Antichrist: Real or Fiction?

damienLet’s talk about the Anti-Christ. For some the term antichrist, is said to be a man possessed by Satan himself, who will oppose Christ directly during the end days. The general populace will supposedly adore him, many will proclaim him to be God as he deceives as many souls as possible into following him into hell. Scary right? What comes to mind for me are thoughts of the end of the world, the final battle between good and evil, the last judgment, separation of the good sheep from the goats, Heaven, Hell…all that stuff. For me, it’s the ultimate topic in scary. (Of course, as a believer, anything that concerns the devil scares me.)

But what do we really know of the antichrist? Is he to be a person? Or is it really more of a concept, a representation of evil in the world? The following piece is meant only to glance over the history of the term and what early Christians wrote about it.

Throughout the centuries, churches and theologians have disagreed as to just who or what the antichrist is or represents. Jesuit priest, Michael Gruenthaner examined the question in his essay, “The Antichrist in Scriptures” written in 1942. He wrote that the term antichrist, which is first mentioned in John’s epistles was used both in the plural, representing evil at large, and in the singular, representing one person expected to come at the end of the world in direct opposition to Christ. He also found that all early church fathers “borrowed the term to designate an individual human adversary of Christ, of unequalled malevolence, who is to come at the end of time”  Gruenthaner goes into great depth reaching into the Old and New Testament, as well as the early writings of Church fathers, and I highly recommend the read for any who want a balanced look at the topic. His conclusion is all we can give here.

“This investigation, therefore, seems to show that the so-called bugbear of an individual Antichrist has not been banned or relegated to a subordinate position as was thought in some quarters. His advent is certainly taught by St. Paul and probably predicted by Ezechiel. St. John recognizes it as an accepted part of early Christian teaching.”  (http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=7705)

This conclusion seems verified by the Didache or the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. Didache, which means teaching, is a short discourse by early Christians written somewhere around 70 A. D. The Didache had this to say of the end times.

“ For in the last days false prophets and corrupters shall be multiplied, and sheep shall be turned into wolves . . . and then shall the deceiver of the world appear, pretending to be the Son of God, and he shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands” (Didache16:3-4).

That certainly sounds like a some“one,” doesn’t it? However, there are those modern thinkers who bring up passages in the Gospel and New Testament that would seem to contradict the idea of the antichrist as a single person. Here is what Saint John says in 1 John 4:2-3,

“This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”

This school of thought asks if the antichrist were one being, would Saint John have put it quite this way?

But we return to the early church writings and find Polycarp, an early Church father, who seems to have personified John’s antichrist in this passage from a letter he wrote to the Philadelphians 7:1 in A.D. 135. “Whoever does not confess the testimony of the cross is of the devil; and whoever perverts the sayings of the Lord for his own desires, and says that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, such a one is the firstborn of Satan.”

Another example is  Irenaeus writing in A.D. 189, who had much to say in his discourse  “Against Heresies,” ending with this gem:  “But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months and will sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire” (5:30:4). Now that sounds specific and very much like Satan on a throne; insert shiver here.

A few years later in 200 A.D.  Hippolytus had some equally scary specifics about who the antichrist would be saying the deceiver (antichrist) will liken himself to Christ in all things, so if Christ is a lion, he appear as a lion. Christ was a king, so the antichrist will also be a king. Jesus was the “Lamb of God” so the antichrist will seem to be a lamb on the outside but be a wolf within. And even more specific, Hippolytus claims he will come from the Jewish race and Jerusalem: “ The Savior came into the world in the circumcision, and he will come in the same manner. . . . The Savior raised up and showed his holy flesh like a temple, and he [antichrist] will raise a temple of stone in Jerusalem.” (The Antichrist 6)

It’s all so chilling isn’t it? We could go on giving more examples from 200 to 400 A.D. specifically Tertullian, Cyprian, Lactantius, Cyril, and Augustine  but you can have fun looking those up yourself, if you’re into that. The final point for me I guess is that since all these early Church writers believed in a flesh and blood type antichrist, perhaps we should too.

But whether you do or you don’t, I hope you will still enjoy reading fiction books such as mine that hint at the epic battle to come and even benefit from an occasional thought of your own last end that reading such stories might evoke. If you haven’t yet, catch up on The Glen Series.

The Glen Book I

Back to the Glen Book II

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Fun, Sun, Family Vacation and…Laptops?

Coons 2014 Duck NC

The Coon Gang in Duck, NC, August 2014

Fun, sun, family vacation, and laptops…One of these things is not like the other …three of these things are kinda the same…

Sorry for slipping into Sesame Street, but hopefully you guessed correctly: laptop. Why do we bring our laptops, and hence our work, on vacation?

Cape May, 2011, my extended family was on vacation – we’re talking my sister, my six brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, my husband, myself, our kids, (even my elderly parents for a few of the days.) First morning in the giant twelve bedroom beach house set the scene for several succeeding days. I came back from a run on the beach and headed to the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee. I peered over it into the dining area where the 22-seat table looked like a conference room of staff members readying for a meeting. Coffee cups steaming, laptops open, my brothers and a few of their wives, all lost in their own world of news, shopping, random googling, and the dreaded sin-against-family-vacations: work. As comical as it was, I climbed over the mix of charger wires and legs, balancing my coffee, a few heads popping up and giving me a cheerful: “Morning”, and I cracked open my own laptop to check my email.

Of course, this was early morning, and as the little ones woke, and mothers and fathers busied themselves with the business of caring for them, and this one and that tugged at dads or uncles, clamoring for cereal and begging, “I want to go to the beach,” laptops closed one after another, and in no time, everyone was on the beach enjoying sand and surf. Some electronics followed even there, but only in the form of Kindles and Ipads for reading books.

Thankfully, as the week slipped by, the laptop use seemed to fade. Nights were long, joyous affairs, all the adults rocking away on the long front porch, some smoking, some drinking, all joking and reminiscing or enjoying a good argument or lively debate –as only those of Irish descent can. Young ones caught fireflies or curled on a couch, watching movies, or sat in cousin circles, sharing their own young version of the adult’s bonding banter. Every morning, I noted less and less laptop use. Even those whose jobs follow them to some degree wherever they go managed to more quickly dispense with business and return to the relaxing business of family vacation, sun, and fun.

So why do we bring them in the first place? Why the attachment to the World Wide Web or our job, where we have conceivably taken the week off and have informed them of the same? Who can say? Will the world fall apart without our knowledge of its comings and goings? Will work disappear? Will businesses fold? Are we so indispensable, we cannot be inaccessible? Perhaps, but if we let it, the spirit of family vacation will carry us away into sandcastles, lounging by the pool, sipping coffee, our eyes peeled for the sunrise, or sipping a drink and watching it set, scooping little ones back and forth in the surf, letting them bury us in the sand, or rocking into the night to the hum of happy chatter…

I’d advise you to leave your laptop home, but then I’d be a hypocrite. Mine is here now in North Carolina on our own extended-family vacation. Our house is packed with my sons and daughters, their husbands and wives, and our three grand-daughters. It’s no matter. For I know sun, fun, and family vacation will win out sooner or later. But I would prefer sooner, and so this blog piece will end for the greater good. I’m off to the beach with the little ones and wishing you all the best family vacations you can enjoy, laptops and all.

Peace.

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Only Idiots Edit Themselves

Trust me, I’ve been an idiot more than a few times. Indeed, it seems to have taken a two-by-four over the head to drum this fact into my thick skull: You can’t edit yourself. I’m an editor for Pete’s sake, and I’m able to edit what others write, missing nothing. So, why shouldn’t that same skill translate to my own prose?

The truth is you can look something over ten times and still miss the same mistakes. You can read and re-read, even aloud (and that certainly is advisable) something you have written and not catch mistakes because you are not truly reading what you have written. I kid you not. Very often, our mind inserts the correct word or spelling or phrase that on paper is simply not there.  Check this out as an explanation of the kind of tricks of which our minds are capable: http://www.livescience.com/18392-reading-jumbled-words.html

Consider this as well, you are too close to the work. Let me repeat that,

YOU ARE TOO CLOSE TO THE WORK.

I know for me when I have pored over a chapter, and I mean pored like a gallon of paint poured, over and over, till I can practically read it from memory, I become blind as a radar-less bat to my own mistakes, misspellings, and grammatical errors. Bad, very bad from an editing standpoint. It’s essential that the piece you are editing be fresh and new to you. One thing that helps is to shove it in a drawer and not look at it for six months.

Funny story about that. After beginning my second novel, Back to the Glen, http://www.carlacoon.com/backtotheglen.html , it seemed we had family crisis after family crisis fully preventing me from continuing the novel. I’d written about one third of it, and it sat on my computer untouched for almost a year. (Please before you judge my commitment to writing, remind yourself I have eight kids.) My husband and I were traveling, and I brought my work with me in the car.  I dusted off the file and began reading. After a few chapters, I decided to read aloud, letting my husband have a sneak preview of Book II. Soon, I was engrossed reading along and getting excited when I came to the chilling climax of a chapter where the main character was maimed in a particularly surprising and gruesome twist. My husband blurted out, “I can’t believe you did that to him!” and I gasped back, “Neither can I!”

You see, I had completely forgotten what I had written. We laughed and laughed over that. It was rather exciting, too, to read my own work as it were someone else’s. Incidentally, I was able to edit those chapters quite well and future edits by others found them nearly pristine. Just goes to show you how that distance from the work is key to editing.  So if you can’t afford to wait six months to read your own material from a fresh perspective, it would be wise to consider having a professional or well-respected peer edit your work.

Incidentally, I fly without the safety net of an editor when I post on my blog. That is,  I edit myself. Have fun finding typos.

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Looking for the Perfect …

Is there a perfect place to write? Perhaps not, but surely one place is not as good as another. In my overly busy and often chaotic house, choosing a place to write is far less important than choosing the best time to write. Yet, any choice when confined to the house is unsatisfying. I long for solitude and hours on end, uninterrupted. I’m unclear, just what has changed, but I used to be capable of writing amidst the chaos and incessant interruptions, which are my life, and now, it seems I wait for the perfect time in the perfect place. It is probably no mystery; it is probably age. My patience for things and situations less than perfect has diminished in other areas as well. I feel wistful for younger years when I handled so much more with greater clarity and promptitude. At this moment, I’m suddenly aware of how this makes me sound more like a senior citizen than the 50ish middle-ager I am. Laughably, the “younger years” of which I speak are literally and barely half a decade past. Maybe this lack of patience and unwillingness is nothing more than shifting hormones or eating wrong. Let’s save that possibility for a later blog.

Anyway, I have proven to myself a number of times the benefit I derive from writing in complete solitude. My favorite was a tiny cabin I was privileged to use once – bromidic, I know, but absolutely the best place I’ve written. I was completely alone. Besides the birds and occasional lake murmurs, the quiet was palpable, and the expanse of cool black water and sheltering pines hugging the cottage were a calming counterpoint to my furious typing. In just one night, I easily cranked out several chapters making me yearn for a whole week there alone. Still I left the next morning with high hopes of stealing away every now and then to the mostly unused retreat, which lay a mere 40 minutes from home. I pictured even in the bitterest cold coming for a night now and then to joyously write unencumbered in delicious solitude. Alas, my hopes were dashed, and the cabin was no longer available for overnight excursions.

The second best experience I had was handed me by my husband, who used his Marriott points to get me a free room for two nights of undisturbed brainstorming when I sketched out more than half of the entire second book. I chose a town 50 minutes away, far enough from home that no one would be tempted to pop-in on mom or wife, but close enough that I would not lose precious writing time. I arrived with two giant dry-erase boards, a plastic container of pens, pencils, and dry-erase markers, three legal pads, my laptop and a small cooler. Besides breakfast, which had to be eaten in the lobby – had to be because it was free – I never left the room, not even for ice. I scribbled, I scratched and hatched on the boards, I paced back and forth, talking aloud, tossing ideas out, nailing down timelines and characters, until chapters and even the exciting climax were roughed out. I was so on fire with it all that even on the ride home, my mind would not cease coming up with details, which I scrawled illegibly on a legal pad as I drove left-handed, until 10 minutes from home, I stopped at a McDonald’s for a cup of coffee and sat in a booth for an hour continuing to solidify my story.

I get excited just remembering it. As a family, we have had a lot going on this year, from the loss of my brother to the near loss of my mother. The volunteer work I do also churned up a notch. Meanwhile, my poor book sits completely unattended, 2/3 of the way complete, and completely uncomplaining in the face of much more important work. But I trust when I am given that supreme opportunity for complete solitude again, the last third will write itself.

Peace all.

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Make Way, Comin’ Through

“You’re old, not your car!”

To my barest credit, the above is yelled in my head, (most of the time, anyway) and NEVER at the offending driver. I’m speaking of those drivers who take turns in slow motion. So slow, I would swear the driver is convinced he is on a hairpin turn in a tipping eighteen-wheeler. It usually takes more than a Volvo’s impression of an ant wading through Marshmallow Fluff, however to elicit the uncharitable thought. Usually, it is that the same car is hogging the center of the road as if it were a Mack truck, instead of hugging the far side of the lane so that, hellooooo, the cars behind it can continue on their way. Arrrg! It gets my goat when I am forced to cool my heels in a front row seat to a slow motion circus act.

Are you worried about me yet?

I’d say don’t be, but what do I know. I do everything fast. I walk fast, especially through crowds, weaving and bobbing like a prizefighter searching for an opening in the plodding pedestrian mass, then sailing through at top speed only to weave and bob again. I’m sure those observing me would guess the racing figure was late for something, but no, I walk like this as a matter of course. I talk fast, as well, and I like to think, I think fast (or I used to.) In truth, it is an enormous effort for me in the presence of extremely slow-talkers not to finish their every thought. I eat fast, too. (Although now I eat fast and longer, a frightening combo for my waist.) I work fast, barreling through chores or projects with imagined urgency and self-imposed deadlines. In a shameful lack of humility, I maintain I am at least twice as productive as most people. I may even sleep fast, judging from the less than average amount of it I get. Finally, I drive fast – or as fast as the law allows within ten miles. Speaking of how far one may safely push the speed limit, my dad quips, “seven is heaven,” but I push back with “eight is great,” and “nine is still fine.” Suffice to say, my inability to follow others runs deep; it just shows up best in the driving and walking.

Perhaps it is no more than just being a Type A personality, or perhaps it warrants a decade of unraveling psychoanalysis – again, what do I know. With no intention of searching for answers staring at the ceiling in an analyst’s office, I’ve scratched the surface of my penchant for speed and concluded I hurry because…wait for it – my to-do list is long. That’s right, my to-do list. When the list is real, especially before some event or family affair, my manic scribbles of things to accomplish can fill a notebook. The to-do’s may be categorized or just spilled out as I think of them, but no list is complete until all the to-do’s are ta-done and properly disposed of with a happy and satisfying checkmark. The bigger the task accomplished, the fatter the checkmark. Yet blaming my to-do lists, actual and mental ones – for I am l always busy with something,  – cannot be the whole answer to my hurrying nature. I believe I hurry for the same reason my grandmother would not watch the same movie twice. (Ditto, but I make exceptions  for Gone with the Wind, Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation and Monty Python & the Holy Grail.) My grandmother felt her life was short, and there were a whole lot of movies she hadn’t seen, and she wanted to see something new. My life too is short. There are a whole lot of things I want to do and experience, to accomplish and conquer. The sooner I get from point A to point B, whether it is walking, talking, eating or even sleeping, the more time I will have for something new.

There you have my nickel analysis of my hurrying habit. Lest you worry unduly. I do know how to stroll and how to relax when I consciously choose to do so, for instance at a park, or beach, and especially at prayer. I’m even aware of the replenishing benefits such moments provide, and I hope to God that I will always take advantage of them when He wills. But do me a favor, when I’m sitting behind you at the light, and you are making a left turn, kindly move over far enough for me to pass you, because I have miles to go before I sleep and, ahem, my to-do list is not getting ta-done sitting at this light.

Peace all.

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A Case for Passive Voice

   Recently, I found an essay written by my high school daughter, who, I am sure, could write the pants off of me six days out of seven. It caught my eye and then my ire when I noted the red marks in the margin where her English teacher had written the word, “Passive!” as if it were a capital offense. I read the piece once again impressed at both my daughter’s wit and her finesse in making a point, (a good reason no one in our house likes to go head to head with her in debate.) One of the three sentences flagged as passive was not passive at all. The teacher had made the classic error of considering all use of the “to be” verb as passive. In the other two sentences, which she flagged with flourishing red pen, the use of passive voice was really the best choice. Preached against by English teachers, editors, and grammar police alike, the use of passive voice is sorely defamed.

Passive sentences are said to be more difficult to understand, while the active voice is acclaimed as stronger, clearer, and often less wordy. Before I state my case for the passive voice, let’s quickly review the difference between the two. “A bee stung the man in the park,” would be active versus, “The man in the park was stung by a bee,” which is passive. Simply put, if the action of the verb (to sting) is being performed by the subject (the bee) then a sentence is in the active voice. If the action of the verb is being done to the subject as in ,“the man is stung by the bee” then the sentence is passive. A few more examples may be helpful.

“The caterer picked up the cake yesterday.” (Active)

“The cake was picked up by the caterer yesterday.” (Passive)

“Her husband fixed dinner for everyone.” (Active)

“Dinner was prepared for the all the guests.” (Passive)

While the active is the most direct, there are many reasons one may choose to use passive voice. Three of the most commonly accepted uses are when:

1. Emphasizing the action over the doer: “That section of 88 is heavily travelled.”

2. Highlighting the recipient of the action:  “The reward was given to Mrs. Smith.”

3. The action has no performer, the performer is well known, or the performer doesn’t matter: “The duck was cooked to perfection.”

Tone and pace, in my opinion, are two more good cases for choosing passive voice. Passive sentences can change the feeling or tempo. They often sound softer, slower, or quieter than active voice. Used with precision, one passive sentence can stand out creating a memorable effect.

“Amy stormed in the room, strode to the desk, and rifled through the papers. Not finding it, she tore through the desk drawers, flinging loose-leaf and folders in a snowstorm of paper. She attacked the wall of books last, until she stood knee-deep in volumes and torn dust jackets. The room was trashed, the paper was lost, and Amy was spent.”

Consider how passives could be used one after another, perhaps purposely lulling the reader into a passive mood himself. Think of Joe, a tortured character, helpless against a tide of unlucky events, a victim of circumstance.

“Joe was whacked by the door, nipped by the dog, whipped by his girlfriend, and now betrayed by his own GPS.”

The effect of passive here may help the reader to feel as powerless as Joe. These quick examples are just off the top of my head, but I’m sure I could come up with them all day. What bugs me is this unthinking knee-jerk reaction to passive sentences displayed by so many teachers and grammarians.

From what I understand, passive sentences weren’t even bad-boys until sometime after 1930. According to Jan Freeman writing in the Boston Globe, (Mar. 22, 2009) the passive voice wasn’t described as a weakness in US writing handbooks until the 1930s and 40s. George Orwell further damned its use in an essay in 1946. Freeman called it a “recent “US fetish,” and pointed out that Orwell himself used the passive voice liberally in the very essay in which he criticized its use. Once again, the examination of the history of this grammar axiom brings to light something that grammarians should never have allowed to become such a hard and fast rule. Of course, even using the word rule for what should be a guideline reveals much of what incites educators today to the mindless enforcement of a ban on the passive voice.

So, is writing improved with the strict application of active voice? Is it clearer? Not necessarily. Should a writer be cautious of passive voice? Certainly, its use should be limited and judicious, but for teachers and writers alike, the principles that govern the legitimate use of passive voice must be respected. I say every sentence in every composition should be judged, not by a set of rigidly enforced rules, but by its clarity and contribution to the piece as a whole.

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Ending with a Preposition: Oh, the Horror!

My daughter, who is gaining her degree at Eastern Michigan University and majoring in English, finished The Glen recently. As a service to me, she penciled in a few thoughts and noted typos. All were relatively minor, a few missing words, misspellings, misplaced commas, extra spaces, and things of that sort. True to the teaching profession, which she is shortly to join, she dilligently pointed out each and every instance of a sentence ending with (try to control your shock) a preposition. Without mercy or exception, she applied the “never end a sentence with a preposition” rule stringently. Now, I know she didn’t learn that rule from me, as she was home-schooled through high school, and I assumed it to have been drilled into her since attending college. I was mistaken, however and later found she has always adhered to this rule, and we disagree entirely over its usefulness.

It is apparent, to me anyway, why the rule doesn’t fly and should not be strictly applied in fiction; people don’t talk that way, plain and simple. Try it out: Who are you going to the dance with? versus, With whom are you going to the dance? Or how about: He looked for something to stand on, versus, He looked for something on which to stand. Grammarians may still cry for the latter of each version but why?

Fiction must be real, believable, and above all else, it should draw the reader into the story. Obviously in dialogue, we expect the characters to speak naturally, (sans the endless, uh, ums, and the like.) But even in narration, a natural sounding voice is important. Most fiction today is written in close third person or first person. In these cases, narration is supposed to sound as if it were coming from the character and in their voice.  The author’s goal is to place the reader in the character’s head and allow them to see the story through their eyes. Now, how fast will a reader be jerked out of the story hearing phrases like: She asked from where he came, or He wondered from where she was coming, or This is the kind of thing of which I will not put, or There is nothing of which to be frightened.

Of course, there are times when rewording to avoid ending in a preposition will not kill the story or voice and may even make a stronger sentence. Yet, there are other times when rewording for the sake of the sacred rule will kill the emphasis, tone, or even the clear meaning of the sentence. The problem is not necessarily the rule, so much as the expected lockstep adherence to it. I wondered why we continue to hold on to this archaic rule and from where it came. (Big grin.)

The origins of the edict hail from Latin grammar rules which state every preposition must precede it’s object. However, Latin is nothing like English, especially as pertains to parts of speech and their positioning in a sentence. Making English conform to Latin rules is like placing a square block in a round hole; it’s simply not a good fit.

Supposedly, it was John Dryden, a 17th-century poet, who first barked the dogma that a sentence must not end in a preposition. Teachers and grammarians soon took up the cry and have been beating students over the head with it ever since. Despite this, there has been continual disagreement over the ungainly dictum as far back as 1902 by well-respected experts of the English language, who recognized the practice as both idiomatic and common, even natural.

Well, count me in. (Another big grin.) I for one will end my sentences as I see fit, aiming for clarity, meaning and effect. I see the rules of grammer as guides to enhancing our universal understanding of the written word, not as syntax straight-jackets to fit into. (One last grin.)

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To Swear or Not to Swear

Mark Twain once said, “When angry count to four; when very angry, swear.” A part of me seconds that, another side of me is trying to find other ways to handle anger and frustration. This past week or so, I have been trying to find other ways to handle it in my novel as well. My daughter, who is a nun in Ann Arbor, MI, chastised me right out of the box when she began to read The Glen. In the prologue, three teens find the protaganist outside a gym passed out on the (frickin’  and I wrote frickin) sidewalk. One of the teens says, “Well, help her up, dumba**.” Pretty mild stuff as teens go really, but my daughter called it vulgar and told me that as long as my book had profanity, it could not claim a spot on the convent library shelf.

Now I admit, when I wrote The Glen, a horror story, the last place I envisioned it was a convent shelf. Still, it hurt to think a few mild swear words would be a death sentence for it there. In my heart, I really felt as if some (very limited and mild) swearing was absolutely necessary to paint a fuller picture of certain characters or to express the urgency, desperation, surprise, or anger during other scenes–never gratuitous, never taking God’s name in vain, and only when it absolutley made sense. I googled, curious what other authors thought. What I found was a good amount of heated debate on the topic, especially in Christian fiction.

The arguments for and against pretty much mirrored the letters passing between my daughter and myself. She spoke of it being unnecessary, sinful, uncreative, offenive to most people and how it reaches for the lowest common denominator (something I taught her and her siblings– ouch!) I wrote to her of realistic characters and dialogue, of painting a picture capable of drawing readers into the story. Our letters were long and filled with examples and strong reasoning. It felt very important to me to make my daughter understand my thinking. It killed me to think she may think less of me or that I had caved on my standards and was merely trying to relate to a secular world.

I have always known that I wrote The Glen for the secular world. I never had any intention of preaching to the choir. To that argument, my beautiful daughter pointed out that purity and decency are actually very appealing to sinners, rather than as she put it, “Here sinners, have some more sin.”  I don’t really think that’s valid in the case of the bad behavior of fictitional characters. I expect a gang member, for instance, to swear (even liberally, although only a taste is needed to portray that in dialogue.) I expect it, therefore, it is not shocking. His use of cuss words does not influence me to swear—quite the opposite as his murderous thieving side is also not influencing me to take a life or to steal, but in fact, he is held up as the low-life he is, and all these bad behaviors are seen in this light.

For me, it was coming down to the realism – some people swear, and some people swear a lot. How could I neglect to show at least a glimpse of that in my book? I absolutely refused to compromise my character’s believability, and “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a darn,” just doesn’t work.  It’s the difference between a grade B movie and a classic.

I once read that a swear word in print is ten times louder than one spoken. I believe that, and I kept that very much in mind as I wrote The Glen. Still after writing up one side and down the other to defend my very light and limited use of profanity, I sent my last letter, and only then did I  open my published manuscript to have a look.  As I looked at each usage, it was through different eyes and with a certain grace obtained, no doubt, through my daughter’s prayers. I was surprised how easily I could change many of them, how some I could altogether remove, and even a few where I added tiny narration actually improving the scene.

“Let us argue the point” as Mr. Midshipman Easy would say. I did, and my eyes were opened.

I realize with blushing shame that swear words do not hold the same shock value for me as they ought. Get me mad, and I swear like sailor.  That is why I had a more difficult time understanding arguments against it in fiction. I came across an article by Bradley Robb, where he explained, “Profanity in its many forms is an assault on the reader and what they hold as dear, a form of mental shock that when used correctly, can jolt the reader….The use of these words has the same effect as the Vandals, dirty barbarians, riding into the white marbled Rome. They desecrate. They destroy. They tear down what we hold dear, they become what we fear.”  Later in the article Robb says that, “The pure fact is that sometimes a piece of art has a critical moment when it is necessary to sack the white marble temples of Rome. In others, there are ways to show desecration sans exacting details.”

Sacking Rome should be a rare and careful choice. Afterall, how often does a writer want to assault his readers? However, I believe every writer needs that uncensored autonomy to examine scene by scene, character by character, and line by line whether and where he might judiciously draw his sword for a shocking assault. For some, it will be never, for most, I hope, it is rare, and there will always be those that assault a reader so often the shock is nullified, the effect lost, and the entire work spoiled. Readers too have the same autonomy, free to retreat from future assaults in closing a book.

Well Sister, my dear daughter, for me the verdict is in, and it makes sense to me now. I promise to do better, to be more careful, more vigilant and judicious with the power entrusted to me in weilding the written word; I swear.  ;)

 

 

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School’s In

Ok, I cried. Nine years late, I know, but I still cried. Catherine is our baby, our youngest girl. She has been homeschooled her whole life. She has never attended an outside school, except for a 3-day a week, 2-hour preschool program when she was four years old.

She’s fourteen now and beginning highschool. I cried, beacuse she is the last one to start highschool, the last one I homeschooled, and she has been with me all these years. When we began homeschooling, Ellen, the next one up in line, was entering first grade and Catherine was only three. I was most anxious over teaching her from scratch. Never had a worrisome thought about teaching algebra or physics to the oldest of the seven, who was entering eighth grade, nor any troubling thoughts over wrestling the twins into their seats, to do their fifth grade work, never a pause over my angelic Mary in sixth grade or cherub Carl in third grade. A slight trepidation over 6 yr. old Ellen entering first grade, but we had already made a good start at reading. But Catherine…my baby. I remember worrying how to teach reading entirely from scratch with no outside school to reinforce what we were learning. How silly I was! It was easy as pie, and my kids were sponges.

What an adventure! Over a decade of hard work and organization. It paid off,too. They are all confident, bright and self-deirected hard workers. We are so proud of all our children. Daniel, our eldest, was in highscool and excelling there. We opted not to pull him out to homeschool. Even so, I think in some ways, he benefitted from our homeschooling as well.

With each of the others I had a memory (photos, too) of sending them off on the bus. I can still picture each one’s first day. Ellen, who is a senior this year, had only been to kindergarten before we homeschooled. Still, I rememeber her standing in front of the line of her siblings that first day and turning back to wave at me as the bus pulled up and the doors swung open. With Catherine I had no such memories.

This morning, I pushed myself out of bed, and rummaged in my dresser drawer for a very special medal I saved all these years, (23 to be precise). It is a medal blessed in Medjugorje given to me following two miscarriages. And after recieving it, we concieved Mary, who became Sister Mary Philomena, OP.  I wanted Catherine to have it for all her years in highschool.

After a few hectic moments from the girls like, “Where is my bag? I left it right here three months ago. Where is it!?” and “These no show socks show,” they were out the door. They had decided to drive to school in Ellen’s car, so I was spared the bus (or deprived of it). Then Ellen came back in and pulled her camera out for pictures. I snapped a few of them coming out the front door, and I was still ok. I cried as they drove off. 60 seconds later, the car pulled back in the driveway, and Cat ran in the house grabbing something for Ellen. She caught my tears and yelled, “Oh my gosh, Mom’s crying. Ellen, I can’t believe Mom’s crying.”

You better believe it, baby.

Have a great day all.

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When in Doubt, Bake Bread

    At times it feels like I am or may as well be a stick of playdough, so many things pulling me in so many directions. I’m at aware I am lying in the bed I made. I’m also aware there are dozens of ways of remaking that bed but seem utterly incapable of doing so. (Close friends, don’t whisper “thearpist,” I hear you.)

The Glen just sits there on Amazon waiting to be discovered by readers if only they would click on the 500th page when they search for horror.  My efforts at marketing are worse than dismal. If sales were in direct proportion to my time spent chasing ideas, reading “tips,” trying to learn stuff, my book would be a best seller by now. The second book, Back to the Glen. sits in limbo waiting for the next plane ride when I will actually have time to continue fleshing out the chapters in the second half of it. The house, well what can I say about the house? Upon my return from San Diego, it was an expected hot mess. I managed to catch up on laundry, a miniscule amount of swiping with Pledge, the kitchen, and floors. In San Diego, unwilling to fork over 10 bucks a day for internet, my email backed up a mile; I caught up with that. Shopping for school supplies, running errnads and cooking a few meals has eaten a chunk of this week as well. I’ve had to decline a couple of invites since we are leaving for Vegas, Baby (say baby after Vegas – you know the drill.) I could go on but I’ve already bored myself.

So why bake zuchini bread in the midst of all the other things I probably should be doing? Maybe because the zuchini my husband grew are languishing on the counter. Maybe  it will give me something to bring to my in-laws tonight. Maybe because the recipe is simple. Maybe, no definitely, it is way, way easier than reading one more article on how to tweet or titter or insert my book somewhere.

But the best reason for baking Zuchini Bread?

Cause it tastes so good!

 

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/moms-zucchini-bread/

Ingredients: 3 cups all-purpose flour;  1 teaspoon salt;   1 teaspoon baking soda; 1 teaspoon baking powder;  3 teaspoons ground cinnamon;   3 eggs;    1 cup vegetable oil;   2 1/4 cups white sugar;   3 teaspoons vanilla extract;   2 cups grated zucchini;    1 cup chopped walnuts

Directions:

  1.         Grease and flour two 8 x 4 inch pans.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
  2.         Sift flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and cinnamon together in a bowl.
  3.        Beat eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar together in a large bowl.  Add sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture, and beat well.  Stir in zucchini and nuts until well combined.  Pour batter into prepared pans.
  4.         Bake for 40 to 60 minutes, or until tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes.  Remove bread from pan, and completely cool.
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