f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: 02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Music Recommendation

Mute Math. A friend passed on their latest self-titled LP. Good stuff. Their MySpace home is an excellent place to check them out. You can give a few songs a listen.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Best Love Songs/ Best Break-Up Songs

For the last two Valentine's Day our local eclectic public radio station offers up a few hours worth of the "best" love songs ever. Check here for this year's list.

Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness" is my choice.

Also, this year they live-streamed the best "break-up" songs ever at the same time on the web. I will not point out that, if you were sitting around listening to the web for hours, maybe there's a few other reasons you're single.

Fear Me, Foul Cliched Novelists, For I Am...Acquisitions Man!

Perhaps not understanding the "reality" part of "reality TV," the Sci-Fi Channel and Stan Lee (of Marvel Fame) have teamed up to launch, "Who Wants to be a Superhero." Winner gets to star in a comic book. I'd enter, but people laugh at me in spandex.

via Infuze.

Gladwell.com

Everybody's favorite pop-sociologist Malcolm Gladwell has a blog. Which seems encouraging (he wants a forum on which to expand/correct/comment on his often heavily debated writing) and disheartening (once you're as famous as Gladwell you STILL need a blog.)

Friday, February 24, 2006

What I Did Last Weekend: Part II - Stop Making Sense

So I saw a play the other night called Amerika: Or the Disappearance. It was based on an unfinished novel by Franz Kafka of the same title and the plot followed a German immigrant's arrival on the nightmarish shores of a fictional "Amerika."

It was, how do you say, "weird." It was the kind of thing to noodle over afterward with some slim finger of good, warm brandy as it was about minus-fifteen outside.

It made me wonder about the place for art that defies easy comprehension. Because I sense, though I may be wrong, that popular art (of all forms) is getting "easier" and difficult art is vanishing.

To me, this seems to defy some of the very reasons for art (novel, play, film, etc) in the first place. But now we engage art mostly on whether we agree/disagree with its points. We tend not to debate the very meaning of the work itself. Or are puzzled when a work may hold multiple interpretations.

Two causes may be: 1.) Increasing cultural isolation. We're sheltered in our homes more these days talking about television/sports than art. 2.) Increased choices. There are a million and two things clamoring for our attention. The likelihood of any of us actually reading/thinking about the same piece of art is more and more rare.

The Internet, yes, has broken down some of the walls of cultural isolation. But the major discussions are still focused on television and film. Yet, shows like "Lost" seem to be creating a forum for discussing things beyond like/dislike. (Though I'm unconvinced there's much beneath Lost's surface.)

I do hope the difficult work doesn't vanish. Perhaps we should even take the opportunity to discuss one here. Wise Blood perhaps. Tax ourselves like I imagine (quite wrongly, perhaps) our more curious and inventive progenitors did long ago.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Thomas Nelson Sold

PW is announcing that an investment group, InterMedia Partners VII, has spent 478 million to acquire Thomas Nelson, thus taking the company private. That makes three Christian publishers sold in about 14 days. Seriously.

Because of my deep understanding of business and my crystal view of the future I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that I have no idea what this means. I guess we'll see what vision this guy has for the next generation in Christian publishing.

Net income for TN in 2005 was 19.817 million. I don't know that you pay 478 million for less than 5% return on investment.

T.S. Beckett's "With Every Head Bowed" at The New Pantagruel

T.S. Beckett's conversion short story, "With Every Head Bowed" is now available at The New Pantagruel. It was selected by the Arts Editor from a group of finalists for publication. So, congrats to Marvin!

And thanks to Ryan from TNP for his partnership on this project.

Monday, February 20, 2006

What I Did This Weekend: Part I – Who “Owns” the Novel?

I watched two works this weekend—one documentary, one stage production—and they each raised some questions that I, at least, find interesting. Poor you.

I’ll start with the documentary. It was Rize by David LaChapelle. Basically it’s an exploration of a “new” dance form emerging from streets of L.A. (Though LaChapelle shows obvious links to other street dances and even tribal dances from Africa.) The dance is called “krumping” and, well, it’ll just be added to the list of dances I can’t do. And pretty high on the list, too.

One of the interesting points raised by one or two of the subjects (and then later undercut a bit) is the notion of “ownership of a form.” This has come up again and again in American culture, and often in regards to art forms that emerge from African-American communities (hip-hop, rap, jazz, etc.)

Essentially the point is that: these kids have next to nothing. They don’t have money to invest in ballet, tap, jazz dance—i.e. the basic dance forms that seem to make up the foundation of most current dance. So, without that access, they go the opposite direction purposefully creating a dance that is new. And though they may not have much they “own” that form. At least until MTV co-opts it.

:::

What intrigues me is the notion of ownership of a form. It’s obviously ridiculous in some terms. You can no more own an art form than you can own a color. And yet…Kenny G and John Coltrane are different, aren’t they? Vanilla Ice and Eminem are different…to remove the racial dynamic of it.

The question I’d raise is: “Who owns the novel?”

Functional literacy rates continue to be an issue and reading, overall, continues to decline. So is the novel now in the hands of only a precious few, the “literati elite”?

What’s also interested me is how little the novel changes—from culture to culture, language to language. It is, inherently, the same form. James Joyce may put it through the ringer in Ulysses. Ishmael Reed may tweak it in Mumbo Jumbo. Others have arranged and rearranged it through the years, but it still plows ahead—quite often running over folks who stand in its way.

I wonder if the novel’s unyielding presence is both the reason it’s made it this far and yet the reason it’s less “popular” today, especially in a world that favors the “new” and constant change.
What place do you see the novel having in our culture…and do we determine where it goes next, or will it just keep moving inexorably forward no matter what we throw at it?

Finally, what role does the novel play in places where major forms of artistic expression are seen as suspect, mere vehicles owned by a class often viewed as "oppressors?"

(EDITED: If you'd like to see me argue with myself, click here. Because after finishing the post, I realize I'm drawing an invalid comparison. Yeesh.)

Friday, February 17, 2006

To Swear or Not to Swear

Infuze posts a solid, if somewhat fence-sitting essay on the question of swearing particularly in film/TV, though it's easy enough to apply to books as well.

River Rising Review

There have been many, many, many positive reviews of River Rising. (see here for a collection) This one by Jana Riess comes the closest to summing up my feelings for the book as well as any have. In our discussions of exceptional Christian fiction coming out of CBA, I think it's growing clearer--from many readers out there--that River Rising needs to be at the forefront of those conversations.

This is as hard a sell as I'll make here about a Bethany House book. It's worth checking out.

(Edited to add: Since I'm pitching it, I may as well point out that a review is going to appear in Relevant as well.)

In the Wake of Peter Benchley's Passing

Slate examines the dent Benchley made in culture--namely, Jaws. As a devoted shark and shark fiction afficianado (I watched Spring Break Shark Attack for goodness sake.) Jaws remains the Everest of the genre. I read it, likely far too young, at the age of eight. We were in New Jersey at that point and in its wake I didn't even want to get off my bed let alone get in the water.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Best Thesaurus Ever

Roget's International Thesaurus.

I'm serious. For me its unique organization helps me sort through the subtle variations between synoymns that are crucial in choosing the right word.

The Problem of Describing a Book

“So, Dave, did you enjoy being in meetings for 6 hours and 45 minutes yesterday?”

“Why, no, disembodied voice. Now that you ask, it got a bit long.”

::

I thought we’d take a break today from the long running series on God talk to address an issue that’s come up from time to time before and now seems to be back at the forefront of my thoughts. It concerns the age old question:

“What is this book about?”

One of the best ways, I think, to see whether a book falls into that dreadful “literary” category is how you’d go about answering that question for any particular title.

In other words, if your answer describes the plot of the book, likely (not always) it’s either genre fiction or general fiction.

If your answer tries to convey the themes of a book, it’s likely you’re holding a literary novel. (And, yes, I feel like I’m doing some effete-Jeff Foxworthy rip-off. “If neither your book’s title OR cover make sense, you may be reading a literary novel.”)

I don’t feel that need for theme in telling you about Michael Connelly’s Lincoln Lawyer. And don’t ask me to describe the plot of Operation Wandering Soul by Richard Powers.

I love books on both sides of the fence. But I'd guess that many of my favorites are the books you could describe BOTH ways. And you want to describe them both ways.

It seems to me—and you can disagree with me if you’d like—that CBA has a difficult time with books that aren't summarized easily. Or for whom plot is secondary to character, theme, etc. I’m basing this on books we’ve released and books others in the industry have released.

Not that there aren’t deeply meaningful books out there…but it's the ones in the BOTH category that seem to have had the most success. Where the others may have found a more limited readership.

If I had to come up with one reason for this, I think it’s because of the buying habits of the Christian reader. ABA literary fiction is sold (I think) primarily through reviews. These are reviews that are able to digest and explore both the language and ideas in a book and excite potential readers. I’ve talked a number of times about the lack of such a forum in CBA (CT occasionally reviews fiction. Same with Books and Culture. Am I missing someone?)

This puts a tremendous burden on titles that aren’t tagline friendly. It’s an unfair burden, I think all of us agree, but for the moment it’s the reality of the situation.

I will never tell you what to write, but as an author who has written a book that fell heavily into the THEME field (and languished) it’s at the forefront of my thoughts.

Book three, for me, will be a BOTH book.

The Devil Wears Generic High-Fashion Shoes...If the US Government Has Anything to Say About It

This is the second or third time I've seen this proposed trademark bill mentioned. I never understand the full ramifications of these things but the notion of being sued for trademark infringement is not a fun one. I can just see McDonalds starting a new promotion, offering Monopoly pieces to customers who point out unauthorized uses of their name.

via Publishers Weekly

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Random House Goes Hollywood

According to PW, Random House will co-develop and produce films based on its books in partnership with Focus Features. Their production house is called, unsurprisingly, Random House Films. This seems like both a big deal and not such a big deal all at once. I guess I just hope they don't stop publishing books.

Consolidation Continues: S&S Acquires Howard

PW and Christian Retailing announced yesterday that Simon & Schuster has jumped into the inspirational fray with their purchase of Howard Publishing. It's nice to be the prettiest girl at the ball--which inspirational publishing is right now, as one of the few growth areas in books--but it inevitably leads to a pretty cluttered marketplace.

I can't imagine how much NY must salivate over the prospect of buying Baker, Tyndale, or Thomas Nelson.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Excellent Cover

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockenmeier. No clue what it's about, but I love the design.

Why European Publishing Giants Are Acquiring American Houses

Slate explores why many American publishing houses are owned by European megoliths. And takes some unprovoked shots at us poor publishing folk in the process. I think Daniel Gross got a rejection letter this week.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Al Michaels "Traded" From ABC

Even if you dislike football this should still be mildly interesting. In order to let Al Michaels out of his contract, ESPN got NBC to cough up all sorts of sports rights AND an old cartoon once produced by Walt Disney.

Makes one wonder about their worth on the open market. Or what your company would trade for you. "For the right to talk to Dave Long we demand three cases of whatever makes Joel Osteen's hair so manageable and...yeah, that's probably enough."

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Problem in Talking About God: Day 5

“Confess with your mouth.”

This is the easy part of writing a conversion.

“Believe in your heart.”

This is the tough one. Especially for writers trained to “show and not tell.”

Most of us don’t have time to create scene-after-scene of how the indwelling of the Holy Spirit has helped us change our lives. Instead we go for short cuts. Cranky characters are nicer. Desperate characters express hope. Alcohol is turned down. Nookie is, too.

We use the outward “expressions” of faith—expressions which are all secondary to Christian faith—to stand in for belief itself. Which is why it’s not surprising when we’re accused of only standing against things. As if being clean and sober were the measuring stick for being a Christian.

Besides these outward signs, there’s one inward sign that came up a lot in the short stories. I’ll mention it and just warn you that it is not uncommon and therefore to tread lightly when using it.

This inward sign is that a light goes on in someone’s eyes. Where there had been a void, there is now vitality and life.

I think there’s more to discuss about what “instantaneous conversion” means in terms of how we think and approach faith (and there underlying messages of our novels) but I’m running low on time today.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Problem of Talking About God: Day 4

So busy. So very, very busy. And I gave blood yesterday so I’m getting less oxygen. It’s just a mess here.

Anyway, so last time we talked about the “converter/convertee” pairing that occurs, quite often, in evangelical portions of stories/novels.

There is one corollary to this rule: and for lack of a better word we’ll call it the God corollary.

Because sometimes we don’t have a converter. There is nobody involved in sharing the word of God. Instead we let Him talk for himself, almost always through the Bible.

Two things:

1. This can become a contrivance--a literal deus ex machine--very easily. Avoid letting the Bible fall open to a particularly meaningful passage. Make their be rhyme and reason to the convertee’s search and their response to His word.

2. This is extremely hard to make come alive in fiction. God’s word is a sword that cuts deep but rendering that on the page is difficult.

So that’s the corollary. Now back to one final concern for the “converter/convertee” pairing.

Whose POV are you telling this through? The short stories were fascinating to me because I think both sides were equally represented. Both obviously they’re very different tales. If I wanted to be cruel the next contest would be two 750 word stories—relating each side of a conversion conversation. But that’s not going to happen.

In taking the POV of the “convertee” it very much becomes a scene about the power of God…and this “moment” when that makes all the difference in the world. We’re often seeing need and desperation and hopelessness.

Seeing through the “converter’s” eyes, the scene becomes almost an apologetic, a creed to support our faith. It’s can be a comfort, quite often, and an inspiration.

The next time I write (I’ll stop saying tomorrow, because sometimes that doesn’t happen) we’re going to linger a bit on the “moment” of salvation. And the troubles that arise therein.

::

Go to Day 5 of the Problem of Talking About God.

Congrats to Mary DeMuth

She's a Master's Artist and has been a part of this community for a while. I've been alerted that her first novel, Watching the Tree Limbs, is out from one of our competitors/fellow harvesters. I've not read it *cough*comp copy*cough* but it received a nice review from PW....which for some reason isn't at Amazon.

Two from Galleycat

Editors are broken records. When asked what they're looking for in a book, every editor says pretty much the same thing--"Great voice, strong sales hook." It's not that complicated. Writing a book that matches those two things, it appears, is the hard part.

Time Warner Book Group was sold yesterday. Since the current CEO is keeping his job, I doubt that it'll impact Warner Faith or Center Street that much but if someone knows otherwise I'd be curious to hear how.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Before the Rhetoric

One of the ads last night reminded me...

There's a movie coming out this summer, V for Vendetta, that (if done right) could stir up the hornet's nest. It's based on a graphic novel from Alan Moore and is a near-futuristic story about a terrorist/revolutionary who begins fighting back against an increasingly fascist government.

I doubt such themes are going to bring too many people warm fuzzy feelings...but before the rhetoric gets too heavy, I encourage you to sit down with the novel. Alan Moore's work (along with Gaiman's Sandman and Spiegelman's Maus) is at the pinnacle of the form.

Another Conversion Story Finds a Broader Audience

While we await TS Becket's story at New Pantagruel, Christopher Fisher got some excellent (and unexpected) news about his tale. Congrats, Chris.

Another Article on Christian Chick Lit

Christian chick lit again finds the media in a big spread in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Parody

I found this funny. Certainly more amusing than most of the ads last evening.

Friday, February 03, 2006

On Harper Lee

First Things references a wonderful recent NYTimes article on Harper Lee and noodles around a bit on the importance of Lee's masterwork.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Problem of Talking About God: Day 3

I’d like to spend some days further examining “evangelical” and “doctrinal” fiction and how we employ the language of faith in, I believer, different ways in both stories. We’ll start however with “evangelical” stories and I’ll bring up some further things that came to light while reading your conversion stories.

(There’s some deeper conversation about these topics going on at the discussion board. I welcome you all to check out those thoughts as well.)

Before I start I wanted to point you to a Newsweek article in which one version of our language of faith became problematic. Have you seen this? I found the erratum offered at the end of the story just perfect and hilarious.

Like I said the other day, by definition a conversion scene is going to be “evangelical.” The gospel has been shared, perhaps even recently, and the scene is now an assent to that good news.

I think there are some givens that we can take using today’s Christian fiction and your stories as models.

First, almost always there are two primary characters involved in the sequence. There is the “convertee” and the “converter.” Your stories were short so there wasn’t room for others to join the scene, but I find even in novels this is often the case. It’s a tete-a-tete.

The key character in our discussion of “faith language” then is not the “convertee”—who is often a blank slate—but the “converter.”

The fictional Christian disciple becomes the fount of faith language. Whether they are pastors with the “right” words or friends speaking from their heart, it’s from their lips (coaxed assumably by the (fictional?) Holy Spirit) that God’s offer of grace emerges. And because it’s a conversion scene…they’re successful.

My first suggestion is that this “converter” needs to be as authentic and real a character as you can create. For the words to seem “true,” the character must be realized fully. Otherwise, they’re just a marionette, sitting on your lap, vacuously opening their mouth while you whisper out of the corner of yours. I think his is what we’re caught doing when people accuse us of proselytizing in our fiction.

My second point—and it’s as much a question as anything—goes to something Mark Bertrand mentioned somewhere. Do we cheat by giving our “converter” all the right answers? I’ve had “conversion discussions” before and at least for me they were awkward and stunted and vaguely unproductive. Souls that might have been won were often in spite of me.

Finally, we need to ask what words do we actually use in these scenes. Like I’ve acknowledged, simple words have changed souls forever. So I’m not asking for new eloquence. Rather, I’d warn against relying on the props of our faith—the Four Spiritual Laws for instance—and instead point you back to your character.

This “converter” in theory has experienced, herself, the miracle of salvation. So I think this is prime opportunity to let those words be idiosyncratic to her own experience. Reveal what God has done in her…as most often its not our words but our example that truly changes lives.

In looking ahead, this could be a long series. I’ll hopefully break it up with some interviews (Athol Dickson is waiting in the wings) but we’re likely to be talking about the problems of talking about God for a while.

After all, tangentially or expressly, I think it’s why we’re here.

::

Go to Day 4 of the Problem of Talking About God.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Fickle

In high school, some friends and I braved Philadelphia to see "Laser U2" at the local planetarium. Seemed pretty cool at the time. (For the authentic Philly experience, we even got threatened by some "hoods" who thought we looked too preppy.)

Intervening years changed how I viewed that night. It seemed less "cool" and more, "absurdly dorky." We basically paid money for somebody to play music loud and flash moving lights. And none of us had the benefit of being drunk or stoned.

More years have passed. Fountains of Wayne wrote an ode to the past-time with "Laser Show"--(Sample lyric: "We're going to space out to our favorite tunes. We're going straight to the dark side of the moon.") Freaks & Geeks (best show ever) ran a delightful episode involving "Laser Floyd."

And now, the memory brings a warm feeling to me. I'm glad I was teen enough back then to do awful, random things like "Laser U2." Such, I guess, is the fickle nature of memory.

Manuscript Formatting Advice

Just use one space after closing punctuation. I know the rule used to be two, but that was a formatting tip relevant to typewriters. Computer word processors don't have the same limitations. I don't know anybody who still wants two spaces between sentences.

Tag Along at an MFA Program

Christopher Fisher is posting about his experiences in the low-residency Stonecoast MFA program. If you're interested in what such an experience might entail, I encourage you to pay a visit.