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January 2007

From the Editor:

Hi, everyone, and welcome to the latest issue of Faith-Filled Fiction.
 
I write this in the season of Lent, the 40 days before Easter when we Catholics prepare ourselves anew for our mission as people created in the image of God.  It's a time of prayer, self-examination, and reconcilliation with God and our neighbors.
 
There are many wonderful traditions associated with Lent:  Stations of the Cross, a prayerful meditation of Jesus's trial and crucifixion; meatless Firdays, a reminder and respect to the sacrifice of Christ; and giving up something, an act of self-sacrifice as Jesus modeled when he went to the desert for 40 days.
 
It was an act of self-sacrifice during Lent, that led me to the place I am now as a writer.  In 1996, we'd just moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming,  I'd gone form active duty Air Force to Air Force Reserves, which meant I stayed home most of the time with two toddlers.  I was reading Harry Turtledove, usually a favorite.  That day, however, I was very frustrated. 
 
"I know how to write," part of me griped.  "I have stories to tell.  Why wasn't I a writer?  Because I spend all day cleaning house and reading other people's stuff!"
 
I couldn't give up cleaning house, but I did decide to give up reading for Lent and take up writing instead.  I placed my resolution before God in prayer and asked him to make something of my intention.
 
Before Easter, I had my first writing job with Wyoming Catholic.
 
Twleve years later, I've written for diocese and local newspapers, national magazines, e-zines and devotionals.  I've have three craft books published by EcceHomo Press; Infinite Space, Infinite God, a Catholic SF anthology by Twilight Times Books, and am shopping around another anthology, a fantasy trilogy and a fantasy noir novel.  Then there are my blogs, websites, Yahoo Groups, the Catholic Writers' Guild (I'm president) and this newsletter.  God has certainly taken my offering and made it into something more than I ever intended.  Isn't that just like Him, though?
 
This issue, Janet Elaine Smith shares with us how God has directed her writing. "God's Writing Prompts" first appeared in Christian Fiction Factor.  You'll also read about the "Seven Deadly Sins" of portraying faith in fiction.  In our Religion Reserach section, we have a couple of series starting: on Islam by Sis Zabrina and on Eastern Orthodoxy by Katherine Hyde.  Now that we're on-line, I have market and brags, blogs and resources all in their own pages.  Have fun browsing, and if you have any great sites to add, let me know!
 
Folks have asked about contributing.  I'm glad to take articles as well as news and have placed submission guidelines on the site--just click on the navbar.
 
If you have comments, please use the guestbook.
 
Blessings to you and your writing,
 
Karina
 
 
 
 
 

Guest Columnist:

GOD'S WRITING PROMPTS
by Janet Elaine Smith

 
I started writing my first book twenty-five years ago. It finally got published five years ago. During that twenty-year lapse, I kept writing-books, magazine articles, lesson plans, all sorts of things. There were several things that kept me going, which I would like to share with you so you won't fall into that "what's the point" frame of mind that will make you throw in the towel, or throw out the pen.

It was going to be a fun little Regency romance, with a "Christian twist." However, as I began to write the story, I told my husband that I really needed some sort of hidden treasure in Great Britain. Without a moment's hesitation, he replied, "Why don't you just use our family's jewels?"

I laughed, but I saw that he was serious. Then he began to tell me of the Keith clan (his great-grandmother was Caroline Keith) and the Scottish regalia, which they had hidden at Dunnottar Castle to keep Oliver Cromwell from melting it down, like he had already done to the royal jewels, crown, etc. of England.
I have always loved a challenge. I set out to prove him wrong, but I soon discovered that he was right. Yes, he loved gloating over that fact. But, it gave me a whole new book, set about 150 years before the Regency era, and one which would go on to be my "ticket to publishing success." The change in my plans was caused by God's little writing prompt to me-through my husband.

Meanwhile, as I worked on Dunnottar, which was a big historical epic, not a little Regency romance, I heard someone make a comment that changed the way I looked at my fiction writing from that moment on. What did they say that was so earth-shattering? It was said by a nominal Christian woman. She said, "When I look for a really good book, I never go to a Christian bookstore."

The wheels in my mind began to whir. So if I wanted to reach the non-Christian populace with my books, what could I do? And that is when God's second prompt took hold. I could write a book that would be acceptable by the general public, but my characters would be the ones who would draw the readers to the Lord. There would be no preaching in the books, nor would there be any great narrative orations. It has been said so often that it has become trite, but it is still true: what you do speaks so loudly I can't hear what you say. Yes, my characters would show the readers the path to God, not through their words as much by their dialogue as by their actions.

This has followed with all of my books. I don't write "religious" books; I write books of faith.

As I said earlier, it took twenty years for Dunnottar to get published. But what happened to that book was just the tip of the iceberg. I rewrote it five times, each time to suit the wants of a specific editor at some publishing house or other. They still sent me one of those "good rejections" I have in my filing cabinet. When it finally came out, it was the way I had written it originally-the way it was meant to be all the time!
And then, when I was at a booksigning at our local Barnes & Noble bookstore, someone walked up to me, handed me a paper and asked, "Have you seen this?" I looked at it. It was a printout of an amazon.com page, showing that Dunnottar was their No. 1 best-selling Scottish book! And that was out of over 8,000 other titles at the time! God's prompt was working! And who was reading it? People who also bought books by James Patterson, John Grisham, Heather Graham-authors whose books were in every bookstore in the country, people who probably have never been inside a Christian bookstore.

Now don't get me wrong. I stand foursquare behind Christian bookstores. But, that isn't where you will find the people who need the message my books (subtly) contain. I don't want to preach to the choir! I want to go on the highways and byways with the message that there is redemption-for everyone!

When I get reviews like these, I know that God doesn't make mistakes.

"There is enough adventure in it to satisfy any reader but it also explores ethical and religious issues--and it does all of that with humor." (Carolyn Howard-Johnson, about Pampas)

I'm not a mystery reader, and that's probably because I'm not fond of formula books. But I have read and enjoyed two of Janet Elaine Smith's historicals, so I ordered IN ST. PATRICK'S CUSTODY fully expecting a good read. I was not a bit disappointed. This "mystery without the cliches" is gently told, and filled with characters whose human foibles make them real. It's also (dare I say this, or will I scare someone away?) a curiously inspirational tale. While the author never preaches, and never allows her characters to do so, either, their faith in the Higher Power watching over their lives comes through loud and clear. (Nina Osier, about In St. Patrick's Custody)

Janet Elaine Smith has done it again. Masterfully written, A Christmas Dream is one one book that will touch your soul. Do you believe in love? Do you believe in miracles? A Christmas Dream will make a believer out of you. (Barbara Williamson-Wood, about A Christmas Dream)

 
Yes, fourteen published books later and living my dream life, God's Prompts have proven themselves over and over again. I get at least thirty emails a day from people all over the country who are walking into bookstores and finding my books, or they are ordering them online. I am convinced that they are reaching people where they are. I'm not sure it would have worked nearly as well if I had planned it myself. I'd probably be writing "religious" books that very few people were reading. I've learned, years ago, that God is a whole lot smarter than I am!
 
About Our Guest:  Janet Elaine Smith and her husband, Ivan, were missionaries in Venezuela for nine years. They have run Mission Socorro, a charitable organization and HELP line, for the past thirty years, since their return. They are located in the Red River Valley area of Minnesota and North Dakota.

Janet has written successfully for many magazines over the years. She still writes for a dozen magazines on a regular basis, some print and some ezines. She has well over 1,000 magazine articles to her credit. She is the Assoc. Editor for Memories and Mysteries Magazine, and a contributing editor for both Heritage Quest Magazine and Writer's Journal.
 
Read more about Janet at www.janetelainesmith.com.

Writing Tips:

Seven Deadly Sins of Portraying Faith

by Karina L. Fabian

 

1.  Telling.  We all know to show not tell.    Telling pulls the reader out of the story.  We want to get the reader into the action rather than standing at the sidelines.  We want the reader to feel with the character rather than feel about him.  This is especially important when portraying faith in fiction.  Otherwise, it can come off as preaching.  Also, readers who are not of the same faith as your character will sympathize more with her if you show them the day-to-day practice and beliefs as they come up in the story rather than using words to "prove" what a faithful person she is.

 

2.  Monologuing.  We expect evil overlords to monologue, but when the regular characters do it--unless in parody--it pulls us out of the story and doesn't ring true.  If your character monologues about faith--unless in a sermon or in parody--you're building a stereotype and a sense of falseness that takes away from the story's truth and the Truth you're trying to proclaim.

            Don't disguise monologue in dialogue, either.  A real conversation has give-and-take, dropped points, misunderstandings, things that can't be fully explained.  If you can take out one character and have a coherent, straightforward profession of faith, you've probably got a monologue.

 

3.  Stereotyping.  I know you hate it when someone stereotypes your faith, but do you do it to others in your writing?  Sometimes, stereotypes happen when we try over-hard to show a faith we don't understand:

            --"This is a highly volatile experiment, and the University of Egypt is depending on its success," Dr. Shahid told his assistant Omar.  "It must be watched constantly to make sure the temperature does not exceed 200 degrees or it will explode and take half the wing with it.  You are excused from prayers to monitor this."

            --"Why don’t you marry a good Jewish boy?" Mama asked me as I came in from my date with Gary Thomas, valedictorian and track star.  "What about that Isaac Grossman?  Ah!  You never listen to your mother.  Break my heart.  Go ahead--just put a knife in my chest…"

 

4.  Generalizing.  Not all Muslims pray seven times a day; not all Catholics carry a rosary; not all Baptists refer to themselves as "born again;" not all Buddhists have internal serenity.  Practices not only vary from person to person, but nation to nation.  Not all Muslim nations practice ; not all Catholic pilgrimages require you to crawl to the church on your knees.

 

5.  Evangelizing.  First off, you're either preaching to the choir or most likely going to turn off your reader if you stop the story in order to insert a diatribe about the merits or your or your character's faith.  (Please note I'm giving examples from a Christian perspective.  This is the religion I know.  I'm sure other religions can be just as bad; I just don't know them well enough to parody.)

            --Narrative:  "Gary knew he had nothing to worry about.  Jesus died for his sins; his soul would go to heaven and in the end of time, God would give him a perfect body.  For it said in (insert favorite Bible verse here).

            "So what if this lunatic slit his throat right now?  He thanked God for the peace he felt knowing he was in His hands and prayed that the police would not have to shoot the kidnapper until he, too, had a chance to know Jesus.  Jesus would forgive him; Jesus would wash him clean of his sin.  Gary knew the man had only to ask."

            --Dialogue:  "Oh, Zorkon, why must you be so evil?"  Christiana's gentle words cut across his monologue and jarred him with her peaceful, childlike innocence.

            "What do you mean?  It's what I do!"

            "But you don't have to.  You can turn away from these evil deeds now.  God will take you back.  He always does."

            "Yeah, right," yet his hand strayed from the doomsday button.

            "It's true.  Jesus died for us--you as well as me."

            "It's too late!"  His voice rose and he didn't know if it was to declare the culmination of his evil plans or to profess the finality of his own fate.

            "It's never too late!  God will forgive you.  Just ask him.  I forgive you."

            "You…forgive me?"

 

6.  Dogmatizing opinions.  This applies to politics, practice or stereotype.

            If you're a "real" Christian, you're an environmentalist.

            If you're a "real" Shiite, you rejoice at your son's suicide mission.

            If you're a "real" Buddhist, you meditate transcendentally.

            If you're a "real" Catholic, you attend Latin Mass.

           

 

7.  Judging others based on their religions or lack of religious affiliation.  While most of us know better, it can come out in subtle ways, sometimes while trying to make a point of our own faith:

            --As Kayden worked over the body of the heart attack victim, he prayed that the man would live.  Sure other EMTs would want him to live; it was their job.  But since becoming a Christian, Kayden had learned that God loved every man.  Because of his faith, he loved this man, too, and wanted him to live.

 

Next time: Seven Strategies to Avoid the Seven Sins

 

Religion Research:

What Do Muslims Believe In?

By Sis Zabrina

As an introduction to Islam, I would be writing a series on the basis of the Muslim’s belief. Let me start you off with the first three pillars of the foundation of Islam.

There are five pillars of faith practiced by the Muslims. It forms the foundation of Muslim life. The five pillars are:

         Faith or belief in the Oneness of God and the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad

         Establishment of daily prayers

         Concern for and almsgiving to the needy

         Self-purification through fasting

         The pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca) for those who are able.

The first pillar – The Declaration of Faith

"There is none worthy of worship except God and Muhammad is the messenger of God."

This declaration of faith is called the Shahadah, a simple formula that all the faithful pronounce. The significance of this declaration is the belief that the only purpose of life is to serve and obey God, and this is achieved through the teachings and practices of the Last Prophet, Muhammad.  

The Arabic version of the declaration is “Laa ilaahah illa allah” and that “Muhammadun rasool ullaah”.

The meaning of “Laa ilaahah illa allah” is that nothing worshipped is worthy of worship except Allah—it is simultaneously a denial and affirmation. “Laa ilaahah” is denial of all worship other than that of Allah. “illa allaah” is affirmation that all worship is for Allah alone without partners.

As for the declaration, “Muhammadun rasool ullaa,” its meaning is the assertion of the message of Mohammed (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and to believe in it and to adhere to it by speech, action and faith, and to avoid all that is against it, whether it be sayings, actions, or intentions.

In other words, obeying him in what he ordered and believing in what he said and relayed and avoiding what he has forbid and denounced and not worshipping Allah except as he has ordained.

The Lord (Rabb) is the One Who has the power of creation, dominion and control. There is no Creator except Allaah, no Sovereign except Allaah, and no controller of affairs except Allaah. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “Surely, His is the creation and commandment” [Chapter 7 The Elevated Place: Verse: 54] 

 

“And verily, We have sent among every Ummah (community, nation) a Messenger (proclaiming): “Worship Allaah (Alone), and avoid (or keep away from) Taaghoot (all false deities, i.e. do not worship Taaghoot besides Allaah)” [Chapter The Bee: Verse 36]

 

The Second Pillar – Daily Prayer

 

Salah (prayer) is the name for the obligatory prayers that are performed five times a day, and are a direct link between the worshipper and God. There is no hierarchical authority in Islam and there are no priests. Prayers are led by a learned person who knows the Qur'an and is generally chosen by the congregation.

 

Prayers are said at dawn, mid-day, late-afternoon, sunset and nightfall, and thus determine the rhythm of the entire day.

 

These five prescribed prayers contain verses from the Qur'an, and are said in Arabic, the language of the Revelation. Personal supplications, however, can be offered in one's own language and at any time.

 

Although it is preferable to worship together in a mosque, a Muslim may pray almost anywhere, such as in fields, offices, factories and universities. Oftentimes visitors to the Muslim world are struck by the centrality of prayers in daily life.

 

A translation of the Adan or Call to Prayer is:

 

God is Great.
God is Great.
God is Great.
God is Great.
I testify that there is none worthy of worship except God.
I testify that there is none worthy of worship except God.
I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
Come to prayer!
Come to prayer!
Come to success!
Come to success!
God is Great!
God is Great!
There is none worthy of worship except God. 
  
 

The Third Pillar – Giving alms

An important principle of Islam is that everything belongs to God, and that wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. The word zakah means both "purification" and "growth." Our possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion for those in need and for the society in general. Like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth.

 

Each Muslim calculates his or her own zakah individually. This involves the annual payment of a fortieth of one's capital, excluding such items as primary residence, car and professional tools.

 

An individual may also give as much as he or she pleases as sadaqa-h, and does so preferably in secret. Although this word can be translated as "voluntary charity" it has a wider meaning.


The Prophet said, "Even meeting your brother with a cheerful face is an act of charity."

 

The Prophet also said: "Charity is a necessity for every Muslim." He was asked: "What if a person has nothing?" The Prophet replied: "He should work with his own hands for his benefit and then give something out of such earnings in charity." The Companions of the Prophet asked: "What if he is not able to work?" The Prophet said: "He should help the poor and needy." The Companions further asked: "What if he cannot do even that?" The Prophet said: "He should urge others to do good." The Companions said: "What if he lacks that also?" The Prophet said: "He should check himself from doing evil. That is also an act of charity."

 

In the next newsletter, I shall continue with the next two pillars of Islam- fasting and pilgrimage.

 

For More Information:

http://www.islamnewsroom.com

www.islamonline.net

www.islamicity.com

 

About Sis Zabrina:  Sis Zabrina brands herself as ‘Life Storyteller’ who writes on daily happenings in life. She believes that it is the small things in life which people often overlooked are the ones that make life matters. Her writings are available at her blog, http://wisdomthruwords.blogspot.comand her website www.wisdomthruwords.com.

  

Copyright Sis Zabrina 2007.  Used with Permission
 
__________________________________________________________________________________________
 

“Baptism Makes You Greek” and Other Misconceptions about the Orthodox Christian Faith

 by Katherine Hyde

 

If you’ve seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, maybe all you know about the Orthodox Church is the scene where Ian gets baptized in a kiddie pool under a huge chandelier and comes out saying, “Now I’m Greek.”

 

On the other hand, if you’ve read The Brothers Karamazov, you may have some inkling of the spiritual depth and richness of this ancient faith once embraced by half the Christian world.

 

Which is the true picture? Unfortunately, both. For a lot of historical reasons too complex to go into here, many Orthodox Christians in America seem a little confused as to where their ethnicity leaves off and their religion begins. But the truth of the matter is that the so-called Eastern Orthodox Church is not exclusively “Eastern,” or indeed exclusive at all. It is a church for all Christians, as Western converts are discovering every day.

 

Let’s get down to some Useful Facts for Writers.

 

(1) Orthodoxy is the dominant Christian church of Greece, the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe, Russia, Armenia, and Georgia. If you are setting a story in any of those places, a rudimentary understanding of Orthodoxy is essential. In all those places, Orthodoxy has been persecuted either by Islam or by communism, so you need to have an understanding of that situation as well.

 

Because Orthodoxy was brought to America by immigrants from these lands, America now has multiple Orthodox “jurisdictions”—organizational units of the Church that in some cases are still governed by the church of the country they came from. These various jurisdictions have different ethnic flavors, may serve in different languages, and exhibit minor variations in liturgical practice, but they are all part of the same universal Orthodox Church.

 

(2) The Orthodox Church is not just the Eastern version of the Roman Catholic Church. Orthodoxy goes back to apostolic times and has some significant doctrinal differences. The Orthodox (original) version of the Nicene Creed states that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, not from the Father and the Son as believed in the West. Also, the Orthodox Church does not believe in the authority of the Church being centered in one man (the pope). Orthodoxy has a conciliar government, with the heads of the various national churches (called patriarchs, archbishops, or metropolitans) all having equal authority; a council of bishops of all countries is required to address major questions of doctrine and church polity.

 

More subtly, the Orthodox Church differs from Western churches in approaching the faith primarily through mystery rather than through reason. Orthodoxy embraces sacred paradox and is comfortable with not understanding exactly how God works.

 

(3) Orthodox priests may and generally do marry—or to be more precise, they are ordained after marriage. Orthodox bishops may not be married, but they may be widowers. Priests who are widowed may not remarry. Those priests who are not married are usually monks.

 

Priests of the Slavic traditions often have long hair and beards and wear long black robes called cassocks in daily life. Priests of the Greek and Antiochian (Arabic) churches in America often have short hair and short or no beards and dress like Episcopal priests, in black suits with white collars. All priests, deacons, and altar boys (called acolytes) wear colorful embroidered vestments during services.

 

Priests are not seen as having a mediatorial role between the believer and Christ. Rather, the priest is Christ’s representative in ministering to the people, and the people’s representative in worshiping God. The true priesthood extends to all believers, and all have direct access to Christ.

 

About Katherine Hyde: After a mainline Protestant childhood and misspent agnostic adolescence, Katherine Hyde joined a group of evangelicals who were looking for the true Church. Their search led them to Orthodoxy. Katherine has spent much of the last twenty years editing and writing for Orthodox publications and has recently returned to her lifelong dream of writing fiction. She is currently looking for a publisher for her first novel and is in the generative stages of a second. Katherine lives in the redwood country of California with her husband and the younger two of her four children.

 

Next issue:  Points 4-8 or 12 about the Eastern Orthodox religion.  Can't wait?  View the entire article here.

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