THE PERILS OF GETTING TRAPPED IN SUCCESS

Ever wonder where your life would have headed if you’d had the big breakthrough back then? Landed the job at the top? Been accepted at that Ivy League college or tony prep school? Married the seemingly perfectly glamorous spouse? (The one who got away, of course – or the one you only gaped at across the classroom with never more than a sentence at a time ever being exchanged?) Started your own business and thrived? Had the weed-free garden or the problem-free children?

I can look back on a life with a lot of near misses that way, or so I’d hope, but the reality is that is one advance that way would have precluded many, many down-to-earth life lessons.

Once past the early dreams of literary success, I’ve wondered what would have happened had one work or another taken off as a bestseller. More along that vein would have been expected, even demanded. And then? Where would the growth have occurred?

In my experience, the practice has been to keep exploring. Often it felt like looking for a crack in the wall, whatever the resistance was, but I kept probing.

Instead of continuing along that opening, had it happened, I’ve kept investigating a wider range and recording that. I could say it’s been exhausting as well as prolific.

Revisiting the notes and drafts and thoughts that underpin my newest release, Parallel Tracks of Yin and Yang, resurrects so much of that turmoil and openness.

For me, this volume is a celebration of the creative process, more than any “finished” product.

It’s an honest acknowledgement of so much that got away or might have been. Wish you’d had a chance to meet me back then.

~*~

For these stories and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

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RUNNING FOR OFFICE OR FOR DINNER

Two early novels that were left unfinished are now resurrected and joined in this fertile volume. One, a venture into “political science fiction,” seems prescient in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential campaign. The other, in a mystery genre, enters its own time warp with an invitation to dine out.

Take a trip Along the Parallel Tracks of Yin and Yang.

~*~

For these stories and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

IN THE RECIPE FOR A MYSTERY NOVEL

Does a mystery novel have to revolve around a detective? Even a charming amateur? Or can it focus instead on the leading suspect?

In proposing a book with the working title, Dinner to Die For, I envisioned an anonymous restaurant critic who works for an independent television station. How to handle the visuals for each review would have posed an interesting challenge, something quite unlike the so-called Phantom Gourmet who has since become a popular staple on a New England cable news channel. He’s widely recognized on the street, for one thing.

Well, the novel never moved forward. This project was predicated on two collaborators, who eventually declined, however discretely.

Still, enough remained to slip into my newest book, Along the Parallel Tracks of Yin and Yang.

As a further twist, my biggest novel on the way is also about food and restaurants. This time, from the inside. And I promise, it won’t be a mystery.

~*~

Parallel Tracks
Parallel Tracks

For these stories and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

RUNNING INTO YOUR YOUNGER SELF AS A STRANGER

As I revisit the abandoned plans for two early novels, what I encounter feels strange and wondrous – and sometimes sophomoric. Yes, I wrote what appears here, but these days the words could be by a stranger – a youngster I wouldn’t mind meeting. In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential campaign, what had seemed outrageous in my “political science fiction” draft four decades earlier now has an air of prophecy. The other work, a detective novel, revives memories of a potential collaborator no longer among the living. Put together with a little bit more, they create a new book of fiction, one that runs Along the Parallel Tracks of Yin and Yang. As we might say in Zen, these works are what they are. Or what you, too, bring to the story. Enjoy the ride.

~*~

For these stories and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

WHERE’S THE POWER IN POLITICAL FICTION?

The limited success of politically-based fiction continues to surprise me. Shakespeare, opera, and Greek tragedy all have their fill of court intrigue and power pl0ys, but modern democracies just don’t seem to stir the same passions. The success of the West Wing television series and a few movies stands as an anomaly. And then there are the lawyers who have built on their own experiences. Still!

Years ago, as science fiction was gaining respectability, I thought I might fuse the two by creating political science fiction, which led to a draft of my Cowboy from Mars. In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential campaign, it’s not as far out as I’d thought. Take a look for yourself. It’s included in Along the Parallel Tracks of Yin and Yang, my new collection of fiction.

~*~

Parallel Tracks
Parallel Tracks

For these stories and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

WHAT ABOUT TURNING THE OTHER CHEEK?

Looking at the political scene, I’m wondering about a wide spectrum of Americans who seem to put their faith in arms – meaning gun ownership, at a personal level, and bloated military expenditures, on the global scene.

Both outlooks are driven by fear, and both are extensions of death over life.

They’re the opposite of Jesus’ life and teaching, in my experience. As he said repeatedly, “Fear not.” Not that it’s easy in practice.

~*~

For more on faithful practice, see my Seasons of the Spirit observations.

NOW, TO LOOK MORE CLOSELY AT A TWO-EDGED SWORD

If you want to see out-and-out prejudice by people who think themselves to be open-minded, here’s a good litmus test. Raise a matter of Christianity. Or, as a woman, wear a cross necklace. Then ask if it’s the same response you’d get had you presented something from another religion.

Put another way, I’d long ago been appalled by an assumption many of us liberals took in regard to Christians – and to be candid, I was once one who was self-righteously disparaging. Quite frankly, it’s out-and-out judgmentalism that hurts our progressive causes. It’s ignorant of the important support radical faith gave to many movements through the centuries and can still give to the future. It’s a point for dialogue with our opponents, if we’re willing to engage it.

Two common assumptions spring to mind here.

The first involves intelligence. There’s more to life, let me point out, than materiality. Think of love, music, morality, for starters – people with knowledge of ways of empathy, too. Extend that, then, to a recognition that to be a person of faith does not automatically mean stupidity, even if we do see way too many examples in the public arena – not just those of the Christian label, either. Nor do Christian do not come in a one-size-defines-all homogeneity – some denominations, for instance, refuse to bear arms or participate in war as a consequence of Jesus’ command to love our neighbor, while other churches rally around the troops. The ways of thinking and the emphases vary widely, from Fundamentalists to Evangelicals (yes, there are differences there) to Pentecostals to various strands of Calvinists or Lutherans (yes, again some key differences) to various Wesleyan (Methodist) and Baptist and Anabaptist (Amish, Mennonite, Brethren, Quaker) and on to the Unitarians. And that’s just among the Protestants. Add to that the Anglicans (Episcopalians), Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox and you have a very rich mix, indeed.

Within those are some very intelligent and sensitive people, along with circles of personal growth and ethical accountability.

The reality is that religion is capable of engaging our innermost motions – our hopes and fears, especially. It’s a power that can run many ways, challenging the status quo as well as establishing community. The state and the establishment have many reasons to desire to curb it, as history attests. Even at a personal level, it can be scary stuff.

Pointedly, progressive movements have sprung from this source. For centuries, up through America’s civil rights revolution, social change has grown from radical Christianity. A central thread of the Bible has been the evolution of justice and then radical peace and equality. Read it closely, and what emerges remains a challenge to the status quo. Let’s not lose it now!

As the prayer goes, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth …”

Many of us see that as a more loving, just, and peaceful society. Mock it if you wish, but think of the alternatives. Are they really progress?

All of that, of course, leads to my second point: the so-called Christian right, of the political sort, hardly owns the mantel of Jesus. And since any religion has the potential of engaging those most soulful endeavors of human existence, we see across the spectrum instances of appealing to fear and oppression, on one side, as well as forgiveness and oneness, on the other. Religion in this dimension presents an opportunity for conversation and growth, if we allow it.

~*~

For more on radical faith, see my book, Religion Turned Upside Down.