Sunday, February 29, 2004

Sausage wars in Serbia

As you know, I write for The Onion Dome a satirical site about the life and news in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Sometimes I have a hard time finding stories, and it's often because of stories like this one, from The Scotsman (it came to me by e-mail and I couldn't find the link).
2004.02.29 Scotsman/PA:
Sun 29 Feb 2004
1:29pm (UK)
Sausage Lovers Clash with Church in Row over Lent
Residents of a tiny Serbian village had to choose between their religion or their stomachs after a local sausage festival clashed with the start of the Lent fast.

Orthodox church leaders demanded the festival be postponed and threatened the organisers with expulsion from the church.

But today many meat lovers in Turija, 60 miles north-west of Belgrade, shunned the Sunday service and gathered instead around the village's record-breaking 1.25 mile-long sausage. They claimed the priests' decree was the best possible advertisement for their traditional feast of 20 years.

"We didn't even try to go to see if the church would let us in," said Miroslav Meduric, one of the sausage festival's organisers.

Church elders forced the villagers to make a choice between fasting or attending the meat festival--no small issue in food-loving Serbia. Hence, the conflict added a bitter taste to this year's festivities and drew much public attention.

It also sparked fresh debate throughout the republic about the role of the Orthodox Church in the newly established Serbian democracy.

"The key question is this: will Serbia develop as an Orthodox Christian or a secular state?" liberal Danas daily wrote in a commentary on the Turija sausage festival.

"After all, sausage feasts should be left to the cooks and gourmands, not spiritual leaders."

Earlier in the week, the local bishop, Irinej, demanded the festival be postponed and alluded to its blasphemous nature. Bishop Irinej even threatened to expel the festival organisers from the church, a threat amounting to a curse.

"We call on all the followers of our church to rise in defence of the Holy Fast and protect the religion and tradition of our honourable ancestors," he wrote.

When the three-day festival started on Friday, doors to the local church were chained to keep "sinners" away. Church bells rang every 15 minutes, as if sounding a funeral toll.

The people were furious.

"The church should mind its own business, and people should make their own choices," fumed Dobroslav Pavlovic, 55.

Despite the church warnings, most of Turija's villagers were out this weekend to see this year's "ultra-sausage," over 1.25 miles long, 2 inches in diameter, and made of 28 pigs, nearly 110 pounds of dry peppers and 110 pounds of salt.

Amid traditional folk music and dance, the sausage--produced in the local slaughterhouse and towed to the central square in a huge glass container--was hailed as "the best in the world."

It's not that I don't appreciate what Bishop Irinej is trying to accomplish: The festival organizers are throwing away something valuable and precious in the culture, something a lot of American Orthodox wish they had--a unity of spiritual and daily life found in the everyday rhythms shared throughout the whole culture. Some American Orthodox (and converts to other "exotic" religions) go a little mad in the pursuit of that great good.

And here are the sausage festival-goers throwing it away.

I question the good bishop's tactics, though. As the mom of teen-agers, I've found that distinguishing between suffocatingly strict and overly lax can be difficult. The truth is that they can do anything they want. My question is which course of action minimizes the likelihood of those mistakes and encourages them to come back in repentance if they do go astray?

I'm not saying that the Serb villagers are teen-agers, but anyone with new-found freedom is going to have some of those same urges to test it, push the envelope, find out why the old fogies told us we shouldn't do that.

In the meantime, here it is, raw and unfiltered, too real for the Onion Dome.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

An update

Just as I was beginning to think that all Orthodox Christians were nuts, I ran across this piece by John David Powell, The Passion Of The Christless: Interpreting The Words Of Fear, a well-written and well-grounded look at The Passion brouhaha.

Passionate about The Passion

Greek Orthodox leaders tell flock 'Passion' isn't accurate

The sources quoted in this piece exhibit some of the maddening isolationism that so often characterizes the Orthodox.

This part is probably a good idea, since so many Orthodox are uninformed about their faith and since the Western Christian paradigm is so dominant:
Leaders of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Chicago have sent letters to all of their parishes warning clergy and the faithful that some of the theological ideas expressed in Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ are not part of their tradition.

The film's creator is a certain variety of Catholic, and there have been some good articles detailing how that tradition diverges from the Orthodox. It's useful thing to keep in mind when viewing the film.

Unfortunately, the priest is quoted as going on to say, "My fear is that this might be the only 'gospel' that people see or read." My question for him is in what language is the Gospel read in his own church? If he's "afraid" that this is the only Gospel people see or read, what does that say about the dearth of "gospel" getting out among the people? And what is his diocese doing about it? Finally, if this is the only "gospel" people see or read, would he prefer that they have none at all?

Meanwhile, across the planet, Archbishop Christodoulos has said that the film "has an excessive, deeply stirring realism." This is a bad thing, apparently.

The complaining Greeks in Chicago could issue a much shorter list of movies that are "accurate." I don't recall any Greek churchmen complaining that My Big Fat Greek Wedding presented an inaccurate view of the Church, even though, after his baptism, the young finance says, "I guess I'm Greek now." No letters to parishes clearing up that possible misunderstanding. I enjoyed that movie a lot, but to treat the light romantic comedy as an unadulterated good and the attempt at capturing an aspect of the Gospel as an unadulterated evil seems to lack proportion, if nothing else.

Rant off.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Elmore Leonard writes about writing

Crime novelist Elmore Leonard joins forces with Mark Twain in Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle.

Great advice from two novelists with some characteristics in common--humor, knack for dialogue, fine sense of story. Never mind that Twain broke at least one of Leonard's rules--he gets a pass because he did eye dialect so well, but Leonard's right that it's hard to read. Leonard hasn't written his Huckleberry Finn, to my knowledge, but I suspect that Twain would have liked Get Shorty.

Mars Orthodox

OK, you've got to take a look at this week's Onion Dome: Russian Lander Finds Orthodox Life on Mars, for two reasons:

One, because it's dead-on funny: "In what could be the most earth-shattering news of the past few millenia, Russian scientists released controversial photographs of Orthodox beings living on Mars." The other, because it's the first, in my memory, photo in the Onion Dome.

But don't stop on Mars. Marie reports on what's happened to the Harmony Peace Commune and Study Center since its proprietors (Bud and Herb and Mary Jane and Alice) became Orthodox.

But what the heck. Read them all. It's only a click away. (Click away! Click away!)

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

It's only a movie

I know it's heresy in these waning days before the "post-Passion of the Christ era begins, but I repeat: It's a movie. It's a movie by a man who cut his teeth in the action genre. This is not a put-down. I have no doubt of Mel Gibson's sincerity, and I know that any genre can be sanctified by content, but it's a movie.

It is not Instant Mind Control (wasn't there a SF movie in B&W about a message on the radio that turned people into anti-Semitic zombies? maybe not.). Nor is it the fifth Gospel. It's a work of art. Any artist in any medium chooses the elements that will communicate his vision, whether he's working from Napoleon's invasion of Moscow or the life and times of a certain Scottish patriot. It's Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, not Matthew's, Mark's, Luke's or John's. It's based on the Gospel, informed by a certain approach to history and a certain religious tradition. This neither nullifies nor exalts its value. It is what it is. A movie. I recommend that viewers maintain contact with their brains throughout it, the same way they did watching Lord of the Rings and Lost in Translation.

This rant is prompted but not caused by the remarks of a sincere priest, Fr. Steven Kostoff from Cincinatti, writing in the Orthodoxy Today blog.
The Orthodox Church does not for one moment doubt or deny the horrible sufferings of Christ on the Cross. "One of the Holy Trinity" -- the incarnate Logos -- was crucified, and we know full well about the torturous horrors of crucifixion. Our Holy Week hymnography will allude to that suffering. We also believe that "the blood of God" (or "His own blood" -- Acts 20:28) delivers us from our sins and bestows upon us the gift of salvation. The Epistle to the Hebrews, the book we read throughout Great Lent, is all about the shed blood of Christ. We are not "docetic" (a heresy that basically denied that Christ actually suffering on the Cross).

However, the Orthodox Church -- when not unduly affected by "Western influence" -- has always followed the Gospels in being reticent and restrained in its liturgical tradition, theological and spiritual writing, and iconography when avoiding an emotional and overly pietistic account of the Crucifixion of the "Lord of Glory" (1 Corinthians 2:8). The mystery of the Crucifixion has a theological dimension that should never be obscured by the truly human drama of the events leading up to and including the Crucifixion.

I have no quarrel with Father Kostoff's basic point, nor with Frederica Mathewes Green's, who said much the same thing in her review. And if anybody is thinking of showing the movie as part of Good Friday services, I wouldn't recommend it. It's not liturgical art, filtered and refined through the ages in the Church (see above; it's Mel Gibson's movie). And if anybody decides not to watch it, whether because of the violence or because they hated Lethal Weapon, I have no quarrel with that either.

Because it's a movie.

Monday, February 23, 2004


I pulled an LP out yesterday, Crosswinds, vintage 1974, by Billy Cobham.

This jazz drummer literally plays up a storm on side one of this classic, which I haven't heard since, well, probably not since the '80s. (Funny how time flies when the technology leaves a favorite behind.)

So I'm doing some home improvement in the basement and listening to this, both remembering how much I loved it and hearing it as if for the first time. I was truly blown away (an apt pun, if you know the piece) by the dizzying speed of all the instrumentation. I just didn't remember how fast it was.

Then my husband comes into the basement and asks why I've got the speed set on 45. Well, I don't know why the speed was set on 45 -- we don't even own any 45s -- but that explains a lot.

I'll have to listen at normal speed sometime, slowing the tornado down to a thunderstorm.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Forgiveness Sunday

All of you who have been waiting to find out whether I enter Lent crippled this year will be pleased (or perhaps outraged) to learn that I am not. This is a good thing, a grace, actually, since once again I didn't do any of the exercises I resolved to do to prepare myself for this spring marathon of kneeling and getting up and kneeling again.

I learned to appreciate the seasons when I was a college student in Columbia, Mo. We lived across a road from the Stephens College (not my alma mater) natural area, and we would walk into the woods every day and sit on a rock overlooking a small creek and talk and look around and listen. We went in the morning and at night, all through the year. Sometimes we went down and walked along the creek. Sometimes people came upon us, talked for a while and went on. We discovered a badger and watched the birds and the squirrels. Once my husband and a friend were walking down by the creek and suddenly started dancing around and leaped into the water. What's wrong? I asked, when I could stop laughing. They didn't know, but it turned out that they had been walking in a garden of nettles.

The seasons changed imperceptibly, and yet a mark would come around, and we would notice that the new season had come -- the turning leaves and then the snow and then the new greenery and then the dusty, lacey, weary leaves of the late summer. Every year different and yet the same.

The Church is like that, and the seasons have their own turning, their own markers. It's not spring, summer, fall and winter, though the Church seasons are hinged to the year's cycle. We look up and it's Lent, Pascha, the Dormition fast, Nativity, and Lent again.

Forgiveness Sunday is one of those markers. The annual rite of forgiveness is a chance to see our parishioners like flowers arrayed in their spring beauty, not in dress or appearance, but refocusing on the relationship with each one, made clean again in the exchange of grace.

Whether the ground hog is sore or not, it's seven weeks to Pascha.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Learn Writing with Uncle Jim -

James D. Macdonald is running a writing course here.

Lots of good advice, including this: write two hours of new stuff every day. Revise later.

I wonder if I can get up at 5 a.m. and do that. I'll let you know tomorrow.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Science Fiction definitions

New member of the blogroll is this page: IF YOU LIKE THIS page of ULTIMATE SCIENCE FICTION WEB GUIDE.

I'll have to take it in in small bites, because the background makes my eyes jitter. All the same, it's a perceptive look at the many subgenres of science fiction.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

The value of creativity

A correspondent on a writing list said that a friend of his wasn't pleased with his recent success at selling his fiction. The friend thought that writing fiction was an intrinisically self-centered and selfish undertaking.

I disagree.

God creates the world in an ongoing outpouring of love. Artists participate in that creation and exercise an aspect of the image of God built into every human being. Also, in partnership with God, they bring cosmos (Greek for harmony, beauty, order) out of chaos. God created out of nothing; we create out of materials at hand, but we are like the child hammering on the floor of the carpenter's workshop, imitating in a small way the work of the carpenter.

That process, as limited as it is, can help people make sense of the complexity of existence. Stories can show us that good triumphs (murder mysteries), evil is punished (too many to name), ingenuity is rewarded (heist stories), friendship helps survive loneliness (Lost in Translation), ambition leads to death (Macbeth), repentance leads to life (Crime and Punishment), sense protects from pain (Sense and Sensibility). That's not even to mention all the wonders revealed in nonfiction.

There are evil, i.e., lying, stories, but that's the content of the stories, not the fact of their being written.

Writing, as well as the rest of the arts, requires inward focus. If other people call it selfishness, that's their selfishness. It's like telling a master chef he's being selfish because he spends so much time in the kitchen.

People who pass judgment based on whether everything has a measurable result do not help us. In my experience, these judgments can be spiritually damaging. If we deny the value of the gifts we're given the responsibility of bringing into the world, then the next step is to question our own value as human beings.

What does a mockingbird contribute? A sunset? A Renoir painting? A Bach cantata? Beauty is valuable and ennobling.

Selfishness is something we all have to deal with, but practicing the arts is not in itself selfish.

I wonder if the friend has an artistic bent that he or she has been browbeaten into squelching. (That's a speculation. It would make a good story.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Speaking of Serbia

The new Onion Dome is out, and "In a move which has been repeated repeatedly over the last year and a half, the Serbian Orthodox continued this week to be totally undisturbed about not being mentioned regularly in the online Orthodox satire weekly, the Onion Dome."

I know it's shocking, but while you're there, you'll learn how a couple of guys from Boring, Oregon (yes, the comma belongs there) responded to news of a possible rapprochement between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia (mine). Marie Moffitt reports on suspected child abuse at the beginning of Lent (too much meat). And Alexander Lebedeff (I just love to call him our man in Moscow--it sounds so cosmopolitan) describes a family drama over superstition. (Wait till you see next week's from Alexander; he's gone further afield than Moscow.)

'Attention must be paid'

TP: The Forgotten War: "Four years after it was 'liberated' by a NATO bombing campaign, Kosovo has deteriorated into a hotbed of organized crime, anti-ethnic violence, and even al-Qaeda sympathizers. Though nominally still under UN control, this southern province of Serbia is today dominated by a triumvirate of Albanian paramilitaries, mafia gangs, and terrorists. They control a host of smuggling operations and are implementing what many observers call their own brutal ethnic cleansing of minority groups, namely Serbs, Roma and Jews. This, despite an 18,000-strong NATO-led peacekeeping force and an international police force of more than 4,000. "

I'm dismayed that so few Americans on the left or right are paying attention to this situation. America's war against Serbia fulfilled all the dire predictions of the most recent war on Iraq--targeting civilian infrastructure, civilian casualties, heightening terrorism, destruction of cultural resources, an aftermath of chaos. But it's not the Middle East; it's Europe. And it's a forgotten little war that no one seems to care about.

But since Kosovo is becoming the hub of terrorism in Europe, then Europeans, as well as Americans, would be wise to pay attention.

Goodbye HTML cheatsheet

Wired News: Webmonkey, RIP: 1996 – 2004: "They finally pulled the plug. Webmonkey, the site that turned humble Web developers into attention-grabbing authors, said last week it is closing down following a round of layoffs in the U.S. division of its parent company, Terra Lycos (also the parent company of Wired News). "

This is bad news to one who has the Webmonkey HTML cheatsheet on her favorites list.

Archive those babies to your hard drive before it's too late.

Friday, February 13, 2004

A gift for my mystery-writing friends

Here's one I ran across in connection with my day job. These guys happen to live in Roseburg, Oregon, and the more I read about them, the more I wish I were a mystery writer:

'Cold Case Cowboys' Ride Again
Boyle is a member of the Douglas County sheriff office's cold case squad, which investigates local unsolved homicides. The squad, now in its second year, may be the only all-volunteer cold case team in the nation.

The squad is made up of four retired cops who just happened to settle in this town 123 miles north of the California line. They didn't know one another, although all four spent the majority of their law enforcement years in California. The joke in these parts is that Oregon is where California cops come to die.

County employees refer to the team as "the old guys."

The youngest is 58, the oldest, 68. All have gray or silver hair, one has a bad leg, a couple have fading eyesight, and all claim to suffer from varying degrees of deafness. Three wear black cowboy hats, and all take delight in ribbing one another, orneriness being one quality among cops that might actually increase with age.

The old guys have turned out to be a crack team.

I can just see it: a bunch of quirky old men show up the hurried young officers by means of patience, wit and experience. (Wandering over the boundary into fiction here.) There's a chance for well-orchestrated characters: good at different aspects of investigation; good cop-bad cop opportunities; man-about-town type and one faithfully married 50 years. Over the course of the series, different members of the group take the protagonist slot, so that author can keep things fresh while maintaining the continuity of their camaraderie.

I simply can't write a murder mystery, so if you're reading this and it interests you, run with it. If it makes you a potful of money, buy me a latte the next time you're in town

Revising, revising

Still revising the manuscript to send off the first 100 pages. I don't know if I'm improving it or just dinking around, but I think it's getting better.

In the meantime, amuse yourself with this.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Critique group

My critique group meets in a the restaurant attached to a biker bar in Beavercreek, Oregon. When I go there in the summer, half the parking lot is roped off for Two-Wheel Tuesday, and a bunch of middle-aged Harley riders are gathered in their leather clothes with their leathery skin and talking about whatever middle-aged Harley riders talk about. In the winter, the dark parking lot is filled with pickup trucks sporting Harley decals.

I go into the family restaurant portion of the building and always find, no matter what time I arrive, that Tom and Chuck, my critique partners, are there before me. Tom is an engineer with a gift for story telling and a determination to bring meaning out of the sadness and humor he's experienced in his life. Chuck has worked in forestry and now writes a monthly nature column for a small newspaper, as well as some fiction. And then there's me.

The restaurant is a down-home kind of place with coffee mugs on all the tables and stacking chairs and a friendly waitress who keeps coming by to fill our coffee. We've had a parade of these waitresses--it must be hard to staff a restaurant in Beavercreek, Oregon--and most of them are young and cheerful, with pleasant banter and young kids at home.

None of us is a writing guru. I've been banging my head against the wall the longest, I think, but Chuck has had a literary agent, and Tom has a fool-proof plan to accomplish anything he sets his mind to. It may not work for me, but I believe it will work for him.

Chuck could easily be syndicated for his nature writing, and he occasionally gets experts contacting him about some topic or other. Tonight, I was looking for the population of Boring, Oregon, his hometown (couldn't find the information in 25 pages of google links, but that's a different frustration), and I ran across his comments (scroll down a ways) about the habits of the pika (a large mountain ground squirrel that looks something like a Guinea pig).

Last evening Tom brought back a story that he had showed us once--it's in third draft now, and I think he'll sell it.

And I brought 10 pages of my novel and got such good comments from them that I solved a bedeviling problem with the premise in a way that adds depth and aids character development through the whole story.

The only thing we have in common is that we live in Clackamas County, Oregon, and it's easier to drive to Beavercreek for a critique group meeting than to, say, downtown Portland. I walk out smelling of cigarette smoke (not ours, from the bar next door) and hopped up from coffee and writing. Serendipity is a beautiful thing.

Yesterday's mystery solved

The thing about Terry McAuliffe and pets' political donations was from Scrappleface. I should have known.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Tuesday satire

The Onion Dome is up for this week. Our intrepid editor reports that the Ecumenical Patriarch is suing the Holy American Hellenic Archdiocese. I filed my weekly report on the Moscow Patriarchate's efforts to distance itself from the Sopranos crime family. Marie has timely news about a new Orthodox pet product. And Alexander, our Man in Moscow, reports on an archbishop's reluctance to leave a wedding reception.

And while we're on the subject of satire, this came to me by e-mail:

DNC Boss Defends Donations from Kids, Pets

(2004-02-10) -- The chairman of the Democrat National Committee (DNC) today defended the right of children, and even household pets, to make political contributions.

The remarks came after a story in The New York Times highlighted the fact that children as young as two-years-old legally make contributions to political parties and candidates.

"If your 2nd-grader really believes in a party, or a candidate," said DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, "you can't prevent her from giving, just because some skeptics think its nothing but a way for rich people to violate the contribution caps for individual donations. And if your pet is really committed to a set of ideas and the person who represents them, he or she shouldn't be disenfranchised from contributing."

Mr. McAuliffe said that since Howard Dean's so-called "I Have a Scream" speech in Iowa, the DNC has been deluged with requests from family pets who want to contribute money to the Dean campaign.

"Apparently there was something in that speech which resonated with dogs in particular," he said. "The Bassett Hound and Dalmatian donations have been pouring in."

by Scott Ott

I googled the headline and couldn't find the source.

I usually don't cover politics here. I have my opinions, but there are a lot of political sites run by people more savvy, more informed and more articulate than I am. But I thought this piece was uproarously funny and wonder if anyone knows what satire site it comes from.

Monday, February 09, 2004

First Line Blues

I'm not the first writer-blogger to obsess about this, but I'm revising my novel to send a partial to an agent. I've added a new scene to the front end, which is a flashback from the "now" of the rest of the book, and I'm trying to perfect the first line, as well as the first four chapters, in about a week.

Right now, the line is "Several weeks later, when she heard and saw the news for herself, Kate would remember the seps' tired, frightened faces as they packed their gear to go -- Kate never found out where, and neither did Justin."

Bonus points for those who know what novel that first line is derivative of.

Aside from the problem, if it is a problem, of derivation, there is the question of whether it is an adequate hook.

The opening scene takes place three weeks before the book "begins," in the same way the opening of Mystic River takes place years before that story begins.

An opening line could kick forward to the end of the book, revealing the ending, but then the end is always lurking in the background of the action, like the opening shot in Sunset Boulevard of the writer face down in the swimming pool. If the writer works from after the story, then that's going to have an effect on the story. The end isn't a surprise, and the reader spends the narrative wondering how the character reached that place. It can be an effective technique, but it's not my technique for this book. I want time to keep pace with the action, for the narration to reveal what's happening as the reader and characters discover it.

So I don't want the opening line to refer to the end.

It could also simply be isolated to the scene at hand. Figuring out how to kick the interest forward is the question here.

It now refers to the inciting incident of the story, three weeks hence. That appeals to me.

But does it sparkle? Does it grab the reader by the shirt collar and drag him into the book?

I'm still working on it, but if my readers have any thoughts, I'd be glad to hear them.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

A novelist looks at the Passion

Mel Gibson's movie has stirred up a lot of controversy, and the cloud of fury of some Jewish people's response is so thick that we Christians can't even get down to arguing among ourselves about it.

OK, just to get this out of the way, anti-Semitism is evil, and people, including Christians, who have committed crimes against Jews have done evil, and there is a disturbing rise of anti-Semitism around today, such that if I were a Jew, I would be nervous, too. Mel Gibson's movie is not part of that new anti-Semitism, and people who watch it are not going to come out of the theatre burning and pillaging among the Jewish community. That's simply not what the story is about.

But the novelist in me looks at the Great Story, which is human history, and asks why. Why was Jesus incarnated as a Jew--this Middle Eastern tribe, with its excellently preserved library of God's dealings with them? Why did he pick the time of the Pax Romana, that "worldwide" government of order imposed by force, when trade, commerce, travel, communication were at their most advanced in the ancient world?

I believe it was the principle of maximum capacity. In fiction, a character must always be acting at his maximum capacity, or you send the audience away in howls of laughter, as when the heroine goes into the haunted attic barefoot and carrying only one candle. If the character hasn't made her best effort to overcome the complication, then the story will be flawed, because the audience will never know how powerful either the antagonist or the protagonist was.

In the Great Story, the protagonist is humankind, and the antagonist is the force of Evil. One effect of Christ's coming was to reveal how broken humanity was. If he had come to the ancient Scotts (to pick my own ethnic extraction), the result would have been the same, but it wouldn't have mattered as much--because the Scotts are an even more obscure tribe with no vast recorded library of dealings with God. "Eh, the Scotts, they're savages anyway." Christ had to come to the Jews because they had the best chance of passing the test. The fact that they didn't shows not how bad the Jews were, but how broken the whole of humanity was and is.

He had to come to the Romans, because at that time it was the greatest, most powerful government in the history of the world. If any government had a view of justice and could rise to the fact that God, innocent and benevolent, was being accused of capital crimes, it was the Roman government. It failed. It's a failure that should, and has, made many political thinkers wary of the promises and possibilities of any government down through history.

But to clarify the point, in case any borderline anti-Semites or fearful Jews happen to read this: "The Jews" did not kill Christ. Humanity, warped by Evil, did. And all violence against the innocent, regardless of the religion or ethnic extraction of both the victim and perpetrators, participates in the killing of Christ.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

New religion blog

Here's one I expect to be checking frequently: It's run by two journalists who think that religion is an important part of our culture (huh!).

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Good humor wins a point

This from Teresa Nielsen Hayden, the Tor editor who blogged on the rejection reactions earlier this week. She reports in her blog Making Light: Nudge note that a writer sent an anniversary card to her manuscript asking how it was enjoying the light and activity of the city.

Very clever without ragging on the publisher. Nielsen Hayden reports that the card has been passed around and hung on the wall, and they've dug out the manuscript.

Rejection again

It's ironic, after my post a couple of days ago about rejections, that I received one today, from the imprint of a major publisher, saying, "No, but . . . ." It's amazing what a difference there is between "yes, but . . ." and "no, but . . . ."

Anyway, this was the latter, and I get to choose how to look at it--on the "no" side or the "but" side. I pick the "but."

When I last encountered that manuscript, I had no clue how to fix it, and I thought this editor had found it so abysmal that it wasn't worth sending a rejection notice. Instead, he apologized for the long wait (which wasn't as long as some I've heard of), told me his house's list was full, but he and his reader liked it a lot. "Well written and incredibly suspenseful," he wrote.

Well, by golly. Maybe I can work with that. Maybe I can take what I've learned from Frey and McKee and rework the beginning. Maybe I can dust off my agents' list and try a few of them again (the ones who rejected my query a couple of years ago won't remember). Maybe I could even send it to the reputable POD publisher that offered to look at it again if I rewrote it.

It's something, and it's almost done.

Maybe. Just maybe.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Onion Dome Gets a Notice

The Onion Dome been given a big responsibility by the folks over at the Christianity Today weblog:
As many Eastern Orthodox readers often point out, any time Weblog notes a news item on an Orthodox church, Weblog doesn't know much beyond the basics of Eastern Orthodoxy (what I've learned comes largely from reading Frederica Mathewes-Green and a Christian History issue on the subject), so the internal politics of the church are out of Weblog's depth. Maybe The Onion Dome (yes, The Onion meets Orthodoxy) will help sort it all out.

It's a big job, but someone's got to do it. We'll look to our Intrepid Editor to lead the way on this. Hang tight.

A New Author

I went to see David Farris this evening, author of Lie Still, a literary suspense novel. (Since it was at Powell's Books in downtown Portland, I thought it only appropriate to link to Powell's rather than Amazon.)

He said he worked on this, his first novel, 16 years. It's been optioned for a movie, and he's working with the screenwriter on the medical details.

Sixteen years. Not continuous, but with times out for learning and growth, until the last two years when he knew what he wanted to say and how to say it.

It's a medical thriller that looks at the ethical dilemmas doctors face. It sounds like a good book.

I'm happy for him (this sentence is usually followed by a "but," but it's not). With talent, hard work and dedication, it's possible to reach the prize -- getting your story out there between hardboard covers where perfect strangers can enter your world and learn the life lessons you've struggled so hard to earn for yourself.

I can't say it gives me hope--or despair--any more than finding a really bad book published by a major house does. Every assault on the publishing walls is a new battle. Nobody's battle really tells anything about anyone else's.

So the only moral I can draw from this little story is that it is possible to storm the battlements.

Read the Onion Dome

The new Onion Dome is posted. We've got a new writer this week, Alexander Lebedeff, Our Man in Moscow, who has discovered a new twist on adolescent rebellion.

In the meantime, our Intrepid Editor reprises a piece about way cool bumper stickers, Marie Moffitt gives a Murphy award for a memorable houseblessing, and I've discovered the Ecumenical Patriarch's secret plans to move out of Istanbul, uh, Constantinople.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004


Tor editor Teresa Nielsen Hayden deconstructs some whining responses to rejection letters:
I've been contemplating a site,, which is a sort of shrine to the rejection letter. A major portion of it is devoted to writers anonymously posting rejections they've received, and commenting on how it made them feel. I do understand their need to vent, and some of their lamentations made me feel genuinely sympathetic. Others didn't have that effect.

What would I know about it? Simple. I'm one of those evil SOBs who rejects their manuscripts.

Her "rejection primer" is long, funny, enlightening and well worth reading.

I have an embarrassingly extensive rejection collection. The worst was from the agent who used my return envelope to send five pages of fifth-generation photocopied flyers about her own book, teaching writers how to write. Nothing like sending an SASE to a junk mailer.

At the other end of the spectrum is the letter I have framed on my office wall from an editor with a major house who had recently turned agent. I think I caught her before the slush pile did. She read my manuscript and went into extra paragraphs about how it should be published, but she didn't have the market connections for science fiction (I might argue that it's futuristic mainstream, but I take her meaning).

The form letters were wearying, and I used to take the letters to the light and turn the paper upside down to find out if the signature was real or a graphic element. The fact that some kid in the mailroom could have had permission to sign "Ms. Big Agent" on the rejection letter didn't change the fact of the personal touch.

I liked the simple responses of "no thanks" or "not for us" on my query letter. It was human contact, at some level, and I knew who was rejecting the query.

I really appreciated those who took time to give feedback. One agent had a little form with check boxes of common problems, and mine fit into a couple of those categories. It was helpful. And of course the ones who took the time to think about it and tell me in some detail why it didn't work for them were doing me a big favor, even though it wasn't pleasant to hear and sometimes perplexing--as when one tells you that it's commercial and she does literary, and another tells you that it's literary and he does commercial. Still, putting together the whole range of comments, it's possible get an overview of what I need to fix, although not, alas, how to fix it.

That's my least favorite rejection word, "alas." It's surprising how many of the form letters it shows up in. I wonder if the New York publishing community talks like that. "Can you do lunch next Tuesday?" "Alas, but no. Forsooth, I have another appointment. How about Wednesday?" Actually, I didn't get any "forsooth"s.

The prize for Most Mysterious Rejection goes to an envelope that came back empty and unsealed with a New York postmark about a year and a half after I'd stopped submitting and after I thought everything was back. At least I assume it was a rejection. Alas, I'll never know.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Another Novel Warmup

This one is in honor of my daughters, who came to America from Russia nine years ago Feb. 2.

Find your way in a strange city

Mila took me to the subway station. She handed me some plastic tokens and told me where I needed to get off.

I had never been on a subway before, having spent my life in small American cities, where the closest thing to public transportation was a wheezing, belching bus. I had heard about subways, though, had seen the movies showing knife-wielding punks tossing switchblades from left hand to right and back. Years later, I would ride a new York subway and not see any knife-wielding punks, and it wouldn't surprise me at all, but that would be partly because I had crossed Moscow by subway.

It was Sunday morning. I was surprised at how clean the station was, with its tiled walls in mosaic designs of blue and beige. There's much you don't see in a strange place. Small details, like what the people were wearing or how they walked, elude you by as you sound out, letter by letter, the unfamiliar script. When the train came, I was thankful that the numbers were the same as ours, I stepped aboard and found a seat. A silence settled over the car, broken occasionally by the garbled and incomprehensible announcements of the next stop. There was no conversation. Some people read; others set their eyes on a distant horizon and rode. I put my entire concentration into listening to the driver and into counting the stops. When I came to the correct number, I checked it against the sign, summoning all my faith, hope and Cyrillic to match it with the destination Mila had told me.

I stepped off the car and climbed the stairs into the Moscow winter.