New Novel sent off as an attachment – how weird is that?

Okay, it’s gone to press.  The manuscript for Suicidal Maniacs and the Lady of Shalott I sent off yesterday as a file attachment – after years of work on that novel.

I remember submitting No Words for Love and Famine to my publisher on a disk, thinking that might be the height of alienated labor; all the work that goes into writing a novel comes down to rearranged bits and bytes on a small disk.  But no, that wasn’t anywhere near as alienating as this experience yesterday.  This novel isn’t even submitted in “the body of the text”, “the body” being a metaphor that’s stretched a bit too far when you are referring to email.  And the novel isn’t even part of the body; it’s simply an attachment.

So here again I need to practice the principle of non-attachment.  Everything passes and all we do is love and labor as best we can.  “Attachment” then is in fact an excellent metaphor, because as an author I become way too attached to my little project and have to simply let it go.  It’s done.   Send it off.  Press “enter”.


SUICIDAL MANIACS AND THE LADY OF SHALOTT will be released November 17, 2012. 

Contact the author at to arrange a reading or interview.

Second Life

First, I have to admit I’m having difficulty keeping up with my first life, as a philosopher/priest/novelist. So the appeal of Second Life ( wasn’t immediately attractive. I was introduced to Second Life by the physicists in the Kira Institute who were trying to work on high level physics theory across the international dateline so they moved into Second Life.

But the character in my novel, Suicidal Maniacs and the Lady of Shalott has a simple goal:  She wants to create her imaginary world and mount a medieval play – The Mummers Play.  This is a traditional Christmas play which is hard to even consider in this heat wave we’re experiencing across North America, but maybe it’s a way to chill out.  Is there a medievalist playwright/Second Life geek out there who wants to collaborate on this project?


Here’s the script from the novel:

Eliza prints out versions of the Mummers play that cover the floor like fresh fallen snow.  She plans that she and her friends will perform the cycle of plays:

1. When righteous Joseph wedded was,Unto a virtuous/virgin maid,
A glorious angel from heaven came,Unto that virtuous/virgin maid,
Unto that virtuous/virgin maid.
2. O mortal man remember well,When Christ our lord was born,
He was cricified betwixt two theives

and crown’ed withe thorn,
And crown’ed with the thorn.

3. O mortal man remember well,When Christ died on the rood,
‘Twas for our sins and wicked ways,

Christ shed his precious blood,
Christ shed his precious blood.

4. O mortal man remember well,When Christ was wrapped in clay,
He was taken to a sepulcre,

where no man ever lay,
Where no man ever lay.

5. God bless the mistress of this house,
With gold all/chain round her breast,
Where e’er her body sleeps or wakes,
Lord send her soul to rest.
6. God bless the master of this house,
With happiness beside,
Where e’er his body rides or walks,
Lord Jesus be his guide.
7. God bless your house, your children too,
Your cattle and your store,
The Lord increase you day by day,
And send/give you more and more.

Eliza pours over a cookbook Shauna found, Pleyn Delit; medieval cooking for modern cooks.  She begins sewing costumes copying medieval folk dramas, reads everything she can get her hands on about the Mummer’s play.

Heidi is not a nun, but maybe a saint

Listening to this controversy that the Vatican has  incited by criticizing the good sisters in North American for not promoting the Vatican positions on sexuality, I consider a character we created in Sexual Mercy.  Heidi certainly is no nun – in fact she’s a lesbian phone sex operator – yet she may be articulating what the deepest Catholic teaching tries to maintain the connection between our sexuality and spirituality.  Here’s a stretch of conversation between Heidi and Dom that comes toward the end of the novel Sexual Mercy that might serve to illustrate that point:

            “I did love her.” [Dom]

            “Good, you recognize that it’s a verb.  Making love, the noun form, is the product of loving, as in the verb, an action.” [Heidi]

            “At least you recognize that this action, as you call it, doesn’t always have to be sexual.”

            Both women were noticeably testy, getting testier by the minute.

              “Just sexual?   As in just friends, as if friendship wasn’t the highest calling.”

            “According to you I should go back and fuck her, just to prove that I’m a human being.”

            “Who asked you to prove anything?”

            “Why are you trying to get the upper hand?”

            “Don’t get so defensive. I’m just trying to make a point.”

            “I can’t win here. Is that your point?  If Tuy and I were to become sexual partners again, that wouldn’t be as good as staying simply friends while, according to your logic, sex has some kind of mystical spiritual meaning.”

            “You’re absolutely right on that score.”

Both Heidi and Dom recognize that connection between spirituality and sexuality is close, they remind me of a story Fr. Jim, a priest for more than forty years, once told me:

 “You know, I have a friend, a psychiatrist, who told me he’d never had a patient come to him with a sexual problem that wasn’t, at the root, a spiritual problem.  I thought about it for a minute, then told him, ‘That’s interesting, because I’ve never had someone come to me with a spiritual problem that wasn’t, at the root, a sexual problem!’”

After decades of listening to confessions, Fr. Jim was well aware that our sexuality and our spirituality are intricately connected, maybe one in the same thing, a God given creative force pushing us to go beyond ourselves.  I think that’s Katy’s discovery in the novel.  Her husband is having an affair of sorts, with Heidi, a lesbian phone sex operator confined to a wheel chair.  Katy’s got to find her own power to be as sexually appealing as this voice on the phone, and in finding her own power I believe she comes to know a higher power, that which calls us to be powerfully compassionate, truly and completely a human being, body and soul, as one and ultimately/intimately with God.

The Vatican needs to learn to listen if they are going to provide any authentic leadership, listen to people who listen to the people, to renew their faith and inform their teachings certainly before they start giving directives to those people.

Re-reading yourself with an old novel; rewriting yourself with a new novel

Two years ago I had the strange experience of reading Huckleberry Finn while on vacation.  I enjoyed the novel every bit as much as I had the first time I read it, probably more for better understanding the author’s intention and pure genius.  Also, though, the pleasure I experienced in rereading it was in the odd experience of flashing back to the original experience, rereading both the text and my younger self at the same time.

The same thing is happening as I prepare my own novel, Vigil, to be reissued now as an eBook. As I move over the words looking for errors the scanner interjected, and a few embarrassing errors both my publisher, editor and I missed with the first edition, I flash back to that writer I was writing her first novel (and the issues that nearly did me in as a writer, and probably were doing in my marriage that ended soon after its publication.)  Where did that come from — the dark vision and the incredible optimism I experienced in what seemed to most a nightmare scenario.  I had not intended on writing a novel at the outset. Who were these people that took over my imagination and where did they come from?  Some people, friends and family, identified themselves in the novel but I don’t see that in any of them nor my characters though surely influences… well, influenced me.

When I come to the end it doesn’t end, I find.  Our language is a shared language, and the text grows and shrinks, ages and wrinkles and springs up to bite or delight us.

Does a writer ever take a vacation?

This was to be my first real vacation in several years.  I usually wind up taking a “busman’s holiday,”  tacking a few days for research onto a one-week holiday (Canadians don’t take vacations; we take holidays) or a few vacation days onto the end of a ten-day film shoot.  But not this summer.  This summer I was planning on taking a full two weeks of holiday, no work attached.

So there I am in Mt. Shasta, the most beautiful snow capped mountain soaring up above redwood pines and cedars.  And there at my feet is a pen.  A really good pen.  I’m so far from any reasonable writing surface but there it is.  I assume someone dropped it because it was broken or out of ink.  Must be.  A perfectly good pen wouldn’t wind up right at my feet in the forest.

But no; the pen works beautifully.  It sits cool against the palm of my hand.  I do have my notebook in my backpack; out of habit I always carry one.  I put pen to paper.  Two trees shoot up seemingly from one root.  They’re called “splitters” around here, and the branches high above twist together… I write a passage…

This is not work.



What would John Cage’s 4’33″ sound like in prose?

Yesterday I decided to begin a Eucharist service with John Cage’s piece of music 4’33″ instead of a hymn or some instrumental, inspired by a friend’s comment that so much religious music is just “decorating the silence.”  Cage’s piece consists of the pianist going to the piano and waiting four minutes and thirty-three seconds, then hitting a single key.   Much ink has been spilled about this work.  What Cage said about this famous piece is that, “I have nothing to say / and I am saying it / and that is poetry / as I needed it.”

Cage himself connecting it with poetry probably led me to first consider poetry this morning when I wondered what the quality of his piece would be in writing.  I thought about Gertrude Stein’s:  “A rose/is a rose/is a rose.”

But what about with my own form, prose fiction?  The quality of suspense is parallel to the emotion the listener feels at the beginning of 4’33″ that is a crucial element in some prose, but the suspense there is created through the noisy narrative – words, words, words.

An image in Tolstoy’s War and Peace comes closest though noisy in itself (587,287 words), this image depicting noisy war:

“He was like a horse running downhill harnessed to a heavy cart.  Whether he was pulling it or being pushed by it he did not know, but rushed along at headlong speed with no time to consider what this movement might lead to.”

The passage so struck me, I gave it perhaps more than four minutes and thirty-three seconds.  Is that roughly the prosaic equivalent to Cage’s work?  This isn’t a rhetorical question.  I really don’t know, and would really like to know, what is the quality of Cage’s work in prose?

Performing Identity – Theater Professional’s Intensive

Hearing people’s stories is one of the greatest pleasures in all aspects of my work, as a writer, teacher, priest, and as a friend.  There’s what happens (the plot) and what we do with the circumstances (the pot thickens) and then the lyrical moment (call it grace) when the meanings becomes clear — multiple meanings; there is always more.  This is part of what we’ll be exploring in the theater professional’s intensive, Performing Identity.  There’s still time to register at the reduced early registration rate, and groups of 5 get a further reduction.  See the press release below:




(May 7, 2012, Los Angeles, CA.)  For the first time, ShPIeL-Performing Identity from Chicago will join with theatre dybbuk in Los Angeles to conduct a workshop for theatre professionals at the Spirit Studio in Silver Lake. The theme of the Intensive is Performing Identity, which comes from ShPIeL’s mission to create, develop, produce and educate about performances of identity, heritages and cultures.

David Chack, the Artistic Director of ShPIeL says, “When I met Aaron (Aaron Henne, Artistic Director of theatre dybbuk) it was like we were speaking the same language. Much of my work comes from a strong connection to the stories and play which make us who we are and Aaron’s theatre explores the myths that lie within our collective unconscious in order to create haunting performance experiences.”

Mr. Chack, on the faculty of the Theatre School at DePaul University, has worked with some of the best-known theatre companies in Chicago: Piven Theatre, Silk Road Rising (performs transcultural theatre and  LGBT themes) and Lookingglass Theatre – the 2011 regional Tony Award winner, which is an associate partner of ShPIeL. He has helped them develop new identity theatre, produce it and build community engagement plans.

Mr. Henne and Mr. Chack will lead sessions utilizing physical theatre techniques, memory and dream investigations, collaborative creation exercises and identity journey explorations — culminating with a work-in-progress showcase (invitation only). Mr. Henne’s extensive work as a playwright and body-oriented theatre artist reflects the character of these sessions. His pieces, often collaboratively developed, include Sliding Into Hades, winner of the LA Weekly Awards for Playwriting and Production of the Year and Body Mecanique, a dramatization of machines and their relationships to humanity, produced by LA Contemporary Dance Company.

Guest leaders will also be involved including Stacie Chaiken, known for her acclaimed What’s the Story? workshop for writers and performers wrestling with personal story. She is on the performance faculty of the USC School of Theatre.Participants will not only develop new work but also become part of ShPIeL and theatre dybbuk’s network for potential productions.

For more information about the program, fees or to register send an email to

*This workshop is in association with Artwalk Inc, working with artists and arts organizations exploring the intersection between artists’ work and sacred practices. Artwalk provides space and venues for people to create and present art, promotes the spiritual practices of artists and their audiences, provides hospitality and support for creative life and promotes interfaith dialogue through the arts.

If you happen to be in Washington DC….

If you are lucky enough to be in Washington with time enough to check this out, I’m jealous.  Artomatic is an amazing idea, demonstrating the use of urban spaces that can be filled with art – like a giant pop-up gallery — while practicing the Buddhist principle of impermanence.

My web designer-guru-friend Lisa Helene is working with them, offering these workshops.  Check it out:

I would trust her with anything career-wise (also probably health-wise and sh might make a great spiritual director) and she’s a wonderful writer in her own right/rite/write.  So you might want to check out her site while you’re at it.

What I’ve learned from her?  Social networking doesn’t have to hurt.  Online you don’t even have to dress for it.

Narrative Grace

Working in faith communities as chaplain, instructor, and now as  priest I hear a lot of stories – amazing stories – but I’m sworn to secrecy so I can’t follow the time-tested advice, “Write what you know.”   Okay, amor fati  (love one’s fate); I’m resigned to the fact that my best material must go to the grave with me.

Meanwhile, I’m committed to the practice of “hearing a person into speech.”

Certainly there’s astonishing beauty in the narrative thread of each life.  Christians talk about grace, Buddhists talk about impermanence, writers perhaps recognize it in the integrity of the narrative, and it all amounts to the same thing.

Every moment has both a lyrical quality of the present moment, a single tone like a temple bell or the clatter of dirty pans in the sink.  It’s the telling detail,  that at the same time is part of a larger grand narrative, that at its best leaves us speechless.


How did you do it? people ask, when they hear that Paul Savoie and I collaborated on a novel.  How did we do it and remain friends?

It began as a three-way writing challenge with Ayanna Black to write an erotic novel..  I came up with an outline.  Ayanna, who at the time was surely having the best sex, couldn’t write about anything sexual without dissolving into a puddle of embarrassment.  Paul and I rolled our eyes and gave up.

Then another attempt was initiated, this time just Paul and me.  I began writing a novel Paul recognized immediately was a singular effort.  “Roberta, this is your novel,” he said and he was right.  Soon I finished No Words for Love and Famine, on my own. Paul’s contribution was simply the title and one other line in the book, which could get him into big trouble if it were recognized as such, so I’ll say no more about that.

Several years later, Paul suggested we try again.  I’d just finished the screenplay “Dom and Cat” that I planned to tuck away in a drawer.  After all, what business does a Catholic minister have writing about phone sex and BDSM?

A screenplay is a strange art form, like a blueprint for a building that someone else might build. I offered it to Paul as a framework for our novel, with the caveat:  “Paul, the only way I’m going to start down this road with you again is if you promise that we finish this novel or you never ever suggest we coauthor a novel again.”  Paul promised and we began Sexual Mercy.

We soon developed a rhythm.  He wrote one chapter.  I would revise that and write the next.  He would revise mine, and write the next.  So we wrote the first draft and the second in this game of literary leap frog.  I’m going to ask Paul to jump in here and describe his experience.  See, we’re still involved in that game of leap frog.  Our friendship was tested, yes, and endures.  Paul, your turn…


[You can find several of Paul’s books available at . God bless her; Ayanna Black’s birthday last Sunday was marked by her friends.  She has passed but her poetry is available at and  her anthology Fiery Spirits at]