My Favorite Characters

24 July 2017 06:00 am
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Posted by Julianne Lee

Lately I’ve been asked several times who my favorite character is in Her Mother’s Daughter. Particularly, I’m asked about the fictional characters, because the historical figures are who they were and I must portray them as believably themselves.

But with the fictional folk I get to decide who they are, and even within the requirements of plot that leaves me a lot of room for creativity. Some of them end up being like people I’d want to know, and others not so much. But…favorite? Some may stand out more than others. Even the bad guys can hold a special place in my personal pecking order. A clearly imagined and well-crafted villain is as much a pleasure to read or write as the most stalwart yet Achilles-heeled hero.

For Her Mother’s Daughter there weren’t terribly many fictional characters. The story spans the entirety of Mary Tudor’s life, and that life was filled with well-known people. A few of the point-of-view characters are fictional, and among those I suppose the one who strikes me as most likeable is Niccolò Delarosa, the lute player.

In the story he first appears as a musician in Henry’s court, when Mary begins her rehabilitation to her father’s good graces after the death of Anne Boleyn. He’s an Italian of ordinary lineage, but his proficiency with his instrument and his ability to keep his head down and his mouth shut earn him a career in the royal court. And, to his great agony, he has a crush on the king’s daughter. Poor Niccolò spends the next two decades or so, in Henry’s court then in Mary’s, cherishing her. So near, and yet so far. She longing to be loved, and he wishing to oblige, but never able to say so or express his feelings in any way. Over the years he observes the failure of her marriage, and her unhappiness, unable to do anything about it.

I see him as an ordinary guy with a good heart. A solid citizen, good at his job, and loyal to his master and then his mistress. To me, he falls into the category of the sort of guy I’d like to know. The sort who are all too rare in real life. They exist—I’ve known some—and Niccolò is the essence of those good men I’ve known.

But by far the best of the good guys I’ve written was Dylan Matheson. In my first published novel the main character was a classic fish-out-of-water, ordinary-guy-in-extraordinary-circumstances, square-jawed hero. He was a joy. It amused me to hear about him from readers, for it seemed the women all wanted to meet Dylan and the men all thought they were just like Dylan. (I think we should get them all together!)

Son of the Sword is a time travel story in which a modern guy is swept back to 18th century Scotland and the Jacobite Rebellions. There he meets the love of his life, Caitrionagh, and heroism ensues with the aid of an irrepressible Irish faerie named Sinnan. He was with me for three novels, and when it was time to say goodbye in the fourth book, writing his death scene was like pulling teeth. I didn’t want to do it, but it was time.

Each time I end a book or a series I have to leave characters and move on to new ones. It’s tempting to continue the story past its true ending, but that doesn’t serve the narrative or the audience. Once Dylan’s story was done, he had to die.

Having written sixteen novels for publication, and twelve unsold manuscripts before that, I’ve said goodbye to dozens of characters. But Dylan is the one I remember most fondly.


Pard: An Interrupted Nap

24 July 2017 06:00 am
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Posted by Ursula K. Le Guin

Pard: An Interrupted Nap

Linda Long, photographer.
Marilyn Reaves, distracter.
U.K. Le Guin, skritcher.

Pard: Photo by Linda Long

Pard: Photo by Linda Long

Pard: Photo by Linda Long

Pard: Photo by Linda Long

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Theology, history, and context

23 July 2017 09:11 pm
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Posted by Fred Clark

"We're doing history, not theology," the professor said. That suggests that theology, as opposed to history, is an abstract, objective field in which ideas and arguments and doctrines somehow arise wholly independent of "what else is going on." It doesn't work like that. It never has and it never can.


23 July 2017 06:00 am
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Posted by Steven Popkes

I took this picture on the train station on my daily commute. There are four problem species in the picture: Asian bittersweet, Japanese knotweed, bamboo and Concord grapes. Of the four, only the grapes are native.

For us, this year is a particularly bad one for bittersweet. We’re finding it everywhere. The Gypsy moths, which seemed to like everything, leave bittersweet alone. We’re finding it pretty much anywhere there’s any kind of shrubbery.

Different vines use different methods of gaining a foothold. Grapes have tendrils that curl around a base. Poison ivy—one of my particular favorites—actually bores its roots into the barks of the trees it parasitizes. I don’t know if it actually vampirizes the tree but it’s creepy to watch a poisonous plant stick itself right into the bark like some snarling alien.

Bittersweet is just as nasty. It grows around whatever it’s based on, encircling and eventually strangling it. It’s quite prevalent up here in the northeast. I’ve driven sections of highway where both sides are covered in rounded mounds of bittersweet, their searching tendrils sticking out like triffids.

The good news is they’re non-toxic so you can pull them up by hand—and you have to pull them up. They’re like Hydra: cut off a limb and two more shall take its place.

But these are just the visible aspects of a larger problem. The US has a real problem with invasive organisms. In large part, it’s a self-inflicted wound.

This goes back to the very beginning of the United States. Earthworms were not native to the northern US since the last ice age.  The result was deep beds of leaf litter and a rich understory. Enter the lowly earthworm brought over by English colonists in their fruit trees. Notice the lack of deep leaf litter in the area.

Not to mention sparrows and starlings. Sparrows were at least introduced here in an ill conceived attempt to control the linden moth. Ah, but the starling, a relatively ugly bird with noisy habits, was introduced because the American Acclimatization Society thought the USA should have all of Shakespeare’s birds.

There is also the Burmese python. Who would have thought it would have thrived in Florida? I used to have a Burmese but I, like a lot of other people, found it got too big and so I gave it back to the guy I bought it from. He had a 23 and 24 foot pair. They lived in the first floor of his house. These were big enough to eat him.

But my own personal favorite is pampas grass—which you can still buy! Up here if you drive by a marsh that should have an abundance of native grasses and cattails, you’ll see unbroken pampas grass. Nothing eats it. Nothing nests in it. It’s the Styrofoam of the plant kingdom.

It’s interesting that we in the New World seem to get the short end of the stick with invaders. It turns out that the New World has a significantly shallower evolutionary history than the Old World. See here and here.)  I’m not sure why that is. When I read the original article I didn’t see an explanation. Could it be that the New World is the site of the Cretaceous meteor extinction event? Is it size—the Old World has Europe, Asia and Africa. We have North and South America connected by a fragile thread. Not clear.

Invasions are rarely pleasant for the invaders. For example, the brown marmorated stink bug destroys fruits and vegetables because it can reproduce without problems. Why? Because back in China, the bugs original home, there’s a parasitic wasp that lays its eggs on it. The larva hollow out the bug like United Fruit did Central America.

This is a pattern. Species get transported here and do well because they do not have the same predators they did back home. Birds and turtles will eat Gypsy moth larva but with the numbers produced, they can’t keep up. Thank you, Étienne Trouvelot.

Sometimes, I find this sort of thing discouraging. Okay, we’re poisoning the planet but putting out CO2, methane and mercury introduces passive problems into the system. Sure, it’s bad. But the CO2 molecules don’t go out there and make more CO2 molecules. Starlings and pythons are active agents. They’re the equivalent of Von Neumann  or Berserker machines.

But from bittersweet to buckthorn to bullfrogs, human beings are one of the most successful couriers in biological history.  We’re just going to have to live with it.

Interesting side links.


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Posted by Jill Zeller

I was going to write about the Eastern Washington channeled scablands, but this article from National Geographic says it all; how they were formed and the scientific squabble over how they were formed. Also the photos accompanying the article are Nat Geo spectacular.

National Geographic Formed by Megafloods

I could also write about Mount St Helens, one of the other catastrophic events that re-shaped 200 square miles of landscape in a few minutes, also featured in a National Geographic issue that I still own.

There is Crater Lake, formerly Mount Mazama. The Klamath tribe observed and recorded the explosive eruption that collapsed the volcano about 5600 years B.C.E. as an epic battle between the god of the underworld and the sky god.

Our house is situated on the Duwamish River, the blue-collar end of the Green River where it becomes a working water-way. We sit between two ancient Mount Rainier lahars. The Green originates at the foot of the mountain, and will send a wall of water, timber, the houses of Orting, and boulders down our valley when it goes off.

Not all that far away lies Yellowstone, a supervolcano, or rather a caldera formed by multiple volcanos. Just thought I should give it a nod.

But there is nothing like the scablands. I’ve seen a lot of western drylands, from Death Valley to Canyonlands, where natural forces worked to fashion landscapes into the twisted and vast: salted plains, carven hoodoos, sandstone arches, golden canyons. But Dry Falls, Pothole Coulee, and Palouse Falls are eerie. To imagine walls of water channeling ancient lava deposits, smashing them to chunks and carrying these chunks hundreds of miles to spill into the Columbia basin and hurl them out to sea is just about impossible.

No evidence of human habitation has been found in or around Glacial Lake Missoula or the scablands, nor in my quick research for this blog, did I uncover a Native American explanation of what caused the massive floods. But I can only imagine that it was quite a fight.

And yes, I have traveled to all of these catastrophic aftermath locations.



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Posted by Sara Stamey

Since retiring from teaching creative writing, I have not missed the teetering piles of stories and revisions of stories and revisions of revisions of stories to critique, but I find that I do miss leading workshops and mostly Talking About Stories. So I was looking for a book club to join. Then I found out that Kathy L. Murphy, the flamboyant founder of Beauty and the Book and 727 chapters of her Pulpwood Queens Book Club, was going to be returning to Bellingham, WA, to jump start a chapter here. The catch? I would have to wear a tiara….

This was my initial reaction, given my usual active-outdoor attire:

But I went to the meeting to learn more, and was reminded not to judge a book by its cover (even though Kathy acknowledged that book sales are driven by covers). She grew up as a tomboy in small-town Kansas, with a “running wild” outdoors upbringing somewhat like my own: we both had ex-military fathers with four daughters, and all of us daughters were put through physical drills to be tough. But Kathy’s mother, unlike my own, had beauty queen ambitions. She forced Kathy to compete in a humiliating beauty pageant, complete with tiara, when she was in high school.

Kathy reports that she escaped family difficulties through beloved books. Continuing her lifelong love of reading, as an adult she moved to Texas and worked in a bookstore, then landed her dream job as a publisher’s rep. When industry upheavals forced layoffs, she was unemployed and looking for direction. Her sister reminded her that she’d financed her college education by learning hairdressing, so she opened the first combo hair salon and bookstore, Beauty and the Book. The first Pulpwood Queens Book Club chapter followed, an opportunity to support authors and communities of women. Kathy humorously “made lemons into lemonade” by turning her early beauty-queen pageant embarrassment into campy fun. Book club members enjoy dressing in outrageous fashions and wearing their tiaras, because “every woman has a right to show her inner and outer beauty and say what she thinks.”

As word got out about the club’s sponsorship of deserving but not-always-recognized authors, more and more chapters opened around the U.S. and internationally. Kathy became known as a “taste-maker” as she choose the year’s reading lists for all the clubs, and many of the obscure titles she chose went on to large reprint sales and film deals.

She was approached by a division of Hachette Book Group to write a memoir, The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life. From the book:

In January 2000, Beauty and the Book, the only combination beauty salon and bookstore in the country and maybe even in the world, opened its doors…. My crazy little venture succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. If someone had said to me back then that in five years I would move Beauty and the Book from my rural home to a historic house in downtown Jefferson, Texas, I would have said, “No way.” If someone had told me that my book club, the Pulpwood Queens of East Texas, which started with six brave women, would grow to chapters running all across the United States and many foreign countries, I would have told him, “You are flat crazy.” If someone had told me that I would work with companies like Redken and International Paper to promote literacy in communities throughout East Texas, that I would get to hang out with the writers [like Pat Conroy] who have for so long been my idols, and—the icing on my cake—that I would make an appearance on ‘Good Morning America’ with Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson or see myself flashed on the screen during ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show,’ I would have looked him straight in the eye and told him he was plum dee crazy. And yet, these and so many other wonderful things have happened since we opened Beauty and the Book.

I first met Kathy Murphy when she was a speaker at the Chanticleer Authors Conference  a couple years ago.  In addition to her presentations, she held a benefit hairstyling event to give a few attendees “big hair.” Here Kiffer Brown, founder of Chanticleer, gets the treatment:

I’m allergic to hair spray, so since the conference was held on May Day that year, I came as the May Queen with a flower crown instead of a tiara.

Chanticleer sponsored Kathy Murphy’s recent return to Bellingham to open our new book club chapter, present a workshop, and speak at our famous local indie bookstore, Village Books. We learned that two of her recent club picks, books she had sponsored and promoted—Same Kind of Different as Me and The Mountain Between Us—will soon be out in feature film versions. The book clubs also undertake service projects such as providing books for underserved schoolchildren, and helping to fund literary centers.

Authors who are fortunate to have their books chosen for the club find hundreds of new readers, and the buzz spreads. My friend J. L. Oakley, whose historical novel of early women in the Pacific Northwest, Timber Rose, was a club pick, reports a strong surge in book orders.

Kathy has a gift of picking stories with heart that resonate with readers across the spectrum. And she has an equal gift for irreverent fun. Her annual “Girlfriends Weekend” in Nacogdoches, Texas, now welcoming male members of the offshoot Timber Guys clubs, mixes silly costume  parties and skits with presentations by prominent authors such as Pat Conroy and Alice Hoffman. Friends who have attended report that the community spirit generated, and the forging of friendships around books, are the biggest rewards of joining the groups.

Anyone can start a chapter in his or her own location by registering at   I’m polishing my new tiara and turning pages before our first club meeting in Bellingham!

photo credits: Kathy L. Murphy, Kiffer Brown, and J.L. Oakley


You will find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here on alternate Saturdays. Sara’s newest novel from Book View Cafe was recently released in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection.  It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?”  The novel has received the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction. Sara is counting down the weeks before she returns to Greece this fall for more research on the sequel, The Ariadne Disconnect.


New Worlds: Profanity

21 July 2017 01:00 pm
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Posted by Marie Brennan

(This post is part of my Patreon-supported New Worlds series.)

Content note: by dint of the subject matter, this post is going to contain a number of offensive words.

Like last week’s essay on insults, there are a lot of foul words in this post. But I find it interesting that, at least in the modern United States, many of us would consider them far less offensive than some of the slurs from last week — because the words traditionally considered “profanity” have spread through mainstream discourse, losing much of their power to shock along the way, while pejorative terms for groups marked by ethnic, religious, sexual, or gender difference have become increasingly unacceptable in polite conversation.

And you know what? I’m okay with that.

I’m still going to put the rest of this behind a cut tag, though, because people’s mileage on four-letter words varies.

Here again there are patterns in what’s considered to be profane (in the “offensive” rather than “not sacred” sense). In English, the two main sources of vulgar language are religion, and matters of the body.

On the religious side, we have “hell” and “damn.” Profanity is also sometimes referred to as curse words, and that sense is very clear here; if you damn someone to hell, you are literally attempting to curse them. Some people also consider “Jesus Christ” and “God” to be off-limits, because of the prohibition against taking the Lord’s name in vain. That mentality has been fading over time, though, and most of our other religious swearing has become so obsolete as to sound quaint: “Zounds!” is a shortening of “God’s wounds,” i.e. the wounds suffered by Christ, but few people can take that seriously these days. Ditto “gadzooks,” which used to be “God’s hooks,” the nails used in the crucifixion, and “’sblood,” “God’s blood.” The very British-sounding intensifier “bloody” may have a connection to that last one; how offensive it is today depends on who you ask.

Blood leads us to the body and our other source of swearing, mostly via excrement and sex. A lot of the charge around obscene words come from the violation of taboos: you aren’t supposed to talk about bodily waste, so “shit” and “piss” and “ass/arse” are shocking. (And if you don’t want to be shocking, you retreat to euphemisms like “water” or much more academic terminology like “feces” and “urine” — which, because of how English developed, are Latinate instead of earthy Anglo-Saxon.) You also aren’t supposed to talk about sex, so “fuck” is similarly charged. “Sodding,” another word associated with British English more than American, is shortened from “sodomize,” which puts it alongside “bugger” in the categorization of our curses.

But this varies from language to language. Last week I mentioned the Japanese chikushou or “beast,” which is used as an expletive much like we might say “shit!” or “damn!” when something goes wrong. In English you might say something is beastly, but it isn’t quite the same thing. Dennis Tedlock’s book of Zuni narrative poetry, Finding the Center, leaves the archaic words tísshomahhá and hanáhha untranslated, saying “they have no meanings other than the emotions they are supposed to express,” explicitly contrasting them with the religious and bodily references of English interjections. I’d love to get examples from other languages, especially from outside the sphere of long-term Christian influence — are there clusters of swear words that arise from different conceptual sources?

Speculative fiction has a long history of trying to come up with invented substitutes for standard English profanity. Some of these are obvious swaps, often done to get around TV restrictions on language: Farscape’s “frell” or Battlestar Galactica’s “frak” are pretty transparent. I have to admit I find “frell” unconvincing, simply because it sounds so pretty. In English most of our swearing comes from Germanic roots, which gives it a certain sound; “frell” is too light and liquid to pass. “Frak,” on the other hand, has that hard stop at the end, which makes it sound more like profanity to me. C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy subs in “vulk,” which is more than just a random set of phonemes: the planet the series takes place on is extremely seismically active, so that earthquakes and volcanic activity are a constant threat. Since the planet was settled by colonists from Earth, it makes sense that the volcano/vulcanology root would give rise to “vulking” as a curse word.

On the religious end of things, sometimes I think you can’t throw a rock at epic fantasy without hitting an oath built on the structure of “[god]’s [noun]” — where the noun is usually either a body part or an iconic object. As the examples above show, that’s not unrealistic, but it does get predictable and tedious after a while. The Wheel of Time associates good with lightness and evil with darkness, which has problematic connotations I’ll get into in a later post, but it also gives rise to some setting-specific forms of swearing: light = fire, so while “Light!” is a socially acceptable interjection, “burn me” and “ashes” are considered much more vulgar. In a world where floods are a frequent problem, maybe water-based terminology would become a source of oaths. Decay has mild usage in English, via “rot,” but you could build more on that principle; ditto the closely-related issue of disease.

But in the end, the challenge here isn’t to come up with a new swear word; it’s to convince the reader of the weight that word carries. In Mary Gentle’s Book of Ash series, she has her present-day historian translate medieval profanity into modern idiom, because he knows the originals just won’t have the right impact on his readers. To really convey the sense of transgression, you need everything around it in the story to reflect that. If your pov character doesn’t normally use such language, have them flinch from it. If the speaker is normally much better-mannered, acknowledge how much of a breach this is. Think of whatever you consider to be a truly offensive word, think of how you would write about that word coming up in your own daily life — and then make it that real in the story, too.

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Posted by Fred Clark

“The scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The laborer is worthy of his reward” (I Timothy 5:18). So tip 20 percent. At least. Divide by five and round up. If you also plan to: A) say grace aloud before the meal; B) ask your server if he/she is “saved;” and/or C) leave a gospel tract on the table when you leave, then make that 40 percent.
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Posted by Fred Clark

Glioblastoma multiforme killed my grandmother. And then, years later, it killed my mother. That's what this disease does. It kills people. It is, as we keep hearing today in the news, a very "aggressive" form of brain cancer. There is no cure. It is a matter of months. Perhaps a year, but not two.

The Language Attic: Glaive

20 July 2017 06:00 am
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Posted by Nancy Jane Moore

Webster'sAs I’ve mentioned before, my sweetheart’s daughter comes over periodically to consult our very large (and rather old) unabridged Merriam-Webster dictionary. She keeps a word list and, judging by the words on it, she’s been reading a lot of older works.

The other day one of her works was glaive. It sounded familiar to me, and when she read out the definition in Webster’s, I said, “Aha. I was right. A glaive is a naginata.”

Which settled the question for me, but probably not for those unfamiliar with traditional Japanese weapons.

A naginata, or glaive in both English and French, is a weapon about the length of a spear that has a single-sided blade on the end instead of just a sharp point. That is, you can cut with it, not just stab as you do with a spear.

Glaive appears to be an obsolete term, more common in history and old-fashioned stories, though apparently the word is used poetically for sword. The only references I can find to modern training with it appear to be related to the Society for Creative Anachronism.




Naginata, on the other hand, is not obsolete at all as either a word or a weapon. It may not be used in war these days, but people study the martial art of naginata in modern times. Naginata training is common in Japan, but also exists in other countries.




Here’s one of the cool facts about naginata: most of the grand masters today are women, as are most of the students. That’s in part because the naginata was considered an appropriate weapon for a samurai woman, particularly if she found it necessary to defend her home in the absence of her menfolk.

In Japan, girls study the art of naginata in school. I once met some masters from Japan who were visiting Washington, DC, for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. They were women in their 60s and 70s.

I cannot find any reference to western women using a glaive, more’s the pity.

I personally love a good sword, but there is a real advantage to a naginata (or a glaive): Reach. You don’t have to get close to someone to cut them. I always liked the six-foot staff (bo in Japanese) for a similar reason. It’s nice to be able to hit someone from a distance.

But a staff with a blade. Can’t get much cooler than that.


It’s about to be writ again

19 July 2017 08:20 pm
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Posted by Fred Clark

Is there life on Mars? Republican House member seeks answers on Mars-ghazi. Plus: Backwards-masking and the P&G rumor; the 1811 pamphleteer who blazed a trail for Charismanews; the Rule of Threes; and another reminder that requiring children to recite a daily loyalty oath is creepy.
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Posted by Linda Nagata

“The Martian Obelisk” is my first story for and it’s just up today. Find it here online. This is a story I originally wrote a few years ago, but I wasn’t happy with it. In part, it struck me as just too grim for the times, but since then, we have entered a much grimmer age.

Last fall I pulled the story out of a file folder, re-read it, and decided to spend a little more time working on it. After putting it through another revision, I asked editor Ellen Datlow if she would like to see it. She agreed to take a look, and to my surprise and delight, she accepted it.

As grim as it is, “The Martian Obelisk” is also a sentimental story. On Twitter, Aimee Ogden described it as “starkly hopeful.” I think that’s right.


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Posted by Steven Harper Piziks

Steven Harper PiziksA while ago, I heard about the book UND WAS HAT DAS MIT MIR ZU TUN? (AND WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH ME?) by Sacha Battyany. It’s about a man who discovers that in 1945, his great-aunt, who was a countess in Austria, threw a huge party with her husband. Around midnight, she gathered the guests and, at her behest, they went down to a work camp, where they all casually murdered 180 Jews. Then they got into their chauffeur-driven cars and went home.

Battyany, a Millennial, had never heard about this part of his family history.  He started digging, and discovered that lots of people knew about this, and the incident had been widely reported in the local news at the time, but no one talked about it.  He wrote about his findings and the impact his search had on him and his family.

Battyany wrote in German, and the book isn’t available in English until October.  I downloaded the sample chapters in German to my Kindle to see what they were like for myself.

I wasn’t interested in another book about the Holocaust itself.  It’s been covered extensively, and I teach MAUS every year to my seniors.  I was more interested in this book for the outsider’s perspective.  What do you do when you learn your family was involved in something terrible?  Especially something most of your family knew about but never told you?  How do you live, knowing just a few miles away from your house, an entire population is being tortured and killed?

My own family has at least one dreadful person in it.  While researching the Drake family tree, I found the will of a cousin or uncle who owned slaves in the 1800s.  His will stated that although he had promised one of his slave women her freedom upon his death, he had recently changed his mind because of her “uppity ways” and he was instead willing the slave to his daughter.  It makes me sick to think we’re related.

So I was interested in Battyany’s findings and reaction.

However, German books are hit-or-miss for me.  German is a difficult language for non-natives to read, more difficult than Spanish or French, partly because of the structure of the language, but mostly because of the attitude of the writers.

English gives you the sentence in pieces.  In general, we start with the subject (who is doing something), then go to the verb (what happens), then we go on to other bits like prepositional phrases that tell us where and when things happen.  As an example, take Jimmy should go shopping for his mother in the the city tomorrow.  We build a slow picture.  First we see Jimmy, then see what he’ll do (should go shopping), then who he’ll do it for (his mother), then when and where (in the city, tomorrow).  We can mix things up a bit, but we still build the picture of what’s happening in pieces.

German, however, is a big-picture language.  You have to get the whole sentence before you know what’s happening.  The example sentence above would read in German Jimmy soll morgen in die Stadt fuer seine Mutter einkaufen gehen. This literally means Jimmy should tomorrow in the city for his mother shopping go.  Notice the word order.  Although we know Jimmy SHOULD be doing something, we don’t know what it is until we get to the very end of the sentence, though along the way we learn his mother and the city are involved.  In order to understand the meaning, we have to hold the entire sentence in our heads until we get to the end and CLICK! We get the whole picture at once.

This takes some practice, if you didn’t grow up doing it.  It’s like being used to seeing a picture by assembling jigsaw pieces and then suddenly being expected to see it by having it snap into existence on the table.

German writers take an almost malicious glee in creating long, tortuous sentences in which you have no idea what’s going on until the last three words of a 100+ word section.  In order to get my German degree, I had to read a lot of German literature, most of it written during the angst-ridden post-war years, and it was indeed tortuous to read.  It put me off reading German literature for a long, long time.

German newspapers and magazines are equally difficult.  Unlike their American counterparts, who keep to a simple, straightforward style meant to be easy for all readers, German journalists deliberately use an awful, long-winded, twisted style, complete with eye-wrenchingly (or jaw-crushingly) long words that no sane person uses in everyday conversation.  I don’t know where this got started, but it needs to stop.  It annoys native Germans, in fact, but journalists keep it up anyway.

And there’s the fact that I’m not fluent in German anymore.  I used to be, but years of being away from the country and lack of constant practice have rusted me.  My understanding is much better than my production, but German is still a greater challenge than it once was.

All this is a roundabout way of saying that I approached Battyany’s book with a wary eye.  I could wait until October for the English translation, but that felt like cheating.  Besides, translations are never as good as the original.  So I downloaded the sample chapters in German to my Kindle and cracked it open.

To my delight, I could read it with ease.  Battyany, a journalist, avoids the awful German newspaper style and writes in a more conversational style, and I’m having no trouble following him.  I stumble across the occasional unfamiliar word (it took me longer than it should have to untangle a reference to semen donation, for example), but like I teach my students to do, I breeze past them unless it’s clear I need to know the word or phrase to follow the passage–and in that case, the Internet gives me the translation in seconds.  I’m reading slower than in English, but faster than I expected.

Battyany’s story is compelling, and when I reached the end of the sample chapters, I downloaded the full novel.  A little light reading for vacation!  🙂

–Steven Harper Piziks

DANNY on sale now at Book View Cafe.

Danny Large


New Service at Radford Editorial

19 July 2017 06:01 am
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Posted by Phyllis Irene Radford


Have you ever had a short story rejected before it is even read because the harried and harassed editor has no time or patience to deal with sloppy or incorrect formatting?

As co-editor of the bestselling anthology “Alternative Truths” available at

or contact us at

I can tell you that I spend way too much time tearing my hair and cursing the authors who try to force a computer to behave like a typewriter and totally ignore all the underlying code that screws things up. If I bought the story I’d spend half my editing time cleaning up all that underlying code.

Not all of you can, or want to learn Paragraph Styles that automatically sets up your manuscript the way it is supposed to look today in the modern world of electronic publishing. I work with people who regularly format books for e-publishing all the time. They have slapped my hand often enough that I know what they want. And if they change requirements, they will tell me and I will adapt.

So, I am setting up a new level of service. No editing at all, just turning your short story–or even a novel–into a workable, manuscript format for today’s standards. Rates will vary by length, starting at $5 for a short story 5000 words and under and go up from there depending upon length and complexity. This includes everything from setting automatic indent, nuking extra spaces, checking the consistency of em dashes and hyphens, making curly quotes slant in the proper direction, and separate styles for title, byline, interior quotes, and scene separators.

With this service you can feel confident that most editors will at least try to read your story. Of course you must read their guidelines to check for anomalies. Some places want a separate title page for your contact information. Some want no headers at all. Some want it camera ready. Send me a link to those guidelines if they read anything but “Standard Manuscript Format” and I will adapt.

So, if you need help, please contact me at editor AT radfordeditorial DOT com. (you should know how to adapt that.)



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Posted by Fred Clark

In an essay on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Stanley Hauerwas asks "What made it possible for him to see the character of the regime Hitler represented when so many others did not?" He looks for an answer in the academic theology Bonhoeffer studied in seminary, but the real answer is to be found several blocks north of there.

Shaking the dust off their feet

18 July 2017 08:02 pm
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Posted by Fred Clark

In the age of Trump, John Fea writes, many "evangelicals are experiencing a crisis of faith as they look around in their white congregations on Sunday morning and realize that so many fellow Christians were willing to turn a blind eye to all that Trump represents." And the Rev. Lawrence Ware confirms this, explaining "Why I'm Leaving the Southern Baptist Convention."

Reading for Fun and Points

18 July 2017 10:14 am
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Posted by Madeleine E. Robins

Sherwood Smith wrote on Saturday about revisiting classics that were foisted on you as a teen and discovering that they were really pretty good (as always with Sherwood’s posts, she writes about many different things in one essay, but this is one part of what she’s talking about). I read a bunch of “classics”assigned in high school, as, I suspect, we all did, and some of them I cordially loathed. But I also had a fairly ambitious program of reading outside what was required at school, which was based on a simple criterion: if it was “classic,” or old, if I felt I should read it, I read it. Or wedged my way through it, regardless of actual comprehension. The only book that ground me to a halt was War and Peace. I read Candide, which I loved, and Manon Lescaut, which I liked, and Wuthering Heights, which made me want to slap every single character in it, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which is much, much longer than any film version had led me to believe.

Granted, at that age I was reading everything. Science Fiction from the spinner racks at the drug store; gothic romances, ditto; suspense and historicals from the library; and all sorts of books from my parents’ mixed bag collection of thrillers, best sellers, and classics. I homed in on the classics, i.e., anything I felt that I ought to read.

Did I enjoy them? Some of them, very much. Others I made it through the way I would eat liver for dinner: slowly and unhappily. So why do it? Because I really coveted markers of smartness. Throughout high school I racked up a body count of Great Books, a sort of intellectual check off list that I thought somehow improved my educational resume. I really really wanted to be smart, see, and if reading Crime and Punishment would help, then Crime and Punishment I would read. 

Some of the books read I made my way through once and never attempted again  (that run at War and Peace gave me such an aversion to Tolstoy that I never went back) and others I’ve read more than once–in the case of Austen and Charlotte Brontë, more or less annually. With books that I loved then, in most cases I have loved them later, but find layers of richness that escaped me on that first read.  

As for the rest of them? I think Sherwood was absolutely right that many of the books I read I was not ready for. I needed to be older to appreciate Dickens’s ability to sketch instantly recognizable characters. I needed to be older–and to know more history–to really get Eliot and Henry James and Dostoevsky. But you couldn’t tell me that when I was 15. I know now that I did myself a disservice in collecting great books like Pokemon. And–which I did not understand then–what’s a Great Book changes over time, the list keeps growing, and you will never catch them all.

In my next life I will leave some things to later. I will also be readier to understand that a few years can change my appreciation of a book. At least, I hope so.


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Posted by Fred Clark

Take a moment to ponder that and to consider the staggering level of hypocrisy and ingratitude it takes for Gentile Christians today to play the role of that circumcision faction. Are we so foolish? Did we experience so much for nothing?

When Christian Gatekeepers Attack

17 July 2017 05:49 pm
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Posted by Fred Clark

Dave Gushee writes about last week's Eugene Peterson debacle as someone with first-hand experience of what it's like "When the evangelical establishment comes after you." It's not a pretty story.

Why I Workshop

17 July 2017 06:00 am
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Posted by Julianne Lee

It was January of 1987 when I decided to make professional publication my goal. I’d completed one novel, which still has never sold (and shouldn’t ever see the light of day,) and on that dreary winter afternoon I began another. I also bought my first copy of Writers’ Digest at the Hendersonville Bookstore, which is now a nail salon.

Of course I was clueless. I’d been writing as a hobbyist since I was twelve, but didn’t have the faintest idea where to look for a chink in the battlement of professional publishing. I’d never heard the term “over the transom,” and the Internet at that point was limited to government employees, university students, small, isolated bulletin boards. and Usenet. I was five years away from buying my first computer, and spent my days typing out my early work on a $75 manual typewriter. A year later, having completed and polished my second novel, I took it down to the printing shop to photocopy it, and began sending it out.

Then I went to work on my third unsold manuscript.

I only ever sent my work to professional publishers (nowadays called “royalty” or “traditional” publishers), because back then self-publishing, or “vanity” publishing, cost far more money than I had just lying around, and I had no desire to become a book distributor. Print-on-demand didn’t exist. Ebooks were a distant dream that smacked of Star Trek. Traditional publishing was what we just called “publishing.” I wrote manuscripts and sent them to New York, and the machine I wrote them on did not have an electrical plug, never mind a monitor.

Four years and four unsold manuscripts later, frustration crept in and I began to realize I was getting nowhere. I’d subscribed to Writers’ Digest and read it every month, but it told me nothing that wasn’t known by every other yahoo with a typewriter looking for an editor or agent. One of those things it told us all was when and where there were workshops all over the country. Workshop. It rang in my ears like vacation. No interruptions, no distractions, no worries but to put one word next to another.

I found one in Louisville, KY, a week-long novels retreat in the dead of winter, when my husband was home and could run the household while I was gone. I took a Christmas job in the gift-wrapping department of Castner Knott, and earned enough cash to pay for the trip and tuition.

The Green River Writers’ first Novels In Progress Workshop in January 1991 was, for me, better than a vacation. It was a palpable step in the right direction. Each day I was there I only wrote, read books, and talked about writing and books. My mentor was Jim Wayne Miller, a noted Appalachian poet and award-winning novelist. Each evening students would hang out in the dorm lobby, chatting long into the night about the craft of writing. Some were poets just trying their hand at long form fiction. Some, like me, were committed novelists who rarely wrote short stories, much less poetry. In that one week I was steeped in the craft, then when the weekend came we all got to meet with editors and agents flown in from New York and North Carolina.

I had hives. I’d met rock stars without flinching, but I’d never before spoken to a genuine editor or agent and had no clue what to expect. Turned out these were very kind people, but weirdly none of them had any interest in fiction. Odd they should come to a novels workshop, but still I came away with a far better sense of the business than I’d had going in. It was experience I could use in future cover letters, and I did.

I attended the GRW NIPW for two more years as a student. Every year I learned something important. Each time I went, the support and camaraderie charged my batteries for the work of writing and submitting that work during the following year. I always went with the knowledge I was making good use of my time, and the conviction I was moving closer to publication. I figured if I kept improving as a writer, eventually they would have to publish my work.

My third year I had the most astonishing compliment from Jim Wayne Miller, who was again my mentor. I’d brought my guitar because I liked to play during breaks from the writing. One day I was alone in the dorm lobby, playing and singing “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” Jim Wayne arrived, and headed for his office, but he stopped to listen. When I finished, he asked, “Did you write that?”

I wish. I replied, “No, that’s Bruce Springsteen.”

He proceeded toward his door, but said as he went, “Oh. Sounds like you.”

I was flattered into little, bitty pieces and got scattered all over the floor. Yes, I’m bragging. For a writer, those moments are few and far between, and we must make the most of them.

In any case, I did make actual progress with my writing from the workshopping. My confidence improved, my actual skill improved so that, starting with my sixth unsold manuscript they began to become truly publishable.

It took another several years and an equal number of unsold manuscripts before I finally sold my thirteenth novel from an outline. For several years after that I taught at that same workshop. I learned as much by mentoring as I had as a student. This year I intend to go looking for a retreat for professionals, where I can spend a week or so doing nothing but writing, reading, and talking about writing and reading.

I feel like a vacation.


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