Write...or Die Trying

I used to work in a factory. Now I work in an office. Either way, my writing was dying. So now I must: Write...or Die Trying.


Taking Your Craft Too Far

I'm going to get tired of listening to a particularly annoying person in one of my classes this semester. I'm stating the obvious up front--figured I'd just get that out of the way so we can move on.

"But why?" You ask.

Good question. I think it's mainly their insistence on using fancy words (with an admiring exactitude, I might add) instead of just coming out with it. We were discussing the role of language in the fiction writer's style and their question was basically: "Can't a fiction writer use beautiful [sound of doves flapping away and a shaft of golden sunlight falling on dew-scented, green grass] language?"

In short, no. That's right. I said N-O, no. UNLESS, that's the whole purpose for the work. Like "Ulysses." A book I'm fairly sure has no real point, but is an excellent example of what a master artist can do with the right tools and the competency to use them.

But for those of us who want to write stuff that other people will actually want to read, I can offer no more guidance better than the ideas discussed in this post on the fact that "Craft Isn't Everything."

If we get too enthralled with our Art, we'll begin to think that the masterful execution of said Art is an actual, altrusic, and attainable goal. That to write a perfectly delightful sentence is the height of our artistic purpose. Phew, is it getting deep in here!

See, I don't like the notion we should thumb our nose at brevity, conciseness, and straightforwardness, in favor of a nose-elevating, brow-heightening, Mastery of The Mystical Craft. Do you distinctly remember any time in the Lord Of The Rings where you paused to appreciate a masterful application of the English language? A place where you jumped out of the narrative, just shy of the Misty Mountains, to enjoy a well-turned phrase? I don't. I've read the books a half-dozen times and I still can't explain to you what Tolkien's "style" was. As far as I can tell, he really didn't have any. Oh, I'm sure you could point to some minutiae that could be classified as Tolkien-esque, but you'd be hard-pressed to do it and you wouldn't have very stunning examples of it.

I think that's because Tolkien stepped back from his story and didn't force recognition of his (actual) mastery of the English language from the reader. He didn't want the reader to stop, reread, and appreciate an especially well-written sentence for the sake of the language. Not in those books anyway. In the appropriate venues he used the literati-lingo and when he wrote fiction, his style changed accordingly.

Maybe our fiction would improve drastically if we just took the time to remember that maybe, just like the tree that actually doesn't make any noise when it falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it (noise is perceived, not generated, for those still hanging back there and not wanting to move forward until that intellectual quandary is resolved,) then maybe Art isn't "appreciated" if no one is there to "hear" it (or read it.)

More Recent Search Hits

It's amazing how people end up at your website. I recently got a referrer from Google. The search term?

"die by trying to suck"

Excuse me?

Don't You Have Anything Better To Do?

My wife chastised me a little bit today for blogging. Her argument was that it's an inherently egotistical endeavor, drains time from more important things, and is. . . well. . .just plain silly.

Rick, over at The Right-Wing Nuthouse is "unemployed by choice" and "financially comfortable," so he enjoys the freedom of taking the time to craft his relatively long essays and basically spend as much time as he wants online. The rest of us have to work blogging into our incredibly busy schedules. Juggling work, kids, blogging, (and for me, school,) can be stressful. Is it worth it, when it's all said and done? And yes, I'm using cliches throughout this post. That's part of the problem of blogging: you usually don't have enough time to think of a better phrase.

I'm not sure I could articulate my wife's objections to my interest in blogging and not make a mountain out of a molehill. But to rashly generalize: she's not totally opposed to the idea, she just doesn't see the point. I think one of her big beef's with blogging is the self-serving nature of getting other people to read and respond to your opinions.

Another qualm she has with blogging in general is that the topics are often "me, me, me" and "look what I did" and "I really enjoy this." She gets bored with some of the blogs see reads (when I make her) fairly quickly because there's very little she sees as relevant to society in general.

To over-simply her argument: "Blogging is primarily self-cenetered; who wants to read about what neat things your kids did every single day; and, don't you have anything better to do?"

While I don't agree with her take on blogging entirely, I think she raises some good points. Are we really too concentrated on ourselves and what we can get out of blogging? Is the blogosphere too self-centered, ego, and personality-centric?

Maybe we need to think about these things a little more. . .

Boy Does This Topic Make People Angry

Editor's Note: This version is slightly different than my actual email. I tried to limit myself to only fixing typos and grammatical errors but I just couldn't do it. I wanted to give this version a little more "zing."

Do you have any idea what sex is?

[ snip ]

The correct answer is, Of course you don't know. No mortal does. You don't, I don't, Paul even intimated that he didn't. (Then again, he was almost certainly a virgin, or anyway he had fewer than twelve years experience, so he probably had nothing to teach anyone. He should've shut up.) It's a Mystery, and that was my whole point. Not that I know more than you do, but that we are all faced with something so profound that a thousand years' experience is still a virgin by comparison. It's so easy to forget the magnitude of the issues we deal with. That was the point.

There are two things that bother me for the rest. The first is that you seem hell-bent on attributing to me a position that I do not hold and that I CLEARLY could not hold in light of my earlier posts on the topic. If I thought that we should never, ever talk about sexual matters, why did I mention (and even approve of) Janette Oake's and Grace Livingston Hill's work in that direction? If I had been the Puritan caricature that you're trying to make me, I would have advocated burning their books, wouldn't I? So my position must be something else. I notice that you didn't charge me with inconsistency, so I suppose you must realize this. (For that matter, even the Puritans didn't hold the "Puritan" position you refer to. It's a bogey and nothing more.)

So why did you go out of your way to misunderstand what I still think is not an abstruse position? I have theories, but I'd rather not pursue them. But if the tone of your responses is anything to go by, sex is not the issue you should concentrate on, but matters far more foundational. And until that happens, I am not sure you have much of value to teach even a virgin on any topic.

I'm sorry I apparently offended you by my earlier post. I didn't mean to intentionally create conflict--especially on a topic that doesn't have much bearing on either our salvation, or our overarching theology. It's also important for you to understand that I don't completely disagree with you. I think, in some areas at least, you've presented a compelling argument.

But to say I'm suggesting you're a book-burner; completely averse to sexuality in Christian fiction; that I "go out of [my] way to misunderstand" your position on this matter; that I have "foundation[al]" issues (which I take to mean you think my understanding of scripture is, in an unspecified percentage, wrong); and that I "don't have much of value to teach even a virgin on any [emphasis mine] topic"? That goes entirely too far. The last statement, in particular, seems to have come more from anger than logic--and your suggestion you have "theories. . .[you'd] rather not pursue"? What does that mean, exactly? It would be unfair and loveless to document the inferences I drew (and had to squash, with the Lord's help) from this sentence.

If the elders of my church thought what you've stated or implied, then they wouldn't have asked me to be a member of the board.

If the chairman of that board and one of our youth pastors (Godly and discerning men, by any account) thought what you're suggesting, then they wouldn't be encouraging me to become involved in areas of our church's ministries that would be considered influential.

I also wouldn't be a substitute Sunday School teacher for the adult class. By the way, those that attend Sunday School very much enjoy my lessons, when I have the privilege of teaching, and have said they are excited to be a part of them.

I wouldn't currently teach a Sunday School class for our college-age group and be part of our Sunday-night college-age ministry.

Am I bragging about these things? Come on. Anything I'm entrusted with is because Christ has seen fit to allow me to have it. He deserves the credit there. I wouldn't be able to do any of this if Christ didn't think it was a good idea :-)

My church knows me better than any email list member or reader of my blog (unless, of course, those list members/blog readers are members of my church ;-) so I think the judgement you've made regarding the value, depth, and veracity of my knowledge is best left to them.

Dispassionately speaking, and in light of these things I've mentioned, the argument you've made is interesting, but ultimately difficult to defend with hard facts. I can't come to any other conclusion due to the the facts I've presented and my personal experience with the Elders in my church. I say these things in the most dispassionate, non-confrontational, and anti-prideful way I know how. I've tried not to approach this topic with emotional passion, but attempt to be logical, rational, and utterly objective.

Of course, I fully accept that I might not be entirely correct in my assertion of what amount/style of sexuality is or is not appropriate for a Christian who writes fiction. I would never suggest that I'm Solomon-esque wise such that my interpretation of Christ's teachings in this area are definitive, or better than others'. Here, we probably come closer to agreeing than what it seem. You state that I'm "hell-bent on attributing to [you] a position that [you] do not hold and that [you] CLEARLY could not hold in light of [your] earlier posts on the topic." This could maybe be attributed to my misunderstanding of what I've perceived you were originally saying. I hope you will accept my apology at making you feel like I'm trying to be antagonistic. I'm simply not.

As for our differing opinions on the definition of the word "puritanical": I think we should chalk that up to a difference of opinion. I know that what our society perceives as being Puritan belief regarding sexuality is not necessarily historical or consistent with what they actually believed. But in the context in which I used that term, I was trying to call up the perception our society has regarding the idea of "puritanical" belief. Whether the feelings invoked by the use of that term is historically accurate or not is immaterial to my point.

I want to communicate to you that I wasn't trying to be antagonistic. I wasn't trying to suggest that you somehow have "incorrect" or "inferior" beliefs because I happen to disagree with you. I don't feel like I'm "hell-bent" on attributing feelings to you that you don't feel you hold. In fact, I'm not "hell-bent" on anything, really.

But I can't say that the logic so far expressed to me by critics of my feelings regarding sexuality in Christian fiction is at all compelling. No one has offered any "proof" of its being "special," "different," or "more private" than topics like alcoholism, abuse, gambling, or any of the other incredibly private issues Christians deal with--sometimes on a daily basis. Many of us talk about (and are encouraged to talk about) our sexuality in an extremely public setting. Does this mean that fiction is different and that other public settings are okay? What litmus test should we use, then, to decide which public forum is acceptable and which is not.

I simply don't see how sexuality is "inherently private," in the context of our debate, and should not be discussed in fiction written by Christians, when we inarguably enjoy open season on a great many other topics that are just as private, just as personal, and just as potentially dangerous if taken to extremes (or out of context) as our sexuality.

I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree.

Letter to the Principal Regarding a Bullying Problem With my Son

My son Jackson and I had an hour-long discussion tonight about the ongoing bullying he's experiencing from K K. Jack graciously gave me permission to discuss this issue with the Middle School staff--in fact he sincerely encouraged it.

This bullying has been going on since grade school (six years is Jack's estimate, though I'm not sure that's completely accurate--it's been a number of years at any rate) and, unfortunately, Jack and K have the same schedule this year. K's insistence on sitting next to Jack in class and his bullying in the boy's bathroom, the halls, and other places, hidden from the watchful eyes of teachers, seems to be affecting his ability to concentrate on learning and is contributing to increasingly severe self-confidence problems. I wouldn't classify these problems as "dangerous" quite yet, but my wife and I are understandably concerned.

I fully understand that coming to terms with the actions of boys with larger physical stature and an innate ability to intimidate their peers is part-and-parcel with the public school experience. I'm not expecting you, or any of Jack's teachers, to eliminate the bullying altogether. We discussed the fact that he will always have to deal with people like K throughout his college (assuming he chooses to go that route) and work career. I'm concerned, however, that the degradation of Jack's self-confidence over these past 4-6 years--for the most part because of K's persistent antagonizing--is detrimental to my son's academic success.

I tried my best to encourage him tonight. I carefully armed him with some strategies to turn the antagonism he's experiencing into humor, which I've always found far less draining than the bullying he's described to me so far. I also communicated to him that I fully support defending himself against physical aggression. I know that's frowned upon in today's public school system, but there it is. I did make it clear that it was a last resort, and a defense that is far less effective than humor, sarcasm, role-reversal, or reverse psychology; but one of K's most effective weapons thus far has been his physical superiority. Jack could go a long way towards being less affected by K's bullying if he got over his fear of K's physical size and his ability to intimidate (but lacking the wherewithal to back up that bravado.)

I sincerely believe that somewhere inside K is a really good kid just waiting to be encouraged to emerge. But just this week Jack described a situation in which K grabbed his throat and tried to choke him. He's told me before that he's been the victim of other kinds of physical aggression. Things like punching and similarly demeaning "abuse," while understandable, seems to be increasing to such severity that--in Jack's situation at least--it's becoming inarguably inappropriate. I hesitate to use the term "abuse" because physical aggression is natural for boys just coming to terms with their masculinity and it has dangerous connotations if the person using it has some intention of "punishing" someone (in this instance, I believe unfairly.)

I don't know of a solution for this problem other than that Jack be made to understand why bullies feel the need to bolster their self-esteem by bringing others down. From what Jack has described to me, I sincerely believe there's a part of K that wants to be friends with Jack; however, that desire--admittedly an interpretation based on pure conjecture--is overshadowed by the demeaning attitude Jack perceives on an almost daily basis. Around teachers, Jack has told me that K is deceptive in exhibiting his antipathy (to use a harsh word) for my son. It's only when K thinks others aren't watching that he seems to make his seemingly real feelings known.

I know that you--or any of your staff--don't have the time to keep such an intense eye on K that would reveal this bullying in action. I accept that. But I thought, at the least, it might be beneficial to make you aware of this problem. I would hope you communicate my concerns to Jack's teachers so they could be a little more vigilant, assuming they have the time. If not, then I'll simply say: I turned out okay, even though I didn't have special attention paid to my bullying problem. At that time, such a thing was considered more a character-building experience than anything.

Thank you for your time to read this long email! I look forward to hearing your thoughts about this and--thinking optimistically--your plans for working towards a more comfortable and successful learning career for my first-born. He's just now having to learn what it's like to go out into the world and deal with all sorts of people with all sorts of personalities.

I also hope you don't think I harbor any ill will towards K or his family. Having experienced the problem of bullying myself, I know first-hand how much damage can be wrought upon the relationship between the children involved and, more so, their parents. I intensely desire to avoid those problems and hope that you and your staff can take care of this bullying problem in a discreet way that doesn't damage any relationships--or at least doesn't damage them beyond repair. I don't know you very well, but I get the impression that that is not an unrealistic expectation. And hey, that's what you get paid for, right ;-)

It might be a good idea if Jack discussed some of this with the school counselor. My wife would very much like that to take place. Please email me at this address, or use MSN Instant Messenger at "[ MSN Passport ID ]" to contact me. Both are much more easy to communicate with us than trying to catch our busy family at home, via telephone.

Again, thanks for your time. I hope to be hearing from you soon.

More Search Terms REDUX

I blogged about an essay I had to do last fall when we were covering "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." It was a character analysis I did on nurse Ratched (dumb idea to facilitate academic plagerism by posting the whole paper, I know) and I'm getting several people coming here using those search terms.

Are they looking for a pre-manufactured paper they can download and turn in, or are they just looking for background information? If it's the former. . .tsk, tsk [finger wag].

Write your own character analysis! ;-) I got a C (deservedly) on that one, anyway, so they're not getting much benefit from it.

More Strange Search Terms

I got a referrer from Lycos using the search terms "nurse" and "vaseline."

Someone please explain this to me :-)

And I thought "Jesus with Additcs" was unusual!

More on the Difficult Topic of Sexuality in Christian Fiction

"Do you have any idea what sex is?"

Maybe I'm taking this the wrong way, but by asking this question, it seems like you're suggesting I don't understand the greater metaphor God has created sex to be. Of course I know what sex is, what it represents, and that it's more than just getting jiggy!

While I'm not trying to be mean here, you admitted in an earlier post that you are a virgin, thus have not experienced the intensity of sexuality itself. It's my assertion that, while you may think you know what sex is in the analytical/theoretical sense, you might want to wait until you've had a chance to really become one with your wife before you ask such a brash question of someone who is a 12-year veteran of those feelings. Please don't think I'm angry (I know you don't like my perpetual disclaimers, but there it is ;-) about this. I'm just trying to be dispassionately analytical about the logical argument you're making.

"It is a story that God tells to individuals and to couples, and while we may point to the parable, we should not try to tell it ourselves."

Are you saying we should just let people figure out questions about sexuality by inference, stumble upon them themselves at random, and--if they still have questions--"don't ask me!" and go to an instruction manual written by a licensed marriage counselor or psychologist? That authors have nothing (and should have nothing) to say on the matter? This argument is not at all new. It has been around for a very long time and is well-documented in literature, pamphlets, and other written material from the Victorian era in Britain. Unfortunately, a great many (quite possibly the vast majority of) Christians will never discuss sexuality with anyone in their church unless there is a serious problem--and maybe not even then.

Carrying your argument to its logical conclusion, should Christian authors stay silent on any action God took on their behalf or for their own, customized benefit, even though that "testimony" might give hope and encouragement to others? God reveals many things to individuals which are personalized for their own use. We, as a Church, adore testimonies, which are nothing short of a recounting of personalized, individual actions that God took to help them or teach them something. Testimonies could easily be the logical equivalent of what you argue God teaches us about sexuality.

If your logic that says sexuality has no place in Christian fiction is applied fairly to other topics Christian authors write about, then our pool of potential material would be severely limited, would mean a great deal of excellent literature written by Christians might become heretical, and much of what we might write would be of little relevance to people who don't experience spirituality as intensely as we do. I also think that such topics would require readers to have a fairly comprehensive understanding of spiritual matters to grasp what we would be saying--if we wanted to go any deeper than "See Spot run." I'm sure some will accuse me of being simplistic and obtuse for the sake of argument. They'd probably be right. But you get my point, no? ;-)

Our potential readers will get discussions of what sexuality "should" entail. If Christian authors are utterly silent on this topic then the only thing they have to compare their own experiences to is the secular world--which has no qualms at discussing carnality.

I guess the bottom line is: I think the aversion to sexuality in Christian fiction you suggest is just too puritanical.

Keep in mind: my opinion is worth what you pay for it :-)

Discussion of Carnal Knowledge Redux

In response to a comment on my previous post:

I never suggested Christian authors give a Kama-Sutra-esque account of a couple's sexual encounters. Never. But to say that sexuality should be the exculsive topic of non-fiction, instructional, or even scholarly works is, in my opinion (which is worth what you pay for it, by the way :-), puritanical.

"Your two breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies." (Song of Solomon 4:5)

Is this scripture opening the door to Satan by putting in the reader's mind a pair of breasts? I don't think God would have allowed such a thing to be included in the Old Testament canon if that was the case. "But that's God. He can do what He wants because He has better discernment than we do," you can say--and I would whole-heartedly agree. But why would He give humans an intensely creative bent, a spirit of sharing our experiences through stories, and a free will if He didn't want us to use them? Of course no one can claim to fully live up to the expectations God has for us. In fact, I'm a sinner "worse" than some of you dear readers and would never be so arrogant as to assume that I could always meet His expectations and be "always right." But to not even try? What if that still, small voice prompting someone to approach sexuality in their writing actually isn't simply "heretical" sexual drive? Fear of being imperfect or making a mistake is Satan's most effective tool in getting Christians to stay put and keep their big mouths shut.

I will probably have have to keep repeating the following disclaimer, no matter how long and detailed an explanation I give concerning my previous post: I am not, in any way, shape, or form, suggesting that a Christian author go so far as to describe, in titillating detail, a couple's sexual escapades (having pointed this out several times, further criticizing my arguemnt on the premise that I think we should work kinky sex scenes into our novels is a wast of everyone's time and will probably be ignored--just a warning.) I'm actually advocating--assuming it's appropriate in the context of the story--that a Christian author who enjoys the benefits of an intense and healthy sexual relationship with their spouse give hope to those who don't.

And to say that we have to be a psychologist or certified marriage counselor (an exaggeration of the previous commenter's concept. . .I know, I know) before we attempt to convey our own joy at having a healthy sexual relationship with our spouse is to disregard the inarguable fact that "unqualified" authors frequently infuse their own scriptural interpretation and theological analysis in their work (Left Behind being an excellent example.) I sincerely beleive it is illogical and unfair to apply a different standard of "expertise" to authors when it comes to sexuality than that applied to nearly every other topic. I think God made sex powerful and wonderful because He intended for us to have babies and heal/intensify the spousal relationship. Why should we not discuss that?

Arguing whether sexuality belongs in fiction written by an author admitting his Christian relationship or not doesn't change the fact that we should not be (but have been) silent on this issue. Especially since the secular world is unabashedly using sexuality very effectively to further their own, destructive and ungodly goals.

Carnal Knowledge of Your Spouse in Christian Fiction

Posted this morning to a Christian writer's mailing list:

[WHILE THERE ARE ABSOLUTELY ZERO "INAPPROPRIATE" WORDS IN THIS POST, the topic of sexuality is so fraught with controversy that the de facto reaction to discussion of said topic is often considered "inappropriate." That's why I've chosen to use what you might consider archaic expressions. I'm sure you'll get my drift, though.]

I know my position on this matter is going to be misunderstood--and maybe angrily disagreed with--no matter what I do. I can't help that. I've also been a member of this list for some time and know that this topic, or variations of it, come up "ever so off'n," as we say 'round these parts. Despite that, I'm bringing this up again for three reasons: I feel strongly about it; I can assure you with something just short of a guarantee (would that be considered a "lawyerspeak" or something similar to a "manufacturer's warrantee"?) that I'm approaching this topic from a different angle than what I've seen discussed so far; and it's been "laying heavily on my heart," to use the requisite christianese phraseology.

The topic of sexuality in "Christian fiction" (for the purposes of this discussion, assume I mean fiction either distributed through CBA member stores or written by acknowledged, practicing believers of Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior, and assume that, for sexuality, I mean. . .if you need that explained, well. . .) is nigh on taboo. Unfortunately, considering that my calling is to write fiction, that could mean I might get passed over by, say, Bethany House (I adore Bethany House, by the way; I actually review manuscripts for them; I'm just using them as an admittedly inexact example of the CBA stereotype that comes to mind for most people) because I might have a [pipe dream] novel published by Knopf [end pipe dream] that shows the reader how intense a bond can be formed, for better or worse, between two sexually active people. Does that mean I endorse scenes designed to stimulate the reader for no reason than that stimulation is marketable and "rebellious"? Of course not. Some will read this essay and think otherwise but if I'm referencing Solomon in this exposition of my passionately held ideas, then please don't psychoanalyze what I'm saying here and go to *my* bibliographic source: the Old Testament.

I hope this doesn't create a firestorm of emails and get me banned from CF2, but I have been thinking critically (in the academic sense, not the obnoxiously pessimistic sense) about the pseudo-puritanical aversion that most CBA readers seem to share regarding discussions of intimate sexuality--even when it's set in the frame that God designed for it: a man and woman becoming one in marriage. I know, I know. I've heard all the arguments (unless there are new ones--there's probably always new ones) why the CBA will currently accept only pseudo-Jane Austen and not Balzac in their fiction.

They do it because their readers demand it, they want to do what they feel is best (well, the ones that aren't puppeteered by decidedly unchristian, mutli-billion dollar, multi-cultural, multi-national conglomerates anyway,) and because they affix the moniker "Christian" to their business. But I also wonder if the muckety-mucks--a term I learned in the military, bestowed primarily on paper-pushing, sometimes incompetent, questionably qualified command-level officers--have had a pow-wow and determined that discussions of sexuality should be obtuse, "as pure as the wind-driven snow"--to use a cliche--and steer comfortably (comfortable for whom I'm not entirely sure) away from the quicksand of denominational dogma and anything resembling a "gray area," which would demand a spiritual judgement call on behalf of the reader. I know that these content restrictions are primarily driven by market conditions and the fear of grass-roots boycotts, a la the Walt Disney company.

The biggest argument against passionate intimacy in "CBA fiction" is the same one used in this country for decades: we might be construed as condoning immorality by talking about sexuality (at least in any way that is less than sanitized enough to eat off of) in our fiction. Despite what you might think, I actually AM sympathetic to that. I WOULD NEVER suggest that a Christian write a purely titillating account of an unmarried couple "having a good time" in Cancun, or explicitly describe the escapades of homosexual twosome (I'm sorry: I just can't bring myself to use the term "couple" there) in the cabin next to the aforementioned boyfriend/girlfriend--who will probably (eventually) marry have a child then divorce, all within seven years.

But showing how inferior and empty that kind of soul-sucking flash-in-the-pan straw dog can be? Showing the fleeting nature of those relationships, which are apparitions almost on the edge of your peripheral vision; kaleidoscopic rainbows refracted through a spiritual prism--pretty to look at, but akin to the guy decided to build his house himself, on (or "upon," for the King James fans) the sand, and not the guy that wisely contracted the thing out so it was done right: foundation on the r-o-c-k rock.

Solomon had the chutzpa to get "jiggy" in his po-ems. I take that back: he was down right suggestive. That beloved schizophrenic (hey, *God* loved him--of course God loves *anyone* :-) gave us his drippingly romantic--some would say. . .okay *I* would say, being an unfeeling and unromantic alpha male--sentimental reflections on the passionate act (the whole 5 minutes or so) he enjoyed with his wife [Begin completely unrelated tangent: whom most scholars believe was the Queen of Sheba. Also, Solomon's stable of, well, more wives than you can shake a stick at (or keep happy and still maintain any semblance of sanity,) were probably women holding a title that means something quite different than those who resided in an Arabian Sultan's harem. Concubines, you ask? I don't know. Times were, shall we say, quite different from today. End completely unrelated tangent.] But you get the idea that he really enjoyed "becoming one" with his Queen.

So what's the bottom line? (That's not a rhetorical question, by the way.) Are we afraid we might inadvertently glorify immorality by frankly discussing sexuality in our fiction? Are we afraid that, by arousing the most universal and undeniably powerful (put there by God himself, I might throw in) human emotion we might awaken a sort of "Dracula" from his slumber, bent on pillaging the countryside and spreading his plague of evil? [I'm being incredibly obtuse here to illustrate a point. *Please* don't read into that analogy any more than you can help.] That's an important consideration for any author or publisher wanting to publicly identify themselves as "Christian."

But why can't we communicate to our readers how healing and essential, or manipulative and harmful--depending on how you choose to approach the situation--it can be to share an active and intense two-in-one communion with someone? What about letting others know how beneficial, healing, and essential such a communion can be? Are we just afraid of the "gray area" surrounding this topic? IN NO WAY AM I TRYING TO BE ANTAGONISTIC HERE, but do some authors even know what it's like to be completely one with your spouse--like it's mentioned in Genesis 2:24, but primarly quoted from Ephesians 5:31, about the two becoming one [Recited at almost every protestant wedding. I haven't been to too many--okay one--Catholic weddings, so I can't speak for that ceremony]? Is it that, for some folks, the most intimate part of our marital relationship is so strained, uncomfortable to think about, or even shriveled and dormant, that it can't even be talked about with an intimate friend, let alone in slicing open open the chest and displaying the heart for public inspection and possibly ridicule (or encouragement, if you're a "glass half full" kind of person)?

There are no easy answers to the discussion of sexuality and it's role in fiction labeled as overtly "Christian." Kevin Lehman's book, while non-fiction, is shunned by some because it is so frank, but adored by others for the same reason. It sold quite well and continues to do so, leaving the impression that it's still a topic of almost embarrassing interest to today's Christians. The LaHaye's have written on the husband-wife bedroom relationship issue as well. Neither Lehman nor the LeHaye's focused (or even geared) their discussion toward authors, stories, or fiction. But both books were quite successful and prove that Christians want to hear from other people (whether that's good or bad is a topic for another, probably lengthy discussion,) if they are permitted to discuss their passions and desires in Sunday School or around Christian friends. I'm fortunate enough to be involved in a church where I can discuss sexuality and even the act of love-making openly (in private, of course,) and in Christian love. I know many don't have that same confidence and suffer silently with the feeling that such matters are not appropriate for a "good christian" to discuss.

On an anthropological note, maybe one reason the so-called "sexual revolution" accumulated so much momentum and created a puritanical aversion to all things sexual--in no less than three generations--was that Christians were so ambivalent (and in many cases unjustifiably dogmatic, to be brutally objective) that they threw away a lucrative opportunity to minister to millions of impressionable young people that were agonizingly, analytically, and passionately searching--begging, even--for meaning and some form of spirituality. In our silence or judgementalism, the Christian family squandered an opportunity to provide them an alternative to the eventually irresistible temptation--having been given no adequately articulated alternative--of Humanism, Mysticism, carnal immorality, and astounding volumes of mind-numbing chemicals. I realize that a brave regiment here and there gave it their best effort at charging the bulwark. But, unfortunately their numbers and capability to mount a large-scale, organized campaign were simply not sufficient to rebuff the persistent attacks of emotional decision-making, disguised as "evolved" logic championed by the likes of Ginsberg, Kesey, Lenon, Vonnegut and their saints: Huxley, Hesse, Whitman, and Wordsworth--to name a scant few.

I wouldn't begin to suggest that I have a clue how to knock down these sticky wickets. I'm utterly ignorant and completely unskilled at cricket, so others will have to do the "real work." I just hope that this extraordinarily long essay can in some way resonate with anyone. I pray that it does for a selfish reason: I'd hate to think I spent five hours on an essay. . .and it be entirely bunk.

What In the World Are They Looking For?

Here's a recent search engine result that brought a visitor here:

"Pictures of Jesus with Addicts"

Hmmm... That's just strange :-)

Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian

If you listen to the audio book, does that count as having read the book? I hope so, because I'm in the middle of reading/listening to Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian. Although the premise that a couple of quasi-amateur historians are looking for Dracula is a little worn since Stoker's classic, the story is masterfully told with enough modern twists to keep it interesting.

Having nursed a secret desire to one day become a antiquarian and rare book dealer, the amount of mediaeval manuscript research is fascinating to me. Her writing is crisp, clear, and professional. What you'd expect from a Yale graduate with an MFA.

If you are bored with books, the middle ages, or anything relating to Dracula (either the real-life Vlad Tepes or his vampiric alter-ego,) then this long adventure through modern-day Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary might not be all that interesting to you. But if you're like me and love the thought of combing through musty piles of 600 year-old documents, then I would suggest you read The Historian.

Bored At Work

I'm glad to find out I'm not the only one that is suffering from this work-related boredom pandemic:

Boredom Numbs the Work World

On the Legitimacy of Magic in Fantasy Literature

Here's a great article on Fantasy and Magic in literature and how a Christian should respond to that.

On the Legitimacy of Magic in Fantasy Literature

Hat tip to the JollyBlogger for the link.

Duality: Light and Dark

Since I'm working on my BA in Creative Writing, I'm exposed to the "traditional" style of creative writing, which lifts up darkness, suffering, pain, and hurt over light, joy, happiness, and peace. When anyone in my class tries to write a "happy" story, they are criticized for being too "Hallmark" or too "easy." I always defend them and have been gaining a reputation for always approaching my critiques of a story from an optimistic, rather than a pessimistic attitude. I am often laughed at because of that and I get the feeling that I am somewhat disregarded, however unintentionally, because of my optimism.

Intelligencia tells us that the intense feelings of pain, hurt, and suffering are the only way to impart emotional impact in a story. It is much more difficult to really communicate love, joy, and peace in literature than it is hurt and pain. The latter are easily communicated and understood by the reader, which helps to form that necessary emotional bond between audience and author.

I don't think I could adequately communicate my deep, theological thoughts on this issue, because I'm not sure I understand them myself, but I'm going to give it a shot anyway.

I'm remembering a conversation that my Dad and I had last night about the "natural" state of human existence (my father and I have deep, theological discussions frequently) which is death, darkness, and 0 degrees Kelvin (don't ask how the 0 degree Kelvin thing came into the discussion; I don't remember. :-) I think artistic expression, being an element of creation and a shadow of one aspect of God, has a similar "lowest common denominator" or absolute zero starting point just like the physical world. The natural state of Man's being is darkness, pain, and suffering. The reason? No light. Darkness is actually non-existent. There is no such thing as darkness because it's only an absence of light. When there is no light, we call that dark, but true darkness (i.e. not what astrophysicists call "dark matter") is not a particle or piece of matter or energy that causes something to be dark. It's simply a term we use to distinguish something that has no energy or life in it because it has no light in it.

As a Christian who writes, I'm mindful of the struggle between the natural state of my being (the unlighted, hurting, painful side) and the lighted side which Christ brought into my life. The latter is infinitely more difficult to communicate to another person through any artistic medium, but particularly through the written word. I often wonder if God created artistic expression to give us an alternative method of communication when our normal methods of relating spiritual matters fail. But it's hard. Really hard. I never thought it would be so hard.

I guess what I'm trying to say in a long, disjointed, and rambling way is that darkness is our natural state of being. If we are going to be relevant to someone in Man's natural state of being, then we should be mindful that sometimes things will appear to be blindingly lit with Christ's light. If we want our fiction to be effective, I think we need to keep this in mind. It's like turning on the bedroom light in the middle of the night, when you're eyes are adjusted to the dark. We have a lot of people reading our work (Christians are no exception here, unfortunately) who are basically shriveled up and dormant. I think our work, as Christians, should be properly prepared soil, well-lit to be sure, but that only comes after the plant has sprouted and pushed up into the light.

Don't misunderstand what I'm saying. I'm NOT saying we should gloss over, cover up, or otherwise obscure Christianity to make it "palatable" to non-Christians. I'm actually proposing the opposite: that we should not just be mindful of the effect of Christ's light on someone in darkness, but to dig deep, cut to the jugular, and shine His light on things, be it in measured increments. If you do turn the bedroom light on in the middle of the night, how will people react? "Oh thank you, I'm so glad you turned on the light!" No? That's not how I would react. I would grab the heaviest book I could lay my hands on and chuck it at them.

All this is to say that I don't think we should write off the joyful, peaceful, and (dare I say it) happy nature of things in favor of that which can be communicated quickly and efficiently (and with far less talent) than the former. But I also don't think we can accurately capture true joy or true peace without understanding what those things are, or without using Man's natural state as a foil to compare and contrast. I suspect that a lack of understanding of what Joy and Peace are is the big stumbling block, though. If we don't understand them, then we try to communicate them in inferior ways, which leads to the complaint of work that is campy or "Hallmarky" with sentimentality. But I also don't think we should drive around with our bright lights on all the time and get mad at people when they react to that. Again, I'm not saying that we should water ourselves down. I'm saying we should distill ourselves into a more pure and potent form. We should become MORE interested in spiritual matters, not less. We should be talking MORE about God, not less. But in doing that, we ought to keep in mind that Paul himself said he had become "all things to all men so that I might win some."

We can't win someone to Christ through a book. Only a personal relationship with a real human can lead a person through the confusing slurry of emotions to faith in Christ. I think we should therefore de-emphasize campy tent-revival proselytization in favor of Flannery O'Connor-style hard-hitting spiritual questions. I think there is an audience (hopefully large enough to support several authors, since I don't intend on making a career out of writing for nothing :-) that is longing, aching, and dying of thirst for work that is lit up with life and doesn't shy away from the tough and painful consequences of living in a fallen universe that is slowly dying from the cancerous tumor that is Sin. I pray that I can use the talents God has currently entrusted in me and multiply them many times over so that when I am asked to return them, I can give Him back more than I was given.

I probably should do some work today.

The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord

Someone posted this to one of my writer's lists I subscribe too. It is really pretty funny, but in an intellectual way, not a Princess Bride sort of funny. More a geeky (or British) sort of way.

The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord

It's Just Funny

This has nothing to do with writing, but I found this post one of the funniest things I have read in a long time. International Hug-A-Squirrel day! Ha!

Some Strange and Curious Punishments

Just posted on Project Gutenberg's website:

Some Strange and Curious Punishments, Ticknor, 1886

It's a pretty interesting look at punitive correction in Ye Olde New England. Some of it seems extraordinarily harsh by today's standards, but I would hate to judge, over 300 years removed. It was a different, and harder time then. There wasn't such a thing as real personal liberty. Civil peace was maintained with great and undaunting zeal.

I enjoy reading this stuff in part because my job is boring, but mostly because it gives me a rich historical context for possible stories. I think that's where some writers shoot themselves in the foot: the refuse to experience life. I think you have to continuously put new information into your head about other times, other cultures in other times, and just the life experiences of people past and present. When it comes time to sit in front of the PowerBook (you do a Mac, don't you? No? Tsk. Tsk.,) you have a much richer palette of colors to inspire your work. Without it, you'll get writer's block and maybe give up, thinking you can't write that story you're working. Well, you can, but first you just need a little more back story, or some cultural pastiche, or a better understanding of the life your character would have lived.

Gutenberg.org is a never-ending supply of real-life history. By that, I mean, there are speeches people gave, diaries, newspapers, periodicals, &c. Try it, you'll like it!


The Flying Dutchman

I've been enjoying Frederick Marryat's retelling of the Flying Dutchman, The Phantom Ship.

It's a great adventure tale so far. Marryat was a fantastic storyteller and his writing is crisp, clear, and interesting. A highly recommended read.