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November 2007 Archives

November 6, 2007

Almost Home

Okay, think I’m almost done. I spent almost six weeks re-writing the same chapter and doubting that I ever had any real talent for this in the first place. This is what makes writing so difficult and what makes me so angry when artists and others just assume ‘anyone can do it.’ Well, pal, anyone can’t. I’ve been writing professionally for 28 years, and *I* can’t do it.

As for the violence thing, that’s been largely the problem, me adding in fighting and running and so forth and then reading it and wanting to leap in front of a bus. It just feels so fake. I can see the reader rolling her eyes going, “Oh, please.” Oddly enough, as some have pointed out, here, when I have the bad guys clobber each other, that seems to work. A nifty throat-slitting in a men’s room worked out real nicely, actually, and seemed completely organic to the story.

But, I have otherwise written myself into a fairly impossible situation, where nobody is really motivated to harm our protagonist, so the best we can get are these moments where the reader *expects* Cliché Violent Act #12, but it doesn’t happen. This gets old fairly quickly, so I need to comb through and prune these moments a bit so there aren’t so many of them.

At the end of the day, I personally think we, as a society, have become inundated with violent acts of increasing levels of improbability and silliness in our art forms. So much so, perhaps, that maybe we’re beginning to expect such outrageous stuff in our actual lives. I think the real action of a drama are the human conflicts, not the bar fights. And, if I thought the bar fights worked, I’d have left them in. But, right now, it just feels like, every 50 pages or so, ‘There Priest Goes Again.’

I found it curious that, despite the hype, the film American Gangster really didn’t have all that much Gangster in it. If you step back a bit from the overly-long film, I doubt there are terribly many acts of violence (and only one actual sex scene, although there are several scenes of topless women working in a drug lab). I liked the film (more on that later), but I was watching for the violence. I thought what was there was useful, needed and appropriate, and that Ridley Scott used some restraint in not making any of it too over-the-top. I actually found that to be a comfort, and felt better about the overall ratio of violence to drama I am working with.

The point of which may be moot, anyway, for the complexities of concept, the book being too religious for secular publishers and too secular for religious publishers. I stopped by a Christian bookstore the other day and scanned through some of the stuff on their shelves. Blehh. Bland, watered-down rounded-edges stuff that either makes God seem like a Boogeyman (that Left Behind stuff) or the Quaker Oats guy (the lame historical romance stuff. What’s the point of a historical romance novel without bodice-ripping?!?).

I sincerely doubt that Christian bookstore—or any other—will carry my book, which de-constructs the black church in specific and fundamentalist Christianity in general. I wanted to write about the real world, not some sanitized, fake Falwell-approved version of it. The violence, sex, ruthless backstabbing and cussing in the book will only seem shocking to white Christians, as black Christians experience this every day.

Conversely, I want to talk about faith—real faith—not sanitized, watered-down inoffensive TV faith. Any expression of faith—of any variety—is bound to offend someone. I want to have as honest an examination of faith as is possible within the reasonable limits of a whodunit, and not get chastised by my publisher (as I did in my Green Lantern novel, where my editor was an atheist who continually accused me of trying to proselytize through my manuscript because the Spectre kept talking to and about God. I (and, thankfully, DC) had to continually remind the editor that The Spectre has worked for God for 70 years. It’s always been God. I told him, far from my forcing my beliefs on people via this book, this editor was forcing *his* atheism on people by demanding we never refer to The Spectre’s boss as “God.” So, we simply called him “The Boss.” Then he complained about the capitalization, but DC backed my play).

Politics and religion are tricky subjects to work into novels, I suppose. Religion most especially, unless you are undermining or debunking something a la The Da Vinci Code. Appeals to real faith will likely offend someone, so I can imagine secular publishers not being terribly interested. But, from what I saw the other day, Christian publishers are far worse. The homogenized mush I browsed through yesterday really alarmed me, that Christian publishers (or, perhaps more accurately, Christian retailers) shy away from anything with real edge to it. It’s all Pat Boone down there, this brainwashed pap. It’s almost as if Christians—and, I suppose I’m mostly talking about white Christians—are afraid of most anything that challenges their beliefs, even if the one challenging it is a believer as well. I figure, anything you believe in ought to be able to stand a bit of scrutiny. Your truth shouldn’t have to go into hiding or resort to censorship in order to be true. It ought to be sturdy enough to withstand someone occasionally kicking the tires.

I had fun working on this. I’d like to create a whole sub-genre of fiction designed to make Christians lose their bullshit fake-faith, and replace it with something purer. That’s what this work challenges the reader to do. A shame I doubt anyone will ever publish it.


November 22, 2007

No Thanks

Eric wrote:
Happy Thanksgiving, Priest.
Have a blessed holiday season.

Thanks, Eric. I actually don’t observe Thanksgiving (or Christmas, or Easter, or Groundhog’s Day...). I actually tend to use it as a day of reflection and remembrance of the uncounted millions of Native Americans who were slaughtered, enslaved, and robbed of their land.

I have nothing against Thanksgiving per se, but the specific origins of this day include feasts giving thanks to God for war victories—over the Native American tribes. There’s certainly nothing intrinsically wrong with gathering family and friends to give thanks for what we have and what God has done.

Just move it to Friday, or, better, Sunday, and I’m there. It’s the direct linkage I object to, as well as any Thanksgiving feast that doesn’t include, at bare minimum, a moment of silence for the victims of the holocaust the feast symbolizes.

Happy Turkey everyone!!!


November 23, 2007


Ministerial training has taught me there’s such a thing as inconsolable grief: grief so heavy and so deep that there’s really not much anyone can do to lessen its impact or assuage its affect. It’s the kind of grief that can only hang around, like luggage, until time or circumstance robs it of its power. Losing a loved one causes inconsolable grief. It is the kind of sorrow that cannot be measured, that cannot be managed. The best help I or anyone can hope to be is to provide sympathy and support. Most of all, to provide patience and, most of all, hope to those who are grieving. It is, after all, grief they have earned, mourning their loved ones deserve, and a process God has, for whatever reason, ordained for us.

One of my neighbors lost her husband recently. I don’t know exactly when because no one told me he’d died. I knew he was sick, he’d been sick a long time. But I didn’t know he was gone. I knew his family were gathering and that surely things were coming to a resolution, but I didn’t feel it my place to present myself, in the midst of that personal time, and instead would pray for him—every day—and ask about him when I could.

I had the honor, and yes, I‘ll call it an honor, of spending a bit of one on one time with him when he was in the hospital. One of the few perks of being a minister is the access it grants you to hospitals—visiting hours mean nothing to a guy with a pastor’s I.D. I got to walk with him around the ward, and to listen to wonderful stories of a life well-lived. He talked endlessly about his wife, about his love for her. He spoke with clarity, with wisdom and with great warmth and humor. I kept trying to judge whether or not I was being a pest—it’s an acquired skill, to know the difference between providing comfort and being in the way. But he seemed to enjoy the company. I most certainly enjoyed his.

Continue reading "Sunset" »


November 28, 2007

Kids Play

MD wrote: “I always get frustrated when people blame me for things that I am guiltless of.”

Welcome to the party, pal. I’m thinking of having jackets made.

What I’ve discovered is, no matter how old we get, we are still, essentially, children. As adults, we’ve learned a certain behavior modification that is forced upon us largely by society. But I think wars are basically temper tantrums, set off by one kid who refuses to stop picking on another.

What really irritates me, if I’m really honest about it, is not the behavior so much as that the behavior now forces *me* to be the adult. In any given situation, *somebody* has got to be the adult. When the other guy beats you to the punch—when he starts acting like a moron or, more accurately, a six-year-old girl—he’s now taken up all the space in your universe that is available for that function. There really isn’t space enough in my universe for me to start acting like a butthead when this schmuck’s already beaten me to it.

And it’s really not fair. I wanna lose it just like he’s losing it, but now I have to be the adult. I really wish we’d all adopt some simple rules of decorum: if you got to be the butthead last time, I should be allowed a turn to be irrational and girl-like.

Being accused—no, found guilty—of wrongs I haven’t committed (or, just as bad, people having outsized reactions to perceived slights) is, more or less, the story of my life. I’ve got pretty thick skin about most things; insulting me is fairly hard to do. But it really burns me when I’m around immature, ridiculous people who both try and convict me without hearing a word—not one word—of what I might have to say about whatever they’re flipping out about.

Usually these are people who either do not know me at all, and therefore are assuming stupid and immature motives on my part (usually mirroring their own behavior; most people assuming all people think the way they do), or, worse, these are people who have known me for seven and a half years and yet chose, time and again, to distort my words or actions to fit some stereotype of me they’ve got playing in their heads. I mean, after seven years, they really should know better.

Which makes their accusations false and makes them liars because they know me and they know what I am and am not capable of. They’re just flying off of adrenaline and, like the six-year old girl with the cookie, stomping their feet and acting irrational. Or, even more heinous, glossing over things they know are true about me in order to make me fit some ridiculous caricature they are—seven years later—insisting on clinging to; a vision of who they *need* me to be in order to justify their prejudices, fears and childish outbursts, such irrational hatred having but only a few sad and terrible origins.



About November 2007

This page contains all entries posted to According To Me in November 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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