Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Thought for the day

Writing a novel is like climbing stairs carrying a huge armload of laundry -- socks, underwear, sheets and towels, clothes for children and adults -- all the while wearing (among other things) high heels and tiara.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

What's Going On?: The game

A black man and a black woman stand on a street corner in inner but not Downtown Portland. She is talking with animated, but not wild gestures. (This is where her racial background is relevant; blacks tend to use bigger gestures than people of, for example, northern European descent.)

I had the length of the stoplight to ask, Is she angry? At the man she's talking to? What's their relationship? What's his reaction?

By the time I got my last glimpse, I had concluded that she was talking about something that angered her at the time, but now was an entertaining story. She had a residue of anger, but it was not directed at the man she was talking to. She knew the man, but he was a neighbor, a co-worker whom she had happened to run into, not a husband, brother, anything close like that. The man was enjoying the story.

But because I had been reading How to Read a Person Like a Book, I could take a little extra time and ask what I was basing the conclusions on.

First, the relationship. They stood at a 45-degree angle to each other, "open" to others joining the conversation, and their foreheads were not tense. The man had his ear turned attentively to the woman, and he was smiling slightly.

The anger was in the gestures, forceful, chopping motions, not arm-waving. Movements that if she had been angry at the man would have had her poking him in the chest. But she deflected them downward at the last instant. The object of her anger was absent.

Reading body language is for me at the core of people watching, and for a writer it can be an asset in characterization. If the author wants a character to reveal something without saying it, he can say it in movement. It's all part of "show, don't tell," and if, for example, a the writer wants to reveal that a child is afraid of her mother, she can flinch when another woman reaches out to stroke her hair. She can tend to stay to the side and behind adults.

Attraction, revulsion, desire, skepticism, boredom. We're always talking, even when we don't say anything. And we're always reading, if we pay attention, even if we haven't made use of a book to verbalize results.

Just for fun, check out a couple of paintings, Breaking Home Ties and Nighthawks and ask the questions: Who are they? Where are they coming from and where are they going? What is their relationship? How do they feel? And how do you know what you know?

And then at the mall or on the street corner, the game continues, and characters say more than they ever could in words.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

I'm reading a book

More thoughts on my most recent post about entering fictional worlds.

When I -- and probably a lot of people -- am reading a book and not in the story's world, I'm evaluating. It might be grammar, story structure, character, whether the "facts" of the story are believable, whatever. The critical sense is antithetical to the dream state. And when new writers show somebody their story, they sometimes get critiqued on a lot of things that wouldn't be noticed if the reader had been in the story world. And it's not so much that the noted critiques are wrong, but if the new writer were to fix all these little critiques without addressing the world problem, then the next read will bring more of the same level of critiques, often telling the writer to change back the things he just fixed. If the story works, the critiquer wakes from the dream after some block of pages and says, "Oh, that's right. I'm supposed to be critiquing this."

But one reader's dream state is another's crock of mush. Although many of the Da Vinci Code's kajillion readers experienced that dream state, my memory of that book is white pages wrapped by a red cover. Ho hum. My memory of A Suitable Boy is sprawling Indian landscapes, Hindu festivals, the Ganges River, a Mumbay cemetery in the rain. Yes, also words on a page, but clear memories of things I've seen only through those pages.

At the same time, take a writer like Umberto Eco. I love his books. I love his writing. And though I often lose myself in the world, frequently, he kicks me out with a sentence that makes me want to walk around the block and think about how the world is organized. I had to start marking the text of Baudolino with referents to his thoughts about the nature of truth and lies, what's real, and the "reality" of story. Eco reminds me that I'm "reading a book," and I don't mind it. It's part of what I enjoy about him.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

On beginning a novel

I've been thinking a lot lately about stories about crossing over into other worlds. It's a staple of the fantasy genre -- if the character is not born in this alternative universe, he has to get there somehow, whether it's by falling down a rabbit hole, stepping through a magical post in the train station, finding an opening in the back of a wardrobe or an invisible door into the London Underground. In fact, there are too many such stories to mention, and I'd like to try to understand what they mean.

But I think one thing that is true about these doors into elsewhere is that they're a metaphor for the story itself. What every storyteller does, when we do our task, is draw the reader/viewer/listener into this other world -- whether past or future, a locale exotic or mundane, set among the glittering wealthy or the seamy underside. The story reader is in a sort of dream state. He doesn't see what's around him but instead sees Hogwarts or Middle Earth or a space odyssey or Edwardian England, sees them so clearly, in fact, that he remembers them as if they happened to him, as if they are happening to him.

It's why overwhelmed and overworked agents and publishers can tell in a page or two -- or even a sentence or two -- whether they're going to be interested.

The author has to drag the reader, kicking and screaming if necessary, into the story. He does that by creating a world and giving the reader a reason to stay and see what's going to happen next.

The world is created by the texture of sensory details and the incantation of language. The world is the basis, but the question holds a reader in an ill-drawn world better than a well-drawn world with no story.

The question comes from characters -- who want something, need something, face trouble of some kind; and the magic world promises that the answer waits around the next corner. But behind that answer waits an even bigger question, and so on and so on until the questions are answered.

When the dream breaks, when the reader wakes and thinks, "Ah, it's only a dream," and the story, the world, is imperiled. When the reader observes, "Oh, yes. I'm reading a book," it may bring about the end of the unwinding of the story in that person's universe.

Of course readers "know" they're reading a book, and I'm not literally asking them to lose touch with reality (although I've missed an occasional bus stop because I forgot about the world I was supposed to be navigating). But back to the practical implications for the author.

Every word, every detail from the beginning of page 1 should conspire to envelop the reader in the story. The text has to be real, sensory, emotionally evocative. The characters must be there from the beginning, with their fears, their danger, their terrible trouble.

The following are some items of advice I've gleaned from years of unsuccessful noveling. If they can be of help to anyone else, that's great. At worst, they will be a reminder to me of what to look for on the next draft.

Don't start with the character's name. The reader has no reference for it, no emotional content, so it's just squiggles on the page. Let us be curious about the person's name before we get it.

That's why it works so much better to start with a flyover concept: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (Pride and Prejudice). "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" (Anna Karenina). "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice" (One Hundred Years of Solitude). Not only is it broadly true -- or at least debatable -- but it hits at the depth of our own experience (OK, most people haven't faced a firing squad or remembered the day we discovered ice, but we can identify with our childhood memories coming back to us at the hour of our death -- a nice twofer by Marquez). Not everybody can write one of the greatest sentences in literary history, but we all can aim high.

Marquez's twofer above captures a character in trouble. It's been a while since I read One Hundred Years of Solitude, but I don't thing he got back to Col. Aureliano Buendia's facing the firing squad for another hundred or more pages. I didn't care. I was hooked into the world that I can still see when I remember it.

The character needs a goal or a problem or a goal and then a problem or a problem added to a goal complicated by another problem. If everything's OK, why do you need me along? the reader thinks, and goes back to the television -- or real life.

Not an exhaustive list, but it's all I know right now. Maybe I'll get back to it later, when I learn some more.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

A garden of music

One of my favorite places in the world is the Portland Chinese Garden. It's a block surrounded by some of the busiest streets in Portland. On one side is an office building; on another a single-room-occupancy hotel; just a couple of blocks away are the downtown post office and the train station. And in this garden is a paradise -- a place of calm quiet, still water, an ever-changing landscape of growing, blooming, dying, and rebirthing plants, with a tea house where hours can pass without my ever noticing them.

On a day last week, we heard jazz pianist Randy Porter play there. There were maybe a hundred or more people sitting in chairs around the garden and the music drifted out across the water, where the locuses bloomed huge and pink on tall stems. The garden seemed small for the first time, with the office building across the street forming a backdrop to the "Flowers Bathing in Spring Rain" pavillion (fortunately, August in Portland is not a time of spring rain). My husband and I remembered long walks in our former neighborhood in Lake Oswego, when we would walk by a house on our street and hear astonishingly beautiful piano music being played, which we later learned (after we moved) actually was Randy Porter.

So it was a evening of great music in my favorite garden, with a chance to round out our Porter collection and catch up on the old neighborhood with Randy's wife, who ran the CD sales table.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

A speculation on Transfiguration (reprise)

In honor of tomorrow's Feast, I've dug out a 2005 speculation on the Transfiguration. It starts with a metaphor and ends with "What if" and meanders through time, literature, heaven and earth, and the Communion of the Saints to arrive at the meeting of Christ, Moses and Elijah on Mount Tabor. It's quite long, and if it's not comprehensible, I'll give you your money back. Here goes.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man reading a book.

Time in the book marches according to its own inexorable rhythm, and the reader may experience it sequentially, page by page, in his imagination coming to the events one by one as the characters do. But when he closes the book, all of the book time is contained between the two covers. The reader exists on the same plane as the Author of the book, but the reader is not the author, and the author knows the book and the characters and the backstory and the motivations in ways that the reader can only begin to appreciate.

Within the book, the characters experience their own day-to-day reality. In post-modern novels, characters may speculate about the author, and even about readers, but even in those explorations of the boundary between the book world and the reader's world, the protagonist can never turn and look the reader in the eye.

That's the book as we know it, in our feeble and childish attempts to imitate the work of our own Author.

The cosmos is an unimaginably enormous book, and time exists within the book, from the big bang to black holes. (I almost said the "universe is an unimaginably enormous book," but I changed it to "the cosmos," because I think the universe is the raw material, and the cosmos is the story, but that's a diversion.)

Our reality, as characters, is as limited and insubstantial as is the reality of David Copperfield compared to the living, breathing, suffering, learning human being reading about him. The difference is that, unlike Dickens, our Author was able to give us free will and complexity far beyond what writers can give their characters (although novelists will insist that their characters frequently surprise them), and our Author was able to make the boundary between the reader and the book crossable.

The Bible tells many stories of those boundary crossings. Enoch, Moses and Elijah are among those of the Old Testament who disappeared from the earth after a lifetime of "walking with God." They left the book.

Other prophets received communication from God, messages from the Author to His characters, telling them what was required to survive the book. What it takes, basically, is that we act in the knowledge that the book is not all there is. "Character is what you do when nobody's looking," goes the old saw; but the reader knows the protagonist's agonizing decision, and it matters whether the protagonist chooses right or wrong. Someone is always watching.

And then ("then" in book time), the Author did an extraordinary thing. He became subject to the rules of his own book. Not as king and commander -- "Hmm, I think I'll write in a couple of legions of angels to get me out of this mess" -- but subject to the conditions his characters face. In the Garden of Gesthemene, we see a divine crisis and what a lovely irony, what a dazzling nested narrative that 2,000 years later (in book time) we "watch" Christ's agony in the garden, preserved in a book. Another rabbit trail. I'll go on.

The Communion of the Saints, the "great cloud of witnesses," is made up of those who have survived the book -- past, present and future in book time. I don't know how or even if time operates outside the book, but I'm quite sure that it's not the same. They pray for us, within the book, because they experience our agonizing crises with us. We pray for them -- that is for those within the book -- because even though we are within the book, we understand that there is a reality outside the book, and so we can agonize in the crisis of our grandparents 80 years ago. And of course, the Author generates the book, and the characters experience it, but don't know how many drafts it has gone through -- or is going through now -- to arrive at the proper form.

OK, I think I've arrived at the Feast of Transfiguration. The story is that Jesus took his disciples Peter, James and John up Mount Tabor, where they saw him clothed in light, and they saw Elijah and Moses talking with him. Luke says they were talking about his death, "which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem."

Now at the vespers for the Feast of Transfiguration, there are three appointed Old Testament readings: Exodus 24:12-18; Exodus 33:11-23, 34:4-6, 8; and 1 Kings 19:3-9, 11-13, 15-16. They are accounts of Moses' and Elijah's face-to-face encounters with God. In the first reading, God calls Moses to Mount Sinai to receive the Tablets of the Law. There's a huge brightness on the mountain, like a devouring fire, and Moses is in the midst of it. In the second reading, Moses asks to see God's face, and God hides him in the cleft of a rock and shows him his back, because no one can see God's face and live. In the third reading, Elijah goes to Mount Horeb, and there's a wind and an earthquake and a fire and a still small voice, and the Lord was in the still, small voice.

At last I'm arriving at my speculation: What if the disciples were witnessing the conversations between God and Moses and between God and Elijah that were recorded in the Old Testament. What if, in both of those events, the prophets went outside time, outside the book and met Christ, who had also crossed the boundary of the book.

The Lord was about to lead the Israelites into their new land, and Moses wonders if they should go on. It was a time of crisis. God responds by saying "I will make all My goodness pass before thee."

Elijah has just destroyed the prophets of Baal, and Jezebel has him in the crosshairs. He wonders if he should go on. We're not told what the still, small voice said, but it was enough to strengthen Elijah.

Luke says they talked about Christ's death that "he was to accomplish," which means they talked about it not as a defeat but as a victory. What better way to encourage the faint-hearted prophets than to show them how their struggle fits into the grand scale of things?

It could have happened that way. It's certainly recorded that God breached the barrier between the cosmos and the greater world beyond the book. So what if the accounts could be three views of the same encounter?

What if?

Friday, August 03, 2007

When genres collide

I know it's been done from science fiction to western (as in the television series Firefly and Molly Gloss's The Dazzle of Day). But Steve Ely's introduction to "Cloud Dragon Skies" talked about how often science fiction is about meeting the unknown, which is also the focus of all stories of exploration, colonization and making a life far from the home civilization, which also describes westerns.

Given that backdrop, when I listened to this 1955 podcast of an episode from the western, Fort Laramie, from Vintage Radio, I thought, just for fun, I would pretend I was listening to science fiction. For a long time, I've liked science fiction and not much liked westerns. Now, I think maybe there's no difference. Past, future, this world, that planet, Native Americans, Native Martians, colonists living in fear and danger from the others and from their own people, good and bad guys on both sides. Try it on the next western you see -- whether this one or some other. I'd be interested in your thoughts.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Literary agent gives free e-book on the dreaded query

Literary agent and author Noah Lukeman has posted a 100-page e-book (PDF format) titled How to Write a Great Query Letter.

He's one of the top agents in the business, and free advice from someone of his caliber is very welcome.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Which font should I use?

The last writer to arrive at the workshop, a 50-something medical professional, is an attractive woman with large earnest eyes. Under her arm, she carries an 800-page manuscript (I'm estimating a 250,000 to 300,000 word count) that she's planning to pitch at an upcoming writers' conference.

At the end of the Q&A period at the end of the workshop, the woman asks a question about her manuscript: "Does this font work for the Chinese?"


As it turns out, in her sprawling landscape of a novel, her characters speak French, German, Italian, Hebrew, and Chinese. Oh, and English. And the way she's chosen to reveal this in her manuscript is to have a different font for each language. And it's not a Chinese scene and then a Hebrew scene; it's a quote of Chinese, in the Chinese font, followed by "he said" (or whatever) in the English font.

I've been told by publishing professionals that a first-time novelist is going to have a hard time selling a manuscript over 100,000 words. And I've run into writers who insist that their manuscript can't be cut. I don't know of any of them who broke in with that book. There are exceptions, I'm sure.

But various fonts?

Well, it was necessary to the narrative, she replied. She didn't want to know if it was a good idea to use all those fonts, only if the Chinese was OK. When the workshop leader said it was a little hard to read, she said that it was the best she could find, suggesting that the correct answer was to have been, "Yes, it's a lovely font."

Writers, if your story seems to demand a different font for various speakers, figure out a way to write the information into the text. The writer I'm speaking of has piled up the odds against herself so profoundly that this writers' conference is going to go down as a learning experience rather than an opportunity to sell her book.

But note to self: How often I've been in the position of that writer. Taking on a large and difficult task, figuring out how to do it without getting help or advice, and then committing myself to my jerry-rigged approach -- at the expense of my larger goal -- even when I get an opportunity to get the help I needed. It's hard to turn back from that dead end and find the way that goes all the way through. It seems so much more efficient to keep hacking against that brick wall, because this path looked like the only one open.

Note to self: Stop, listen, and consider advice, even if it seems uncomprehending and stupid, because it might save me some trouble.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


Anu Garg's word of the day today "compossible" exactly describes a new serendipity in my novel.

To give a brief update, a while back, I had a chance to attend a Michael Hauge workshop in Portland. Michael is a Hollywood screenplay consultant whose clear and usable explanations of story structure make his workshop one of the best I've ever attended. And his application of story structure to the character arc -- the distinction between a character's identity and essence -- works for real people, as well as fictional characters. When I told my friend Barbara about it, she compared his approach to Thomas Merton's view of the true and and the false self. She half-jokingly suggested that we invite Michael Hauge to give a talk at our church. Michael would be -- surprised -- I think, at such an invitation, but since then, I've been noticing how that comes up in Church literature. That would be a long blog post in itself, and it's not what I wanted to talk about today.

A few weeks later, Larry Brooks, a student of Michael's who writes thrillers and lives here in Oregon, gave a coaching workshop. Nine writers sat around a table and spun our stories for each other. We didn't read text; instead, we gave the plot overview and talked about how to strengthen our stories and our characters. We asked each other the annoying questions: "But why does it have to be that way?" and "What if you did it this way?" It was enormously productive, and hearing all these stories, even in embryonic form, was like belonging to a storytellers' club. (By the way, if there's a critique group in the Portland area that's open to doing story structure this way and that has an opening . . . .) And having my own story dissected, having someone not emotionally attached to the thing look at the structure, opened my eyes to new ways of solving problems that have plagued it since the beginning.

So I've been going through my story and inserting a plot. The most important thing -- the thing worth doing the story for -- is the theme, but Larry said that if the theme is important, you put it aside and tell your story and trust it to carry the theme when all is said and done. Otherwise, you risk driving the story to tell what you want to tell. My problem was that the action wasn't strong enough to keep the reader interested. And since I'm plotting first and writing later, I can experiment with different things without investing so much time in the writing and rewriting and so forth.

So I'm looking at making the story something that you could tell to a group of people around a campfire and have them all hanging on every word. I'm also looking for good scenes -- as for example Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. In other words, fun scenes, exciting story, compelling characters, profound theme. Sound like a tall order? I think so, too.

So where was I? Compossible. Right.

Anyway, I heard Linda Seger interviewed on the podcast The Writing Show. Seger suggested that when your character needs to do something important in the story, brainstorm a list of 30 or more possibilities. The first two or three will be predictable, she said. After that, you get into more surprising possibilities. The list of 30 ways Protagonist might escape from prison will then include such things as being beamed up by aliens, having the prison decide he's not really guilty, blowing things up, stealing guards' uniforms and so forth. I sort the final list into "Heh" (beamed up by aliens); "Nah" (setting him loose); "Maybe" (blowing things up, stealing uniforms); and "Yeah" (there may not be any). But the what's been happening is that the list contains two or three compossible "Maybe"s that add up to a big ding-ding-ding-ding! "Yeah."

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Lines from a deposition

I just love this stuff. I'm proofreading a deposition in which the attorney is asking the plaintiff in an automobile accident case about what happened immediately after the accident:
Q. And did you say anything to your wife?
A. I asked her how she was doing. We were obviously a little shook up and sore. But, you know, she was really concerned about her little dog we had just got.
Q. How was the little dog?
A. I think it's okay. Didn't say anything to us.
Q. Does your dog have the ability to speak?
A. It does not, no.

For more, go to the Say What? blog.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Which way is up?

The artist and her friends were placing artworks in the Starbucks gallery (hung on the coffee shop walls for sale).

They were bold, colorful oil paintings with bright yellows, oranges, purples. One of the women mentioned how much she liked the "fish" painting, but if there was a representation of a fish, I didn't see it.

As I sat there trying to plan chapter 4 of my book, they wandered around the shop, looking for the right place to put the paintings.

One of the friends took a 2 x 2 1/2 canvas that may have been of a bouquet of irises and tulips -- or not -- and hung it in a vertical orientation between two windows. "That looks really good," she said, and several others agreed.

The artist stood back apiece. "Well, it's sideways," she said, and seeing me watching, she gave a friendly nod and shrug. "I guess it doesn't matter which way the dedication hangs."

And while I admired her flexibility, it was a different way of looking at art from what I would have expected. I would have thought that vertical/horizontal orientation, rightside up/upside down, would be important, would be crucial to a visual artist. Apparently, I was mistaken.

And taking a cue from the flexible artist in Starbucks, I give my permission to my readers -- if I ever finish this darned thing and if anybody actually does read it -- to read the book rightside up, upside down, sideways, forward or backward -- whatever works best with the available wall space and light.

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Monday, April 30, 2007

Just forget the giant beach umbrella

I don't have the time or skill to photoshop this, so you'll just have to use the imagination God gave you: Our lovely blue planet, wearing fashion shades and a pink bikini, enjoys the cosmic beach under a giant space-based beach umbrella.

A little further out, Mars, wearing a muscle shirt but still sunburned bright red, wiggles around in his orbit to try to stay in the shade of earth's umbrella.

In the meantime Pluto and his new friends are chasing sticks into the primal deeps.

Just another fun day in the Milky Way.

But forget it. The bean counters at the UN actually found a program that they thought would be too expensive for the value to be gained from it. Fancy that. Maybe Al Gore would be willing to pay for it.

H/T: Fr. Joseph.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Quiet time at Orthodox Writers Week

We have been very, very good today. We sit in our little worlds, arrayed on couches, benches, on the beach, with our laptops, manuscripts, notebooks in hand.

Quiet, please. We are birthing. Articles, books, poetry, a more conscious life. Gloria in her headphones is encased in a sphere of music. I don't hear it. Katherine turns the pages of a loose-leaf binder. Earlier this morning, she was organizing; now her fingers dance across the keys. Behind me, Andrew sits with a laptop at the big wooden dining table. He is pensive, conversing with the muse. After a long walk at the beach, Barb emerges with notebooks and clean socks.

And I -- I have stopped 600 words into my goal of 1,000 at this sitting to tell you, O Excellent Reader, what you're missing.

Outside, the sun shines, and the ravens and blackbirds laugh and sing, and the ocean whispers its secrets to the sand on the beach.

But we are very, very quiet.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Repeat after me: 'It's only a novel'

Apparently, Stephen King's Cell got to Afghanistan, says the Scotsman:
WORRIED Afghans switched off their mobile phones yesterday as rumours spread that a deadly virus could be contracted by answering calls from "strange numbers".

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Thinking? Me?

What can I say? Despite my recent dearth of writings, Father Joseph has decided to nominate me for a Thinking Blog Award. And this is the sort of award that a nomination is a win (which may be true of many awards, but that's a rabbit trail I won't follow today).

Quoting Father Joseph, here are the instructions:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.
3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote.

Well, the fact that Father Joseph has pointed you this way means that he can't be one of my picks, but just for the record, he would be, otherwise.

And he named another of my favorites, Get Religion, so that's out, too.

But the truth is, I've been focused on audio lately. I write a column for the Oregon Court Reporters Association newsletter, and I spend a lot of time with earbugs, frequently sitting behind a steno machine. So I'll figure that the chain of "thinking" bloggers will spread out to many writers worth reading, so I'll point to a few worth listening to.

The first is a back-at-you at Father Joseph, whose accent is not quite as Southern as I expected it to be, but whose commentary is full of everyday insights that validate the "wit and wisdom" promised on the Ancient Faith promo (that Father Joseph laughs about).

Another is the podcast SF magazine, Escape Pod. Founder and host Steve Ely has put together a professional-quality anthology of weekly stories (they've also added a horror and a fantasy edition, neither of which I've listened to yet) that manage to be at once thought provoking and fun.

Yet another is the Sonic Society, a vast aural conspiracy to bring "audio cinema" to English speakers from around the world ("We are legion").

Through the Sonic Society, I've found such treasures as Black Jack Justice and The Red Panda -- new radio programs in the Old Time Radio tradition with exactly the right mix of earnestness and tongue in cheek -- at Decoder Ring Theatre. They're between seasons just now, but that gives you time to catch up on Seasons 1 and 2 before they come back for (I hope) the third.

Finally is an experiment that maps the capabilities of podcast fiction: The Failed Cities Monologues. Lots of authors have written their stories in "different voices," but Matt Wallace and crew take the concept of voice to a whole new platform in this dystopian tale of loyalty, betrayal, tenderness, brutality, and the question of what it takes to get by.

So there are my nominees. Thanks for the kudos, Father Joseph, and I'll do my best to dust off my keyboard a little more productively in the future.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

What we miss

Washington commuters missed a treat recently when the professional violinist Joshua Bell played a free concert in a subway station. Incognito, one of the world's best violinists played some of the world's best music on one of the world's best violins. For whatever reason -- context, time pressures, distraction -- most, vastly most, of the people missed it entirely. Didn't look, didn't stop for a concert that they could have paid $100 for a seat to watch, didn't notice the gift.

Washington Post magazine, which arranged the concert or stunt or whatever you want to call it, has a really good story about it, along with video and interviews with the people who did stop and why. The article is well worth a full read.

It's a reminder of how much we can miss by not being there, where we are, and of the wonders in drab clothing that can happen anywhere, anytime, if we're not so distracted that we miss it.

H/T: Miss Snark

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

New Onion Dome posted

The new Onion Dome has a piece inspired by a visit from -- I hope -- our new bishop.

OK, so the synapses do weird things when I see a resplendently robed man, who looks something like a cross between Santa Claus and Jerry Garcia, periodically emerge from the Royal Doors and bless the congregation.

But it's wonderful to have a bishop that I would trust to enjoy the image.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

A Poem for Librivox

I've been enjoying Librivox audio books for many months now and finally had an opportunity to pay back a minute and 53 seconds of my debt. It's Robert Frost's poem, "After Apple-Picking." Tell me how you think it went.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Orthodox* Writers' Week 2007

Coming up April 23-29, 2007, the second annual Orthodox* Writers' Week at the Beach.

  • NO program
  • NO speakers
  • NO required activities
  • Time to work on the project of your choice
  • Miles of beach to walk
  • Fellowship of others engaged in the same effort
  • Morning prayer (readers’ matins)

Full week: $60 plus $35 annual membership in Oregon Writers Colony
Less than a week: $20 per night plus $35 annual membership in Oregon Writers Colony
Family-style dinners prepared cooperatively by participants (there are grocery stores nearby); on your own for breakfast and lunch, whether at a nearby diner or in the house kitchen.


At the beautiful and quirky Oregon Writers Colony Colonyhouse in Rockaway Beach, Oregon (between Cannon Beach and Tillamook).

Download a flyer (in PDF format).

* You don't have to be Orthodox. You just have to be able to put up with us for a week.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A curious thank-you

The TV was blaring something about a school shooting when I walked into the waiting room at the car repair shop this morning. The two men already sitting there weren't watching -- one was reading the newspaper, and the other was doing something that involved a legal pad and a pen -- and I was approaching the thrilling conclusion of a Wilkie Collins novel.

The remote lay on a table beside the chair where I sat, so I held it up, asked a quick permission and turned the TV off.

Time passed. The man with the legal pad paid for his oil change and headed for the door. "Thanks for turning off Fox," he said pleasantly, as he closed the door behind him, leaving me wondering if he would have been quite so friendly about my turning off The View.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Just say No

Words of wisdom from Tracey: "If you're ever at your prayers and you're suddenly struck with an idea for a brand new icon, just wait for it to go away."

Here's an illustration of what happens when someone ignores that advice.

It's an "icon" of all the special people riding in the big boat.

On the ground are bad people sniping and shooting and pointing spears and generally exercising hostility at all the special people riding in the big boat.

That's supposed to be Martin Luther looking like an Old West stagecoach robber. And proving that this iconographer has read his Hal Lindsey, we have the anti-Christ hanging out with a "king" of Israel and the Harlot of Babylon. Over there is the pope, not any specific pope, but a generic Pope. Oh, and the "prophet" who must not be named. And on the far right is Patriarch Athenagoras, who committed the sin of talking to a pope, which makes him the "father of ecumenism" -- which is pretty remarkable, considering that the ecumenical movement is rooted in the 19th century.

The marketers of this illustration are very good at pointing out the dangers of ecumenism, but not so good at noticing the dangers of hopping from boat to increasingly smaller boat in search of the one so small that it will hold only the people sufficiently holy to be part of their world.

But what do I know? By their definition, I'm not Orthodox either.

This is part of the reason why, when someone says, "I don't like organized religion," I'm inclined to say, "Have I got a Church for you."