does not describe me fully
it is where to start

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011

“It’s business. It’s not personal.”

“It’s business. It’s not personal.” How often has one heard that? I admit the usefulness of the concept. Decisions made under the spell of emotion and private urges do not always bode well for the greater good.

But, does downplaying the personal bode well for a writer of fiction? Except for formulaic writing, what is fiction except a personal statement? Then, having written the story, what additional obligation does an author have to his readers? How much of his personal life should the author reveal?

In my case, my writing has been influenced by my unique life story, including culture, religion, business career, and overcoming illness. Those influences individually, though, are not what I find compelling about my life story. Instead, I find compelling how I have built bridges across them. Indeed, the challenge of building bridges is usually at the heart of the conflicts addressed in my fiction.

There is, however, no fiction market segment called “Building Bridges.” I have always believed that I could rely on the content of my writing to reveal my unique perspective to the world. I wonder, though, if I have missed a bet in connecting with readers. After all, what starts off as a country song can cross over into the more general market. It might not pull that off, though, if not already successful in the country arena.

I also remind myself that once the product has left the computer and forays into the commercial world, it is no longer solely a personal statement but, indeed, a business. And, business requires identifying market segments.

My head hears that. My heart resists. Could insistence on the theme of "Building Bridges" ever work? Or should I just go the expected route and self identify focused solely on culture or religion or business or overcoming illness or something else? Will my choice make any difference in how my writing is received? And, in marketing my work, how much of Judith Mercado should be revealed to motivate someone to buy my work?

This last question, by the way, is what prompted me to write this post after a recent encounter with someone who had not realized the role illness had played in my life. He did not realize it because I never talked about it. So it got me to thinking about what an author's obligation is to his readers. The result is this post. Obviously, I have not answered my own question.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Nerve Wracking

So my novel’s manuscript has gone out to my readers. Second guessing is now in full force. They will hate it! How embarrassing. What was I thinking? Such is my internal chatter.

Okay, so I am sure they will find glimpses of good writing. They might even think it well written. But, they might not. And, as I wait, there is little I can do. The book has been sent out. It is no longer under my protection. It has been exposed to the cold light of day. Can I handle it?

Have you ever felt this way?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Met My Goal!

My goal for my novel’s current revision was to reduce it by 10%, what I call the Stephen King rule. Well, I am happy to report I have met my goal. More importantly, I also believe that my novel is much improved. Now, I’m farming it out to my critique partners. Next stop, incorporating their feedback. Next stop beyond that, start sending queries out.

All I can say is that this feels a whole lot better than wondering if I was even going to finish the novel. Thank you, Phillip Roth, Jimi Hendrix, Stephen King, and those who have been my cheering squad along the way. And that includes all those who read my blog and comment. Special thanks to you.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Now It Is Phillip Roth Who Inspires

As mentioned before, I am editing the first draft of my latest novel. I am now just over halfway through. Among the changes made, both profound and trivial, one issue stands above all the others. It is whether I should allow one of my characters to remain as emotionally troubled as she is. The truth is, she is sometimes downright unsympathetic.

Then I found the following Phillip Roth statement in The Paris Review.

“I am not interested in writing about what they [Roth’s characters] should do for the good of the human race and pretending that’s what they do do, but writing about what they do indeed do.”

I am following his advice. The outcome, I hope, will be that my novel—to use another quote from The Paris Review interview—will have the following effect on eventual readers.

“What I want is to possess my readers while they are reading my book….”

A worthy goal indeed.

The entire interview can be read at

If you had trouble with The Paris Review link previously, it now works. I still don't know why my normal way of posting a link didn't work. It's a great interview.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Okay to Play Hooky?

I thought of a post
then found myself asking if
it really mattered.

Scheduled posting day
met social network fatigue.
Could I play hooky?

Real life trumps blogging,
even Nathan B admits.
I paid attention.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Jimi Hendrix Inspires Me

Only Jimi Hendrix could make me enjoy another version of "Like a Rolling Stone" as much as I enjoy Bob Dylan’s. I have been listening to it while editing my novel.

Please note that, to view the video on YouTube, after clicking on the photo below, you might have to click again where indicated on the dark screen.

And how does this inspire me? By being so vital and by reminding me that excellence is worth striving for. OMG, that guitar!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

10% or Bust!

When I edit, I usually follow the Stephen King 10% rule.

2nd Draft = (1st Draft – 10%)

A funny thing has happened so far in my novel editing.

I eliminated a third of what was in my first draft. A third! Mostly, that was back story at the beginning of the novel.

Then I inserted new text, primarily for deeper exploration of character. The outcome? My second draft is now 25% longer than the original draft! Definitely not following the Stephen King 10% rule, eh?

Well, yes, but the edit is not yet complete. What I do know is that the Stephen King rule has made me ruthless about assessing whether a passage is critical for the forward progress of the novel. And it is amazing how creative one can get about communicating the essence of a character and/or action when the goal is to reduce and reduce and reduce.

Yet, right now, my second draft is 25% longer rather than 10% shorter than the first draft.

I won’t beat up on myself yet. This is an unfolding story. There will be more rounds of 10% reductions.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

As We Remember 9/11

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.... The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Rewrite

The novel rewrite has begun. All I can say is that if the rest of the draft manuscript needs as much work as the first chapter, I am in trouble.

Perhaps, though, I should cut myself some slack. This is the first chapter, after all. It was written well before I had a comprehensive sense of what the final product would be. Now, with the novel’s first draft completed, I can evaluate the all-important first chapter to see if it sends the right signals and to make sure it is not loaded with back story. I can also incorporate nuances about my characters, which have been revealed to me through the process of writing the novel itself. The time lines may be different than first envisioned. Etc. etc. and etc.

So, I will remain relatively scarce from the blogosphere far longer than I had anticipated. I will keep reading your blogs and, time permitting, occasionally comment. On a biweekly basis, I will drop in here with a post.

Now, back to work.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Newly Published Short Story - “Anna B’s Owner”

“I hear your brother’s living on a boat in the Florida Keys.”

I stared at this childhood friend, in town for a short visit, who had no idea what he had just done. Finally, I heard myself say, “Really? Where in the Florida Keys?”

“I don't know where exactly.” He squinted. “It's not Key West or I think I'd remember. Not Key Largo either . . . .”

Please don’t remember, Bob.

For the rest of the story, please continue reading at the SNReview.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The End! Of the First Draft, Anyway

Finally, the first draft of my novel is done. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end, characters who love and argue and grow, and conflicts with at least a promise of resolution. Most importantly, it has given me the structure with which to evaluate this project in a holistic way. Who knows? The final version might be 33% smaller. That last chapter I decided wasn’t necessary might be essential after all. And the beginning? Well, the beginning, that cemetery of new novels, it may prove not to be the right place to start. Or, smile, it might all be just fine.

That’s all stuff for me to look at later. I want to savor for now the sense of accomplishment I have. What an exhilarating feeling! I finished my new novel. For the first time in almost a year, I don’t have the threat of not finishing lurking in the shadows. I can take a break from my self-imposed homework assignment without fearing that I will never be able to write, "The End." Yes, I am giving myself a vacation for a while before I start striking out sentences and replacing verbs and eliminating passive voice and this’s and that’s and, well, you get the picture.

For now, I’ll just lift my glass and say, “Attagirl!”

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What’s In a Character's Name?

With only two chapters left to finish the first draft of my work-in-progress novel, I have changed a main character’s name. That may not seem to be a big deal, but it is the first time I have ever done it this late in the process. Usually, by this stage, the characters in a novel or short story have become like real people to me. On an ongoing basis, I have been thinking about and having inner dialogue with, for example, a Juan or a Juana or Abigail. So to now change a Juana into a Miriam is disconcerting [not the names I used].

Names are not mere bagatelles, it turns out. Think what these fictional names evoke:

• Ishmael (Moby-Dick)
• Santiago (The Old Man and the Sea)
• Sancho Panza (Don Quijote)
• Hester Prynne (The Scarlet Letter)
• Scrooge (A Christmas Carol)
• James Bond (Casino Royale et al.)

These names have turned into archetypal giants. Were they whims of the authors? I don’t know. I just know what their impact has been after publication. Would James Bond have been as evocative if his name had been Walter Qwiatkowski? Hmm, I doubt it, though I really can’t know.

So names are not insignificant, and when my inner sense kept nudging me that there was something wrong with the name I had given my character, I finally paid attention. Thank goodness for Microsoft Word’s Find and Replace function. With a few keystrokes, the deed was done. Interestingly, as I have started writing the next-to-last chapter, using the new name has made the writing easier. I had not realized my shoulders had been tensing up the whole time I was using the old name.

What still remains a question for me is whether the unease with the name happened because it was a poor choice in the first place or whether it resulted from the character’s growth within the novel. If the latter, am I being short-sighted in not letting her have the original name since after all that might help signal the character’s evolution? I don’t know. For now, I’ll just go with the fact that it makes the writing easier. After all, I still can use Word’s Find and Replace again.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Troubling the Twilight Stillness

As I near the end of my novel’s first draft, I've turned to reading others' novels to remind me of why storytelling matters as an art. The joy I experienced as a reader has motivated me to provide that same experience for someone else. In particular, a moving passage in Ngugi Wa Thiongo’o’s Petals of Blood has spurred me on. [Thanks Cuban for suggesting I read this novel!]

In Petals of Blood, one of the lead characters, while experiencing rejection from a love interest, talks about being caught “. . . in a twilight gloom somewhere between sleeping and waking, and should I not rest there, and not trouble that twilight stillness with passionate insistence?”

With that passage, Thiongo’o reminded me of what is at stake for me personally. As so many other writers have said about themselves, I can’t not write. Writing is such an intrinsic part of who I am that, though I may change venue and format, I must write. Not writing would be the equivalent of dwelling in Thiongo’o’s twilight gloom. While there are people and endeavors in my life which also evoke passion, writing is a singularly powerful force for generating that experience.

When I feel discouraged in my current project, it is tempting to say, especially since there is no publisher waiting with bated breath for my novel, that I should just quit. Then I ask myself, Do I grab life in a passionate embrace or do I choose not to trouble the twilight stillness?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

My Musical Helpers

As I near the end of the first draft of my work-in-progress novel, I have been running scared. The fear comes from two sources. First, though the end is in sight, I still worry I will not pull off finishing the novel. Second, I will soon have to bid so long to the characters who have inhabited my life since last Fall. My fictional characters invariably come to feel like real people to me, and I miss them when they are gone.

I have used various coping mechanisms, but none so effective as a performance by the South African Drakensberg Boys Choir. Judy Croome introduced them to me in one of her recent posts, and I keep listening again and again to their music. Sometimes I am just carried along with their joy. Sometimes I think of how improbable their gathering would have been not so long ago. It may be a bit of a stretch but that accomplishment gives me hope that I too can pull off my (admittedly less consequential) endeavor.

Here is The Drakensberg Boys Choir:

This is the comment I left on Judy's post:

"May the joy on those boys' faces be translated into a way of life for them and the world. May their harmony smooth any harshness life brings as they navigate the separateness the world may impose on them. May through them love find its way to all of us."

May they also help me finish my novel.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Dancing in the Shadows of Love

An Interview with Author Judy Croome

Following the release of her novel Dancing in the Shadows of Love, Judy Croome was gracious enough to answer my questions about her intriguing novel. Judy lives and writes in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her short stories have been published in ITCH magazine and “Notes from Underground Anthology”. She was recently shortlisted in the African Writing Flash Fiction 2011 competition. Her novel Dancing in the Shadows of Love explores, through the eyes of three very different women, how an ordinary person, one who doesn’t have what it takes to be a hero, can also find a way to repair the fractures of a broken world.

In Dancing in the Shadows of Love, there are recurring themes of buried secrets from the past, a sense of otherness, betrayal, the need for inclusion in a greater social circle and family, and people who are from neither Here nor There. What do you believe ties these varied themes together?

The interconnectedness of all life ties these themes together. Like a pebble rippling the surface of a pond, every act we do, every thought we have, sends waves of energy that affect everything else. The quote that introduces the Glossary of Terms encapsulates the connection between the varied themes in the book: no matter what the cultural differences, no matter what the different obstacles we each face, we are all the same. And we each carry within us the equal potential to rise above our own pain and suffering and change the world around us, even if only in a small way. When we can do that—make lasting changes for good in our own hearts, in our families and in our neighbourhoods—then perhaps we can finally return to that pre-lapserian Eden where man and nature, man and his god, and man and woman can live in peace.

In Dancing in the Shadows of Love, your character Zahra speaks of a hopeless dream of love. She says, “We are lost, and I was aware that the glimpses we have of love, a transcendental love that is sacrosanct, are reserved for the privileged few.” How do you define transcendental love?

It’s an a priori human potential that exists within all of us, irrespective of our culture or religion or life circumstances. When we find within us that capacity to overcome our subjective hurts and emotions; when we can reach out a helping hand to others, across all the external barriers and differences that separate us, and all the pain and suffering of our own secret wounds, we transcend our humanity and reach our Divine potential. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility." When we’re hurting or angry or betrayed, and we can still find the inner strength to tap into that a priori compassion within our soul to disarm our hostility towards others, then we have made the dream of transcendental love a reality. Zahra, lost in her despair, does not realise that this love is available to all of us…if we choose compassion instead of hatred; peace over anger and forgiveness over revenge.

In another section of Dancing in the Shadows of Love, you write: “The secrets of life eat away at the foundations of our being and even their weight cannot keep them drowned forever.” Can secrets be transmuted into a positive experience?

Absolutely. And sometimes that transmutation is purely an inner alchemy; nothing external changes, only the way the individual responds changes as she comes to terms with those painful secrets.

Why was it important to write Dancing in the Shadows of Love using three points of view?

Symbolically, three carries the weight of accumulated authority: something happening once or twice can be a coincidence; but if the same thing happens three times it carries a power and sense of certainty (e.g Thrice Greatest Hermes, three witches in MacBeth; three wishes.) In this story, Grace (as her name suggests) is the ideal human; she has achieved the capacity to see beyond differences and experiences real compassion for others. To give that ideal a sense of certainty, I had three very different women struggle to transform their own human suffering into the capacity for Divine Love (transcendental love) that Grace has.

Dancing in the Shadows of Love carries a lot of hidden symbolism. Can you explain some of it?

A reader can read this book just for the enjoyment of seeing how Lulu, Jamila and Zahra overcome their challenges, because I wanted this story to be an entertaining read. However, I also wove in deeper aspects to the story for those who want to look for a hidden meaning—from the flowers to the colours to the names of the characters, everything was chosen for a specific symbolic purpose.

A common example of the symbolism in the story is the importance of Jamila’s wedding. Symbolically, a wedding/marriage represents the reconciliation and union of opposites; the merging of heaven and earth. While on one level, the story’s plot is a simple one about a woman’s desperate need to marry and leave her underprivileged past behind her; on a deeper level, it’s about the struggle of all three women to achieve a spiritual union between their flawed humanity and their Divine essence.

What are your impressions so far of the self-publishing experience?

Interesting. Hard work. A lot of freedom, but a lot responsibility too. As big a struggle as the traditional publishing route, but in a different way. I prefer it because by nature I’m a loner and I prefer to walk to the sound of my own drum. But, before anyone thinks of self-publishing, I’d suggest they consider very carefully whether they have the personality to be a successful self-published author.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

Yes. I would’ve planned better, but as there were things I didn’t know and which hadn’t been mentioned in any of the self-publishing sites I researched, my first foray into self-publishing was too disorganised for my liking. I wasted a lot of energy that could have been better used. I would also not try to “launch” my book with a big bang: to self-publish you need time and patience and to get your name branded. The hard sell doesn’t work. Even my launch competitions, which I thought had big prizes (US$100 Amazon voucher or a full manuscript critique) have not been successful. I’m learning what works best is a slow steady natural presence on the web. By natural, I mean, just participate in forums and blogs and other social media. Let the readers come to you; don’t try and drag them in for a visit.

Judith, thanks so much for hosting me here. I really enjoyed my visit and, to say thanks, I’d like to ask you to draw the name of a random commentator, who will win an Amazon US$15 gift voucher (or the UK/South African equivalent!)

If anyone would like me to do a guest post on their blog, please email me at to discuss a suitable topic and a mutually agreeable date.

Judy Croome's independently published novel Dancing in the Shadows of Love is available from Amazon and Smashwords.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

New Short Story - "Coins Dropping"

Cacti tendrils brim over the clay pots below the peeling Rita’s Resale Shoppe sign. With her mitten, Ana picks at the hoarfrost at the window’s edge, trying to read the movie poster stuck inside the window. She has uncovered “Sandra Dee, Romanoff and” when Mami pulls her to the shop door.

For the rest of the story, please continue reading at Writes for All literary review.


Back Story to "Coins Dropping"

Years ago, this story was accepted by another literary review, but I withdrew it before publication. The Editor wanted to change the title, but I felt strongly that the title was at the heart of the story. Usually, I am very responsive to editorial suggestions. They result in an improved story and, furthermore, accepting editorial change is a normal part of the publishing process. This has been the only time I have dug in my heels and refused to accept an Editor's suggestions.

In the years since, I have had ample opportunity to reflect on my decision to withdraw the story and to second guess my being so adamant about not changing the title. It was only a title, for goodness sake! My second guessing only became more insistent as the story did not find a home; in part, I was told, because it was a period piece. Thankfully, Writes for All recognized that "'Coins Dropping' takes us back in time while addressing stereotypes still relevant today."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Back Story for "The Details"

Rose & Thorn Journal has a recurring feature, called "Back Story," in which authors published in their journal discuss how their work evolved. As was previously announced here, they published my short story "The Details," about a young couple whose wife is dying. How three unrelated nonfictional experiences influenced the development of my short story can be read in Rose & Thorn here.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Education of a Writer

At a local university, I recently attended a Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o lecture titled “The Education of a Writer.” This University of California professor, novelist, essayist, and Kenyan refugee discussed the influences which shaped him as a writer.

Thiong’o's varied life experiences as political activist, prisoner, exile, and literature professor have all informed his writing. It was when he spoke of the storytelling tradition of his native Kenyan village, though, that I took special notice. Members of his childhood village frequently gathered to tell stories as a group. Those gatherings, Thiong’o suggested, had a critical impact on him as a storyteller. The spontaneity and audience participation of those gatherings motivated him to seek in his later years a participatory form of storytelling.

I had an aha moment as I heard him describe his village experience. I realized I had an equivalent experience in my own life. My childhood “village,” the church, had gathered every night (yes, every night) to sing, give personal testimony, and share Biblical stories. It was done with music, chant, and prayer, as well as with lecture.

I have often spoken of my father’s influence on me as a writer. I have not highlighted though how the nightly church services of my childhood impacted me as a storyteller. Layered throughout my writing are the cadences and voices of those nightly services. It was in church then that I learned to tell stories with song and meaning. It was there that I became a storyteller, even if my own stories later turned out to be vastly different.

Was there an equivalent collective experience which formed you as a writer?

Pilgrim Soul

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Visiting Zora – My Latest Published Short Story

Sarita didn’t really know where she was going. Before leaving for Ft. Pierce, an hour north of where she lived in Palm Beach County, she had not found the Garden of Heavenly Rest Cemetery on any map. She knew for a fact, though, that the place existed. Novelist Alice Walker had tracked down Zora Neale Hurston’s abandoned grave there and marked it with a stone memorial.

Continue at Subtle Fiction

Sunday, April 10, 2011

When Is Your Work Ready?

I just received a rejection notice for one of my short stories. The prestigious literary review had held on to the story for so long that I began to hope they were accepting it. Alas, no.

So I reread the story. It was an OMG moment. What had I been thinking when I sent in the story? There was so much wrong with it! Not the least of which was that the story didn’t really begin until page three.

Just so you know, before I sent the story in, I edited it repeatedly. Others also read and commented on the story. How could we all miss something so basic? Do I have to lock something away for a year to avoid fooling myself into thinking it is polished?

I am no stranger to getting rejections for my written work. Anyone who writes fiction knows the drill. That doesn’t make the sting of rejection any easier, but this post is not about the emotional cost of rejections. It is about my disappointment in myself that, as improved a writer as I think I am, I can still make stupid mistakes.

I have now altered my story’s beginning, along with making other editorial changes. I hope this revised version will cause an editor to smile and say, “This is for me.” I can’t shake the feeling, though, that I am missing something that will be obvious to me a year from now.

How do you know when your work is polished enough to send it out? Or does it only get that designation when someone decides to publish it?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Storyteller's Worth

Writing a novel is a marathon. It starts out as an energetic and optimistic activity. Predictably for me, though, at about the three-quarter mark, a shift occurs. After writing again and again about the same characters, I am tempted to throw the lot out the window. At this point in a work-in-progress novel, it is superbly easy for me to generate a long list of what is wrong my writing. Completing the novel becomes a more daunting task than what has already been accomplished. The ignominy of not finishing is experienced daily.

Luckily for me, in this latest novel project, when I have been ready to quit, I received metaphorical refreshing drinks and pep talks. It started with the news that another of my short stories had been accepted by a literary review, which goes a long way toward renewing my faith in my writing abilities. When an editor says, I like your story enough to publish it, I am reminded that, at least in moments, I can write well. Parenthetically, when this story is published later this year, I will provide the link in a blog post.

The other refreshing drink and pep talk came from a surprising source, my late father. No, I’m not talking about séance-like contact. Instead, recently, I had the privilege of compiling an anthology of his essays, poems, and sermons which allowed me to hear his “voice” again. It was another soft landing to calm my jitters. It reminded me that writing, even if vastly different in content, is the family business, and I am doing exactly what I was born to do.

Then, I received the first installment of surveys being carried out about my dad's legacy. All the living members of the church my gentle, wise, and humble father pastored for thirty-three years have been queried. The project leader said, “The stories are pouring in. Many hand in their questionnaires with tears in their eyes.” While reading the questionnaire results, I was struck by how my father’s written and spoken words sustain a living quality. Words matter, I concluded. The role of the storyteller is essential to the human psyche.

So I pick up my banner as storyteller and know it is not a frivolous undertaking. I embark on the final quarter of my novel, renewed in my commitment to make my words matter. Because, if I write the story well, they will matter.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

"Til Next Year" - Flash Fiction

Last year, I came across a request for submissions from Glossolalia, a literary review “… dedicated to the art of flash fiction ... only publish[ing] stories under 500 words.” I had a 229-word story “Til Next Year” which had always been too short to submit to anyone. So I reread it, tweaked it a bit and sent it off, truly not expecting much. To my surprise, Glossolalia published my story.

Belatedly, I focused on the name of the literary review. Glossolalia can refer to the religious practice of speaking in tongues familiar to me from my fundamentalist childhood. But, having surveyed the submission guidelines and read their other published stories, I found that the review had nothing to do with religious “speaking in tongues.” Nor did it seem to have anything to do with that other definition of glossolalia: “nonsensical or invented speech, especially resulting from a trance or schizophrenia.”

Oh well, the review does focus on flash fiction, and my short story definitely qualified as flash fiction. So, whatever the reason for the review’s name, I am honored that Glossolalia chose my story. Here is the link: Til Next Year And, no, my story has nothing to do with religious speaking in tongues either.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Guilt about Not Blogging?

Recently, Nathan Bransford asked if blogging had peaked, eliciting 138 interesting comments, many citing blogging's excessive time requirements and also competition from Facebook and Twitter. I had noticed that some of my writer colleagues have been blogging less frequently. I also had been feeling guilty about my relative blogging inactivity since announcing last November that I would be giving priority to completing my work-in-progress novel.

Nathan Bransford's post and my own progress on my novel have made me feel less guilty. My novel is now at about 70% of my goal for the first draft. I don’t think I could have accomplished that, and also taken care of Life, if I had not stepped away from blogging full time.

Having broken my discipline of posting weekly, and then hearing from Bransford et al., though, I find myself tempted to never post again. Then I realize that, despite my already demanding schedule, I still find myself drifting back to my favorite blogs. Because I enjoy them! Invariably, I have to pull myself away or I would do nothing but read blogs. I also realize that I miss posting about issues that matter to me.

So blogging is not dead in my estimation. It has perhaps accommodated itself to the reality that we all have just twenty-four hours a day to take care of Life. I know that, as soon as I can get my novel in shape to start the publishing querying process, I will return to active blogging. I actually miss it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Meaning of Religion

Blogger A Cuban in London recently hosted a discussion about the meaning of religion. I was one of the participants. He posed questions about the nature of religion, its role in modern democracies, and the role religion plays in things like individualism, rampant consumerism and unchallenged materialism. In today’s post, I feature my answer to Cuban’s challenge to define religion. The link to the entire discussion is provided at the end of the post.

Religion is, on a personal level, finite humanity’s endeavor to explain itself vis-à-vis the infinite. On a social level, religion establishes codes of morality and behavior. Culturally, it facilitates expression of cultural norms. Politically, it can serve as a tool for creating and defending the political unit. It is paradoxically both unifying and divisive. In other words, religion is a protean concept.

That is my answer through a cognitive filter. But, if religion appealed only to the mind, it would not have achieved its enduring quality. It would also not explain why, despite significant differences, the overwhelming majority of people associate, formally or loosely, with religion in all its variants.

The opening line of my favorite hymn says, “Oh, Lord, My God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the works Thy hand hath made.” Am I a churchgoer? No. Do I believe that there is a Creator responsible for bringing our world into existence? Not in the anthropomorphic sense. And yet that hymn moves me every single time I hear it. Is that because it is a relic from my childhood? Perhaps. Or could it be that the hymn appeals to an unknown and unknowable part of me that wants to connect with that dimension of life which, science’s efforts notwithstanding, we fall short of grasping in all its beauty. Of science’s efforts, Max Planck himself said that future progress in understanding liminal conditions “…will never enable us to grasp the real world in its totality any more than human intelligence will ever rise into the sphere of ideal spirit: these will always remain abstractions which by their very definition lie outside actuality.”

Rather than try to understand or judge the human predilection toward embracing religion, I simply accept that it exists. Indeed, I respect that religions seek coherence and order in a world that intrinsically may be incoherent and chaotic. I also embrace religion’s attempt to connect with the numinous, which has little to do with the mind. Of course, my respect and tolerance do not extend to the use of violence and oppression.

I come to this stance having experienced the full spectrum of religious belief. As the daughter of evangelical ministers, I grew up in a theistic environment. I then became an atheist, only to later shift to an embrace of the numinous. In my fiction, I spend a lot of time in churches, with characters who embrace, characters who flee from, but always characters who try to make sense of religion and spirituality in their lives. In this, they reflect my own life's journey. In a larger sense, they may reflect humanity’s journey as well.

The entire discussion can be read here.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Caught Peeking - Two Short Stories

Recently, I shared with a friend two of my newly published short stories. He said he enjoyed them and that, “I see you peeking through in both of them.”

I was stunned. The stories were so not about my life. Indeed, one of the main characters was a young male. Except for the fact that I once cruised on a boat, there was nothing related to my life in those stories.

And then I realized. Of course, my friend would find me peeking in my stories. I was the author. It was my voice telling the stories. I could not help but be there. Even when I didn’t think I was.

So here are the two recently published stories in which my friend caught me peeking:

The Details” published in Rose and Thorn.

About a Boy” published in Gemini Magazine.

Thank you, Gemini Magazine and Rose and Thorn for selecting my stories.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

More Short Stories Accepted

Three short stories accepted for publication. Two blog posts requested for an anthology. I might start to think that going on blogging hiatus is good for my publishing career. Or I could be whimsical and say that in December the stars aligned themselves in my favor. Whatever the reason for the sudden spike in acceptances, I am thrilled. As soon as I am free to provide the links to the newly published short stories and anthology, I will do so.

As for my novel in progress, I am still making headway on that. To help clear my head from novel writing, I continue to write and send out short stories. I also entered a “Dear Lucky Agent Contest” sponsored by Guide to Literary Agents. As soon as I can type The End for my novel in progress, I will return to active blogging. In the meantime, have a wonderful new year.

The following are links to already published posts grouped under my major themes: