Archive for the ‘Arch Personal Commentary’ Category

Eight years ago on this day, with a succinct, autogenous “Hello, World!” announcing its quiet arrival on the heavily populated, cyber literary landscape, Archetype was launched.  Conceived originally in 2009 to chronicle my academic journey through Chapman University’s dual Master of Arts in English and Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program and provide a forum for peer critique and camaraderie, I promptly posted passages from one of my short stories (“Windmill Ridge”) and my novel-in-progress Time of Death and invited classmates to contribute their work.  I also published original essay excerpts on Jonathan Franzen and the waning of a literary America (“Antisocial or socially isolated?”, “‘Tis the good reader that makes the good book”), mirrors and reflective imagery in world literature (“Masks, Manipulation, and Madness”), and the notion of the invoked doppelganger in fiction (“The Self We Seek”), all of which I was studying in those first few months of back-to-school bliss.

Like any creative endeavor, the site evolved as I did and soon reflected my deepening involvement in and abiding commitment to literary and academic pursuits.  In addition to promoting Chapman fiction and poetry readings and publication opportunities in those first years, I mined journals and the Internet for interesting and informative local events taking place beyond the university’s borders.  Details regarding local and national writing contests and Calls for Submissions were and still are also posted regularly.  In 2012, I added a section for the growing number of my guest blog posts, my interviews, and other places where I’ve stumbled pleasantly upon my own work in the cybersphere.

Followers know that I most often post poems and passages that have timely personal significance.  From my occasional struggles with insomnia and feelings of isolation to my simple delight in a book or summer peach, each post, like a journal entry, suggests precisely where I am intellectually and emotionally.  Early on I rejoiced to find pictures, particularly nineteenth century oil paintings, that evoked or complemented the literary piece I was posting, and I now spend nearly as much time searching for corresponding artwork as I do compelling literature.

Thanks to my passionate professors and their fascinating courses on Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Movement, the life and works of Virginia Woolf, female enchantresses of modern British literature, and Gothic and fantastic fiction, Wilde, Woolf, and the works of A. S. Byatt, Katherine Mansfield, Angela Carter, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Edgar Allan Poe were frequent early Archetype subjects.  Posts on Wilde peaked in November 2009 with the writing of my course thesis on The Picture of Dorian Gray (“The Act of Creation,” “Wilde Irony”), while Woolf reigned in the fall of 2010.  My essay on chaos theory and the butterfly effect in the works of Virginia Woolf remains one of my proudest literary achievements to date and served as a Ph.D. application writing sample last year.  (Click on these links to review excerpts from “The I in the Portrait: A Bakhtinian Analysis of The Picture of Dorian Gray and “On the Wings of Angels and Butterflies: The Chaotic Journey to Woman in Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse.”)

My penchant for Russian literature and philosophy was also soon discovered, and I immersed myself and, by extension, Archetype in Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Nabokov and began to examine just about everything through the lens of Mikhail Bakhtin.  Later courses exposed me to the intriguing life and works of Gertrude Stein (“Back to Bakhtin: The ‘I’ in Ida), Junot Díaz, Ralph Ellison, and many others, and every newly encountered author was explored here to some extent.

The craft of writing is another recurrent theme on Archetype; “Genetics-Based Grammarianism,” “In Celebration of Technique,” “Last Writes,” “More is More,” “Not Quite Write,” “Drafting Perfection,” and “A Sense of Style” are my personal favorites.  However, it is the angst of writing about which I tend to muse and articulate most freely; “Why Write?,” “One True Sentence,” “Bird by Bird,” “Write About Now,” “Demons and Darlings,” “The Reality of Rejection,” “The Joy of Ending Well,” “A New Summer of Writing,” “The Write Stuff,” “You Heard Write,” and “Imposter Syndrome” all convey my own grapples with the creative stall and feelings of inadequacy.

With the MA in English and MFA in Creative Writing attained and a few modest writing awards under my belt (“Praise for Time of Death,” “On the Write Track”), I spent most of 2015 considering what’s next—for me academically and literarily and for this site (“A Silent Abyss,” “A Beginning and an Ending,” “Writing in the Afterlife”).  As I’ve mentioned more than once on Archetype (“Это правда?”) and in an interview on TreeHouse, applying to various Ph.D. programs in English, Comparative Literature, and/or Rhetoric was always in the “someday” plans.  To that effort, I devoted much of 2016 to researching local curriculums, preparing for the treacherous Graduate Record Examination, and pursuing admittance to my chosen university.  In December, I received the happiest of news (“We Are Pleased”) and began my doctoral studies in nineteenth century British and American literature and neuroscience at Claremont Graduate University this past January.  When and if time permits, my ancillary focus will remain on submitting my nonfiction work to various conferences and journals, establishing a part-time freelance writing career, revamping Archetype and launching a new site, and at last completing and marketing my novel (“This is the Year,” “This is That Summer,” “Writing in the Aftermath”).

During the last ninety-six months, I have published over one thousand posts about literature, critical theory, writing technique, literary figures and events, submission opportunities, favorite poems and passages, articles of interest, books I’m reading, classes I’m taking, papers I’m writing, other literary blogs I’m following, conferences I’m attending, and demons I’m wrestling.  Archetype celebrates holidays, welcomes new seasons, and gives the occasional nod to lunar activity—and to much-needed sleep.  Finally, personal aspects of my affective life and literary and academic journeys are memorialized and shared (“Write of Passage,” “Cartwheels Under the Arch,” “Pathetic Fallacy,” “Beyond Words,” “Finis,” “Running the Risk of Beginning,” “The End Is Where We Start From”), even when the discovery and healing are mine alone.  I hope you will all follow me as this new narrative unfolds.


“Student Girl” by Nikolai Yaroshenko, 1883


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With writing the conclusion for my seminar paper on the lyric “I” the only remaining task of my first doctoral course at Claremont, it seems only fitting that I repost my article on endings.  Enjoy!


Like most people, I believe, I love the last bursts of fireworks at the end of a public Fourth of July show.  The pyrotechnicians know we wait for them with anticipation and excitement, eager for the rhythmic, more sporadic booms of the first rockets to culminate in the rapid-fire, snare drum-like rat-a-tat and dazzling sparks shower of the finale.  The end seems ironically endless until, at last, we are oohed and aahed out, breathless and completely fulfilled for that holiday.  And then the rogue pops and whistles begin in random episodes throughout the neighborhood and continue for hours, even days, jarring our bliss.

Huh? I thought we were done with that…?

Ah, yes…the lingering conclusion.  I’ve seen this before.  Like those crazy candles on a birthday cake that never fully extinguish after the song, P.F. Chang’s Great Wall of Chocolate, a third curtain call, and then a fourth, the protracted or seemingly unending ending merely delays the inevitable and may even undermine what was or could have been a spectacular and perfectly timed denouement.

Admittedly, we have conflicting feelings about endings.  Firstly, we tend to prefer beginnings with all their possibilities and mystery.  Secondly, there is the pressure to get them just right.  Done poorly, they can destroy the merits of all that came before.  And, frankly, most of us have more practice with starting things than with finishing them.

The written conclusion can be just as tricky as the real life one, as both writers and readers can attest.  Personally, I’ve always been inexorably daunted by the task of summing up.  Perhaps it’s the perceived (and correct, by the way) notion that the last paragraph will singularly uphold or enervate the entire narrative or essay that has me rattled.  Or perhaps the looming deadline triggers what remains of my creativity to gather its things, turn out the lights, and go home.  Then again, it’s hard to write with the Grim Reader snickering over my shoulder.  “Seriously?” he scoffs, crunching an apple and rolling his sockets.  “How many times are you going to say that?”

In On Writing Well, William Zinsser cautions writers about the oh-so-important last sentence: “An article that doesn’t stop where it should stop becomes a drag and therefore a failure. […] The perfect ending should take your readers slightly by surprise and yet seem exactly right.”  He goes on to extol the virtues of striking at the end an echo of a note that was sounded at the beginning, gratifying the reader’s sense of symmetry with its resonance.

There is such a thing as a perfect ending.  The wish only comes true if the candles are blown out.  The bowing and clapping (and fireworks) have to conclude so we can all leave the arena and get some sleep.  And, really, no one needs six layers of chocolate cake.  Ending well, according to Zinsser, is a joy in itself.  Like the epilogue that hints at a sequel, things must end so new things can begin.


This column first appeared in the Orange County Register.


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In the works of Virginia Woolf, puddles often represent a metaphorical chasm between significance and anonymity, solidity and vagueness, reality and illusion.  Frequently her protagonists, upon confronting a puddle, find themselves unable to cross, thereby remaining – like Woolf – locked in the debilitating delusions of their mind.

On this day in 1941, the tormented Woolf succumbed to her manic depression, filled the pockets of her overcoat with stones, and walked into the River Ouse and drowned.  As a tribute, some of Woolf’s literary puddles are presented here.


Some cleavage of the dark there must have been, some channel in the depths of obscurity through which light enough issued […].  The mystic, the visionary, walking the beach on a fine night, stirring a puddle, looking at a stone, asking themselves “What am I,” “What is this?” […]. 

~ To the Lighthouse (1927)


“There is the puddle,” said Rhoda, “and I cannot cross it.  I hear the rush of the great grindstone within an inch of my head.  Its wind roars in my face.  All palpable forms of life have failed me.  Unless I can stretch and touch something hard, I shall be blown down the eternal corridors for ever.”

~ The Waves (1931)


There was the moment of the puddle in the path; when for no reason I could discover, everything suddenly became unreal; I was suspended; I could not step across the puddle; I tried to touch something . . . the whole world became unreal.

~ “A Sketch of the Past” (1939)


I wished to add some remarks to this, on the mystical side of this solitude; how it is not oneself but something in the universe that one’s left with.  It is this that is frightening [and] exciting in the midst of my profound gloom, depression, boredom, whatever it is…. Life is, soberly [and] accurately, the oddest affair; has in it the essence of reality.  I used to feel this as a child – couldn’t step across a puddle once I remember, for thinking, how strange – what am I?

    ~ Diary 3, as quoted in The Flight of the Mind: Virginia Woolf’s Art and Manic-Depressive Illness by Thomas C. Caramagno


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Once again, it is January, a favorite month of mine (second only to October, which, let’s be honest, with Halloween, pumpkin lattes, caramel apples, and fall boots and scarves going for it, could never be bested).  Even so, I am finding myself more expectant for the year ahead than usual.

I’ve always loved the freshness and whiteboard vacuity of the year’s first few weeks, particularly after the seemingly endless weeks of merrymaking between Thanksgiving and my January birthday.  While it’s bittersweet to perceive the darkening neighborhood and the now rather austere rooms of my house sans Christmas decorations, I’m always eager to review my aspirations for the year and start filling in the dates on the blank pages of my new planner.

Last January was welcomed with piles of mostly New Projects on the floor of my home office.  The Graduate Record Examination study guides, flash cards, and practice exams; how-to manuals on establishing a freelance writing career; grammar and curriculum materials for a writing class I proposed to create; maps of Europe and travel books on England, Germany, and Russia; Mount Whitney climbing guides; and my crate of marked-up manuscript pages and notes for my developing novel—the lone lingering project—all looked up at me with expectation and hope.  I felt dizzy and sank to the carpet amid the heaps.  I hadn’t a clue how or where to start.  I had been so focused on finishing in-progress endeavors in the previous years, I had forgotten how to begin anything discrete, regardless of its magnetism.

But by March I had figured it out.  To be frank, I had always known the right path but had allowed the naysaying voices in my head to temporarily dampen my dream for What Comes Next.  I consulted my calendar, created an action plan and all the lists that accompany it, and set out to apply to Claremont Graduate University’s Ph.D. in English program.

It was a daunting effort.  Applying to any doctoral program takes months, especially if a recent standardized admissions exam score is required.  From April to December, I studied for the GRE, wrote and presented papers, solicited academic letters of recommendation, ordered various university transcripts, and visited the Claremont campus.  I even attended a class, which made me ache for acceptance even more.  And finally, on December 20, I received a letter that began with the most breathtaking three-word phrase in the English language: We are pleased.  Needless to say, my January calendar is distinctively brimming this year, as I will be commencing my Ph.D. studies in British and American Literature at CGU on the seventeenth.

I still have the Chapman University English department’s marketing flyer from 2008 tacked to my bulletin board above my writing desk.  “Write your own success story,” it urged.  That had done it for me nearly a decade ago, and it still encourages me to this day.  I enrolled at Chapman that fall and proceeded to write my own narrative, both literally with Time of Death and metaphorically with an ongoing academic journey I could then only imagine and with which I, too, am so unbelievably pleased.

Welcome, 2017!



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I am a protagonist in a world of unending dilemmas which contain hidden meaning that it is up to me to discover. I am the artist of my life. […] I am on my own side, rooting for myself.

~ Tristine Rainer, Your Life as Story


I am writing a novel. There. I’ve said it. While friends and colleagues closest to me are aware of this and ask me frequently how the book’s coming along and when will I be finished and do I have an agent and what house is going to publish it and where can they pick up a copy, I don’t often share the fact that my creative ambitions are that lofty.

First, it’s somewhat embarrassing. I mean, really, most people have at one time or another thought of writing a book and, well, haven’t. To date, I am still in that camp. It seems a childish fancy, like becoming a ballerina or professional baseball player. It’s far less brazen to tout my mere nonfiction career as a guest newspaper columnist and blogger. Secondly, the immediate question (“So, what’s it about?”) is unvarying and my convoluted answer to it just as predictable. By the time I’ve babbled on about the Bildungsroman form and my quirky, self-destructive, train-wreck-of-a-protagonist who is both the hero and antihero of her own life and how elusive close third person narration is and my unresolved conflict about the manuscript’s classification as literary fiction, memoir, or autobiographical fiction and whether it’s best aligned with the nuances of Young Adult, New Adult, or Christian or some combination of commercial genres, both the polite conversationalist and I are sorry he asked.

In my defense, there’s not an easy response or requisite two-sentence elevator pitch to that inquiry—at least not yet. Any novel is a massive undertaking, and mine, which spans the life of a woman from middle school to middle age and is currently only a scant two hundred pages, aspires to Lambesque extensiveness. My inability to encapsulate the tale’s plot or “aboutness” in fifteen seconds notwithstanding, I have been seeped in its storylines and characters for decades. It is undoubtedly for this reason and not some authorial vagary that I struggle to distill it to two or three lines à la a book-jacket blurb.

Time of Death’s essential premise of an extraordinary yet subtle, otherworldly battle for one ordinary soul; its probing of universal questions and ambiguities about predeterminism, free will, and divine intervention; and the implied distinctions between physical death and spiritual death swirl unreconciled in my mind, and I have pursued an understanding of these obscurities both consciously and subconsciously since childhood. Still, now that the themes have shown up in the pages of what I hope and must presume each time I sit down to write (lest the last eight years of effort be for naught) will amount to a bestselling memoir or, better yet, “a brilliant debut literary behemoth,” not having a simple response to this simple question feels uncomfortably spurious.

As if I needed yet another reason to feel like a writer fraud.

Most of us who write describe ourselves in the action tense: “I write.” More often than not, it comes out as “I, um, well, I sort of…write.” The effect is far less pretentious than proclaiming, “I’m a writer,” especially when the admission is mumbled sheepishly with the accompanying shrug, as, of course, it always is, like an involuntary tic. It must be a common affliction among writers—established, emerging, and wannabe. Books have been written about it—You Are a Writer by Jeff Goins is one of the more insistently assuring—and, apparently, conference directors plan for it.

It’s not often that the Association of Writers and Writing Programs hosts its annual conference and bookfair in Southern California. During the last four years, the event was held in Minneapolis, Boston, Seattle, and Chicago, making attendance inconvenient and costly for those of us living in the Southwest. So when I learned that the 2016 “Big Literary Conversation” would be held in Los Angeles and that the likes of Jonathan Franzen, Joyce Carol Oates, and Cheryl Strayed would be hobnobable, I registered immediately.

The week before the event, I sat at my local Starbucks and perused the workshop and reading schedule, planning my days. There were the usual panels on creative nonfiction and memoir writing, the socially conscious essay, market demystification, and the benefits and pitfalls of the humanities Ph.D., which I highlighted and asterisked in anticipation. But the panel that caught my eye and captured my curiosity most was among the first day offerings: “In Case You Think You Don’t Belong Here: Imposter Syndrome and AWP.” Imposter Syndrome? The paragraph about the session described it as a frequent phenomenon that must be managed and overcome to have a successful writer’s conference experience.

Truthfully, it seemed silly to me. After all, attendees had ostensibly registered; they had paid for the right to feel comfortable, no matter their “place in the literary landscape.” My own place is admittedly tiny—miniscule, really, but I wasn’t remotely worried and thought any anxiety of others was unwarranted. Besides, these conferences are enormous and attended by hundreds. One could be a complete charlatan, a tax accountant or lawyer or, say, property manager in writer disguise for all anyone would know.

The first morning, I hung my identification lanyard around my neck and strode boldly into the heart of the conference: the bookfair. The rows of tables and exhibits of publishers, presses, journals, authors, and schools were endless. I recognized most of the names and titles and was already a subscriber to many of the publications. I even bumped into Mary Norris, the Comma Queen herself, and bought a second copy of her Confessions just so she could sign it. I was on sure footing. These were my peeps. I was, as my farm-raised mother used to say, like a pig in mud, in my element and enjoying myself thoroughly.

But as the day wore on, the exhibits began to reflect all I hadn’t accomplished. While I was familiar with Ploughshares and Tin House and subscribed to The Paris Review and Poets & Writers, my work had never appeared in any of their pages. Incrementally, my ventured status as a bona fide writer (ahem, one who writes) diminished to apprentice to aspirant to avid reader. By the middle of the second day, I had begun to work in “I have an MFA” into almost every conversation with exhibitors and other attendees. I knew why I did it; it was my subconscious way of establishing my credentials and legitimizing my presence. I recognized it almost immediately. It was the Syndrome.

Goins has plenty to say about this condition and knows what it takes to conquer it. Before he became a bestselling author and writing coach, he questioned his own authenticity: “Who was I, pretending to be a writer […] when I hadn’t been published or paid for my work?” While it would seem the antidote to Imposter Syndrome is landing an agent, signing a book deal, or cashing the advance, it’s actually much simpler (or much harder, depending on your perspective). “Embracing your identity as a writer,” according to Goins, “is mostly a mind game.” In other words, you’re a writer when you believe and say you are. Getting published and being paid may be the ultimate goal, but it’s not what catapults you to writerdom. Sitting down each day and doing the work does. Because you do have to actually, um, write.

Back home at my desk, I realized that I had experienced numerous bouts of Imposter Syndrome throughout my life and that they had always occurred when I was attempting something new and hard and risky. Each time I sat for the first time in an MBA or MFA classroom or the conference room of an esteemed company with people far smarter than I or stood shivering at dawn in a marathon corral waiting for the gun to fire, I had felt the presence of its collective symptoms and heard its mocking accusations. You don’t belong here. Who do you think you are? You think you can actually do this? You are so audacious!

Why, yes. As a matter of fact, I am.

Aspiring to do more and be more doesn’t make one a fraud when the desire and ambition are supported by genuine effort. Some things, too, are simply harder and riskier than expected and require immense perseverance. So, I’ll keep nourishing my grand impulses and pushing for remarkable outcomes. I will embrace my dreams in all their glorious audaciousness while recognizing they may not be realized overnight. And as both the author and heroine of the novel I know I will someday finish, I am rooting for my protagonist Fawn in each passage and, in doing so, am rooting for myself.


Albert Lynch, before 1912

Albert Lynch, before 1912

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With the finale of 2015 now behind us and the promise and potential of a shiny new year just commencing, the winter air is heavy with the scent of hope and optimism and the universal premises that anything we can dream and profess is possible and that our unaltered, unbroken purpose still awaits fulfillment.

While 2014 was, for me, a culmination of personal and academic achievement and “lasts,” 2015 was a strange year of stunted beginnings and false starts.  Liberated from the rigors of graduate school on top of a full-time career after six years of arduous, albeit exhilarating, study, I ran at full speed toward a multitude of other ventures and goals that had been put on hold for so long, giddy with freedom and plans.  But soon after, I would falter from uncertainty about the overall objectives or simply drop from the sheer exhaustion of ceaseless dream-chasing.  Finally, somewhere around summer, I conceded to slowing down, recalibrating, and becoming acquainted with Downton Abbey.

Alas, I discovered the pleasures of a cushy sofa.  So this is where I imagined the sane basked while I was wittingly cloistered in freezing classrooms until all hours of weeknights, eating stale bagels and drinking scorched coffee from a wax cup and making thematic comparisons between Ralph Ellison and Dostoyevsky and trying to make sense of Bakhtin’s abstruse theories and reading with envy about Gertrude Stein’s Paris salon on Rue de Fleurus until my over-stimulated brain and heart felt as if they would implode from heady longing.  Ah, yes…this sofa is actually quite nice, I thought.  Quite.  Nice.  


A few months later when the fog lifted (nonsense—I yanked the afghan from my legs and waved it wildly to clear out the haze and regain consciousness), I climbed the stairs to my office and surveyed the piles of mostly New Projects on the floor.  The GRE study guides, flash cards, and practice exams; how-to manuals on establishing a freelance writing career; grammar and curriculum materials for a writing class I proposed to create; maps of Europe and travel books on England, Germany, and Russia; Mount Whitney climbing guides; and my crate of marked-up manuscript pages and notes for my developing novel—the lone lingering project—all looked up at me with expectation and hope.  I felt dizzy and sank to the carpet amid the heaps.  I hadn’t a clue how or where to start.  I had been so focused on finishing in-progress endeavors and on endings, I had forgotten how to begin anything new, regardless of its magnetism.

In “Little Gidding” (the fourth and final poem in Four Quartets), T. S. Eliot writes of endings as beginnings and of routes that start from the place to which you just came.  It conveys exactly how I felt, surveying those piles and recalling that I had embarked on previous journeys from much the same cluttered and overwhelming point.


If you came this way,

Taking the route you would be likely to take

From the place you would be likely to come from,

If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges

White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.

It would be the same at the end of the journey,

If you came at night like a broken king,

If you came by day not knowing what you came for,

It would be the same…


Before beginning any endeavor, there is a dream, desire, or calling.  Then there is the evaluation stage; this is when feasibility and cost-benefit correlations are assessed.  (Many of my aspirations are dashed at this point, once I realize the impracticality of, say, climbing Mount Everest or buying a castle in Edinburgh.)  Lastly, at least for me, there is a critical alignment phase, during which I have to decide if the pursuit is consistent with my core values and believed purpose and is, beyond a good, long, sometimes painful stretch, still within reach.  Because, at the end of the day, nothing turns a dream into a nightmare faster than inner conflict, an incongruous or unintended outcome, or impossibility.


When you leave the rough road

And turn behind the pigsty to the dull façade

And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for

Is only a shell, a husk of meaning

From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled

If at all. Either you had no purpose

Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured

And is altered in fulfillment.


So here I am, facing another January.  It is my month once again.  This year, too, I begin a new decade, having reached a birthday milestone.  All that has come before has brought me here, but I’ll need to forge new paths and follow unexpected detours to arrive at new destinations.  There is more to the story ahead, much more, and it begs to be written.


For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

And next year’s words await another voice.


And so a new narrative begins.  Welcome, 2016!


"La neige à Louveciennes (Snow at Louveciennes)" by Alfred Sisley, 1878

“La neige à Louveciennes (Snow at Louveciennes)” by Alfred Sisley, 1878

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A curious thing seems to be happening in MFA workshops and critique groups.  Criticism regarding spelling, grammar, and punctuation is considered hypercritical and offered only with considerable apologies for nitpicking.  “Your editor will catch and correct those problems” seems to be the widespread assumption, which disregards entirely the fact that, as unpublished, amateur writers, we don’t yet have editors.  Moreover, we have less chance of ever having one if our query letters and submissions reflect a bungling of or indifference to the fundamental rules of writing.

Personally, I think relying on others to tidy up our work is a slippery slope.  More often than not, a seemingly minor punctuation edit such as the addition or elimination of a comma or an ellipsis will change the carefully wrought tone of a passage entirely.  Further, many of these “petty” edits are stylistic.  Will my editor know, for instance, that I intended to capitalize “It” when referring to a personified Fate?  The portrait of the resplendent but doomed Dorian Gray might have been inelegantly smeared rather than excruciatingly seared “with the lines of suffering” had Oscar himself not corrected his typist’s error.

Writing well is more than the generation of an engaging plot and well-developed characters and the correction of inadvertent POV shifts; it is the ability to inspire, evoke, engage, and transform through words and syntax and rhythm.  But none of that can be achieved if the passage is a distracting, irreverent jumble of comma splices, dangling participles, improperly used apostrophes, and misplaced semicolons.  Such blatant disregard for the fundamental mechanics of writing would destroy any stylistic or substantive merits of the piece and undermine the credibility of the author.

As both a Christian and a writer, I feel a heightened responsibility to write well and to confront and overcome any prevailing issue of ordinariness at all costs.  The standards for writing that is divine or inspirational should never be compromised for the sake of the enterprise or message.  “Christians,” according to screenwriter and script consultant Barbara Nicolosi in The Making of a Christian Bestseller by Ann Byle, “tend to allow mediocrity because of our penchant for looking at the heart, not the art.”  She goes on to criticize some of the “slop” in Christian literary art that is justified by the market because of the artist’s good intentions.  “We’re ending up giving a false witness to what our faith is. It’s devastating.”

I agree wholeheartedly with this assertion, having encountered faith-based writing that is both technically inadequate and thematically trite, and I deem the deficiencies even more objectionable than I would if I came across them in the secular realm, considering what is at stake.  My intention as a Christian writer is not only to support an unfettered approach to genuine and controversial subject matter but also to advocate the highest standards of technical imperatives and artistic excellence in Christian fiction and nonfiction.

So let’s master the semicolon and colon and solve the lay/lie/laid/lain mystery once and for all.  Consult grammar manuals in relentless pursuit of accuracy, and find a critique partner or group that isn’t reluctant to point out grammatical errors or other weaknesses.  Let’s eliminate our beloved adverbs where possible, and murder our darlings.  And, for heaven’s sake, please tell me if I mean “sow” rather than “sew.”  Let’s utilize our talents in a way that exalts unabashedly the One who bestowed them.  If that means revising and editing ad nauseam, so be it.  After all, as William Zinsser reminds us in On Writing Well, “a good editor likes nothing better than a piece of copy he hardly has to touch.”


This post appeared on the American Christian Fiction Writers website on November 19, 2015.


Draft of Chapter Four of "The Picture of Dorian Gray"

Draft of Chapter Four of “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

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