A gathering place for readers, writers, and other advocates for a more just world

Archive for the ‘About how to “be the change”’ Category

My Writing Process: a stop on a blog hop tour

“The author Marta Merajver-Kurlat http://www.martamerajver.com.ar/marta/index.php/blogroll), author of Just Toss the Ashes and Living with Stress among others, invited me to participate in this blog hop tour and answer these four questions about my writing process.”


What am I working on?

 I am writing a sequel to my first novel, Pieces of You, which will be set exclusively in the future; whereas, Pieces’ protagonist, Mark, time-traveled from past experiences to the near future to the beyond. The title of my new novel, Battle of Jericho 2035, gives ample detail about the  plot. Using the example of how Joshua and his army won the battle of Jericho in a Biblical story, they did not knock the wars of the city down by force. They just marched around it (as commanded by God) and the walls fell flat on the seventh day, after  the 13th march.

In my Battle novel, the masses of people on Earth are controlled by a world council of super rich led by the leadership of one bank, nicknamed CandyLand. The people’s rations have been cut to the level of near starvation due to a malfunctioning space elevator. CandyLand’s director has ties to an unscrupulous group, while insurgents among the people are linked to Mark and his team of supernatural beings. There is sacrificial love as in the first novel, but the actors are not the same and the decisions could affect millions, not just Mark’s loved ones.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It’s easier forstanding on a book me to offer similarities. I’d like to think my current work has some things in common with C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy, especially the first book, Out of the Silent Planet.  As one of that book’s reviewers stated, “The most compelling points are the simple conclusions Lewis comes to about human nature and the corrupt world we live in.”

Science fiction is defined by readwritethink.org (a website that offers teaching resources) as “often about technology of the future detailing partially true theories of science. (If  it bends to the  unbelievable, it is labeled fantasy). The plot creates situations different from those of both the present day and the known past. Science fiction texts also include a human element, explaining what effect new discoveries, happenings and scientific developments will have on us in the future.” My story fits this criteria but injects social justice issues, typical of some but not all SciFi writers.


        3)            Why do I write what I do?

I’ve always loved science fiction best, maybe because it demands a creative flair, and maybe because it manifests possibilities within our impossible dreams.

I do believe it’s possible to write into being a different world, at least from the perspective that we can envision what it will look and act like. My hope is that my narratives will inspire readers to join with other dreamers and together become the architects of at least the foundations of this new world.

 Although I can’t explain why, I don’t believe I could ever write strictly to entertain. And although nonfiction—especially business and academic writing—has been my domain for most of my life,  those genres aren’t appropriate for my current writing goals. People read non-fiction to learn more of what interests them, not to have their beliefs and prejudices disturbed. While reading fiction, we absorb new information but in a more subtle and very effective way, by imagining ourselves there.

How does your writing process work?

 Not very effectively! Many of my colleagues have formulas that others applaud and often try to replicate. You won’t get that from me… I’m still working on “finding my voice,” on finding that place within myself where confidence, creativity, and competence merge.

 I don’t write regularly, in fact I seem to subconsciously (or deliberately) restrain the  urge to write. Some of that is my fear of failure—while acknowledging that not trying is a certain path to failure. The rest I chalk up to perfectionism. A former communications professor said something that has stayed with me all these years. It succinctly describes the problem with perfectionism: “you cannot be a participant and observer, too.” Too often I choose the observer role and then wonder why I can’t loosen control over my thinking to let in the light (of insight).

 I’m still searching for that precious place about which a Zen master told Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones: “If you go deep enough in writing, it will take you everyplace.” So instead of telling you how my writing process works, I will state unequivocally how I know my writing process should (maybe will?) work—actually it’s taken from Natalie—“..and though death is howling at our backs and life is roaring at our faces, we can just begin to write, simply begin to write what we have to say.”


Joyce’s first novel, completed in August of 2012, was a response to a loss that made her ask some deep questions. Pieces of You, about a mystical journey that will make the protagonist capable of the sacrifice love asks of him, is available through amazon.com. Her author page: http://www.amazon.com/Joyce-Elferdink/e/B008ZTCRUY/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0  includes a book trailer. A sequel will be published later this year.*     

I am inviting Lori Foroozandeh to join our Blog Hop Tour next week. Information about her horrendous experiences in an Iranian POW camp as told in her book can be found here:

http://www.loris-song.com/ (WEBSITE)
http://lorissong.com/ (BLOG)
https://twitter.com/Loris_Song (TWITTER)
https://www.facebook.com/lforoozandeh#!/lforoozandeh (FB)
http://www.amazon.com/Lori-Foroozandeh/e/B002NSC2DU/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1 (AMAZON)

I Geek a Liberal Arts Education (LAE)

The article linked below from the online version of the Chronicle of Higher Education points out some convincing reasons to “geek” a liberal-arts education. A primary  argument is that it teaches us how to learn. Rather than learning a particular task that will soon become obsolete, we learn how to  analyze the topic and discover its application to new situations. According to the author, Nannerl O. Keohane, “teaching focus, critical thinking, and the ability to express oneself clearly both in writing and speaking [are] skills that are of great value no matter what profession you may choose.”


Margaret Nussbaus, author of Not for Profit, poses a second argument, stating that democracies need “complete citizens who can think for themselves, criticize tradition, and understand the significance of another person’s sufferings and achievements.” With this capacity, we can make significant contributions to our communities rather than wringing our hands or feigning indifference because changes elude us.

Then there is the argument that a liberal-arts education just makes us more interesting–to ourselves as well as to others.  Our inner thoughts are not bounded by what others have told us; we can explore new worlds with words as our passport. We can astonish our acquaintances by giving them something substantial to think about.  And we can explore ideas–and answers–together!

Do you geek LAE, too?  If so, I’ve got a universe or two I plan to explore, but I prefer to travel with friends…

Demons are More Popular Than Angels

(Based on the Supernatural as Depicted in Novels & Films)

I  originally wrote this article for The Write Room blog. Please read it here but add your comments to the diverse reactions at this link: http://www.thewriteroomblog.com/?p=1209#comments

 Paradiso_descending soulsA while back I reviewed an author’s novel with the understanding that he would reciprocate. When I didn’t hear from him for a few weeks, I asked if he had finished mine. His answer: “No, I can’t read it—there is an angel in your story and I’m an atheist.” I was shocked. In the last few years so many movies and books have supernatural characters that I couldn’t believe one angel would be that disconcerting. Since demons, ghosts, witches, vampires or other spirits deemed evil are the subjects of a great many box office hits (have you seen movie previews lately?), what could possibly make a grown man squeamish about one supernatural being on the good side of the list?
We’ve certainly had an abundance of authors writing about the supernatural—both good and evil. When I searched Amazon for “angels in books,” the result was 90,088 books (although some of these are “fallen angels”). The key word demon yielded 22,170;  witches, 28,110; vampires, 37,698; and ghosts, 89,786 for a total of 177,764 on the malevolent side of the spirit world.
There was a time when angelic beings were more popular than the demonic—or at least more acceptable in movie theaters. The 1947 Academy Award winner was about a man who had given up his dreams in order to help others and whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brought about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody. That same year, Angel on My Shoulder, a film about a deal between the Devil and a dead man  did something unique for the times—it depicted hell—and it didn’t do nearly as well financially.  In those days, angels had the higher approval ratings. Now, while society may not be exactly rooting for the dark side, people are fascinated by tales of the demonic. Consider, for example, the popularity of The DeVinci Code, The Blair Witch Project, and most of Stephen King’s books and movies.
These examples of book topics and changing movie popularities are insufficient for a statistical conclusion, but they do support my perception that modern Americans find the evil side of the supernatural more interesting, even more believable, than the good. If you believe in demons, as does the novelist who couldn’t read my book; wouldn’t you have to believe there are good spirits, too? Everywhere we look in our world we find opposites. It is the related concepts which are opposite in meaning, (e.g., up and down, right and left, good and evil) that allow us to use language to distinguish people, places, ideas, and things.
I believe in the existence of good and evil and research proves I’m not in the minority. Most people, like me, seem to accept its representation in angels and demons.  I ‘ve just never paid much attention to angels, thinking they live apart from my world, in an unreachable place.  And since in my youth I was terrified of evil spirits, I chose to ignore the possibility of their presence.

I still tend to ignore the angelic, even though I made one a character in my novel.  But I can no longer ignore the demonic; stories and images are first view of Exorcisteverywhere. In the first two decades following It’s a Wonderful World, moviegoers’ tastes favored drama but not horror, but then came Rosemary’s Baby in 1968 and the Exorcist in 1973. And the horror has never stopped, only gotten more sensational (a list of movies for rent last Halloween proves this point).

The question I wrestle with is why the demonic side currently seems more interesting or at least more popular than its opposite. (more…)

The Power of Words–and Words to Prove It!

I have been teaching my Public Speaking students about language, especially the  great power of our words to create or destroy.  Writers  are always influencing  by the words  we choose to describe something or someone.  I wonder if we are constantly conscious of what we are doing…. Do we always choose the word that is the clearest and most descriptive, and not a judgment? After all, readers are limited to the world we create, with its values and visions of what is–or could be–in it. Are we painting brave new worlds with our word pictures or are we prescribing a life that only gratifies or glorifies our self-centered natures? And are we conscious of the beauty and precision of the grammatical context of our words, or do our fingers go tripping and tumbling along a path, throwing commas and other punctuation wherever we please with no thought to scooping up the excess?

Here are some possible answers, quotes I found on Goodreads:

magnetic-poetry“Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say infinitely when you mean very; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” ― C.S. Lewis

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.”― Ludwig Wittgenstein

“Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.” ― Jodi Picoult, Salem Falls

“There exists, for everyone, a sentence – a series of words – that has the power to destroy you. Another sentence exists, another series of words, that could heal you. If you’re lucky you will get the second, but you can be certain of getting the first.” ― Philip K. Dick, VALIS

“We live and breathe words. …. It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone. They could be honest with me, and I with them. Reading your words, what you wrote, how you were lonely sometimes and afraid, but always brave; the way you saw the world, its colors and textures and sounds, I felt–I felt the way you thought, hoped, felt, dreamt. I felt I was dreaming and thinking and feeling with you. I dreamed what you dreamed, wanted what you wanted–and then I realized that truly I just wanted you.” ― Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Prince

How have you been changed by the words you’ve read?

What does a classmate’s funeral and the movie “Won’t Back Down” have in common?

Saturday I went to the funeral of a high school classmate, Judith Bennett. Sunday I went to see the movie Won’t Back Down. Both events made me think about making the same change in my life.

Judy was a classmate whom I’d lost touch with since graduation and only visited a few times since I returned to my hometown three years ago.  During her funeral, several friends explained how Judy always seemed to know when they needed a listener or comforter. She made regular phone calls and email contacts, and she invited friends to meet for dinner or for trips to places like Alaska and Las Vegas.  I rarely responded to her contacts.

In the movie Won’t Back Down, two mothers, one a teacher also, won’t accept that their children must attend a failing school. They understand the consequences of a poor education and can’t let that be their children’s futures.  Even with almost insurmountable obstacles to using The Parent Trigger law, these women hang onto the hope that they can make a difference in the lives of children in one elementary school. I, too, have often felt the call to do something to change systems that promote injustices. The difference between the movie’s protagonists and me is that I give up when people don’t immediately rally around my vision.

The common theme of Judy’s life, as told at her funeral, and the new movie Won’t Back Down is to stay involved in the lives of people important to us, and to show them we care by doing what matters to them–even when opposition and other opportunities try to pull us away.

Pieces of You: Jewel’s Debut Album AND Joyce’s Debut Novel

Jewle’s debut album (1995) and Joyce’s debut novel (2012)

Please read the information on Amazon (from links above) and tell me if you find any  similarities (other than the price of her CD and my Kindle eBook).

Write Fiction if You Want to Change Minds

“Fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than nonfiction.”  I found this statement in this long, but worthwhile article at boston.com: Why Fiction is Good for You.

This is what I have always thought and why I wrote my first book, Pieces of You in the fiction genre.  As helpful as non-fiction can be, we typically buy non-fiction to support what we already know or to learn about things we’re already interested in.

Now a good story; it can take you by surprise. For example, I recently read Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto in which several people are held captive for many days by a group of terrorists. As the story progressed, I began to love several characters, captives and terrorists. Even though the ending seemed predestined, I didn’t want it to end that way! Patchett didn’t spell out what she wanted readers to consider about terrorist behavior; the characters taught me by revealing their character in extraordinary circumstances. They taught me not to prejudge what I haven’t experienced.

Now some fiction authors are so afraid that we, the readers, won’t get the message that they preach to us. That is so much less persuasive than Patchett’s way! I did that in my first draft of Peaces of You. I  used the pages as my soapbox to shout my perceptions on three social justice issues. Shortly after completing that draft, I squirmed through a review by a published author who asked if my purpose was to enthrall or to lecture readers.  I made major revisions.

Now back to the boston.com article: In a study of television viewers by the Austrian psychologist Marcus Appel, Appel points out that, for a society to function properly, people have to believe in justice. “They have to believe that there are rewards for doing right and punishments for doing wrong. And, indeed, people generally do believe that life punishes the vicious and rewards the virtuous. But one class of people appear to believe these things in particular: those who consume a lot of fiction.”

So if you want people to choose to act  justly, write fiction!

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: