[VIDEO] Can You Solve This Dilemma?

In thinking about moral dilemmas, I came across this little video that describes what’s called the trolley problem.

Briefly, you’re near the junction of some train tracks. Five people are tied to one track, one to the other. A runaway trolley is headed for the junction. The switch is set so that the trolley will go down the track with the five people on it. You can move the switch so the five survive and only the one person dies.

This is a dilemma that often comes up in fiction. Do you sacrifice one for the many? Allow just a few people to die to save many more?

The video explains the decision-making process in terms of rational thought or emotional thought.

Someone could rationally decide that saving five is better than saving one. Or you could reason emotionally that you wouldn’t be able to live with yourself if you killed the one person by your actions.

Either way, the reasoning of the person would be influenced by their worldview. We can see this come out in stories like The Lord of the Rings. Aragorn led his army to what seemed to be certain defeat and death. He reasoned this was the only way Frodo would have to destroy the ring and with it, their evil enemy Sauron. Aragorn was willing to sacrifice the lives of many to wipe out evil.

A more utilitarian leader would have reasoned any life was better than none, and better to be alive under Sauron than march to death, pinning all hope on a hobbit.

While the utilitarian may have appeared more rational, he only considered the immediate impact on his life, the practical outcomes, rather than the larger question of good and evil.

And he wouldn’t have been nearly as awesome a hero as Aragorn.

 

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Wanting Justice

justice-683942_640What does it mean to want justice? That you want a fair outcome to some conflict, or you feel a lack, a “wanting” of justice in the society in which you live?

Both thoughts were in my mind as I drafted the second novel in my fantasy series. It’s working title is (no surprise) Wanting Justice.

In the novel, my hero Terek, who’s about eighteen, is beginning to observe the world he lives in a bit more carefully. He’s been brought up to believe in the values promoted: peace, safety and fairness as the way to prosperity for all.

The problem, as Terek sees it, is that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of peace or safety. Bandit attacks on traders and travelers between villages and towns are becoming more frequent and the King’s Guard appear powerless to stop them.

Fairness also seems to be in short supply. As a trader’s son, Terek was brought up in the markets, watching his father negotiate prices. Terek’s seen plenty of false scales or clerks who don’t seem to know how to count, or to record their counts accurately. And those in charge don’t seem to care.

The more Terek observes, the more he wonders. Fairness for all, and the sacrifices all are to make to achieve it, is supposed to bring about prosperity. The country is four hundred years old. Terek wonders how long the elusive prosperity will tarry before that dream is realized.

Injustice spills over into Terek’s family. Terek’s mother and her family despise his father, to the point his father has not been permitted into the family home for over five years. Terek’s heard whispers of his father’s womanizing, which naturally stirred up some resentments. But as he began traveling with his father more, he saw no evidence of carousing on his father’s part. Rather, there seems to be an almost ascetic, prim attitude toward women.

Then a series of revelations rock Terek’s world. All that he thought about the kingdom he inhabits and the family he belongs to was proven to be false.

And so he sets out to discover the truth and to figure out how to set things right.

Several moral questions arise for my characters. For the adults in Terek’s life, the question of how and when to reveal the truth of his birth. Some chose to delay the truth out of concern for him, others to retain the knowledge as a weapon to be used against each other.

Knowing when to tell a child hard things about their past is a dilemma many parents have faced. When is the best time to reveal devastating secrets? Will telling the child too early be destructive? Will telling too late be seen as deceptive, destroying trust?

Another question is defining “fairness.” We all frame what we think is fair from our own perspective. Another’s perspective gives them an entirely different idea. Both points of view could be right, partially right, or flat out wrong.

How is one to know?

And what should be done about it?

Terek finds that sometime the answers are more disturbing than that questions. And that some actions people take may appear to be wrong on the surface. But when he learned their motives and perspective, what appeared evil at first turned out to have been done for his benefit. And those who pretended to help may have had selfish intentions, making their “good” actions really bad.

As I write I realize the novel could be summarized by saying that making judgements without having all the facts doesn’t always lead to justice.

Something I’ve often see play out in my own life.

Have any of you?

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Who Moved My Goals?

new-years-day-1838254_640I’m learning that goal-setting is a trick business. Life has a way of adding new, urgent priorities. Procrastination, fueled by perfectionism and fear, doesn’t die easy.

If I’ve learned anything these past few years, is that to-lists only go so far.

This is because work has a way of expanding to the available time.

So I have a new strategy. I still make my list. But I also am setting time goals for how long I will spend each day on different projects.

If I don’t achieve everything on the list, that’s ok. Sometimes tasks take longer than you thought they would.

On those wonderful days I do achieve what I’d written down and there’s still time left, then I keep  working on that project, and get further than I planned.

I’ve been experimenting with this new plan for two weeks. The results have been astounding. I’ve gotten easily four times as much done as I thought I could.

Just be instituting the discipline of set hours of work. Duh.

What’s on tap for 2017? Here’s the plan:

  1. Finish revising Raising Fear, #1 in the quartet
  2. Edit Raising Fear
  3. Publish Raising Fear
  4. Revise Wanting Justice, #2 in the quartet
  5. Blog weekly
  6. Track my productivity and hold myself to a serious work schedule
  7. Find critique partners

And just for grins…

8.Participate in NaNoWriMo. (This year I actually have an idea for it!)

So breaking this into quarters:

January-March

  1. Finish revising Raising Fear, at least 3 hours per week
  2. Figure out a way to track productivity and get started
  3. Post 13 blog posts
  4. Look for critique partners/participate in critique group
  5. Schedule an editor
  6. Look for book cover desinger for Raising Fear

April-June

  1. Edit Raising Fear
  2. Keep tracking productivity and make adjustments as needed
  3. Post 13 blog posts
  4. Look for critique partners/participate in critique group
  5. Proofread Raising Fear
  6. Design book cover for Raising Fear
  7. Write marketing plan for Raising Fear

July-September

  1. Publish Raising Fear
  2. Market Raising Fear
  3. Start revisions of Wanting Justice
  4. Outline NaNo novel
  5. Keep tracking productivity and make adjustments as needed
  6. Post 13 blog posts
  7. Look for critique partners/participate in critique group

October-December

  1. Draft NaNo novel
  2. Revise Wanting Justice
  3. Promote Raising Fear
  4. Keep tracking productivity and make adjustments as needed
  5. Post 13 blog posts
  6. Look for critique partners

Maybe this will be the year!

Happy New Year to all of you, and to your success!

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Writing in Three Dimensions

Favorite NovelsOr, Why I Write This Blog

My mother tells me she taught me to read when I was barely four just so I could read for myself and stop bugging her to read me a story.

That love of reading hasn’t ebbed one bit.

From fairy tales to epic fantasy, science fiction, mystery or thrillers, I’ve devoured it all. Historical novels and history in non-fiction, political science and theology have all claimed my attention.

Like many readers, I never thought I could be a writer. How could anyone come up with a good story, let alone the characters? And write it so people will actually enjoy it?

That seemed to me a gift I just hadn’t been given.

Then I became a writer, almost against my will. Beyond the Rapids, the story of a Ukrainian family, is a work of creative non-fiction, more specifically, memoir.

It was in crafting the story, in arranging it, in finding the right words and right images, that I developed a love for writing. It doesn’t quite match my love for reading, but I don’t think it ever will.

At first I thought Beyond the Rapids would be my first and last book. After it won an award, I started to think that maybe, just maybe, I could learn to be a writer.

So, I set myself to writing fiction.

That was several years ago.

As I write, I’m taking the time to learn different aspects of the craft of writing. I’m also trying to decide what I want to do with my writing.

Some write simply to entertain. They write beach reads or cozy stories that people can easily digest and get a few hours’ pleasure from.

There’s nothing wrong with that. At times, that’s the kind of book I feel the need for.

But I started to think that I wanted to do a bit more.

I thought about the books that I’ve loved the most, the ones that captured my imagination, the ones that have made the greatest impact on how I view myself and the world. The mysteries of Dorothy Sayers. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The works of CS Lewis. Kurban Said’s Ali and Nino. Random works from Jane Austen, Dickens, Ayn Rand and Brandon Sanderson.

Diverse as these authors are, I realized they have three elements in common.

The first is that they all tell great stories. Stories that can be read over and over.

The second is that they are all superbly written, examples of the craft at the highest level.

The third is they all write from their worldview. Whether they present it explicitly (Ali and Nino, and many of Lewis’ works) or implicitly (Lord of the Rings), worldview is there.

Their worldviews aren’t always the same, or ones I agree with. But by writing within a framework of worldview, they can explore how that worldview explains our world. By looking at the world through their eyes, I can see my own perspective in a new light.

Also, by writing from a coherent worldview, the authors explore how to make sense of a world that often seems senseless, or delves into the struggles of ordinary people to find meaning in their pain. They can also probe and explore complicated moral dilemmas in ways that shed light on the choices we make on a daily basis.

And I, as the reader, watch the characters grow and transform.

Nearly every writer does this, at least the great ones. Voltaire, Shelley, George Orwell, Shakespeare and Jean Paul Sartre all come to mind. We can find example after example in popular fiction, such as Stephen King’s The Green Mile, with a Christ-figure as a central character.

Different worldviews lead to different kinds of books. Most of the ones I loved so well had a Christian or Christian-inspired worldview. While many authors show what’s wrong with our world, only the Christian ones show how transformation and reform can happen. I’m not counting the ones that have autocratic government taking control. Doesn’t seem like transformation for the better to me!

Which leads me to aspire to write in all three dimensions.

To write great stories.

To write them well.

And to write them from the worldview of the Bible, to explore some of its themes, to challenge the stereotypes our culture has about the Bible and Christianity, and to glorify the giver of Faith.

Our culture seems to be more resistant to listening to what the Bible has to say about life, death and our significance. My goal is to show through fiction the truth of the scriptures that there is hope in are suffering, something worth living and dying for, because Someone died for us.

This blog is my journey of exploring. Sometimes I’ll be just telling a story. Sometimes I’ll be exploring different aspects of the craft of writing. And sometimes I’ll be looking at worldview, whether an example in something I’ve read or watched, or am writing myself.

If you’d like to follow along, subscribe to receive email notices of my latest posts. Or you can just stop back every Friday to see what’s new.

 

 

 

 

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How’d Those Goals Work Out?

 

success-259710_640The start of a new year is packed with optimism. A new year, full of opportunities to accomplish great things.

Then December rolled around. Achievements? Not so many.

 

I try to set ambitious goals for myself. But the past few years, it’s been nearly impossible. Too many deaths or family needs. Not to mention the joyous addition of a new grandson. Life has a way of changing our plans.

And so does procrastination. Too much worrying about getting things perfect instead of just doing my best caused me to waste entirely too much time.

So what got done this year?

  1. Finish drafting Stinging Power, #3 in my fantasy quartet

Stinging Power was my NaNo novel last year, and I did have well over 50,000 words by the end of November, 2015. I planned to finish it by the end of January. It took me until the end of March, partly because the story just kept spinning itself longer and longer.

  1. Finish revising Raising Fear, #1 in the quartet

The best I can say here is that I got started. I have some good feedback from beta readers, and have lots of notes. I do think when I’m done, I’ll have a much stronger story. Now it’s just a matter of getting down to business.

  1. Edit Raising Fear

Didn’t get there.

  1. Publish Raising Fear

Or here, either.

  1. Revise Wanting Justice, #2 in the quartet

Or here.

  1. Edit Wanting Justice

Or here. Sigh.

  1. Blog weekly

This I did keep up with. Score 1!

  1. Track my productivity and hold myself to a serious work schedule

I had such good intentions…

  1. Find critique partners

Does sporadic participating in an on-line group count?

  1. Participate in NaNoWriMo.

I realized by September, this wasn’t going to happen. Part of the problem is I didn’t have an idea that really grabbed me. I also knew I was going to get caught up in all kinds of non-writing related tasks that attempting NaNo wasn’t going to be at all realistic. Little did I know that in November there would be a death in the family, and the death of a close friend.

But what went wrong?

The big problem, I think, is my fear of turning out a second-rate, dull novel that no one will want to read. The solution is to get down to work and make sure that’s not going to happen.

As they say, you can’t beat someone who won’t give up. And that’s really the difference between success and failure.

Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s to your success in the New Year!

 

 

 

 

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A Tale of Two Women

Last month I lost two women who were close to me. The contrast between them could not have been greater.

anayakOne was born in India, in to a loving family. Her parents cared for her, protected her, and got her started in life. They valued the idea of educating their daughters, which was not common for that time.

She worked hard, and used her intellect and abilities to graduate from medical school. Not many women got that much education back then, especially a girl from a modest family.

She prayed for a miracle, and God answered. He opened the way for her to go to America, where she followed her dreams and became an allergist. She settled in a small city of the Midwest, and built a large practice, helping many overcome allergies and asthma.

On top of that, she built a large clinical trials practice and published hundreds of papers. She also traveled extensively, teaching and lecturing. Very few physicians outside of university research settings did what she managed to do.

Her career came to a crashing halt when she was diagnosed with cancer.

marianabdayThe other woman was born in Mexico, into a poor family. Her oldest uncle barely finished the second grade, her mother didn’t get much past high school.

When she was born, she didn’t breathe properly. It took several minutes to get her respiration started.

No one knew the depth of the damage that oxygen deprivation caused. It wasn’t until she was 12 that she was diagnosed. Brain damage and mild mental retardation. Later, in her teens she developed schizophrenia.

One of her uncles moved to America and finished graduate school. He invited his sister and her two daughters to join him. Fourteen years later, their papers came through.

The one niece attended college. The other, the handicapped one, languished. Her mother died of cancer, leaving her in the care of her sister.

We prayed for a miracle, and God answered. He opened the way for her to be placed in a wonderful residential program in Mexico, one of only a handful of places like it in the country. There she found a place where she would be encouraged to fulfill her potential.

Her education came to a crashing halt when she died suddenly.

While so very different, these two women have much in common. They both came from poverty. They both cared a great deal about people. Both were victims of sexual assault. Both loved fine food. (And IHOP.)

Both brought me great joy, in their companionship and their love. Both will be missed greatly, in different ways.

Most importantly, both loved Jesus, knowing that He died to set us free from sin, our own, and the effects of having been sinned against. Both are now with Him, free of pain and illness.

Which is the best gift any of us can receive this Christmas season. The gift of eternal life.

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There was a Knock at the Door

forest-386445_640-1

 

This month my writer’s group chose “there was a knock at the door” for our writing prompt. For some reason, my mind went to a foggy night. Enjoy!

 

 

The mist rose, slowly advancing, blotting out the shapes of the trees that lined the driveway like so many soldiers guarding a roadway. In the daylight, the trees seemed like friendly, protecting guardians. Now seen dimly through the fog, they appeared to be ominous, menacing enemies waiting to advance.

The usual sounds of the forest fell silent as the music at the end of a song fades out. Gradually the rustle of leaves and the breath of the wind faded. I no longer could see the water of the lake in the distance, no longer knew if the waves still lapped the shore or had gone still under the influence of the encroaching mist.

It was almost as if I was the only person left on earth. I moved to turn on the radio. As I raised my hand, the power went out. A cry jumped from my throat. Usually a power outage came during high winds. Not on a still, silent night.

Had some terrible incident happened? Terrorists bringing down the grid? A bomb dropped somewhere? Crazy scenarios chased, one after the other, through my mind.

“Get a grip,” I told myself. “You’ve been watching too much television.”

Through the semi-darkness I found the matches and a candle. The tiny light was reassuring. I laughed at my over-active imagination. “There are no vampires,” I reminded myself. “Nor are there werewolves.”

Shaking my head at my fears, I peered across to my nearest neighbor. No light penetrated the ever-thickening fog.

There was a knock on the door. I jumped and dropped my candle. Plunged into darkness, my fears came racing back.

The knock sound again. Surely Freddie Krueger hasn’t found me here. I stooped to pick up my candle and relit it, glad I had shoved the matchbox in my pocket rather than set it down somewhere.

The knocking on the door became banging. Frantic, insistent banging. I crept down the stairs, through the darkened basement to respond.

I peeked out the window to see who was there. A tall figure turned toward the light. Had I laughed at the idea of vampires or werewolves? That would have been better.

Shaking my head, I thought about not responding the knock. Why let someone in who abandoned me in the midst of tragedy twelve years ago? And why show up on a night straight from a horror movie? I’d rather open the door to Godzilla.

I let out a long breath and reached for the door handle. My older sister had come to call.

 

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In Memoriam: Anjuli Seth Nayak, MD

My goal was to break the shackles of bondage I felt in India, to flee the social stigma of being a woman, and the battles I had to fight just to have a career. The only way to achieve this was to get out of India. America was my best chance.

anjuli-memorial

These words sum up much of what drove Anjuli Nayak, who recently lost her battle with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).

She fought her disease nearly to her last breath. Her love of life didn’t allow her to do any differently.

Anjuli Nayak was diagnosed with ALL nearly six years ago. As a physician, she knew instantly that her life would never be the same. ALL has a 20% survival rate after five years.

Anjuli decided she would beat the odds.

And so began her journey with cancer, a journey I had the privilege to share. Over the six years of treatment, she underwent 40 rounds of chemotherapy, one bone marrow transplant, two genetic transplants, a port on her chest and one in her head. For the last months of her life, she lost much of the use of her legs and much of her vision.

But she never gave up. Even to the end, she was up on current events. She rejoiced in the Cubs’ World Series victory and the fact that she was able to vote for a woman president. This last meant so much to her that that she insisted on going to the polling place, pushed in her wheelchair, to participate in the election.

She also kept up on the arts in Chicago, and purchased tickets for the Opera, plays and concerts months ahead of time. If she was going to be still around, she was going to enjoy herself.

And she never let illness get in the way of enjoying her time with her sons, grandchildren, other family members and friends.

I met Anjuli in Russia when I was serving as a missionary. The city asked me to help with a team of doctors which was coming from America. My role was to be a second interpreter.

Little did I know that would be the beginning of an 18-year friendship with an incredible woman.

Over the years, Anjuli not only helped me with various medical problems, but was a friend who demonstrated what is so often called a zest for life. When I went to visit her, I never knew what we were going to do. It was clear she was in charge of the plans.

But she never disappointed. One time we got pedicures. Another we went to a lecture. I don’t remember who spoke or what about. What I recall so vividly was the way the speaker worked the crowd afterward. Never have I seen such courtesy and grace. I still try to imitate him to this day.

A year or so into her cancer journey, Anjuli asked me to be the ghostwriter for her memoir. I joyfully agreed. During the writing of the book, I gained such an appreciation for what she endured and overcame in her quest to have a career. This was not something that a woman in India could take for granted.

I also gained a deeper insight into this deeply spiritual woman. She converted to Christianity from Hinduism many years ago, and still was seeking to know God on a more intimate level.

The suffering of her disease caused her to examine her faith, to test it, and ultimately, find peace and solace. In her words:

As I prayed, I thanked God for the upcoming suffering, trying to be obedient to the command to give thanks in everything. I thanked Him that the suffering would bring me close to Him and that He was preparing me for what I would need to endure. I asked Him to heal me and to reduce the pain that I would face, and that His will—not mine—be done. I didn’t want to wallow in asking, “Why me?” I wanted to embrace God’s will for me. Accepting His will was all I had to cling to, the only thought that gave me any sense of calm.

Cover of Plucked from a Mango TreeHer memoir, Plucked from a Mango Tree, tells Anjuli’s inspiring story of her journey. How she overcame discrimination in early life, setbacks in career and personal life, and finally, the suffering caused by cancer.

Her story bears testimony to her strength of will, her refusal to give up, and most of all, her faith in God. She was able to face her cancer and impending death with peace, knowing that the end of this life was only the beginning of the next.

I’ll miss you, my dear friend. May I live my life to the fullest, as you lived yours.

 

Note: The link in this post is an affiliate links, meaning if you click it and make a purchase, I get a small commission, which helps cover some of the costs of this website. You are not charged any additional amount because of this.

 

 

 

 

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The Knee-Jerk Reliance on Social Media

social-media-1430512_640For the past three years, I’ve been an enthusiastic participant in NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month. This year was different. Many factors led to my decision to not participate.

One reason is that I have my fantasy series drafted. All four novels. I can hardly believe I’ve got them all on paper.

Now I’m on what I think is the hardest part: revision. If there was a NaNo for revising a novel, I’d be the first one to sign up.

Another reason is that I didn’t have an idea for a new novel to work on anyway.

The third reason is that life got in the way.

I knew that this November, I had a lot of prior commitments that couldn’t be put off. A conference, A short trip to celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary. A week away to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family.

So I thought I’d skip it this year.

My decision turned out to be a good one.

Halfway through the month, we got one of those dreaded midnight calls. First the landline rang. We ignored it. Then the cell phones started ringing. That was when we know someone wanted to get hold of us.

And then we learned a beloved niece had died, unexpectedly and inexplicably.

We moved through the next days, going through the motions. My husband described the feeling like having a flat tire.

Nine days later, I learned of the death of my dear friend, Anjuli Nayak. I had the privilege of ghostwriting her memoir Plucked from a Mango Tree. Her death, while sad, was not a shock. She battled Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia for nearly six years.

In the midst of grieving, we found that well-meaning friends and relatives made things worse.

Some of them seemed to have a knee-jerk reaction to publicize the news of death, and their feelings about it.

These seemed to be an invitation for condolences. While we all grieve in our own ways, the feelings of the closest person or people to the loss need to be considered. If they haven’t posted anything publicly, there might be a very good reason for it.

Maybe they are trying to decide how to notify others, and when.

Or maybe they don’t want to inform to world of a sudden, tragic death. Some people might want a few days to process the loss, without having to deal with questions from casual friends and acquaintances.

Others put up lovely tributes, expressing their appreciation for the departed, and their hope that they are in a better place.

On the surface, that seems like a thoughtful thing to do.

But again, it’s for the closest family member to decide when to start this.

And it’s never right to reveal the person’s secrets or their personal struggles that they have chosen to share with only those closest to them. Even the dead have some right to privacy.

Because of this rush to publicize, we found ourselves in the awkward and painful position of having to ask people to take down posts until we got word from our niece’s sister what she wanted to do.

Which brings me to a larger question.

What is this need to share everything with everyone?

For some people, it’s almost like a knee-jerk reaction. Something happens, publicize it. See how many people respond.

We throw our words out into the ether, hoping for connection. That’s not a bad thing.

But we need to think before we post, of how our words can affect others, how our words can be taken.

Social media can be a wonderful thing. But its lightning fast communication can be used to delight or to pain.

This experience is a reminder to me.

Think before you post.

 

 

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As the Year Ends

ice-skates-1082514_640My writing group holds a poetry contest each year. The rules are simple: write a poem on a given theme. This year’s theme is “Holidays.”

This is what I came up with:

 

 

As the Year Ends
Wind blows cold and
Wind blows fierce.
Cheeks grow red and rough.

Snow drifts gently,
Snow piles high
Roads all turn to slush.

Sleds skim hillsides,
Skaters glide.
Children laugh and cheer

Wild bucks clash.
Quarterbacks dash.
Spectators raise their beer.

Holidays abound,
Gifts form mounds,
New calendars appear.

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