Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Summer Reading: The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief by Richard Barber

The Holy Grail is a myth. It never existed, except in the imagination of a medieval storyteller named Chrétien de Troyes who wrote a romance on it, which he never finished. Tantalized by the unfinished masterpiece, many other writers tried their hand at finishing the tale, and the story became a phenomenon and passed into the consciousness of Western culture. The Holy Grail is an icon of the Catholic imagination, a seamless blend of faith with adventure, and an excellent demonstration of what power can be unleashed when the human imagination encounters faith. If you ever doubt the ability of the imagination to change culture and lives, read this book.

Richard Barber has written a scholarly and compelling examination of the entire Grail corpus, starting with Chrétien and continuing through the most famous and most obscure of the retellings to show the development of the story through the centuries, forming a body of written tradition so large that moderns were convinced that the Grail must be based on some historical object. An amazing testament to the power of the human imagination. And although Barber writes from a purely secular perspective, his research testifies to the impact of what can be called the original "Catholic fiction."

I'm re-reading this book for the second time because the Grail story remains so fascinating and Berber's minute analysis is so compelling. A must-read for anyone revisiting the Grail story in their own fiction, or for anyone interested in the history of the Catholic imagination.

The Holy Grail is a myth. Not an ancient myth, but one created by a well-documented human author. But a myth can have more power than a historical account. If you doubt that, read this book.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Questions about Black as Night and Waking Rose

It's been a while since I've posted reader questions about Black as Night and Waking Rose, so I thought I'd share these recent questions from a reader.

I can detect symbolism throughout all of the books but I especially notice this in Black As Night. And some of this symbolism I do not understand. The main one I have trouble comprehending happens to be the title of the play Rose was in in that book, Through the Looking Glass. I noticed that Elaine is the founder of the Mirror Corporation, and towards the end of the book Bear happens to literally be on the other side of the looking glass in his father's house. 

Another question I have is for Waking Rose. When Rose is in her coma and Dr. Murray is giving her something to make her stay in her coma, I was wondering what Rose sees. She sees Dr. Murray as a serpent and it talks about what she sees as a type of palace and everyone is sleeping and she can't seem to wake them up. Is what she seeing the inside of Graceton? So when she wakes up she can go throughout Graceton? Thank You!  -- B.F, 4/18/2016

Regarding your questions regarding Black as Night, your picking up of the symbolism was perceptive. While there's not a straightforward explanation, I think you'll agree with me that the mirror plays an important (and somewhat sinister) part in the original fairy tale, and I tried to, er, reflect that (no pun intended) in my retelling. 

It could be that just as the mirror serves first to flatter the queen's vanity and then to stoke her fears and drive her to try to murder Snow White, so Elaine uses the Mirror Corporation first to make herself feel important and then as a justification for her attempted murder of Jack (and later on, Blanche). She also uses the mirror to spy on Blanche (just as the Queen does to find out where Snow White is hiding) and on Bear, and thus entrap them, symbolized by Bear's being trapped behind the mirror.  

The play Through the Looking Glass reflects (again, no pun intended) the importance of the mirror symbol in the story, but also suggests an alternative to Blanche. Blanche feels victimized and entrapped by Elaine's mirror. Alice is empowered by her time on the other side of the looking-glass, which should suggest that Blanche might turn her own situation around if she took a different perspective. Rose's involvement in that play reminds us of the first book, The Shadow of the Bear, where each sister took a different path but each had something to teach the other. 

 In Waking Rose, you are correct that the drugs Rose is given distort her judgement. When she's in a more drugged state, she can't see Dr. Murray but can only hear her. Rose's imagination supplies the picture of the serpent.  When the medicine starts to wear off, she is able to see what's going on but she's still a little "out of it."  Hence when she's wandering around Graceton, she doesn't really understand fully where she is.  Of course this is my way of reflecting the original fairy tale, where the Sleeping Beauty dwells in a castle full of sleeping people, but it's just a suggestion.

I'm so glad you're enjoying the books! 

Peace and good

Saturday, March 12, 2016

RIP: Jerome Heckencamp, Computer Expert Extraordinaire

Asking for prayers for the soul of my friend Jerome Heckencamp, brother to Catholic YA suspense author Therese Heckenkamp, who passed away this week. I became acquainted with Jerome when I was writing my fifth Fairy Tale Novel, Alex O'Donnell and the 40 Cyberthieves
For some months I had been looking far and wide for someone to give me very specific technology advice: Jerome proved to be a gold mine, and more than willing to share his knowledge. He spent countless hours writing me detailed emails about cyber technology and hacking techniques, called me on the phone when I was confused about certain details to make sure I got them right, and proof-read the manuscript to make sure I got every / and ; in the code correct. So I feel safe in saying that this novel would not have been even half as good without his enthusiastic input.
This past month, I contacted him again to ask for help with a new Fairy Tale Novel featuring the return of the cyberthieves. He not only sent several detailed emails: he also made time for an extended phone call to help me out. As we chatted, I asked how he was doing, and he mentioned he was sick but brushed off the question, asking instead about my family and my books. I later found out he was in the last stages of the illness that would take his life, but he didn't want me focusing on that or worrying about him. He was more interested in other people (including telling me about how his sister and her family were doing) and in expressing enthusiasm for my new book. I hung up the phone feeling encouraged and connected, and I believe that was how he wanted me to feel. I thank him now for that gift, and when I finish this new novel, I'm planning to dedicate it to his memory. Thanks, Jerome.
As the obituary says, Jerome had a difficult life, but emerged through it with his Catholic faith intact and strengthened, and expressed it in a selfless concern for others. He will be much missed. Please join me in prayers for his soul and for his family and encourage them in the faith in Christ that we share.

Age 36, of Pewaukee, WI, passed away peacefully Tuesday, March 8 in his home after battling complic...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

How Long Should I Wait for a Publisher to Respond?

I just got this question about publishing from a reader who pointed out that I've never answered this before, so I'm posting with her permission:

The Question:
I sent a query to a publishing company, and they haven't gotten back to me yet, and it's been a week. How long should I wait before I should take no answer as rejection and try it with another publisher?

My response: 

The publishing industry is notoriously slow, and very often does not answer email queries at all if they are not interested.

Your best bet is to look on the company's website and find out if they mention how long it takes them to respond to "unsolicited queries" or "unsolicited submissions."  But I believe the industry standard is a three month response time, and some take up to sixth months or nine months!  

However, it is usually fine to query many publishing companies at the same time: the only time you need to wait before querying another company is if you have sent them a manuscript when they have responded to a query and asked for it. Then they probably hope you will wait for a response from them before sending the manuscript to another house. (But even this can vary.)

Publishers can take up to six months or more to respond, and if they like a manuscript and want to publish it, it can take them as long as two years to do so!  So all this stuff takes a long time.  If you've only waited a week, you've got a long time to wait still. 

Better get busy and find other companies to query. Or better yet, start writing your next story. Hope this helps!

Peace and good