You Are Welcome Here

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This is the end of a train of thought that started with a brief conversation yesterday. I am a devout Christian, and my wife is Pagan, and passionately so. When I think of my four closest friends, they are an atheist, an agnostic, and two Christians. I teach classes on the Bible, comparative religions, and writing. I write; I father; I husband. I won’t speak for my wife (she can do that), but I often have the curious impression that there is some war going on all around us and somehow people expect us to be on different “sides,” but she and I didn’t get the memo.

Or possibly we are just too busy. Living fierce lives of faith and raising children and making beautiful things … no one told us how hard and energy-consuming these matters are…

In any event, you are all welcome to my blog, to my Facebook community, to my books, to my online house. I believe passionately that we are called (whether we respond or no) to live as the incarnate hands and feet of God in the world, telling stories of hope and redemption, and loving others fiercely and without conditions or qualifications. So one of the things I do is share stories and encourage others to, also. Because love (actual love) begins with the hearing of others’ stories. If you love, and if you enjoy stories and enjoy them fiercely and want to hear others’ stories, that makes you part of my tribe, and welcome at my fire for as long as it burns.

Stant Litore

Benediction

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This is not a gray world.
May your days be alive with the electrifying colors of God’s presence and wonder.
May you look up and around you even in the midst of your burdens.
May you look for God’s love in the faces around you, in the falling of rain, in the sound of footsteps in snow.
May you take in the colors of the life God gives you until your eyes and spirit ache with them.
May you be as a bride seeing in every hour the face of her Beloved.
May your wonder make the colors visible to those who walk with their heads down.
May your surprised joy and your devotion make the voice of God audible to those who walk with their pain loud in their ears.

– from Lives of Unstoppable Hope

Something I wrote when the night was very, very dark.

Stant Litore

Teaching Emerging Writers

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Sometimes, I get a bit of fan mail or a letter that makes my whole week, that makes me glow inside — and not from radioactivity. These moments matter to me especially because I suffer from periodic bouts of depression, a dark sense of futility that rides me piggyback for a while. It’s hard to shake off, and I usually find ways to boulder forward at full run until it slips and falls off by itself; it’s a heavy beast and has a hard time balancing on my back for long when I’m at full gallop. Last week, the beast was whispering the #2 hit on its chart: that nothing I put on paper matters to anyone, that I am merely adding clutter to an already cluttered literary landscape, that my stories are mere waste, that I am mere waste, and on and on. It is a vapid lie (as top hits sometimes are), but a hard one to shake, nonetheless. (If you’ve read What Our Eyes Have Witnessed, you have encountered the beast in those pages, as it stalks down the alleys of Rome after Father Polycarp.)

At these times, I turn to kind words from my readers; those words become my armor, proof that my work has an impact. Most of my readers know me, I think, as super-high-energy-creative-guy and don’t see me carrying the beast on my shoulders. One has to be super-high-energy-creative to fight the beast and win. And I always play to win.

WriteToday, I received the kindest letter from the woman who runs Castle Rock Writers, a local writers’ convention. It was unexpected, and in it she shared with me a huge list of excited, happy feedback from writers who attended my class “Write Characters Your Readers Won’t Forget” (here is the book version of the class). The letter dealt the beast quite a blow; I am thrilled to learn that the class helped so many writers.

I certainly invite you to take the class if you are in Colorado and have the chance to; I’ll be teaching it as a one-hour crash course at Writers on the Rock in February and in three one-hour chapters at AnomalyCon in March. Future dates to be announced later.

Stant
Stant Litore teaching at Castle Rock Writers 2015

Here is a bit from the letter I received today:

Hi Stant,
    Your workshop was a big hit. Here are the comments from the evals… One eval had a very lengthy commentary so copied it and will put it in the mail….

  1. Fantastic examples, utterly brilliant, amazing.
  2. Well done and enjoyable.
  3. The best.
  4. Great workshop, but definitely could use more time. Lots of great material.
  5. Excellent! Want him back!
  6. Wonderful examples, excellent organization of topics, super helpful.
  7. He had my attention immediately. Very well spoken, awesome presentation. Whole class very attentive.
  8. Good explanations. Great examples. Fun storyteller. Answered questions well.
  9. Great information. Interesting speaker. Thank you.
  10. Lots of knowledge and practical advice-thanks!
  11. Great talk. Thanks. Already bought your book today
  12. Excellent all around presentation!
  13. Great examples and outline to work with.
  14. Great information, well-paced, succinctly presented-Thanks!
  15. Would like a longer session with Stant.
  16. Really great.
  17. Terrific.
  18. Good 5 points of reference.
  19. (a very long one so not all is here). I LOVE the examples, C.S. Lewis, David and Goliath, Odyssey. You weave details succinctly and compellingly. DETAILS ROCK!

Stant 1
Stant Litore teaching at Castle Rock Writers 2015

Wow: a whole list of reactions and thank you’s from other writers who appreciated the class. I did not ask for them; I think Castle Rock Writers collects evaluations after each of its sessions. I didn’t know they would be shared with me (that doesn’t usually happen in a convention format); I am delighted. I suppose I will keep teaching this class.

I hope you are all enjoying the novels, and if you are curious about future runs of my course “Write Characters Your Readers Won’t Forget,” keep an eye on my blog here or write to me at zombiebible@gmail.com. Or, of course, get the book.

Gratefully,

Stant Litore

Inara Visits the Aquarium!

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Today was Inara’s first aquarium visit. Daddy and River showed Inara and Mommy all the sights… Look how focused Inara is! Her vision is so improved since last January, and she is having so much fun! I am so fiercely proud of how both my girls have grown. (Inara has conquered every obstacle, and River, my little engineer, has held her hand the whole way and continues to show her younger sister as many of the world’s wonders as she can.)

At the mermaid show, one of the mermaids kept swimming over to see Inara and wave at her.

 

What Is “Privilege”?

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I’ve seen a number of conversations short-circuit rather messily lately when the concept of “privilege” comes up, and I think many people are defensive about the idea of privilege — in part because the topic is heated, and in part because they don’t understand the idea, or are misusing it. There are two misconceptions about “privilege”: 1) that the concept implies that you are racist, sexist, or an agent of oppression; and 2) that having privilege is a bad thing. And these two assumptions make people defensive, so the conversation short-circuits. But both of these statements are false.

First, privilege usually means that you are the beneficiary of past oppression; it isn’t connected to your own attitudes and actions; it’s something you inherit from the past.

And second, privilege itself is a good thing; what’s unjust and destructive is that not everyone else gets to enjoy the same privileges. Those who do are the beneficiaries of a system that grants privileges only to some, not to all.

For example, as a man, I benefit from the privilege of being able to walk down the street without fear of catcalling, stalking, harassment, or rape; and as a white man, I benefit from the additional privilege of being able to take a stroll with no fear of being accosted arbitrarily by law enforcement. Most of the time, I am not even aware that this is a privilege I have — but it must be very visible to anyone who doesn’t have that privilege! In a just world, this security in walking down the street ought to be a privilege extended to everyone, not merely to one select group. My privilege in walking freely down the street without fear is itself a good thing; what isn’t good is that many are deprived of that privilege that I enjoy.

On a more subtle level, I have a privilege of being able to confidently expect that I will be among the taller and more physically powerful people in a room I enter. This frees me to act and assert myself in ways that others have been socially and historically conditioned to avoid, or in ways that would be very risky for people who don’t enjoy the same privilege I do. Though the privilege may be invisible to me at the time, I may in fact actively avail myself of it constantly, whether to dominate a conversation, get a thing done, etc. Similarly, I have the privilege of expecting that my words will be heard; I have the privilege of being assigned an immediate level of respect when I speak; I don’t have to wait for a member of another gender seated elsewhere in the room to second my words in order for them to have merit in the conversation. So privileges grant not only security to those who have them, but freedom of action and power in social situations.

The reason it is important for someone who does have privilege to be aware of it is so that they can also be more aware when others around them are not extended the same privilege. The woman on my left in a meeting may have things to say that have as much or more merit than what I have to say; if I am aware that in this particular social situation, I am being granted greater respect or more privilege to speak, and if I am aware that she is being granted less, I can take action to either get out of her way or actively use my privilege to ensure she has opportunity to speak, as well. And it’s important for me to be aware of privileges that I’ve been extended but that others haven’t so that I can listen with attention and respect to injustices raised by others (for example, someone reporting harassment) rather than dismissing their account out of hand as an exaggeration merely because I can’t imagine being subjected to what they’ve had to endure.

Sudden awareness of privilege is a driver of social change, advocacy, and effort. Many in the first world find their lives changed the first time they actually see that people — smart, good, everyday people — in many towns in the third world don’t have access to running water or to clean water. Realizing that many white people are exonerated of the very crimes for which black people are jailed can lead to a push to reform the prison system, or the court system, or to educate people about the problem.

Realizing that millions of children in Calcutta wore no shoes, Mother Teresa took off her own and gave them to a child — and then gave every box of shoes shipped to her to others. It is hard to be told about privilege because a too-natural response is to dismiss it; “I’m not a bad person”; “just because I wear shoes doesn’t make me racist”; “I have shoes because I work, and I can pay for them; other people should work, too.” But when you see the evidence of privilege before your eyes — when you see children running down a street without shoes — you might be more likely to be moved to take off your shoes and offer them to a young girl whose feet are deformed or cut or bruised. Or even if you didn’t, even if you kept your shoes on your feet, you might conceivably buy some shoes and bring them to that girl. Or you might tell some people and gather a box of shoes. Or you might start a nonprofit.

That decision to go get some shoes doesn’t have anything to do with deciding whether you’re a racist or not a racist, or whether you’re a good or a bad person: it’s a decision to deal with an injustice of which you were previously unaware but that is now right before your eyes, rather than turn your back on it.

And what a better world we’d make, if we listened more when we were told about our privilege (or, more accurately, when told about privileges we enjoy that are currently denied to others), if we considered it mindfully with open ears, if we could respond to an injustice prior to being confronted with it visibly. Becoming increasingly aware of your own privilege is critical to living as a just and respectful person.

Stant Litore

Listen

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None of you need my advice, nor am I qualified to give it; few people are. So this isn’t advice. It is a plea.

Listen.

Listen more, this year.

That’s my plea.

The world of social media is a raucous den of howler monkeys (I can certainly be one, so I feel often at home here) some days. Folks are shouting, pontificating, slandering, mocking, criticizing, justifying, rationalizing, arguing, or protesting. The Internet is sometimes a fun place, sometimes, but not always a friendly place. My plea is just: listen. Not everyone here is a good person with good intentions, but everyone here has a story and experiences and an entire world that only they have ever seen, and that world and that story is not likely to be what you expect. The more you listen, the more stories you have. The more stories you have, the bigger your heart grows, so that it can have room for all those stories. The bigger your heart is, the easier it is to listen. And the more you listen, the more stories you have. And the more stories you have, the bigger your heart is… And so on. And the more people who have big hearts and spend much of their time listening, the more stories get heard. Decisions get wiser. People get less angry and less fearful.

So listen. Listen a lot, if you can. Listen long, and compassionately, and deeply.

I want to listen, a lot, this year.

There are a lot of stories out there to listen to. Many of them will surprise me.

Only twice have I ever been moved with a desire to ‘unfriend’ a person online: once over a case of stalking, and once over a spewing of hate (in that case, the other person was kind enough to unfriend me first). My readers and fans and Facebook friends are of varied genders, ethnicities, religions, political opinions, and nationalities. That is not because I “toe the line,” or am politically correct or incorrect, or because I don’t have opinions. I do. I have a gender, an ethnicity, a religion, an array of political opinions, and a nationality: there are a lot of defined boxes that I fit into. But I think I have a diverse readership and a diverse Facebookship because I like listening. I like hearing, sharing, and telling stories. And then hearing more stories. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I have books, rather than just manuscripts hidden in a back drawer. That’s why I spend time here, and not just locked away by my writing desk. I love your stories. I love my own, too, and I love to tell them and talk about them; but I also love your stories, and I yearn to listen.

My prayer and hope, each year, is to be a better listener.

My plea to you is: Listen. Listen from the heart. Listen because you want to know the other person, not just their politics or some other facet of their identity. Listen to their heart and their story. Listen, a lot, this year. Listen and hear.

Stant Litore

Happy New Year from Stant Litore

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2015 was a good year! Good for my daughters, good for my books. Inara has had a year free of seizures and has picked up skills at a rate I can hardly believe. And I crunched the numbers on my books: December was a good month. My first year as a published novelist, I sold about 13,000 books, and I have sold about 7,000 books per year, each year since; I suppose that makes me a moderate, solid-sized fish in the small pond, or a plump minnow in the big pond. It means a growing community of readers and a little inflow of cash. I am happy. I think 2016 is going to be the record year.

And I am delighted to be able to say that, via December book sales, we raised $415 to support the youth literacy efforts of Grey Havens YA in Colorado! I love this group and everything they’re doing, and am very glad to be able to chip in a little to help. Theirs is a shoestring budget, and they can make a few hundred dollars go a very long way. This amount will probably cover books and supplies for their efforts this year. Thank you, everyone who bought a copy of my Zombie Bible digital box set — you helped!

If you call Colorado home, I definitely recommend checking them out. They do a shocking amount of good work and good programs with very few resources, and I admire them fiercely: http://greyhavensya.com/support-grey-havens-ya/testimonials/

Thank you Kelly Cowling​, Robyn Bosica​, and Seal Whiskerson​ for letting me participate in your work in this way!

Testimonials about the group:

From a parent: “[My child] has thrived since being in GHYA. For the first time, she has made friends and loves going. She has fun, but she also stimulates her cognitive and creative sides. She learns and she is interested in learning. She gets ideas and puts them to use. This group has been a lifesaver for us.”

From a teen member: “I would be so lost without my YA family. I am very thankful this group came to Longmont. I wish every town had a group like this one where young people can connect over a good book or shared fandom in an open way. Grey Havens has helped me to grow into a more confident person. I am more open to talking with other people and not afraid to share my voice about my interests, hobbies or even social issues affecting young people.”

GHYA, keep up the amazing work in 2016!

Stant Litore