Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Thursday, February 18, 2016


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter… ©

I read a lot of mystery-adventure fiction. Most people these days prefer movies or television for stories, but I still like books. I have nothing against movies, but they are limiting. They give me only one way of seeing a scene, a character, a story. A book gives me many options for picturing the story.

A major problem for fiction writers today is technology. It is hard to understand and hard to keep up with, especially communication and information technology, both of which are part of anything we do these days. Neither a villain nor a hero can be secretive about anything, because GPS systems and surveillance cameras and cell phones and computer spies track our every move.

Writers deal with this in three ways. One is to write about the technology directly, like you understand it and know how it works. Only a few can do that, and they are really boring. Readers don’t want to see the intestines; they just want to know if the surgeon got sued.

The second is for the protagonist to have a technology expert friend, a loner who lives in a basement and never does anything but work all day at computers and owes the main character unspecified favors and so works his computer magic, which is never delineated, and tells the hero what she needs to know, without explanation as to how he does it. That’s good. It saves the author a lot of time and effort. It’s also unfair.

The third is to set the story in a situation where there is no technology. That was always the advantage of the setting of Western novels. Even if the hero wanted help, someone had to ride a horse 90 miles to the county seat. In a Western, you’re on your own. A no-technology setting is hard t come by in modern times.

I grew up with Western stories. They were a staple of radio and movies—especially Saturday afternoon serials--and then television. And books. Westerns are still alive and well, but as a narrow niche of readers, mostly old men who grew up with The Lone Ranger and those Saturday afternoon serials.

So when I started writing novels, I naturally did Westerns. I had a whole series in mind, “the lonely man” series. Ha, never saw that coming, did you? Nobody else ever thought of using a lonely man in a Western. I got as far as An Ordinary Man, published by HarperPaperbacks, but my editor there left, and all the editors and publishers wanted me, and every other Western writer, to change our name to Louis Lamour before they would print our stuff.

I am still attracted, though, even in this techno age, perhaps especially now, to that setting where it is just one person, against all odds, with no way to call for help and no reason to expect any. Because that is the way life in faith and spirit is.

One Western I am still working on, even though I know there is no hope of publication, I call The Fourth Stranger. John Dunne, S.J., says we meet three strangers in life—mortality, sexuality, and the world of others—and the quality of our life depends upon whether we can make friends with these strangers. I think we meet a fourth stranger, and the relation with that stranger determines all the others. That stranger is God. It’s each of us, alone, trying to make friends with the strangers, that’s the story.

No computer genius is going to help you make friends of those strangers, but, at any age, that is life’s task.

John Robert McFarland

The great Elmore Leonard started out as a writer of Westerns, and did some of the best, such as Valdez is Coming, which became a movie with Anthony Quinn, and Hombre, featuring Paul Newman in the movie.

I started this blog several years ago, when we followed the grandchildren to the “place of winter,” Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP]. I put that in the sub-title, Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter, where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] The grandchildren, though, are grown up, so in May, 2015 we moved “home,” to Bloomington, IN, where we met and married. It’s not a “place of winter,” but we are still in winter years of the life cycle, so I am still trying to understand what it means to be a follower of Christ in winter…

I tweet as yooper1721.

No comments:

Post a Comment