31 August 2009

This Week's Task List

Technically, I'm still on maternity leave (at Hubby's insistence, actually). I'm still transitioning into being a mama, and Bean has't quite established what I'd call a routine yet, so things are still erratic.

However, I'm feeling that it's time for me to get back into scribbling mode a bit, as well. So I'm planning to spend some time scribbling this week. I won't be jumping back into freelancing quite yet except to do a little research into magazines and writing opportunities. I will, however, be spending time this week working on fiction. Not only do I have a coffee house book I'd like to work on, but I have a few ideas for short stories I'd like to flesh out, as well.

This whole week will be fiction week! Hooray!

27 August 2009

Farewell Dominick Dunne

NP usually does the obits around these parts, but seeing as how she's a little busy with a new life, I'll handle the depressing news.

Dominick Dunne died Wednesday of bladder cancer. I'll let Lisa Derrick at La Figa give the paens to his literary genius, since I've never actually read his books myself:

The first book I read of his was The Winners, a sequel to Joyce Haber's The Users, which Dunne tossed off as a work-for-hire while recovering from his brutal cocaine addiction and the end of his career as a film producer. After that, I devoured anything of his I could get my hands on. I will always regret seeing him in the lobby of the Chateau Marmont circa 1997 and not screwing up the courage to tell him what an influence he was on me.

Dunne's writing focused on high society and its crimes; and, despite the fear they would appear in one of his books, the wealthy embraced and lionized him--whispering secrets at dinner parties, slipping him their phone numbers so they could spill the tea on their "friends." The murder of Alfred Bloomingdale's mistress, Vicky Morgan, was transformed into the bestseller An Inconvenient Woman; the Ivan Boesky scandal became People Like Us; the same with his other novels, where the foibles and crimes of the rich were laid bare with grace and cutting charm. Based on the murder of teenager Martha Moxely, the novel Murder in Greenwich led to the conviction of Michael Skakel, a Kennedy cousin. Robert Kennedy, Jr. felt that Dunne had a personal vendetta against his family; so it is ironic, or perhaps fitting, that Dunne and Teddy Kennedy died just hours apart. I am sure Heaven's waiting room will be quite lively as they meet in line.


Dunne's facility with words, his ability to get people to reveal themselves, to confide in him--from Adanan Khashoggi to Elizabeth Taylor, socialites and their household help--made him a consummate reporter -- as did his vision, intuition, and insight.

Yes, he made some huge errors because of his single-minded--some would say narrow minded--pro-victim, pro-prosecution ideology (Gary Condit sued Dunne over his writings on the death of intern Chandra Levy), but he chronicled the rich, their crimes, and their victims with verve, passion and lyricism in his articles. And in his novels he demonstrated you can tell a lot more truth with fiction--and not get sued.

He told a lot of truth without fiction, too. I used to regularly watch his Power, Privilege and Justice on CourtTV. He did have a passion for justice, brought on by the murder of his daughter, Dominique. And he had a flair for demystifying the upper crust without diminishing them. Those two things combined made for excellent viewing. In print or on screen, he was a storyteller through and through.

Dominick Dunne was one of the giants. You can read the story of his life here at the New England Times, and remember a remarkable author.

26 August 2009

Where Have Country Preachers Gone?

Darryl Hart at Front Porch Republic asks why rural ministry is not nearly as popular as urban ministry these days.

In his essay, "God and Country," [Wendell] Berry complains rightly that American denominations treat rural congregations invariably as "a training ground for young ministers, and as a means of subsidizing their education." This stems from a two-fold disrespect for rural people. First is the assumption that persons not yet eligible for ministry are qualified to shepherd country folk. The other assumption regards congregation. According to Berry, "The denominational hierarchies . . . regard country places in exactly the same way as 'the economy' does: as sources of economic power to be exploited for the advantage of 'better' places." Rural congregations can't help but gain the impression that "they do not matter much." Or as one of Berry's Christian friends put it, "The soul of the plowboy ain't worth as much as the soul of the delivery boy."

This dilemma is a bit foreign to me I suppose. I grew up in the Catholic church and finding a qualified priest to lead our parish was never a problem. The archdiocese simply assigned them to us on a 10-year rotation. I'm quite sure the priests had some say in the matter and seniority or preference was taken into consideration, but for the most part they were subject to the decision of the Archbishop.

While examining this issue my gut impulse was to try and look beyond economics to some sort of cultural feature that would lead to the phenomenon Berry discusses. I theorized that perhaps it's an ego thing. Bigger churches imply a minister is doing a good job and obviously reaching more people furthers their evangelical goals. There's also the possibility that some urban congregations are more complex and offer greater challenges. Ultimately though I think both of these fall short. In the end, money does play an important part in the equation.

My problem in writing about this is that I guess I just don't like the idea of money playing a big role in the lives of the clergy. Again maybe my Catholic upbringing is at work here. To get a different perspective I spoke to my wife about this because she grew up in the Methodist church and is much more in-tune with the specifics of Protestant denominations than I am as an outsider. She informed me that her perspective is that the phenomenon described in the Darryl Hart piece is certainly true, but she thought the story being told was a bit too blame-ridden and not an entirely realistic perspective.

While it's true that rural churches do see a lot more change in their ministries, it's not fair to blame the frequent turnover of ministers on the larger urban/suburban congregations. There's no conspiracy, no secret belief that these congregations are somehow more important and more in need of talented ministers. The simple truth is that rural congregations are typically small. Salaries are low, often offset by providing a parsonage (residence) to the minister for free. So it's a good place to start out when expectations of pay and the need for a higher salary are low. Fast-forward to five years later when the minister has met and married a nice girl he met at a Wedesday night potluck and they have a toddler and another on the way. Suddenly the parsonage seems pretty small and the pay seems to just not cut it. What choice does the minister have but to look elsewhere, knowing someday he will be paying college tuition for those two children and would like to have enough elbow room in his home that his family doesn't kill one another?

In the Catholic church priests didn't have to worry about putting kids through college or varying salaries. They all pretty much made the same amount of money and they all knew they had a comfortable rectory to come home to every night. Their needs are small and this facilitates a degree of dependability. So economics do matter and I think Hart is way off base in putting so much blame on urban and suburban congregations. Ministers are individuals who, while having high moral obligations, are also human and have human needs. Moreover, the fact that they marry and have families certainly complicates things further (but I would contend for the better).

Hart suggests other ideas as to why the lure of the big cities is so strong:

Of course, the reasons why evangelicals fawn over the city may stem from sources other than the obvious appeal of bright lights and big buildings. One of them may be a born-again infatuation with celebrity and the disillusionment that follows when public figures like Mark Sanford or Miss California, Carrie Prajean, fall from grace. Evangelicals are disposed to understand grace and faith in extraordinary categories and so overlook stories of ordinary believers, routine piety, and even rural congregations as insignificant. Discontent with the average and routine aspects of natural life and of grace appears to breed a similar dissatisfaction with humble ministries in places of little interest to the editors of the Times.

Obviously there is some ego involved in wanting to minister to a larger flock, but larger churches also make it easier to focus on the actual ministry. In a small church the minister is sort of an everyman who has to wear a lot of hats. In large urban churches the lay folks do much of the heavy lifting. While the church itself may be more complicated, with a school attached, various programs and ministries and perhaps an involved missionary component, there are also a lot of shoulders the minister can lean on while he concentrates on the business of 'saving souls.'

Lastly, I think there's some truth to the notion that maybe these rural churches enjoy their roles as training grounds for new ministers and feel it is part of their mission. The same simpler life that Front Porch Republic likes to exalt on a regular basis also means different goals for rural churches and also different notions of what they need. I'm pretty curious if the complaints that Hart mentions are those of the actual congregations or just a rurally-sympathetic outsider looking in? Is Hart guilty of putting his own ego into this equation and being unnecessarily offended on the behalf of small town churches? For all the cities that love their major league baseball teams there are plenty of little towns that love their minor league status and actually feel that the game is played more honestly there, even if the players are more transient. There's reason in my mind to believe that the ministry may be no different.


Mike is the author of the blog The Big Stick. This is what he wants you to know about himself:

I've been blogging at The Big Stick for about a year and a half. I used to cover all sorts of topics (mostly national politics) but I've recently changed direction to focus on what I refer to as 'the intersection between urban and rural life' and associated issues like education and agriculture. I have also been known to write about my garden and my Labrador Retriever, Murphy.

My educational background includes a BA in History and a BA in Anthropology both from the University of Louisville. I also had a minor in Political Science. I worked for the University of Kentucky for three years as an archeologist and then I did another couple of years as a public educator with several historical sites and museums around town. Now I work in finance with a big Fortune 500 company and spend most of my days buried in spreadsheets and pie charts. It's been a weird career change, though I can't complain about the paychecks.

I live in Louisville, KY and am married with two daughters, ages 14 and 10. I have far too many hobbies to list here but cooking seems to always rank near the top.

25 August 2009

How Do They Do That?

Nathan Bransford has a great post up today about the publication process. Be sure to check it out!

10 on Tuesday: Reasons I Write

  1. To connect with other people
  2. To understand my own experiences
  3. To give voice to characters
  4. To give voice to myself
  5. To learn new things
  6. To teach what I have learned
  7. To escape reality for a while
  8. To create something new
  9. To remember what has happened
  10. To enact change

24 August 2009

Business and Pleasure

Dana Hunter checking in here... I've been a horrible slacker lately, and I don't even have a new baby as an excuse. Okay, granted, The Stench from the new memory foam mattress topper was keeping me up nights for a while there, but it didn't have to be fed every two hours... And while I'm out of shape, a two-mile hike to Franklin Falls isn't enough to justify terminal laziness afterward. Did take a while to sort through the 100+ photos, though.

Further excuses? I've got 'em! In celebration of Darwin's 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, I'm actually reading the Origin. Put it like this: if you survived Charles Dickens and you like science, the Origin's easy reading. It continually astonishes me how much Darwin was able to figure out even though genetics, plate tectonics, radiometric dating, and all of the other incidental extras that support evolution weren't even a glimmer on the horizon. Those 19th century scientists were no fools. And they wrote beautifully.

Speaking of writing beautifully, I'm also in the midst of Marcia Bjornerud's Reading the Rocks. I didn't intend to be. I was saving it for later, but one night when my elderly laptop was coming online at its usual glacial pace I picked the book up to peruse the introduction - and I am lost inside. She's not only an informative writer whose prose flows like water over Franklin Falls, she's snarky. I am a sucker for snark.

Go to your bookstore. Read the Prologue. We'll see how many of you manage to walk out without buying the book afterward. If you've ever wanted a fun, easy and accurate primer on geology, darlings, this is it.

Those are just a few of my many excuses. But enough about me. Let's talk about you.

Specifically, let's talk about all those times you've wondered if you could make some bucks through blogging. DarkSyde at Daily Kos knows exactly where you're coming from:
You’re returning home from Netroots Nation 2009 all fired up, or maybe you couldn’t afford to go this year, and the thought enters your mind: wouldn’t it be great if I could get paid, just a little, to support or justify my blogging habit? The reality is there are millions of blogs out there, the vast majority receive precious little attention, let alone enough page visits to interest advertisers. But don't let that stop you. The demand for quality online content is growing and the medium is still in its infancy.
Okay, so maybe you weren't coming from Netroots Nation or ever planning to go, or have no earthly idea what Netroots Nation is, but it doesn't matter. All of us have had our moments where we've wondered if all this blathering on blogs could really pay off. DarkSyde has some good suggestions that any blogger can use, even those who haven't got a political bone in their bodies.

All work and no play, etc. etc. So let's have some fun. If you've ever attempted to read The Brothers Karamazov, you'll appreciate the Onion's announcement:

LOS ANGELES—Executives at Paramount Pictures announced Monday that production had finally wrapped on The Brothers Karamazov, a new film adaptation that concludes at the precise moment most readers give up on the classic Russian novel.

The 83-minute film, which is based on the first 142 or so pages of Fyodor Dostoevsky's acclaimed work, has already garnered attention for its stunning climax, in which the end credits suddenly appear midway through Katerina's tearful speech about an unpaid debt.

"We are very excited to be able to bring several chapters of this timeless masterpiece to the big screen," Paramount CEO Brad Grey said of the movie, which was shot, on and off, for two years. ...
Heh. Kind of makes me want to read Crime and Punishment again...

Right, then, it's out of the cafe and back in to the cantina for me. While I'm tending bar, feel free to share snippets from the books currently occupying your attention. Or share your favorite excuses for avoiding serious work. We've all got 'em!

20 August 2009

Fiction Thursday: Creating New Characters

Now that I have Bean, I've been thinking a lot about how amazing it is to have new life around. I love seeing him grow and change every day, and being such a major part of his life.

Having Bean has also got me to thinking about the creation of characters in fiction.

Writers can be very protective of their characters. It's understandable; you create a person from nothing, direct his or her actions, and then send that person out into the world to connect with other people. It's not unlike raising a child, really, although with fictional characters, you have quite a bit more control over the end result.

There is a big difference between raising a child and creating a character, though. Well, besides the obvious.

With a child, you are witness to the development, involved in it, but acting more as a shepherd. Your job is to give your child the tools to make good decisions, then let him or her make the decisions, good or bad, and love the child no matter what decisions are made. You influence your child, but ultimately, he or she is separate from you.

With a character, on the other hand, you create a fully-formed individual (particularly if your character is an adult). There is no guidance, or giving him or her tools to make decisions. Every single aspect of a characters life is crafted by the author. From looks to personality to character flaws to clothing "choices". Everything is created and carefully chosen. With characters, there's no need to worry about how they'll "turn out," because it's up to you as the writer.

I have created characters, and I'm in the beginning stages of raising a child. I think it's too early to tell which is easier.

19 August 2009

Introducing: Guest Bloggers!

In preparation for the birth of my first baby, I asked my readers if they'd be willing to step up and post for me during August and September. Thankfully, several people offered to post during my time away from the blog, so you'll be able to continue to enjoy original content over the next six weeks.

Each guest post will go up on a Wednesday, beginning next week and running until the end of September. I'm excited about the selection of posts to share with you, and I think the authors are excited, too.

On August 26 you can read the musings of Mike of The Big Stick, who will be sharing his take on ministers in rural areas in response to an essay by Darryl Hart. Mike will examine what plays a role in the high turnover often seen in rural pulpits, and make a case that it may not be what Hart suggests.

Chris will share his thoughts on September 2, with a post about how he came to writing through an AOL-sponsored chatroom for poets, and offer advice for beginning writers who want to engage their readers and draw them into their experiences.

Jen, author of Divinest Sense, has the special honor of posting on September 9 (09/09/09), and her post will explore the idea of seeing yourself as a writer, even if you're not making a living from it, drawing on her own experiences as a writer with a day job.

Kell of Welcome to Earth and author of the Prophecy series will be next up on September 16. In her post, Kelly gets us geared up for NaNoWriMo a little early by offering a little advice she learned the hard way last year.

September 23 goes to Abi of Hollywood Back Roads. Her post, "Something Worth Writing" will explore how she came to balance the often hermitous lifestyle of writers with her own adventurous spirit, and explain why that balance is important for all writers.

Finishing out the series will be Dana of En Tequila Es Verdad on September 30. Dana is a co-blogger here, and occasionally drops in to ponder writing and reading. You have to watch out, though, as Dana may get a little antsy and post more frequently than just the once during the series!

It promises to be an interesting six weeks of posting, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I will! The dear readers who volunteered to post for me are wonderful people who will bring a fresh perspective to my blog.

Of course, if you like the guest posts, be sure to stop over at the authors' blogs or sites to let them know! We writers love to hear compliments, after all!

18 August 2009

10 on Tuesday: Songs on my iPod

[NOTE: 10 on Tuesday is something I did on my other blog for a while. It was fun to do, and helped me reveal something about myself to whoever happened to be reading. I've decided to do it here. Enjoy!]
  1. Move Along by The All-American Rejects
  2. For You I Will (Confidence) by Teddy Geiger
  3. Down to the River to Pray by Alison Krauss (O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack)
  4. I am a Man of Constant Sorrow by The Soggy Bottom Boys (O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack)
  5. Follow Through by Gavin DeGraw
  6. Stop and Stare by OneRepublic
  7. Only Hope by Mandy Moore (A Walk to Remember soundtrack)
  8. It Ends Tonight by the All-American Rejects
  9. Colors by Kira Willey
  10. Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

16 August 2009

Prayer Requests

This week, please pray with me that:
  • my cousin Joey, who has had a brain tumor return after only three years, will be able to be healed so he can continue to live his life fully.
  • my mom's cousin, who was recently sent to Iraq, will stay safe, as will all men and women serving both overseas and at home.
  • my brother's new job goes well, and he's able to continue to move forward in life toward his goals.
  • my sister-in-law has a safe wilderness trip this week, and is ready for classes to start when she returns.
As always, if you have a prayer request you'd like to add, simply comment on this post, or email me. You're more than welcome to submit anonymous and/or unspoken requests, as well.

13 August 2009

Dana Hunter Reporting for Duty

While my heart-sister NP is on maternity leave, giving my gorgeous first nephew a proper start on life, I'll be taking time away from the world o' pollyticks and general inanity to post a few thoughts on writing. Regular drinkers of the Coffee-Stained Writer shall also have the opportunity to sample other fine brews. This coffee house never closes, my esteemed fellow scribblers!

In this post, I'll be taking the coward's way out and talk about how I've spent the summer not writing. This may come as some surprise to the poor regulars at my cantina, who are subjected to several posts per day. So let me qualify that: I've spent the summer not writing fiction. I've not even read any fiction. Which is a rather strange thing, considering my central ambition is to become a wildly-successful fiction author.

I can 'splain. Or at least sum up.

There comes a time in many authors' careers when they realize they don't know jack diddly about anything at all. Oh, they know how to turn a phrase, sometimes well enough to give it motion sickness. They know about plot, character, theme, setting, and all those other things Writer's Digest books assure them are so vital to good fiction. They can tell stories that don't leave friends and family members forcing themselves to maintain a pasty grin whilst assuring the anxious author that no, really, it wasn't that bad. And for some, that's enough. They can tell ripping good tales that people enjoy, they get the job done, and everybody goes away happy.

Some writers, on the other hand, are bloody perfectionists. Versimilitude of reality isn't enough. A thrilling tale is only part of the story. We've got to know everything about - well, everything.

Which is why I've spent the summer running all over the Seattle area and most of Arizona poking my nose into various and sundry, absorbing the differences between desert and ocean, small town and large, and playing in the dirt (where available).

It's why I've read nothing but science tomes for months. Biology, evolution, physics, geology, plate tectonics, sociology - everything I could get my hands on. Anything that will help me understand in appreciable depth how worlds work.

It's why I've forced myself to do a ton of things I've never done before, like walk on the rim of a meteor crater and take a ferry ride, paying intimate attention to every single detail.

And it's why I've refused to allow myself to write so much as a paragraph.

This enforced absence is an experiment of sorts. And it's possible it will fail. My worldbuilding may be no better for all that. My stories might have worked just as well without all this effort.

But it's not wasted time. The more you know about the world, the more beauty you find in it. Discovery is a delight. And I'll be returning to fiction a little less miserably ignorant than when I started out.

Most importantly: you'll all get a chance to laugh while I struggle to knock the rust off my poor disused wordcraft. I promise it'll be amusing.

Have any of you ever taken a hiatus? Did you come back refreshed or regretful?

11 August 2009

Our Java Bean Has Arrived!

Wyatt Nathaniel was born on August 6, 2009 at 9:39 p.m. He weighed in at 6 lbs. even and 20 inches long. For a full account of his birth story, feel free to check out my personal blog.

06 August 2009

Fiction Thursday: Story Arc

When I was in college taking creative writing courses I learned a lot about writing conventions. The professors taught the basics of "this is how you write a poem/short story/screenplay/stage play." The idea was that, by learning the conventions of writing, I could learn what worked and what didn't for breaking "the rules."

One covention that's often played with by writers is the traditional story arc, also referred to as "dramatic structure." It's something that's usually taught in middle school Language Arts classes, then promptly forgotten once the bell rings. And yet, dramatic structure is a major part of writers' lives.

A basic story arc is as follows (see illustration on the right):

Exposition is the opening of the story, and provides background information about the characters, setting, and situation to aid the readers. Often, the exposition sets up what the standard is, then an event occurs in the story to upset the balance. Some exposition is also sprinkled throughout the story rather than dumping it on the reader all at once at the beginning of the story.

Once the standard is changed (in an event referred to as the "inciting moment"), the rising action begins. During this phase of the story, the conflicts are revealed. Whatever goal the protagonist is striving for is complicated by obstacles.

As the complications grow, the story culminates in the climax or turning point. The story changes. Sometimes it changes in a good way (the guy gets the girl) and sometimes in a bad way (the girl is killed by the serial killer), but it marks a significant change in the story.

The falling action follows, and happens much more quickly than the rising action did. After the climactic moment, the story usually wraps itself up. If the climax was a good turning point for the protagonist, for example, the rest of the pieces fall nicely into place. If not, the story unravels quickly.

The story ends in the denouement, also referred to as the resolution. This is the situation witch which the author leaves us, and is a logical conclusion based on the climax and falling action.

This is a basic structure, of course, and can be adjusted to suit your needs. Perhaps you start with the resolution and tell the story in reverse. Or perhaps you start with the climax and fill in the beginning and end as you go along. Regardless of how you use the story arc to tell your story, you do need to know what happens in your story (chronologically) in order to move things around, yes?

An excellent example of needing to know your story arc can be found in The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (due to be released as a film on August 14th). In this story there are two separate story arcs (one for each main character), and while they're parallel, they're different from each other. And if that isn't enough for you, the story arcs are broken up and moved around, too. I can't imagine how difficult that story would have been to write if Niffenegger hadn't had a clear idea of how it would've been laid out in chronological order.

A friend of mine (who just so happens to be a writer) has told me that when she comes up with a story, she lays out the plot on index cards in chronological order. Then she can move things around until she's happy with how the story will flow. But she has often told me that it's important for her to know how the story fits together chronologically in order to mix things up. Otherwise, she might end up writing herself into a corner or write something that doesn't make sense in the story. And then where would she be?

Sure, you learn story arc in school. Perhaps you even had to take a short story and plot the main points on a plot diagram. But, as a writer, make sure you know what a story arc is. Make sure you know how your story fits into that arc.

And then, by all means, break the rules.

03 August 2009

This Week's Task List

I really don't have anything on my task list this week, believe it or not.

In terms of writing, I'm on maternity leave, so other than a quick hello email to a client to let her know I'm still pregnant and doing well, I don't have anything to do for CSW.

On my personal task list, all I really have to do is finish my father-in-law's retirement scrapbook (which should get done this week), and catch up on housework. The nursery is ready (except for a few minor organizational things that ca be done later, if needed).

It's a wonderful feeling to know I can relax this week, especially since I'm getting sigals from my body that Bean is going to be here soon!

02 August 2009

Prayer Requests

This week, please pray with me that:

  • my mom continues to heal quickly from her surgery so that she can come down here when Bean is born.
  • August mommies (and overdue July mommies) have a safe last few weeks (or less) of pregnancy, and deliver healthy babies easily.

A Memory of Libraries

Faith & Family Live! : Library, Updated

Posted using ShareThis