Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Wish-fulfillment versus Tropes

Recently, I got a review for one of my books, "My Life as an Onion."

If you know me, you already know I can be snippy about the kinds of reviews I receive. That is: I can take honest criticism, but being "woke" and a writer (and therefore somewhat insightful) I often cannot help but see the unspoken subtexts going on in reviews. These subtexts are often religious, atheistic, racial, or sexist. If they weren't subtexts, if they were upfront, I probably wouldn't become snippy but when that insightful part of me detects the crappy foundational subtext upon which a review is built then ....yeah...this is when I get snippy.

In the review, the reviewer said my book was wish-fulfillment but still I kinda challenged some of the wish-fulfillment. He also said he doesn't like romances per se and likes fantasy and scifi. So, aside from reading a review where the praise is so reluctant that there is a sense that the reviewer is damning with faint praise, there is also the whole idea that somehow a book is not quite a book if it is wish-fulfillment.

So, is my book wish-fulfillment? And if it is, why am I getting so bent out of shape if a reviewer calls a spade a spade? And why am I seeing racism in everything?

Well, first of all...aren't most fiction --especially romances-- generally wish-fulfillment? It has been said that a story is the soul at war with the spirit. The author manages the battle. A story is often an exploration, and why not the exploration of a wish? It's been said, for instance, that Hamlet is a story where Horatio is a wish-fulfillment characters. He is the dear friend Shakespeare would want and he has given Hamlet such a friend a foil for all the other betrayers in Hamlet's circle. Hell, Shakespeare's plays are full of these perfect "friend" characters. No one sees it as some horrible thing.

But even more telling... White writers and readers are used to seeing their stories as the default. Therefore stories of the beautiful heroine who is beloved by every guy who sees her are normal. Especially if the heroine is what the general standard conceives as beautiful. So it is nothing to the American male, American white male , mind to take it for granted that a beautiful woman  with Euro-features is the object of lust/love of many men. The author of the romance might be not so pretty..but hell, her stand-in is. If the main character is depicted as ugly or dark-skinned, or fat, the typical American male has a problem seeing such a woman as being capable of turning heads. So I decided to write a story with just that... a slightly pudgy girl whom all the guy likes. Why? Cause I'm from Brooklyn. Cause I'm Jamaican. Cause white male tastes may not be the tastes of all the world. And maybe all white males do not want a lemon-titted girl. But also, because little Black girls should also be given stories where their beauty is seen as attractive.

The sad thing is that white male wish fulfillment is such a part of our culture that white society doesn't see it. How many times have we read about or seen movies where some old guy meets a young nubile thing who falls in love with him despite his age? Even worse, how many times have we read about or seen movies where the white guy saves the world? We are told it's a trope. But really, when we have stories where Asians or Blacks save the world, the saviors are usually white-washed because Asians and Blacks apparently can't save the world.

So yes, i'm kinda peeved. Why is my story called wish-fulfillment? But why is the male white story called a trope?
Especially when the typical standard trope often goes unchallenged in these genres. When was the last time the wrong kind of girl one the good guy in a romance? When was the last time the heroic white male didn't save the world? Yes, it happens...but in typical genre fiction, the typical genre writer does not question his wish to appear better than, happier than, stronger than.... etc.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Poem: Mother's Day

Mother's Day -- bitter sweet.

Thinking of
mothers
-- on earth or in heaven,
blessings and lost blessings.
Sick children,
children in heaven.

Once on my mother's birthday
She came to me in a dream
And asked me
Very sadly
If I knew what day it was.
I told her,
“Of course I know!”

I'm always happy
when she turns up throughout the year
in dreams
Although she symbolizes
so many things.

But last night
I dreamed of
my two miscarried children.
Quite a surprise.
 
I was carrying them around
in a little uterus/enema bag.
Almost calcified,
they were encased 
by toys, might-have-been hobbies,
my dreams.
Apparently, I haven't forgotten them.
Life and the heart are strange things.
In heaven,
no death,
no sorrow,
no loss,
no separation any more.
Although my living children are with me
I hope to meet those miscarried dreams there.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Poem: A Grudge as great as the Wall in China



 

A day will come

When you will break down walls.

 

Not your own

But the carefully constructed

Brick and mortar fortresses

Of others.

 

With practiced casualness

You will trample

The gates of enemies and friends alike

And care little that you have trespassed.

 

All will call you

The Demolisher of souls and hearts

And you will no longer regard

Or respect lingual and emotional borders.

 

Your razing of their walls

And raising of your own

Will seem innate,

born of casual causality.

 

And only a few will know

That you were born

As grass, as stubble,

And your transformation

Into a bulldozer

Was nurtured

At the feet of those whose intent was to crush you.

 

At that time,

You will speak what you feel

And all the grudges you have carried

Because you were taught to be

Silent like a sheep that is slaughtered

Will be gone.

Yes, all those grudges

Even the ones

Seen from space,

Those ones as great and winding

And full of history
As the Great Wall of China.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

What Writers can learn from a Writing Contest Judge

 
I recently became a judge for a flash fiction short story competition. It was an interesting experience. Note, I do not say "fun experience" because there were moments which were decidedly not "fun." Especially when I had to (gently) critique a story or reject it entirely. So, I thought it'd be a good idea to share some of the writing advice I gave to some of the contestants.
The genres I judged were scifi, fantasy, ghost stories, and fairy tales.  


Follow the Rules
The very first advice that comes to mind is this: Follow the rules, submit your story to the appropriate genre, try to understand all the elements of a particular genre.  
One story, especially, had me quite torn. It was the best story I'd read in the entire competition, probably one of the best stories I'd read in years. But I had to disqualify it. The author had put it in the wrong category, the scifi category.  I suppose the author thought the story was scifi, but having a sprinkling of scifi catchphrases does not a science fiction story make. 

Other authors were rejected either because their stories did not have all the elements of a genre or the authors decided to go meta wink-wink nudge-nudge and parody a traditional scifi, fairy tale, or fantasy story.  It's best to create your own original fairy tale than to play with a well-known one. I cannot tell you how many "not your mother's fairytale" stories I saw. Worse, these "new" twists on traditional fairytales were not so new at all. Competition judges have read a lot; few "twists" are new to us.    

Know when to begin a story
Knowing when to begin a story is difficult. It is not necessary to start the story with guns blazing. A story that begins too close to the action might confuse the reader if it is badly-executed. So, should we start a story a second, an hour, a day, a month, a year, three hundred years before the event in the opening scene? Infodumping background and backstory at the beginning of a story is problematical. Most readers will not remember names, places, and dates, presented to them at the beginning of a story. Those captains, kings, nations you dumped on them in the opening prologue will have to be interwoven into the story again. Remember that people generally don't care about facts unless emotion is involved, and they don't care about a character's history until they've lived a few hours with the main character in the present.  Some writers use flashback scenes and others sprinkle backstory into a story, interweaving past events into the present. One warning about flashbacks: it's best not to use flashbacks too early in a story. In a novel, wait a few chapters or you will halt the forward thrust of the story. It's best not to use flashbacks in a short story unless one can get away with it. (And never assume you are so skilled that you can get away with breaking the rules.)
Know how many characters are needed
A failed story sometimes has too many characters; this just leads to confusion and a list of names the reader cannot connect to. Sometimes a story has one main character in the beginning then changes to another main character toward the end. Sometimes there is a missing character. Just as there can be a missing line in a story that pulls certain thoughts together, or a missing scene or a missing chapter, the missing character is the hardest character to "see." The writer has to step back and see if everyone present in the story is necessary, and if any essential person is absent. 
Talking heads
Narrative beats are not always necessary but long sections of dialog only punctuated by "he said" or "she said" is a lost opportunity to show aspects of the story, characterization, even subtextual metaphors.
Filtering words
Words such as "I looked," "I saw," "I glanced," "I heard," "I felt," or "I smelled" are filter words. They put a distance between the reader and the story's narrator. If one isn't careful, these words can overwhelm a manuscript, at every sentence. Instead of writing, "She saw him that morning wearing a blue-colored shirt," tweak the story to make it more active. "The blue shirt he wore" or "That morning, he wore a blue shirt." Instead of "She listened to the sounds of a bird singing in the woods," write "The caw of a raven echoed through the pine barrens." Avoid words such as "seemed," "appeared," "felt," "had the feeling," and "realized." They are often a sign that the writer is telling. Don't write "She seemed happy" or "I realized he was holding his breath" or "he looked scared." Try instead, "A smile flickered on her face" or "His shoulders relaxed and a silent sigh escaped his mouth" or "His hands shook."
Vagueness never helps
Use the perfect word. Why use "car" or "sound" when you can use Lexus or hooptie? Or splashing or gurgling? 
Lack of Voice
One of the worst problems I encountered was the lack of voice in the stories. Voice is not difficult, and yet it is one of the hardest things for new writers to master. I wil only say that "voice" reveals the narrator's heart. Sometimes it reveals more, such as the author's culture, obsessions, or preoccupations. But at its basic level, voice reveals the narrator's personality and heart.In the same way that a visual artist chooses a particular palette, medium, or subject, a writer chooses --or allows-- voice. Voice is often found in description. The way a character washes laundry can be conveyed in different way depending on the narrator's backstory, present situation, emotional state, age, rank, wealth, hopes. The description of an abandoned house depends on who is describing it. If the description of the abandoned house in your story could fit into any genre or could be done by any author, that description lacks voice. The writer doesn't have to be over-the-top, but merely himself.   
A story is not a summary
Know what a story is, how to tell it, and how to end it. A story is not a synopsis or a memo. Stories have elements of fiction, which include characterization, description, action, a story arc, a geographical or chronological setting. Many of the stories I read seemed to have characters hanging in space. The season, time of day, locations, were absent or had no effect on the character. Some stories were more like descriptions of situations; there was no beginning, no middle, no end. And some stories felt as if the author thought the twist ending would make up for the lack of plot.  
Watch the coarse language
Coarseness doesn't imply honesty, truth, passion, edginess, or anger, especially if a writer uses the coarse word repeatedly. Also, you never know if the judge is religious or easily offended. If you're going to use a coarse word, make sure it's absolutely needed.  
Be careful when attempting versimilitude
Fiction reflects life but in order to work, it can't reflect life too much. The dialog must feel real, have verisimilitude, but it must also be crafted. If two characters are arguing, don't write every word of the argument in order to show how stressed both characters are. Real-life arguments go on forever...but dialog is perfected conversation.  Have you ever seen a movie where characters are having a boring conversation? The boring conversation lasts just long enough for the viewer to understand that it is a boring conversation. Then the scene ends. The writer doesn't give us the full extent of the conversation but manages to cut away after the plot point is achieved. Consider also good dialogs, which are fictionally styled and carefully-crafted but somehow feel real, natural, and free-flowing.  
Pronoun Referrents
When using pronouns such as "it," "its," "she," "her," "this," "of them," "these," "those," "that," "there," or "which," always remember that the reader is not inside your head. Always ask yourself if the reader will understand what "it" is referring to. 
Watch for overly-long sentences 
Some of the sentences I saw in some stories were doing much too much work.  There is just so much information a sentence can hold. And some sentences work so hard they should be paid overtime. Watch, also, if you overdo it with commas, prepositions, clauses, phrases, etc. 
I hope this helps you. And happy creativity, all!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Pray Without Ceasing

 "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17 KJV)
 "Praise God continually" (Hebrews 13:15)
 
There are two ways in which we can take "pray without ceasing" and "praise God continually." Sometimes people stop praying about a certain thing. On the one hand, I know as i walk through the day I get moments when i suddenly have to pray. And on the other hand, I also feel we should never cease praying for anything or anyone. Often, the verse has been used to be a mystical commandment...always pray even when we aren't praying. Which is true. But more often than not in the Bible, "ceasing from prayer" implies never giving up praying or a particular people or thing. We must never give up on something and say that God won't ever answer that prayer.

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; Colossians 1:9

Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; Ephesians 1:6

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way. 24"Only fear the LORD and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you 1 Samuel 12:23

Friday, February 24, 2017

Poem: Failed

I'm slinging more snot 
than Viola Davis in a crying scene.

And for what? For whom?
For immigrants and deportees I don't know.

This is not good.
I should not be crying;
I who have attempted to cage my heart 
All these tears should be laughable
would be laughable
If the times weren't so dangerous
if our common life hadn't gotten so surreal

I've sheltered myself round
shutdown my newsfeed
tuned my radio to the oldies
kept the TV blaring on SyFy channel
where only fake horrors
like sharks 
(with me so far from the ocean)
assail me. 

But life snipes at me
in spite of all my efforts.
Emails from self-righteous friends 
drag me into conversations
detail my supposed evil 
because I have not picketed,
have not written my senators and congressmen.

They are all very good, my friends.
Their lives are as difficult as mine.
No, no, not so difficult as mine
but difficult enough.
Still, they manage to bear the weight of the world.

Unlike me.
And they judge me for it...
my supposed coldness.

But I am weak,
I want to tell them.
I am unable to bear it.
All this oppression, all this suffering
My body cannot bear it.
No more of these emails
No more of these links 
showing governmental atrocities.

And yes, I know that soon
soon
soon
the government will come after me as well.
 We Black folks
We Christians
Cannot be far behind.

But for the moment, for the moment, for the moment
leave my heart at ease
spare it a tear.
Let me have some time, some time, some time
for my body to heal
from the harm that despair and grief has caused it.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The downside of Christian "help"

Today is my younger son's birthday. He is 27 years old and has battled many illnesses in his life. I, too, have battled illnesses and other issues. One of the types of continuous battles I have endured is the battle against Christian unhelpful advice.

Valentine's Day has just passed.

What Bible verses should I use for Valentine's Day, a day dedicated to friendship, to marriage, and to love?

I thought hard and long about this and I decided on the two verses below because it is my son's birthday and because I have experienced how false or imperfect love is often shown to those with sick children. I will add a nod to Valentine's Day, though. Since we're talking about love and friendship.

Marriage is another thing that Christians judge each other about. Christians who have been divorced after a five year marriage will attempt to give counsel to people who have been married for 30 years. Christians without sick children have attempted to counsel and judge the spirituality of Christians with sick children. Christians who insist on giving other Christians marriage or spiritual advice --whether on phone calls, or through emails, or in person should remember the following two verses.

The Bible states:

Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can fully share its joy. Proverbs 14:10
 
It also states:
 
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, Phil 2:3
 
It is understandable that as a people zealous of good work, we all try to help each other. But, this need to help another by sharing our wisdom with them often rests on these foundations:
 
A) "The person to whom I am speaking does not know what I know."
B) "The person whom I am helping has never had the thought I am now having."
C) "The person to whom I am speaking has not spoken to God or heard from God and/or is not speaking to God about this problem."
D) "No one has ever told this person what I am now telling them."
E) "My desire to tell this person what is on my heart is solely from God and not from my own desire to meddle."
F) "If the person whom I am seeking to help will only do what I say, then all will be well."
 
This kind of reasoning shows that we esteem ourselves and our ideas more than we esteem others. Consider, Job's friends. They were spiritual people and most Christians nowadays are like them. They want to give an answer to another person and they believe they know. But Job's friends are better than modern Christians. Job's friends at least kept quiet for seven days.
 
Like Job, many Christians suddenly have to deal with forgiveness issues after their friends have decided to help them with advice.
 
The Christian "friend" does not realize this. Neither do they realize that their advice can be felt as disheartening  and can feel as if the "helper" is subtly bullying and hinting at them. It makes them feel unheard and preached at. Primarily, however, the "helper" has put the wounded, sick, or sad Christian in the position of feeling unlistened to. There is something so tiring about people not hearing one's heart. And the sad thing is that the Christian who is intent on "helping" her fellow Christian often never seems able to simply shut up.  This shows that it is often not God speaking but that we are dealing with a Christian who, like Job's friends, has a judgmental need to hammer her friend with her theological hammer.

Sometimes, we love others by simply acknowledging that we believe them and the words they have said about their lives.

Happy Valentine's Day, my sweet son and my kind, nonjudgmental and silent friends.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Two protective Psalms kids and adults should memorize


Two psalms that kids should memorize are Psalm 91 and psalm 121.

These are two protecting psalms and psalm 91 especially has a great reputation for saving people in and out of difficulties. This doesn't mean psalm 121 is a slouch. It has its own particular promises which I will get to. And it is easy for a child under 4 to memorize.

Psalm 91:

1 He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.
3 Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.
4 He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
5 Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
6 Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
7 A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.
8 Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.
9 Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation;
10 There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
11 For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
12 They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
13 Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.
14 Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.
15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.
16 With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.

There are many promises in Psalm 91, more than I will go into right now.
And I've already posted about this on my blog and in my book Blogging the Psalms. But for a quick refresher, consider verses 5 and 6. Those who dwell in the secret place of the Most High God are promised safety from evils that come in the night, from swift sudden deadly situations in the day, from plagues, and mass occult infections, and from any kind of destruction in the middle of the day. Those who have anxiety or nameless dread would do well to meditate on this psalm. Verse 3 promises to preserve the one who lives focused on and rooted in God from traps, snares, tricks, and other sneaky bait set by evil predatory people, and it promises freedom from pestilences everywhere.  In the Eastern Text, the phrase translated in the KJV as "noisome pestilence" is different and is "conspiratorial gossip." So, if you want to memorize and believe in that version, go for it!

Psalm 121

1 (A Song of degrees.) I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
2 My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.
3 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
4 Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.
6 The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
8 The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

Psalm 121 takes a more cosmic view of the universal salvation of God. Look at verse 6. We are promised that the sun will not smite us by day nor the moon by night. This might be a reference to when the Israelites travelled from Egypt and a cloud overshadowed them in the day to protect them from the sun's heat while a pillar of light lit their way at night. Like the Israelites, who were baptized with the same baptism as we are, we also are protected in Christ.  But on a purely speculative level, the psalm promises that --should the sun ever go supernova, or should the moon cause all kinds of moon-caused trouble (let's say tidal waves going berserk) the child of God will be protected because the Lord made heaven and earth. Yahweh is not like the Egyptian Gods who only supposedly ruled one area -- rivers, seas, livestock, flies, etc, the sun or the moon. The God of the Israelites ruled over everything in heaven and in the earth.

Moreover, He is able to preserve our soul, spirit, mind and body. He goes before us and after us for all time.



 

Sunday, February 05, 2017

A Little Yeast

I've been thinking of the following two verses:

Such persuasion does not come from the One who calls you. A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. -- Galatians 5:8,9

And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. Mark 8:15

We Christians have to be careful of what and who we allow to speak into our lives. Whether those speakers are pastors, televangelists, prophets (Pharisees) or worldly media or politics (Herod)

A small example. Christians in the USA began to use the media to preach religion. This became the Christian media. Then they began using the Christian media to preach politics. At the same time, the conservative secular media (political, social, and racial issues) saw how good it would be to have Conservative Christians on their side so they took on some of the messages of the Christian media. A strange merging began.

This is where the idea of a little yeast affects the whole lump.

Sometimes I find myself listening to a radio station and I really can't figure out whether it's a Christian station or not. The DJs talk about politics and racial issues and who should be ruling the government so much that it feels as if the Christian radio has lost its TRUE MESSAGE. I understand businesses have to make money, and listeners like listening to people talk. But the dough of conservative Christianity has been taken over by the yeast of Herod. The gospel of the kingdom has given way to the human desire to have an earthly paradise.

The yeast of the Pharisees has already infiltrated Christianity these past 2000 years. Legalism has surpassed Grace in many respect. People preach the tree of the knowledge of good and evil more than they preach the tree of life. The pure simple gospel is very rarely preached without folks adding cultural accretions.

Although Christian Bible-believing progressives don't really have a radio station -- that I'm aware of-- we should also be careful of the yeast of Herod.  We also should be careful of how we preach the gospel and what yeast we put into it.

 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

God: Father, Creator, King

When Adam betrayed God, whom did he betray?

His Father
His Creator
His King
His Friend

Because of this quadruplee betrayal, the sons of man have had a skewed relationship with God.

Adam betrayed his father: the father relationship with God needs to be healed.
They cannot easily see and experience Him as their Father.  In fact, some religions may accept God as Creator but not as Father. The entire idea of God being a loving Father is anathema to them. And there are certain portions of Christianity --uber-Calvinism, for instance-- which declare that they have a loving Father God but which paint God as Someone who creates trouble for His Children. They are able to declare that God is a Father by making Him a very stern Father who micromanages disasters in the lives of His children for some good that only He understands. There are those also who love God but somehow feel rejected or orphaned or like the unfavored child.

Adam betrayed his creator and life-giver: the creator-creature relationship with God needs to be healed.
To be a creature means we owe our existence and allegiance to someone other than ourselves. In Revelation, Jesus says "I am the first and the last." He declares that all life came from Him. In ancient times, before time, Satan came right out and said, "I don't want to be ruled over." Satan knew he was created and at least acknowledged that. But atheistic modern man goes so far as to say there is no one who rules over them or over anything.

Adam betrayed his king: the relationship between subject and king needs to be healed..and man needs to understand which kingdom he should belong to.
God is King and Christ is Lord. The old word "lord" means "owner" and we see its meaning in such words as "landlord" or "lord of the manor." A king rules over a kingdom and a realm, and subjects follow the laws of the kingdom and the king they serve. However, many people don't like the idea of owing their place in the world to God or of obedience. Even among Christians, there are many who love Jesus their savior but do not obey Him as Lord. As people who belong to another kingdom, we must obey the laws of that kingdom....even when we are foreigners on earth. But many Christians indulge regularly in fornication, adultery, theft, lying, gossiping, etc: all actions forbidden by the king of the kingdom we belong to.
  
Adam betrayed his friend: friendship with God must be restored.
Those who cannot easily see God as a Friend often think God keeps secrets from them. But Jesus has told us, "I have called you friends" and throughout the Bible we read that God tells His heart to His friends. A good friend sticks closer than a brother, but we often think of God as being far away. A good friend is a True Companion whose examples we long to copy, but many do not want to imitate Christ and often imitate the habits of the world, their human friends, or the devil.

However Jesus has told us.
"Call God Abba."
"I have called you friends"

Jesus came to restore our life, to preach the kingdom, to make us all kings, priests, prophets, children and friends of God.

It is a great gift and a great restoration.

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