Research and respect

Remove your shoes
Remove your shoes

Most of the time, I find gathering my source material is easy. Google is my friend and Google is capable of so much. The thing it can’t replace, is a human’s perception when gathering the minutia that makes your scene pop from the page. You want something that will create an image in the readers mind, but you also want to remain faithful to the people who have witnessed or live it as well.
I have been on the hunt for Temples (cue Indiana Jones montage) to include in my multi-faith story. Tennessee is definitely not the place to search for a Taoist temple. Surprising though, there is a glorious Buddhist Temple in Nashville that I plan to visit with a large blank book and a fountain pen filled to the rim.

Permission is another thing. I have been turned down by the local Catholic church for a tour unless I swear to convert. Luckily none of the other places I have visited have needed such a commitment. This is the one time my honesty has hurt me. I don’t have the capacity to lie to them and say I am thinking of converting just for some pictures and first hand thoughts.
Something I did pick up, was to read through all customs related to the place you are visiting. Some require shoes removed. Some expect you to wash your feet in the supplied sinks before hand. Always look up the customs before venturing out. You don’t want to be a source of disdain and if you ever need to return for something, a great impression as a humble and trustworthy guest go a long way.
If they ban pictures inside the Temple/Synogogue/Shrine/Church then be sure to add as much detail to your notes as possible. Always be respectful with your descriptions and seek to view as a non-judgmental bystander.

Today I am venturing out to a multi-denominational church in order to get some ideas of what is important to their culture and beliefs as well as their traditional dress and non-traditional dress. Plan to spend some time as well. Many that I have met are excited to share their beliefs and ways to an outsider. This may take the form of a few passages from their religious teachings, to one who wanted to tell me all about the indiscretions of Mrs. Herbert and her wanton ways with so many of the married men.
I have found that many of today’s religions are fairly lax about street clothes even if most view the wearing of shoes as a horrible embarrassment. I therefore wear a button down shirt and Khaki’s at the minimum. I again base my dress from their custom.
In the end, do your homework before doing your research. It will pay dividends you may not comprehend. It also allows the tour giver (who is almost always dropping something important to accommodate you) a chance to focus on teaching rather than feeling disparaged by your lack of respect and grace.

Finally, I understand being broke. I understand that some people hate to support a religion they do not follow. I still make sure that I am capable of leaving an offering for any that I visit as my way of show appreciation for their time as well as my respect for their beliefs.

Being a good Catholic while at a church is not necessary. Being a good human is.

Charles Colp

Reading for Writers

Charles Colp
Reading for Writers

Let’s face it, most of us began as super fans of one writer or another. We devoured everything they wrote. We waited in lines to get the latest book so we could be the first to read the next installment. Whatever the case may be, we are readers first. The problem with this method of teaching ourselves to write, is we often feed our brains from the same trough as millions of other writers. Whether it be the next Stephen King, or J.K. Rowling.

The hardest thing to do is reminding yourself there are so many other styles, so many other genres, so many other humans that write well. Many of my friends suffer through the writing blinders they have imposed on themselves. This is especially true of male readers who refuse to read a romance novel. The lack of exposure to this other world of writing a love scene is lost on them. It shows, even in well known published authors. The male love scene is so often about what it feels like, what it looks like, what it does for them. There are very few male writers willing to write about how the scenario makes their character feel. I am not a psychologist, but I am willing to bet it has something to do with perceptions and gender insecurities. Men aren’t supposed to feel more than four or five emotions and rarely are those emotions allowed to conflict or even cohabitate during a single scene.

I know writing this, half of my readers are scoffing at the idea. Their love scenes are different. Their values are far superior to the hindbrain activity and are of an elevated nature. The idea that there is something wrong with describing a woman’s breast as anything more than the direct object of desire would not even register.

I am not more elevated than my peers, I am not better in anyway. I am however aware that this exists. There is a simple test for any reader to see the other side of things. Read a novel written by the opposite sex, in a genre you would have never read, and judge the differences. Not whether they are good or bad, but whether they convey a different feeling. Two writers can write about deep passion and even the exact same scene, but if it was directly pointed out, very rarely would a reader realize they were both describing the same act. A characters emotions are key and women are just as human as men. Writing the damsel in distress scenario takes on a very different meaning when she was just about to pick the lock herself instead of pining for a big strong man to save her. I have never met a woman that wouldn’t fight and figure out a way to save herself.

In the interest of stopping the cardboard cutout of women in novels versus the fully fleshed out 3-D male superhero. Remember we are all members of the same human race. We just might approach problems and pleasure from a different viewpoint.

Taking Credit for Yourself

I said something stupid. Ok, I say stupid things all the time. Ask my wife. However this time, I thought how stupid it was to think like that. I was giving credit to my new story for writing itself. I then thought about how many times I have said or thought, “Wow, this just writes itself.” NO, it does not write itself, it is not sentient. You alone should get the credit for your work, even when you don’t realize your mind is working in the background on something.

I am not advocating for the “I did it all on my own.” people who refuse to acknowledge help and influence in getting them to their goals. Behind every self-made person is many who gave a hand or an idea. There are people who suffered so that the writer had the time to write.

Give yourself credit in your own mind when you write something, no matter how easy it feels at the time. You are the only one who could have written that exact story. That is being a writer. No one can take that from you ever.

Doing the Impossible

If you truly want a challenge, write something that slaps the reader in the face and makes them like it. I didn’t set out to do this but I have somehow done it. My geography says that a religiously based story-line should follow the teachings exactly as they are recounted by the local ministerial accounts. I live in the southern United States, AKA the bible belt. I never meant to step on toes. I just wrote my story lines as they came to me. I should have known better. the majority of my readers hail from this area as well. Many are devout and even more post a daily prayer to their Facebook page. I mention all of this due to the email I get from many of the readers. They celebrate my work, love the depiction of the dark forces, and even more so love the balance of good and evil and my character Juan who literally is the Balance of the universe. He has power to bring an equality to both sides completely neutral. This has left me very confused since I am unaware of the current religious dogma referencing eastern religious teachings of the balance of the universe. Has anyone else accidentally placed themselves in a minefield of writing such as this? How did you get out of it? I am currently learning how to dance through mine hoping I only trip a few in the process. I would love to hear others who have had similar situations they unknowingly created for themselves.

No Worries,

Charles ColpĀ