Ghost Squad Books Sunday, Jul 15 2012 

I had 2-3 books in my probably later elementary school, maybe up to junior high school (?) years, that I loved so very much. They were part of the Ghost Squad series. I have been meaning off and on to Google them for a while now. I really liked the books but especially loved the one where they went on the Concorde. It fascinated me so much! Really spurred my imagination. It was on my to-do-once-in-life list, really. I was very very sad when the Concordes quit flying because it meant that dream was gone. And I was happy to at least get the chance to look at one at the new Udvar Hazy Air & Space Museum in the DC area, closest I’ll ever come to being able to fly in one I guess. I remember how the ghost characters like phased out partially or something when they were on it, going supersonic, like they had lines in them or something. The memories are vague but I read tons of books and these stand out in my memory above most others.

I still have at least two of the three, I saw them not long ago. And the coolest thing ever, actually I knew there was a “book 1” — an “origins story” I know to call it now — but I didn’t have it, and in those days there was no internet so if the local bookstore didn’t have you were out of luck. So I wrote to the publisher! An actual letter (that’s what we had then, you know!). The address was there in the book. And I told them how much I liked the two books I had and could they please tell me how to buy the one I didn’t have. And they sent it to me for free! That was so awesome, I still remember how excited it was and how I knew how nice of them it was, I hadn’t expected that.

So, finally, I looked them up. On Amazon you can find a few of them sold as collectors items. And it looks like a couple of remake books have been written. I read the description of another one of the books and it referred to a “Malev” which meant a malevolent ghost. And suddenly I remembered, this is where I learned the word “malevolent.” I’m a language geek so occasionally I do have memories like that, of exactly when I learned a word. And that gave me even more warm fuzzies. I enjoyed these books, they stoked my imagination, and I learned from them — it doesn’t get better than that in kids’ books!

So I looked up the author, E.W. Hildick, on Wikipedia. And felt kind of kicked in the gut to see he had died in 2001. I never knew anything about him, didn’t remember his name. But I was genuinely saddened to learn he’s no longer with us. According to the Wikipedia article among his other careers he was a secondary school teacher.

If anyone should come across this post who read his books and may have some memories to share, I’d love to hear about it!

Current Entertainment Friday, Jan 22 2010 

Currently reading: Yikes, nothing at the moment. I guess I should fix that. Most recently read the absolute worst popular fiction book I’ve ever read. (Not my usual reading fare, but it’s good airplane and travel reading.) There didn’t seem to be any plot development at all until the last couple of chapters. The characters did out-of-the-blue unmotivated things. The guys got together and hung out and talked about their feelings for the girls (what guys really talk about at diners, or what girls like to think they talk about at diners, hm?). Huge cast of characters drawn over from a previous book; more time was spent going over the plot from the first book than having a plot in THIS book. Took place in a small town…small enough that anything anyone did outside of their house was seen by at least one — usually more — other main character; I’m from a small town and it ain’t quite like that. Reading this book was kind of like work, but once you start you feel obligated to finish. I find it remarkable that anyone published this book.

Currently watching on TV: Chuck, loved-loved-loved the episode I just watched online, “Operation Awesome.” This is good fun stuff that leaves you with that “feel-good” thing. The Closer remains at the top of my list, though it isn’t currently showing. Can I marry Fritz? 24 has just started, so far so good. Could be interesting. Gosh, did you see what Renee did to get the security bracelet off that guy’s wrist?! Woah, was that unexpected! (Oh, yeah, “that makes her craaaazy.”) Yeah…I turned away from that one, as one sometimes has to do on 24. I just watched the first episode of Human TargetMostly because of the lead actor, who I like and have vaguely followed over the years. It’ll probably be like for most things these days though, if I’m home and happen to want to watch something on TV, I’d watch it. I still like the Law and Orders, but don’t catch them often. Have gotten into Criminal Minds recently after being turned off earlier by some uber-violent sicko stuff in some episodes, but again I don’t catch it often. I think that’s about it! I can always dig people house-shopping on HGTV.

Most recently watched movie: Airplane! Oh yeah, baby. “And that’s when I developed my drinking problem.” “And don’t call me Shirley.” “–A hospital? What is it? –It’s a big building with sick people in it, but that’s not important right now.” “And they’re perfect for keeping hot dog buns fresh.” “Would you like that smoking or non?” “Jim never has two cups of coffee at home.” “El noa you smoko.” “Everything is perfectly fine. And, by the way, does anyone know how to fly an airplane?”

Most recently watched movie in the theater: Uhhhh…the latest Harry Potter movie, months ago!

Currently listening to: The Moody Blues and New Order, both hits albums. The Moody Blues are mostly a band from before my time, though I loved “Your Wildest Dreams” in the 80’s. It’s so weird that I’ve come to love them so much. I love the harmony, the richness and energy of the music with all the different instruments, oh, the flute in “Nights in White Satin”! I could listen to that CD over and over and over again…and have! I got New Order just recently, man is that a fun album. New wave I’d call them, not sure exactly what it is, synth pop or something. Somehow I never heard of them in the 80’s, though I vaguely knew 3 songs. “Blue Monday” is the best, and the long version of it on Disc 1 is awesome. It was a good buy, I like the songs I didn’t know before too. Good fun stuff, good to clean your house to and dance around a bit.

Current Entertainment Monday, Feb 23 2009 

I happened to wind up over at my old blog, and realized I’d forgotten all about the various random things I’d posted there. I came across one that was interesting to look back at, “Current Entertainment.” Since it was interesting to look back at the old one, I decided to write a new one. Friends and family, feel free to share what you’re watching/reading etc. in a comment.

Currently reading: Well, I just finished reading Perspectives on Election. It was OK. Sometimes I can only take so much of the polemical kind of stuff. It’s in the “5 views” series, with 5 contributions plus responses from two Calvinists (one supra- and one I guess infra-, I’ve already forgotten precisely), one Arminian, one open theist, and one Christian universalist. I think I found the Christian universalist chapter most interesting because it was a view I was unfamiliar with (though I can’t say I was convinced by the author’s argument). At least the book was mostly in good spirit — 4 of the 5 authors were considerate and respectful in their responses. The fifth, a fellow named Reymond (the supra-), ended several chapters saying he was praying for the authors to see the error of their ways and basically came off as quite smug, arrogant, and condescending. On the whole, not a bad book if you’re interested in what the various views are out there among the broader Christian community.

I hate starting books (love reading them but hate starting them…if that makes any sense), so I haven’t started it yet but I have from the library Peace Like a River, which my friend Amy told me about. That’s next on the list.

Currently watching on TV: Monday nights are a killer! I would need to take a day off work to watch all this in one day. At 8 I watch Chuck and House. House is beginning to annoy me a bit, but I still watch it so far. Chuck I used to think (from the first episode and maybe part of another) was the dumbest thing I’d ever seen. But recently I’ve seen a few more episdoes and found it hilarious. One of my favorite recent TV lines comes from here, “I was having a great time until the terrorists stole my pants and tried to kill me.” It really captures the spirit of the show, too. It’s kind of silly, but fun and with a really good heart. Kind of like Chuck.

At 9 I watch The Closer and 24. The Closer (along with Battlestar Galactica) has really become my only must-see TV. I had gotten to where even though I watched every 24 episode, it was mostly because you had to to get what was going on. But this season is different. The new FBI agent partner brings a human face to what had become almost a joke of “who’s going to get tortured in this episode?”. Seeing it through her eyes, in my view, makes it fresh again.

At 10 I watch one of the two shows I had to miss on my DVD recorder, if I managed to record them. Otherwise I watch them online later.

Normally I actually don’t watch too much TV anymore.

Most recently watched movie: Ummmmm…oh my gosh, I actually can’t think of one. I saw The Village a month ago or so at a friend’s house. That was pretty good. Oh, my most recent in-house movie was Consenting Adults. Rated R but not nearly as sketchy as it might sound from the title. I’d wanted to see it for some time because a young Kimberly McCullough, who grew up on General Hospital in the 80’s-90’s and is still on today, was in it. Not worth it for that, BTW. I don’t think she even had lines. The movie was pretty disappointing on the whole. The plot had promise, I guess, but somehow I never really bought into those characters, except maybe for Kevin Spacey’s character, the bad guy.

Most recent movie watched in the theater? Oh, my, couldn’t say. I’d’ve liked to’ve seen the new James Bond movie, and also the new Liam Neeson movie Taken, but it never worked out. Maybe Mamma Mia was it? Found that one extremely disappointing. It is wrapped up in happy bouncy songs and happy bouncy people, but it is at it’s heart a celebration of hedonism and lack of responsibility. I think a lot of people missed all that amidst the happy bounciness. I did really like the dance scene to “Lay All Your Love on Me” (I song I LOVE from Information Society, didn’t know ABBA did it first) where the guys are out on the dock and they all jump off.

Around the same time I saw the new X-Files movie…extremely disappointing is putting it mildly.

Currently listening to: In the morning when I wake up, the radio. My CD player alarm broke. It’s not even a good wake-up station. There is a good wake-up station, but for some reason I can’t pick it up well in the master bedroom. In the car, I’m seriously missing my free SIRIUS subscription and my favorite channel, 22. I’m listening to the radio or to one of three CDs — Burek by Dino Merlin, Big Thing by Duran Duran, or Who We Are by Lifehouse. That is more or less random, the CDs that happened to be there.

Time to go set up those other Monday night shows to record!

Favorite Childhood Books Friday, Jan 30 2009 

I have again been hit with a period of extreme interest in writing, so I thought it might be a good time to post something else about writing…at least indirectly so.

Below are my favorite children’s books, having in mind around up to 6th grade — or, probably actually younger (not my genre, BTW). I may be forgetting some — I read voraciously as a kid. A couple of these are kind of obscure, so I’d love to hear from anyone else who grew up reading and loving them.

1. The Ghost of Windy Hill, by Clyde Robert Bulla (1968)– my all-time favorite no questions asked, I must have read this book 5 or more times over the childhood years. It is kind of a suspenseful mystery, yet nothing violent or inappropriate. I also was stunned to look it up the other day and find out it takes place in 1851! I think as a kid I really had no grasp of what living in a different time meant. Reading that made me realize why some parts of the book seemed so strange, like something involving a stream and something involving something that seemed like a greenhouse but wasn’t exactly (sorry, it’s been a couple decades, I don’t remember it clearly). They were probably getting their drinking or washing water or something from the stream…which didn’t make a lick of sense to me at age 8 or whatever. But I think that vague sense of strangeness was actually part of what drew me into the novel.

Check it out on Amazon and Wikipedia.

2. Betsy-Tacy-Tib, as I thought of it, more properly known as the Betsy-Tacy series, by Maud Hart Lovelace (1940’s) — wow, I loved these books. Interestingly, they also take place in the past, late 1800’s to early 1900’s, in Minnesota (to a Florida girl Minnesota may as well have been China). Again, this explains why some things seemed so strange to me about the book, the calling cards, things like that. The stories basically follow the (mundane but thoroughly engrossing!) adventures of two friends, beginning at age 5, then the new friend Tib that moves to their street, up through (at least) Betsy’s wedding. My memories are so vague on the stories, but I do remember some strange intriguing thing about them visiting these people (they seemed like foreigners of something to me, it was all very strange!) no one else knows and getting their signatures for some kind of petition (this is where I learned about petitions), but then people not believing the signatures were real because they didn’t know the names. But as I’ve read little bits online, I remember them dressing as beggars, leaving calling cards, Tib being from Milwaukee (the first time I heard of Milwaukee, and where I learned about the German cultural aspects of Milwaukee). Apparently there is a small legion of fans of this series out there. I found these books in my church library as a kid — what a joy to see that other people out there loved them too!

To read the opening lines (and find other information), click here.

Check it out on Amazon, Wikipedia (where you can learn that the series was “written at progressively more difficult reading levels as the characters age” — how clever! — I don’t recall noticing that as a child), and the Betsy-Tacy Society.

3.  Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder — I’m not even going to bother with links. Is there anyone unfamiliar with this series? If you grew up in the 80’s you’ve at least seen the TV show. The show was pretty different in a lot of ways; it had to be because of the constraints of the genre. I loved both. Again, I have weird little unconnected memories from the books, the family living in a not-a-real-house thing with dirt and grass on top, maple syrup (we ain’t got trees where you can get stuff out of the trunk in Florida — weird!), Nellie and her pale skin looking down on Laura for her tanned skin (huh!), Laura passing some test at age 15 (!!!!!) to become a teacher, Laura refusing to say she will “obey” Almanzo (Manly!) in their wedding vows, and the last book in the series so clearly written in a different style, so sad with the death of their baby, actually it kind of made marriage look depressing (shortly after reading that one I learned that its stark differences were due to lack of editorial involvement — and the Wikipedia article linked to above says the material is of a much more mature nature). Anyway, good, good stuff, and if you have somehow never read them, you need to remedy that!

4. The Narnia series, by CS Lewis (1940’s-1950’s) — magical, incredible books. Like most people, probably, I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe first, and loved it, but was always disappointed aftwerward that the kids were not the focus (or not even in) the subsequent books. I have again only vague memories — I do recall being traumatized when, as it seemed to me at least, two characters were about to go sail in some boat right over the edge of the earth — and they are confounded by many viewings of the 1979 TV movie (first made-for-TV movie, who knew?), plus a coule of viewings of the recent film, and the more recent Prince Caspian film (am I too old to be saying that that Prince Caspian was darn cute?). But these are exciting, engaging, enchanting books, with Christian themes incorporated (though not in a way to put off non-Christians). The Wikipedia article is interesting, but includes the requisite (for Wikipedia) criticisms, like how some people find the books racist (for making fun of some made-up country called Calormene or something) and sexist  (for disparagingly noting that Susan is now only interested in lipstick and nylons — hence proving that Lewis disdained women’s sexuality). Puh-lease. These are the type of people who could look at the dishes in my cabinet and find something racist and sexist about them. As for Susan’s obsession with her lipstick…does that symbolize sexual maturity (womanhood) or frivolousness (misplaced priorities, perhaps vanity)? Hmmmmm….seems obvious to me it’s the latter…unless you’re just looking for any excuse to impugne Lewis. Whatever. These are incredible adventure stories — if you haven’t read them, you really must! Read them for the adventure and the magical delight of the children and the joy of Narnia…not for some psychoanalysis of Lewis (!).

As I reflect on these books, one thing I note that they all have in common is a certain fantasitic quality, some kind of other-worldiness. Quite literally with Narnia, but with the others more of a removal from time and geography. In a sense they were just as different as Narnia from rural Florida, for a girl who knew nothing more than Florida and our northern neighbors GA and AL. Of course, later there were family vacations around the country, and much later, even world travel. But as a child I traveled through time and space (and wardrobes!) quite regularly through the books above and many, many others. I suspect that I owe a great deal of who I am today to that childhood literary travel. And I am grateful that while I might have begged for toys and such as a child that I didn’t get (and didn’t need), I never had to beg for books. My elementary school teacher mother bought any book I wanted, and my church library (unfortunately no longer in existence — the library, not the church!) was available to me twice a week.

Least favorite childhood book? Black Beauty. I must have started that book three or four times but always found myself completely bored and unable to continue. How much can I read about a dumb horse, anyway? (Maybe if I’d grown up with horses I’d have enjoyed it…?) Actually, I think the same is true of Little Women — I just couldn’t get into it. And the title annoyed me I seem to recall.

What were your favorite childhood books? What drew you into them? Any least favorite ones come to mind?

Arminianism, Calvinism, Non-Calvinism, and Perseverance Wednesday, Aug 6 2008 

I recently tried to post the following comment to a blog that wouldn’t allow posts unless you had a Google account. Because I spit on Google accounts (long story), I decided to write my own post.

BTW, Arminius himself never taught the possibility of apostasy, though he admitted he had some questions about it. (This according to an excellent book by Picirilli.) I stand very comfortably with Arminius here, and thus with the label (Orthodox or Reformed) Arminian. My chief concern is not the degree of comfort — we tend to be comforted most by what we already believe to be correct, it seems to me — but the weight of Scripture. And despite some passages (particularly the Hebrews one) that do seem to be saying believers can apostatize, I believe the weight of Scripture supports perseverance. And…I do find that more comforting!

The comment was in response to a post written and responded to by several Arminians who call themselves non-Calvinists and talk about their distaste for Arminianism. Why do they dislike “Arminianism” so (when they are clearly Arminian in belief)?

Could it be for the reasons Roger Olson cites in his book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, the highly inaccurate (and of course negative) portrayals of Arminian theology presented so often by Calvinists (probably often as not unintentionally, because that’s what they were taught too, without going back and reading orthodox Arminian works) — to the point that even some theologians began calling themselves “non-Calvinists” or “moderate Calvinists” or “Calminians” to avoid that label?

Could it be because esteemed Christian writers such as R.C. Sproul have compared the two by holding up people like Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeons as good examples of Calvinist leaders and people like Joel Osteen (and others I pay no attention to) as good examples of Arminian leaders?

Frankly I think for many of these folks it’s pretty simple — it’s all about the P. Arminians are the ones who think every time you sin you lose your salvation, right? Wow, no. Not at all. Not that I’m saying there aren’t a few out there who believe that — you can find a few out there who believe just about anything. (I have come across someone online whose comments I very much enjoy reading, who is a 4-point Calvinist whose missing 4th point is not the L but the P!) There are without a doubt many Arminians who don’t believe in P. I think it includes most Methodists. It includes some (I’m really unsure of the percentages) in the remaining orthodox Restoration Movement churches. I’m pretty confident it doesn’t include too many Baptists. If I had to guess, in fact, I’d say more Arminians believe in the security of the believer than not. Now, if you first asked all of America’s Christians to stick their hands up if they were Arminians, and only ask that crowd, you would get a much lower percentage of saying they hold to P.

I blame the close association of non-P with Arminian theology on John Wesley and Methodism. (I don’t mean that in a harsh way — it’s not like that was their goal!) It seems like really Christians who are not Calvinists but don’t want to be associated with non-P should say “I’m not a Methodist” or better yet “I’ll keep the P” — that would be more accurate.

“Moderate Calvinism” is bunk. It usually means keeping the “T” and the “P.” Two major problems — (1) “U” is the heart of Calvinism. If you don’t have Unconditional Election, you don’t have Calvinism. Period. Arminians believe in Conditional Election (the condition being faith). (2) Arminius — that’s right, the theologian after whom the theological understanding is named — also kept the “T” and the “P.” (I am going on Picirilli’s word here — I am not claiming to have gone back and read Arminius’s writings; I am not a theologian and don’t lose sleep at night over what people in the 16th or whatever century thought about the Bible. I’m not saying I have no respect for or curiosity about it — I’m saying I have a job and dishes to wash and can only read so many books. 🙂 )

Frankly, from just the quotes (sometimes lengthy) I have read from Arminius, I think many of today’s Arminians (perhaps especially those who are strongly anti-Calvinist) would read Arminius and reject him within a paragraph or two as too Calvinist. His rhetoric was virtually identical to Calvinist rhetoric — this was long before the days when (at least according to many Calvinists) only Calvinists believe in a sovereign God and when (sigh…according to many uninformed Arminians…who haven’t read their Bibles all the way through) predestination is a Calvinist fabrication.

“Calminianism”…goodness gracious. I definitely appreciate the spirit of unity that I presume lies behind such a label — we all need to yearn for Christian unity far more than we do now (another reason why heaven will be wonderful!). But this doesn’t embrace unity. It basically says “I’ll keep the P, and maybe the T.” This is not Calvinism. No “U” = no Calvinism. You know what it is? You guessed it. Arminianism.

There are definitely different streams of thought within both Calvinism and Arminianism, some are larger streams and some are little tiny brooks with just a few odd-looking fish in them. Neither is a monolithic system. Some of them I view as creeping to the edge of Christianity, if not already flying off it. I would include here Open Theism, which of course itself has several different streams and branches. Followers of OT would probably call themselves Arminian…and maybe they are, in that they reject the “U.” But they’re pretty far from Arminius’s views, and when I think of what Arminianism is I’m definitely not thinking of OT. Calvinists, BTW, have the same “problems” — the “father of liberal theology” was a Calvinist…and maybe he really was, if we mean that he accepted “U” (“U” in and of itself, BTW, does not rule out universalism).

None of this really matters, only one label (Christian!) is of real importance. And yet labels do remain important to us. Especially in times when “Christian” may be used to mean “I believe in God and I think Jesus had some cool things to say and, well, I’m not Muslim or Jewish.” And we can’t help but use labels to find people who think like us (thus proving how smart they are and how well they’ve studied their Bibles) and to distance ourselves from people who don’t think like us (thus proving how dumb they are, or how poorly they’ve studied their Bibles). I resisted labels for a long time. I knew I wasn’t a Calvinist, because I knew I didn’t believe in “U” or “L” (I was fuzzy on what exactly “T” and “I” meant in the Calvinist system at the time). But I really had no idea what Arminianism was. I never heard of it until one day discussing theology (basically U-L-I concepts) with a Calvinist friend I was told I was an Arminian. Huh? Well, okay, if you say so! She seemed to know more about the labels than I did. It was only when I read Picirilli’s book that I was able to really get a fuller picture of what the labels meant, and realize that I was in fact a “Reformed Arminian” (who stands with Arminius on “P,” unlike Picirilli, actually).

And that got me to thinking about the word “Reformed,” which was a new word to me as well. Why does “Reformed” tend to be used by Calvinists as a synonym for Calvinism? (I understand from a very interesting book by a Calvinist author that for some Calvinists there is in fact a distinction, but I don’t think this is a majority.) After all, what did Calvinists “reform” from? I’m pretty sure it was Catholicism — the error that had crept into and been enshrined in the Catholic Church. In any event it wasn’t Arminianism (both “Calvinist” and “Arminian” thought did long precede the Reformation — and oh how proponents of both love to argue over how their theology came first in church history! — as if that’s what proves it’s correctness). So shouldn’t “Reformed” be a synonym for “Protestant,” rather than “Calvinist”? It was my Reformation, too. It is a critical part of my (Arminian) church history, too. I am Reformed, too — I am not Roman Catholic; I believe in Bible only, Christ only, by faith through grace only. I reject indulgences, purgatory, the equivalence of any church culture and any mere human with the Word. If I am not Reformed…am I unreformed? Doesn’t that make me Roman Catholic, and an acceptor of indulgences, purgatory, etc.? And yet Arminians on the whole don’t seem too bothered by this. My friend’s church in Texas celebrates Reformation Day every year. How cool is that! Do any Arminian churches celebrate the Reformation? We should! It doesn’t mean we embrace Calvinism or TULIP. It doesn’t even mean we embrace everything Martin Luther believed. (He is inspiring and so much of what he wrote sounds exactly like what I hear in the pulpit and from other believers today, but he wasn’t perfect and I can’t agree with everything he said. He basically agreed with the Catholic Church on transsubstatiation [okay his view was closer to “consubstantiation,” but the point is his is not the view held by the vast majority of Protestantism], he at one point advocated bigamy, and he said some pretty anti-Semitic things during a later period of his life.) But all Protestants (and frankly all Catholics too — some things within Catholicism were cleaned up because of him) owe a great deal to the courage, faith, and persistence of Martin Luther and to other figures of the Reformation (Wycliffe, Hus, Zwingli…). My church did actually once recognize the anniversary of the 95 theses and sang “A Mighty Fortress” in honor of the event, but I’m pretty sure this is the closest any of my churches (all Arminian in theology) ever came to saying much about the Reformation.

So, this Christian (Reformed Arminian) gal is eager to honor the Reformation — to mourn the division and the violence but to celebrate the resulting freedom and the return to Scripture as the ultimate source of Truth.

I desire to ramble further but I more strongly desire to go to sleep. And my kitties more strongly desire to be fed. Good night and God bless you whether you are Arminian, Calvinist, or non-Calvinist and I just haven’t convinced you you’re really an Arminian. 😉 Can’t wait ’til all those labels disappear in heaven.

Rereading Old Writings Wednesday, Jul 30 2008 

I am in the process of going back and reading an incomplete novel I started back in 9th grade. It’s about a family of six kids (I’ve written lots of fiction and never once about a small family, which, if you know me, ahem, I’m kind of breaking the “write what you know” dictum) who grew up in an abusive home. It had a nice structure — and I never pay attention to structure when I write, I’m not that kind of writer, generally. It had a prologue, with the kids mostly still at home, though two run away during the prologue (well, one elopes and a younger one runs away). Flash forward 10 years and we’re in the body of the story, the first six chapters of which focus solely on one of the six kids and where they’re at today, before everyone finds each other again in chapter seven (directly or indirectly through an ad the oldest sibling’s ex-husband puts in the paper [gimme a break, it was like 1989, yes, people still put ads in the paper] because she’s dying of cirrhosis of the liver due to years of excessive drinking).

One thing you’ll note about my writing style, I never met a parenthetical I didn’t like. There is grammatical recursion and then there’s parenthetical recursion. If you’re a linguist you’ll get that.

But I digress. (That’s another hallmark of my writing [and talking] style.) And yes, I did that on purpose.

So, body-body-body, two siblings are dead and the rest have worked out their problems and go on to live happy and fulfilling lives. We know that because flash forward another 10 years (the body would cover maybe about six months) and we have an epilogue.

Beautiful. Elegant. Symmetrical. I love symmetry.

And over the years I kept writing in this story, sometimes a lot, sometimes not for years at a time. But before long it became clear that I strongly favored one character over all the rest. I “felt her pain” more clearly, I related to her even though she’s nothing like me, and as I delved more and more into her “backstory” — meaning I wrote it, thinking it was just for kicks, exploring the character so I could write for her better and better capture the complexity of her life and her relationships — (dashes are nice, too) I eventually, not more than a year or so ago, had to admit to myself that I really wanted to write from this character’s perspective. There was no way I could write so “completely,” if that makes sense, for any of the other characters, unless perhaps I wrote some kind of multi-volume thing, or a weird kind of concurrent series followed by a massive tome where everyone is thrown together. Even if I did that I would still have the problem of not knowing the other characters so fully as I do the one — they would be much more difficult to write for, from their perspective. Hah, that is after all why I killed off one of the siblings. She was too hard to write for.

The joys of authorhood.

(Remember, I was in high school.)

So here I am, all this time later, and this story is still with me. I realized I had to start it from scratch, and was really thrown when it meant having to completely jettison my nice, neat, symmetrical structure. It was like banging my head against a wall to come up with a new beginning, and on top of that, I had come to the conclusion that it might be worth pursuing getting this novel published, so I had to come up with a way to not only write it with pretty words but in such a way that a reader is (hopefully) intrigued and wants to keep reading. And then one day at work I was in a meeting that had nothing to do with anything (I’m sure such things only happen in my office), so I started thinking about my story, and WHAM it kind of just came to me, and I started jotting down ideas (I’m sure it looked like I was studiously taking notes). Then when I got home I sat down at the computer and started writing and I wrote until like midnight or one or something, and didn’t know how to end the shortish chapter, but darn if I wasn’t fairly pleased with what I wrote. A bit intriguing (hopefully!), a dash of subtle symbolism, establishment of all the siblings but primarily from Kari’s perspective (essentially — after years of writing something in the first person I am, weirdly enough, still struggling at times with third person), a bit of foreshadowing of what happens to these people. It still has a prologue (gone is the 10-year things though, this one starts a bit earlier), but the prologue doesn’t end with the eloping and the running away. That’s in chapter 1 now, and it’s not an elopement anymore, though the character is still moving out to move in with her boyfriend whom she’s going to marry soon. There’s actually still a “structure” — there has to be because so much time is covered. I’m kind of thinking about it the way Russian novels used to be published — part 1, part 2, etc.  So part 1 covers the main character running away, seeking freedom only to find it’s all an illusion as she winds up on the streets, part 2 has her life getting straightened out and meeting the man she’ll eventually marry, and part 3 has was initially the body, the reunion with her family, including her sister with cirrhosis (which isn’t necessarily as terminal as I thought it was when I was 14…maybe she won’t die after all, but I still think it’s a better story that way).

It’s really, really weird rereading what I wrote in high school. Scary that I’m ever happy with something I’ve wrote because, oh my, I think I was pretty happy with what I wrote then, too! And there is not much to be happy about. Gosh, it’s painful to read at times. Embarrassing. Some relationships are complex, but they’re complex in fairly predictable ways, and a lot of the characters have little depth. But on the other hand, just as I roll my eyes at something and think, “Well, that’s got to go!” I’ll often think, “Well, hold on…if I tweak that, that’s actually a good plot or character moment.”

When I wrote back then, there was no internet. So I just made stuff up and glossed over facts. The only real research I did was getting some medical books from a good friend’s mother, who was a nurse, and asking her some questions about cirrhosis. I can remember even then wishing so badly I could go to a hospital and sit down and talk with a doctor who specialized in such illnesses.

And then they (and by “they” I of course mean Al Gore) invented the internet. So now, the things I glossed over before I can agonize over details of. How exactly does a runaway go about finding a place to live in DC? (Oh, yes, instead of all made-up towns, I’ve transplanted the action to the NoVA area — I finally live in a place that works as a setting for a novel that’s not about the place, if you understand.) What kind of services would a homeless shelter offer her? What kind of job offerings would she find online that she could apply for even without a high school diploma? How many buses would it take for her to get from Point A to Point B? Oh yes, all this and more is available at your fingertips. But then I wind up spending so much time on things that are so irrelevant…well, not entirely so, as every detail you add further contributes to making your character real, with a real life’s history and experiences. But still it’s frustrating.

Well, I’m rambling — I’m soooo tired. But I will read another of the old chapters tonight anyway.

And I think I will post in the future on writing in the third person and online researching for fiction writing.

All this because I was too tired to watch the commentary to my latest Netflix film, The Namesake. I am simply incapable of going to bed early. Even when I’m exhausted.

Anna Devane Delirium Tuesday, Jun 17 2008 

I write fiction. I loved General Hospital in the 80’s — I only started watching around the late 80’s maybe, but read about it (and every other soap — ok, I was and still am a bit of an obsessive freak sometimes) regularly in Soap Opera Digest. (Yeah, I had a subscription — it was kind of like a serialized novel where your imagination got to fill in the details.) I love strong-though-sometimes-vulnerable characters, male and female, who’ve done something pretty horrible in their past and seeking redemption while continuing to live with the consequences of their actions — some examples would be Xena (Lucy Lawless) from Xena: Warrior Princess and Angel (David Boreanaz) from Buffy. There are others, but those are the first that come to mind.

I say all this to set the stage, because for the past three days (Saturday to Monday) I have been absolutely consumed with another such character — Anna Devane (Finola Hughes) from General Hospital. If you don’t write, I’m not sure I could explain this to you. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced any mini-character/writing obsession quite this strongly. It’s like electricity wanting desperately to escape from your body (and preferably into a keyboard). It’s insatiable obsession that makes you unable to go to bed (I was up all night Saturday and until after 4 Sunday, catching some late morning/early afternoon zz’s Sunday) or stop to eat or basically do anything but immerse yourself in the character, the storyline, the missing pieces, the analytical process of examining exactly what it is about the character that appeals to you so much — the aspects of the character & types of events that drew out or formed those aspects, not really the literal things that “happened” to that specific character. And then come the alternate versions you could write, and the parallel situations, and the transformation of one set of events into a different set that produce basically the same effect, the ways you would want to adapt your story to tell it the way you’d want to, and so forth.

You really can’t take too seriously the actual events going on in these stories, at least not in the examples I gave above. Xena lived in ancient Greece (ancient to be defined in verrrrry loose terms as the writers pretty much ignored distinctions in pulling things from a few thousand years of history) and was some kind of sword-fighting warrior who just might be half-god (Ares was possibly her father). Angel was from like 18th century Ireland or something, got turned into a vampire, then had a curse put on him after killing a young Gypsy girl that restored his soul so they he had a conscience again and felt the guilt of all the happy-go-lucky torture and killing he’d done for a hundred years or so [darn, quite a weight to carry around with you!]. And Anna was a “super-spy” for the WSB (World Security Bureau I think…) agency who fell in love with and quickly married her new partner Robert, also with the WSB and full of honor and integrity, and just a few weeks later when they’re on a mission Robert discovers she’s actually a double agent for the DVX (I don’t think they ever spelled that one out, it just sounds like “devious,” you know, the bad guys — besides, for Pete’s sake, what could “X” stand for — x-ray?). It was to be her last mission because Robert had changed her — she’d sought action, adventure, the thrill of danger, but she wanted to leave the DVX. Robert was disgusted, disappointed, etc., but didn’t turn her in, and she was devastated. (You can watch most of that scene here, originally created as a flashback on GH.)

Anna arrived in Port Charles in 1985. I wonder what the writers originally had in mind, because she initially came off a bit malevolent. Robert was married to Holly, and Anna insinuated herself in their lives, looking kind of like the typical soap fly-in-the-ointment bad girl for the otherwise happy lead couple. But Finola Hughes is (in my opinion) a phenomenal actress, and I wonder if that’s what changed the writer’s minds, because before long she is portrayed in a much more sympathetic light, and I think it’s perhaps 1986 when we find out she was pregnant when she and Robert divorced, and they have a daughter aged about 7 that Robert doesn’t know about. Anna’s love for her daughter was fierce, and it’s definitely one of the things that softened her character. Additionally, not far into her time in Port Charles, we see vulnerability in her despite her bravado and projection of total confidence, we see the guilt and shame she still feels over her past as a traitor to her country (errr, what country would that be? looking back, seems this was never explained — there are references to Canada and the US, and Anna’s a Brit and Robert’s an Aussie…so who knows, point is she was playing ball with the bad guys and at least one person lost his life because of it). Some of her shame is expressed by a fake scar she wears on her face where she was injured in an explosion on her last mission — initially this is written as more of a ploy to make some kind of point (garner sympathy, remind others of her suffering, who knows), but seems like it quite quickly changed to be written as a genuine expression of remorse, her self-imposed “scarlet letter” as she refers to it. (You can see the scar for the first time here — she wore her hair covering that half of her face [why wear a fake scar that no one can actually see…?], and then Holly’s discovery that it’s fake here. You can read the scene where she confesses it’s fake to Robert here.)

I have to say a word on Finola Hughes’s acting style, which stood out to me even in the early 90’s when I wasn’t paying much attention to such things (not that I pay that much attention now). Finola makes her characters feel real. She does things in scene I’ve never noticed other actors do. She licks her lips, scratches her nose, rubs her cheek, makes faces — not over-the-top stuff, but the normal stuff we all do that, ahem, doesn’t normally look so pretty on camera. She does it anyway, and I think it’s great. You don’t see too much of that here in the very early Anna days — though in one of the scenes above watch for her sticking her tongue waaaay out to touch her upper lip, and later pulling at her lip.

She makes Anna real despite a lot of ridiculously improbable typical soap storyline stuff. In ’85 Anna is a jewelry fence (and former double agent/traitor to her country). I think it’s in ’86 she become Port Charles police chief. Say whaaaaaaat? Yes, well, soap characters have to stay interesting, so there are no school teachers or gardeners or mailmen or office supply workers — there are nurses and brain surgeons and night club owners and mobsters and detectives. So, Anna the traitorous jewelry fence becomes police chief, hey, why not? The spy stuff and the later WSB/DVX etc. stories are pretty unrealistic of course, but darn were they fun! GH in the 80’s was nothing if not fun. (These days it should be called General Mob Wars or something, it’s apparently all about the mob and the mobsters are the good guys while the police are the stick-in-the-mud bad guys. Don’t get me started.) In the 80’s the good guys were the cops and good-guy spies, the bad guys were big-time crooks and bad-guy spies trying to do things like freeze the entire planet, and there were explosions and shoot-outs and location shots and fights on cable cars and bombs on trains — excitement, romance, and rip-roaring good fun.

It was so interesting to watch the really early Anna stuff (’85), or really any early stuff of characters/actors who stick around for a long time. You can tell they don’t know the character like they do later (either the actor or the writers — geez louise, check out the pilot episode of Stargate SG-1, or of Star Trek: The Next Generation, two long-running shows), and watching these with Anna I feel pretty confident saying that if Finola and the writers could go back and redo these scenes, they’d be done a bit different. The scene with Holly about the scar especially, that just doesn’t seem like Anna to me.

And, despite the occasional “romantic tension” between Robert and Anna (recall that they didn’t divorce over “regular” betrayal, not a betrayal of her wedding vows, but of his trust in who she was and who she served), I really liked the fact that they didn’t actually get together again until the early 90’s, when they began to see each other in a new light, and eventually re-married. And it really wasn’t played as though they would be getting together. Robert still loved Holly (she was presumed dead or something, you know, the actress wanted to leave), and I guess was later involved with some other women, and Anna met Duke (who was dead — or so Anna thought, yes, it’s a soap) by the time I started watching, but she really loved him and I don’t think really loved anyone else until she and Robert finally reunited. They were true friends, with some incredibly well-played comedic banter (some interviews I read said that the set in those days was “famous” for its improvisation with scripts) — see an excellent example here (the guy Anna’s daydreaming about and who’s on the phone later is Duke — I think they were separated at the time or something. Their fights were spectacular fun to watch, too, because they both had so much dirt to pull up on each other (hard to beat dragging the ol’ “yeah well you were a traitor” accusation) — see a particularly harsh example here, shortly before they got back together.

So, anyway, I discovered that a lot of these old clips were on YouTube, what a discovery! I watched hours and hours of YouTube clips. I found a site with fan fiction, including one particularly good, well-developed story that kept me up all night Saturday. I found a site I linked to above with transcripts of some of Anna’s earliest scenes, which was great because not all of those were available on YouTube. How I long for the day — which I’m sure will come — when I can purchase all that early stuff.

What will I do with all this? Well, I’m thinking I’d like to start with some fan fiction, just to explore the character, the voice. But fan fiction (my own and other people’s, with the exception of the one noted above) just make me giggle because it seems kind of silly. It can be confining, too. Fan fiction that changes “facts” about a character’s life, motivations, etc. is pointless, in my opinion. I think it will be a fun exercise though, and will help me really pin down those things about the character that so draw me to her. And then — and I’ve already been mentally meandering down this path — I will spend some time exploring how I can import those essential traits, the “spirit” of the character and the essence of the events that shaped her, into a completely different story (without explosions and double agents and WSBs and DVXs). Fun times!

Alas, Callie Tuesday, Apr 22 2008 

I was partly right (Callie bit the dust) and partly wrong (it wasn’t her husband Tyrol accidentally killing her).

I guessed pretty early on that it would probably be Assistant Girl (let’s call her AG, I can never remember the character’s name) that killed Callie. And then as Callie was really losing it, I thought, well, maybe I’ve really been led astray here and Callie will actually kill Tyrol, and geez Louise, she surely came close!

And then it was, “Callie, don’t give that baby to AG. Don’t do, Callie. Don’t give her that baby.”

That was perhaps the most horrid death I’ve ever seen portrayed on TV. Not in its physical brutality, amount of torture, bloodshed, “creativity” (people — well, Cylons — have been sucked out airlocks before on BG!). The crime shows gleely pursue more and more disgusting things to portray in their attempts to outdo each other with horrid deaths. But Callie’s death was horrific without shedding a drop of blood (other than the blow to the head that initially knocked her to the ground). I still can’t even really let myself fully imagine what that would be like — to come to the realization that your baby has been taken from you by a Cylon (or super-bad guy whom no one else realizes is a super-bad guy, in non BG terms), immediately followed by the realization that within second you are going to be dead, with absolutely no hope that you will survive, you will never see your baby again, and you will go to your death unable to tell anyone that the person who has your baby is a Cylon (super-bad guy). If Callie had time to think about it, she might have thought too that she was going to her death as the only person on the ship who knew that there are murdering traitors on the ship who could cause the death of everyone else, and not even just her baby. But how horrid to see your baby through the glass and count the seconds…

I know, I know. Callie is a character, written by some dudes in Hollywood or Vancouver or whatever, brought to life by an actress who (presumably) is walking around today in perfect health. But for me at least, the ability to empathize with a character, to put myself in his/her shoes and imagine what would that be like is what makes TV/movies/books etc. worthwhile. And, now that I think about it, it’s probably a big part of why I don’t really get into the whole internal Cylon deal. Do Cylons think and feel the same way humans do? I don’t know. I can’t empathize with them. The ones who never knew they were Cylons and presumably do think and feel the same as humans, those I can empathize with a bit more. Imagine you found out you were a Cylon!

I can remember reading Dostoevsky’s Besy (The Demons, or The Possessed), and, when a particular character died and the man who loved her is so devastated, I was crying and asking God, “Why? Why?” (!!!) And then I remembered I was reading a book and should have asked Dostoevsky “Why? Why?”

But back to BG. I found the scenes with Starbuck painful. Not painful-good but painful-unpleasant. This is not the Starbuck I loved. But…maybe it could be OK. The rebel with/without a cause who finally pushes things so far people no longer thinks she’s cool…they just think she’s nuts. We’ll see.

And a compaint…the use of the ubiquitous BG “frak”. I am so sick of this word. In my view it has become nothing more than an excuse to basically use the “f” word constantly. It is now used in every place, every context, every collocation (phrase) that the “f” word is used in in English. Except that much “f” word would make it rated R. I try not to watch a lot of R-rated movies, but there’s no absolute moratorium on it for me. But I really, really get sick of hearing the “f” word over and over and over and over again as if it were about as common and necessary as the word “the.” And on BG, as in the scene between Starbuck and her (estranged?) husband, it’s gotten pretty close to that. Enough already. I don’t want to hear “frak” all day any more than I want to hear the vulgarity it’s oh-so-obviously substituting for.

A Non-Christian Review of an Emergent Book Monday, Apr 14 2008 

Today I came across a review by someone who’s clearly not a Christian but is at least to some extent familiar with Christian belief and the Bible. The review is of emergent church leader Tony Jones’s The New Christians. I thought it was very interesting that this person finds many of the same problems with the movement that (non-emergent) Christians do. Here are some exerpts:

Really, what the emergent church seems to be (if there really is such a thing, since the author never does give a working definition of it) is a bunch of disillusioned people trying to reconcile their Christian faith with human experience. As such they aren’t much different than the Christians who have had seriously questioned their faith throughout history.

*****

In fact, and unfortunately, he was not conclusive about anything at all. He writes and writes but avoids conclusions, he makes no points, or when he does, he quickly retracts them or qualifies them to the point that they are not falsifiable. He revels in ambiguity and fluff.

*****

Not only this, but he repeatedly contorts the bible to allow for dubious postmodern, existentialist interpretations. In my experience this is certainly impossible (and downright dishonest!) without compromising the original intent of the authors. And if one does that, then what is the point?

Jones seems to want to make the Christian faith somehow existential. For instance he says “the Christian faith is a journey -a Way- not a destination.” Personally I think he may have barrowed that idea from Basho or some other poet or philosopher. You certainly don’t find it in the Christian scriptures. You find that Jesus is the “Way” but the destination is always the main focus in the New Testament.

*****

Jones complains that critics of the Emergents fail to see the movement as a whole, or are too quick to generalize. Yet he is also reluctant to give us anything TO criticize. In some places he seems to enjoy this state of ambiguity, and even practically admits that criticizing the movement is like “nailing Jell-O to a wall” (sorry I can’t remember the page reference).

In the appendices there is a response to certain criticism made by D.A. Carson in his book “Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.” I expected a rebuttal of some sort. Now I have not read Carson’s entire book, only selections of it at the store, but from what I saw he was spot-on and his arguments valid, or at least apparently valid, enough to warrant a worthy rebuttal. McLaren, Jones, et al, response addressed nothing. Jones complained they were caricatured and misrepresented (without explaining how), the response consisted of merely affirmed that they really do believe in Christianity (without explaining how), and an offer of friendship to their critics.

Perhaps the new generations of Christians, those conversing with the postmodern world, have felt the need to retreat to ambiguity and contradiction. I understand why this might provide relief – there is a feeling of freedom in that, in not being pinned down. And this attitude itself is great. But I am not convinced that it belongs logically in the Christian faith. I do not see how one can claim to be Christian and also claim to live with this attitude of openness to the possibility of being wrong. Belief in God seems an all or nothing thing. At least that’s the way the bible portrays it. Somewhere in McLaren and Jones, et al, something doesn’t mesh. Either they, deep down, don’t truly believe in God, or they, deep down, are closed on this level to commutation. They can’t be both, can’t they?

That is a lot of text from someone else’s book review…I just found it pretty darn interesting.

BTW, I’m almost finished reading Why We’re Not Emergent…By Two Guys Who Should Be and have found it an interesting read as well. I’ll post a book review of it here at some point.

But don’t hold your breath…about a year ago I said I’d post a book review of the Martin Luther biography I read on my old blog. Yeah, still haven’t done it.