I’m always on the lookout for literary fiction with a Christian theme. To see the world through the eyes of a painter intrigued me. Dissatisfaction with his work and a quest for artistic perfection send the artist on an intense spiritual journey that ultimately brings him to “the poverty of self-awareness.”
At once a spiritual travelogue and a sophisticated fable, the story line grounds us in the everyday (people have to eat), whisks us to exotic locations, and veers into magical realism. The literal circus of characters is highly entertaining and heartbreakingly poignant. Is that how God sees us?
Any spiritually-themed book worth its salt will employ the element of mystery. Dickson gives us layers of mystery, especially in his chilling portrait of a polite killer. The lovely language is only occasionally dense. Gems of realization sparkle that much clearer when the artist manages to unearth meaning in the forest of confusion that grows in his mind.
Do you suppose there is a connection between the price of eggs and the proliferation of chicken mamas? My daughter-in-law studied up and built a chicken castle for four lucky ladies who pay 120 eggs a month’s rent. My niece recently arrived at my sister’s house for a weekend visit with her five children, a dog, a rat, and a retinue of 17 chickens. The babies were still in the brooder and she couldn’t find a chicken sitter.
Apparently there is more to keeping chickens than tossing them out in the yard and scattering feed at their feet. I’m learning it requires quite a bit of knowledge about their habits to keep them healthy and laying. Do the job right and chickens serve up protein-rich food and the pleasure of their company.
Author Flannery O’Connor dressed her chickens. No, really, she sewed clothing for them. “A gray bantam named Colonel Eggbert wore a white pique coat with a lace collar and two buttons in the back,” writes O’Flannery in her essay “The King of the Birds.” As amusement, this far exceeds most television programming. Costume your Cubalaya and cast her in a production of your own.
Not to go down a rabbit hole (a whole other subject) but you can choose from an assortment of breeds rated for egg laying capacity, egg color, cold hardiness, and pet friendliness. (If you like to cozy up to your feathered friends, some varieties are better lap chickens than others.)
What has all this got to do with the price of eggs? Big egg producers are fighting bird flu, sending the cost of eggs into the stratosphere. Buy local! Locally grown eggs are fresher, tastier, cheaper, and more colorful. How fun is it to have your eggs delivered to you by a friend or neighbor at church or in your yoga class? Or find them at your Farmer’s Market.
Support your local chicken mama!
In a pluralistic society where people disagree on standards of behavior, discussions of moral conduct can be uncomfortable. Good news for novelists. What gets us into trouble at a cocktail party plays well in story form.
Moral ambiguity possesses all the tension and conflict writers need to tell great stories. Show me a character who struggles to apply ethics to a confusing life situation. She will be challenged to draw on all her mental and moral qualities, and practice active faith. That is what builds character.
Faith theme in A Theory of Expanded Love
I was among three authors who addressed the faith theme of Caitlin’s Hicks coming novel, A Theory of Expanded Love. One of thirteen children born to a tight-knit Irish Catholic family, Annie struggles to be seen and heard. She comes into her own when love requires her to practice what she has been taught, and to challenge others to do the same.
Two of us noted that despite dissonance between the standard and the practice, Annie’s religious training equipped her well. Holding your elders accountable for what they teach you is great grist for the story mill. The third reviewer was amused by Annie’s “Catholics Only” view of heaven. (Imagine that. Like many of us, the reviewer had been raised with a Protestant point of view that excluded all Catholics from heaven.)
Annie discovers that once a person opens her heart, love triumphs over provincialism and hypocrisy.
Nothing gives me the grumbles like the feeling that my time is not my own. The Wall Street Journal reviewed a book that hit a nerve. The World Beyond Your Head: On becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction by Matthew B. Crawford. It’s about the in-your-face attention grabbers that rob you of your time and your peace of mind.
I have made some decisions that help me feel a little less like a ping pong ball in someone else’s game.
Things I never do
- Fill out customer satisfaction surveys. You will know if I am satisfied if I return. I don’t get paid to evaluate you. That’s what your manager gets paid to do.
- Use rewards cards. Reward me for shopping by providing me with good products and excellent customer service.The last thing I need is one more card to manage. My time keeping up with multiple cards and special offers is more valuable that the few cents I might save.
Sign petitions. This is not the way I want to engage on an issue.
- Click on cute, shocking, or “you’ll never guess what happened next” teasers. Unless it is involves a cat and I am in particular need of a laugh, I don’t click on bait.
- Open any mail-order catalogues or most of my snail mail. Into the garbage. Unopened. I hate that I have to add to the landfill this way, but I hate even more reading ad copy or comparing myself to the Chico’s fashion model.
When we returned from Arizona to Pine Mountain Lake I promised I would stay put for at least six months, but in May I’m on the road again (not for long). Judith Gregg, head librarian at the Los Altos Library, did this lovely flier to advertise a local author event. I’m on the program.
Can I say I’m local even though I no longer have an address in the area? If home is where the heart is, I would say that my grandmother’s house in Los Altos was my emotional hub. My love of orchards, oceans, and pink peppermint ice cream with crunchy green candies emanates from my growing up years in Santa Clara Valley.
What was so special about that house that it features in both my books? I have no pictures to post. The tiny summer cottage that doubled as a neighborhood ballet studio was razed in the Seventies. That old house was dwarfed by a California pepper tree in the front, a messy olive tree in the back, and a Mission fig tree to the side. You could swing from the olive tree, climb the pepper tree, and gorge yourself sick on the figs. (Like apricots, figs must be freshly picked, warmed by the sun, and oozing juice to be fully appreciated.) The trees are gone, I think. Today, a two story house commands most of the lot.
It will be fun to compare memories of the orchards with Robin Chapman and hear from Marian Aiken about the many special needs boys she raised. Also, I will be reading selections from my books. If you are in the area, please stop in. We’d love to see you.