Thursday, August 29, 2013

Rewrite that Scene!

At the Catholic Writers' Conference Live, I only attended one workshop:  Michelle Buckman's.  She's an excellent teacher, and for this workshop, she had us analyzing and rewriting bad openings.  Here's the first one.  (Not the exact words, but close.)

The man stood in the doorway of the hospital room and looked at his wife lying in the bed.  He was upset.  They had had an argument.  Now, he couldn't apologize, and she was dying.

We discussed ways to show rather than tell where he was, how he felt, that they were married and had an argument.  I have to admit, my ideas were a little lame at the time, but the scene stuck in my head, and when I got home, a flash piece had developed.  This is in the Avenir Eclectia shared world, which you can find here.  Great stories in a fantastic, growing SF universe.

Dorran froze at the threshold to the hospital room, his feet refusing to obey his mind’s command to propel him past the sterilization field and to Bonina’s side.  Instead, he hovered, his fists clenched, his eyes roving her body, taking in the tubes and needles, straining to see some sign of motion.  In all the years they’d known each other, she’d never stopped moving.  Even asleep, she had shifted and kicked at the heavy hides on their bed.  Here, they’d cocooned her in sterile white sheets, and the only motion he saw was the rise and fall of her chest in time with the ventilator. 
Her parents had insisted on rushing her to the station, a land of metal and glass, machines and white.  So much white.  Sterile. Cold.  They’d tied her to machines that breathed for her, cleaned her blood, kept her fed, even cleansed her of the layer of dirt that inevitably worked into the skin of anyone who lived on Eclectia.  They’d preserved her life--but had anyone held her hand?

Why couldn’t he?
He held his hand before him, stained and grimed from a lifetime of mining.  He remembered the first time she’d cradled his hand between both of hers, pale and beautiful and fluttering.  Always in motion.  Now, she needed him to move, and he couldn’t.  Coward.
“Please.  I’m sorry.  I take it all back—every harsh word.  Just, please.  Move for me.”

Monday, August 26, 2013

Mini-Review: Hero Second Class by Mitchell Bonds

Summary:  Have at You! Cyrus Solburg is a young man who dreams of becoming a Hero in a fantasy world in which Heroes owe monthly dues and Villains are allowed only one eclipse per fiscal quarter. Cyrus becomes the apprentice to Sir Reginald Ogleby, also known as the Crimson Slash, a towering swordsman with a titanic sword and a penchant for self-narrating his own battles. It's up to Reginald to train Cyrus in the essentials of Heroism so that one day, at the conclusion of his first Quest, Cyrus may become a Hero, Second Class. More is afoot than the routine of training in the arts of Heroic Derring-Do, however. A bona fide Arch-Villain is on the loose. And this Villain is particularly interested in Cyrus, not least because of how Cyrus seems to have magic coming to him in spite of himself, resulting in tremendous disruption of the magical planes. Entering into the fray come a wise-cracking Dragon, a petulant gargoyle, the Heroes' Guild, the Army of DarknessTM, and a horde of cursed invisible Centaurs. Cyrus will have to call on his friends, a beautiful young cat girl, and all the power of the Capital Letters and Arbitrary Numbers if he is to live to become a full-fledged Hero.

About the Author:  When Mitchell was 10 he and his friends created an adventure game called Quest. Mitchell played all the supporting characters, quest givers, and (his favorite) the villains, while his friends played the brave heroes who thwarted them. That game became the basis for Hero, Second Class. Mitchell is a young man with theatrical inclinations, a wry sense of humor, and storytelling ability well beyond his years.

Purchase at:

Mini-Review:  Funny!  From puns to fantasy cliches taken to extremes, Hero Second Class had me laughing out loud nearly every page.  There are some occasions when the author repeats jokes, almost as if Mitchell had forgotten he'd already said them.  However, I've seen this in other long novels by best-selling authors (Harry Turtledove comes to mind), and Mitchel usually does this before expounding further, making it an easily forgivable fault.  If you like Terry Pratchett, you are going to enjoy Hero, Second Class.  I've bought the next book, Hero in Hiding, and hope to read it soon.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

If I Were to Write BAD Catholic Fiction

Earlier this month, I was part of a Faith in Fiction panel at the Catholic Writers Conference Live.  What a fun group!  You know the panel is a success when two panelists get applauded for showing up late, and we came away with a great in-joke (that I intend to milk next year.)  Anyway, one of the questions moderator Joe Wetterling asked was, "If you had to write a bad Catholic fiction novel, what might it look like?"

I gave a funny, quick synopsis, playing on cliches, but it grew in my head over the week, so here, for your reading pleasure is "Snakenami of Salvation."

We open in a dimly lit but lovely chapel, where a woman kneels before the statue of the Virgin Mother.  The candlelight reflects off the streaks of tears on her face as she begs Blessed Mary to bring her son back to the Church.  You see, her son is Steeped in Sin, and she fears for his life and his soul.  After much explaining of her son's background (known in writing circles as DATA DUMP), the priest comes and offers her pithy words of comfort.

Cut to son hanging out with his best friend.  We immediately see that bestie is EVIL, the true villain of the story.  He obviously has no redeeming values, and the only way he could possible have friends is through lies and deceit (and maybe bribes) because he's so EVIL. The son, our hero (of course) cannot see this because he's so Steeped in Sin.  (I would be sure to hammer that home:  he's Steeped in Sin.  Don't forget.)  Oh, but I should show this, right?  So they pass an abortion clinic where they heckle the Pro-Lifers praying there.  Naturally, they have no arguments for a pro-choice stance, just epiteths, and the pro-lifers respond by praying anew for them--especially the one beautiful lady with the dark eyes that reach into our hero's soul, but of course, his EVIL friend pulls him away before he can get her name.  They'll stop and chat with a Baptist preacher who really just wants everyone to feel good about themselves, but does a great Fire-and-Brimstone sermon begging people to reform and come to Jesus who will love them as long as they say they are Christian and donate to his church.  (He dips into the collection plate.)  They share a few nasty words about those idolater Catholics, whereupon our hero gets quiet because he loves his mother, but can't defend her religion...because he's so Steeped in Sin, you see.

Meanwhile, Guardian Angels are discussing a plan of action to save our hero.  (Thanks, Regina Doman, for reminding me at the panel that we MUST have guardian angels.)  His particular angel is extremely cool, likes to waterski and ride speedboats when on Earth, but is on angelic probation.  Saving our hero is his chance to redeem himself...and so far, he's not done so well.  The girl at the clinic is actually his last shot, so he arranges for her and the hero to meet now and again.   Did I mention she's a scuba-diving herpetologist (snake expert)?  Concidence!  Hero dives, too, and kept snakes as a kid. They'll fall in love yet keep their distance from each other because she is so Very Good Catholic, like his mother, and he's so Steeped in Sin.

Rather than bore you (and me) with more details, let's skip to the climax.  Global Warming, er Cooling, er CHANGE...whichever...has caused a series of tidal disasters across the world.  The Baptist is preaching that it's the beginning of the Apocalypse and telling everyone to prepare for the Rapture (and donate all their wealth to his church to continue its mission for those Left Behind, of course.)  Meanwhile, a tidal wave has upset the biggest nest of sea snakes in recorded history.  As the Snakenami heads to their town, our love interest gears up to do what she can to prevent the disaster.  As the villainous bestie abandons the hero in order to profit from the disaster, hero runs to help his lady love.  But, oh, no!  The military won't let him join her on her mission. Hero, driven by love and desperation, allows his mother to drag him to Church, where for the first time in a long time, he prays.

BOOM goes the Holy Spirit.

Through that small crack of love in his sin-hardened heart, God is able to flow into him.  He sees his sin, begs Father to hear his confession, and with new power from Goodness, rushes back to save his lady.  Go, hero, go!  Hooray, Heavenly Host!  This. Is. Roma!

Wouldn't you know, his guardian angel, who looks like the surfer dude he sometimes gives abuse to when on the docks, is still there, with an awesome boat and dive gear.  He offers him a ride.  They say the rosary as they speed to rescue his lady love (she's in trouble, naturally), and they laugh with excitement and the rush of the Holy Spirit working in them.

He dives into the water, saves the girl, stops the snakes. 

When they return to dry land, his bestie is there, hoping to profit from his friend's heroism.  He turns him in for his crimes; naturally, there's no evidence to link hero to them.  Hero and the girl have a big Catholic wedding, and again Momma is crying to the Virgin, but tears of gratitude.

In the epilogue, hero goes to visit bestie to tell him about God.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Mini Review: Attack of the Drooling Shapeshifters by David Kaftal

Summary:  Under the guise of retro science fiction, Attack of the Drooling Shapeshifters is in fact pitch black humor dipped in vitriol. With something to offend almost everyone, it is a thinly disguised assault on liberalism, feminism, "new age" religion, freemasonry, the new world order, and one or two other festering sores on the contemporary human psyche. It also has scary monsters from outer space, hippies and good ol' boys, lesbian goddess worshippers, and a cameo appearance by Bigfoot.

Mini-Review:  I had a wonderful Saturday reading this book, often laughing out loud.  It's got cliches pulled to the extreme (which you know I like) and targets everyone from rednecks to hippies to aging scientific geniuses to lesbian amazons.  The story moved quickly, and had a somewhat happy ending.  (The heroine isn't too pleased, but to say more would be spoilers.)  I enjoyed the shapeshifting aliens, especially the one who played with his food--and paid dearly for it.  (Never antagonize a modern woman in high heels.)  If you are sensitive about someone blasting away at anything Politically Correct, then this is not for you.  Otherwise, it's well worth the read.

Buy it on Kindle:

Thursday, August 15, 2013

My Characters Took a Vacation!

One thing you often hear me say is that I write becuse my characters wont' stop telling me thier stories.  Well, this July, I went on vacation--and they, did, too!

It was kind of weird, actually.  I expected to do a lot of writing on vacation, where I'd have some idle time, especially on the planes and trains.  I packed three notebooks, plus a small one for my purse, and I thought I'd have to buy some on the trip.  I didn't even fill one.  I wrote some non-fiction--blogs and reviews of all the books I read on the trip.  That's what I did with my idle time--read.  I haven't read so many books in years!  It was actually very nice to escape in someone else's world for a change.  You'll be seeing the reviews popping up now and then, at least for the small press books.

So why didn't I write fiction?  I was having too much fun just hanging out with my husband, Rob.  As you know, he spent the past year in Iraq, so, while we chatted every day in Skype, we weren't together.  Even just sitting around reading was a treat.  However, I can no longer write fiction in public, even in the presence of my husband.  The emotions of my characters show on my face, and it makes me self-consciouis.  I can get away with this writing on the computer while Rob is concentrating on his, but in a notebook on a cruise ship?  Not happening.  Non-fiction was easier:  I wrote 6 articles for my book tour, seven reviews and a few blog posts, all on paper, so now I'm transcribing.  I also made notes of names I liked, interesting facts I learned and story ideas.  I did manage a couple of scenes, usually when I woke up before everyone else, but as I said, my characters didn't talk to me over vacation.

It was kind of nice, actually, but I think if they went away like that permanently, I'd miss them.

What about you?  Can you write during vacation?  If so, how do you manage?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Circuit Torture Update Goal One Met!

I'm pleased to announce that I have reached my first major goal.  Today I weighed in at 144--a pound under my 145-before-Rob-retires goal.  Yay!  Now, if I am still under 145 on Friday, my personal torturer has promised me a T-shirt!

All the pain--worth it for a T-shirt!

I want to thank the folks that helped me along the way:  Ryion, my personal torturer, who always has a tough routine and a great attitude; Rob, my husband, and our kids, for not sabotaging my efforts too much (No, we are not getting ice cream to celebrate.)  My Great Weight Write Off group has motivated me, as has writing this blog.  So thank you, dear reader.

My long-term goal is 140 and stay there.  If I lose more, great, but I'm old and too lazy and like my sweets, so I don't really care if I see 120 again.

Now, however, I have a question for you.  You've probably noticed that these blogs haven't been as funny as they were.  I'm just not in as much pain, so I don't have as much to joke about.  Also, I'm getting a little burned out on all the blogging.  I'm thinking it's time to let Circuit Torture Wednesdays die down, perhaps once a month, along with my photos update.  I'll still announce when I post, and will keep an eye on stats.  If you're still reading, I'll keep writing the monthly updates.

Psychological Benefit of Exercise Class

Sabbatical is over, but this week, I'm cleaning house and catching up.  In the meantime, I'm sharing a rerun about why I'm loving circuit torture.

It's been a frustrating couple of days on several levels.  Monday started with a double-barrel shotgun of irritations, and no sign of getting better...and it was only eight in the morning.  I was so late to my circuit training class, I almost decided just to skip for the day and go back to bed.  However, I made myself go to the later class instead, even though I was feeling the time pressure.  Why?  I'm finding that working out helps me feel better about myself.

There are a couple of things at work here.  Sure, as you get healthier, it can affect your mood; and sure, seeing my body shape up is good for my self-image.  However, today, it was something more basic.

If I worked out for the hour, I would have accomplished something.

That's been the kicker for me these past few days.  Sometimes, it seems that no matter how hard I work, how careful I am, how well I follow the Recipe for Success, something or someone beyond my control steps in to declare me inadequate or show me that I'm not going to succeed, anyway.  Or I'll do everything right, and still not succeed for who-knows-why.  When I'm working out, however, the goals are clear--jump on the box as many times as you can in 60 seconds.  Run at your fastest pace for a minute.  Did it without passing out or throwing up?  Increase the speed!  Lift as much weight as you can for as many reps as you can.

I have an personal trainer/instructor who can show me if I'm doing something wrong, but really, it's pretty cut and dried:  Grab the weights, stand like this, lift, lower, repeat.  I'm not in competition with anyone but myself, so if I improve or even just persevere through the hour, I succeeded.  No one judges my performance, misinterprets what I'm doing, or scolds me publicly.

Even on the weeks when I gain in weight or inches, I can point to why--the donut, the burrito.  There's no mystery why I failed, and if I failed (as in meeting the weekly goal), it was not from some outside influence, mysterious or not.

So despite the sweat and the achy muscles and how I shiver when I cool down, there's something comforting about circuit training.  I'm glad I went on Monday.  I still spent much of the day in a crappy mood feeling like nothing was going my way, but at least that hour of exercise was a success.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Some Thoughts on Primeval New World

So we've been watching Primeval: New World,

and I can't help but think, if only there were another agency out there that had experience with anomalies...

You know, how to detect them...

Maybe with the technology to close them before anything else dangerous comes out?

At least with people used to dealing with dangerous dinosaurs...


Who might even have specialized knowledge of their behaviors they could share. 

Perhaps an agency that is used to government/civilian cooperation... 

And had the means to work cooperatively with Canada on a classified level

Rather than just warning them off?

But, nah, couldn't happen, right SyFy?

Thursday, August 08, 2013

An Example of Alien Religion (From ISIG II)

Monday, I talked about writing religions in science fiction/fantasy and mentioned Alan Loewen and Ken Pick's story, "Dyads," from Infinite Space, Infinite God II.  Today, I thought I'd share an excerpt from their story.  It's a little long, but I love the incredible detail.

Darkness and aromas, numinous and shadowy, like Hagia Sophia in her prime. Cinnamon-clove benga incense on the air, cutting through the musk of thousands of alien foxes. And from below, the Hymn of Creation that began all Thalendri liturgy echoed through the Great Temple.

Father Heidler, back in normal clerical garb, leaned over the gallery railing and peered down into the half-domed side chapel. One of the Chapels of the Four Seasons, named for Asar, Patron Saint of Winter. Four Saints for four seasons, alternating two male and two female: Misha for Spring, Tavar for Summer, Almarai for Autumn, and Asar for Winter, with hagiographies and accreted legends as rich as any human saint's. Ten meters below, on a raised altar-dais ringed by vestmented upright foxes and vixens holding oil candles, the Supreme High Priest and Priestess near-waltzed in a liturgical dance. He wore a ceremonial quiver like a codpiece, she an elaborate recurved bow like a baldric.

"Echo of the Eternal Dance, representing God and Goddess at the Beginning," Tolan whispered at his side, his eyes catching the oil-candlelight and shining like a cat's. The vulpine "cultural advisor" was dressed even more gaudily than at the audience, in an embroidered riot of para-silks that mixed three centuries of Terry foppishness with a palette of what in any decent light would be various earth-tones--after all, he was dressed for worship on a major holy day.

More like Easter Vigil pre-liturgy--blessing and lighting the Paschal Candle outside the church proper--crossed with a solemn musical number. Thalendri liturgy centered around the art of dance; the Davvashi word for someone specially blessed--mikal/mikallai--literally meant "Sacred Dancer."

Around the central dais, hundreds of Thalendri in their best finery lay couchant, on their bellies like animals, facing the altar in concentric rings, ears up and alert in the light of the oil candles, silks and satins rustling, the white tips of their tails moving in Brownian motion. A sea of prone tods and vixens, all focused on one spot like cats on a laser pointer.

Fur and fabric crowded around the human cleric--including Tosan's wife Neryai, a petite gray vixen wearing a mixture of styles best described as "Elizabethan Flapper" topped by a single-plumed tiara, the greens and golds almost colorless in the dim light

Below in the side chapel, the Hymn of Creation ended in a responsorial from High Priest and Priestess and the congregation, echoed by the skulk in the gallery. As the echoes died away in the dimness, the vulpine couple stepped down from the dais to the first row of the prone skulk, vestments glittering in the oil-candlelight. They stopped before two congregants in the first row, High Priestess to tod, High Priest to vixen. A pause, pregnant with solemnity, then the two reached down and helped the tod and vixen to their feet; in a wave from center to rim, three hundred Thalendri rose from four legs to two, as if from animals to people.

A chorus of Yips arose from below and around Father Heidler as Tosan, Neryai, the skulks on the chapel floor and gallery, all joined in, tods making the God's Arrow from crotch to chest to muzzle-tip, vixens making the Goddess's Bow from shoulder to head to shoulder. Heidler joined in with the Sign of the Cross as the yipping faded away.

The Supreme Pontiffs embraced the two they'd first lifted to their feet, rubbing cheek against cheek, leaving their scent; the tod and vixen did the same to those around them, passing the scent to the entire congregation, like a nuzzling Greeting of Peace at Mass. The skulk in the gallery did the same, Neryai, warbling, giving Heidler a sensuous stroke of her soft-furred muzzle and cheek.

The jingle of staff-bells mixed with the yipping; acolytes stepped forward to hand the High Priest and High Priestess their staves as a procession began to form. Easter Vigil again, without the Paschal Candle...

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

How Real People Lose Weight: The Vacation Edition

Hi, guys!

Hope you enjoyed the reruns the past couple of weeks.  I was back home after an awesome vacation to Europe.  (Now, that's a sabbatical!)  My husband and I fulfilled a bucket list item by taking an Eastern Med cruise, then hanging out a week in southern Spain.  We went on a lot of tours, relaxed on the deck, read books, and enjoyed each others' company.  When we came back, Rob had lost five pounds and I'd only gained 1.6, but I lost 2 percent bodyfat.  It is possible to stay fit on vacation without a lot of extra effort or sacrifice.  Here's how we did it.

Exercise:  the cruise ship did have a gym, and we went, but not nearly as often, as long, or with as much exertion as we do at home.  However, Rob and I walked everywhere and took the stairs as often as possible, which, since we were on Deck 10 and our dining room was on Deck 3 and the Promenade was on Deck 5, we did a LOT of stairs.  At the resort, we walked around the little town as much as possible as well.

Diet:  We ate the most incredible food on the cruise ship.  (The resort buffet was awful.  Seriously, how do you mess up a grilled steak and bread?) The sad result for me was that I had desserts every night, sometimes two because I could not make up my mind, and resorted to pastries for breakfast because they were the only edible thing the resort made.  However, I tried to keep my meals low calorie.  Also, in Europe the serving portions are smaller, and even then, I did not eat everything on my plate (to be frank, I saved calories for dessert!)  We also had a lot less junk food than normal, which makes a difference.  I also forewent Coca Cola, my personal vice, for much of the vacation.  That's a lot of calories.

Anyhoo, here's the results for July/Aug.  It's a slow, steady progression, so I'm hoping it's one that will endure.  My next goal is 145 before we move, and 140 as an enduring goal.

Remember, I am not sucking in my gut (obviously) or trying to do anything to make myself look thinner.  I have to say, I don't see that much difference in the photos, but I do when I look straight in the mirror.

15-Jan 3-Aug
total loss

weight 169 148.6
16.8 lb dec
body fat 38.5 29.3
9.2 dec
chest 38.7 34.5
4.2 dec
bust 41.1 37.4
3.7 dec
waist 39 31.4
7.6 dec
hips 42.8 37.5
5.3 dec
abs 42 36.5
5.5 dec
thigh 22 23.2
1.2 inc
calf 15 14.5
.5 dec
bicep 11.6 11.1
.5 inc
forearm 10 9.4
.6 dec
neck 15 14
1.0 dec
Total loss

29.6 inches

Monday, August 05, 2013

Writing Convincing Religions in a Fantasy World

I'm heading to the Catholic Writers Conference today, so it seems the perfect time to re-run this blog about faith in fiction.

This is the new cover art for Infinite Space, Infinite God I.

Incorporating the spiritual aspects of a character or the religious aspects of a setting or plot can enhance a story. However, done wrong and it can wreck a story.  Here are four pitfalls I see:

One, they are superficially portrayed and thus not really believable.  Rose Dimond gave a good example of this in our workshop at the 2008 MuseOnline Convention. In a critique group, one person told the story of a woman who was abused. She later became a priestess, and was able to "find peace" after murdering her abuser. The story flopped because, as Rose said, "Revenge is not generally recommended as the pathway to peace by the holy." On the other hand, Tarma, a character by Mercedes Lackey, gives herself to her goddess to become a warrior specifically so she can exact revenge on an entire tribe for the murder of her relatives--and it works.  The key lies in developing the religion sufficiently to convince the reader that the way to peace is by smiting one's enemies, permanently. 

Two, they are a blatant copy of an existing Earth religion. Jesus with green skin or tentacles is an obvious one. Less obvious would be a “Mother goddess” on a world of insectoids that hatch, alone and independent, from eggs.  Why would such creatures, who have no concept of "mother" by nature, develop such a religion? Just like a blind race would never develop the concept of visual color, so this species would not develop a religion around a nurturing motherly figure. They would worship God in some other image that they, by their nature, would understand. A great example of this is "Dyads" by Alan Loewen and Ken Pick. Their foxlike creatures, who mate for life, have their own trinity:  husband, wife and eternal dance.  

Three, religions are used, sometimes obviously, as a device for getting the author’s point across.  Unless you're writing for an audience that wants to be preached to creatively, this device turns readers off.  (Incidentally, the same goes for just about any "message" fiction.  Concentrate on the story, not the message.)

Four, religion is tossed in for “color” but otherwise never touches the characters or story. It's a rule in writing that if you don't need an object, a setting, a character, don't devote a lot of words to it, him or her. Do you spend a chapter talking about the chemical content of the Calaronderon Nebula if the ship is leaving that parsec, never to think about it again? Likewise, then why go on about the bizarre tree spore worship of the Elderbeera if it never impacts the story?

Certainly, the most obvious way to avoid these pitfalls is to write solid, engaging stories with complex characters for whom faith is part of their experience. Here, then, are some specifics to consider:

Is the faith logical to how your creatures experience the world? Think about their anatomy, their worldview, their philosophy. I know that sounds like you are creating God in your creature's image, but think of it this way: who your creatures are and how they relate to the world will have been influenced by their faith and their relationship to the Creator as they perceive it. God would not give underwater starfish creatures a revelation of a bipedal air-breathing savior who was nailed to a tree--how could they possible identify with that?
Have you given enough information to make us understand if not identify with the alien faith without overwhelming the story?  Gone are the days when readers will put up with five pages describing a sunset; so too, readers want the information that relates. If all you need is for your elf to say a prayer for strength in battle, you may not need to get into the pantheon of Elvish gods and goddesses, etc.  However, if you are chronicling the life of a monk-turned-king, you need more detail. Further, if you are going to do something outside the reader's experience of faith--like Rose's example last issue of the priestess who "found peace" after brutally murdering her attacker--then you need to provide enough background as far as information and attitude to make the action plausible.

Do you show more than one facet of the faith?  Think of religion as a character: like characters, faiths have attitudes, histories, codes of honor and conduct, things it will and will not tolerate. Quirks. Are you showing some of those facets, or have you fallen into the one- or two-dimensional character portrayal?

Is the religion needed for your story? Not all stories need a faith-based aspect or a portrayal of religion. If you have doubts about how the faith aspect is playing out, remove it and see if the story still flows. Where are the holes and why? If you have none, reconsider why you incorporated the religion and what you might do instead. I had one story submitted to ISIG II. It was a good story covering a serious issue, important to the writer and valuable to readers, but the religious aspect was shoehorned in to qualify for the anthology. The impact of the message was actually lost because the faith simply did not fit.

Do the faith and the character fit?  Let your character talk to you about the faith--outside of the story. Imagine a typical worship day for them. See what parts fit and what he, she, or it can't act out or believe in and why.

Religion can be a valuable and interesting part of worldbuilding.  It can give your story depth or a unique angle.  However, it needs to be integral to the story and believable in the universe you create.  When you achieve that, you give richness to your tale that readers will enjoy.