30 September 2008

Get to Know Your Characters

A friend of mine is exploring writing, so I've given her a few suggestions, the biggest of which being: get to know your characters!  When writing fiction, it's important to know the characters in your story in order to accurately write about them.

It's kind of the same idea as writing about someone's life, or telling a story about a celebrity.  You have to know the celebrity you're writing about in order to tell the story.  And even if you don't include every aspect of that celebrity in the story, you have to know it so your writing reads as complete.

Your characters need to be round characters, and in order for them to be round, you need to know who they are.  Fortunately, there are lots of ways to develop your characters.

Character Biographies
Probably the best-known method, writing a character biography is simply writing about your character in the same way you would write a biography for yourself.  These biographies can be as simple or elaborate as you choose, and I regularly use them to get me started with a new character.  Simple, straight-forward, and informative.

Character Interviews
There are lots of great interviews available (especially an in-depth life interview included in Robert Atkinson's The Gift of Stories), so find an interview--or create your own--and answer the questions from the perspective of your character.  Don't limit yourself to one-word or one-sentence answers.  Elaborate as much as you can, the way any person would in answering the same questions.

Character Journaling
This is a technique I use often.  I get out my writing journal and just start writing as if I am the character, and let things reveal themselves through the writing.  This can be especially beneficial when working through a particular aspect of the plot with the character to help get the character's opinion on the situation.  Some people find this technique useful in conjunction with character interviews; it works best when you have some sort of foundational knowledge of your character on which to journal.

Character Outlining
I know outlining is a bit of a sensitive topic for some, so please don't assume I'm saying you must outline to get to know your character.  However, for people who use outlines, it can be a great resource, especially for referring back to your character's life as you write.  All you have to do is outline your character's life as if you're writing a story about him or her.  Start with birth (or even family background information), and go from there.

Character-based Free Association Writing
Anyone who's done free association writing knows it can be utilized in a number of ways, and character development is just one of them.  In free association writing (FAW), you set an amount of time and keep writing through that time, usually without picking up your pen or pencil even to worry about punctuation or paragraphs.  You let your thoughts drive the writing, even if you get a bit sidetracked.  With character-based FAW, you use the character as a jumping-off point for the writing.  This is similar to character journaling, but is written instead in the third-person.

These are certainly not the only ways you can get to know your characters, but these are methods I've used effectively in my own writing practice.  I'm always open to other writers' suggestions!

Next time you're stuck with what a character would do or where to take your plot next, try getting to know your character a little better.  It just might be the jumpstart you need to keep going.

Happy scribbling!

29 September 2008

Banned Books Week

Remember when you were in high school and you read a book that had, at one point, been banned in schools and/or libraries?  I'm sure at the time you wished it was still banned so you didn't have to read it, right?  Surely you've grown from that, yes?

It's Banned Books Week.  The event runs from September 27 (which was Saturday) until October 4 (which is next Saturday).  During this time, you're encouraged to read a book (or more than one--why not?) that has ever been on a Banned Books List.

When I was first introduced to Banned Books Week, I thought it was more a memorial-type event, reminding readers of "those dark times" when books were censored/challenged.  I didn't think it still happened.  Sadly, it does.

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom received a total of 420 challenges last year. A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.
420 challenges may not sound like a lot to you.  Compared to the number of challenges/bans that have occured in the past, 420 is not a large number.  (In 2006, that number was more than 500.)  But we live in a nation where that number should be zero.  I won't get on my soapbox here (rest assured, it's coming), but do you really think a nation that claims to be free should be censoring books?  Then again, I suppose the people that challenge these books are the same people who blame school violence on the video games they let their children play.

I have to stop or I'll be off on a tangent.  Back to the important issue, yes?

Here are the ten most challenged titles in 2007 (and why):
  1. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (Reasons: anti-ethnic, sexism, homosexuality, anti-family, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group)
  2. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (Reasons: sexually explicit, offensive language, violence)
  3. Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes (Reasons: sexually explicit and offensive language)
  4. The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman (Reasons: religious viewpoint)
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Reasons: racism)
  6. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (Reasons: homosexuality, sexually explicit, offensive language)
  7. TTYL by Lauren Myracle (Reasons: sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited to age group)
  8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (Reasons: sexually explicit)
  9. It's Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris (Reasons: sex education, sexually explicit)
  10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (Reasons: homosexuality, sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited to age group)
I won't go into how I feel about the reasoning behind challenging these books (or challenging books in general) in this post.

The most common thing people do during this week is to read a banned book.  Great!  I'm a huge advocate for reading books others want thrown on a fire.  But there is more you can do!

Many libraries and bookstores will be hosting Banned Book Week events.  Check their events calendars to find out what's going on this week, and try to attend events to show your support.  And, of course, read a banned book.

This week, I'll be reading Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.  What will you be reading/doing?

27 September 2008

A Report to the Elitist Board on the Maiden Voyage of the Caribbean Elite

From the Cabin of Captain NP of the Caribbean Elite

As the captain of this ship, it is my pleasure to captain the Caribbean Elite, the first luxury liner designed entirely to cater to the elite of the world.  Our maiden voyage has proven to be better than I expected.  The conversation was wonderful, the weather was perfect.

I submit to you, Elitist Board, this venture into the Caribbean waters has been a success, and your seal of approval has not been misplaced.  I sincerely hope you will continue to endorse the Caribbean Elite, and any sister ships that may emerge, as the single way to travel for those individuals, businesses, and corporations who receive your support.

To express the true ambience of elitism that came with the passengers on the ship, I submit to you some of the highlights from the cruise:

As the passengers boarded the ship, a few non-elitists managed to sneak past a security guard (who was promptly relieved of duty) and hurled insults at the passengers, demanding to be allowed onboard on the basis that elitism is arrogant.  Massimo Pigliucci, the only passenger to be invited to cruise without having requested it, turned before boarding and explained, "The answer is simple: I am an expert."  He went on to explain in his impromptu speech to these non-elites:
Intellectual arrogance, in the utmost degree, is being displayed by those who dismiss out of hand the considerate opinion of someone who has studied a field for 25 years only because they cherish a particular religious worldview that has no independent foundation in reality.
The catcallers stood for a moment, stunned, and left the port.

Day One: Embarkation
The first day was a flurry of activity.  After all the passengers were on board, the ship underwent the emergency drill to ensure all passengers knew where to go in the unlikely event of an emergency that called for abandoning the ship.  Thankfully, our drill was as close as we got to needing to utilize emergency procedures.

Shortly after the drill, the passengers stood on their balconies and on the main deck of the ship to bid farewell to their friends and families.  As everyone was waving and bidding the elite "Bon voyage" in stereotypical cruise fashion, a voice rang out from a balcony, stilling the air, and starting off the cruise in true Elitist Bastard fashion.  Though I heard the voice--somewhat muffled--from the bridge, I didn't learn until later that was Bitter Hinterlands leaving the echo of a call for a petition in the hearts and minds of those left on the shore while the Elite left the government behind for their seven-day adventure into the blue.

As we pulled away from Port Canaveral, the passengers took the opportunity to settle into their staterooms and explore the ship deck by deck.  As they wandered, snippets of conversation could be overheard, which reinforced the elitist atmosphere of the cruise.

In the spa, Avi reminded the other passengers a non-elitist world does, in fact, exist on land, and it's attempting to infiltrate the elitist world.  About Sarah Palin he said:
Pull the string and out tumbles another ridiculous talking point she neither understands, nor can deliver with anything approaching sense.
(Thankfully, the spa crew was on hand for a relaxing massage to work the nitwit-induced knots out of his shoulders.)

On the Promenade deck, several passengers sipped a cappuccino or an espresso macchiato while they chatted, led by Cujo359, about the world they were happily leaving behind--a world where...
If you repeat a rumor with enough sarcasm and a warning of the "Politics of Fear" sort, people learn that you think that they're drooling idiots if they believe it.
Day Two: At Sea
The first full day of the cruise was spent at sea, allowing the passengers to explore the ship further and enjoy being in the ocean, away from the chaos and frustration of everyday people.

Though ordinary people would have felt insignificant in the vastness of the ocean, the passengers of the Caribbean Elite felt at home: large people in a large ocean away from the small-minded people that constantly create problems for the elite.

A discussion in the luxurious dining room of the ship, prompted by Ames, the passengers were reminded that unity is important.  Ames said:
Palin makes the vital mistake of imagining that, despite our differences, we don’t need each other, and the equally dangerous mistake of pigeonholing our towns & cities into pre-determined antagonistic roles. If we’re stuck in a culture war, it’s because people like Palin insist on re-digging our trenches when it’s beneficial to their political career.
Day Three: At Sea
Formal night was quite an affair on the maiden voyage of the Caribbean Elite.  The passengers dressed in their elitist best and went to the Formal Dining Room for dinner and drinks.  As they perused the menu, Vifargent cautioned the other diners, saying:
It used to be my custom to order a nice blue/saignant petit filet about twice a year, but due to the current subprime perfect storm of red meat in battleground states between enemy combatants on the ground, at the end of the day I think it will likely be some few years before I have the stomach for another one.
Being formal night, I had the pleasure of joining the passengers at dinner, entertaining them at the Captain's Table.  We had no more than ordered our appetizers when Cujo359 launched a discussion on the perception of elitism in politics, saying:
H.L. Mencken once observed, no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. Last time I checked, Republicans weren't going broke in excessive numbers.
I was amazed anyone actually finished their meals.

Day Four: George Town, Grand Cayman
Our first port of call was George Town, Grand Cayman, a beautiful town for shopping.  Many of the passengers disembarked for the day, and as they wandered from store to store, the elite atmosphere was not left on the ship, this time taking the form of science.

At the first section of stores, Atheist Chaplain opened the discussion, talking about medical research, saying:
[R]esearch like this sends a tingle down my spine. I see this as a light………  no a beacon, that may one day help people avoid going through what My family had to go through with me, If this research helps one person recover faster, if it stops someone from becoming a complete barstard towards his family then I am 100% behind it.
Avi picked up the thread of conversation at the restaurant where the passengers stopped for lunch.  He opened his discussion by informing the others:
The amount of attention this little problem has attracted on the intertubes proves two things:
  1. People have far too much time on their hands (myself included), and
  2. People generally don't know shit about even reasonably simple physics.
Avi's comments prompted Blake to share his own thoughts on physics over drinks once the passengers were back aboard the Caribbean Elite and ready to get underway.  He ponders:
Lately, I've been wondering whether physics in fact has it worse than other subjects. I don't have the data to answer that question, but I can at least sketch what I suspect to be a contributing factor which other sciences might encounter to a lesser extent or in a different way.
Day Five: Cozumel, Mexico
Cozumel, Mexico was the next stop for this cruise.  Several passengers took the opportunity to take tours of the historical sights in the area.  Unfortunately, the first tour guide did not meet the elitist standards the passengers expected, prompting a discussion on education by Progressive Conservative.  He shared his experiences in secondary school, saying:
[B]eyond academics, beyond the talent of the students and teachers, what made my high school and others like it successful was a sense of elitism. We were told nearly every day that, “Excellence is our standard, not the exception.” We were told that we should thank our parents for sending us there. We were told that we represented our school wherever we were and we were to carry ourselves accordingly in the local community (we could receive disciplinary actions for a speeding ticket or a fight on the other side of town). We were fortunate enough to be a powerhouse in local athletics and that also contributed to a general sense that we were special.
Jason, in the spirit of elitism in schools, added his own thoughts about the perception of Ivy League schools, using his own background, as well as, to use his words, "one of the dopiest essays I have ever seen in my life" to explain his thoughts on educational elitism.

Though the next tour guide was better informed, the stage had been set for the elitists, and Cruise Director Dana made sure the tour guide knew, with a wag of her finger in his non-elitist face:
Those who don't take the past seriously, who treat history as a trivial handful of facts, interesting stories, and events that have no bearing on today, won't have the wisdom to create a better future.
Day Six: At Sea
The final full day on the cruise was at sea, and I took time to give the passengers a tour of the parts of the ship "normal" people would not have the opportunity to see.  The Caribbean Elite is, of course, state-of-the-art, and I took pleasure in showing them the systems on the bridge.  As I showed the passengers all the technology that helped create such a wonderful experience for their cruise, John reminded everyone:
It's true that cluster bombs, attack submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles, military space platforms, and nuclear weapons could not be made without science and technology. But, then again, neither could communication and weather satellites, cell phones, computers, automobiles, airplanes, diagnostic medical scanners, radiation therapy for disease, electric lighting and the myriad other results of that selfsame scientific and industrial revolution that have saved millions of lives and reduced poverty, death and disease. That's not even counting the additional benefit of further knowledge those technologies have made possible in the form of electron microscopes, space probes, atom smashers, space telescopes and the like.
Day Seven: Disembarkation
The next morning, the passengers left the ship, taking a moment to say goodbye to each other before going back to their lives on land, full of idiocy and non-elitism.  I hope they were reluctant to leave, having experienced a relaxing week surrounded by elitism and luxury.

As I stood with them at the port, wishing them well, Jim approached me, handing me a sheaf of papers.  I was unable to read it at the time, but once back aboard the ship, I learned he was offering his own version of events, and asked me to submit it to you in conjunction with my own report.  That report is attached.

Final Thoughts
Being the maiden voyage of an unprecedented ship, there were aspects that I wish could have gone differently, of course, and there are changes that will be made before the next sailing of the Caribbean Elite.  However, as you can see from the highlights here, the discussions prompted by the events of the week show the elitists aboard the ship were, in fact, surrounded by elitism on the ship, which cultivated an atmosphere that allowed them to speak their minds freely and without fear that some non-elitist would question them, bring them down, or remind them they are in the minority in this world.

The cruise was an escape, and I hope the next sailing will be able to offer that escape to even more elitists, giving them a break from fighting the good fight.


Captain of the Caribbean Elite

26 September 2008

Formal Friday: an Explanation

At the esteemed offices of NaNoWriMo, the general dress code is casual for employees except the last Friday of every month when the staff dresses up to celebrate the fact they don't have to dress up.

Clever, yes?  Here's a picture.

Since I am a self-employed, work-from-home freelance writer, I've decided to incorporate Formal Fridays into my own office dress code policy.  (Ha!)  I'll dress up on the last Friday of every month and post a picture for you.  This month is a bit of Bohemian formality.

25 September 2008

Caribbean Elite Set to Set Sail

EP--As the sailing date for the maiden voyage of the Caribbean Elite nears, passengers are being reminded to have all their paperwork in order on or before Friday, September 26th in order to be admitted to the ship.

Captain NP has been unavailable for comment since her recent statement to the press, and is rumored to be doing walk-throughs with the crew of the ship to ensure everything meets the high standards that have been set for the ship.  There have been no leaks about the current passenger manifest.

The ship is the first luxury liner to be designed exclusively for the elite, and even press coverage has been limited.  The maiden voyage sets sail Saturday, September 27 out of Port Canaveral.

24 September 2008

The Seven Sacraments Series: a Conclusion

Over the last several weeks, I've explored the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church.  There are many who use the sacraments as a point of argument against the Church.  (Perhaps it's because they don't know about these sacraments that they are against them.)  I firmly believe that knowledge can combat hatred, so I'm happy to openly discuss my faith to help break down stereotypes and show the similarities between people, rather than differences.

My original intention in this series was to unveil truth about the sacraments, but in writing the pieces, it developed into more.  This process has been a good experience for me.  I've been able to brush up a little on my Church doctrine, and I've learned things about the Church I didn't know.  I hope it was as informative to you as it has been to me.

To recap:

The Sacrament of Baptism is the first sacrament in the Church, usually given shortly after birth.  Baptism in the Catholic Church forgives original sin, as well as acting as a promise by the parents and godparents of the child that that child will be raised in the Church.

The Sacrament of Confirmation is a profession of faith in the Catholic Church.  It is usually taken after Holy Communion, and brings the faithful in full communion in the Church.

The Sacrament of Holy Communion is the participation in the Lord's Supper.  The faithful are encouraged to participate in this sacrament as often as they like; the Eucharist is (usually) offered even during Daily Mass services, so many people take this sacrament every day.

The Sacrament of Confession is usually made prior to First Communion, to prepare the heart for the Eucharist.  The Church requires Confession, also called Reconciliation, at least once a year as part of the Easter Duty, but the faithful are encouraged to confess often.

The Sacrament of Marriage is a sacrament not taken by everyone, but is one that, when undertaken, should be met with as much seriousness as all other sacraments.  Marriage is a holy joining of two people in faith and love.

The Sacrament of Holy Orders is, quite simply, the clergy.  Those who choose to take the Sacrament of Marriage can't take the Sacrament of Holy Orders and vice versa.

The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is given for those who are ill, or have upcoming medical procedures.  Originally it was called Last Rites, but the intent of the sacrament has changed, as well as the name.

23 September 2008

Excuse me?

I come from Arkansas, I get why she’s hot out there, why she’s doing well.

Really, sir?  Really?

Poor choice of words, perhaps?

Captain NP Speaks to the Press

EP--NP, Captain of the Caribbean Elite, first luxury liner catering exclusively to the elite of society, issued a statement today to explain the importance of the no-press policy to this point.

NP said, "We are proud to be certified by the [Elitism] Board, and the commendation we received from them even prior to the christening are taken very seriously by myself and the crew of the ship.  [That's why] we have avoided speaking with the press until now."

She went on to explain, "We have done rigorous background checks on all our passengers to prevent non-elites from 'slipping through,' and there will be absolutely no press allowed on board before or during the maiden voyage."

The first actual photo of the Caribbean Elite (shown right) is now available, taken by Jay W. of EP.  He managed to snap the shot during some routine tests of the ship shortly after its christening.

The maiden voyage of the ship is scheduled for September 27th, and all passengers are reminded by Captain NP to ensure their boarding passes are in order by September 26th.

EP will continue to provide coverage of this controversial cruise with amusing alliteration for all.

22 September 2008

On This, the First Day of Autumn

I love autumn.

Summer greens are bright and beautiful, but the yellows, oranges, and reds of autumn create a prettier palette.  The colors blend, but because of the different shades all over, the colors attract my eye more than summer hues.  Nature begs to be walked in, photographed, admired, more in fall than any other season.

I love getting out my jeans and sweaters for the first time in the fall.  Before winter starts to set in and things turn gray, I love taking a journal outside to a park with lots of trees and scribbling, smelling the crisp, fresh air, being in nature.  It's refreshing to be out when it's cooler in the evenings--cool enough perhaps for a jacket--and writing.  Autumn allows me to write outside more (spring is too wet, winter too cold, and summer too hot), which has always been inspirational to me.

Living in Orlando makes me feel a bit cheated.  Here, it gets a bit cooler, but everything stays lush and green, so it doesn't really feel like fall here.  Even the temperature change isn't as drastic.  And, being hurricane season, fall is quite a bit wetter here, so it's not as inviting to sit outside when it's pouring nearly every afternoon.

I love autumn.  I just wish it was here.

20 September 2008

Wonky Blogger?

Is anyone else having trouble with Blogger today?  I updated my personal blog, and while I can see the new post when I view my blog, it doesn't show up in the list of posts in order for me to edit it.  And my Blogger Following tool is not updating, either.  I hope this is a temporary problem.... Maybe I'm supposed to stay away from Blogger for a while?

18 September 2008

Caribbean Elite to Set Sail Sep. 27

EP--The first-ever Elitist Bastard luxury cruise will be setting sail on September 27, 2008 for a Caribbean cruise designed to bring out the best in the guests onboard.

The ship, christened the Caribbean Elite, is a 300,000-ton cruise ship able to hold up to 700 passengers, though the captain of the ship, NP, explained, "We don't offer staterooms to more than 100 passengers at a time. We don't want people thinking anybody is welcome. [The ship is] strictly invitation only. We've been given the Elitist status by the World Elitist Board for a reason."

On August 8, Dana Hunter, founder of the Carnival of Elitist Bastards and inspiration for this luxury liner, was asked to christen the ship as it entered water for the first time at an event promoting the ship and its first voyage. The press was not allowed onboard, and there is currently no information available about the interior of the ship. All guests were asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement prior to booking their staterooms, but, being elitist bastards, none of them did.

17 September 2008

The Seven Sacraments Series: Anointing of the Sick

In the seventh installment of the Seven Sacraments Series, I'd like to discuss the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

This Sacrament, like all Sacraments, has roots in Scripture.  According to the Catholic Answers Forum, the Sacrament of Anointing:
...was instituted by Jesus Christ during his earthly ministry. The Catechism explains, 'This sacred anointing of the sick was instituted by Christ our Lord as a true and proper sacrament of the New Testament. It is alluded to indeed by Mark, but is recommended to the faithful and promulgated by James the apostle and brother of the Lord' (CCC 1511; Mark 6:13; Jas. 5:14-15).
Originally, the Anointing of the Sick was a sacrament given only to those who were dying.  The purpose of this rite has changed, though.

Traditionally referred to as Extreme Unction or Last Rites, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick was previously most commonly administered to the dying, for the remission of sins and the provision of spiritual strength and health.  In modern times, however, its use has been expanded to all who are gravely ill or are about to undergo a serious operation, and the Church stresses a secondary effect of the sacrament: to help a person recover his health.  Like Confession and Holy Communion, to which it is closely linked, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick can be repeated as often as is necessary.
While the original Rite placed emphasis on redemption before death, the new Rite is different, and puts the emphasis on life rather than death.  That is to say:
The Roman Rite Anointing of the Sick, as revised in 1972, puts greater stress than in the immediately preceding centuries on the sacrament's aspect of healing, and points to the place sickness holds in the normal life of Christians and its part in the redemptive work of the Church.
Anyone may receive this Sacrament.  Today, many parishes offer Anointing services.  The faithful may come to these services and receive Anointing for any of their ills, in preparation for a hospital stay, tests, or a procedure.

As to the effects of the Sacrament, Richert explains:
Received in faith and in a state of grace, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick provides the recipient with a number of graces, including the fortitude to resist temptation in the face of death, when he is weakest; a union with the passion of Christ, which makes his suffering holy; and the grace to prepare for death, so that he may meet God in hope rather than in fear.  If the recipient was not able to receive the Sacrament of Confession, Anointing also provides forgiveness of sins.  And, if it will aid in the salvation of his soul, Anointing may restore the recipient's health.
Another explanation of the effects of the Sacrament  says:
As the sacrament of Marriage gives grace for the married state, the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick gives grace for the state into which people enter through sickness. Through the sacrament is given a gift of the Holy Spirit that renews confidence and faith in God and strengthens against temptations to discouragement, despair and anguish at the thought of death and the struggle of death; it prevents from losing Christian hope in God's justice, truth and salvation.
The Sacrament of Anointing provides peace of mind for those who are suffering.  Through this Rite, we are given hope in the power of the Lord's healing power, which is as important as anything else we do to heal.

16 September 2008

The Writer's Calendar

Freelance writers write on a very different schedule than people read.  Since many publications request that writers send submissions as far as six months' in advance, what's on my desk at any given time is very different from the mindset of "regular people."

I have this calendar in my quick file that helps me remember when I should be submitting what to help me keep on track.  (Keep in mind this is a rough submission calendar, so writing would begin before what's listed.)

January: Fourth of July/summer
February: End of summer/back to school
March: Back to school/end of summer/football
April: Halloween
May: Thanksgiving
June: Christmas/New Year's
July: New Year's
August: Valentine's Day
September: Spring/Easter
October: Easter
November: End of school year/Mother's Day
December: End of school year/summer/Father's Day

A little different, isn't it?

This is only a rough calendar, of course.  Writers should check the individual submission guidelines of the publications to which they're submitting.  You have to make sure you're submitting within the individual publications' timeframe.

It's great to have this little calendar, but when I'm working on seasonal pieces sometimes, it makes it difficult to get into the proper holiday spirit.  After all, when everyone else is cleaning up their Thanksgiving decorations and getting out the Christmas decorations, I'm writing about summer!

So if you're not sure what you should be working on this month, count forward about six months and start there.

Happy scribbling!

15 September 2008

The Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  She is also called the Sorrowful Mother, Mother of Sorrows, Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, or Our Lady of the Seven Dolours.  Our Lady of Sorrows is one of the names the Blessed Mother is called in referring to the sorrows of her life. 

The Seven Sorrows of Mary are a popular devotion in the Church.  The Seven Sorrows of Mary are seven events in her life that are a popular devotion.  They are:
  1. The Prophecy of Simon over the Infant Jesus (Luke 2:34)
  2. The Flight into Egypt of the Holy Family (Matthew 2:13)
  3. The Loss of the Child Jesus for three days (Luke 2:43)
  4. The Meeting of Jesus and Mary along the Way of the Cross (Luke 23:26)
  5. The Crucifixion where Mary stands at the foot of the cross (John 19:25)
  6. The Descent from the Cross where Mary receives the dead body of Jesus in her arms (Matthew 27:57)
  7. The Burial of Jesus (John 19:40)
On this day, I encourage you to take a moment and reflect on the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  When I think of what our Holy Mother went through, I am encouraged despite the challenges in my life.  Perhaps things are not as I expected they would be by this point in my life, but I'm healthy and happy and married to a wonderful man who would do anything for me.  And if Mary could go through the many sorrows of her life and still remain strong in her faith to the Lord, who am I to doubt?

Often, I try to focus on the joy in my faith rather than the sorrow, but there are times when the sorrow can offer a bit of perspective for life--and faith.  And when I pray to Our Lady of Sorrows, I know that, because of her sorrows, she understands what I've gone through, and can offer her prayers and support to me, helping me get through my sorrows.

How do you deal with sorrow in your life?

14 September 2008

No Post Title Seems Adequate....

It is a tragedy when anyone decides to take his or her life.  Doubly so when that person has given so much to our world.

From Yahoo! News: (NOTE: Links added by NP)
CLAREMONT, Calif. - David Foster Wallace, the author best known for his 1996 novel "Infinite Jest," was found dead in his home, according to police. He was 46.

Wallace's wife found her husband had hanged himself when she returned home about 9:30 p.m. Friday, said Jackie Morales, a records clerk with the Claremont Police Department.

Wallace taught creative writing and English at nearby Pomona College.

"He cared deeply for his students and transformed the lives of many young people," said Dean Gary Kates. "It's a great loss to our teaching faculty."

Wallace's first novel, "The Broom of the System," gained national attention in 1987 for its ambition and offbeat humor. The New York Times said the 24-year-old author "attempts to give us a portrait, through a combination of Joycean word games, literary parody and zany picaresque adventure, of a contemporary America run amok."

Published in 1996, "Infinite Jest" cemented Wallace's reputation as a major American literary figure. The 1,000-plus-page tome, praised for its complexity and dark wit, topped many best-of lists. Time Magazine named "Infinite Jest" in its issue of the "100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005."

Wallace received a "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation in 1997.

In 2002, Wallace was hired to teach at Pomona in a tenured English Department position endowed by Roy E. Disney. Kates said when the school began searching for the ideal candidate, Wallace was the first person considered.

"The committee said, 'we need a person like David Foster Wallace.' They said that in the abstract," Kates said. "When he was approached and accepted, they were heads over heels. He was really the ideal person for the position."

Wallace's short fiction was published in Esquire, GQ, Harper's, The New Yorker and the Paris Review. Collections of his short stories were published as "Girl With Curious Hair" and "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men."

He wrote nonfiction for several publications, including an essay on the U.S. Open for Tennis magazine and a profile of the director David Lynch for Premiere.

Born in Ithaca, N.Y., Wallace attended Amherst College and the University of Arizona.

(Corrects school he attended to Arizona, not Illinois.)

Caribbean Elite Captain NP Attends Red Carpet Event

EP--NP, captain of the new luxury liner designed exclusively for the elite, was seen at a red-carpet fundraiser on September 12 for the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL).

Though the ship's guest list is still being finalized, NP declined to comment on the upcoming maiden voyage of the Caribbean Elite, and it is unclear whether or not any of the ship's guests were at the event.

The Caribbean Elite will be sailing out of Port Canaveral on September 27th.

12 September 2008

Coffee House Book Notes

When I'm not scribbling about a coffee house, I've been taking notes about my coffee house book--things I want to remember to add or delete or change to strengthen the story.  Here are a few of the notes I've taken recently:
  • The scenes between the Grand Opening and the Grand Re-Opening need to find a balance between significant and slice-of-life.
  • The religiosity of the piece needs to be carefully threaded throughout the story--those that know about it see and appreciate it, and those that don't just don't see it--the religiosity just adds a little depth to the story, ties the events together, but doesn't overwhelm the story arc.
  • Maybe hint at one of the baristas writing for pleasure to hint that maybe s/he wrote the piece?
  • Don't make the landlord a totally unloveable character, just heavy-handed in his handling of his tenants--he wants to be (overly) involved.
  • Ben should be more of a background owner; he lets Moira do the managerial stuff and he does the books and ordering what she says he needs to order based on her inventory reports.  Sometimes when things get super busy he helps, but mostly he chats and does paperwork.
  • Don't make Moira too idealistic--she should have flaws, too!  But not the kind of flaws that make her more loveable.  All the characters should be equally loveable and hatable--the reader can choose the main character.
  • There needs to be some acknowledgement that a lot of the customers are "farm folk" and the only coffee they drink is the "coffee" they get from the gas stations--they're not used to gourmet coffee, or a place that doesn't serve meals.

11 September 2008

A Day of Remembrance

I remember when my freshman college roommate came into our room and changed the TV station to CNN.

On the screen, the first tower had already fallen. The second was in flames. All the commentators were saying was it was deliberate. The rest was speculation. I saw the second tower fall, though now I don't know if I actually saw the tower fall, or if it is the replayed video that's been burned into my memory.

I watched the news from 10:00 in the morning until about 3:05 in the afternoon when I had to go to my English class. I left late and walked slow, looking around at the sky, the campus buildings, the people wandering, eyes wide and red from crying. The campus was still. No music blared from dorm rooms. No bright red Frisbees sailed across the quad.

My English class was cancelled. The profesor sat with students who chose to stay in order to discuss what was happening--I didn't stay. I went back to my post on the bed, watching non-stop coverage of the chaos.

I remember watching footage of the devastation of the Pentagon, thankful my dad wasn't in the military anymore. I learned a couple of years later my father-in-law was at the Pentagon that day and, thankfully, unharmed.

I remember seeing the wreckage of a plane somewhere in Pennsylvania, plans of terrorists thwarted by the spontaneous bravery of civilians who got on the plane that morning with the simple intent of flying from one place to another.

In the days, weeks, months that followed, Americans rallied together to begin picking up the pieces following the attacks. People carried American flags with them, pinned to their backpacks, or flag pins on their lapels. Paper candles were taped in nearly every window on campus. The flag stood proudly day and night, dozens of candles burning at its base. Patriotic music replacedhip hop and pop in dorm windows. I half-expected to see posters for Greek rush events to be replaced by posters urging civilians to vote, join the military, and support our military, police, and firefighters.

The televisions in the dining hall were set to CNN Headline News for weeks. Students ate in near silence, watching the names of fatalities run longer and longer before repeating. And people murmured that it shouldn't have taken the attacks to bring the people together. People shook their heads at their own arrogance that we didn't see it coming, that we thought it would never happen to us.

Now, seven years later, we're still picking up the pieces. Families can never again be waiting at the airport gate. When a plane goes down, terrorism instantly springs to mind.

And our troops are still overseas, fighting. I pray they will all come home safe, and soon. And until then, as I watch for their return, I thank the Lord for men and women brave and loyal, protecting me.

10 September 2008

The Seven Sacraments Series: Holy Orders

Unfortunately, I do not know much about this sacrament beyond what it is.  Holy Orders is the sacrament for those who decide to enter the priesthood.  In the Catholic Church, those who take the Sacrament of Holy Orders cannot take the Sacrament of Marriage.  Women are not eligible to become priests in the Catholic Church.

Rather than try to explain the Sacrament myself, I would like to direct you to a few sources of information that can tell you about Holy Orders.

A source I've used often in this series is Scott P. Richert at the Catholic site on About.com.  Here is his piece on the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

You can also read about Holy Orders as explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church at the website of the Vatican here.

For articles on Holy Orders by knowledgable writers, you can also go here.

09 September 2008

RCIA: Catholic Education

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) is a program of religious education in the Catholic Church, designed to prepare adults to enter into full Communion with the Church.  The process usually begins in the fall, and goes until Easter Vigil, when those in the program are confirmed (and baptized, if needed), and welcomed into the Church.

RCIA begins with the Period of Inquiry (the Period of Evangelization and Precatechumenate).  This period is for those interested in the Catholic faith to learn about the Church and its teachings, and pray about the decision to join the Church.

At the end of this time of education, introspection, and meditation, those still interested in joining the Church continue to the next stage, which is the Period of the Catechumenate, marked by the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens for the unbaptized and the Rite of Welcoming the Candidates for the baptized.  Often these two rites can be combined when an RCIA class has Inquirers who are both baptized and unbaptized.

The Period of the Catechumenate is a lengthy period of learning and mediation.  This is the bulk of RCIA, during which the Candidates and Catechumens learn about the teachings of the Church and Christian living.  At the end of this period, the Candidates and Catechumens attend the Rite of Election (for the unbaptized) or the Rite of Calling the Candidates to Continuing Conversion (for the baptized).  These rites can be combined, as well.  At this ceremony, all those who are in RCIA, as well as their sponsors, join together to recognize their readiness to join the Church.

Next is the Period of Purification and Enlightenment, which usually corresponds with Lent.  The intent of this period is to draw closer to God through introspection.  During this time, the Candidates and Elect (formerly referred to as the Catechumen) also participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, preparing them for Holy Communion at Easter Vigil.

At Easter Vigil, the Candidates and Elect are brought into full Communion in the Church.

Following Easter is a period known as the Period of Post-Baptismal Catechesis or Mystagogy, during which those who have just taken the Sacraments of Initiation are able to continue their education, helping to give them a solid foundation on which to start their lives of faith.

08 September 2008

Emotion Exercises

I received in the mail today the October 2008 issue of the Writer.  I love this magazine, and when I get it I take time to flip through the pages, looking at what each issue has to offer, marking pieces I want to read with more attention and pieces I may want to clip and add to my quick reference file.

I'm always happy with the contents of the magazine, and this month is no different.  In fact, there's a bit of article I'd like to share with you.

Michael Knight wrote an article called "Get REAL EMOTION onto the page," which contains two exercises to help develop emotion in fiction.  Those exercises are what I'd like to share with you.
Exercise #1
Describe the view from a window--bedroom, barroom, bus, wherever--as seen by a character who has just received some very good or some very bad news.  Have some specific news in mind but don't even hint at it in the exercise.  The reader should be able to deduce if not the exact nature of the news, the tenor of it, whether it's good or bad, simply by the way you describe the view.  The object is to give the reader a sense of a character's internal life by relying on meaningful imagery alone.

Exercise #2
Write a scene, lots of dialogue, lots of body language, lots of concrete detail, and so on, in which one of te characters is keeping a big-time secret.  She's pregnant.  He's got cancer.  Like that.  Don't mention the secret in the scene.  Instead, focus on how keeping such a secret affects your character's behavior, how he or she reacts to the environment and the other characters.  No, this is not an exercise in withholding information.  The point is that the secret itself is less important than your character's reaction to it.  Even if the reader isn't privy to the secret, we should be able to sense the tension it causes, its emotional effect.
I'm always excited to find new writing exercises.  Even if they aren't exercises I keep in my bag of tricks, they're fun to try, and if nothing else, it keeps me writing.

As soon as I read these exercises I thought of ways to write them.  I think I'm going to take some time tonight to do these exercises and see what happens.  Maybe a coffee house book scene will develop.

How have you learned to convey true emotion in your writing?

07 September 2008

Caribbean Elite Guest List Created, Staterooms Decorated

EP--The Caribbean Elite, a new luxury liner catering exclusively to the elite, is being prepared for its maiden voyage on September 27th.

Captain NP, unavailable for comment, is creating the guest list for the first voyage. She has been meeting with various elitists to discuss the cruise, as well as their qualifications for being admitted to the ship. It has been rumored the guest list will need to be finalized by September 26th for the voyage the next day.

The elitists who have met with NP declined to comment on the impending maiden voyage of the controversial luxury liner.

06 September 2008

Who Do You Follow?

I read blogs. There are several blogs I read every day (including En Tequila Es Verdad, The Big Stick, Radical Catholic Mom, and Work at Home Mom Revolution). Until recently, my morning virtual routine consisted of checking my email, then checking each of the blogs before going to my Dashboard to add to my own blogs.

Blogger, though, has come out with a really great tool that has streamlined my blog-reading, and allows me to see updates on blogs I read regularly from my Dashboard. Not only that, I can feature followers on my blogs by adding the Following Gadget to my blog layout. (See right.)

I like Followers. Though no one is officially following my blog yet, it will help me see my audience so I can make sure the needs of that audience are being met.

Huzzah, Blogger.

05 September 2008

Attacks Hurt Your Own Cause

Imagine you are standing in an open space and two people are walking toward you.

One is running, an angry look on his face, his arms up and ready to attack. The other is walking, a calm look on his face, his arms open and ready to embrace.

Which do you think you'd go to?

Those that have read my blog at all have probably figured out by now that I am a practicing Catholic. I don't hide it. Most of you also probably know I keep a more personal blog that also shows my faith.

I moderate the comments on my personal blog (because it's personal), and today I received an email about a comment awaiting moderation. When I read the comment, I was shocked. It was quite long, and I won't post any of it here (or the source), but the post essentially accused me of being "of the world" instead of being of Christ, and the comment explicitly said that woman is the root of the evils in the world and that I am commanded to be silent, according to the Scriptures.

I deleted the comment and asked the blogger (nicely) not to post comments like that on my blog again. He emailed me and continued his rant, accusing me of being a member of a pagan religion and informing me he'll pray that I "see the light."

I was surprised that, in today's society, people can still be so closed minded that their attempts to bring people to their cause ends up sounding like hate-speak.

I was angry that people think comments like that actually work. Instead of trying to reason with me and share his faith, he attacked my faith and called me evil (not only me, but all women).

When people are attacked like that, they stop listening. And instead of me being interested in what he has to say, I have blocked his email address on my email account, and am completely turned off to his faith. Instead of "winning my soul," he drove me away.

I will pray that he'll realize that instead of sharing a faith of love and forgiveness, he's fostering hate and exclusion.

And I hope you will be the person with arms open for discussion, not raised to attack.

04 September 2008

An Untitled Novel

Fay. Gustav. Hanna. Ike. Josephine. I'm so glad I gave up snow.

Writing Shortly

Some time ago, I was tagged by the Progressive Conservative to participate in a meme (originated by bookbabie), during which I wrote my six-word memoir. I came up with something that has become a mantra for me.

Writes often, loves fiercely, drinks coffee.

When I sat down to write this memoir, I think I underestimated how difficult it can be to be sparse. I thought I would write six words, post my memoir, and move on with my life. Unfortunately, it took a while for me to figure out a way to encapsulate myself in just six words.

After writing my memoir as per the meme, I added those six words to the white board in my office space to remind me of who I am and forgot about the meme. Then I was pointed to an article by Jeremy Caplan that made me reconsider my memoir as just one of those things we do online every once in a while.

The guidelines for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) call for a minimum of 50,000 words, but NPR's On the Media hosted a twelve-word-novel contest. Attention spans are shortening. Caplan says:
Short is in. Online Americans, fed up with e-mail overload and blogorrhea, are retreating into micro-writing. Six-word memoirs. Four-word film reviews. Twelve-word novels. Mini-lit is thriving.
I was aware of the six-word memoir prior to reading Caplan's article, but the twelve-word novel was a new one to me. I participated in (and won) NaNo last year with a novel that was a bit over 50,000 words. I'll be participating again this year, but this whole twelve-word-novel thing intrigues me. I think I'll write one (or more). Maybe my publishing career is in twelve-word-novels.

For your entertainment, I'd like to share NPR's top twelve twelve-word-novels (available at the above link) in the order they're found in the transcript.
  1. "She hated Ohio. She ran away. She loved the dead jazz musician." By Rudy Jaimes.
  2. "Living Abroad," by Marcia Veach. "This is China! This is China? This - is China."
  3. "I see now that I have taken lighthouses for granted." By April Kuiper, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
  4. "My sister had written Father's obituary. He is survived by one daughter." By Brenda J. Wolfe.
  5. "His enormous lottery winnings enabled him to create his own private hell." By Pamela Roeller, Litchfield Park, Arizona.
  6. "Louise's love of poodles was overshadowed only by her love of barbecue." By Mark Weaver, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.
  7. "Obituary. First five words free, she thought. Charles dead. Yacht for sale." Angela Stucker, Brooklyn, New York.
  8. "In the end, they barely reached Buffalo before finding themselves devastatingly incompatible." By Carol Braun, Garfield Heights, Ohio.
  9. "'There are no atheists in foxholes,' said the chaplain, 'so get out.'" Jonathan Swiller, Highland Mills, New York.
  10. "Well, I warned her. Chickens do not like to ride in cars." By Jeanine Farrell, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  11. "Got Grandpa's FBI file. Curiosity sated, Pop's backstory regains renewed luster." By Michael Ravnitzky, Silver Spring, Maryland.
  12. "Twelve-word novel win changes life. Fame, drugs, adultery, sorrow, tears, blood." By David Hill, New York, New York.
What would your 12-word-novel be? Or your six-word memoir?

03 September 2008

The Seven Sacraments Series: Marriage

Last year I had the privilege and joy of being married to my college sweetheart. It was a beautiful ceremony in the campus chapel and officiated by the priest who oversaw my conversion and introduced me to my husband.

Many times, when we think of marriage, we think of weddings and dresses and cakes and rings. Those who have been married may think of all the planning that goes into the ceremony and reception. Families may think of saying goodbye to a child or welcoming a new child into the family.

But marriage is not just the physical elements of the union. In the Church, it is more than that. Scott P. Richert says:
[...M]arriage is more than a natural institution; it was elevated by Christ Himself, in His participation in the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11), to be one of the seven sacraments. A marriage between two Christians, therefore, has a supernatural element as well as a natural one. While few Christians outside of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches regard marriage as a sacrament, the Catholic Church insists that marriage between any two baptized Christians, as long as it is entered into with the intention to contract a true marriage, is a sacrament.
Just as any sacrament in the Church, there are changes that occur for the faithful that bring us closer to the Church and stronger in our relationships with the Lord. About the effect of marriage, Richert says:
The effect of the sacrament is an increase in sanctifying grace for the spouses, a participation in the divine life of God Himself...This sanctifying grace helps each spouse to help the other advance in holiness, and it helps them together to cooperate in God's plan of redemption by raising up children in the Faith. In this way, sacramental marriage is more than a union of a man and a woman; it is, in fact, a type and symbol of the divine union between Christ, the Bridegroom, and His Church, the Bride. As married Christians, open to the creation of new life and committed to our mutual salvation, we participate not only in God's creative act but in the redemptive act of Christ.
While the immediacy of marriage is the union of two people who love each other, marriage goes beyond those two people, and beyond the love and support they receive from each other.

Because the sacrament of marriage involves more than one person, and it's a sacrament that changes the lives of those two people (as well as their children), it should not be taken lightly. In premarital counseling, for example, you are asked to think deeply about what you're doing to make sure you're both entering into the sacrament with willing, open hearts.

Marriage is a beautiful sacrament, and one that is unlike any of the others. Marriage brings two people together in love and faith, and they are bound to each other for the rest of their lives. No matter what happens to them, they can turn to each other for love and support. Even if family and friends turn their backs, spouses are there to stand strong.

What other sacrament can boast mutual love and support from another person for life?

02 September 2008

Missions: Reaching Out with Christ's Love

One of the earliest memories I have of the church is listening to families talk about heir work in far off countries as missionaries. They dedicated their lives to serving the Lord and sharing the love of Christ with others.

I have always felt a bit conflicted about missions. I have always been a "show, don't tell" type of person when it comes to my faith, and the idea of going to foreign countries to evangelize seemed to me to be a little more aggressive than I prefer.

On the other hand, Christ told his disciples, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." As Christians, we are disciples, or followers, of Jesus, and so just as Christ charged the twelve disciples during his ministry on earth to evangelize, we too are charged with the same task.

As with all things in the Scriptures, though, there is latitude for interpretation.

Missionaries take Mark 16:15 literally and go all over the world to share the Scriptures with people, urging them to accept Christ as their Savior. They are "fishers of men," bringing people to the Church and building people's relationships with the Lord. They take extra schooling to prepare themselves to be deposited into different cultures, and to help them make connections with strangers in order to develop enough trust to preach to them about their faith and build churches in their communities. They dedicate their lives to building the Kingdom of God because of their interpretation of that verse.

There are others, though, that interpret Mark 16:15 less literally. These disciples see the verse more as a guide for living a Christian life. These are the Christians that share their faith and are happy to discuss it with people, but take a less aggressive approach and let people ask them, or let people see their faith in how they live their lives. These are those that say, "Your walk talks louder than your talk talks." They believe that how they live their lives will impact people's hearts and lives.

I have had heated discussions with friends and family about the interpretation of Mark 16:15. Those that interpret it literally do whatever they can to share the Gospel with anyone and everyone. I was a member of a church for a while that even did monthly "knocking" events with the youth group during which the teens would take their Bibles and knock on the doors of homes in the community to share the Gospel and encourage the residents to attend that particular church that Sunday.

I did not participate in these events not because I was embarrassed to share my faith, but because I felt it was intrusive, and it was not who I am as a Christian. Some people are not comfortable being aggressive in sharing the Gospel with people. And to be honest, I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

Your relationship with the Lord is a personal thing. You are an individual, and ultimately, you are the one that will face God after your death. So don't you think it's important to do what is in your heart to do when it comes to missions and sharing the Gospel?

So "[g]o into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation," but do it the way the Lord leads you to do it.

And peace be with you.