something I write makes you want to spread the word about this blog or point other people to it, please do!

But make no mistake—this is my spot. It’s not being surrendered to anyone, no matter how noble their intent, for their thoughts, their ideas, their ideologies, or their causes.

Ain’t gonna happen. Not now, not ever.

I’m not a Catholic Writer Chick reflecting the world and broadening people’s perspectives for the sake of “edifying all of us.” There are plenty of other places where, if you want, you can get edification. If edification happens here, that’s all to the good. But it’s not by design. Just as I don’t write my stories so that people will “find salvation” through them, I don’t write a blog so that people will “become aware .”

I’m the Catholic Writer Chick At Large for other purposes and aims: I observe, I participate in, and I attempt to enjoy the world around me, while processing it all on the only terms I truly understand…

…my own.

So be it.