Tom Grace, author of "The Secret Cardinal"
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Tom Grace, author of "The Secret Cardinal"
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Friday, December 11, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
In a new program, at least fifty attendees will have the opportunity to have pieces of their work critiqued by successful editors and writers. In addition, there will be forum-based workshops and chat room presentations covering topics from dialogue to freelancing to how Catholic fiction differs from Christian fiction.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WATERTOWN, MA (November 24, 2009) - Catholic Mystery Fiction Involving a ‘Murdered’ Priest? Author To Be Interviewed on CatholicTV Talk Show
On November 27th, author John Desjarlais, author of the mystery novel “Bleeder” will be interviewed on the CatholicTV talk show “This is the Day”. The novel involves the apparent murder or miraculous death of a priest who bleeds to death in front of his congregation on Good Friday.
CatholicTV is a nationally-broadcasted television network headquartered near Boston. CatholicTV streams its broadcast simultaneously, 24 hours a day at www.CatholicTV.com
Desjarlais will discuss his novel during his interview on “This is the Day”. “Murder mysteries in general get close to our deepest motives and fears, showing humans in extremis. Such stories have a built-in opportunity to explore life's higher mysteries – not just the mystery of death, but the mystery of undeserved suffering.” says Desjarlais.
A former producer with Wisconsin Public Radio, Desjarlais teaches journalism and English at Kishwaukee College in Malta, Ill. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines. A member of Mystery Writers of America, he is listed in Who’s Who in Entertainment and Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. Desjarlais is also a member of the Catholic Writers Guild.
John Desjarlais’ interview can be seen on Friday, November 27th live at 10:30AM (EST) on CatholicTV where available (rebroadcast at 8PM). The show will also be streamed simultaneously at www.CatholicTV.com and will be available on the site’s archives starting Friday night. All videos at the website are viewable in full-screen. Paste this URL into your browser in order to access the “This is the Day” video archives. http://www.CatholicTV.org/shows/default.aspx?seriesID=72
Readers may visit http://www.johndesjarlais.com/ for reviews, photos, links related to the novel, and interaction with the author.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Friday, November 13, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Another review appeared today at the web site for the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors, here:
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Saturday, October 24, 2009
“Death in the Choir” might be called a “Catholic cozy,” given its charming Decatur, Georgia setting and recently widowed heroine, Francesca Bibbo, who joins the choir at St. Rita’s in order to resume her social life and find romance. Lovelorn and self-conscious about her weight (even her cat is named Tubs), Francesca quickly discovers the disharmony in the group. The catty sopranos compete for solos, and the director and the pastor are at odds over purchasing a new organ to replace the old wheezing one. When the director, Randall, appoints Francesca to be his administrative assistant and then asks her out to dinner, her lonely heart goes pitter-patter - but it seems that he has been doing this with other widows in order to make a fundraising pitch for the organ. At a rehearsal party, Randall continues to ‘play the field’ yet string along the desperate Francesca. Later that night, when she drives by his house, she sees that one of the sopranos, Patricia, has parked her car there, whereupon she loses hope of winning him. Then, in the morning, Patricia phones Francesca to report that she found the director dead. The police rule the death a suicide, but plucky Francesca suspects foul play. When she digs into the records Randall put in her care and begins to pry into his past, she discovers shocking sexual secrets about Randall and other choir members that put her in grave danger. And the handsome police officer she’s been falling for may not be able to save her in time.
Lorraine Murray delivers an entertaining puzzle-mystery with a likeable protagonist who is a practicing Catholic in a realistic parish that has its flaws, just like Francesca. The book can be forgiven its conveniently unlocked doors and chance meetings for the way it builds upon an innocent search for romance and remarriage toward a mystery involving divorce and deviance. Lighthearted and ‘safe’ at first, the story turns dark and dangerous in its page-turning conclusion.
The story is respectful of Catholic Church traditions and practices, and at the same time brutally honest about the fallen natures of its members. Thankfully, the priests are portrayed as real men with their own troubles, but not bad: the weary senior pastor longs for a stiff drink and a long smoke he has been denying himself, and the upstart young associate is angular and sternly orthodox. Francesca is genuinely good, and the reader is often pulled into her conflicted, anxious thoughts and prayers as she worries about surviving widowhood and, in the end, just surviving.
Death in the Choir
By Lorraine V. Murray
Tumblar Books, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Monday, October 12, 2009
Thanks to Sara and her staff at Madison's Booked for Murder bookstore in Madison, Wisc., for Saturday's author event. It was fun to mingle with dedicated mystery readers and talk with Michael Black, Louisa Buehler and Sam Reaves, Mystery Writers of America acquaintances who came from Chicago for the day. When the writer scheduled to arrive at 3 pm didn't show, I was asked to take that slot plus the 3:30 slot already assigned, and I was glad to fill in. Nearly 20 people showed up for my presentation, and I'm grateful for such a good turn-out. I sold a few books, too. Unlike some other signing events where I keep all the profits or donate a percentage to the host, the bookstore (which managed the cash transactions) kept 1/3 and I kept 2/3, namely $10, which is close to my own cost per book of $9.87. So I basically broke even, especially if one disregards the cost of travel to Madison for the event and the enchilada lunch I had in the restaurant next door.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Gerard Webster (Jacksonville, FL USA) -
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
I love reading about the Catholic faith. I love reading mysteries. To be able to combine the two makes for a very happy person. So when I saw a new mystery, titled Bleeder by John Desjarlais, I thought I should give it a try.
"There are no coincidences, Mr. Stubblefield. Coincidences are just God's way of remaining anonymous. "(pg 41)
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
By Lisa M. Hendey "Lisa, CatholicMom.com Webmaster" (Fresno, CA United States) - I just finished reading John Desjarlais' fascinating work of fiction, Bleeder. From the initial pages of the book through its great conclusion, this novel was action packed and quite thought provoking. The main character, Reed Stubblefield, finds himself in a small town looking to heal from his physical and emotional wounds. He strikes up a begrudging friendship with Father Ray, a priest who is widely believed to be a stigmatic and a miracle healer. When Father Ray dies suddenly during the Good Friday service, Reed finds himself accused of the murder of this beloved priest. This book is incredibly well written, and enhanced by the inclusion of quotations and teachings of Aristotle - these fit into the story since Reed is a professor, on sabbatical, looking to write about Aristotle. The novel's Catholic setting is never heavy handed or preachy, but rather contributes to the richness of the story told and the mystery that unfolds. Reed, a skeptic who finds himself surrounded by believers, must question some of his long held beliefs and philosophies. I loved Bleeder and raced to the end to learn "whodunnit". At this point, I will likely go back and reread the book again to enjoy Mr. Desjarlais' stunning writing and the intricacy with which he creates and shares the lives of his characters. Strongly recommend this book to anyone looking for a great mystery!
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Plots can have a single or double action, Aristotle says in "Poetics." In a 'single', one character is changed, whereas in 'double,' two are changed, generally in opoposite directions. He uses the Odyssey as an example of a double action plot. Odysseus comes to a good end, while the suitors come to a bad one. A good biblical example is in First Samuel, where Saul descends into self-pity and despair, while David ascends to power and the throne.
As much as Aristotle admires the Odyssey, he prefers the single action plot where a good and noble man comes to ruin through an error or personal flaw he doesn't recognize, as in Oedipus Rex, his favorite play. When an audience experiences such a downfall, there is a strong emotional reaction that Aristotle calls 'Catharsis,' the subject of the next posting.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Monday, September 7, 2009
Monday, August 31, 2009
Friday, August 21, 2009
It’s possible to get too complex, however. Novelists can get into a problem when they have too many characters, too many incidents, too many recognitions and reversals, just too much happening. Aristotle’s antidote: create a pitch. Come up with a compelling three-sentence summary of your story that’ll make an editor cry. Well, he actually says this:
“The plot should be so framed that, even without seeing the things take place, he who simply hears the account of them shall be filled with emotion at the incidents.”
So think about how to describe your story to a friend in 30 seconds, in just a few sentences. This will clarify the story in your own mind. It might help to identify any clutter you should cut. And it will prepare you to pitch the book to agents and editors later.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
MORE ON MIDDLES: COMPLICATIONS, CRISIS
For Aristotle, “Man IS his desire.” A story is built on what a character wants, or wishes to avoid. If you figure out what your character desires and what he fears, you’re on your way. Plot arises out of the character acting on those desires – to achieve something, or to avoid something. To attain a goal, or escape the worst. But you cannot make it easy. If it’s easy, you have no story. Jimmy desperately wants the red bike in the window but it is expensive. Grandpa comes to visit and buys it for him. End of story. Instead, we need Mom to say, “I don’t have the money. You’ll have to earn it.” So Jimmy becomes a paperboy. After a while he earns enough and he buys the bike. Still no story. What needs to happen? Someone has to steal his papers, or swipe the money left out for him by customers, or he gets mugged on his way to the store, or when he gets to the store the bike is sold. These are ‘complications.’ “Complications” are obstacles to achieving a ‘want’ or an incident that brings the feared thing closer to happening. Things must get harder for your character, things must get worse every time he takes an action to attain the goal. There is always a gap between what the character expects as a result of a decision and what he actually gets. These complications, these setbacks, these new directions build toward a ‘crisis.
A ‘crisis’ is a moment of change where nothing is as it was before. The complications have led up to this change, this crisis, inevitably. This ‘change’ or ‘crisis’ is characterized by a major recognition and reversal.
RECOGNITION AND REVERSAL: or ‘a discovery and peripety’:
Good plots always have a major recognition and reversal near the end arising from all the action that has preceded it. Immediately following a startling recognition, an astonishing realization, a surprising revelation, there is a reversal – a change from one state of affairs to another. Aristotle’s favorite play and the best example of this is Oedipus Rex, where Oedipus recognizes who he really is and what he has truly done – murdered his father and married his mother – with an immediate and stunning reversal of fortunes into misery. The recognition and the reversal happen simultaneously. But this can happen in all kinds of stories, not just a tragedy. In a mystery, there is often a surprising recognition of who the real killer is and that you, the sleuth, have been chasing the wrong one all along – or your chief suspect has just been killed - and the killer is sitting next to you – recognizing that you are realizing the truth. This results in a reversal of your attitude toward the person and a change in your next action.
You’ll probably have smaller recognitions and reversals earlier in the book, occurring at every major turning point or ‘plot point.’ In a mystery, that could be the discovery of a clue, a recognition of a false alibi, a revelation of someone’s real identity – and each of these causes a reversal of some kind: a changed relationship, a changed plan, a changed suspect list.
Discoveries can occur without reversals – a narrator learns something about her past. Reversals can happen without some recognition involved – a happy wedding reception is spoiled by a shooting. But emotional power in a story comes from a recognition accompanied by a reversal.
Does your story have an interesting discovery or two, and is there a reversal as a result within the character, in a relationship, in the direction of the action?
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Friday, August 14, 2009
UNIFIED ACTION: Of absolute importance in the structure of a plot is this: that it be unified, whole, and complete. It has a beginning, middle, and end – which sounds obvious – but it must begin in a way that nothing else is needed before it, and it must end in a way that nothing needs to follow it.
Some writers fail with beginnings because they tack on a prologue they think is needed to understand the opening action, when in fact this information probably needs to come later in dialog or a subtle flashback. Other writers fail with beginnings when they start with action but then quickly do a backstory dump, dropping in narrative background to explain what is going on. This puts the brakes on the story. Work in the backstory in pieces later.
The same thing happens to endings, especially in short stories. The writer goes on too long or tries to explain what happened in the story.
As for middles, the incidents must be so arranged that if any were placed differently or omitted, the sense of wholeness would be lost. If the presence or absence of anything makes no difference, cut it – it is not part of the whole. Aristotle’s science – especially medical/biological science – emphasized the necessary unity of constituent parts. All the parts that make up the whole must be necessary and connected. You don’t need to include everything about your character or things that happened to your character in the past – include only that which advances character and advances story at the same time.
The worst plots and actions, for Aristotle, are those that are ‘episodic.’ The episodes or incidents succeed one another without a necessary cause-and-effect sequence. The episodes are simply strung together. That might have worked for Dickens’ “Pickwick Papers,” and “Don Quixote” is an episodic novel, but if you want a story with surprise, wonder and emotional punch, every incident must necessarily lead toward the end.
SCOPE OF THE PLOT: Aristotle advises writers to write with the END in view. That way, the action leads to an inevitable but unpredictable end. The ‘plot’ is an arrangement of incidents that are in a natural and necessary consequence. Granted, there are more arrangements possible in modern fiction than the strictly chronological. But it still must make perfect sense. Even that which seems to be a coincidence or an accident should be perceived as part of a design. Aristotle doesn’t mind a coincidence or two (As far as I'm concerned, a coincidence is just God’s way of staying anonymous). What makes a plot ‘defective’ is when it lacks logic in the sequence, or adds unnecessary things – scenes, characters, narrative descriptions, whatever - to the sequence, and especially if the ending drags.
The writer will END when the work has achieved sufficient ‘magnitude,’ a size or length appropriate to the subject matter and giving a sense of unity and completeness. Oedipus Rex is just the right length, with a unity of time and space, performed in about an hour. But imagine if it was the length of the Iliad, Aristotle asks. It would lose its unity. Could the epic tale of the Iliad be told in a one-hour play? Hardly. In addition, in a long work like the Iliad or the Odyssey – or the modern novel, for that matter – each part of it has its own ‘magnitude,’ its own proper proportion. When you edit your book, consider the proportions of your scenes and sequences. Are some too long? Too abrupt?
These separate parts of a long piece, following several lines of action at the same time, enlarge the dimensions of the story, Aristotle observes. We watch Odysseus make his way home; we see what is happening in his home with Penelope, then back to Odysseus. It can play with time by presenting many events simultaneously, adding 'mass and grandeur' to the overall effect. And Aristotle recommends that the writer provide relief to the hearer (or reader), with varied episodes and varied pacing. While each part has its own unity of time and space and magnitude, they all work toward a satisfying sense of fullness for the entire piece at the end.
An ending Aristotle hates is when a character is rescued by a ‘god out of the machine,’ the deus ex machina, where a god or goddess is lowered onto the stage by a crane and resolves everyone’s problems or provides a way of escape, as when Medea is given a flying chariot by the gods at the end. Characters must solve their own problems and struggle through complications and obstacles on their own. That is the subject of the next posting: middles.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
PLOT: This is the most important, being ‘imitation of action,’ which is what drama is in essence. Action (on the stage or on the page, in our case) is what is important, not what a person says he is or what he believes. What is important is what a character does, his actions. (That constitutes “Ethics” for Aristotle, too, where virtues are only real in actions that become habits that become a person’s character). All that we know come through the senses, Aristotle says. In drama, we see and hear action. By this, we infer character. This has come down to us as “Show, don’t tell.” When we see a man kicking the dog that brought him his slippers, we make a logical inference: the man is mean, or in a bad mood. When we see other acts of mean-ness, we conclude the man is mean. We don’t need someone calling from the side of the stage, “That man is mean,” just like we don’t need a writer to write “Joe was mean.” Show, don’t tell. Use action, not summary or author explanations. There can be more reflection and commentary in modern fiction, using a first-person narrator or an objective, omniscient narrator. But for Aristotle (and most genre fiction), it’s all about the action on stage.
While ‘plot’ and ‘action’ are most important to Aristotle, “character’ is a close second because characters make choices which result in actions and that constitutes the ‘plot.’ More on characters later.
“Thought” is the third element, a character’s reasoning process, his motivation, and the choices that result from these motives. Characters must be strongly motivated to act. Their motive, their ‘thought,’ is revealed in dialog or speeches. The dialog or speech always reveals something about the character’s motivation and shows what he wants, or what he wants to avoid, resulting in a decision that advances the action of the story – the ‘plot.’
What we end up with is this:
Action <-> Thought <-> Character
Start at either end you like. Action (which makes a plot) derives from the decisions that result from someone’s moral make-up, or ‘character.’
Or, in reverse: A person’s inner character leads to certain choices which result in actions taken that (looping back) affect the character. More simply: Characters are motivated to take actions. Whenever they do, the plot advances.
Aristotle’s emphasis on plot (or action) rankles many writers today who emphasize ‘character’ first and who – in a somewhat elitist way - make a distinction between ‘character-driven fiction’ and ‘plot-driven fiction,’ whereby ‘character-driven fiction’ is more subtle and ‘literary,’ and ‘plot-driven fiction’ is inferior, commercial entertainment. For Aristotle, such a distinction is irrelevant. Plot comes first, but plot is only possible with a strongly motivated character. The story is everything.
I hope some of this is making sense!
The other elements are embellishments, of a sort:
Diction is what we’d call ‘style,’ the effect of certain words in creating a mood, a tone, a voice, an attitude.
Song, which Aristotle identifies with the chorus as well as music, is not really a concern for you unless you sell the movie rights to your book. Even so, some writers like to imagine a soundtrack for certain scenes and listen to music as a way to get in the mood to write a particular scene.
Spectacle refers to special effects and is only the concern of the guy who works the crane that makes gods and goddesses fly around on stage, Aristotle says.
So let’s return to “plot.” “The first essential, the life and soul, so to speak, of a story, is the plot,” Aristotle wrote. That will be our focus next time.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
He didn’t write plays himself but noticed that successful plays had things in common. His analysis of what makes drama work, recorded in a little book called the Poetics, has defined the way writers talk about storytelling since. The book covers the art of tragedy; the book on comedy is lost. And while most writers today aren’t writing tragic plays, Aristotle’s principles apply across genres (and are particularly suited, I believe, to detective fiction, which involves tragic acts and surprising discoveries).
The book is actually a collection of notes taken by an astute student, which explains why the text sometimes feels disjointed and repetitive. Still, it is possible to lay out some principles in order – as Aristotle would have preferred. That is what I’ll be doing over the next several postings. I’ll begin with an overview of Aristotle’s 6 elements of drama in the next posting, and then I’ll re-visit each element in more detail.
Aristotle lists 6 elements in this order of importance: plot, character, “thought”, diction, song, and spectacle. We’ll go over these next time.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Monday, August 10, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
The program is delayed broadcast in Australia on 99.7 FM in Queensland and to another 30 radio stations via ComRadSat.
I've prepared short answers to the most likely questions, so I'll have a 'cheat sheet' to quote from in a natural voice - if I don't freak out!
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
What a Character!
I. qualities of well-dramatized fictional characters
II. types of characters
III. character changes
A. within the possibilities of the character
B. sufficiently motivated by the circumstances
C. allowed sufficient time for a change of its magnitude to take place
IV. presentation of characters
A. Directly – what the reader is told
1. by the character himself/herself
2. by other characters
3. by the author
4. by the character’s thoughts
1. reactions of others
a. physical appearance
3. character’s speech
4. character’s actions
5. character’s name
Thursday, July 16, 2009
It's really quite simple. All you need to do is remember the "5 W's and H" of basic journalism: who, what, when, where, why, and how. And like the other media release that announced your book, this one should be free of hyperbole and puffery. Keep it short and straightforward. Just the facts, please. Don't see it as an ad; see it as a really short news item. Some newspapers will run the basic info in a 'community calendar' listing and not run it as a story (unless you have a big platform and are becoming a celebrity!).
Set up the Media Release just like the other one, with your contact info at the top left and a release date (or "For Immediate Release") at the top right. Provide a short headline (in present tense) if you like. Then, in third person, tell readers who you are, what you'll be doing, where, on what date and at what time (and for how long). Provide any other details in descending order of importance. You can provide a brief bio or other background, but expect it to be cut off. Kinda like this:
Mystery writer plots murder in local bookstore
Mystery author John Desjarlais will speak on "How to Plot a Murder and Get Away With It" at (store/library) located at (address) on (date) from (time-to-time - y'know, from 7 pm-8 pm or whatever).
He will also sign copies of his latest book, BLEEDER, released August 15 by Sophia Institute Press. Ten percent of the proceeds will be donated to (name charity or library here).
The event is free and open to the public. Wine and cheese will be served (only say this if it's true!!). Attendees will be entered in a drawing for a prize.
Desjarlais, a member of Mystery Writers of America, lives in (name the town if you're a local) and teaches English and journalism at Kishwaukee College in Malta, Ill.
-30- (remember, this symbol means 'the end')
Notice how the story maintains an objective tone and avoids the excitement you actually feel about doing this. You'll want to write, "...will sign copies of his AWESOME book (title), destined to become a BESTSELLER so be sure to come and not miss out!!" But don't do it.
With all media releases, consider what other material you may need to send with it, especially photos such as your cover art or your mug (in .jpeg if sending electronically). By mail, you could include a business card or a bookmark.
Finally, remember to post your release in web social spaces, your blog(s) and other places as appropriate. Just be careful not to become a spammer ;-)
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Monday, July 13, 2009
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
1. Just when you think you are done and the manuscript is in its best shape and finally accepted for publication, the agent or editor will ask for lots of re-writing. In my first book, nothing was changed at all. In my second book, the editor requested a few adjustments, nothing big. Those experiences were 15 years ago. Publishing has changed. Today, the competition is so fierce and the output of books so overwhelming (about 20 books PER MINUTE published in the USA) that agents and editors are much more involved in shaping and perfecting the book in order to stand out. My editor for BLEEDER asked the beginning to be shortened a great deal, the ending to be a bit more spectacular, and the motive for the killer to be deepened. There were other things throughout, too many to list - let me just say that at first I was surprised and a little hurt. But - being professional - I agreed that the changes strengthened the work and cranked out the revisions quickly. It is a better book - but I wish I'd known that there was a lot more 'intervention' these days even after acceptance. Well - maybe not. I might have gotten discouraged.
2. You won't believe how many times you'll read your own book in the proofing process. You do want it to be perfect and avoid typos and such. But what tedious work.
3. Promotion and marketing are harder than writing the book, more time-consuming, and potentially a real hindrance to writing. 15 years ago, my publishers invested in my titles with advertising, solicitation of reviews and other things. We've all heard how little publishers are putting into marketing these days, backing only their top-sellers who don't need much publicity anyway. What has made everything harder is the shift culturally from old media to new media, adding loads of work for authors to get noticed in cyberspace as well as public space. Many bookstores are reluctant to host book signings (it's more work for them with little return) and blogs and social spaces can soak up a lot of time with a questionable return. I hope I don't sound like I'm whining - I'm just saying that the business side of writing, the selling side, is a real challenge. There's always something you could be doing, and this can bite into the work you like most - writing.
4. Your book might not get into your local stores or libraries. "But I'm a LOCAL author," you say. That's a plus, but chain store buyers aren't local and don't know you from boo. The smaller, independent stores are better about this, though they check the sales record of your earlier books and if the numbers aren’t great, they won’t carry your new book. Libraries today are strapped for money and many are not purchasing new titles. If you try to set up an event at their place, some want you to donate a copy of your book to the collection (a proposed alternative is to ask if you can sell copies on the premises after your presentation/workshop, and donate 5%-10% of the proceeds to the library book-purchasing fund and then hope they buy a copy of your book with that).
5. If your book DOES get into stores, it won't be there long. The shelf space in a store is valuable real estate, and books are rotated very fast, sometimes every few weeks. That's not much time to create a buzz and build good sales numbers. That's why so much promotion has to be done BEFORE the release date of the book. And if the sales numbers aren’t super – especially if there’s no ‘sellthrough’ (meaning all or most of the copies printed were sold), then your chances of getting published again are smaller, even if you’re a pretty good writer.
All of this is not deterring me from moving ahead with my next book, the sequel to BLEEDER (tentatively titled VIPER). But I know that when I'm done with it - I'm not.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
What I mean is that, instead of being interested in Bible 'study' per se, they tend to be more interested in a spiritual experience of hearing the Holy Spirit in the sacred 'space' of the page. "Lectio Divina" is an important and ancient practice of reading the Scriptures slowly, line by line, listening for the voice of God there, seeking to encounter the Living Word. It's not about acquiring 'head knowledge' but 'heart knowledge' of the One revealed therein. This isn't to say Protestants don't do the same thing because they do (and more of them are becoming interested in old monastic practices such as Lectio).
Daily devotional guides such as "Magnificat," which are nearly all Scripture, are especially interested in joining the praying person to the rhythm of the overall Church's prayer life. This underscores the Catholic mentality of being part of a community. This sensitivity is much stronger than in Protestant circles, where 'the individual' tends to be more emphasized (A simple illustration of this is the way the creeds are recited in services. Protestants prefer the Apostle's Creed that begins "I believe..." and Catholics use the Nicene Creed that begins "We believe...')
Then there's the praying of The Divine Office, another ancient practice whereby the whole Church, as though breathing together in unison, works through a series of prayers and Bible readings a few times a day. Clergy and 'religious' (people in Orders) do this daily and many laypeople join in. Again, I find it interesting that many Protestants are picking up on this, too, especially Vineyard congregations.
Back to my main point: While Catholics in the pews may be unfamiliar with the Bible, the Church at large is intimately bound to the Scriptures, especially in its worship and prayer life. It would be too much of a generalization to say that while Protestants are studying the Bible, Catholics are praying it. But it wouldn't be far off.
Monday, June 15, 2009
integrity to a passed-down body of received truths, called "the deposit of faith.' While this attitude has officially changed, there has not been a habit of Bible-reading in Catholic homes for generations, unlike devout Protestant homes.
Anyway, my point really was this: The Bible is only one of three areas where Catholics derive their understanding of what is true and good in belief and practice, whereas most Protestants (especially more conservative ones) look to the Bible ALONE as their source of spiritual
authority (well, at least their denomination's understanding of it). The Protestant 'battle cry' was 'solo Scriptura' - Scripture alone. As a result, they study it a lot more regularly as individuals and in groups and know it much better. It is the Word of God and it speaks with full and final authority (II Timothy 3:16 is quoted to support this). I don't mean to say that Catholics hold
the Bible in lower regard - they affirm II Timothy 3:16 (if they know it) and regard these texts as inspired and authoritative, too. What Catholics will add is this: remember that the Church was there - and fully authoritative - before the New Testament was put together. The New Testament derives its authority from the Church, which had the final say about which books were genuine and which were spurious. The Bible's authority, historically speaking, rests on the Church's authority. It's an excellent point. But the consequence is this: less Bible reading among Catholics, because the authority is considered to be in the Church, and not so much in the Bible (even though, officially, it is the authoritative Word of God). St. Jerome said "Ignorance of the Bible is ignorance of Christ." The Living Word is found, figuratively speaking, in the written word. I wish more Catholics followed Jerome.
'repeated,' as too many Protestants misunderstand). So Protestants emphasize "the Word," and Catholics/Orthodox divide their worship into two equal parts, the liturgy of the Word and the sacramental liturgy of the Eucharist.
Catholics really ought to become more familiar with the Bible and I'm glad to see earnest Catholic students in my class. My tone will remain objective and academic and they are free to take away whatever religious value they want. Becoming basically "Biblically literate" is important for any educated person and that's all I'm really after.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Chapter One Excerpt
My Volvo’s windshield wipers slapped away spots of mid-March drizzle, chanting shouldn’t, shouldn’t, shouldn’t. The traffic thinned, the road narrowed to two lanes, the sky turned gun-metal gray, and the Chicago music stations crackled away into static.
The patchwork fields of rural Illinois rolled away from the ditches in soft waves, with snow laying in stripes across the rows of cornstalk stubble, like a lathered but unshaven face. The rusted road signs became harder to read through the chilly mist. When I saw more cows than cars, I wondered if I’d taken a wrong turn. To err is human, to forgive bovine, I told myself, checking the cell phone. Was the signal too weak to reach any place civilized? Even if it could, I’d wait a long time for Triple-A to show up out here in the boonies if I had any trouble.
I imagined the operator saying We need a street address, sir. There isn’t one, I tell you; I’m in the middle of nowhere. What is the nearest address, sir? I’m near a barn with a faded Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco ad. Community college teachers can’t afford a new car with a global positioning system or the monthly fee to have the service on a cell phone Even I have that, sir. That’s great; maybe it can tell you where I am. Very funny, sir. The truck will still need a number.
I glanced at the torn Triple-A map, draped on the passenger seat. The blue capillaries of county roads spidered out from the state roads’ red arteries. The towns pimpled the white page like blackheads on a freshman’s face. A muscular pick-up truck hissed past, spitting into my windshield. Gun control means using both hands, snickered the bumper sticker. Distracted, I ran over a dead raccoon and the thump of it turned my stomach.
That’s when a familiar heat arose in my chest and my breastbone pressed into my heart, crushing it. The double yellow lines in the road writhed like serpents. I slipped my foot off the gas, angled the wheel, and rolled to a stop in the gravel shoulder. Breathe in, breathe out. In, out. Focus on something. That sign up ahead—the one with the big red star.
It’s not uncommon for gunshot victims, the doctor told me. Anxiety attacks can be a response to a stressful event: an act of violence, a job change, the loss of a spouse by divorce or death. Lucky me: I had all three. I was shot. I was on a Leave Of Absence from the college. And Peggy died when the leukemia came out of remission two years ago.
Breathe in, two, three. Breathe out, two, three. Wait quietly. It will pass. You are not going to get lost. You are not going to die in this lonely place.
The sky lightened. My breastbone released its grip. A pick-up with a horse trailer whooshed by and the Volvo shuddered. My heartbeat returned to a trot from a gallop. You are going to be OK. Keep going. The roadkill and that bumper sticker set you off.
Gun control means using both hands.
The sign ahead was for Red Star Gas and I decided to swallow my city pride and ask for directions. The concrete was veined with cracks and the weeds reached up from them like the hands of buried men clawing their way out. One pump, shrouded in silvery spider webs, was out of service. Discolored paint flaked off the building like scabs. A man with high Indian cheekbones and black hair spraying from a White Sox cap reached my window before I gathered the nerve to unbuckle my seat belt and get out.
“Hey, meester?” He knocked at the window with a gold ring. Tik tik. “You want fill ‘er up?”
His corn-colored teeth spread in a two-octave grin and the dark eyebrows undulated like caterpillars. I checked the gauge, nodded and popped the gas-cap lock.
While he circled to the back, I shouldered open the door and swung my cane into position. The film instructor gave it to me in the hospital and we joked that it should be called Citizen Cane. I dug the rubber tip into the cement, gripped the brass head, and rehearsed how to get out. For six weeks after the hip surgery, my physical therapist Paula taught me in the transfer training how to sit up, how not to twist or cross my leg, since the pin was screwed in, not cemented. She said I’d be OK to drive after two months, provided I kept up with the treadmill, the isokinetic leg presses with ankle weights, and the balancing exercise where I walked through the rungs of a ladder laid on the floor. I’d been good about it, all so that I could retreat to my brother Dan’s hunting cabin by mid-March and get started on the book I’d always wanted to write on Aristotle in peace and quiet. I just expected to do it during a sabbatical leave. Not like this.
The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances, Aristotle reminded me.
I levered out.
“You Chicago, eh?” the leathery attendant called.
He aimed the gas pump at me like a pistol.
“Yes,” I replied.
“All the way out here?”
“Yeah, sure.” He lowered the nozzle, pumped gas and pointed at Citizen Cane. “What’s wrong with the leg, señor?”
“I was shot. In December.”
The eyebrows turned into Mexican jumping beans. “Ay, caramba,” he said with a whistle. “An accident, no?”
“A college girl with a touchy 9 millimeter in her purse. She pulled it on a rival in a hallway catfight over a boy. I broke it up and—”
When the first bullet hit my chest, I thought of Peggy. Is this what it feels like to die, not in pain, really—the shock prevented that—but in wide-eyed surprise, that it should come so soon and so stupidly? Once the second shot shattered the head of my right femur where it forms step in the acetabular groove of the pelvis and I dropped to the tiles with my blood fanning across the floor, I wished Peggy could have gone like this, not by having her blood poisoned by leukemia, draining her life away.
“¿Señor? Then wha’ happen?”
“Well, I got in the way, that’s all,” I concluded.
“Anyone else hurt?”
I shrugged. “Just me. Some guys have all the luck.”
“So you are here to see the healer, eh?”
I squinted at him. “The what?”
“The healer in River Falls? You know, for the leg.”
“I’m going to River Falls,” I conceded, “But I’m not going to see any—”
“Ees ok,” the man said with a cackle. “I talk to a dozen people like you today who are lost. The only reason people from Chicago are on this road is to find him. I hope, señor, you have made your motel reservations.”
“I’m staying in my brother’s hunting cabin in Tall Pines Park.”
“That is good, very good,” the man said with a wag of his head, “for there are no rooms for twenty miles around.”
Monday, June 1, 2009
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Doves dangle in shop windows.
Sale! Get in the Spirit!
Special deals on fans to blow a wind in any upper room.
Spicy dinners to give everyone a tongue of fire.
Songs with lyrics no one can quite understand
but if asked they say
“She rides a Honda in Shandala.”
Kids dressed as holy ghosts
sing Happy Birthday to god-knows-who.
And in Peter’s honor, the drinking starts at 9 a.m.
Friday, May 29, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
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