Monthly Archives: June 2011

Being Authentic is the Best . . .

I’ve heard it’s the best, anyway. For some reason, we give kudos to people who speak the truth from their hearts, even if the truth they speak is kind of icky. This person’s one of us, we say, this person belongs, this person is playing the authentic, humble-little-me role that makes us all feel better about being just as icky inside.

And so I’m going to play the “authentic is best”–just for today, mind you–because it really isn’t authentically me at all. If I were really like that, I’d probably take my talents to Nashville. I’d make a lot more money as a country songwriter than as a house-wifey, home-school mom of four, who makes basically nothing for all the work she does. In fact, I cost the family money because I consume food now and again and do nothing to replace it. I tried the garden thing, but because of the severe drought, the rabbits ate everything, including the tomato plants. Yeah, I know. Those are some desperate rabbits.

So I’m going to admit the truth to you, due to the clearance I’ve given myself to be totally authentic (but not really me) for one blessed day.

I hate blogging and social media. Social media is yet another way to prove to the world how much of a social pariah I am, and how nobody really cares about the lofty subjects I care about, like, What did Samuel Johnson eat for dinner when he threw a party for Charlotte Lennox? And why have we changed the spelling of pye to pie? Why place two vowels side-by-side? Was that really necessary, Mr. Webster? Can you imagine if eye was spelled eie? But, honestly, those are the subjects I want to blog about. Sad, isn’t it?

Mostly, I hate blogging because I hate the pressure of pretending that anybody cares. I’m not good at pretending.

I’m not all that fond of being a housewife. Who is? Yes, I guess that is authentic. Actually, cleaning isn’t bad and laundry’s all right, too. I hate cooking, though, and I’d probably skip eating if I didn’t have to feed my four hungry children. So I just eat with them. Some people ask me why I’m so skinny. There’s the answer. Lose the enjoyment for eating, and you’ll lose the pounds proportionately.

The worst part of being a housewife, however, are those silly crafty things that people expect moms to make with their kids. Will you just shoot me, instead? I hated crafts as a child. Why do I have to perpetuate weird macaroni art as an adult?

It’s raining outside! Seriously raining–drops pounding my windowpane. Oops, it stopped already. So much for the drought being over.

Okay, back to the post about being authentic. Is being authentic always this negative? I hope not. I have one last secret to admit to the world. You know the band They Might Be Giants? You know their song Don’t Start? That song contains some of my favorite rock lines, and I heard the song this evening for the first time in years: “No one in the world ever gets what they want, and that is beautiful. Everybody dies frustrated and sad, and that is beautiful.” 

I could explain why these words resonate with me, but that would destroy the irony of the sentiment. Trust me on this. I made the mistake of googling these lyrics, only to discover that many, many others have pondered the deep philosophical meaning of the words, thereby reducing them to idiocy. And, of course, I didn’t feel very unique any longer, at having an affinity for song lyrics that deeply resonate with bloggers everywhere.

There. I’m done with being authentic, of divulging the deep feelings/secrets of my heart. Anybody else want to be authentic? Spill your secrets in the comment section.

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The Importance of What-If Questions in Christian Fiction

Nobody can agree on the purpose of Christian fiction. I suspect this is just as true in the arena of the speculative. But I’ll hazard a guess that most speculative authors are asking “what if” questions, meant to ponder the meaning of life, science, philosophy, and humanity’s place in the universe.

When applying these questions to a Christian model, heated debates inevitably ensue. I don’t know the reason for it, but Christians often insist that the answers to these questions are black and white and, furthermore, many Christian writers tell tales as if they already know the answers to these what-ifs. Therefore, how dare an author ask them in the first place and, conversely, how dare a reader venture down those shaky roads of what-if questions that don’t have obvious or clear answers. But maybe, just maybe, those what-if questions are just as important for the Christian message as having all the answers.

For the purpose of my venture into the speculative, I’d like to go all the way back to the British 18th C Gothic. I’m going to quote from two classic works from this time period, Ann Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.

Gothic literature was an English creation. They created it at the height of the Enlightenment, at the pinnacle of philosophical and scientific thought, and during a turbulent period of history. They used the Gothic as a means of imaginative escape into a world where anything was possible, and, what is more, they used it as a means of balance. They balanced virtue with vice, sublimity with beauty, and, ultimately, science and rational thought with the supernatural, just as current speculative fiction balances the terror of the unknown with reality.

Consider this quote from one of the heroes at the end of Romance: “‘Call [my thoughts on the afterlife] not the illusions of a visionary brain,’ proceeded La Luc: ‘I trust in their reality. Of this I am certain, that whether they are illusions or not, a faith in them ought to be cherished for the comfort it brings to the heart, and reverenced for the dignity it imparts to the mind. Such feelings make a happy and an important part of our belief in future existence: they give energy to virtue, and stability to principle’” (275).

Although La Luc is speaking about his dead wife and his faith in an afterlife, there is a secondary meaning that emerges, here, at the conclusion to the novel. Radcliffe is telling her readers that the incredible events of her story, the depth of evil, and the hints of the supernatural, are not necessarily illusions. Believing that the world is evil also leads to a belief in goodness, which becomes a kind of imaginative faith. This faith leads to happiness, but more than that, it energizes those most important Christian notions of virtue and principle.

Even Jane Austen, in her novel that mocked Radcliffe’s, Northanger Abbey, has her heroine, Catherine, concede that Radcliffe’s type of evil isn’t tolerated in England–and yet, even though there are no purely evil villains, no vampires or monsters, nor any thoroughly pure heroines walking around in “‘[Henry to Catherine] a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such footing;’” even so, Catherine responds this way: “among the English, [Catherine] believed, in their hearts and habits, there was a general though unequal mixture of good and bad” (Austen, 157-8).

Perhaps the depth of depravity in Radcliffe’s novels could never have occurred in a rational country–although I would beg to differ with Henry on that one–but evil does exist in the world. Allowing the mind to imagine clearer, stronger notions of these opposites can motivate a person to act more virtuously. That is part of Catherine’s point and, by extension, Austen’s. In imagining horrible scenarios, Catherine may have got her facts wrong, but she didn’t get them wrong in principle. Her imagination helped her understand the true character of her imagined villain. 

The what-if questions of speculative fiction bring balance to Christian fiction because they force us to step out of reality in order to understand it better.

Gothic fiction may not be the beginning of the speculative genre, although Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often considered the first true science fiction novel, but it is integral to understanding the purpose behind Christian supernatural fiction.

But I have one BIG question: why is this genre** not popular in the Christian market? Are we frightened of the questions? Are we afraid the answers won’t line up with our preconceived notions of God and his interactions with mankind?

**Editing to say that I used the term “genre” last night when I was tired. I really meant “spec fic”, which is an umbrella term that encompasses multiple genres–Gothic being one of them.

p.s. I quoted from these editions:
Austen, Jane.  Northanger Abbey 1818.  Longman Cultural Edition 2005.  Ed. Marilyn Gaull.

Radcliffe, Ann.  The Romance of the Forest 1791.  Oxford University Press 1999.  Ed. Chloe Chard.

p.p.s. painting by Salvator Rosa

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I’m On My Speculative Journey

The other day, a good friend of mine (I’ll call him Clayton) came by to visit and, inevitably, he brought up the subject of my book. Clayton was an early beta reader of this novel; in fact, he read what was very nearly a first draft. Stop editing! Stop editing! That’s always his heartfelt cry. I explained to him that 7 out of 10 beta readers had told me I should do xyz, and wouldn’t he listen to 7 out of 10 betas? Not if they were wrong, he said. Listen, he told me, do they read science fiction and fantasy? I thought about it–I wasn’t sure. I also didn’t want to admit that I don’t read science fiction and fantasy, at least not regularly. Finally, he sighed and told me he would read my edited book in one month when he drove back down south to visit me and my family.

But he left me feeling a little off kilter because, in ignoring 7 out of 10 betas, I would be ignoring their advice to develop the relationship between the female protagonist and the male hero. I understood why the betas needed this–in the end, the protagonist goes on a suicidal mission to rescue her man, and they didn’t see why she would bother. How Clayton read the book, however, was exactly as I’d meant the book to be read. I don’t write romances. I never have and never will. The relationship aspect, from Clayton’s perspective, occurs after the end of the book–after the protagonist has set things right so that a relationship can develop in the first place. That is what’s at issue–that they have to find a way to be together. Now that I’ve rewritten most of the book with a more fully developed in-plot relationship, I feel uneasy about it.

Later, I expressed this to my husband, who has to listen to all my story problems, poor man. He interrupted me by shouting, “Clayton reads science fiction and fantasy. You have to listen to him!” There it was again. I hung my head. But I don’t read those genres, I admitted. Except Ray Bradbury, I added. Bradbury was my favorite author in junior high and high school. Oh, and C.S. Lewis and Ursula K. Le Guin and Madeleine L’engle and . . .

At what point in my life did I forget about speculative fiction? It’s no wonder that the first book I loved writing falls into the realm of  the speculative. Childhood reading affects a person more than any other period of reading. What does all this mean for the book I’ve very nearly finished rewriting? I don’t know. I’ll wait to see what Clayton thinks. He might find he enjoys the deeper relationship between the protagonist and hero. Or not. In his own words, romance is the vilest, the worst. . . splutter, splutter, splutter.

Would you listen to 7 out of 10 betas? What’s your favorite genre? Would you go with me on a new blog theme of rediscovering speculative fiction?

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Today I Answer Reader Questions*

Biggles’ question (that’s almost certainly a fake name, but I’ll let it pass) : What is the most annoying song you’ve heard recently, and why? My answer: Biggles, that’s a toss-up between Lily Licks a Lolly and The Gummy Bear Song. And don’t try to convince me that the Gummy sings better in Japanese. I don’t care. After an extensive e-mail debate, the same reader wants to know if there’s a mime version of the Gummy Bear Song. My answer: I hope not.

Why are these songs annoying? Lily Licks a Lolly is highly disturbing. Grown women jumping around and licking enormous lolly pops while wearing Dorothy in Oz dresses and bows are clearly in need of counseling. Full-grown adult males who love this sort of thing also need counseling. Yes, I have a male friend who’s in love with either Lily or Lolly–I’m not sure which. As for the other song, green gummy bears who shake their jelly tushes for the camera are in need of squashing. Splat!

Arya’s question: What do you think of Pavlovian responses? My answer: When I see cavorting green gummy bears, I splat them. No thinking required. To be honest, I don’t think a lot about Pavlovian responses for the very reason responses are Pavlovian. And I am a salivating dog–salivating for a fight with green gummy bears. Or the full-grown male who spends his days watching Lily licking lollies on You Tube.

Molly’s question: Do you approve of finding game cheats on the internet? My answer: Molly, I approve of winning at any cost. If game cheats are the only way of doing that, I say, carry on with them. A couple of years ago, I was completely stymied while playing a Nancy Drew interactive mystery game. Nancy Drew, as we all know, is a detective, as well as a heroine. What would a good detective do, anyway? She would look up cheats and crack the codes. Solving the mystery is the higher good. Agreed?

Robin’s question: On a scale of one to ten, how do you rate Bollywood dancing? My answer: Robin, I would rate Bollywood dancing at a 10/10, but ratings depend on criteria. My criteria for dancing involves these sorts of questions, which I always ask myself when purveying dance shows: Do the dancers use colorful scarves and wear bright costumes? Do they dance to a staccato beat? Do they dance while wearing whimsical expressions on their faces? Does the dancing inspire words of pure happiness to spring to the lips of audience members? Can the songs and dances be applied to other ethnic models, such as Jane Austen or Michael Jackson?

Eddie’s question: What do you think of the declining value of astronomers in our society? My answer: Eddie, this is a particularly ambiguous question. Do they pay less taxes than they used to? Are their wages less than what they used to be? Or do we, as a society, value their profession less than we did, say, during the Enlightenment? If the last question, then the answer will be found in the stars. The stars have guided mankind for thousands of years. Why do we need astronomers when we can read our daily horoscopes on Facebook?

*These were questions I fielded on another social media site. Notice I’m not owning up to which one. Ahem. If you have any questions for me, please ask them in the comment section below. Thank you to all participants. As you can see, almost no question is beneath me, unless the questioner asks my opinion on curtains or edible clothing (I discarded those questions–sorry. I do have my limits.)

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Dream for an Insomniac

Tomorrow is my birthday, my 38th, and I have one birthday wish from whomever grants such things. I want one good night’s sleep, preferably tonight. But seeing as that’s not likely, since I haven’t slept in nights and nights and am beginning to feel somewhat cracked in the head, I think . . . I think I just heard a large explosion outside!

My husband, Joel, recently discovered a 90s film, a love story about an insomniac, called–wait, you’re not going to believe this–Dream for an Insomniac. Joel insisted I watch it, insisted I would understand the heroine, due to her chronic insomnia, her propensity to over-think life and the world, and her job at an espresso shop. Sigh. So there it was on the screen before me–Ione Skye as Frankie the insomniac, reeling off the quotes she’d collected in her head to cope with the lack of quiet upstairs in her noggin–there she was putting on the gear de rigueur for someone who never sleeps, the light pajamas and eye mask (I’m not sure she wore earplugs, but they’re also a mandatory fashion accessory for the sleepless)–there she was tossing and turning through the night and rising early to work at the espresso shop in downtown San Francisco. Do I want to watch such things on screen?

The film is a love story, in case you must know. It’s nothing more than a light, romantic comedy with 90s hipster actors, all jazzing it up on the west coast. At the end, Frankie (Ione Skye) finds love with her soul mate, played by Mackenzie Astin, and as they are lying in each others’ arms, she falls fast asleep in what appears to be post-coital bliss. Sorry to spoil the surprise ending for you, but that’s just the way I am after being awake for too many hours. Cruelty calms my hallucinations.

Right. I’ve been married to my soul mate for nearly 18 years now. He has many good qualities. For one, he is dark-haired and handsome. He’s also patient and kind. But his love does not help me sleep. If it did, he’d be heaping it like coals on my head because he’s as tired of my not sleeping as I am.

So, again, I’m sending out my birthday wish. Tonight, I would like to sleep, because it’s no longer the 90s, and I’m no longer twenty-something and working at an espresso shop in the Pacific Northwest. Oh, look at that–the moon is full. I think I’ll drink another glass of wine. Maybe I’ll read some poetry–something witty, perhaps, that I’ll be able to quote to my friends tomorrow.

Another explosion! That one shook me to the core.

Good night.

p.s. Thanks to Jim Vandagrift for the photo.  

p.p.s Insomniacs never know when to quit because they are actually afraid to go to bed.

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