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Mind Over Matter

killing me softly

Recently something has come up on a couple of Christian websites that needs to be addressed. Namely, violence in fiction. More specifically, gruesome violence. Not surprisingly the subject quickly found adherents in both camps.

In the first are the … well, call them the "traditionalists", for lack of a better term. Without painting those folks with too broad a brush, they are mainly women, mostly older, who prefer romance fiction, with a likeminded readership. Those ladies like writing, and reading, books with a female lead who is either going through a life crisis or having survived the same, a situation which causes them to meet Mister Right. Or something. If that sounds like I don't understand chick lit, you're probably right. But God bless those that do, and God really bless the houses that seem to produce them in freight car lots.

Next are the Others (sounds like a Lost episode, huh?). I find myself in this group. We're the ones trying to push our books a bit further out. Oddly, this group seems (the operative word being "seems") to be growing more rapidly than the first. Is it because our stuff is better-written? Doubtful; I've recently read some CBA stuff going for "edgy" that was simply poorly-penned dreck with Jesus tacked on. No, I think perhaps it has more to do with this group trying to fill a perceived need: to wit, a dearth of hard-edged fiction that delivers a solid story without "crossing the line" … wherever that is. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

Which brings us to violence. What's been going hot and heavy on those other boards is the discussion of "how much is too much." In other words, if a story features a showdown between the hero and the villain, what is its logical conclusion? Does the villain suddenly drop his gun, repent his ill deeds, and vow to Walk the Straight and Narrow Evermore? Or does the said bad guy go for his gun (a fraction of a second too slow) and get drilled through the pump for his trouble? Anyone who's ever seen a John Wayne movie can answer that.

I'll confess, my own stuff tends to the latter resolution. Why? Because the story demands it. Simply put, some villains are no damn good, and will never be (Adolph Hitler, anyone?).

I'll admit the whole thing is as sticky as new paint, and I'll also be the first to admit that having a Christian hero who not only packs a gun, but is willing to use it to defend the powerless, is less than an ideal situation. But we live in a less than ideal world, and sometimes all that's left is to kill a rabid dog rather than trying to reason with it.

At any rate, it's an ongoing conundrum, a debate which has now gotten so heated over so even the secular press is taking note. Where will it end? God knows. He really does, though, and about the best I as a writer can do is write the most honest story I can. Read More 
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the callowness of youth

When I was fourteen I spent the summer in LA with my aunt and uncle, who would later regret it.

One scorching day, while on our way to the LaBrea tar pits (perhaps for them to throw me in), we stopped at a light. Feeling it an opportune time to go for the gold, I had my right index finger jammed as far as it would travel up my left nostril.

That's when I felt eyes on me.

Finger still securely planted, I turned my head. In the car next to us sat Robert Mitchum, swear to God, looking like he was fresh from Night of the Hunter, staring at me in stunned disbelief.

About then the light changed, and he began rolling away. Slowly at first, and then faster than you would have thought prudent.

And that’s how I impressed Robert Mitchum.

Odd what the brain recalls... Read More 
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darn cute, darn it

When our oldest son was four, one morning he and my wife and I were having a late breakfast. I had the paper folded next to my plate when a story caught my eye.

"Hey, Barb," says I. "There's a report here about highway safety. It says someone in this country is run over by a car every twenty minutes."

"Huh," says dear wife (engrossed in her own reading).

A couple of minutes stroll by. Then my little boy looks up from his Cream of Wheat and says, completely earnest, "I'll bet he's getting tired of it by now." Read More 
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squirtgun summer

Now that summer's officially halfway over, it's time we talked about the thing that always said summertime to me: the lowly squirtgun (and that's just how we spelled it, all one word).

Growing up in the fifties there wasn't a whole lot of variety to be found when it came to water warfare. You had four basic types, and three of them could be found anywhere: the Buck Rogers ray gun type, the tommy gun (which looked great, but usually broke within the first half-hour of mortal combat), and then the one the cool kids had, the Luger style. Lugers were usually cast in a bright green or yellow, but if you could find a black one, you were literally King of the Street, and all the other kids had to bow at your presence. No matter its hue, the Luger squirtgun had a mean and nasty heft, and filled your hand like it was born there.

But there was a fourth type, deadly in its own way, and as rare as neutronium: the Greenie-Meanie. True to their name, Greenie-Meanies were as green as a lime LifeSaver, but their best feature was their compact size. A Greenie-Meanie could easily be concealed in your palm and then, owing to its hellish design, fired covertly. Hence their scarcity.
Teachers (and their pawns, our parents) made sure Greenie-Meanies were hard to find, as they invariably made the last week of school actually bearable (especially when you could nail the teacher’s pet, stupid old Faye Nicholson, right in the back of her neck from eight feet out). So although the guns were rare, if you found one--and could keep it--even a Luger-bearer would make room for you as you passed.

Nowadays we're civilized, of course. A lad (or lass) brings a Greenie-Meanie to school, it's suspension and counseling and much parental wailing. ‘Cause first, yanno, it's shooting little Marty Welch with a stream of water, then it's parking a nine millimeter parabellum round in his brainpain. As Barney Fife used to say, “We have to nip it! Nip it in the bud!” Read More 
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Apropos of nothing...

On one of the writers' websites I frequent, a fellow was bemoaning an upcoming ball he had to attend (he doesn't dance; neither do I, but not for lack of trying). Anyway, this is the advice I posted. I hope it works.

My sure-fire way to insure a fun, stress-free evening: First, put on your snazziest rental monkey suit (tuxedo, to the uninformed). Then place a white, ironed, tricorner handkerchief in your breast pocket. On your right foot place a black, highly polished dress Oxford. Finally, on your left foot wrap a large ace bandage (use plenty of toothed clamps to hold it; you're going for effect).

When you arrive at the party, make it a grand entrance (a top hat and cane will help immensely). When asked about your injury, speak in an offhand Ronald Coleman manner (assume an arch tone; you are, after all wearing a tux).

"This? Why it's nothing, old sock. It's just that earlier this evening I happened to encounter some ruffians who were attempting to separate an elderly man from his cash. What? Oh yes, I thoroughly trounced them ... ten years in the Coldstream Guards, you know. I daresay those worthies will be using their time in lockup to reconsider their choice of careers. Does it hurt? A bit, but nothing like the injury I suffered that time in the Somme fighting the Hun. That was a rum go, let me tell you! Entrails and tree limbs flying everywhere! A brandy? I'd love one. Thanks ever so..."

You'll be the hit of the ball. And you won't have to dance.

Not one step. Read More 
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back to school already mom?

Curmudgeon mode ON:
Fourth of July has only now gone, and just today we got a doorhanger ad about a back-to-school sale at Sears. But is that such a bad thing? Why, kids today ought to be grateful we let ‘em out of school at all. Back in my day we went to school eight hours a day, from September 1 through June 30, most of the time in heavy snowdrifts so deep as to make a Saint Bernard reconsider its calling. At night we had to listen to the wind howling through the slats in the attic while we rubbed Granny's feet by a sputtering coal fire.

And then in the summer we had to chop cotton, string chili peppers, top tobacco, harvest corn, slop the hogs, bore out the cows' teats, and fix breakfast for the farmhands, all before 4 AM. And then maybe, maybe once or twice our parents would let us go to the swimmin’ hole for an afternoon, but even then it wasn’t fun. The place was deep and muddy and warm and we always lost two or three kids each summer to the monster catfish that came up from the bottom, jaws agape. These young’uns today just don’t know how sweet they have it. Kids today, is all...

Curmudgeon mode OFF

None of the foregoing is true, by the way. Artistic license, you understand... Read More 
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Some people swear by Little Debbie treats. Not me. I'm more of a Ding Dong (or as they're called now "King Dons") man. Gimme five chilled Ding Dongs and a big ol' tumbler of cold milk, and I'm six again, and it's gonna be summer forever...

But dried apicots are the devil's work. I hate the way one will stick to the roof of your mouth and you take your tongue and try to dislodge it without anyone getting wise to what you're up to and then it slides down your gullet and oh-my-God just hangs there! causing your throat to close up tighter than a miser's fist and then your eyes roll back in your head and you turn blue and you fall off the chair onto the restaurant floor in front of everybody and just before you die some old guy with a forefinger as big as a Johnsonville bratwurst pries your jaws open and pulls out the sodden mass and slings it away and saves your life. Yeah, I hate dried apricots.

My wife is from Dutch-German stock. Once, early in our marriage, her tiny, nearly-blind, ninety-year-old grandmother decided to fix everyone "a nice Dutch breakfast" for Christmas morning. On the whole, it wasn't bad, but there was this one … thing … she made called "scrapple". I have no idea if this is a real dish or if she had an episode while preparing it, but the result was many black, rectangular objects, maybe four inches by five, each as thin as an excuse (she thoughtfully gave us three apiece), and made, presumably, of pork. Try this. Picture roofing shingles fried in a skillet and then served with lots of maple syrup poured on top. The flavor was unique, to say the least (gritty and tarry and greasy at once). Trying to be nice, my wife and I ate them and pronounced them a triumph. It must have worked. The old lady beamed like a queen.

To this day, thirty-five years after the fact, all my wife and I have to do is say the word "scrapple" to each other, and we begin laughing like loons. Read More 
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slip slidin' away

Okay, so now we’re into July and amusement park season. I’ve found people are of two minds about the places: they love them or are indifferent. Nobody, of course, hates an amusement park; what’s the point?

Kids fall into the first category. Most people under the age of eighteen love rides, the higher and faster the better. That keeps the designers and engineers gainfully employed as they constantly try to add to the “gee whiz” factor. Most of the time it works; there are those times where it kills people. Roll the bones, friend, and keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times.

Some rides, though, never seem to go out of fashion. Here in Cincinnati, once upon a time we had a Coney Island (as did NYC), and my soon-to-be wife and I enjoyed the Tunnel of Love ride there. Basically the thing was a boat trip through a dark, twisting, utterly black tunnel (it was best, I suppose, not to be able to see what was floating in the water), and lasted about four minutes.

The voyage of l'amour would then abruptly end in a bumpy ride up a ramp—still in complete blackness—where you’d burst through a couple doors and hang on tight as your boat hauled arse down a long slide to a splashdown in a big pool. However amorous a couple had gotten during those four minutes in the dark, it was effectively extinguished when they got drenched at the end of the ride.

As Mr. Vonnegut put it, “and so it goes.” Read More 
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