Friday, December 30, 2005

Meet Xenia Ruiz: Rising Christian Latina Author

I dropped by Xenia Ruiz's blog for the first time today, and now I suggest y'all scoot on over and pay her a visit. Xenia's got a wonderful blog voice--feminine, strong, opinionated, smart, sassy, with a touch of humor, and very, very Latina.

While she and I'd bump heads on some political issues, no doubt--I am not a Bush-basher (voted for him twice), don't believe he's a racist, do think many white politicos care about non-whites (I'm married to a white fella and he cares very much about non-whites, especially me, my family, and our two African sponsored children)--we'd have lots of common ground.

Yep. We would.

I grew up in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in the South Bronx, have a great fondness for P.R. food and music, and think P.R. is one of the loveliest islands on God's earth. (Not prettier than Cuba, ahem, but ya know, I'm biased.) Shoot, I learned En Mi Viejo San Juan in grade school for a school pageant before I'd learned the words to the Cuban national anthem! Haven't been to Borinquen in decades, mind you, but my SIL is Boricua (mmmm...home made alcapurrias and pasteles) and I'd love to go back and walk the streets sipping agua de coco straight out of a fat, green coconut or a big glass of chilled mavi (one of the absolute best natural drinks ever created, better than root beer or birch beer or sarsaparilla or mate); dance on the beach to some vintage Gran Combo; and sip a cafe or gobble up a tembleque in some lovely spot in Viejo San Juan.

(If you're lost, see glossary below.)

I found the excerpt of her debut novel intriguing, and the cover rocks! I just shopping-carted the book over at amazon.com. The title is CHOOSE ME, and it's published by Walk Worthy Press, the folks who also publish Angela Benson.

Her blog goes by the name of AfroLatina Debut Author and is described by Xenia as a "journal documenting a Year-In-The-Life of a new author AFTER the book deal: including waiting, promotion, publicity, book release, book tour, and sales of my debut novel, CHOOSE ME (June 20, 2005)."

Don't know about you, but that's a journey that sounds totally fascinating to me. I want to follow along and see how it goes for her. Maybe you do, too.





"En Mi Viejo San Juan"= "In My Old San Juan"
agua de coco = coconut water
cafe= coffee, usually the espresso type Latins favor served in a demitasse (or a thimbleful in a tiny paper or plastic cup)
Borinquen=alternate term referring to the island of Puerto Rico
alcapurrias and pasteles= two different types of edibles, both filled with meat (one ground beef, the other usually pork), the first one ball-like and fried, the other rectangular and flat and wrapped in a plantain leaf then some wax paper and string (like a present!), then boiled to hot yumminess that's perfect with ketchup or hot sauce (or both)
Boricua=a person of Puerto Rican ethnicity
mavi=a drink made from the bark of the mavi tree
tembleque=a coconut-flavored dessert that's akin to custard
Gran Combo= a superb salsa band whose name literally means "The Great Group"

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Mir-of-a-Kind Interview with Marilynn "M-NOG" Griffith

MIR: Welcome to Mirathon, Marilyn (alias M-NOG). I am honored to be part of the MADE OF HONOR blog tour. Let's get the strangest question out of the way, so you can relax before the next mildly less weird question is posed.

Ever hear of the Rock Bottom Remainders--an amateur rock group made up a rotating line-up of famous authors such as Amy Tan, Dave Barry, and Stephen King? They perform regularly at the Miami Book Fair. If you had a Christian author gospel group called MAIDS OF MADE, which characters from your novel would be in the group, what would be the title of their signature song, and what would they wear to performances?

MG: Wow, what a question! Let's see. The MAIDS OF MADE would consist of Dana Rose, my main character, her back-stabbing sister Dahlia, and her friends Rochelle, Tracey and Austin. Their signature song would be Shackles by Mary Mary and they'd be wearing all the old bridesmaid dresses from the back of Dana's closet.

MIR: Tell all the lovely people--all twelve of them--who visit my blog with semi-regularity, why they should run to the store and buy MADE OF HONOR come January?

MG: Run, do not walk, to your nearest bookseller to buy MADE OF HONOR, because it's a funny, honest story about learning to love friends, family and even yourself when things go less than perfect. Not to mention that the book is full of great smells--candles, soaps, lotions and all the good stuff. Just the type of thing for a relaxing evening. It's fun, but it's serious too.

MIR: You're a writer of Christian fiction, and this novel is Christian Chick Lit. What is the spiritual truth your book carries thematically? (Hey, I asked a real, serious, normal, writerly question. How'd that happen?)

MG: MADE OF HONOR is about seeing what you're really made of and knowing that God loves you anyway. This book is about a woman discovering that everyone, including herself, isn't quite what she thought, and realizing that God still loves them all. Dana knows how to love, but she has to learn how to let her self be loved...both by God and the other people in her life.

MIR: Someone comes to you at a booksigning and says, "What blurb could I put on a t-shirt that would capture the feel and tone and plot of your novel?" How would you respond to this kindly lunatic before you ran to hide in the loo?

MG: MADE OF HONOR--Girlfriends, God and all the Giggles in between!
Of course there's some Godiva and tissues between the giggles, but that's the gist of it.

MIR: If I were a published author, my typical reader would fit this demographic: Over thirty, intelligent, a lover of Christ, who thinks all those Biblical plagues were ubercool, and we really should have more of them wiping out bad guys these days. My future-reader can't get enough of the books of Revelation and Hebrews and is a lover of British wit and absurd humor. She has really bad eyesight from reading too much in dim rooms, nurtures broody thoughts on rainy days and, occasionally, on sunny days as well, and will belt out a Sarah MacLachlan ballad if mildly provoked during melancholic phases. (Wait, I think that's me, not my reader.) And finally, she dreams of being a superheroine with cool leather outfits, saving the day with perfect hair while not gaining excess weight, ever.

Please describe your typical reader as you imagine her?

MG: Wow, I like this person! And I think she'll love my books too. My reader knows how to worship God and how to have fun too. She's the woman at the Bible study who can spill punch in her lap and turn it into a parable. She loves a good sale and cute shoes and wishes she had a better metabolism. She's big hearted, passionate, intelligent and could use a good nap.

MIR: How many hours will I need to set aside to read MADE OF HONOR and will I have to wear an ugly lemon-yellow dress while I do it?

MG: You can skip the dress, but if you do it, send me a picture for my blog! The book is 288 pages, so it's not too long. I can't really estimate time, since everyone reads differently (some savor, some devour), but so far, I've had one person stay up all night to finish it, so I guess it can be done.

MIR: If I had to describe my novel in three words, it would be: melancholic, romantic, and mystical. Describe MADE OF HONOR in three words that are much cooler than mine.

MG: You're pretty cool, Mir so that's hard to do. If I had to describe MADE OF HONOR in three words I'd have to go with: dramatic, intimate, funny.

MIR: You know how you sometimes hear on Christian radio the comparison phrase that goes like this, "If you like the secular band, Metallica, then you'll love this new album by the Christian group, Wrathling." (I made that name up, btw.)

Okay, so, what book would get compared to yours as an "if you like X by Jane YandZ,then you'll love MADE OF HONOR by Marilynn Griffith?"

MG: Oh man, a book compared to mine? I can only hope no one would be done this disservice. LOL Let's do this, I'll tell you some books that are serious fun to me, okay? Lisa Samson's TIGER LILLIE, Lisa Tucker's THE SONG READER, Jeanne Ray's EAT CAKE, Siri Mitchell's KISSING ADRIEN, Neta Jackson's YADA YADA PRAYER GROUP, and Tiffany Warren's WHAT A SISTA SHOULD DO.

MIR: And, since I brought it up, who would you compare to MADE OF HONOR, musically speaking?

MG: If you like Superchick, Margaret Becker, Mary Mary, Crystal Lewis, Yolanda Adams, Donnie McClurkin, Kirk Franklin, Nicole Mullen or Fred Hammond, you might enjoy MADE OF HONOR. (You might enjoy it regardless of who you listen to. :)

MIR: What is the one, all-encompassing, totally-vindicated secret of good writing that you made sure to employ in writing MADE OF HONOR?

MG: Secret? I don't know any. When you discover one let me know! LOL
I just fell in love with the characters and tried to fall deeper in love with Jesus. Somewhere along the way, we got a book.

MIR: Who are your three favorite writers, and will you be sending them free, autographed copies of MADE OF HONOR?

MG: Well, many of those folks are dead and probably wouldn't have been interested, but there are many writers who I respect who endorsed the book like Sharon Ewell Foster, Lisa Samson and Kristin Billerbeck.

MIR: That's an impressive list of endorsers. I've bought/read books by all of them! I'm jealous. Okay, next question. Are you afraid that answering my quirky questions will pretty much scare off your potential readers?

MG: Nah. If they hang around here, they don't scare easy. :) And if they've read my blog or actually met me, well... it doesn't get any scarier than that. LOL

MIR: Well, that's all I've got for you, M-NOG. Thanks oodles for visiting me here at Mirathon.

MG: Thanks for having me!

Note from Mir: Please see post immediately below for an excerpt from this soon-to-be-released novel. There's also a handy link below (in same post) in case you wish to purchase via amazon.com.

MADE OF HONOR: An Appetizing Portion For You to Snack On

I promised an excerpt, and here it is:

CHAPTER ONE


I'm turning into a Chia pet.

With legs.

Little children are starting to toss dandelions when they see me. The brides of Leverhill, Illinois have taught the kiddies well. One little darling from church, a cutie with zigzag parts and snaggle teeth, wants to grow up and take my job--big flower girl.

The little girl nailed it, especially about the big part, but we're not going there. Not today, with my formerly fat best friend looking like Twiggy goes bridal, while I gasp for breath in a dress fit for a train wreck. My only consolation is not having to worry about Tracey aiming a floral missile (known to some as a bouquet) at my head later on.

She wouldn't do me like that, would she?

Nah.

At least that's what I tell myself, but then I thought this wedding wouldn't happen either. Still, this bride is one of my closest friends and my roommate for the past three years. Tracey Cox, well, Tracey Blackman now, has picked enough baby's breath out of my teeth to know better.

Just in case though, a pint of Chunky Monkey and a pedicure appointment await me after this reception. Who knows? Tracey just might snap and throw long. Marriage does things to people. One day they're normal and the next they're inviting total strangers to wear ugly dresses in their weddings and then after the ceremony, said brides proceed to cut off all communication with members of the wedding party except for goofy Christmas photos of the newlyweds cradling an ugly dog, signed "from all of us." And don't let them actually get pregnant. Have you ever seen an entire album of birth photos? Not cute.

Do I sound bitter?

I'm not. I have friends. Sistahs even. And trying to keep up with them, keep my job and stay right with God occupies most of my time. Like now. I need to find Rochelle, my other best friend (yes, I have two) and founder of the Sassy Sistahood email list. If I don't catch up to her soon, she might make a fool of herself.

Or me.


Mir here: If you enjoyed that, you can find a longer excerpt at the author's blog, RHYTHMS OF GRACE.

Or better yet, buy the book.

Monday, December 26, 2005

What The Mir Looks Like, Just Add Five Years and Shake Gently

I hate to take pictures. I didn't even allow a photographer to record my wedding. All I have of that blessed, beautiful, wonderful event are snapshots my brother Fred and BIL Skipper took. My camera-phobia is a pain in the tuchis, but there ya go. We can't be perfect.

But, so you know who your friendly neighborhood Mir-blogger is, here is a pic I happen to have on my computer, only because it was taken by a dear online pal that I met on AOL in 1996. Five years ago, she and her handsome Texan hubby came to Miami with a digital camera in hand. We had dinner at a lovely Italian restaurant in Coral Gables. The following picture (I had ointment on my eyes for some dermatitis, eek) resulted:

Mir circa 2000  Posted by Picasa

God made me smart, not cute. And I have no idea what being thin feels like. Maybe someday I'll catch a temporary, non-lethal, not-too-horrible wasting disease and find out.

Stop laughing.

THE SASSY SISTAHOOD IS A-COMING!

Hey, do you go for Women's Fiction ? More specifically, do you like Chick Lit? And can you get into a story with a spiritual dimension? More specifically, a Christian dimension?

(If you have to ask what Women's Fiction or Chick Lit is, then, well, you probably don't already read it and need to go google yourself up some answers, one of which will be BEACHES and another will be BRIDGET JONES' DIARY. If you don't know what a Christian novel is like, well, you need to google "Christian Fiction" or just drop me a comment and I'll be happy to recommend something.)

Did you just say to yourself something like this: "Why yes, I do like fiction, and especially humorous fiction, like Chick Lit, and boy, do I love Jesus!"

Great. You'll want to stay tuned to this site for the next couple of days. I'll be posting a Mir-of-a-kind interview with Marilynn Griffith--M-Nog to me, but that's another story, and no, you can't call her that. I got dibs.

Marilynn's the author of MADE OF HONOR, a spanking new work of Christian Chick Lit published by Steeple Hill Cafe, one of the lines of the popular inspirational imprint of the Harlequin empire.



So, here's the plan:

1. Post an excerpt
2. Post the interview
3. Post my review
4. If all goes well, you go buy the book, as do a bunch of other people, who thereby make Marilynn so rich that I can hit her up for a pricey Mac.

(Yes, I'm kidding. But don't think I'm not fantasizing about big, beautiful, powerful, shiny, unsmudged computers dancing into my life. Who needs sugarplums when there are Macs to be had?)

It's exciting for M-Nog. Imagine how thrilled you'd be with your very own first novel-baby. So come by and wish her well and cheer her on. And, well, cheer me up, too, with happy comments about what a dazzling interviewer I am. Lie if you must.

Just don't tell the SASSY SISTAHOOD on me.

They'll make me wear pepto-bismol pink.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Meaning of Christmas...in God's Own Words (and a few of mine)

I could say a whole lot about this oh-so-thrilling holiday, the one that makes kids go wild the world over. But first, I'll let The Lord Himself speak on the matter, since He knows better than I what's what:

Luke 2:1-14
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them,

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”


And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”


And why did all this happen, Mir asks, rhetorically?


Galatians 4:4-6
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

~Yes, as the lovely modern Christmas song says to Mary, "Did you know...when you kissed your little baby, you kissed the face of God?" That's a stunning thought. That boggles my mind. But God does that--boggle, astound, overwhelm, awe.

So, remember, as you feast and sing and watch seasonal reruns and give thanks with those you love, that what we're celebrating is a true miracle, a work of wonder, and the most humble act in all of history--God becoming man, Creator becoming the created, the possessor of all becoming the possessor of nothing, the Almighty One becoming powerless.

For us.

Frankly, I'm not worth a drop of his sweat or a single second of him wearing coarse diapers. But I'm glad He thinks we are worth it. AMEN!

"Love came down...such a long time ago..."

MERRY CHRISTMAS and GOD BLESS US, EVERY ONE!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Merry Christmas to The Mir: First Place in THE SWORD REVIEW fiction contest

Well...I opened my e-mailbox and found some delightful news in there. I won THE SWORD REVIEW's first fiction contest. Oh, yeah. Makes a gal feel good to hear this:

"Voices From the Void" ...tells a story of intergalactic travel that is more about journeys to find self-understanding than reaching a destination. Why do we do what we do? The judges agreed across the board that this entry was tops!

You better believe that's got me grinning!

My story will appear in the January issue of this fun-to-read e-zine. I encourage you to visit THE SWORD REVIEW and browse. If you love SFF with a spiritual content, you should check out their columns or hang out in the forum with other Christian SFF enthusiasts. If you write Christian SFF, why not submit your poetry or fiction for consideration?

Merry Christmas to me!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Gift-Giving Suggestion, Part Dos

Okay, I hope y'all read my rant on Christmas, commercialism, greed, and innappropriate consumption, and how Christ should get the gifts (ie. helping the "least of these" in his name). If you haven't read my rant, head to November archives and do so. Waiting...

Right. That's done.

Now, a couple of simplish, home-made, tasty, inexpensive gifts you can make yourself and give to some--or all!--on your list. Neither will break your budget, and both will say, "I made these for you cause I care. Merry Christmas!"

My pals Terri and Lisa now explain, in their own words, how to prepare these delicious giveaways:

Terri’s Microwave Peanut Brittle

One cup sugar
One cup raw peanuts
1/2 cup light Karo syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp margarine
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda

Grease and set aside a cookie sheet or pizza pan.

In a microwave bowl, preferably with a handle, combine sugar, peanuts, Karo and salt.

Cook 2 minutes on high, then stir.
Cook 2 minutes on high, then stir.
Cook 2 minutes on high, then stir.
Cook 2 minutes on high, then stir.

Add margarine and vanilla, stir well.
Cook 1 minute on high.
Add baking soda, stir well.

Immediately pour out onto greased pan and shake to distribute and thin the brittle. Allow to cool completely before breaking into manageable pieces.

Store in an airtight container.

A few notes about this recipe:

Success depends on adjusting according to your microwave wattage. If your microwave is 1000 watts or less, you might try combining the last two 2 minute cookings into one so that the heat can build up sufficiently. Here are some estimates for varying microwave wattages:

The wattage thing is roughly as such:
for 900 watt ovens--cook twice for four minutes each on high, stirring thoroughly between cookings
for 1000 watt ovens--as written above
for 1100 watt ovens--You may have to actually decrease the cooking time to 4 periods of 1 minute 30 to 45 seconds each.

It’s a dance of sorts to get the brittle hot enough without burning it. My microwave is 1100 watts, so I have to cook for two minutes and stir in between or it burns. Other people cook for longer periods at lower settings, such as 90%. You may have to try a time or two to get it just right.

The other thing to remember is that this mixture is extremely hot and difficult to manipulate when you pour it out. A cooking bowl with a handle is just perfect. I use a large Pyrex batter bowl with a handle for better control. And work quickly. It sets up almost immediately.

Brittle is best made on clear, sunny days. Days of extremely high humidity are not the best for making brittle as it may be chewy.

Don’t be intimidated by the above. This is really a good recipe and I’ve only messed it up a time or two in 10 years.

Enjoy!


Lisa's Dipped Pretzels

Lisa says, "They look like you killed yourself, but they're pretty easy. We've done a variety of different pretzel shapes, but the big stick ones presented in a cup or small vase - or tied in a bundles with raffia -- have the most wow."

1. Buy good quality chocolate
(I prefer dark -- but milk or white works fine - chips are easiest or chop up the block first)

2. Dump it into a deepish bowl.

3. Microwave at high one minute at a time, stirring until just melted.

4. Dip each pretzel one-half to three quarters in - using a spoon to help cover as needed.

5. Then sprinkle on non-pareils
(I do this in a cake pan to catch the leftovers.)

It helps it use either wax paper or, best, the release non-stick foil to set them on. Let set at room temperature. Depending on a variety of factors, this can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 3 hours.

Then tie them up nicely and drop them into something pretty according to your own artistic preferences.

Merry Gift-Making and Gift-Giving!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

MARKED: The Briefest Gospel Gets The Comic Book Treatment...and it PETRAS!

Okay, so you got my little joke. Petra. Rock. "It rocks!"

I can be lame as anybody else.

Fortunately for me ('cause I paid for it) and for you ('cause you should run to buy it and glowingly review it) Steve Ross's fresh take on the shortest gospel is not a disappointment. I only just read it and I want to read it again. (No, really. That's not just hype. I do.)

I heard about it on Chris Well's nifty blog--a site not-too-coincidentally linked on my sidebar, to your left there, as "Chris Well's Nifty Blog," because it's his and his name is Chris Well and it's nifty and it's a blog. (Say those last sixteen words in squeaky falsetto a la the Python sketch about the dinosaur theory that featured Cleese in pinched-faced drag.)

With my newly revived interest in well-done comic books--er, graphic novels--I had to rush to amazon.com and get MARKED, which sounded like something I should sample. (Yes, I know. I'm a book junkie. I've learned to accept it and move on with my life with tomes in hand.)

It arrived yesterday. I read it today.

It's terrific.

MARKED is clever. It's got attitude. It's got gentle moments of compassion. It's got strong visuals that mix a bag of emotions together and toss them at you. It's got humor. It captures the essence of what the evangelist wrote: a very active Son of God, a very troubled world, imperfect followers, even more imperfect antagonists, wisdom, courage, mercy, grace, death, and victory over death.

I recommend it.

I dare you not to laugh at mad-eyed John the Baptizer and the running headlines that cover the main events of that prophet's activities--even as you'll be horrified (rightly so) by the front page spread of his demise and its timeliness given some of our recent front page news. I dare you not to be thrilled at some really fine creative moments, such as the Gadarene's encounter with the Christ or the incident of transfiguration on the mount. I dare you not to feel ferklempt over the incident of Christ's meeting with the leper. I dare you not to holler, "Cool!" every few pages. And do tell me if you've seen the resurrection handled anywhere quite like this, ever. I haven't. I had to actually stop and ...STOP. No, really, I had one of those blank moments of, "What?" And I had to think. I like when creative folk make me stop and think. I like when creative folk stir things up. Steve Ross achieves this with MARKED.

The Mir's thumb is way up.

(As opposed to the thumb of the Jesus on the cover of MARKED, whose thumb is actually pointing to his right, my left, and a bit down. Well, it's a good cover. Go see.)

Note: You can also play, "Find the famous person" with this. Can you find a great black leader? Can you find the is-he-dead-or-isn't-he rocker? Anyone else?

I have no idea how to do that book-cover-icon-link thingie to amazon (or anyplace else), so just click on whatever links to MARKED I have around this post if you wanna read other reviews or just, ya know, buy it. :)

And since I've already mentioned Chris Well's Nifty Blog (thrice), I wanted to mention he's got an interview with R.K. Mortensen, author of LANDON SNOW & THE AUCTOR'S RIDDLE posted there. If you like Christian fantasy fiction of the YA variety, you may want to drop by, read the interview, and see if the book is up your literary alley. Or your kid's. Or your niece's or nephew's.

And if there's anyone of any age in your family who can read pretty well and needs to see the gospel presented innovatively, or if there's anyone in your circle who loves comics, or anyone who fits both those "if there's", give him or her or them MARKED.

It's the holiday season. Books make kicking gifts.

But you knew that, because you read my FIFTEEN COMMENTS ON BOOKS below, right?

Books petra!

MIR UPDATE: TECHNOLOGICAL BREAKTHROUGH--I have figured out how to do that icon/amazon thingie. Voila:

Friday, December 09, 2005

THE RAVISHING REPETITION, THE EXQUISITE ECHO, & THE PULCHRITUDINOUS PARALLEL

WARNING: If you hate poetry, this post is of no use to you, except maybe to awaken your deadened and decaying soul, you barbaric zombie of the anti-aesthetic wastelands, you!

WELCOME: If you love poetry, sit by me, you illuminated being, and I'll let you peek into my shining heart.

I decided this past week to dive into one of my favorite poetry anthologies--A BOOK OF LUMINOUS THINGS, edited by Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz. Within its gentle pages lives a poem I like very much indeed and revisit with regularity. I like it for reasons I cannot clearly explain with Roman numerals and lettered subheadings or with bullets, asterisks, and footnotes. But I'll try: It makes me feel good. It puts me into a sort of semi-dreamy mood. It is lovely to read aloud. It has a profundity hidden in its simplicity. How'd I do?

Having no clear concept of what's fair use, I'll only quote a small bit, which will be insufficient and leave you bereft, really:

In the middle of the road there was a stone
there was a stone in the middle of the road
there was a stone
in the middle of the road there was a stone.


If you laughed, I am giving you the evil eye.

(NOTE: For those who revile the use of "there was," this is a magnificent usage of this construction. See my previous post on this usage issue for more.)

It's called, fittingly enough, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD, and it was written by Carlos Drummond de Andrade. The complete poem may be found here.

Now, please take a moment to read it aloud.

Isn't there something that is greater than the parts there? Oh, and wait until you read the last stanza. You either get it or you don't. And if you do, you are a kindred spirit of mine.

Another poet (poetess?) I am drawn to--although I have misplaced my volume of her selected poetry--is Edith Sodergran. In her poem, WHAT IS TOMORROW?--which you can find in the terrific anthology LOVE POEMS BY WOMEN, edited by Wendy Mulford--she uses repetition oh-so-beautifully. Here is a snippet:

I shall leave you with a certainty like no other:
I shall come back as a fragment of your own pain.
I shall come to you from another sky with a new resolve.
I shall come to you from another star with the same look.
I shall come to you with my old longing in new features.


Those lines make me shudder. They make me want to write better than it's possible for me to write. They make me want to bow, to genuflect, to cross myself, as if I were in the presence of a holy thing. Does it do anything to you? Read it again. Imagine yourself with that force of conviction, that anger, that passion. Now, are you tingling?

I am.

The Bible has beautiful elements of repetition--think of the Lord's supper, the first chapter of John, the Psalms. (The more technical term is parallelism.) Have you read Psalm 29 lately? Let's take a look:

Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones.
Give unto the Lord glory and strength.
Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name.
(verses 1-2a)

The voice of the Lord is powerful;
The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars,
Yes, the Lord splinters the cedars of Lebanon.
(verse 4-5)

Look for the use of repetition in the narrative books as well--such as in the creation story--and enjoy it, feel the power and loveliness of it, rather than thinking, "Well, why are they saying this again in the same way?"

Some writers use repetition in their stories--purposely. I think it's a silly bugaboo when some critiquer says, "Well, you used the word 'good' too often in this section." (Hemingway did, too, I might add.) I think the important questions are these:

~1. Is the repetition accidental, a result of lazy writing or hasty proofing or a limited vocabulary?

or

~2. Is the repetition a purposeful use of sound and meaning to enhance the voice of a narrator or give the story a certain air?

I'm a fan of skillful use of repetition. But you noticed that already.

And so, there's that stone, in the middle of the road, yes, in the middle of the road, that stone.

Friday, December 02, 2005

FIFTEEN COMMENTS ON BOOKS as requested by Mrs. Camy "Story Sensei" Tang

Comment on books #1: G.K. Chesterton said, "fiction is a necessity." This statement sums up a good portion of who I am. I exist, in part, to read. Another part exists to consume enchiladas and chocolate mousse and lasagna. Yet another part exists to gaze worshipfully upon my husband and bestow smooches upon his rosy cheeks. The best part exists to love God. But, oh, a good third of me--more some years, depends--exists to read stories. I have a sneaking suspicion heaven will be full of amazing storytellers telling amazing stories.

Comment on books #2: Books feel good. I like holding books. I shudder with pleasure over beautiful fonts, quality non-glossy paper, and well-designed covers. I will sometimes buy a book simply for the beauty of the binding and the artwork, and may never even read it, content with the pure physical pleasure of the object called "book." My husband is very good about not making jolly fun of me for this.

Comment on books #3: I like to sleep with books under, over, and around me.

Comment on books #3: "In the beginning was the word." The word is also omega. All that exists, other than God, began with words and ends with the Word, and is sustained by words from the Word. That tells me that books, the holders of words, are more important than many of us realize, and the importance defies technology and time. And maybe, when I take pleasure in a story, God is right there, reading along with me, taking pleasure, too, because, after all, he's the Master Storyteller and World-builder.

Comment on books #4: I really, really like that books are so flexible, so fluid, that they perfectly adapt themselves to my pace. They are as fast as I am fast, and as slow as I am slow, and sometimes, we both take a nap. Amazing, isn't it?

Comment on books#5: My favorite romance novel is THE SHADOW AND THE STAR by Laura Kinsale. My favorite Christian romance novel is REDEEMING LOVE by Francine Rivers.

Comment on books #6: My favorite science fiction book is DUNE by Frank Herbert (with MORE THAN HUMAN by Ted Sturgeon close behind and DANGEROUS VISIONS edited by Harlan Ellison trailing Teddy S.) My favorite Christian science-fiction story is FIREBIRD by Kathy Tyers.

Comment on books #7: My favorite fantasy book is too difficult to choose, because fantasy delights me and is my favorite genre. Try a Tanith Lee novel of Flat Earth, or a Jane Yolen, or a Robin McKinley, or a Patricia McKillip, or vist Middle Earth, or pick up one of Datlow and Windling's anthologies of grown-up fairy tales, or read the SANDMAN stories by Neil Gaiman, or get to know McCaffrey's dragons, or Ursula K. LeGuin's wizards, or Aslan. The pickings are too beguiling to narrow it down to one.

Comment on books #8: My favorite religious novel is FATHER ELIJAH by Michael D. O'Brien.

Comment on books #9: I think I would like to be buried in a crypt piled high with books, and me somewhere deep within the lovely clutter, a copy of the book of Psalms lying over my eyes.

Comment on books #10: The best book in the whole universe is The Bible, which is really a collection of pretty impressive books, which cover the span of time from zero to endgame and even touch the hem of eternity, which is an amazing bit of scope, and which was written by God himself. It's kind of hard to ignore a book written by God, but people do, which says more about how dumb people are, than about how good a writer God is, dontcha think?

Comment on books #11:
There once was a reader named Mir
Who found being bookless her fear,
So she filled up her purse,
Her car trunk and, worse,
All her bathrooms with tomes old and dear.

Comment on books #12: A room without books is a space that is in danger of falling into the void.

Comment on books #13: There is a name for people like me who love books and reading: bibliophile. It is composed of the Greek words for book (biblion) and love (philos). I like this word, but not as much as I like books, cause I love books, which is why I'm a bibliophile. So, is a person who hates books a bibliophobe?

Comment on books #13: I've heard that the word book comes from the Old English word bok, which stands for beech, and that beech bark was used as paper. I haven't verified this. Feel free to research the matter.

Comment on books #14: Have you ever had a fantasy of being a great scholar who time-travels to ancient Alexandria to peruse the literary treasures of the Great Library, all those priceless books consigned to flames by the conquering Caliph?

Oh, you haven't? Never mind.

Comments on books #15: Once upon a time, there was a perky, sweet, and very cute writer-damsel named Camy, who knew an equally darling writer-damsel named Dineen, who, in tag team fashion, conspired to provoke an obscure, but occasionally fetching and interesting blogger-princess, one not famed for humility, mind you, by name of Mir, to post fifteen comments on her blog on the subject of books.

Princess Mir, who lived in a cluttered and dusty kingdom ruled by herself and Prince Charles (the hunky one with engineering prowess in Miami, not the smug twit in London), pondered this demand for, oh, eleven seconds tops, and decided, "Why not?"

With tools in hand, Princess Mir was able to build up a great heap of comments without undue stress or perspiration, and even was reputed to have slain two dragons in between comments #2 and #3, causing the whole of the kingdom to rejoice, and enacting the fourth clause of the thousandth-and-one decree, that states unequivocably and irrevocably that there shall be a bonus comment #3 created as part of any dragon-slaying celebration. (No, really, the decree sayeth so.)

While writing comment #12, Princess Mir talked the great and toothsome prince with the sleepy eyes into putting himself to bed. The sheer beauty of the prince so delighted Princess Mir, that she added an extra comment #13 to mark the joyful Moment of Beholding.

Ultimately, in the dark, wee hours of night, when fifteen comments are prone to expanding into seventeen, came a sudden moment of great wisdom. Princess Mir realized that there was truly only one comment that was needed to be said on the subject of books, one remark that loomed above all comments as truth unvarnished. So, Princess Mir, glowing with illumination, decided to conclude her list with the comment that should have sufficed from the start, and for all time to come:


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Books rule! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The "It was" and "There Was" Brouhaha

Discussion erupted on one of my writing loops about the rightness or wrongness of using the terms "there was" or "it was" (or variations thereof) in writing. I take the side that such constructions are fine. They serve a purpose, more than one even. They can work as placeholder pronouns (the "dummy pronoun"). They can be phrases that refer to an existential condition that doesn't require a clarifying antecedent.

Since the matter arose on a loop of fiction writers, I decided to take a tour of the canon of literature and see how the masters of the art--Dickens, Twain, Bronte, Crane, Conrad, Eliot, Tolkien, Woolf, etc--side on the matter. Do they use "there was" and "it was" in those problematic ways.

Yes. Yes. Yesyesyesyesyes. Yes.

(With no apologies whatsoever to Joyce.)

I hereby offer the examples I gleaned from the classics:

First Line of JANE EYRE (my fave classic novel):
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

First sentence of LORD OF THE RINGS by JRR Tolkien:
When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.

From the first page of CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT by Mark Twain:
It was a soft, reposeful summer landscape, as lovely as a dream, and as lonesome as Sunday. The air was full of the smell of flowers, and the buzzing of insects, and the twittering of birds, and there were no people, no wagons, there was no stir of life, nothing going on.

From the opening pages of ETHAN FROME by Edith Wharton:
It was during their night walks back to the farm that he felt most intensely the sweetness of this communion.

From page one of THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE by Stephen Crane:
There was much food for thought in the manner in which he replied. He came near to convincing them by disdaining to produce proofs. They grew excited over it.
There was a youthful private who listened with eager ears to the words of the tall soldier and to the varied comments of his comrades.

From the opening page of THE SECRET GARDEN by F. H. Burnett:
There was something mysterious in the air that morning.

From the opening page of THE TURN OF THE SCREW by Henry James:
It was thrown in as well, from the first moment, that I should get on with Mrs. Grose in a relation over which, on my way, in the coach, I fear I had rather brooded...
...But it was a comfort that there could be no uneasiness in a connection with anything so beatific as the radiant image of my little girl, ...

From the first page of HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad:
On the whole river there was nothing that looked half so nautical. He resembled a pilot, which to a seaman is trustworthiness personified. It was difficult to realize his work was not out there in the luminous estuary, but behind him, within the brooding gloom.
Between us there was, as I have already said somewhere, the bond of the sea.

From the first paragraph of MOBY DICK by Herman Melville
With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this.

From page two of THE ADVENTURES OF PETER PAN by J.M. Barrie:
For a week or two after Wendy came it was doubtful whether they would be able to keep her, as she was another mouth to feed...
...There was the same excitement over John, and Michael had even a narrower squeak; but both were kept, and soon, you might have seen the three of them going in a row to Miss Fulsom's Kindergarten school, accompanied by their nurse.

The first page of THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ by L. Frank Baum:
There were four walls, a floor and a roof, which made one room; and this room contained a rusty looking cookstove, a cupboard for the dishes, a table, three or four chairs, and the beds. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em had a big bed in one corner, and Dorothy a little bed in another corner. There was no garret at all, and no cellar--except a small hole dug in the ground, called a cyclone cellar, where the family could go in case one of those great whirlwinds arose, mighty enough to crush any building in its path.

From the first page of THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER by Mark Twain:
There was a slight noise behind her and she turned just in time to seize a small boy by the slack of his roundabout and arrest his flight.

The first paragraph of A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair...

From chapter one of ROBINSON CRUSOE, by Daniel Dafoe:
It was not till almost a year after this that I broke loose, though, in the meantime, I continued obstinately deaf to all proposals of settling to business, and frequently expostulated with my father and mother about their being so positively determined against what they knew my inclinations prompted me to.

From the first page of MIDDLEMARCH by George Eliot:
It was hardly a year since they had come to live at Tipton Grange with their uncle, a man nearly sixty, of acquiescent temper, miscellaneous opinions, and uncertain vote.

From the first page of THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO by E. A. Poe:
It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season, that I encountered my friend.

From the second page of FRANKENSTEIN, by Mary Shelley:
There was a considerable difference between the ages of my parents, but this circumstance seemed to unite them only closer in bonds of devoted affection. There was a sense of justice in my father's upright mind, which rendered it necessary that he should approve highly to love strongly. Perhaps during former years he had suffered from the late discovered unworthiness of one beloved, and so was disposed to set a greater value on tried worth. There was a show of gratitude and worship in his attachment to my mother...

From the beginning pages of DRACULA by Bram Stoker:
I did not sleep well, though my bed was comfortable enough, for I had all sorts of queer dreams. There was a dog howling all night under my window, which may have had something to do with it; or it may have been the paprika, for I had to drink up all the water in my carafe, and was still thirsty...
...It was on the dark side of twilight when we got to Bistritz, which is a very interesting old place.

First page of ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by L.M. Montgomery:
There are plenty of people in Avonlea and out of it, who can attend closely to their neighbor's business by dint of neglecting their own; but Mrs. Rachel Lynde was one of those capable creatures who can manage their own concerns and those of other folks into the bargain.

First sentence of THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS by Lewis Carroll:
One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it: -- it was the black kitten's fault entirely.

From page one of ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND by L. Carroll:
There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, `Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!'

From page two of MRS. DALLOWAY by Virginia Woolf:
For it was the middle of June. The War was over, except for some one like Mrs. Foxcroft at the Embassy last night eating her heart out because that nice boy was killed and now the old Manor House must go to a cousin; or Lady Bexborough who opened a bazaar, they said, with the telegram in her hand, John, her favourite, killed; but it was over; thank Heaven-over. It was June. The King and Queen were at the Palace. And everywhere, though it was still so early, there was a beating, a stirring of galloping ponies, tapping of cricket bats;

From page one of RAVELSTEIN by Saul Bellow (Nobel Laureate):
I filled up a scribbler with quotes from Mencken and later added notes from spoofers or self-spoofers like W. C. Fields or Charlie Chaplin, Mae West, Huey Long, and Senator Dirksen. There was even a page on Machiavelli's sense of humor.

From page two of HALF A LIFE by V.S. Naipaul (Nobel Laureate):
There was a lot more about the temple and the crowds and the clothes they were wearing, and the gifts of coconut and flour and rice they had brought, and the afternoon light on the old stones of the courtyard. Everything the maharaja's headmaster had told him was there, and a few other things besides. Clearly the headmaster had tried to win the admiration of the writer by saying very good things about my various vows of denial. There were also a few lines, perhaps a whole paragraph, describing--in the way he had described the stones and the afternoon light--the serenity and smoothness of my skin.

From the first page of A GRIEF OBSERVED by C.S. Lewis:
There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.
There are moments, most unexpectedly, when something inside me tries to assure me that I don't really mind so much, not so very much, after all. Love is not the whole of a man's life.

From page one of ZLATEH THE GOAT AND OTHER STORIES by Isaac Bashevis Singer (Nobel Laureate):
Somewhere, sometime, there lived a rich man whose name was Kadish. He had an only son who was called Atzel. In the household of Kadish there lived a distant relative, an orphan girl, called Aksah. Atzel was a tall boy with black hair and black eyes. Aksah was somewhat shorter than Atzel, and she had blue eyes and golden hair. Both were about the same age. As children, they ate together, studied together, played together. Atzel played the husband; Aksah, his wife. It was taken for granted that when they grew up they would really marry.

A teeming chorus of literary masters answers from within the pages of their beloved works: Yes. Use "there was." Use "it was." Don't be afraid. If the telling of your tale calls for it, use these language tools.

On my desk at this very moment is my copy of WINTER'S TALE by Mark Helprin, which begins thusly: "There was a white horse..."

On my nighttable at this very moment is a King James Bible, whose first page speaks in an English that pre-dates the Brontes and Dickens, and it says:


And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.


And you know what? There was.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Quote For Today: Advice to Artists

Michael D. O'Brien, the Catholic author of FATHER ELIJAH (one of my top ten novels of all time) has written "An Open Letter to Fellow Artists" at his website.

Here is an excerpted quote:

Go to the very source. Go to Christ and ask for all that you need, ask for growth in skill, for the spirit of perseverance, for faith and courage and love. Ask for a spirit of discernment in order to find your way through the fog of our times. Ask for humility and faithfulness, and for the ability to incarnate Truth in beautiful forms. Be a servant of the One who is the source of all Beauty. Be his beloved. Be very little, and trust in this absolutely.

Oh, how I want to "incarnate truth in beautiful forms."

Thursday, November 24, 2005

WRITING A NOVEL IS... A round-up of ACFW member replies

A previous post collected several similes by various authors answering the question: "What is writing a novel like?"

I asked the question on the main loop of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a terrific organization, well worth joining by any of you interested in writing stories, plays, screenplays, and (especially) novels with a Christian spiritual content.

These are the replies I received:

~Writing a novel is like putting on pantyhose:
At first you start out enthusiastically and everything falls into place. Then things get tougher and you work and stretch to make it all fit. Through sweat and tears, the end approaches. You suffocate under the pressure, but manage to squeeze everything into place. When you finally see the finished product, you're relieved and pleased. All the effort was worth it.
--Gina Conroy

~Writing a novel is like walking the dog. Sometimes the dog pulls you
barrelling forward, other times he's doing his own thing and you have
to stop and wait, other times he's sniffing every which direction and
you have to do a convoluted backtrack. It's never straightforward,
predictable, or in your control, even if you are holding the leash.
After all, who's the one picking up who's poo-poo?
--Camy Tang

~Writing a novel is like boiling an egg. You're never quite sure when it's done.
--Vasthi R. Acosta

~Writing a novel is like giving birth. There is the joy of it growing from the tiniest germ of an idea until it matures enough to push out into the world.
--Alice K. Arenz

~Writing a novel is like...having your life to do over again.
--Deb Kinnard

~Writing a novel is devotion to the character's cause all the way to completion!
--Jennifer Clark Vihel

~Writing a novel is like cooking dinner. You have a several things brewing in many different pots. Timing is crucial.
--Betsy St. Amant

~Writing a novel is freeing, frustrating, exhilirating, gut-wrenching and dream-fulfilling when you're over 60.
--Bonnie Engstrom

~Writing a novel is like learning to play golf. It looks easy. You can't imagine what all the fuss is about. You pick up a club, or a pen, and realize maybe a lesson or two wouldn't hurt.
--Peg Brantley

~Writing a novel is like raising a puppy.
--Gail Sattler

~Writing a novel is like being in love for the first time over and over and over again. You get to fall in love with the characters, with parts of yourself, with the world around you, and with God on different levels, in different ways, even in different times and places--this is has got to be the coolest job in the world!
--Staci Stallings

~Writing a novel is the ultimate in highs and lows, like eating dark chocolate one day and scraping your fingernails across the chalkboard the next.
--Marion Kelley Bullock

~Writing a novel is a giraffe of a project, needing to cough up a lump of words.
--Ane Mulligan

Hope you enjoyed those.

I'd like to close with one that I liked a great deal, one I agree with, even though it's an answer to a more general question than the one I originally posed:

~Writing is worship.
--Katie Byers-Dent

AMEN!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I Gave Up Comics When I "Grew Up." Really Dumb Decision.

Like most, I first dipped my toes into and swam in the sea of comic-book-dom in my childhood. We're talking the sixties/seventies. (Spring gone. I'm a mid-autumn chicken.)

If you're middle aged, you may have read the same stuff I did back then:
~ARCHIE: I loved Veronica's total self-confidence, her black shiny hair, and her moolah; but I coveted Betty's perky goodness. I sure didn't want Archie, though.
~CREEPSHOW and TALES FROM THE CRYPT: I still like scares and enjoy a good horror novel now and then.
~ROMANCE comic books: They surely predestined me to a later addiction to romance novels
~SUPERHERO comics, mostly MARVEL: Dr. Strange, Daredevil, Thor, Hulk, The Fantastic Four, Avengers, which featured my especially beloved Vision. I heard they killed him off later. Bummer. Glad I missed that. And, of course, X-MEN, the comic book that fed many a fantasy of being a kick-butt flying gal and that taught me that hairy, wisecracking, cranky guys with cowlicks could be ever-so-alluring, and prepped me to love alpha romance heroes.

Thankfully, hubby is not cranky or hairy, but he does wisecrack and sport this clump of hair near his crown that...never mind.

I stopped reading comic books (and attending conventions--how geeky is that?) at the age of 23 or so. I'd had a lousy, brief romance in the summer of '80 with a comic art dealer, which nearly killed the genre for me. But after darkness, the sun: My hubby and I met through the unwitting assistance of the owner of a local comics book store, and that redeemed the genre for me for a while. Hubby had a large collection. After reading through some of his old-time goodies--vintage Dr. Strange, Spiderman, She-Hulk, X-Men, etc-- that was the end of that. Fork, thermometer. I was done.

I chose to dwell in the realm of stories unadorned with seriously tacky outfits. I had art books for pictures. Novels for prose. I was a grown-up.

Big, big mistake.

How was I to know that not too long after I quit the medium that huge things would happen in Comic Book World?

Obviously, prophecy ain't my gift.

So, what did I miss in the 80's and 90's?

Well, WATCHMEN, for one, the comic book series--er GRAPHIC NOVEL--that has found a place on several "best of" reading lists, including TIME's best 100 novels. WATCHMEN is getting new buzz. Entertainment Weekly's recent article on its influence on super-popular writers such as Neil Gaiman and Joss Whedon and rumors of a film are stoking new fevers.

It's worth catching this bug.

This is a dark, complex,beautiful meshing of great story, intriguing characters and artwork. Look at the panels closely. Watch for recurring motifs. Look at how the writer, Alan Moore, adds layers and uses a comic within a comic to add depth, to enhance. Plus, you get one of the most mental, yet root-for-able anti-superheroes ever: Rorschach. I was waving pom-poms for the sugar-crunching psycho with the ever-changing ink-blot mask. The issue where you get inside the nearly omnipotent Dr. Manhattan's now-is-past-is-future-is-now-is-always perspective is astonishingly good. WATCHMEN is the only graphic novel, I believe, to have won the HUGO award. It deserved it. And if Gaiman and Whedon both judge it as a major influence to their own work, we're talking about something that really is not just good storytelling, but landmark.

Speaking of Whedon, that's the guy who brought me BACK to comic books. Er, I mean graphic novels? Oh, forget it. They're comics to me, and that's that.

How did he do this, you may ask?

Well, I'm a BUFFY The VS and ANGEL fanatic and an admirer of FIREFLY/SERENITY. Joss wrote those shows. (You knew that, right?) So, when I happened upon the first volume of his comic book series THE ASTONISHING X-MEN, I had to have it. And when I read it, I hyperventilated with excitement. The artwork is so much better than anything I had growing up. And the storytelling is top-notch. The man knows how to make you keep reading and go, "ooooh." The next bound collection is due out this week. You know I'll be getting mine! If you're smart, you'll get both, volumes one and two. Trust me.

Now, Joss brought me back with X-Men. Which immediately lead me to order his FRAY, a futuristic vampire-slayer story, from my local comics book supplier, Glen Lightfoot, owner of a shop named VILLAINS. FRAY got me looking for other recent comics that I might enjoy. My searching led me to...

...J.M. Straczynski, creator/writer of Babylon 5, a fabulous, five-year, science-fiction television epic. One of my fave television series ever. Naturally, I bought Joe's comic SUPREME POWER. Wow. Thought-provoking work with characters that are alter-egos (darker, revisionist ones) of well-known comic characters of the past, such as Wonder Woman, Superman, Flash and others. I recommend the bound volumes. Three are out already. The last one ended on a helluva lesson from the alter-ego Superman to all those who manipulated him. I did say "Wow," right?

And all this leads me to the current series I'm reading, one I missed out on the first time round--cause, yeah, you know, I stopped reading comics yadda yadda. SANDMAN.

SANDMAN!

Neil Gaiman is a brilliant fella. He's taken historical/Biblical figures(Shakespeare, G.K Chesterton, Cain, Abel, Eve, Lucifer, etc) and mythic-literary figures (Orpheus, Calliope, Thor, Odin, Titania, Oberon, Puck, etc), added a delicious Goth element, and many fine quotes from and allusions to classic literature. He then added the earth and air of his own vast imaginings to produce a complex and fascinating cosmos full of angels and devils, and books that were never written, and gods who wear black leather and punk hairdos, and flawed humanity in various pained forms. In the middle of this he drops beings who have existed nearly forever--the Endless ones. The leading character is an endless one, and his name is DREAM. And Oneiros. And Morpheus, the Lord of the Dreaming, which is his kingdom. And his name is also... Sandman.

I read the first bound edition of the series, Preludes & Nocturnes, bought handily at Glen's shop... and was hooked. I subsequently bought every other volume of the 10-part bound series in one swoop over at amazon.com. (AMEN for gift certificates.)

I have one more thing to say about SANDMAN, the series: READ IT NOW.

On a more current note: I've started buying a new comic book series by Warren Ellis called FELL. The artwork--by artist Ben Templesmith--is different and pleases my senses. He has a great use of white. No, I kid you not. It's "artsy" and moody and minimalist, and sometimes clever, and sometimes gruesome, and not-at-all what I grew up staring at back in my youthful days of comic feastings. The afterwords by the writer are a big part of the pleasure, I find. And each issue is less than two bucks. The writer planned it that way. How nice to find someone thinking of readers' budgets.

If you enjoy comics/graphic novels now, keep reading them. I'm a cautionary tale-teller. Whenever you think a medium is dead, it might just be ready to resurrect.

If you are a writer-apprentice, study WATCHMEN and SANDMAN and ASTONISHING X-MEN and SUPREME POWER and learn. Yes, very good storytelling can come with cool graphics, too.

Comics book. Not just for kids anymore.

Not for a long time, apparently. Duh me.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Writing a Novel is...

If someone has the vaccine against the Writing Procrastination Flu, please come to my house, where the pandemic is in full force.

No, I'm not kidding.

The hurricane got me so sidetracked, that I lost momentum. Today, things are brewing in my head, but I still avoid the actual page work.

Part of my dilly-dallying consisted of a web search using the phrase, "Writing a novel is." Just for your enjoyment, I offer you some of the results:

*Writing a novel is actually searching for victims. As I write I keep looking for casualties. The stories uncover the casualties.
John Irving

*Writing a novel is like making love, but it's also like having a tooth pulled. Pleasure and pain. Sometimes it's like making love while having a tooth pulled.
Dean Koontz

*Writing a novel is easy. Writing a good novel is hard.
Randy Ingermanson

*Writing a novel is like beginning an investigation, and you don't quite know where that investigation will take you.
Ian McEwan

*Writing a novel is a little like training with weights. And writing short stories is the sprint you get to have without them.
Pam Lewis

*Writing a novel is like solving a puzzle: you just have to keep at it till it’s done, but it feels so good when you get there.
Elizabeth Inness-Brown

*Writing a novel is like swimming through the sea.
John Fowles

*Writing a novel is like taking a long trip.
Anne Tyler

*Writing a novel is kind of like building the Taj Mahal, in the dark, by hand.
Nalo Hopkinson

*Writing a novel is the most difficult thing I have done in my entire life.
Shree Ghatage

*Writing a novel is more like a marriage; you live with it every day, you work at it.
Mary Morris

*Writing a novel is like walking across the country: I've got my map in front of me, know where to change freeways... I don't necessarily know exactly how the road will twist and turn along the way, but at least I know which cities I'll be passing through next.
Adam Cadre

*Writing a novel is an act of egotistical self-assertion.
Philip Kerr

*Writing a novel is like driving a car with a flat tire. You have to see which way it pulls.
Jennifer Wasilko Haigh

*Writing a novel is sort of a way to fix things.
Barry Siegel

*Writing a novel is like jumping off the Eiffel Tower. It’s a long fall, and you need to know where you’re going to land.
Michael Byers

*Writing a novel is much like scaling a mountain. The task is fierce, with many unexpected turns, near tragedies, frustrating standstills, and miles of uphill sluggin'.
Shane Wiebe

*Writing a novel is like carrying a very large, heavy suitcase in your brain.
Claudia Casper

*Writing a novel is a most peculiar business.
Natasha Cooper

*Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
E.L. Doctorow

*Writing a novel is a stormy thing
Douglas Clegg

*Writing a novel is mostly pure pleasure
David Ignatius

*Writing a novel is like telling a long lie to a psychiatrist.
Ernest Hebert

*Writing a novel is like navigating in the open sea.
Tarun J. Tejpal

*Writing a novel is one of the biggest, craziest, most mathematically unsound bets one can make.
Pete Hautman

*Writing a novel is a lot like playing God.
Darline Dorce-Coupet

*Writing a novel is a lot like a striptease -- there has to be a slow unveiling of key pieces of information.
Tom Grace

*Writing a novel is like potato salad; everybody has a different recipe.
Dennis Lehane

*Writing a novel is like building a castle and in some cases, people build the things too big and put too much crap in them.
Steven Francis Murphy

*Writing a novel is quite stupid work.
Zadie Smith

*Writing a novel is the very finest thing a person can do.
Irving D. Yalom, M.D.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Ugh! Christmas Ads Already. Behold! My Gift-Giving Suggestion, Part Uno

It makes The Mir cranky, it sorely vexes the Mir, to see Christmas retail ads weeks before THANKSGIVING, for St. Peter's Sake!

There, I've vented.

Now, I'm going to segue into my regularly scheduled, end-of-year rant about consumerism among Christians at Christmastime. Ready to get offended? Good.

Off I go:

In contrast to the ads begging you to purchase consumer yumyums to satisfy all your fleshly desires--and I know about fleshly desires of the Valrhona chocolate, Barnes & Noble, Family Bookstores, music cds, dvds, and Easy Spirit shoes type--I'd like to offer a suggestion for Christmas gift-giving for all the adults in your family and among your friends: Give Jesus the present. In the name of your loved one.

Hey, it's HIS birthday we celebrate on Christmas, not yours or yours or hers or theirs or mine. His.

Jesus's.

(Unless, er, you were actually born December 25th, in which case, here, have a scrumptious cake and this shiny box of goodies.)

So, how do you give to Jesus? It's, ahem, a piece of cake.

He already told us how. Give to the "least of these." If you give to those who do not have, who have real need as opposed to mere want, those who are downcast and oppressed, the hungry and thirsty and naked, and you do it out of love for God, then you're giving to Christ. You've just handed him the wrapped box with a big irridescent bow.

News Flash: The Body of Christ is suffering.

I'm not talking about a tight budget or a bashed fender or a root canal or the usual sufferings of mankind (deaths of loved ones, lost jobs, illness). I'm talking parts of the Body are having their hands chopped off, are being captured and enslaved, are being tossed into prison for just saying, "I believe in Christ." They are starving and freezing. They are raped and beaten. That's His body, his arms and legs and back and face being slapped and stabbed and burned and broken. Again.

Give the gift to Him. To His body. To "the least of these" that He loves.

It's our job to do this. We are commanded. It's not optional.

Many fine organizations have Christmas Gift catalogs where you can help widows, orphans, the disabled, and the destitute via donations that reach them as food, clothing, medicine, shelters, livestock, agricultural supplies, or schooling.

How much do Americans spend at Christmas for gifts that will likely be soon forgotten and not all that much appreciated? (Come on, did you really swoon over that fruitcake or inexpensive cologne or novelty mug? Did you really need that new cd or dvd or pair of pumps? Aren't there enough clothes in your closet? Didn't the old computer work fine?)

Billions and billions every year. The last estimate I read was of about $180 BILLION.

Think of what, say, half of that--90 billion dollars--could do if channeled toward helping villages dig wells for clean water, buy seeds for crops, purchase saplings for groves, supply clinics with antibiotics and syringes, obtain teachers and nurses for farflung provinces? Or closer to home, serving the elderly and chronically ill, the disabled and homeless.

Because tradition and social obligation and just plain wanting to feel like a big-generous-giver--and don't think that Christmas doesn't have its share of self-aggrandizing and self-congratulatory elements--makes it hard to totally blow off presents, hubby and I do both: We give to charities in the name of loved ones, and we buy discreet gifts, especially for the kinder, who we've trained from birth to be greedy little gumbos come late December, and that's our fault and, so, hey, what's an auntie to do?

That's right, we cave. We are not perfect in our convictions. But we're trying!

Side Note Rant: Training kids from birth to give in December as opposed to expecting to get would not be an unChristianly new tradition, methinks. Kids have their own birthdays for gathering booty, not to mention nearly every week of the year, if my observations are anything to go by.

So visit Samaritan's Purse or World Vision, who both offer great "charity gifts" for Christmas at their websites. Visit Habitat for Humanity International. Visit Food for the Poor. Visit Voice of the Martyrs, who help persecuted Christians globally, and their needs are ever-urgent. Give to local shelters in your town.

Give Jesus the gifts this year.

Friday, November 04, 2005

After the Storm: From Darkness to Light

It's been a rough couple of weeks in Mirtown.

Wilma left quite a mess. Thousands of my fellow residents in South Florida are temporarily without homes due to damage to residences. Shelters are full. Some must close when school begins.

Please pray for our gov't and aid organizers, who need wisdom and skill and efficiency and compassion in dealing with this massive problem. Pray we will all be kind to one another and patient and mindful of our blessings,the many that remain even in the midst of loss. If your budget can take it, give to the Salvation Army, the SBC-NAMB, or to the Red Cross to help the dispossessed.

Now, to my main point, as I sit in a neighborhood still looking a bit trashed and worn and tired:

It's important to be thankful.

In good times, in bad times: Give thanks.

It's a cliche, yes, but count your blessings, my dears. Count them now before they flee or are taken away from you. Pray to keep them.

I have a roof. I have walls. I have a dry floor. I have power. (We only went without for 2 1/2 days.) I have no life lost in my family. I have no homes totally wrecked in my family. I have water and food in my fridge. I have not depleted my savings (although fixing the damage to my home and the wreck that is my garden is going to deplete that quite a bit, seems like.) My car is multiply-dented from a small tree falling on it. A part of my eaves is gone. A hurricane shutter that was pried loose by the fierce winds smashed some parts of the concrete and damaged the second-story walkway railing. I don't have cable, and that's another sort of blessing, I'm discovering. (Except, boy, do I miss the Sci-Fi channel.)

I have my home standing, safe, protective, and my family is well--unlike many.

I praise God for His manifold mercies. I thank him for all I have, when so many do without. God have mercy on all in this cruel world who are dealing with disasters of one sort or another--on the Gulf coast, in Florida, in Iraq, in Pakistan, in Niger, and on and on and on.

I was reading in Zechariah 14:6, a passage dealing with the yet to be revealed Day of the Lord:

"It shall come to pass in that day
That there shall be no light;
The lights will diminish"


It's a weird thing not to have lights. We're used to living with streetlights, porch lights, home lights, traffic lights. When they go out, the world is a dark, dark place. You can't see your hand in front of your face in your own home. The garden that is so welcoming in the sunlight becomes a place for dread prowlers and scary sounds.

Light is GOOD. God said so, Genesis, chapter one.

It's very, very, very good, says Miz Mir.

As frightening as the total dark was, there was one heart-lifting benefit: I saw the Milky Way for the first time in three decades. The last time was at a Christian teen retreat in the "wilds" of Florida City, which was a low-light-pollution town in the 1970's. Wow. I was dancing and jumping and whooping in my garden. My husband came out to enjoy the sight, too. So many stars. Stars we never see....until the lights go out.

I think for some of us, we don't see our blessings, how much we have that is valuable and good and worth thanking the Lord for, until the lights go out in some way.

*We lose our roof and realize how nice it was having a tight structure that kept out the rain.
*We lose our car, and realize how precious to have our own transportation, a sort of freedom many don't have.
*We lose a beloved tree, and remember how wonderful its shade was.
*We develop a chronic illness that plagues our every hour, and realize how little we thanked God for our health when we had it, and how easy it was to take such a blessing for granted.
*We lose loved ones, and wish we had them back to tell them how much, how very much, we appreciated all they were and did and said, how we miss their smiles.

~If you have a solid, safe roof...thank the Lord for it.
~If you have a car that runs, say, "God, how good you are to me," as you drive it.
~If you have a tree you like to sit under, sing a song of praise to the One who created trees and flowers and shrubs and grass.
~If you have good health, get on your knees and praise the Lord for that indescribable blessing.
~If you have loved ones you can depend on, lift up their names to the Lord every day in thanks for their wisdom and affection and encouragement and support and the pleasures they bring, then go and hug them.

Don't wait for the lights to go out to see the thousands of stars shining in your life.

Be grateful now.

Right now, stop reading for a second or two, and look up and say, "Yes, Father, I understand. These are all gifts, because every good and pleasant thing in my life exists because You created them."

And when you feel the darkness surrounding you, as it always comes, because this world is broken and damaged and fallen, and so are we; remember that the deepest darkness precedes the greatest light, remember Zechariah 14:7, which says this:

"It shall be one day
Which is known to the Lord--
neither day nor night.
But at evening time it shall happen
That it will be light."


Just hold on: It will be light.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Are You A Christian?

LaShawn Barber posts on "What It Means To Be A Christian." She prefaces her points with, "Being a Christian means you have embraced what the Bible says about God, mankind, and salvation."

Embracing truth means embracing ideas and standards often in conflict with societal phases, fads and trends. It's countercultural. Wanna be a revolutionary? Follow Jesus. Following anyone or anything else just gets you damned. (If that last word bothers you, it should. If it really, really bothers you, very good. If you don't believe there is such a thing as "eternal damnation," then you definitely need to read LaShawn's piece. Twice.)

Acts 4:12 "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved."

Let eyes be opened, Lord. Let every ear hear.

Kashmir Earthquake Toll Nears 80,000

*Any way you look at it, it's horrifying. Adrian's Blog has an update. You can help. They hate us. Let's show them we love them. Be a Good Samaritan in Christ's name.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Lord of the Storm: a quote, some lyrics, a few verses

Sometimes the Lord calms the storm.
Sometimes He lets the storm rage and calms his child.
-- Author: Unknown


There is an ocean surrounding me,
Mostly the water is calm.
Just enough breeze to keep me sailing,
I feel safe and warm.
Angry winds blow suddenly--
How this world can threaten me!
Then the Master speaks with sure authority:

"Peace, be still. Peace, be still. Peace, be still,"
To the wind and the rain.
"Peace, be still. Peace, be still. Peace, be still."
And the ocean obeyed.
--"Peace Be Still" by Twila Paris


Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name;
Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
The God of glory thunders;
The LORD is over many waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful;
The voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
--Psalm 29:2-4

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Mmmmm, yummy! Oooooh, pretty!--or--How to Lessen Stormwatch Stress

I cannot possibly eat another thing. I've storm binged. Yes, there is a new syndrome. Storm binging. (Or is that bingeing?) Consuming mass quantities of whatever is at hand in order to get some serotonin up to the taxed nervous system.

Urp.

I should have just bid on something on eBay. Fewer calories.

Yep, that's another storm distraction technique: shopping!

So, a little plug: A pal of mine with an artistic bent makes custom-designed, seriously adorable cards. She's a scrapbooking enthusiast who transfers those skills to her card designs. Check out Nana Renan's auctions. She made me a one-of-a-kind birthday card for my grandniece that is a thousand times cuter than anything I could buy in the stores. Nice enough to merit keepsake status. The auction cards are simpler than my special-ordered one, but they're still very, very nice.

Yeah, food and pretties. That'll keep me from losing it as Wilma churns.

Scared Poopless in South Florida

Trust me, there is such a thing as storm exhaustion. Between last year and this, Florida is well and truly pooped out. We, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas make up the most aggrieved members of the New Millenium Hurricane Haters Association

And now Wilma may be coming to town. I loathe her with a passion already.

I am setting aside my WIP to go run the usual errands one must before a storm may strike: bank for cash, grocery store for food and other supplies, etc. Laundry must be done in case power goes out. (Katrina, a mere category one when she swept by, left us without power for 33 hours in hellish August.) Gas tanks must be filled. Flashlights tested. Plastic tubs and bags set out for encasing valuables. The crank-radio gotten out of its box. Bathrooms scrubbed and tubs readied for filling. Buckets located for drips. (And I still have a leak in the back room closet from Katrina that I haven't been able to get fixed cause all the building contractors are booked solid. No, it's not a roofing issue. Roofer said so.)

Sucks big time, people.

If you believe in prayer, please ask God to quash Wilma into oblivion before she makes landfall ANYWHERE.

Dr. Neil Frank, former Director of the National Hurricane Center, does believe prayer can calm a hurricane. Any true Christian knows without a doubt that Jesus, if he wills, can calm a storm--he's been there, done that. Only let us not be "of little faith." ::::smile::::

Lord, have mercy. Lord speak to the wind and the waves.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Two Frothy Guffaws and a Shot of Mercy to Chase 'Em Down

In case you have a budget so tight that you have to grease around the edges to pay the higher balances on your ExxonMobil credit card, I offer proof that Americans do, indeed, have quite a bit of disposable income--and no, I don't mean the crazy sums we spend on renting Adam Sandler DVDs and paying-per-view for ephemeral sporting pleasures or on plumping up lips and bosoms into horrors of artifice:

Exhibit A: Rejection Toilet Paper. Please, please, tell me who spends 90 bucks on four rolls of toilet paper, no matter how amusing? Most writers are not "flush" with cash. I could never dump these babies down the john. Uh-uh. Pass the Charmin.

Exhibit B: The Unfortunate Pair of Leather Pants. This auction ad was written by a fella who could make a tidy sum writing a Lad Lit novel, methinks. Catch this fast. It won't be on ebay.com much longer. Guaranteed to elicit funky snorts from your oral region.

A gentle reminder:
The Salvation Army, SBC-NAMB, Samaritan's Purse, and other worthy Christian organizations are still out there helping the victims of the recent hurricanes. If you have a few bucks left over after filling up at the Amoco and splurging on used leather goods, please send off another--or your first-- donation.

And while you're in a giving frame of mind, please remember the Pakistani people. Even as I type,many are dying in the cold, without shelter, without food, some terribly injured. God's mercy--and yours--is much needed. Many of these people despise Westerners, so it's a question, then, of loving our enemies, because we love the God who loves them as much as He loves us.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Set Yourself Ablaze!

Hermits fascinate me. Desert Fathers and Mothers--the Abbas and the Ammas of the ancient church--intrigue me. Their teachings are not easy. Speaking as they do from a time and a lifestyle so far removed from our pampered American ways ,they force us to make comparisons and assess ourselves. We may think they were excessive and nuts. Or we may think we're lukewarm and self-satisfied. But we can't brush off the sayings with ease.

Some of the brief stories that are collected under the "sayings" of the desert sages poke me sharply in the soul. They lay me out under a glaring sun, bare spiritually to my own eyes. It's not usually a pretty sight. My judgmentalism can't take cover. My self-indulgence--gluttony, lustful thoughts, critical attitudes, selfishness--are spotlighted. Holiness and sacrifice were priorities for the Abbas and Ammas. They are not always number one every minute of my day. Or every hour.

How about you? Is holiness a priority with you right now? Today?
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

One of my favorite of the sayings is the following:
Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, 'Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?' then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, 'If you will, you can become all flame.'

I long for the will of stone that indefatigably pursues that becoming. I don't have it. I pray just to want it. Imagine the wonder of it, to be luminous from the inside out, on fire for the Lord, full of clarity, the obstacles falling away, the stone rolling aside.

Let's face it, becoming all flame is a scary proposition. Tempting, yes. Desirable and profitable? Oh, yes. But terrifying. Everything changes.

Just imagine how your life--your work, your relationships, your spiritual progress, your creative activities, your body--would develop and prosper if such power transformed you.

Do you want to be ablaze? Do you wish to become all flame?

Ask the God who is a consuming fire. Ask the Light of the World. Ask the one who dwells in inapproachable light. Let's ask, and not be afraid. Let's be strong and very courageous.

Third Day, the Christian blues-rock/worship group, wrote a song titled "Consuming Fire." Some of the lines say this:

Set this place on fire,
Send your spirit, Savior.
Rescue from the mire.
Show your servant favor.

Sing it with me. Only change the words this much: Set me, Lord, on fire!

And pray for me, please. I am not brave enough to fully ignite, and I want to be.

We can start a raging wildfire. If we will.

Welcome to the Mirathon!

Call me Mir. Or Mirtika. Or Mirty. I answer to them all. Just, please, try to roll that "r" a bit and give it a Cuban flavor. Since some of my fave people on the planet have a blog, I'm putting on some classic Beny More on the cd player and joining the dance!

What do I love: My sweet-faced, brilliant, hunnybunny (alias, hubby); my Lord Jesus, who I'm sure sent me sweet hubby out of pure mercy; books and books and, oh, books; music; the night sky; napping.

My fave band: Iona. (Fave album, tie between JOURNEY INTO THE MORN and BEYOND THESE SHORES) Other faves: Out of the Grey, John Michael Talbot, Michael Card, Heart, Steely Dan, Loreena McKennitt, Dan Fogelberg (the older stuff),Tom Petty (early stuff), Bad Company, Led Zeppelin, Sarah McLachlan.

My fave novels: JANE EYRE, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, REDEEMING LOVE, MORE THAN HUMAN, THE STARS MY DESTINATION, SPINDLE'S END, SILENT JOE and DUNE.

My fave short story collections: DANGEROUS VISIONS (edited by Harlan Ellison), any of the fairy tale collections by WINDLING/DATLOW (eds), The Martian CHRONICLES, any collection by Doris Betts, RED AS BLOOD by Tanith Lee, HER SMOKE ROSE UP FOREVER by James Tiptree,Jr(Alice Sheldon), the collected stories of Flannery O'Connor, any story collection by Connie Willis, WOMAN HOLLERING CREEK by Sandra Cisneros, SISTER EMILY'S LIGHTSHIP by Jane Yolen.

Anything there you can relate to?

Cool, if so. If not, try something! You might like it.

This blog will likely be concerned with a few obsessions of mine: reading and writing, my ridiculous weight, theological matters, and, if I can't restrain myself, some opinionated right-wing comments. (Yes, I am one of those Red Staters who believes in God and traditional families and thinks that the ancient virtues--including the Biblical virtues of faith, hope and love--form the strongest backbone of a healthy society. So chill out. If you disagree, find another blog to read. There are a gazillion out there for every taste.)

So, as the music plays, the earth turns, the sun burns, the books are printed, the internet buzzes, and the living God moves in the hearts of his people...let the Mirathon begin.