Friday, June 27, 2008

Catholic fiction or fiction by Catholics?

What is "Catholic" fiction? Is it simply fiction written by a Catholic? Must it include Catholic characters and treat distinctly Catholic themes? Does it reflect a "Catholic sensibility," being a product of the "sacramental imagination"? Ought the Catholic reader -- or the general reader, for that matter -- even bother with such questions?
These are the questions that they are asking at InsideCatholic, the weblog of Crisis. I am looking forward to their discussion of Exiles, Ron Hansen's new novel about the wreck of the Deutschland and Hopkins' creation of his great poem (and I am cooking up a review of the book myself). The questions, though... is anyone else tired to death of them? Does anyone else think that they are questions that journalists ask, rather than novelists or readers? Does anyone else mutter, "Didn't Flannery O'Connor tuck these up for the night in the fifties?" Compare them with some questions that Barbara Nicolosi just proposed for a Hollywood conference on storytelling:

- Can a story offer healing to a person/a society and how?

- Ethical questions - What are people reaching for when they show up to get a story? What do we owe them? What does the world need for people to be getting from stories?

- What is a hero in 21st Century storytelling?

- Looking at character choices - irrevocable, visual, active, high stakes - what do these mean and why does the audience need them?

- The Great One: What Did Flannery O'Connor know about paradox in storytelling that we have all forgotten?

- Theme: What do we mean when we say a story needs to be universal? What does structure have to do with theme?

- A brief history of storytelling and where are we know (in terms of structure/theme/method/ dsitribution)? What is coming next?

- What makes for a brilliant/healing ending in a story? (Resolution, Satisfaction, leave work for the audience to do - what do these mean?)

- Considering Developmental needs in stories - what do little kids, adolescents, gen x, boomers each need in their stories?

- Is Aristotle's Poetics still relevant? What is a "cathartic experience of fear? of pity?" What is a "beautiful" story according to the smart Dead Greeks.

- What process do great storytellers use? (Pixar)

- In the Church: Sermon on the Mount (for the disciples) vs. Parable (for the unfriendly crowds). Is there a role for storytelling in the church?

- Darkness & Story- how dark can you go? When have you gone too far?

- Marketability for Christian content- transcendent in storytelling. What has happened since The Passion wave, and what have we learned about shopping a story with transcendent themes?

These questions have a slight Hollywood tilt, but they can apply to any medium that uses storytelling. These are questions that must have useful answers - useful for artists, I mean.

For more context: What happened to popular Catholic fiction? (by an editor for the Sophia Institute press, also on InsideCatholic) and an interview with the Senior Editor of Farrar, Straus & Giroux (by the way, was that you doing the interviewing, Santiago?). It's maddening: the comments on the two InsideCatholic threads add up to this: Catholic presses won't publish fiction and mainstream presses won't publish Catholics; "[Catholics] can't sell the genre fiction to a secular publisher without "taking the religious stuff out of it"...but a Catholic publisher won't take it, either." And the whole occasion for the discussion is Ron Hansen's novel... and NO ONE seems to notice that Ron Hansen, an orthodox and avowedly Catholic author who has seen one of his novels adapted for the screen by Hollywood, is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, which is as mainstream as can be! And their senior editor is as Catholic as anyone could want! Di immortales!

I understand that genre fiction (as opposed to "literary fiction") is a different story. But this defeatist attitude upsets me. And then they want to take their MSS to evangelical publishers, who are probably going to be more dogmatically opposed to them than mainstream/secular presses. The worst of both worlds. There's nothing wrong with choosing to write and market to a niche audience, as Regina Doman is doing with the JPII High series. But if you're trying to get published by a Catholic press because you're scared of the big bad secular presses - come on!

Be the best and they can't ignore you. Be a good craftsman and be surprised at how far you can go. If writing is your calling, that should make you confident.

Has anyone read any good fiction/sci fi/fantasy lately? By Catholics or non-Catholics?

Postscript: I can't actually name anyone who has published fiction with a Catholic press because they saw it as a safe, kiddie alternative to dealing with large, mainstream publishers. That was ignorant and insulting. My apologies.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Fit of Grammar Pique.

I am sick of the invasion of body-snatching homophones. I'm also disgusted with the abuse of "lay" and "lie," which are transitive and intransitive respectively and NOT the other way round. Listen while I shout this from the rooftops:

You pore over a book, NOT pour. (What are you pouring?! It's a crime, whatever it is.)

Chock full, NOT chalk full.

Moot point, NOT mute point. (This was the one that set me writing. I had never seen it before today.)

There are a few others which I have forgotten in my wrath. If my readers have some favorites of their own, I would love to see them.

Audible corruptions of words are an entirely different matter! "Sparrow grass" for "asparagus" is darling and I am sorry to see it looking so wilted. Such words are called "folk etymologies" and occur less often than they should nowadays. Simply warping a word to sound like dialect is also fine. There was a little lake near my mother's hometown called (on the map) Punto de Agua, but in Texan it came out something like Poondy Awa. This is also darling. The best place to observe this phenomenon is England, though.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Funniest thing I've read all week.

Al Gore's movie is apparently going to become an opera in 2011. Trousered Ape isn't waiting three years. Here is his libretto for "An Inconvenient Tragedy."

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Good reporting... good religious reporting....

Just a beautifully written news story on a woman making her final vows as a discalced Carmelite - from a mainstream source. This is the way religious reporting should be.

“We are thrilled,” said her mother, Ann Gallagher. She said that both she and her husband had at one time pursued religious lives, but ended up getting married instead.

“God had other plans for us,” she said smiling. “I guess he had our daughter in mind.”

* * *
Rev. John Reilly, who taught her theology, recalled watching Sister Agnes transform from a “typical” and “fun-loving college student” into a deeply religious woman. “She wasn’t the one in chapel all the time,” he recalled. “You don’t want to say too much, but she wasn’t a goody two shoes.”

Sister Agnes Marie is a Christendom alumna, and some Christendom folks I know drove all the way to New York to witness her profession. Religious vocations are one of the loveliest things that come out of CC; it can be an ideal place to discern one.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Parodies make me hungry...

This one is by RS Gwynn, a Texan poet. (Via Choriamb.)

Fried Beauty

Glory be to God for breaded things—
   Catfish, steak finger, pork chop, chicken thigh,
        Sliced green tomatoes, pots full to the brim
With french fries, fritters, life-float onion rings,
    Hushpuppies, okra golden to the eye,
        That in all oils, corn or canola, swim

Toward mastication's maw (O molared mouth!);
    Whatever browns, is dumped to drain and dry
        On paper towels' sleek translucent scrim,
These greasy, battered bounties of the South:
                  Eat them.

Oh, how I want some fried okra!

Emily Dickenson as hazing.

Parody from Video Meliora.
"You walk by many of the reading fraternity houses and hear 'Drop and give me 20!' only then you hear the pledge having to recite twenty lines from the Iliad," said Sheriff P. Coltrane, who is investigating excessive reading at many fraternity houses. "It's gonna make these kids go blind, 'cuz they're reading ten, sometimes twenty hours a day in addition to their school work."
I love the photo of the tatoo'd guy reading his Kindle in a bathtub. Thanks Dylan!