Thursday, April 27, 2006

Mir Fought The Cold, and The Mir Won!

Hey, did you sing the entry header to the tune of "I Fought The Law"--or whatever that song is really called? I did. But I sing while picking out produce at PUBLIX. Any excuse to get all pitchy is fine with me.

Anyway, I got sick Easter weekend. (Thanks to all who threw up a prayer for me.) For most folks, getting a cold is inconvenient and miserable, but brief. Me? If I get a cold, it turns to bronchitis 90% of the time. That means I'm sick for 3 weeks minimum. The record is 7 1/2 weeks. That was the week after my dad died. I think my immune system was exceptionally out of whack--as opposed to its normal state of suckiness--from the terrible stress of sore, sore grief.

I thought that bugger was never gonna leave my respiratory system. Try to imagine 7 1/2 weeks of coughing so much you're spitting up blood from a raw throat. Really. I expected to see a good chunk of lung fly outta my mouth during one of those endless coughing fits.

TMI?

Sorry.

Well, I'm all better. Ergo, me happy-happy.

I got over this one in less than two weeks. Week and a half, actually. At the first signs of a scratchy throat and stuffy nose and that weird "there are alien fuzzy things burbling around inside my body" kind of feeling that always signals an infection, I starting downing extra doses of C, hitting the olive leaf and immune support complexes, drinking tea A and tea B and tea C , and then slurping juice X and juice Y and juice Z, then more tea A, followed by the last bit of tea C. Oh, yeah--and prayer. I surely did ask my praying loop for some speedy intercession.

That infection was under siege on all fronts, baby.

Anyway, I'm kinda overcommitted for the next MONTH. (Good for me. I tend to undercommit.)

I hope to post more frequently in the coming weeks. I want to blog on my prep of a proposal. We'll see. I might totally suck at it and refuse to show you my pathetic output. If you haven't read my posts over at ONCE UPON A NOVEL, and you're interested in the craft of writing, drop on by. I post there even less frequently than here, but those are useful posts, if I say so myself. And I did.

If you're still wanting to blog-surf, visit a couple of the blogs on my sidebar. I added two new ones: Sally Apokedak (she writes on Christian children's and y/a fiction) and Becky Miller's blog on a Christian worldview in fiction. She's been on a big "theme" thing lately. Go and see.

SOON TO COME ON MIRATHON:

~My review of FIREWORKS by Elizabeth White

~The disgusting truth about my rebound pounds and resolutions backsliding

~What the heck is a proposal and why is The Mir freaking out?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

GENESIS CONTEST: I'm a finalist! Weeeeeeeeeeee!!!

Okay, I gotta stop weeeeeeing. That makes my chest--currently hosting a rude visitor named bronchitis--hurt and sets of a coughing fit.

But it's true. The list of finalists in the GENESIS CONTEST of the ACFW has been posted, and yours truly finaled in the SF/F category. (They misspelled my middle name, Ann instead of Ana, but that's just me nitpicking.)

What this means is that my puny chapters go to Kathy "Firebird" Tyers for judging. May she be brutally honest yet mildly merciful.

Here's list of finalists in SF/F, with me sitting there among talented ladies:

Science Fiction/Fantasy/Speculative Fiction
(there was a 2-way tie, hence six rather than five finalists):

Beth Goddard
Rebecca Grabill
Shannon McNear
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirta Ana Schultz
Sherry Thompson


As you can see, my chances of winning are seriously undermined by the talent therein represented. Becky Miller alone can whip my prose with one hand tied to a keyboard behind her back. I ain't expecting to win.

But hey, at least the judges didn't think I sucked a couple dozen eggs. Cheers!

NOTE: The names with links are not better than the ones without. I simply had the links for those. I like reading Becky's and Shannon's blogs, btw, and Beth is a smart-as-a-whip lady who posts along with me at the ACFW Forum. Apologies to Mizzes Grabill and Thompson for not having blog or site addresses for them. (Sherry is, however, a member of CSFWA with me.)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

DAY OF THE EMPTY TOMB: HE IS RISEN!


Matthew 28:1-7
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning,
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel
of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back
the stone and sat on it.His appearance was like lightning,
and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards
shook and became like dead men. But the angel said
to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking
for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised,
as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly
and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead,
and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you
will see him.’ This is my message for you.”


That pretty much says it. Without the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, Son of God, anointed one of Israel, there would be no Christianity.

Christianity is not about rules--though it often seems that way to outsiders and, yes, even insiders--but about the man called Yeshua. Jesus. It's not about his teachings, it's about HIM.

His teachings are important. They point to life. But HE is the life. And without Him there is no life everlasting, and no true life. Period.

Today, we remember that death could not hold him. That's worth shouting about. Dance today. Dance and sing and make noise of the happy kind. It's a good day. It's a day to remember the most wonderful event in history.

CHRIST IS RISEN.

Try to wrap your brain around that one, my friend.

For those who want to know more about this day, Resurrection Day, Day of the Empty Tomb, scoot over to these links:

These three great facts--the resurrection appearances, the empty tomb, and the origin of the Christian faith--all point unavoidably to one conclusion: The resurrection of Jesus. Today the rational man can hardly be blamed if he believes that on that first Easter morning a divine miracle occurred.

from: Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus

What Difference Does Easter Make?

Why Do We Call It "Easter"?


EASTER is not the celebration of a past event. The alleluia is not for what was; Easter proclaims a beginning which has already decided the remotest future. The Resurrection means that the beginning of glory has already started.
Karl Rahner, Everyday Faith

Friday, April 14, 2006

Why This Friday Is Good

My mother was a devout Catholic. I grew up in a household where meat was nowhere near our plates on Fridays (every Friday). Mami would say, "We give up meat because Jesus died on a Friday. A small sacrifice to remember a big one."

Good Friday was a big deal to Mami. She wore black. She covered her head. She prayed. She mourned with music. Back when I was a Catholic School kid in the Bronx, our parish had a solemn procession on Good Friday, with candles, with dirge-like hymns, with a big statue of a mournful Virgin carried by men, with women whose heads were veiled by mantillas (lacy sort of scarf things) and whose faces drooped with sorrow. Their rosaries clicked along with the slow rhythm of the march.

I forget the other details. I just know it was a big deal and I enjoyed the feel of a unified community of believers. All these men and women and girls and boys all of a mind as they progressed through the dirty streets of a working class, drug-blighted neighborhood, commemorating one of the greatest events in the history of history.

(In two days, we commemorate another great even in that Triad of Astounding Happenings. You have to wait until Christmas for the third.)

I wish we Protestants did more of that. (I've been Evangelical since 1975, Southern Baptist since 1981.) I don't mean venerate Mary or get all graven image-y. I mean take to the streets in huge masses and mourn that our sins required the death of the Son of God. And then take to them again to celebrate with dancing in the streets and with song and with timbrels (if you can find some) and trumpets that the Son of God triumphed over death.

Today is Good Friday. God's Friday.

My Mami is gone nearly two years. (Oh, gosh, I'm gonna lose it again.) My Papi spent six years in his crypt alone until Mami joined him. (Gimme a tissue!) Unlike Jesus, they're still waiting for their day of arising. But because there was a Good Friday, there was also a Day of Resurrection, and there will be another such day yet to come.

I love having this hope. I hold it more tightly than I would a handful of rubies.

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Today we remember that Christ has died--horribly, painfully, with mockers and scoffers around him, with his disciples in hiding but for a handful, John and his beloved Mother, and some of the women. Perhaps others that are unnamed.

Blood poured out. The price required by a Holy God. The atonement made. The sacrifice lamb of the Passover killed, but not broken (according the prophecies).

Take time today to ponder that death. To read the gospels. To read Isaiah 53. To thank the One who died that you might live.

"For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken."
Isaiah 53:8b

"Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, 'Father, into your hands I commit My spirit.' Having said this, He breathed His last."
Luke 23: 45-46

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him."
Romans 5:8-9

And if you aren't covered in that blood, if you haven't been washed clean under the hot rush of it, then come, kneel at the foot of the cross and be made new.

Every day is a good day for that.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Weeping With Joseph

I've restarted my own Bible Challenge this week, after faltering and halting with the previous 90 Day Challenge that I should have completed sometime this week, had I stuck with it.

I did mention that I had a problem with the self-discipline thing, no?

Anyway, I've designed my own less strenuous challenge. The 180 Day Bible Challenge. Twice the Time, Still The Same Scripture!

So, I'm doing fine, reading along, and I get to the fiftieth chapter of Genesis:

Then Joseph fell on his father's face
and wept over him, and kissed him.


This is where I lost it.

I sat there weeping over my Bible for about five to seven minutes, an uncontrollable gushing of tears that took me by surprise. And I'm getting all wet in the eye right now just typing about it.

All of you who have lost beloved fathers and mothers know exactly what's what with me, right?

I had a flashback to the day my mother died, how I spent three hours by her body, holding her lax hand, rubbing her cool face, my tears falling all over her, hugging her, talking to her as if she could still hear. I totally get what Joseph felt.

Next month will be two years since Mami passed on to glory. I still ask God a few times a week to let her and dad know we love them, miss them, think about them, and can't wait to see them again. I beg God to tell them this. I want them to know nothing's the same without them.

For all those who have lost parents, when you read your Bible, and you get to the fiftieth chapter of Genesis, remember: It's okay to cry.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

BEFORE YOU ENTER THAT FICTION CONTEST: Mir's Non-Comprehensive Tour of Trouble Spot Tip-Offs

Madam Mirathon (aka me) has done a fair bit of editing and contest judging this annum. Know what I've noticed? Certain writing gremlins multiply faster than a blue pencil can tame them. They're all over the place.

It's terrifying.

No, okay, it's not terrifying. It's vexing. (Especially when they show up on my pages!)

Perhaps Sturgeon's Law is as reliable as the Law of Gravity. (I prefer not to dwell on what that says about 90% of my output. Yoiks!)

Let's be brutally truthful: Few submissions or entries or critique samples shine. Sparkle and vivacity and depth and freshness--all of those are rare qualities in beginner fiction. I get it--totally!--when editors say that the first page, even the first paragraph, clues them into the quality of the rest.

Can you fault them? If the prose doesn't cut it on page one, why should it inspire faith that it'll sing to us on page two or five or ninety-nine? Admit it. Those opening pages are the most polished section of your work. (I obsess over them, and I'm never satisfied. Maybe cause they stink. Always a possibility.) If page one showcases flat or ungrammatical or awkward or cliched prose, the story should be cast aside. Editors have hundreds, sometimes thousands, of other submissions to peruse. Shine or die!

Now, the situation of a contest judge or critiquer is different. To properly score entries and/or offer feedback, they must read it all. Trust me, that's not always a joy. It sometimes requires a massive exertion of will and gallons of caffeine.

Let's dive into the main course.

All the examples I offer below sprang outta my noggin. I didn't swipe them from real stories. I promise, however, that they offer a true representation of the types of pernicious weeds that infest the works I've edited/critiqued/judged. And, in the spirit of, "Gardener, prune thyself," I confess freely that I struggle with these myself. A rough draft is a messy, pest-ridden yard.

Let's begin, shall we?


Poorly Constructed Sentences:
Does it drive you nuts when a critiquer or judge writes one of the following in the margin of your manuscript?

~Wordy
~Awkward
~Confusing
~Cluttered
~Odd phrasing
~Unclear


If you see those terms, then this is the bottom line: The prose is not smooth. Rewrite those sentences. Eliminate useless modifiers. Improve the flow.

Well, rewrite them if you believe the judge or editor scribbled a true remark. If more than one person points out the SAME problem, that's an area that ought not be ignored.

Here is Mir's Non-Comprehensive Tour of Trouble Spot Tip-Offs (ie, words that might tip you off to a problem with poorly constructed sentences):

As:
This little word holds a world of trouble for newbie writers. If you use it more than once in a sentence, really study it. If you use it more than once in a paragraph, you should see if you're trying to cram a lot of unnecessary description. In a recent contest I judged, I noticed that the ones exhibiting excessive "telling" also suffered from an overuse of "as."

Examples:
As I got up, I plucked my iPod out of my purse as I told him to leave.
I squared my shoulders as I turned around and frowned.
He came at me as I grabbed a bat as well as screamed.


You can see these sentences are dreadful. I'm not exaggerating for effect. I've seen sentences comparable to these. And, hey, I've written sentences comparable to these, then promptly screamed and changed them before anyone noticed.

You don't have to scream, but do change them.

Looked:
(glanced/watched/saw/studied/etc)
"Look" is not a verboten word. All those words in the parentheses are serviceable. Do watch for them as you revise. however. If your POV character is often described as looking or watching or seeing, you may have wandered into the Wilderness of Wordiness.

Here's what I mean:
Aurelia watched as Henry drove a knife into Benito. She saw him do it again.

If the writer has set the scene in Aurelia's POV, whether first or third person, we don't need to read, "Aurelia watched" or "She saw." Sure, she did. She's the perspective character. All you need focus on is how the person Aurelia is would relate what she sees. Different "voices" would describe the same action differently.

Aurelia 1: Henry stabbed Benito twice.
(Concise. Perhaps emotionally removed or reserved.)

Aurelia 2: Henry drove the knife into Benito's chest. Twice!
(A bit more emotion. Is that excited "Twice" showing shock or a gossip's delight? Depends on who this Aurelia is.)

Aurelia 3: Henry plunged the knife into Benito's heart, and then the fool did it again.
(Perhaps resignation in that initial formality, combined with the later judgment of someone who knows Henry is impulsive and violent?)

Aurelia 4: Henry carves a path into Benito's pumper. He goes in a second time, just to make sure, ya know?
(Slang, more colorful, not formal at all. Gangbanger?)

Aurelia 5: How can Henry slice Benito like that? One time. Two times! And he's doing it with his own ma's kitchen knife.
(Disbelief, a bit of shock. And the dark humor. Says something about the POV character's ideas of mothers/family.)

Aurelia 6: It's cool when Henry double-dips Benito's ticker with that blade.
(A hip psychopath?)


Realized:
(Wondered/Understood)
Same deal as above. Nothing wrong with these words, just make sure they're not fillers, red flags of weak prose.

Example:
Teofilo realized that he was in love with her.

If we're in Teofilo's POV, then we can get right to it in his own voice:

Teofilo A: Madre mia! When did I get it so bad for that crazy mami?
Teofilo B: Love had finally smacked him between the eyes and blinded him.
Teofilo C: He sure picked a helluva day to fall in love.
Teofilo D: How could I, Tay-O, the supadupah Mac Daddy, be fo-shizzle in love?
Teofilo D: His head wobbled, his stomach flipped, and his neighbor's Barry
Manilow music sounded pretty good today. Oh, man. It's love.


To:
Remember the problems with "as"? Well, if you use this word two or more times in one sentence--or repeatedly in a paragraph--you should check thoroughly for cluttered passages or awkward phrasings.

Examples:

She told him to go to the store to get milk to give the baby for breakfast.
John left it to Janet to decide how to proceed.
To leave is the only thing left to do to save my pride.


If you tell me they all sound fine to you, I'm gonna thwap you on the nose. (Or I'll go to the medicine cabinet to get valium to put in my juice to drink. Urp.)

I'm not even gonna give examples of reworded sentences. You have the power to create better sentences than those.

Turned:
(Twisted/Spun/Whirled)
I've been guilty of misusing these. So repent along with me.

When turned and the related words are overused or misused, they may be substitutes for getting deeply into character. If you're penning lame stage directions, check your depth of perspective. If you visualize scenes, you could be tempted to describe the physical movements as if you were a camera. Don't. Write it as the persona whose POV is used.

Example:
She turned and looked him in the eye. He turned away. She glanced away, embarrased, then twisted her head so that he couldn't see her. He spun on his heels and left. She whirled and almost called him back. She moved to the window, instead, and looked out at the street.


All right. Lots of movement. No POV depth. No real action. Ergo: It's clutter. (I've also shown some more misuses of the whole looking/glancing thing. Did you see that?)

Get into a character's mind.

I'm not Updike, but let's try to improve the above passage:

She closed the distance between them and offered her unshielded gaze, wordlessly confessing her betrayal. He gagged and covered his mouth with the back of his hand. The shame dragged down her head. He staggered. She bent lower. He whimpered, and then he ran from the room without cursing her or forgiving her. If she believed he might call her whore or, impossibly, darling, she'd follow him through every street in the city to atone. She'd kneel before him and beg. But he'd heaved like a man ridding his body of something rotten. She'd killed the part of him that loved her. He would never speak to her again. She dropped to her knees and prayed to die.

Maybe a bit hyper-emotional, but it's better than robots moving jerkily on a stage.

Pet Words:

We all have them. Here are a few common offenders:

~just
~very
~really
~so
~always
~never
~some
~totally
~completely


So, I'm one of those just totally addicted to just and so.

What are your pet terms?

I'm done with word tip-offs for the moment. I want to address...

Monotonous style:
Do vary your sentence structure and length. It's truly heinous to force a fellow human being to read something as choppy as the following:

I liked him. He liked me. We liked each other. We went out. We saw everything. We met everyone. We liked pizza. He left me. He kept the pizza. I kept the dog.

(Actually, that might work in some freaky experimental theater.)

Or this wordier sort of monotony:

He said he would be right back, because he had something to do. I said he should hurry, because the show was going to start. The usher led me down to my seat, because the orchestra was starting up. I sat down and opened my program, because I wanted to see who would sing lead.

(I've seen that sort of repetitive use of clause-"because"-clause structure dominate numerous paragraphs in several WIPs. First cousin to this structure would be the clause-"and then"-clause, the clause-"but"-clause, and the clause-"when"-clause.)


That concludes this portion of The Mir's Non-Comprehensive Tour of Trouble Spot Tip-Offs.?

(To Be Continued . . . perhaps)