Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Writing and Taking God's Name in Vain

Last week, our music director informed us of the Vatican's decision to remove "Yahweh" from all the songs and literature used in Mass. The reason given is that "Yahweh" is a mispronunciation of YHWH, the Jewish letters for God, which are never to be pronounced anyway. Apparently, using "Yahweh" is a fairly recent innovation in the Church and an error we are now trying to correct. I agree with it. My name is mispronounced on a regular basis. I've gotten used to it, but I know how upset I'd be if my books came out as "Katrina Sabin" and no one cared to correct them. Why would I show such disregard for the name of God?

This got me thinking, however, of the many ways we writers might use God's name in vain.

On a small level, when you say "Oh, God!" as an expression of surprise, amazement, or disgust, rather than one of praise or entreaty to the Divine, you are disrespecting God's name. In writing, this can pose a challenge. People use this phrase regularly, and to be realistic, a character might need to as well. The trick, as with all forms of profanity, is to use the phrase judiciously, in character, and for a specific purpose. Personally, I avoid it unless my character is entreating God.

Nonetheless, a bad habit phrase is minor compared to a more serious misuse.

Some years ago, I heard a wonderful definition of "taking God's name in vain" from Dr. Laura. She suggested that we take God's name in vain whenever we use it or Him for our own purposes. At the time, she was talking to a woman who didn't want her husband's wild stepdaughter to live with them because she had "a good Christian home to protect." However, you can see it in the publishing world as well.

* The publisher that loudly proclaims to be Christian in order to project the image of trustworthiness.
* Publishers and editors who are Christian yet put out works counter to Christian principles.
* The writer who thinks that just because his or her work is "Christian," God will personally see to it is published and sells well--without the person going through the work of editing, re-writes, querying publishers, etc.
* The writer who writes Christian (or Jewish) stories, articles or books not because they believe, but because it's where the money is
Or worse...
* The writer who condemns the specific religion or religion in general in order to be trendy, vent their own frustrations or stir up trouble.

I have seen all of these--from the vanity press website "loudly" proclaiming, "We're good Christians! We take care of our authors!" to writers submitting to Infinite Space, Infinite God II who decided priest-bashing scenes qualified the story for Catholic sci-fi.

Does that mean that publishers or writers who define themselves as Christian are taking God's name in vain? No. Like the phrase "Oh, God!" it depends on intent as well as form. The Christian writer who refuses to write an erotic scene even though it would make her romance more marketable; the Christian publisher who look at his submissions not only for quality of writing but moral value--these people are using the name of God in a way that defines them and are doing respect to Him and His name.

What about those who firmly believe "God called them" to write the book? I've known some writers like that. Michael O'Brien comes to mind. However, just like the prophets had to work at what they did--and boy, did some work!--so, too, writers must work to perfect their stories. After all, if you are doing God's calling, shouldn't you also give it your human best? Unfortunately, just as I know many wonderful writers who are divinely inspired, I know some who feel that since "God called them to write," whatever they hashed out the first time must be exactly as He wanted--i.e., perfect. That hasn't happened since the Gospels.

Taking God's name in vain is more than just an injunction against certain phrases. It's an injunction to live by our beliefs, and that applies to writing as to all we do.

Monday, September 29, 2008

blog will be late

Had a sick child and a couple of fast deadlines, so I'll get the blog out tomorrow.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Novel's Journey: Musical Minions

I'm in the read-aloud edit right now, which is slow since I'm reading it as a bedtime story to the boys. (Steven, 15, has joined his little brothers and Amber occasionally joins in.)

Tuesday night, we came to one of my favorite scenes, when a badly outnumbered Vern evens the odds by picking off minions in a variety of unusual and comical ways. We'd made it through the laughs and were gearing up for the big crisis when Alex noted, "Mom, you've got too many minions."

He was right--this was a fast-writing scene with nine minions to start, and I'd lost track of who Vern had picked off when. I even had two minions still going after Vern after they'd left the room! Oops.

Lessons here:
1. Read your stuff out loud, to someone else if you can. You catch so much!
2. Sometimes drawing out a scene graphically works better than trying to make a list or keep track in your head.

So Wednesday, I sat down with a pen and paper, made a list of McThing's McMinions and drew a map of the evil overlord lair.

Then, as I re-read the scene slowly, I made notes of who moved where, who left, who replaced whom, all on the drawing.

When I finished, I realized I'd still written about twice as many minions as Vern really had to deal with. Guess he was seeing double. It also made for an interesting conundrum. Vern can take three guys, even in his weakened state. Why didn't he? Fortunately, I had a ready-made excuse: Heather, who refused to be much more than a damsel in distress. Vern and Charlie could never count on when she'd show her plucky side.

So, it's taken some re-writing, but that's what the editing process is all about--finding the mistakes before the editor--or worse, the reader.

Editing progress: Through page 86, but loving hearing my kids laugh. Lots of boy humor. Of course, my husband just about spit out his Diet Coke when he heard me describe the Top Secret briefing room. After years of working in that world, we both know how true it is.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Respecting the name of God

The Vatican has declared that the name of God should not be used in Mass. This is apparently not a new decision, but one that has been slipping, especially where the name "Yahweh" is concerned.

This was announced in a two-page letter from the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, dated June 29 and addressed to episcopal conferences around the world.

"Yahweh" is a mispronunciation of the Tetragrammaton: YHWH, the four consonants of the ancient Hebrew name for God.

"As an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God, it was held to be unpronounceable and hence was replaced during the reading of sacred Scripture by means of the use of an alternate name: 'Adonai,' which means 'Lord,'" the Vatican letter said. Similarly, Greek translations of the Bible used the word "Kyrios" and Latin scholars translated it to "Dominus"; both also mean Lord.

You can read more here.

It brings up an interesting issue: respecting the name of God. One of the commandments specifically says not to take God's name in vain, yet we interpret that in so many ways.

In our house, you don't say, "Oh, God!" unless you are praying or (as in this case), using the phrase to educate someone on what not to say and when. Yet how many people just use it as an expression of surprise? Many a time, I've had to correct one of the kids' friends because they shout it out when someone says something funny or their video game character gets into trouble. And they will actually argue with me that there's nothing wrong with using it that way, even though some of them are from good Christian families. Obviously, they've learned a different application of respect.

I also know it's a cultural thing, too. My dad, who wasn't an especially religious man when younger, had to train my mom, a devout Catholic and a Puerto Rican, out of the habit.

But what about when it is being used in a devoted way, like in the song "Yahweh, I Know You are Near?" Well, first of all, the Tetragrammaton was meant to be unpronounceable, and so any attempt to make it pronounceable is most likely going to be wrong. How would you like it if your spouse were to get your name wrong while declaring his love?

So why would God give us a name for Him that no one can pronounce? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. My own reasoning is that there are some things humans are not ready to know. For example, we don't really, with detail, know what heaven is like. Our human bodies don't have the senses to process what the soul will experience. So, too, with God's name: a name with such beauty and majesty that we are to know it with our souls and not our human bodies. Until then, God has given us many other wonderful names: God, Lord, Abba, Father, and of course, Jesus Christ.

Having grown up singing "You are Near," it's going to take me a while to replace the word, but I'll keep at it. God deserves my respect.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My Novel's Journey: the Bleeding Manuscript

Finishing the draft is only the first part of writing a novel.

I write pretty clean copy, meaning that I don't generally have to rip the entire thing apart bit by bit and rearrange the whole thing, but I always have a lot of work to do when the last word gets set on the paper. Live and Let Fly, being a thriller/mystery, has some interesting challenges, too, since I need to make sure clues are set and loose ends tied up--at least the ones I want tied up. (Which reminds me, I need to make a note. Excuse me!)


My method of editing is to read it three times: Once for content, once for readability, once backward for detail in grammar and wording of individual sentences. This week, I did the content proof.

First, I print it up, because I catch more errors when I see it on paper. (Incidentally, this is after the minimal spell and grammar check on Word. Never trust Word alone!)

Then, I read it through once. I'm looking for flow, characterization, obvious mistakes and holes in the content. For DragonEye, I also highlight or circle any important items I need to include in my glossary and DragonEye Canon. That way, I can keep my facts straight from story to story. Also, I read it just to enjoy the finished work. Usually, 70 percent of the pages look something like this:

I put in those changes, then print it up again. If I have time, I do the next two edits, then send it to my critiquer friends. This time, however, I'm on a tighter deadline, so I sent it after the first run.

Next week, I'll tell you about the second and third edits.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The 37 Plots: Which One's Yours?

I came across this article ages ago, and sadly, have lost the source, but I thought it was interesting and wanted to share it with you:

What's your story about? A scholar in the early 1800's (Georges Polti apparently)
identified 36 basic plots, to which later scholars added one. The 37 are:

1. Pleading/prayer story
2. Deliverance
3. Crime pursued by vengeance
4. Vengeance
5. Pursuit story
6. Revolt (as in a tyrant versus good guys)
7. Disaster story
8. Falling prey to cruelty/misfortune
9. Daring enterprise
10. Abduction story
11. A puzzle story
12. A story about getting something
13. A story about hating someone you should like
14. Rivalry between friends or family
15. Murderous lovers/friends
16. Betrayal of love or friendship
17. Story about madness
18. Dangerous carelessness
19. Involuntary crimes of love or friendship
20. Stories about hurting someone who turned out to be important to you
21. Self sacrifice for an ideal
22. Self sacrifice for a person
23. Self sacrifice for a stranger
24. Self sacrifice for a loved object
25. Rivalry with a superior person
26. Crimes of love or friendship
27. Discovery of a crime done by a friend/lover
28. Obstacles of love or friendship
29. Sharing love/friendship with an enemy
30. Stories about ambition
31. Conflict with a God or mythical creature
32. A story about jealousy
33. A wrong decision
34. Regret or guilt
35. Recovery of a lost one
36. Loss of a person
37. Argument

I find it interesting that these are missing:

38. Crime followed by justice
39. Returning to faith
40. Discovering inner strength

I think I write more along those lines.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My Novel's Journey It's Done!

Tuesday, I wrote the concluding sentence of Live and Let Fly! Woooooo!

Now, of course the real work begins--editing--which I'll address this week. However, I'm thick in that process trying to get the first polish done so I can send out critique copies to trusted readers by Monday. My apologies to folks to whom I'd said "Friday." There's more to change than I'd thought.

So what does one do when she finishes a 92,000-word novel?

1. Cry a few happy tears
2. Jump around the house shouting, "Woooo!"
3. Call some friends and shout "Woooo! It's done!" into their phone machines.
5. Clean desk while printing manuscript.
6. Review all the lists of things you've been putting off and try to make a manageable master list.
7. Look in the mirror and vow to go to the gym (BICHOK [Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard] is NOT a good exercise program.)
8. Yell "Wooooo!" some more. Resist urge to run down the block shouting and waving the printed manuscript around.

So my adventures writing Live and Let Fly are done, but my novel's journey continues. Stay tuned for discussions as I edit, get critiqued, and move on.

Word Count: 92,017, which is a great number, as it gives me play room.

Fave Phrase:
I have a lot of fun scenes, but don't want to introduce spoilers, so here's a description of the evil lair.

I opened my eyes, expecting to see Helheim. I found myself disappointed and confused while my eyes took in the room and my head narrated like an announcer for Lairs by Larry:

The underground chamber sported a cement and steel decor--and evil overlord classic. Broad stripes in "Danger Red" add panache, as do the automatic sliding doors of the same color--and what door would be complete without its own guard? Italian submachine guns and black fatigues--and honestly, is there really any color for Kevlar besides black? It's just so right. You'll notice our villainess has gone with the theme with her own tailored flak jacket under a "Summer uniform," but given it her own personal flare. No one can wear hot pants like Hel. Naturally, no base headquarters would be complete without a raised platform from which to gloat at your victims--and Hel's gone all out with a wall-sized high-definition screen from which to illustrate her maniacal schemes. Forget the steel railings--so '70s--Hel has pulled materials from the volcano where she's made her home. Don’t the stalagmites and carved lava rock add just the right touch of sinister? Be still, my fearful heart!

I think Hel and McThing used the same decorator. I also think I've been watching too much TV.

Speaking of fearful... the lower level serves multiple purpose, but right now, we see it in victim intimidation mode, with harsh spotlights and dark shadows and the roof reflecting the interior pool, populated of course by--
"Why do you have sharks?" I know. We've failed in our mission. We're in mortal danger. And I'm asking about the Nefarious Koi Pond. Like I've said before, denial isn't just a river in Egypt.

Apparently, that amused Hel. "Do you like my pets? Fascinating creatures. They live for the kill--"

I did a double-take. "They have frickin' laser beams attached to their heads!"

Hel shrugged. "I saw it in a movie."

Monday, September 08, 2008

Authors: Want to help build a library and get international recognition?

I received this e-mail from Linda Hutchinson, and thought I'd pass this opportunity along:

I have a pen pal in Poland who is attempting to build a world-class library. His name is Tadeusz Glowinski. You may read more about him here: http://www.thesop.org/index.php?id=7495 "The Librarian Who Loved Books", September 23, 2007

When I first heard from this remarkable man, it was because he had somehow stumbled upon my website. He sent me the link to the article about him. I was impressed!

I wrote back to tell him that I found his dream to build a library in one of the most run-down neighborhoods in Poland a very worthy project. I also let him know that my wonderful step-father had emigrated from Poland. Hence his reply:

Dear Linda, my "Polish Sister",

thank You very much for interesting in my matter.
Simply, I look for good People on the World who can help for my GLOWINSKIS' LIBRARY.

I will be very happy if I will have Your book in my bookscollection.

Dear Linda, see please that link:

In my GLOWINSKIS' LIBRARY there are much parts but the best is
special bookscollection (for books with autograph or dedication).
See please, how much these books I have in my library, from whole the World.

Linda, Your website is beautiful, You are The Best !!!

If You want to help me (link to my story on Your web) I agree with You on all Your ideas,
I believe that it help for my GLOWINSKIS' LIBRARY.

Once more thank You very much for all.
Linda, I agree with You about Your step-father, that he was beautiful man!
All Polish people are wonderful, me too!!!

Best from Poland,

Tadeusz Glowinski

I don't yet have a book published, but I know many, many, authors. How about it? Can we each send an autographed or dedicated book to Tadeusz? Can we send him 5,000 books by October 1? I think we can!

Here is his mailing address:

ul. Waly Jagiellonskie 20
56-400 Olesnica
Poland - Polska

Please email Tadeusz at teddy@olesnica.pl or teddy@box43.pl with the title of the book you're sending and the date sent. Please also tell him you're a friend of mine so he'll know why you're sending him a book.

The goal is to send 5,000 books in the next 27 days! Please feel free to post this with all of your groups and in your newsletters.

Thank you!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

My Novel's Journey: My Main Man, My Main Muse

Last week, I blogged about some of my Yahoo! muses. Today, I want to tell you about my main Muse, the one I turn to first and again, and who has never let me down with his wit or fabulous ideas.

My husband, Rob.

Rob has this incredible mind. You can give him a bunch of disjointed ideas and facts and he can focus in on the key issue. He's like that at work, too, but that's for another blog. Add to the fact that he's got a terrific if sometimes quirky sense of humor and is well read in my genres, and you have the perfect mate for a writer!

He's been invaluable in this book, too, as in all my writing. Everywhere, you'll find his stamp: a key area of plot, an unusual but logical solution to a problem, a phrase that cracks you up. When I needed an evil overlord for Live and Let Fly, all I had were some general ideas: demigod, probably work good with businessmen, master plotter who would be smart enough to avoid the usual Evil Overlord mistakes but who would have one fatal flaw Vern could exploit. Rob didn't have to think two minutes before he suggested Loki. (Of course, things have changed, but you'll love what I do with him!) Yesterday, I needed a new booby-trap for Vern and Company to deal with; his answer is both devious and elegant and fits perfectly with an earlier scene. Then, when I woke up from a dream of a totally different ending, I presented him with the holes, and he plugged them up in a way that set me laughing--and I think it'll make you smile, too.

No, I'm not telling. That'd be too much of a spoiler! Let's just say even I didn't expect this, but I'm soooo glad I came up with it!

Magic, Mensa and Mayhem is dedicated to Rob, but no matter what book or story you read of mine, you're also getting a peek into the mind of Rob Fabian. And that just makes the stories all the better.

Word count: 75,700. I thought I was in the final stretch until yesterday's dream. Looks like 20,000 more to go!

Fave Phrase: I can't share it. It'd be a major spoiler (Though some friends have seen it. I almost didn’t write the scene, but I'm glad I did.) So here's the scene where they are about to go sabotage the nuclear reactor until the cavalry can arrive and stop Hel (aka Loki?) for good.

He paused and looked each one of us in the eyes, slowly. "It's crunch time. We're behind enemy lines. I know everyone will do their best but understand: In operations like these, someone usually gets killed."

I raised my eyebrows. "Don't look at me."

Heather clutched Charlie's arm. "I've got too much to live for!"

Charlie shrugged. "I volunteer you, mate."

Grace just rolled her eyes. "I think this is one cliché we can dispense with."

Rak huffed to himself like we were all lunatics, but there wasn't anything he could do about it. I think he actually resisted the temptation for some kind of team handshake, however.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Labor Day Funnies

I'm not really laboring this labor day, though I'm trying to get to 71,000 words on Live and Let Fly. Trying, but not very hard, mind you. Besides, Vern and Charlie did soemthing stupid, which always slows me down as they try to figure out how to get out of it.

Anyway, here are some funnies I've picked up over the past couple of weeks, thanks to my DH Rob.

The Anti-LOL Cat

My friend Gray is running for President on an anti-campaign. He said I could be vice if I promise not to do anything. Works for me:

And finally, a Terry Pratchett story on why you can't cheat death, even with quantum physics. http://www.inews3.com/play.php?first=Gray&last=Rinehart

Happy Labor Day! Enjoy!