Friday, December 30, 2011

Writing over Christmas

I made it! I finally finished my short story in time to enter Second Wind Publishing's competition. The theme was spring or renewal and there are lots of really great entries. Click here--http://secondwindcontests.wordpress.com/2011/12/30/ark-by-sheila-deeth/--if you want to read mine, and here--http://secondwindcontests.wordpress.com/contest-entries/--for links to all the entries. Enjoy! (And please wish me luck!)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Reading over Christmas

Somehow setting my kindle down among the Christmas cooking just didn't feel safe. Leaving it lying around while unwrapping presents seemed a little risky too. And remembering to charge it in the midst of all those Christmas activities? Instead I've been reading real physical books, one in the kitchen, one in the living-room, and one downstairs by the TV (while the guys watched soccer). And now I've got three new reviews to post. Enjoy some fine Christmas coffee with these books--gingerbread spiced, delicious (so now you know what I've been drinking over Christmas too).

First is an excellent mystery with great characters and fascinating relationships, as well as an absorbing puzzle, set in a very real world. Jaden Terrell's Racing the Devil starts with a divorced man helping a battered woman in a bar, then quickly swings to said man accused of murder. But Jared McKean is a former detective, and he finds himself surrounded by more friends than he'd imagined possible as he tries to solve his case. His world of damaged relationships and salvageable friendships is truly absorbing and I'm eagerly awaiting more books in this series. A perfect combination of noir and human hope, this one's best enjoyed with a 4-star elegant coffee.

Next comes Jim Butcher's Ghost Story. My husband finished reading it just before Christmas, which meant it was my turn. And yes, we did at last succumb to the temptation to buy a Harry Dresden novel before it came out in paperback. If you're hooked on the series, this one's a must-read. If not, I'd probably suggest you try a different one first. Not the best, but definitely a fine addition to the set. I just wish I could believe the next one would come soon. Drink a 4-star complex coffee with this complicated tale.

And finally, a young adult fantasy, Silverdream and Bloodfire by Brenda Wynn. The author's created a fascinating protagonist in this first episode of her Chronicles of Elydir. Wheel-chair-bound college student Amanda Jennings isn't defined by her disability, but definitely knows how to live with it. Boyfriend and ex-boyfriend snipe at each other while she tries to find a book of magic spells. Then, suddenly, she's plunged into a different world where she can walk. Meanwhile Prince Kelvan lands in Amanda's wheelchair and loses the power to walk. Amanda learns the power of magic. Others learn the power of friendship. And readers learn an intricate well-imagined background to a complex world, while drinking a well-balanced 3-star cup of coffee.

Happy Boxing Day!
Happy reading!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Christmas !

Shepherds, kings, angels, mice and men came to worship Him.
I've just posted 31 Christmas drips, telling the Christmas story in 25-word segments.
Click here to find out more.

Merry Christmas
and Happy New Year

Happy Reading in 2012

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Kindle's not just for reading?

I'm wrapping presents of books, books and more books as youngest son hopes to own the ones he used to read of ours. Meanwhile my kindle's thoroughly loaded, the fridge is filling, the turkey's thawing, and plans for Christmas celebrations are growing to fruition. Oh, and I'm reading, of course. But I've been playing some other games on my kindle this week, and there's a neat set of Christmas puzzles I just might open on my computer's pseudo-kindle for everyone to look at after Christmas dinner...

As usual, these reviews should link to longer reviews on Gather, and the coffee recommendations are exactly what they say--coffee is good!

I've read / puzzled / played with three kindle puzzle books from Garabchuck recently and can definitely recommend them to anyone looking for puzzles to play with or share over Christmas. There's a short sweet set of twelve bright-colored mysteries for Christmas--how many toys will fit in the box... which star isn't the same... etc. Then there are 102 nicely graded brain-twisters in one great collection (it's a sequel to two other collections of 100 and 101). And finally Lets Tans is a set of kindle tangrams where you use the fiveway controller to move the pieces--kind of fun, and surprisingly easy to get used to. You'll want a 1-star light crisp coffee to inspire you as you share these with your family.

I read this next book on Kindle too, but the puzzle's in the mystery of what might have happened to the young protagonist, and why. Awareness, by Rowan Shannigan, tells the story of a 16-year-old girl who wakes from a two-week coma to find strange people (and more) talking all round her while nobody else knows they're there. The author creates a very convincing teen-girl voice, with likeable character, natural behavior, and a sudden, very strange skill. Good timing makes the curious revelations of worlds beyond worlds (angels, demons, elves?) quite pleasingly believable. First in a new series, the story's nicely complete, and the preview of what comes next is truly scary. Start with a 2-star bright lively coffee, but you might need something darker by the end.

And now for a book I read in real paper and print, a surprisingly intriguing view into the life of a schizophrenic young adult finding answers among the shadows that seem to haunt her. The start of Yamaya Cruz's When the Shadows Began to Dance is a little shaky, but once I got into the story I couldn't put it down. Even typos couldn't distract me. Drink a 4-star complex coffee with this--it's a complex tale where reality, mysticism and imagination are completely intertwined.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Meet Karen Wyle, author of Twin Bred

Twin Bred is a fascinating science fiction tale where the science really does support the story and the story supports the science. (See my review of Twin Bred here. Or look at yesterday's blog for more information.) With lots of ethical questions, fascinatingly real characters, and a truly original premise, this was a story I was bound to enjoy. And today I'm delighted to welcome the author, Karen A. Wyle, to my blog for an interview:


Q. What is your background? What are your interests outside of writing?

A.  I was born a Connecticut Yankee, but moved to California at age 8. I then bounced back and forth between the coasts until I met my now-husband and moved with him to the Midwest. I now consider myself a Hoosier. I'm Jewish, the first generation of my family to be born in this country: my parents and their immediate families barely escaped Hitler's Europe.
My other interests include politics, history, photography, and whatever my daughters are up to.

Q.  What is Twin-Bred about?

A. Can interspecies diplomacy begin in the womb? In Twin-Bred, the human colony on Tofarn and the indigenous Tofa have great difficulty communicating with and basically comprehending each other. Scientist Mara Cadell proposes that host mothers of either or both species carry twins, one human and one Tofa, in the hope that the bond between twins can bridge the gap between species. Mara lost her own twin, Levi, in utero, but she has secretly kept Levi alive in her mind as a companion and collaborator.

Mara succeeds in obtaining governmental backing for her project – but both the human and Tofa establishments have their own agendas. Mara must shepherd the Twin-Bred through dangers she anticipated and others that even the canny Levi could not foresee. Will the Twin-Bred bring peace, war, or something else entirely?


Q. What inspired you to write Twin-Bred?

A. I read an article online about interactions between twins in utero -- synchronized movement, touching, even kissing. Either this article or a comment on the article mentioned the longterm effect of losing a twin in utero. As an avid science fiction reader, I tend to see the sci-fi potential in any event or discovery. I imagined a scientist seeking to overcome the comprehension gap between two intelligent species by way of the bond between twins. It would be natural for the scientist who conceived this idea to be a twin; it would be intriguing if she were a twin survivor, and if she had somehow kept her lost twin alive as a companion, who could be a character in the story.

On a deeper level, I have always been fascinated by communication issues and the struggle to understand what is different.


Q. What did you learn from writing Twin-Bred?

A.  As this was my first novel since age 10 (completed novel) or age 14 (novel abandoned after 40 pages or so), it taught me a great deal about myself as a writer, and about the process of writing fiction.  I learned that most of the writing takes place on a subconscious level -- that I had to sit down and be ready to write, ask a few key questions about my characters' emotions and situations, and then get out of the way. I confirmed the validity of Stephen King's observation that an author is like a paleontologist uncovering a fossil, piece by piece. (Like many a paleontologist, I found myself frequently unsure of how those pieces should be arranged.)


Q.  What traits do you share with your main character?

A.   Like Mara, I'm impatient, although I am not quite as likely to explode as a result. I am no scientist, but I have an inquiring mind. I'm persistent and stubborn. I am not terrific at forming social connections, although I am not as socially isolated as Mara. Mara's artistic talents are borrowed from my older daughter, an art student and my cover artist.


Q. What would you most like readers to tell others about this book?

A.  That it's a thought-provoking and engrossing read, with likeable, loveable and/or intriguing characters, and a conclusion that doesn't disappoint. And to buy the book! J


Q.  What led you to self-publish Twin-Bred?

A.   Once I finished the rough draft of Twin-Bred, I began reading every blog and Twitter feed I could find, as well as several books, about the publishing process. At first, I was learning how to query agents and publishers, and how to format a manuscript for submission. But the more I read, the more I realized two things:

--Self-publishing was eminently feasible and would give me much more control over content, marketing and timing.

--In the current unsettled state of the industry, there are serious risks involved in the traditional route. More and more agency and publication contracts include language that can seriously limit an author's future options, and offer relatively little in exchange. Nor can one have great confidence that the publisher who's preparing your book for publication in eighteen months will be in business that long.


Q.  Are there any specific authors whose writing styles or subject matter inspired your book?

A.  Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow and Children of God are brilliant treatments of the theme of human-alien communication difficulties.  These books inspire me even as their excellence intimidates me.

Footfall, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, is another excellent, and very entertaining, treatment of the same theme, although in a different context (alien invasion of Earth). I particularly enjoyed the role that Niven and Pournelle gave to science fiction authors in the analysis of the alien threat. While I did not use this device, it may have influenced my decision to have my colonists name their various towns after science fiction authors.


Q.  What is your greatest strength as a writer?

A.  I'd be interested in readers' answer to this question! -- but my guess would be:  my way with language.  Another possibility:  my affection for and good wishes for humanity/sentient species in general.


Q.  What do you like best about being a writer, and what do you dislike most about it?

A.  I love it when the story decides to write itself! It's a bit like being a medium and channeling some spirit. I dislike my ongoing battle to keep carpal tunnel syndrome at bay.


Q.  In addition to writing, what else are you passionate about?

A.  My family; politics (not saying in which direction!); reading; the beauty of everyday details.


Q.  What other books will we be seeing from you?

A.  This summer, I completed a rough draft of a second novel, tentatively titled Reflections, which is general fiction. It has two alternative tag lines: "Death is what you make it" and "Will you need courage in heaven?" It is set in an afterlife with certain features which lend themselves to the confrontation of lingering personal issues and unfinished business. For example, you can relive any memory in perfect detail -- and if someone else who took part in the remembered scene is there with you, you can trade places and remember the events from the other person's perspective.  There are other aspects of the afterlife that, while serving this same purpose, are also just plain fun. You can be any age at any time, and visit any place that you remember or that anyone you meet -- from any time in Earth's history -- remembers.

Reflections concerns a mother who desperately wanted a child, but who left that child in the care of her parents and grandmother for unknown reasons.  The child, grandparents and great-grandmother die in an auto accident four years after the mother's mysterious departure; the mother dies of stress cardiomyopathy ("broken heart syndrome") some time later, and is reunited with the family she left behind.

I recently published a short story (free on Smashwords) called "The Baby," which involves human cloning. I am planning to write additional stories set in the same near future, some of them involving the legal issues that human cloning may raise. I hope to release the additional stories one at a time or save them for a collection.

And finally, I just finished the rough draft of the sequel to Twin-Bred during the 2011 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). If the process of editing Twin-Bred is any guide, it will be at least autumn of 2012 before that sequel (presently unnamed) will be available.


Q.  Do you have any suggestions for beginning writers?

A. OK, long answer coming up:

--Read, read, read.  Read fiction, biography, history -- whatever interests you.  Read authors whose voice appeals to you.

--Don't let anyone tell you whether you're meant to be, or whether you are, a writer.  Even well-meaning folks may be poor critics, and not everyone who makes pronouncements on your potential will be well-meaning.

--Keep pen and paper, or some other means of taking notes, with you at all times.  Don't assume you'll remember your great idea 5 minutes from now -- write it down immediately! 

--Become compulsive about multiple backups of your idea notes, works in progress, rough drafts, subsequent drafts, etc.  Use the cloud, e.g., Dropbox or Evernote.  Email attachments to yourself.  Put files on a separate hard drive and on flash drives.

--Keep your inner editor gagged and stuffed in a closet when you're working on rough drafts.  Don't be afraid to leave blanks or bracketed notes as you go.  (My latest rough draft has one that reads "[insert appropriate South American country here].")   National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org) is a great way to accomplish this.  There'll be time enough later for lots and lots or rewriting.

--Learn about self-publishing, and about the publishing industry.  There's a wealth of info and support out there for indie authors.  Conversely, this is a risky time to sign a contract with an agent or publisher.  Because of the uncertain and fast-changing conditions in the publishing industry, many agents and publishers are inserting "rights grabs" and other clauses in their contracts that could cripple an author's career.  If you do sign with an agent or publisher, pay a good IP attorney to go through the contract with a microscope.  Don't let the allure of "being published" lead you to grab at an offer of representation or publication without vetting it thoroughly.


Q. Where is Twin-Bred available?

A. Here are the purchase links:


Amazon (POD): 

Nook Store: 

Smashwords (various ebook formats):  http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/94490

Q. If your book were to be made into a film, whom would you cast?

A.  Roughly half my cast would have to be CGI with heavily tweaked voices. As for Mara Cadell:  is there a younger Lisa Edelstein out there? Or a younger, female Scott Glenn? J Jamie Gertz might be good, if she can be made up to look younger; or Keira Knightley (in her less glamorous mode). Smadar Sayar is another possibility.


Q.  What would we find under your bed?

A.  A large collection of dust puppies.  Dust puppies are like dust bunnies, except that they are composed primarily of dog hair.

Thank you Karen. It sounds like we share a love of dogs as well as science and fiction. I really enjoyed your book and wish you every success with it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

More to these twins than meets the eye

Tomorrow you'll be able to read an interview with Karen Wyle, author of Twin Bred, on my blog. Just to get you in the mood, Karen's letting me post an excerpt today, so read on and enjoy...


Twin-Bred
By Karen A. Wyle

Can interspecies diplomacy begin in the womb? After seventy years on Tofarn, the human colonists and the native Tofa still know very little about each other.  Misunderstanding breed conflict, and the conflicts are escalating. Scientist Mara Cadell’s radical proposal: that host mothers of either species carry fraternal twins, human and Tofa, in the hope that the bond between twins can bridge the gap between species. Mara lost her own twin, Levi, in utero, but she has secretly kept him alive in her mind as companion and collaborator.

Mara succeeds in obtaining governmental backing for her project – but both the human and Tofa establishments have their own agendas. Mara must shepherd the Twin-Bred through dangers she anticipated and others that even the canny Levi could not foresee. Will the Twin-Bred bring peace, war, or something else entirely?



Amazon (POD): 

Nook Store: 

Smashwords (various ebook formats):  http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/94490

CreateSpace (paperback):  https://www.createspace.com/3541557


Excerpt:

The human colony on Tofarn and the indigenous Tofa have great difficulty communicating with and basically comprehending each other. Scientist Mara Cadell is running a project where host mothers carry twins, one human and one Tofa, in the hope that the bond between twins can bridge the gap between species. Alan Kimball, a member of the governing human Council, is hostile to the Tofa and has inserted agents into the project.

Excerpt #1 from Twin-Bred

Tilda looked at her twins, cuddled close together in the crib. Mat-set had all four arms wrapped around Suzie. They seemed to cuddle any chance they got. Maybe they were glad to be free of separate amniotic sacs.
She looked down at Mat-set and remembered the rumors of Tofa with five arms instead of four. She had even seen pictures, but who knew whether they were authentic. Certainly none of the Tofa Twin-Bred babies had been born with extra limbs.
Tilda glanced over at the big dormitory clock and then back down at the babies. She gasped and staggered a step back. Mat-set was still holding Suzie with four arms. So how was he scratching his head with another one?
Tilda looked around wildly for a chair, found one blessedly nearby, and sank down on it. She pinched herself. Nothing changed. Well, who said you couldn’t pinch yourself in a dream and keep on dreaming?
She got up and walked, a bit unsteadily, to the intercom and buzzed for a nurse. Then she went back to the crib. Of course. Four arms, only four, and what was she going to do now?
She decided to be brave and sensible. If she had really seen it, the staff had to know. And if she hadn’t, and she didn’t wake up, then she was ill, and she should get the help she needed.



The chief nurse tucked Tilda in and watched her drift off to sleep, sedative patch in place. Then she went back to her station and called up the monitor footage on Tilda’s twins.
Well, well.







* CONFIDENTIAL *
CLEARANCE CLASS 3 AND ABOVE

LEVI Status Report, 12-15-71
Executive Summary

Anatomical Developments

Observation of the Tofa infants has shed some light on the longstanding question of whether the number of Tofa upper appendages is variable among the Tofa population. The thickest of the four armlike appendages is apparently capable of dividing when an additional upper appendage is desired. . . .



Councilman Kimball bookmarked the spot in his agent's report and opened his mail program. He owed an apology to the young man who had claimed his poor showing against a Tofa undesirable was due to the sudden appearance of an extra appendage. Apparently the man had been neither dishonest nor drunk.
After discharging that obligation, Kimball made a note to seek further details as to the divided arms' placement, reach, and muscular potential. His people needed adequate information to prepare them for future confrontations. After all, forewarned — he laughed out loud at the thought — was forearmed.



About the Author

Karen A. Wyle long bio

Karen A. Wyle was born a Connecticut Yankee.  Her father was an engineer, and usually mobile for that era:  she moved every few years throughout her childhood and adolescence.  After college in California, law school in Massachusetts, and a mercifully short stint in a large San Francisco law firm, she moved to Los Angeles, where she met her now-husband, who hates L.A.  They eventually settled in Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University.  She now considers herself a Hoosier.

Karen's childhood ambition was to be the youngest ever published novelist.  While writing her first novel at age 10, she was mortified to learn that some British upstart had beaten her to the goal at age 9.  She finished that novel nonetheless, attempted another at age 14, and then shifted to poetry.  She made a few attempts at short stories in college, and then retired from creative writing until starting a family in her mid-30's inspired her to start writing picture book manuscripts.  She produced startlingly creative children, the elder of whom wrote her own first novel in 2009, at age 18, with the help of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  Intrigued, Karen decided to try NaNo in 2010.  She completed a very, very rough rough draft of her science fiction novel Twin-Bred and spent the next ten months editing it.  She is self-publishing Twin-Bred with a rollout date of October 15, 2011 -- her older daughter's birthday.

Karen's principal education in writing has been reading.  She has been a voracious and compulsive reader as long as she can remember.  Do not strand this woman on a plane without reading matter!  Karen was an English and American Literature major at Stanford University, which suited her, although she has in recent years developed some doubts about whether studying literature is, for most people, a good preparation for enjoying it.  Her most useful preparation for writing novels, besides reading them, has been the practice of appellate law -- in other words, writing large quantities of persuasive prose, on deadline, year after year.  Whereas in college, a 3-page paper would require hours of pacing the dormitory hallway and pounding her head on its walls, she is now able to sit down and turn out words with minimal angst.  She has one professional writing credit, an article published in the Indiana Law Journal Supplement and, with minor modifications, in the monthly magazine of the Indiana State Bar Association.  This article was a "third place recipient" of the Harrison Legal Writing Award.  Whatever that means, it comes with money, a plaque, and a free lunch.

Karen has completed a rough draft of a second novel, tentatively titled Reflections, which is general fiction.  It has two alternative elevator pitches:  "Death is what you make it" and "Do you  need courage in heaven?"  She hopes to start the sequel to Twin-Bred later this fall.

Karen's voice is the product of almost five decades of reading both literary and genre fiction.  It is no doubt also influenced, although she hopes not fatally tainted, by her years of law practice.  Her personal history has led her to focus on often-intertwined themes of family, communication, the impossibility of controlling events, and the persistence of unfinished business.

Short Bio

Karen A. Wyle was born a Connecticut Yankee, but eventually settled in Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University.  She now considers herself a Hoosier. Wyle's childhood ambition was to be the youngest ever published novelist.  While writing her first novel at age 10, she was mortified to learn that some British upstart had beaten her to the goal at age 9. 

Wyle is an appellate attorney, photographer, political junkie, and mother of two daughters. Her voice is the product of almost five decades of reading both literary and genre fiction.  It is no doubt also influenced, although she hopes not fatally tainted, by her years of law practice.  Her personal history has led her to focus on often-intertwined themes of family, communication, the impossibility of controlling events, and the persistence of unfinished business.



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Manichean, Augustinian, Jinxed and a great adventure for young readers

I reviewed The Jinx by D.F. Lamont recently (read my review of the Jinx here). It's a really fun young readers' adventure that mentions in passing, among other things, Manichean and Augustinian philosophies! So, of course, I had to ask...

Today I'm delighted to interview the author, Dougald Lamont, on my blog:

The Jinx tells of the amazing trials and tribulations of an eighth-grader called Stephen whose life seems suddenly "jinxed" after a bike accident. Is Stephen based on a real person? He sounds so real, and his bike accident, plus he reaction, seem so very true-to-life.

Stephen Grayson, (the 13-year-old hero of my book The Jinx) and I do have a few events in common in our lives. 

We both caught our shoe (with foot inside) in the front wheel of our ten-speed on the first day of Grade 8; we both have a brother who did karate, who would jump out and say “defend yourself” and force us to fight; we both spent a gym class getting playing dodgeball where we got hit in the face over and over again. 

But Stephen isn’t me, and his family isn’t mine. 

Where did the idea for the story of the Jinx come from? I loved the surprising directions the story took me indid you know where it would go when you first started writing?

The kernel of The Jinx came from a dream I had - that I was having very bad luck, and the bad luck was catching, and affecting the people around me, and I ran away to protect my family, only to find that creepy monsters were coming after me and I had to use the “bad luck power” to fend them off. 

That is the basic core, and I built the rest of Stephen’s story, around it. 

So the next step was that I had to figure out how someone could “catch” bad luck. And I had the idea that Stephen was being affected by probability changing, like it was a natural phenomenon like air pressure, or a build-up of static electricity, and it was like a slow-motion lightning strike, and Stephen is the first one to get hit, and be affected, but it is only part of something much worse that is to come. 

I also remembered a story by the great sci-fi writer Stanislaw Lem, in his book the Cyberiad, called “The Dragons of Probability.” In it, scientists have a machine that adjusts probability, and he had the idea that some mythical animals are more probable than others. When you turn up the probability a little bit, dragons start appearing. If you turn it WAY up, really unlikely things start happening. 
So I had Daedalus actually make reference to it, explaining it as “Lem’s principle.” In his story, it’s dragons. In my story, it’s these creatures called chaons. 

I love that name chaons! But please go on...

Stanislaw Lem is one of my favourite writers, and although my style of writing is very different, I was inspired a lot by Lem in this book. The Cyberiad was one of my favourite books as a kid and is still one of my favourite books today. 

When I read it as a child I thought of it as funny science-fiction fairy tales about robots and skimmed over the tough stuff. When I grew up, I realized that he was often illustrating genuine problems in higher mathematics, physics, philosophy, and information theory. 

When I wrote it The Jinx, I wanted to do the same thing. I like the idea of a kid reading this book when they are 8, or 12, liking it because it is a fun adventure story, and then sitting in a class when they are 20 and realizing, “Hey, that guy was actually talking about information theory, or philosophy”

I like that idea too—a story that grows with the reader. So now I have to ask you about the Manichean vs. Augustinian debate—I love the way you included it in conversation without sounding like school… just a cool, intriguing question…

I specifically included the Manicheaen vs. Augustinian debate because it comes up in a book by Norbert Weiner, who with Claude Shannon one of the fathers of cybernetics, which is an extension of information theory. 

It is two incredibly different views of the universe - basically one where it is actively working against you, and another where if you can’t figure out the secrets of the universe, it’s because of your own shortcomings.

And there are other ideas I tried to weave into the book, and it’s gratifying that some young readers just like the adventure, and other ones have realized that I am actually playing with these bigger ideas. I hope it makes it a book that people can return to. 

I’m sure it does—I certainly enjoyed reading it.
Thank you so much for visiting my blog and answering my questions here. I hope lots of young readers find and enjoy your book—and keep enjoying it as they grow older.

Find out more at:


The Jinx is available in paperback from Lulu.com, Amazon.com and in digital formats from most online retailers - iTunes, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and more. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

New release books and book reviews

It's kind of fun to be part of a book release. I'm eagerly looking forward to Divide by Zero's release next July, but in the meantime it's nice to learn the ropes a little as I watch new books released through the WoMen's Literary Cafe. And today there are two from WLC... plus part two of a serial novel, plus two delightful books of animal tales... So grab that coffee and I'll tell what fun books I've been reading while Mum revisited Erin Hunter's Warrior cats (we both love those Warrior cats!).

First is Nickels by Karen Baney, a Christian romance set in a world of software engineers against a background of post-9-11. Office politics intrude on computer code and schedules, while out of office romance slowly heals the wounds of the past. There are some interesting questions raised and discussed in the tale, and the Arizona sunshine is warm and wonderful. Enjoy a 2-star easy-drinking coffee as you read.

Next in the 99-cent 3-get-1-free deal from Women's Literary Cafe is Andy Holloman's Shades of Gray. A father suffers the twin crises of sick child and failing business in the wake of 9/11 and looks for creative ways to rebuild his world. Sadly the black and white sureness of his youth turns into shades of gray, but there's a pleasing ray of hope despite the darkness of the material. Enjoy a 5-star bold dark coffee with this one.

Book two of the Start-Up is The Anti-Social Network by Sadie Hayes, another interesting story arc in the tale of computer genius Amelia and her more earthly twin Adam as they start up a business together. Guided by the wise, preyed on by the foolish, but never quite sure of their place in this high-finance world, they're approaching the point where their wonder-product will be announced. The atmosphere is great though I'm not too sure of the product details... still, that's just me. An enjoyable tale, short enough for a long lunch break with a 3-star smooth cup of coffee.

And finally the two books that I'm sharing with my Mum. These cats and dogs aren't warriors, but they have very determined opinions, mythology and points of view and they're truly delightful. Amy Neftzger's Bedtime Stories for Cats and Bedtime Stories for Dogs are fascinating and amusing individual books, but even better read together with 2-star bright lively coffee and bright lively pets at your side.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Fidelity, Faith and Natural Law

I'm honored today to welcome John Wijngaards to my blog today. He's the author of Amrutha: What the Pope's Man found out about the Law of Nature. (Click here for my review of Amrutha)

Founder of the website http://www.thebodyissacred.org/, Dr John Wijngaards draws on his background as a spiritual writer, professional journalist and international college lecturer in this novel, a beautiful tale of spirituality, sensuality and ethics, spanning multiple cultures. I found the whole concept of Natural Law truly fascinating as I read Amrutha and asked the author if he'd be willing to tell us more. So, over to you Dr Wijngaards, with my thanks.




Misapplying ‘Natural Law’ . . .

John Wijngaards

            Natural Law? Why bother about it you may think. And why make it the principal target of my novel AMRUTHA: What the Pope’s man found out about the Law of Nature, as people keep asking me.  Is ‘Natural Law’ not just a piece of moldy philosophy we can safely leave rotting in the attic? Unfortunately, no. We can’t. Misunderstood, socalled ‘Natural Law’ turns into a hazard to our spiritual wellbeing.
Philosophy is not an arcane past-time indulged in by spectacled men who  squabble over obscure questions in the closets of dusty old libraries.  Philosophy underlies education, commerce, politics and religion. Get your philosophy wrong and you will pay a heavy price.
I have always been distrustful of ‘Natural Law’ as applied by Church authorities. I remember how it was disastrously applied to issues such as the castrati and slavery. But it was Pope Benedict XVI’s address at Regensburg in 2006 that alerted me to its continuing danger. This in spite of the fact that I agree with what Benedict XVI said about the need of coupling faith and reason.
Assent to faith should be guided by reason, and its contents probed and plumbed with the help of reason. No one may claim a monopoly on reason, in particular the modern sciences who tend to reduce all reality to what is perceived by the senses. The Pope was right to decry ‘a reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion to the realm of sub-cultures’. But does the ideology of the Pope himself stand up to scrutiny? We need to examine more fully what Anthony Carroll calls ‘the unfinished project of correlating or aligning faith and reason in our post-secular age’.
            For, in spite of claiming not to wish to return to a time before the Enlightenment, and in spite of concessions he promised in his discussion with J├╝rgen Habermas, our Pope defends a philosophy that has its roots in Aristotle (384-322 BC) and that culminated in the thought of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). The main thrust of the Pope’s Regensburg speech was to affirm that Europe, and the Christian faith, should hold on to Greek thinking. We should resist ‘de-hellenisation’ which, he affirmed, has assaulted the Church in three waves. The Pope, in fact, proposed Aristotelian and Thomist metaphysics as a mode of ‘universal thinking’ that has been sanctioned in Christian tradition and that could convert today’s secular sceptics. I believe he is mistaken.

An Imprimatur on Greek philosophy?

            The Pope believes that the inspired Scriptures somehow have stamped divine approval on Greek philosophy. This is clear from his Regensburg speech, but also from the Encyclical Fides et Ratio (1998) which he wrote for John Paul II as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
            It is true that the Book of Wisdom, which was written in hellenist Alexandria, draws on Greek thinking when stating that the Creator can be known from power and beauty in nature (Wisdom 13,1-9). Paul knows this argument (Rom 1,29) and quotes some Sophist texts when addressing philosophers on the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17,23-31). But does this prove an endorsement of Greek philosophy? Are such arguments not rather an adaptation to the hellenistic audience? The Pope himself cites the Qur’an in his address. Are we to understand by this that he commends the Qur’an as an inspired writing?
            The Old Testament expression ‘I am who am’ or simply ‘I am’ (Exodus and Isaiah) do not constitute, as the Pope claims, an almost Socratic attempt to overcome and transcend mythical thinking about God. The expression means that God is the one who is there, who is powerfully present, who shows his presence in deeds, mainly by liberating his people.
            The New Testament was written in Greek and we do find allusions to Greek philosophical thinking. But may we really maintain that Greek thought and revealed faith have been inextricably linked? The first lines in John’s Gospel read: “In the beginning was the Word (logos) and the Word (logos) was God, etc.” The Pope points out that ‘logos’ could also mean ‘reason’. Yes, but rarely so, for instance in Plato and Aristotle. In ordinary Greek speech it simply meant ‘word’.  It does so here as its reference to the creation story implies. “God said: ‘Let there be  .  .  .   and it happened’.” The Logos is God’s plan (Hebrew dabar, ‘word’) to create us and communicate with us, a plan that unfolded with creation and became flesh in Jesus Christ.
            The point of this sketchy analysis is to show that while Scripture no doubt affirms rationality, it does not endorse Aristotelian metaphysics as a necessary ingredient of Christian faith, which brings me to Thomas Aquinas.

Talk of ‘being’ and ‘nature’

            When the Church in the Middle Ages was in dire need of a consistent system of thought to express its beliefs, Aquinas was the genius who did the job. He discovered Aristotelian thought in the translated works of Muslim scholars and he successfully adapted it for use in Christian theology. Aquinas was indeed a master mind. Not only could he hold vast quantities of data in his memory, he managed to mould these into a logical whole not less impressive than the majestic Gothic cathedrals that began to adorn Europe.
            Central to Aristotelian/Thomist thought is that each object has a ‘nature’ that expresses the substance or essence of that kind of object. A horse has the nature of being a horse. Accidentals of colour, size, height, etc. do not change a being’s nature. That is why a grey,  an Arab, a palomino and a Shetland pony all share the same nature. They are all horses. In more general terms, there is a pyramid of natures, from inanimate beings to plants, then to animals, to human beings, to angels and finally to God. Each has its kind of nature.
            A being’s nature is universal and fixed. The natures of original beings have been fixed by the Creator. Birds have wings by nature, so they fly. Pigs cannot fly. Flying goes against their nature, or to put it differently: goes against the natural law for pigs. Once you accept this premise, the main task of theologians is to define everything’s nature: the nature of a sacrament, the nature of the Church, etc. and by analogy the nature of God.
            Pope Benedict recommends this ‘philosophy of being’ as the ideal bridge between faith and reason:
“Set within the Christian metaphysical tradition, the philosophy of being is a dynamic philosophy which views reality in its ontological, causal and communicative structures. It is strong and enduring because it is based upon the very act of being itself, which allows a full and comprehensive openness to reality as a whole, surpassing every limit in order to reach the One who brings all things to fulfilment.” (Fides et Ratio § 97).
            The problem is that Thomist philosophy no longer matches the real world as we have come to know it. Pigs do fly. The Pope’s failure to recognise the misfit damages Christian life.

Natural law and sexual ethics

            Take the question of marriage. Thomists define openness to conception as belonging to the nature of the marriage act. When Cardinal Ratzinger joined the Congregation for Doctrine, Pope Paul VI decreed that ‘each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life’. The Pope declared the use of contraceptives which render procreation impossible ‘intrinsically evil’ (Humanae Vitae, 1968, §14), that is: they go against the nature of marriage as established by God. In this view, contraceptives may not be used as a means to space the planning of children. They are not even allowed to women who need to protect themselves against drunken husbands infected with AIDS.
            But what is this assessment of the nature of marriage based on? Originally men and women had intercourse without even being aware of its link to the procreation of children, as anthropology has documented. In the course of thousands of years marriage arose as a social institution with a multiplicity of forms. Its main purpose was to give stability to families and to protect common property. Marriages were polygamous or polyandrous. Trial sex before marriage was common. What was natural or unnatural in all such marriages?
            Rather than ascribing a fixed, unchangeable nature to marriage, why not accept marriage as a dynamic, complex, interconnected reality, always somehow original between specific partners, with unique biological, social, cultural and psychological aspects?
            Again and again the Pope’s philosophy betrays reality. Sex is forbidden to gays and lesbians by ‘natural law’ (Persona Humana 1975;  reaffirmed in 1986, 1992 and 2003). A woman’s nature bars her from ordination (Mulieris Dignitatem 1988). The Pope says violence ‘goes against God’s nature for God is reason’. What reason? The burning of heretics under the Inquisition was justified with refined Thomist sophistry. The ‘common good’ (bonum commune) of scaring the public away from heresy was said to overrule mercy for the individual. The same ‘common good’ argument has been invoked in our own day to refuse communion to Catholics who are divorced and remarried even though they are reconciled with the Church, to refuse priests who have left the priestly ministry permission to marry in church, and to deny victims of clerical child abuse their full rights.
            We are responsible for our sexual behaviour, like for everything else we do in life. But the rules of what is right or wrong may not be based on an arbitrary interpretation of an imaginary ‘Natural Law’. They must be based on the informed judgment of our reason, that is: of our conscience. And this is the whole thrust of my book AMRUTHA. Read and enjoy!

John Wijngaards

I would add that I did indeed read and enjoy, both this article and the novel Amrutha. Thank you so much for visiting my blog today. And here's a link for Amrutha on Amazon. Enjoy.