Wednesday, June 29, 2011

This Has Been All Over the Web...for Good Reason :-)

A nice tie-in to the way I normally begin my Wednesdays...

Eucharistic "Flash Mob" in Britain
Enjoy!

Janny

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What I'm Doing This Morning...

Yanno, if you gotta weed and cultivate and mulch and water and harvest...you may as well have this music in your head to work by...no?

Enjoy!
Janny

Monday, June 27, 2011

On the Verge of a Thrilling, Exotic...STAYCATION!

Just finished a major proofreading project for a major client, and so I'm feeling a little dazed. Want to be lazy. Want to do things like spend 2 hours playing Bookworm. (!) :-) (Don't give me that, you know you do it too.) But I do have a couple of smaller projects to do this week, albeit not high-paying ones. And then...PM is off on vacation from July 1 for almost two weeks, so I need to make a "honeydo" list for him, now, don't I?

Go somewhere on vacation? Yeah, right. When you're underemployed, your idea of a vacation treat is a chocolate dipped cone at the DQ.
 I wish it could be different. But it never has been.

I would actually love to take my husband somewhere really away from here, come to think of it. But I had to rob Peter and Paul both to take us on the one non-sports-related trip we've ever had, other than our honeymoon...to the Smokies, in 1998. For our 20th anniversary, we did a weekend in Chicago (we were in Lombard at the time, so that wasn't exactly getting to the edge of the earth!) ...and then had to come home and have one of our cats put down. (Can we celebrate, or what?) And while I have done my share of writers' conferences, some more memorable than others, those aren't exactly "vacation" trips.

One caveat needs to be said here, though: I will say that 2005 was a treat of a half-year in itself, as we proceeded to see a great deal of Michigan baseball while we had the income to do so. Yes, while that's also not technically "vacation," those memories of seeing #1 son play as a Wolverine were worth every single dollar...and then some.

So I guess it's not like I've never gone anywhere...I've just not gone a lot of different places, just for recreation and fun, over the years!

The bottom line? I don't know why some folks think the idea of a "staycation" has just come about due to various economic crashes or recessions or the like. I guess for some people, the idea of making a "vacation" close to, or at, home is novel enough that it's actually fun.

But for some of us, staycations are mostly all we've ever known. And sometimes, that makes us sad.

Just sayin'.

Off to find a little more cheese to go with this whine. :-)
Janny

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Why I'm Glad I'm Not a "Professional Catholic"

Sometimes, you think you'd like to be in a certain circle...until you see what happens within it. And then you thank God you weren't really in there in the first place.

For awhile, I could have been called a "professional Catholic": I made my living doing work that directly connected to the Church, was designed to support the Church, and enlightened people about where the Church stood on things...or at least where some predominant Church minds tended to stand on things. I didn't mind the work that I did--for what it was. I edited nonfiction trade and devotional books, books that I considered to be, on the whole, pretty worthwhile and informative reads.

For while, I also thought it would be really, really neat to be a recognized "Catholic blogger." (After all, a bunch of them got invited to Rome a couple of months ago--great work if you can get it. :-)) In this wonderful medium of electronic communication, with the gift of words God has given me, surely that'd be an outstanding way to serve my Church as well...even after my other "professional Catholic" job ended.

But there's a problem with that status.

Nowadays, being a "professional Catholic" has gained the additional obligation (at least seemingly in most of the "professional" minds) of "engaging the marketplace." In other words, "professional Catholics"--among them many Catholic bloggers--are, more or less, expected to be journalists. And pundits. And, sometimes, activists.

Unfortunately, that much power and prestige...has not been a good idea in some hands. And the result looks bad on all of us.

For those of you unfamiliar with the reasons I say this, Google the name "Father John Corapi."

This man was unashamedly aligned with the teaching Magisterium of the Church...and had a colorful enough past (and present) that he wasn't afraid to call a spade a spade. He frequently called bishops out for doctrinal nonsense and/or heretical behavior--something that probably didn't make him any friends at the USCCB, I'm sure. (Which to me is a point in his favor, not the other way around. :-) ) But for 20 years, this faithful priest taught solid Catholic catechism, devotion to Mary, the power of prayer--especially the Rosary--and a host of other good Catholic Church belief that many of us have been starving for in parishes that seemingly have reduced Catholicism to social justice, "be nice to each other," and butterflies and rainbows.

So of course...someone had to silence him. And someone did.

The particulars of this case are still not all clear, but you can Google the name and get enough of the gist of what's gone on around this man to wonder about him and the Church he loves. (As in the old quote from the saint, "If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them.") What's pertinent to this post, however, is the role that "professional Catholics" have played in supporting this man, praying for him, assuming he's innocent until proven guilty, or any of the other things they urge us as Catholic Christians to extend to our fellow human beings as part of following Jesus.

Except they haven't. Indeed..."ravening wolves" got nothin' on these folks.

I have rarely seen vitriol from the secular press any worse than some of what Catholic bloggers are heaping upon this man for what he's opting to do at this point. I have seldom seen the level of judgmentalism, Phariseeism, and holier-than-thou crap thrown around--even in such well-known anti-Catholic papers as the New York Times--as I've seen from some so-called fellow "Catholics" out there, in some places I used to trust for faithful discourse on faith issues. I didn't always agree with some of them, but at least I could see where they were coming from.
Unfortunately, now I can, too. And where they're coming from...I don't want to be.

So I'm thankful at this point that my heart has led me away from "engaging the markeplace"--if what I'm seeing from these people is a result of doing so. And I'm thankful that, as a result of my dwelling on storytelling and other parable-like activity to the exclusion of dealing in current events...I will probably never be taken seriously enough as a "Catholic blogger" to even be on the radar of "professional Catholics" out there.

Frankly, from where I sit now, I can't imagine why anyone would want to be.

Thoughts?
Janny

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Way Christian Fiction Oughta Be....

...including Catholic fiction, too, for that matter.
You want to know how to write good old-fashioned story, from the viewpoint of faith? Then look up Rochelle Krich--or as she's known on some earlier books, Rochelle Majer Krich. If that name doesn't sound like a typical Germanic-WASP-Amish storyteller's name...congratulations.

The girl is Jewish.
Orthodox Jew, in fact, if she is writing heroines who are like herself (as most of us do).
So how is this the way Christian fiction oughta be, if the person writing it is Jewish?

Let me backtrack a bit.

Recently, I dipped into a book that was highly touted in Christian circles. It's not a new book, by any means, but it was and has been raved about for years...by an author who basically "owns" one of the major Christian publishing houses. If I said her name, and you know Christian fiction, you'd recognize it.

I avoided this woman's work--I admit it. I avoided it partially because of the perverse notion I have that if everyone is raving too much about someone's work, I suspect that either they're all her friends or they all wanna be...and partially because, by nature, I'm a contrarian. You can bet that out of all the bestselling authors in the world, I'll like one or two, be bored by another bunch, and despise one or two at the other end of the spectrum.

And it must also be said that when it comes to bestsellers--especially Christian bestsellers--I am not impressed by the overall body of work. There are a handful of exceptions; I so wanted this gal's work to be one of the handful. I wanted to be proven wrong. And, for an immensely pleasurable time in the book, I was.

For a long ways into the story, it was exceptional. It was full of flawed people who sinned all over the place; it was full of dark murky things people had to "get over" and people who couldn't get past some of those dark murky things. It had fearful people as well as faithful people--sometimes in the same skin. So far, so good...until the last couple of chapters.

At that point, God was reaching into these characters' lives in some very real ways, they were coming closer to Him, and so they had a lot of questions to ask. And they started asking them of the central "Christian" godly woman character in the piece. And she sat down and started answering them.

What followed was something like a dozen pages (I don't know exactly how many; I gave up!) of what we Catholics would have called "Catechism class." Three major women characters in the book sat and talked theology. They sat and talked why God allowed certain things to happen. Why their lives had been the way they had been for the previous, oh, 300 pages or so. The beauty of Jesus' redemption of them all. Whether they could trust God or not. What would happen if they did. Did they need God's help? How could God love them? Was it all for real?

They became talking heads, spouting obligatory Bible truths, and the story stopped dead.
I realized it some distance into the discussion--about three pages or so--when I suddenly looked up from the page and said, "Wait a minute. Has anyone moved from a chair? Has anything happened in these last three pages besides three talking heads having Sunday school? And for whose benefit is this?"

Well, dear reader, the clear answer to that is...it's for your benefit. Yes, in case you hadn't gotten the message that God Loves You No Matter What, Yes, Even You, Yes, No Matter Where Or Who You Are, Yes, Just Trust Him--a message you definitely would have gotten by the way the characters' lives had interacted previous to this, especially the main "saved" character and her frequent spoutings of mini-Bible truths--the author decided to Lay It All Out Here And Show You How Marvelous This Christian Faith Is, By Golly.

But if you would rather the story have kept its intention and let you see that played out the rest of the way in the characters' lives....
Tough.

The author and editors of this fell right into the all-too-common trap of, apparently, believing that for Christian fiction to be really Christian, by golly, you'd better have That Gospel Truth Spelled Out In Plain English So That Your Reader Can Get Saved Reading Your Book...Even If You Have To Stop The Book Dead To Do It, Because It's Too Important To Let Slide, And God Knows We Can't Trust People To Be Intelligent Enough To "Get" That From Our Storyline Alone.

So they took a compelling, absorbing read and turned it into pap.
Just that fast.

This happens so often in Christian fiction that it's become a cliche in itself. And don't even get me started about most Catholic fiction--with a few notable exceptions, it's even worse. Not with the Gospel presentation, so to speak--"conversion scenes" as a rule aren't our stumbling blocks. But if the Catholic is actually writing from the POV of being faithful to the Magisterium--rare enough in itself--all too often, the book is little more than a treatise on Fatima and/or the End Times prophecies and how This World Has Already Gone To Hell, So Get Out That Holy Water And That Rosary OR ELSE.

Like I said...from potentially intelligent story to pap, in one easy and unfortunate step.

Enter the second book from my library bag that week: Rochelle Krich's BLUES IN THE NIGHT.

As a matter of fact, you should do that precise thing: enter the book. As in go to the library, check it out, and enter the world of Molly Blume and Rochelle Krich as her creator. Especially if you're a mystery buff at all--or a crime-solving buff at all. And who isn't, between Law & Order and CSI and all their spinoffs?

Because Molly Blume isn't just any ordinary mystery heroine. She's a published author of true crime stories...and an observant Orthodox Jew...who finds herself embroiled in solving real-life crimes as well. She says regular daily prayers, keeps kosher, and stops her work and ordinary everyday activities for Shabbat. She is very human--which means she's at times flawed, insecure, snarky, scared, and vulnerable...and also sweet, considerate, compassionate, and principled.

But most of all, she's a woman of faith, a faith as integral to her character as her hair color and height and personal baggage. In other words, she's a real woman, and a real Jew--unlike the Pollyanna Christians, Amish bonnet-babes, and/or wild-eyed borderline-personality Catholics we often encounter in so much of what attempts to be "faith-based" fiction. Yes, she's different. Yes, she's countercultural. But she isn't written that way so a reader will get A Message through the story. It's simply who she is, and the stories unfold in the ways they do because of the inevitability that a woman of faith--this particular faith--will have certain approaches to life that will make her story turn out in a different way from one in which there is no faith element present.

It's interesting to note that Ms. Krich's books aren't categorized as "religious fiction." That's because they're not. They're books peopled with Orthodox Jewish folks, they give you a fascinating glimpse into a life and a people many of us know almost nothing about...but make no mistake. They're not tracts. They're stories. And danged good ones, to boot. As in not-put-downable.

Which is a heck of a lot better than I can say for 99% of Christian fiction, past or present.

What we're talking about is special stuff, people: story, first, last, and always...with faith as an integral, inseparable, and sometimes determinant element--and with no need whatsoever to preach.
It's what we as Christians writing fiction ought to be doing.
Unfortunately, we still don't get that.
So I'd recommend we get to know Molly Blume, and see how to do it right.


Thoughts?
Janny

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Why You Don't Want to Be a Betty Neels Heroine

Okay, now, that title ought to get a few people's attention. :-)

From the get-go, let me say this is not an anti-Neels post. This woman was the bestselling author Harlequin had for YEARS, until her death in 2001. All told, she was named as the author of something like 150 books--and she didn't start writing until she was older than I am now. (!) (Yes, I say "named as author." There's a reason for that, which is a whole 'nuther subject.) I myself have several dozen of those books in my possession and have read several more than that, books which for one reason or another didn't "do it" for me. But overall, yes...I can see why this woman was a bestseller. So I'm not here to pan her style, or her stories, per se.

I have, however, come to realize that there's a danger to internalizing these books and their style as much as I found myself doing for awhile--and still have to fight against today. The fact is, a reader who sees Neels' heroines attain true love time after time will start to think, "Hmmm. It worked for this gal, and there are so many of these books written just this way that I'll bet at least some of this is true to life. Maybe that's the way a woman needs to behave in order to get what she needs in this life."

I'm here to tell you that--attractive as that notion might be to many people--that way lies danger.

Let me explain.

A typical Betty Neels heroine is young--although sometimes "not so young" (as in, she may have reached the ripe old unmarried age of 28 or 29)--and basically without much by way of family in the world. If she's not an orphan, she has relatives better forgotten: evil stepmothers, evil stepbrothers, half-sisters who are manipulative and shady, selfish parents who treat her like a slave--so when the hero steps into her life, often it's because she's at the end of a rope and needs a rescuer.

Now, again, there's nothing inherently wrong with that; it's a premise upon which many a romantic tale is based. However, where these gals start to rub many, many people the wrong way is in the aspect of their personality best described as "serene," "calm," or "placid"--even when they're being stepped upon in some of the most egregious ways imaginable. These gals can be lied about, insulted, put down to their faces, manipulated, and ordered around, and they smile and take it. While many times they do speak up for themselves in a "quiet, unassuming" fashion...still, the people around them in the story, even the heroes, are generally allowed to get away with bloody freakin' interpersonal murder on these women...and the way they deal with it is presented as the way a real lady behaves...and earns true love.

You know, of course, that in the end, this heroine's quiet, unassuming nature will prove she's a superior and more feminine character, the perfect wife for the hero to cosset, adore, protect, and provide every convenience for...so if you're a Neels fan, you chuckle and watch the heroine give as good as she gets, in her own mouselike way. But for 200 pages before she finally hits pay dirt--if you read enough of these things--sometimes, you just wanna slap her upside the head and say, "Wake up, you little idiot. Don't let these people manipulate you that way! Speak up for yourself!"

...because in real life, being sweet, unassuming, and docile--conducting your life "without fuss," as Neels is fond of putting it--won't always pay off in the handsome doctor spiriting you away to one of his many mansions to be cosseted, adored, and protected.

Sometimes, it'll just mean you keep getting beat up. And--just in case in your docile, unassuming life, you didn't realize this--that's not a good thing.

(It's a telling point of some of these romances, indeed, that one of the "endearments" a hero can say to a heroine is, "You little idiot." Followed by, "I love you." Always wondered how those two went together. But...I digress.)

Now, this also isn't meant to latch onto the common diatribe against romance novels that goes along the lines of, "These books encourage women to have unrealistic expectations of love." That opinion is just an opinion, it's debatable, and perfectly intelligent people disagree about it every day. But what this post DOES warn against is the unconscious internalization of the notion that the most desirable quality in a woman is for her to conduct her life and affairs "without fuss." That her ultimate "femininity" is defined by how placid, unruffled, practical, calm, and non-combative she is no matter what the circumstances.  

Unfortunately, some of us simply aren't wired that way.

So that even if that kind of child-woman behavior DOES pay off in some instances--and apparently, in many of them, it did, or these books wouldn't have struck the kind of chord with readers all over the globe to sell so well--it can automatically leave some of us feeling...just a little off the radar. It can make us wonder how long some of these women kept their phlegmatic calm, their serenity, and their humble self-effacement before, one day, it boiled over...and Mr. Doctor saw the "shrew" in his wife come out.

And make no mistake--the anti-heroines in these books ARE the types who are not placid. They're the ones who speak their minds, no matter how petty their thoughts might be--and their thoughts are ALWAYS petty. They're stereotypes of the other opposite, in fact: self-centered, self-absorbed, spoiled, and temperamental beyond all reasonable limits. It's as if to contrast with the quietly beautiful, serene heroine--and all the women in the book who are "nice" and who act just like her--the other side of the feminine coin is 100% "bitch." There are no in-betweens; except in extremely rare instances in a couple of the books, there are no sort-of nice girls who occasionally blow their stacks. There are only spoiled rotten little girls who throw tantrums, complete with stamping their pretty little feet, contrasted with the wise, serene heroine material, who shows up not only in the hero's love interest but in pretty much every other female in his family.

Again...the message here? The desirable--indeed, the virtuous--woman is the one who lives without "fuss." Without, apparently, peaks and valleys of emotion. And most of all, without the need to take up any space, breathe any air that might belong to anyone else, or ask for any rights beyond those of a timid child approaching a parent. In these books, the reward for such behavior is inestimable.

But in real life? Or even--shall we say it--in your novels?

I have come to the conclusion that, in many of my stories, inadvertently I've ended up writing heroines who emulate this self-effacing behavior, this milk-and-water calm; it's hard not to, when you sigh over these good fortunes and realize that this stuff sold like hotcakes all over the world. But inevitably, if you start writing people like this, you may also find yourself trying to hide the places in YOU that aren't up to this unassuming "snuff." And in the process, you'll shortchange both your fiction and your real life...for something that, in all but plaster saints, is almost unattainable--and probably isn't true either about you, where you really live, or your fictional people.

So, as the hosts say on Mythbusters..."Don't try this at home. EVER."
Betty Neels was what you call an "expert."
Her books played under a strict, circumscribed set of rules that sold well in cultures that may be alien to you.
Don't make yourself a stranger in your own skin, or in your own books, by trying to make either your own personality or, by extension, the personalities of your characters fit into that particular box--unless that's how you roll in the first place.

Or you'll spend far too much time retracing, redoing, and rethinking--and having to relearn how to write, and live, "for real."

Thoughts?
Janny

Friday, June 03, 2011

Well, It's Happened....

Someone has bought Voice of Innocence.
No, an agent hasn't responded positively yet.
But Desert Breeze Publishing has.
Long story. Short pier. :-)

I'm off to await the package in the mail that has my contract. Release date: January 15, 2012.
And yes, I should be dancing and shouting and carrying on. But I think it hasn't...still...fully sunk in yet.

More to come!
Janny