An Atheist Thinks About Magic and Religion

decorated pumpkinsOn the podcast Our Opinions Are Correct, Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz were discussing Arthur C. Clarke’s third law, the one about any sufficiently advanced science being indistinguishable from magic.

They were frustrated with the way some interpretations of this statement have affected SF/F. For example, there are many stories in which something revered as magic by the people turns out to be technology that can be explained. Also, magic is often written as having some very definite rules, making sorcerers seem more like scientists doing step-by-step procedures.

I listened to this the day after a writers’ group meeting in which we discussed the powerful magic inherent in the liturgy of the Anglican Church (relevant to the story under discussion), especially if one uses the older Book of Common Prayer in which many of the prayers and blessings use the same language as in the King James version of the Bible, which is to say, Shakespearean English.

Thinking back to my own experience in the Episcopal Church (the U.S. version of the English Anglican one), I recall feeling very moved while reciting the creed or singing canticles. I suspect there’s a similar feeling when one does the Roman Catholic liturgy in Latin, and I know I’ve felt moved listening to the Hebrew words at a Passover Seder.

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The Duchess Rants – Going to “War” 

You’ve heard it, all too often. It’s “The War on Drugs”, “The War on Crime”, “The War on Cancer”, “The Culture War,” etc. The rhetoric is supposed to convey the importance of a particular “War” and how powerfully we are going to tackle it.

Instead, they exaggerate the status and nature of the conflict they are engaged in, and they  trivialize  the concept of war while doing so. There are still people living today who lived through World War II particularly those who did so in Europe or Russia – sorry, America,

you had it cushy during that particular conflict. One attack on what was essentially a military base might have riled you enough to get you into the Allies, and it might have been a sneak attack and a sucker punch but it was a *military base* and your civilian population basically didn’t feel it much. Not like the poor people being herded like cattle across the Old Continent. You were obnoxious about some things – but the Japanese internment camps, as terrible and indefensible as they were, were hardly on the scale of an Auschwitz or a Belsen or a Jasenovac, and most of your happily oblivious population (the non-Japanese ones) just went about their business as usual, mostly. Admittedly you can call that ancient history now.

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BVC Announces Orcas Investigation by Laura Gayle

Orcas Investigation by Laura Gayle
Orcas Investigation
The Chameleon Chronicles 3
by Laura Gayle

Camille Tate has found the spot she would like to call home . . . but staying in one place has dangers for a woman who always fades away.

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Auntie Deborah’s Autumn Writing Advice Column

Dear Auntie Deborah: Help! My characters have gone amok and won’t follow the plot of my book! What can I do to whip them into shape?

— A Frustrated Author

Dear Frustrated: The short (but brutal) answer is that your characters behave the way you created them. Their histories, personalities, goals, and motivations are all part of that creation. So if you — like so many of us! — find your characters resisting the demands of the plot or going off on their own adventures, it’s time to take a step back and delve deeper into what’s on the page and what’s in your creative imagination that isn’t explicit but nonetheless exerts a powerful influence over the character’s behavior.

Looking at it another way, stories can be driven by plot (a series of actions where one leads inevitably to the next) or by character (the motivations and inner conflicts dictate the character’s goals and actions). (Other possibilities include ideas — mysteries, for example — or environments — where the world itself is the focus. But your problem really pertains to the competing demands of plot versus character.)

If you’ve conceived of the story as a plotline first and foremost, of course you want interesting characters but you also want them to follow the script. One way to do this is to work backward to discover what kind of person would make those choices and have what it takes to overcome those obstacles. You cannot simply plug any character into any role and have it work (unless your characters are all “cardboard.”) “Misbehavior” = mismatched personalities and roles.

If, on the other hand, you have a compelling, fascinating character with an agenda of her own that doesn’t fit your plotline, you can always chuck the script and see where the story goes when driven by this character.

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Halloween decor: heads o’doom

Jennifer Stevenson Halloween heads
These festive Day of the Dead Heads are easy to make. They take one day to make if you make the plaster heads up in the morning and decorate at night, or two days if you make the heads a day early, which is advisable since it guarantees the heads will be dry enough to decorate and display. You need:

Small (1-foot diameter) balloons, any color
Big paper clips bent into hooks
A cheap paint brush
Poles, wooden sticks, tree-branches (cut or still on the tree), or in-ground sunflower stalks or cornstalks for mounting the heads

Plaster of paris–a 1-2 lb. bag is enough for 8 heads
Plastic basin for making plaster-of-paris
Thin fabric cut in 6-inch pieces–cheesecloth is best
Pre-made plaster-of-paris strips purchasable at a Walgreens healthcare store or other medical supply store Continue reading


Mental Fog–As In, Lost In It

I’ve been in a mental fog for awhile. I thought I was coming out of it last spring, but it descended again instead and has been thickening. I do take a couple of medications, and those have helped with the sense of depression, but less so on the focus, on being organized, and on not losing time. I seem to lose a lot of time to what feels like nothing. It’s not that I’m sitting around in a daze. It’s more like I’m doing things sort of mindlessly and when I look up again it’s days later and I haven’t seemed to get anything important done.

Part of this has to do with dealing with life changes. Boy of Size headed off for college this year. My folks are in their upper eighties and needing more support and my brother and sister aren’t at all useful on that front. I’ve got a dog who bites (me and my husband, mostly, but mostly me).

I’ve been doing a lot of work with him and seeing a veterinarian behaviorist, and this is helping. That’s good because I just can’t make myself feel right about giving him up. I don’t know that he even could be rehomed, but he’s a member of the family and I just can’t give up on him. The couldn’t cope with the guilt. He’s super lovey most of the time and always has been, but has some fear aggression. So we’ve been trying to get him feeling safe, even when he’s half asleep, which is when he tends to bite. I reach out to pet him and he wakes up and snaps. That’s been changing and he’s been doing more waking up to see what’s going on and then deciding what to do, which, when he does do that, he immediately makes rubbing his belly far more convenient for me.

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Flying by the Seat of Your Pants: the Unhelpful First Step

Bird The first bit of advice for the aspiring pantser is the least useful of all. You have to begin it.

You have to have some dim idea of what the work is going to be like, and you have to slam it down onto the page any way you can. Because the fact is, nobody ever writes the final draft. We all write the first draft, and then rewrite. So get the thing down, however vestigial, dim and dumb-ass it seems to be. You need beat to it into shape but you can’t beat it until it’s there.

Please! Back up. How do you do that? Well, I trust and hope you have a notion, right? Something you can embody in a few words, hopefully a first sentence. In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Once upon a time. It is a truth universally acknowledged that … what? Grab the end of that sentence and pull. You don’t need to know the entire arc of a trilogy. All you need is this sentence, even just this half of the sentence. Add the words to get a complete one, and then start on the next.

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Haunting Children

Henry James’s “Turn of the Screw” has been chewed up and swallowed by many film adaptations. Before I read the novella, my one and only exposure to this psychological ghost story was the one I still think is the best. More on that version later.

I am this moment viewing In A Dark Place, issued in 2007, directed by Donaldo Rotunno, a producer turned director for this one film. Maybe he should have stuck with the former. Starring cleavage-heavy Leelee Sobieski as the possessed nannie Anna Veigh, and the impeccable Tara Fitzgerald as Mrs. Grose, the script veres into disturbed-nannie territory, as if the puritan fervor of the nameless heroine in James’s story was not enough to compel the plot.

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The Rambling Writer Returns to Crete, Part 2: A Minoan Cemetery

Join Thor and me as we literally delve into an ancient Minoan cemetery on Crete, while excavations continue to unearth treasures.

NOTE: Of course, Thor and I had to make another trip to Greece, as he’s fallen as much in love with the islands as I am. This time, in addition to other island-hopping, I wanted to return to Crete after 37 years. My first months-long trip was as a hippie backpacker, camping in the ruins and falling under the spell of the mysterious, vanished Minoan culture. This time, I got to introduce Thor to “glorious Kriti” and  research more settings for my novel-in-progress, THE ARIADNE DISCONNECT. This new blog series started October 19, 2019, and will continue every Saturday.

Last time, we briefly explored Rethymno, an historic port town on Crete’s north coast that was originally a Minoan settlement. We said farewell to the quaint, cobbled lanes of Old Town and headed south in our rental car across the rugged, rocky landscape toward the mountains. Once more, Thor is my hero driver. Continue reading


New Worlds: Demons

(This post is part of my Patreon-supported New Worlds series.)

Demons: they’re bad, right?

Maybe. Depending on who you ask. And when. Because like “faerie,” “demon” is a word used to cover a huge swath of creatures — and in some cases you could make an argument for lumping both of those groups in together, while in other cases demons are minor gods, and in still others they cross over to buddy up with angels. I’m not merely talking about the Abrahamic notion of demons as angels who fell; I mean that the Greek concept of a daimon could mean a person’s guardian spirit, just as we speak of guardian angels today. But when you get to the Septuagint, the translators used ángelos to mean the mal’ak or messengers of God, and daimoníos to mean evil spirits and foreign (and therefore false) gods.

With a nature that complex and even contradictory, it can be difficult to discuss “demons” as a category. But it’s possible to tease out some recognizable functions, even if they aren’t consistent across all occasions where the term gets applied.

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