Monthly Archives: March 2011

To a Young Lady, on Her Birthday, by Samuel Johnson

I’ve chosen this poem for the kick-off to national poetry month, because April 1st is also my daughter’s 13th birthday:
This tributary verse receive, my fair,
Warm with an ardent lover’s fondest prayer,
May this returning day for ever find
Thy form more lovely, more adorn’d thy mind;
All pains, all cares, may favouring heaven remove,
All but the sweet solicitudes of love!
May powerful nature join with grateful art,
To point each glance, and force it to the heart!
O then! when conquer’d crowds confess thy sway,
When even proud wealth and prouder wit obey,
My fair, be mindful of the mighty trust,
Alas! ’tis hard for beauty to be just.
Those sovereign charms with strictest care employ;
Nor give the generous pain, the worthless joy;
With his own form acquaint the forward fool,
Shown in the mimic glass of ridicule:
Teach mimic censure her own faults to find,
No more let coquettes to themselves be blind,
So shall Belinda’s charms improve mankind. 
p.s. Painting by Hogarth, The Graham Children. I have three daughters and one son, just like the Grahams, except my son is the youngest. The cat looks suspiciously like ours, as well. This is actually a very sad painting because the baby had died by the time Hogarth painted it. But I meant for it to be a happy image, and I’m certain Hogarth did, too, in his attempt to capture the joy of the moment.
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My Lenten Epiphany

I gave up writing for the Lenten season because I was worn through. I gave up writing because I was angry. I was angry that my dream had not/would not/could not come to fruition. I gave up writing and I stewed, and I asked God if he actually wanted me to waste so much energy on a futile task. It’s dangerous to ask God for answers, especially when the answers are so absolute in our own minds. My mind said, “Of course I’m supposed to write. Why would God be so cruel to give me this dream only to rip it from my hands as though he were a sadist who enjoyed the suffering of others?” At the same time, my mind told me, “God doesn’t want you to waste time writing. He wants women to be in the home rearing the children and cooking food and untying their tired husbands’ boots and massaging their husbands’ feet . . .”

Let me tell you right now–God doesn’t think in the absolutist, black and white ideas we erect and call good in his name. If you want to know a surprising truth about yourself, go ahead and kneel before him and ask for it. If you would rather adhere to your black and white schema, don’t bother. God revealed a surprising truth to me, and his truth had nothing whatever to do with the false paradigm of to write or not to write. He showed me how I had cursed myself by vowing, as a child, that I was intelligent if I was a writer; that I was attractive if I was a writer; that those who had shunned me would be forced to acknowledge me if I was a writer.

He showed me that I was peering through a warped lens, that through its vision, I very nearly subverted every chance I had for sanity and wholeness as a person. My lack of success in writing was enough to turn me against reality, to retreat from it rather than to face it in the way God had created me to do–through honest study of the world. This was a breakthrough idea for me, that I was a researcher whose natural outlet was writing, rather than the other way around, in which I would research only for the sake of the written work. I don’t know if this makes much sense to you, the idea of being a fulfilled person through study, but it allowed me to shrug off the weight that rested on my shoulders, allowed me to cast away the warped lens that clouded my vision of reality.

I’m happiest when I study. I really am. I’m happiest when my writing springs from the academic. Looking back, I see my pattern–revert to study as a default method of coping with the world, tell myself I shouldn’t waste my time, that I should be writing books instead, cease the study and work on current fiction project, become thoroughly miserable.

Turning to God for answers was the right response for me. Through him, I was able to break my foolish childhood vow. And, no, he didn’t rise up and say, “Thou shalt not write!” or even its opposite. Instead, he set me free to be the kind of writer and person he created me to be.

Where do I go from here? I don’t know, but I’m trembling while I wait.

Here’s my question for you: Are you the type of writer who researches in order to create a masterwork of writing, or are you a researcher whose natural outlet is writing? Or are you a different kind of writer altogether? Maybe you’re not a writer at all (I know there are some non writers out there!)?

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Mike Duran’s The Resurrection: A Beautiful Blending of the Gothic

On Gothic fiction: The Brits, being the master novelists that they are, created this genre of literature in the 18th C. Unless I’m mistaken, Horace Walpole was the first author to pen a work of Gothic fiction in his Castle of Otranto. Walpole set the standard, in any case: a setting that is alive with darkness and mystery, where the supernatural looms largely–and, yes, I do mean largely. There is no mistaking the supernatural in Walpole’s work.

His Castle was followed by many works of Gothic fiction, in which authors competed to create the scariest, darkest, or most bizarre works of fiction. This was a breathing time for the Brits, in which they could forget for just a moment how the enlightenment had dampened them, and live again in a world where mysticism and the supernatural could exist–generally in fantastical Catholic realms, otherwise known to them as Mediterranean countries.

Then along came the more feminine Gothic. Writers such as Ann Radcliffe used the same motifs of darkness and evil, of crypts and ghostly encounters in Mediterranean countries, except with one vital difference–these authors relegated the supernatural to the unbelievable. Their enlightenment thinking got the best of them; natural forces explained all hints of the supernatural. Morality and even, perhaps, underlying feminism took hold of their texts.

On the modern Gothic: I read Mike Duran’s book The Resurrection a couple of weeks ago. I must admit that I was prepared to enjoy it because I’ve enjoyed Mike’s blog for about a year now. He’s smart. He doesn’t shy away from controversy. And I knew he would soon debut a work of supernatural fiction, which to me is just another name for Gothic literature, one of my pet subjects (plus, if you must know, I also write supernatural fiction). Then he wrote a truthful but discouraging article disparaging reviewers that hand out five-star ratings like candy. I felt trapped. I wanted to review his book; in fact, I had to because I had won a copy off his blog. How could I give it a good review after that? Honesty is one thing–but how does he know one way or the other whether I’m honest? Suddenly, I found myself in the damned if you do, damned if you don’t arena of book reviewing.

I’m not a particularly nice person, all in all. I’m a critic at heart, but I know when it’s good for me to shut my mouth. I’ve learned this after many hard lessons. So instead of reviewing Mike’s book here on my blog (I had already given it a 5-star review on Amazon), I turned my attentions elsewhere. I picked up another–secular–book of Gothic fiction, Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry. The beauty of the language captured me. I was utterly, soulfully lured into a London ghost story with the classical style of writing that I crave. I fell for it–until the end, in which I discovered that it wasn’t a classical novel after all. It was, in fact, a modern novel in which nobody wins–not the good, not the evil. It just ends. The supernatural is rendered into impotent god-like ghost figures who can’t save themselves, let alone anyone else. Her story, ultimately, was thoroughly unbelievable. I sank under a weight of depression and returned to The Resurrection, which still sat on my bedside table awaiting review. I knew at that point the reason I had given Mike’s book a 5-star rating.

Finally, the novel I’m meant to review: The Resurrection blends the Walpole aesthetic of the supernatural with the feminine Gothic, except with the modern American twist, in which the supernatural exists in the Protestant world of the here and now. His book is a modern adaptation that utilizes every facet of the genre: his setting is dark and mysterious, his heroine broken–a crippled kind of Jane Eyre, and his supernatural is larger than life. And maybe it’s just me, but I found the romance between the heroine and her construction-worker husband extremely sexy. I’m not much into eye-probing and rakish stares; I’ve been married for 17 and 1/2 years to my own fire-fighter type of heroic man, and that’s the best kind of romance there is–one of devotion between a husband and wife.

Mike Duran’s writing style is more matter-of-fact than poetic, but it works. It’s believable. His ghost story is creepy, cold, and left me jittery–and, yet, I believed in it. Add to that a satisfying ending, in which the supernatural guides the main characters to fight their battles and actually prevail against darkness, and the story is complete.

I have a few criticisms of the novel, and since the author wants them, I’ll deliver:

*The beginning is abrupt. It lets the reader in on the story right away, which is a plus in today’s publishing world, I suspect. One of the main protagonists, Ian Clark, witnesses the ghost who haunts him. The other main protagonist, the crippled heroine I already mentioned, experiences her first vision. But these scenes were terribly rushed and left me a little breathless because I felt pulled along by a plethora of overly active verbs. The writing calms down after that, and I don’t mean that it slows down. It calms down.

*I’m not a big fan of scenic fiction, I have to admit, but I also realize that today’s readers wants their fiction to mimic the art of cinema, and so be it. I don’t like it, but I’ll deal with it. Mike’s novel is no different than any other modern scenic fiction. His writing is more intelligent than most, and for that, I give him kudos. In today’s world, calling a work scenic is not criticism.

*The author doesn’t want to traverse the path of fear very far. This may be an honest criticism depending on what the reader expects from the story. Personally, I don’t want to have nightmares. To me, the author goes just far enough, such that the supernatural is tangible, but not horrifying.

*The worst part of the novel, for me, is the afterword. Yes, I realize, it’s not technically part of the plot. Apologetics have a long and illustrious history in Christian writing, but I don’t want to read them after I’ve finishing a novel that gives me satisfaction in and of itself. Plus, I have more disagreements with the theology in the afterward than I do with the theology in the novel. I can almost guarantee that wasn’t the author’s intent.

My rating stated boldly: I give this book five stars, and not simply because I want to bolster the genre. Go ahead and argue with me, if you want, Mr. Duran. And don’t worry. I’m expecting an even better second book. I love the supernatural genre, otherwise known as the Gothic, and I can’t get enough of it. Keep delivering it, already!

Buy The Resurrection HERE. Discover more about the author HERE.

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Writing Getaway

Have you ever taken one? I toddled over to the Motel 6 last weekend with my computer, bags of snacks, and a bottle of red. I suffered for my art, pounding away from seven a.m. to ten p.m., with the heat blower on high and the window open to circulate the stuffy, tobacco-scented air. Motel 6 seems to have a serious issue with slapping non-smoking stickers on smoking rooms, and then not bothering to hide the ashtrays that conspicuously sit on the bedside tables.

I accomplished 3 1/2 items from my checklist–complete rewrites of approximately 10,000 words–otherwise known as 3 1/2 chapters. But, alas, breathing the bad air for two nights brought on a head cold, so I think I’ll being going to bed now.

Have you taken any writing getaways? Where did you stay? Did you accomplish all that you wanted?

p.s. Physically, I holed up in a dingy room, but mentally, I was on the Oregon coast. See picture above of the North Bend bridge.

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Spastic Conversations of the Writerly Mind

Let me tell you what happened to me the other night, after many crazy days and hours editing my MS. I realized my characters were spazzing all over the pages. Yes, you heard me correctly. They were dialogue-tagging themselves into epileptic fits of nodding, shrugging, and head-cocking. Their eyebrows had taken on bestial lives of their own–furrowing and rising and falling all over my characters’ faces in alarming ways. And their hands–don’t get me started–their hands rubbed, chafed, caressed, and squeezed themselves and others into frenzied desires, while their legs shuffled in embarrassment.

“This is ridiculous!” I told myself, rubbing my aching eyes, furrowing my caterpillar brows. I stormed over to my bookcase (because, you see, my characters were in fits of overly-active verbs, as well, Poor Dears), and like a tornado, I swept my favorite books off the shelves, whirling them around to the beat of eighties-era heavy metal, for the purpose of discovering one truth: Did the characters in my favorite novels act in the same violent, spastic ways as my characters were acting?

It happened that, amongst other hardier novels, I had blown an Ian McEwan book off the shelf and onto the table where I had been pounding anxiously like so much driven rain on my keyboard all day. I opened McEwan’s book. I paged through it, searching for dialogue and action. And then I kept thumbing. And then I thumbed some more. By the end, I thumbed my nose at my favorite author, for there was no dialogue until, oh, about page fifty. When I saw the quotation marks, I realized the characters were finally talking to each other, rather than thinking deeply about the world, the times, and their respective situations. I sighed in relief, the storm spent.

And what do you think I discovered? McEwan’s characters did not go into spastic fits, even though they were finally talking! They whispered to each other quietly, and then they stopped talking for another fifty or so pages–as they pondered those few whispered lines and what they meant–what the hidden meaning of the words could be. Would she really go to bed with him? he ruminated. Would she? Could she, damn it?! 

This writer banged her head against the table and muttered, “Writing is all just words. It’s all just words on the page.” And then she began to nod and cock her head and shrug her shoulders in the worst way. Her hands caressed her face, the table, the McEwan novel. Her fingers pointed and lurched into crude gestures she didn’t know the meaning of (um, actually she did, I’m sorry to say). And then she, in the throes of her fever, whispered quietly to herself, “Will I go to bed now? Will I? Can I, damn it?!”

And her answer was yes. Oh, what a relief. Good night.

p.s. The image is a visual representation of my ravaged mind.

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