Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

May Jesus' teachings for interpersonal behavior continue to influence how we treat each other throughout the new year.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


An excerpt, the prologue from Resolution 786

Prologue: 2036 Anno Domini

She brought a gnarled, frail hand to her wasted mouth, lying in cadaverous repose on stiff white sheets draped over a small hospital bed that sat on top of a sterile frame of gray metal tubes. Bright plastic light filled the tiny, colorless room, ricocheting in impersonal waves off four vacant walls. Her being quivered, alone, in rushing pain as she struggled to feed her papery lungs with sharp little sips of air sucked between savagely broken lips, precious oxygen dragged across an acrid, twirling black tongue. Her skull twitched with each labored breath, patches of bare scalp reflecting a cold sheen of bleached white between wispy mounds of lifeless, brittle hair. Her fractured trunk languished in a sunken crush, no breasts, bony humps of sternum studded through the top of a loose hospital gown. A set of desolate, listless hands and feet lay destitute at the ends of her surrendered circulatory system, writing their armistice in blue ice.

The hospital intercom spoke in a booming, loudspeaker voice, prompting her eyes to open a moment, reflexively, bulging spheres ailing in forced effort. The unseeing, jaundiced glass balls rolled about in a film-soaked swirl, pupils finally becoming lost inside her forehead. Her mouth and eyelids fell in unison. The lids stopped unclosed, marking a set of thin, grotesque yellow-white lines where her eyes had been. Her open mouth, coal tongue still, became an aged hollow with stubs of broken, muddy rocks ringed around its entrance.

The world’s best medical specialists had not been able to diagnose the former presidential advisor’s ailment. It had started strangely, almost three decades back. At the time, Madam Advisor had been a national figure and a key proponent and architect of the first war of the twenty-first century, a war that she argued would be won easily, resulting in the quick emergence of a Jeffersonian democracy in the heart of the Middle East, a fully functioning egalitarian state that would provide the people of the region a stable and secure beacon of enlightened ideals, a new nation, conceived in liberty and perpetually beholden to the morally superior West. So she argued.

Instead, one decade into the twenty-first century, Madam Advisor’s war had given rise to an oil rich, nuclear powered fundamentalist theocracy that ruled from the former Soviet Union to the south of Turkey, one that oppressed its women, threatened its neighbors and had plausible designs for the conquest of southern Europe. The theocracy’s passionately fundamentalist leaders detested the Western powers that had funded and nursed it through its birth, the countries that had invested an enormous treasure of life, limb and gold to vanquish the region’s secular dictators and place them, the fundamentalists, into power.

And so, as the Islamic Federation of Greater Iran grew, so did Madam Advisor’s inexplicable ailments. The theocracy’s birth pangs had come in a tumultuous maelstrom of blood, tears, sorrows, and loss. As above, so below — the anguished turmoil crossed the gossamer curtain between Heaven and Earth. The angels, disturbed, drew lots to repay the turmoil to its mothers and fathers. And so it was Azrael who collected every drop of blood spilled in Madam Advisor’s war, collected them into a bottomless grail, which he then poured into Madam Advisor’s spleen. And it was Malik who collected every tear shed in Madam Advisor’s war, collected them into an ancient chalice that he then poured into Madam Advisor’s glands. And it was Mukar who cast a net of air over every sorrow born of Madam Advisor’s war and he cast that net, full and brimming, deep into Madam Advisor’s heart. And it was Nakir who tossed a canopy of still space over every loss suffered in Madam Advisor’s war and emptied that canopy one loss at a time into Madam Advisor’s dreams.

The blood, the tears, the sorrows, the loss — all rightfully hers, pressed themselves into her body in a complex of twisted sinews that wrapped and clung to her soul like a poisonous vine.

Thirty years ago, when her ailments had slowly begun to fester, she had busied herself in avoiding responsibility for the war, hiding behind clever and contrived rhetoric founded on the ambiguities of war, the wrongness of others, the inaccuracies of information. No matter the cunning of argument, no matter the volume of assertion, no matter the minions of sophists dispatched to every media outlet imaginable, the facts remained true. The war was long and bloody. Fundamentalism had grown exponentially as a result. The world was now a much worse and infinitely more dangerous place.

Childless, loveless, friendless, alone — she decayed in a maelstrom of exhaustion, uncontrolled crying, piercing headaches, recurring infections, hair loss, eczema, and auditory hallucinations.

Her lonely descent to death’s doorstep had lasted three bone-numbing decades. Tonight, she had reached the last rung. A thin, blonde nurse with a kind face gently stabbed an anesthetic needle into to the top of Madam Advisor’s wrinkled, wasted hand, a needle made from recycled metal, metal that contained two atoms of iron from the shell casing that fired a final bullet into Adolf Hitler’s temple in Berlin in 1945. Madam Advisor’s rotating glass eyes stilled. Her worn out mouth closed and she appeared to be thinking. Her breaths came further and further apart as her mind assembled her last full thought. It was a thought about the Lord, a Lord whom she adored, a Lord whom she looked forward to finally meeting. She spoke to him in her head in devoted and loving tones, reminding him of the dire sacrifices that she had made in his cause. “Dear Lord Jesus Christ, I did all I could to follow your hallowed teachings, up to and including giving my all to your Doctrine of Preemptive Strike. That’s in the Gospel, isn’t it? Yes, I know it is, for I have given myself to you. And thank you, Lord Jesus, for loving me so.”

Her mind lost words forever behind a drape of sounds and tastes and scents and colors and she heard an antique piano recital playing along side a mix of proud parental pronouncements, affirmations that seeded a limitless ambition into her child’s heart and then…a crimson moment of searing, ripping anguish swept through her Universe and she thought that she heard a distant Echo approach and speed over her like a screaming war plane…I never knew you...It said…and vanished. Her tired lungs nudged away air one last time. At that moment, a moment without Time and outside of Space, a dozen dutiful angels stood around Madam Advisor in a perfectly symmetrical ring. They cycled about her seven times as she gasped last. Not one angel fluttered even a feather to relieve a single pang of her mammoth agony.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Editing First Drafts, A Useful Rule

Kurt Vonnegut provides a set of eight rules for writing a short story in his book, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction. I've been using the fourth rule to do quick edits of my evolving WIP. The rule is:

"Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action."

I've found this to be an extremely potent rule for expunging superfluous content from my first drafts.

How about you? Do you have any useful quick-and-dirty editing devices for improving first drafts?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Harold Hawkins, the Best of Childhoods

A draft excerpt from Christmas in Mecca.


The leafless trees stood speechless, a disorganized gang of rigid mutes, brittle black sketches scribbled against the gray canvas of the late November sky. “If I hear more bad news at the next parent-teacher conference, you’re a dead duck,” she said from the driver’s seat, her aggressively intent gape stabbing into the traffic and pedestrians ahead. Hawkins sat in the back, watched the trees nested in the yielding expanse of gray heaven. He unconsciously felt each of his slow, rhythmic breaths, moist air gently flushing in and out of his lungs.

“Harry, I’m talking to you,” she shouted, spinning the steering abruptly, thrusting the car’s rust and sputters into the narrow side street that led to Hawkins’s elementary school. “Don’t you dare not pay attention, young man,” she warned, squinted eyes, slowly approaching a crosswalk. She stopped the car, watched the blue-coated guard, whistle in mouth, gesturing oncoming traffic to a halt while giving the scattered column of small, bundled children hand signals to cross. She glared at the river of cheerful kids, their bright coats and happy backpacks lolling about, forming a trickling tributary of brilliant color moving in a high-pitched, happy swirl into the washing grey stream of the day. “Look at them,” she said, disgusted. “They don’t even know enough to be angry.”

Hawkins, still and detached in the back seat, stared out the side window, watched a lone, brittle brown leaf clinging softly to the twigged tip of a forgotten branch growing sideways out of a gnarled, sprawling wooden mammoth. The leaf shivered, rested, hopped and turned, rested. So many forces had acted on it through its season, Hawkins thought: the nurturing gentle rays of spring sunlight that conspired with April rains to give it a life of supple lime; the blazing, heavy jostle of the summer sun that toughened its cloak to a deep, thick emerald; the cooling autumn breezes that lulled away its moisture and color, prompting impending slumber. So much happened to that leaf, he thought, in a cycle of existence that was at once both predictable and unique.

“Harry, damn it!” the air thundered inside the closed cell walls of the messy car.

Hawkins broke his gaze from the trees, the leaf. He stared from the backseat at the rear of his mother’s head. A bun of wiry braids turned in on themselves, jagged grays poking out of the dirt of flat brown. Her neck was full, sitting atop rounded, pudgy shoulders. “You are worthless,” she said, both fists clenched before her, shivering white parentheses that angrily flanked either side of the cold, black steering wheel. Hawkins continued to stare, a tired stoic whose eyes blinked from time to time. Outside, the traffic guard continued her duties; the happy river of chanting, bouncing children flowed unabated. “Harry,” she said, oblivious to the sun and the joy outside, shook her head slowly from side to side, a tone of wounded exasperation. “Harry,” she said again, this time nudging her head forward and down in a sharp dip, a gesture of exclamation to accompany her second frustrated utterance of her son’s name. She pursed her mouth, her perennial precursor to emotional vengeance. Her chapped, dry lips parted, then words began to drop from her mouth, a runaway train of heavy, black cannonballs. “Harry, when you were born there was an ugly, turbaned couple in the hospital bed next to mine. They were having a child as well. You know what I think happened?” she asked the air, watching but not seeing the little children crossing happily before the frozen car. “I think our babies got crossed up. Yep. That’s right. I think my child went to them and I got theirs.” A look of disgust grasped her face, bulged her eyes and left her lower jaw askew. “Because there’s no way you belong to me,” she said, hissed, acid words.

Hawkins stared at the back of her head, stringed brown knots held together by wires of gray above her fat neck and heavy shoulders. He dropped his sight and fixed a gaze on his small hands, his left thumb crossed over the right, fingers interlocked, hands holding on to each other in a tender intensity. He turned to watch the world outside, the gray, the wind, the cool and the light. A fluttering, weightless struggle caught his eye. That leaf, that same brittle, dry leaf now shivered and quaked and clung for all its worth.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Christmas in Mecca

My second novel work-in-progress is no longer a novel. It's an exorcism.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What's In A Name, Rama Muhammad?

Fantasy Author, N.R. Williams, just concluded a character-naming contest on her blog. She copied each of the twenty-four entries onto small, folded slips of paper, put them into a bowl, tossed them around and then had her three and a half year old granddaughter pull a name.

Guess what?

She pulled my entry.

Now Ms. Williams' upcoming Amazon Kindle book, The Treasures of Carmelidrium, has a pianist extraordinaire named Rama Muhammad. I can't wait to read all about her!

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Late Night Post

Falling Asleep

Scenes splash my mind's caves
Quiet moonlit rolling waves

Faces, feelings, promises, past
Bitter twilights of lovers last

Barren blue beach, not a sight
The landscape in my head this night

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mohamed's Fortune Cookie

My fortune cookie today said: "You are not illiterate."

Oh, my.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Reading Club Questions, Resolution 786

I recently made an offer to U.S.-based reading clubs: I'll join your group discussion of Resolution 786 via telephone. A reader once asked for a list of questions that his reading club could use to guide analyses of the novel. On the chance that the list might be useful to other reading or book clubs, I've provided it below.

How about you? What questions would you suggest to reading or book clubs to help guide their discussions of your latest work-in-progress?


Reading/Book Club Questions for Resolution 786

1. Is the Indictment of the Lord a fair document? Why or why not?

2. What religious identity (i.e. – agnostic, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Pagan, etc.) best fits Adam Hueghlomm?

3. Most novels and other dramatic works have protagonists and antagonists, good guys and bad guys. Who are the bad guys in Resolution 786? Who are the good guys?

4. Does Becca love Adam? What makes you believe that she does or doesn’t?

5. Is Resolution 786 anti-war? Why?

6. Is Resolution 786 anti-God? Why?

7. Based on the novel, what do you believe the author believes with regard to God?

8. In what ways, if any, are the circumstances of Adam Hueghlomm’s life like those of the life of Jesus of Nazareth?

9. How did you feel after finishing the novel (sad, hopeful, perplexed, angry, etc.) and why?

10. Page 29 makes reference to the Prophet Muhammad’s Jewish wife. Prior to reading Resolution 786, did you know that he had a Jewish wife? Were you surprised? Why or why not?

11. Are you comfortable with the author’s cubist style of volleying between the past, present and future?

12. By the time you reached the trial, did the writing immerse you to the point that you accepted the “fantastic arena” without a mental jolt?

13. What insights do you think that the author hopes you will gain from reading Resolution 786?

14. Which character(s) in Resolution 786 could you see yourself being friends with and what would be the nature of that friendship (i.e. studying colleague, hunting companion, romantic partner, etc.)?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mazel Tov, Thanks to Shadow

Shadow commented to my post of September 27, 2010, the post with a link to one of my short stories from 10th grade, Johnny vs. Johnny. She asked for a more recent sample of my writing, something that she could compare to my 10th grade prose to determine if I've evolved as a writer these last three decades. I can't say whether or not I have. That said, I've provided a sample chapter out of my 2008 novel, Resolution 786.

A literary aside: if any of you enjoy interesting imagery coupled with poems of emotion and reflection, take a look at Shadow's blog, 1 Door Away from Heaven. I think you'll enjoy it!

"Mazel Tov" - An Excerpt from Resolution 786

Becca smiled radiantly in her tan shorts and beige, sleeveless top. A small maroon backpack rested between her shoulder blades. She and Adam had flown to Utah for vacation, leaving behind their comfortable home in the outskirts of Baltimore. They had been hiking in Arches National Park in the May sun for the last four days and Becca’s normally white complexion glowed in uneven patches of reddish brown around her sunburned shoulders and face. Her dark brown hair occasionally fluttered about in soft tousles in the sun swept canyon breezes, soft curls of chestnut that she brushed away from her eyes with a combing stroke of open fingers. Although it was their last day of long hikes, Becca’s stride was as strong as ever.

Adam struggled to follow behind her, stumbling from time to time, worn and tired. He had read a series of studies on melanoma while an undergraduate and had developed a paranoid attitude regarding sun exposure and so he wore long khaki pants, a long-sleeved light blue cotton shirt and a wide-brimmed safari sun hat.

Becca peered back at Adam from a high ledge, chuckling at the weary, soft man trailing behind her, all bundled against the hot sun. Her characteristic freckles were visible underneath the sheen of pink-brown sunburn around her nose and cheeks. She shouted, her lean muscular arms hanging at her sides. “Come on. Let’s get to the arch.”

“Coming,” said Adam, pausing a moment to catch his breath, one hiking boot up on a rock, a listless brown hand resting above bended knee. They had hiked all morning, stopped for lunch and a rest, and were now completing their final trek of the trip. An hour into the early evening hike, Adam was growing tired. He gulped a series of forced, deep breaths, gazing about from underneath the shade of his wide-brimmed hat. The quiet coffee and russet landscape was flooded in daylight, at rest and peaceful. He took one last gasp and turned towards Becca, peeping up from under his safari hat. She was standing on a shelf of rocks above him, under the shadow and backdrop of tall protrusions of jutting brownish-red formations. She had both hands resting patiently on her hips, her bare arms and legs smooth and taut, smiling down at him like a child enjoying the clumsy antics of her new puppy.

“Come on, Mr. Limpy Dingy,” she teased.

“You not happy with our love life?” he shouted back across the dusted pebbles, joking, buying himself another moment of rest before he had to start moving again.

“Did I sound happy last night?” she said, never outdone in sarcasm or humor.

“You better be careful,” he said, half serious, walking towards her, feet aching with each labored step. “The walls in that cheap little hotel are pretty thin.”

“Who cares?” She turned and walked forward, laughing off his concern.

He finally reached her on the ledge, standing behind her with a silly look on his face. “Who cares?” he mocked in a contrived female voice.

“You gonna make it?” she asked, ignoring his humor, concerned for his endurance.

“We haven’t eaten in a while. Do you have anything in your backpack?” he said.

“No,” she replied, looking back over her shoulder. “Food isn’t all you need to get you through life.” She turned and moved forward.

He stood in place.

She stopped and looked back, sensing his stillness. She smirked and held her palm out to him. Her smirk turned to a smile that was at once both loving and teasing. “Come on.”

He trotted forward, grasping her strong hand and they moved forward together through the beautiful desert terrain, the sun throwing longer and longer shadows across the dusted trail and landscape as they trekked through the late afternoon light.

“I liked the rock art near the trail head,” he said at her from behind. Their hiking boots softly crunched at the pebbles and parched dust strewn all along the wide trail. He watched the muscles in her calves quietly flex and rest with each strong step. He wondered if she’d respond to his statement. She didn’t.

“How do you think those people viewed God?” he asked, persistent, beginning to pant as he strove to keep up with her.

“What people?” she shouted, not looking back.

“The ones who created the art that we saw. Those etchings. The gazelles and hunters and…” he paused, reassembling the images in his mind. “And were those horses?”

“Adi,” she said. A few steps later she finished her sentence. “Stop overthinking everything.”

They wandered the desert, through a procession of muted, scenic moments as the sun’s chariot dipped lower in the painted sky. Becca’s vigorous stride had opened a chasm of distance between her and Adam. Time to time, she would glance back to make sure that he was OK, that he was coming along. She smiled to herself each time she caught a glimpse of him struggling to keep up, plodding through the desert.

The trail faded into itself, conceding boundary and form to the larger landscape. The earth turned to brown powdered dust, tall, still cacti bearing witness to a cascade of lighted and shadowed images twinkling in dusk’s silent grace. A small lizard scurried across the sun baked soil, darting out from under a sanctuary of dry, rustling shrubs, vanishing into the caves and shadows of a scattered pile of crimson rock. Shade began its slow climb over the expanse of rolling desert plains, splashing a rippling current of fissured texture across the stern, old faces of the surrounding rocks and canyons. And the short wheat colored shrubs, relegated and invisible in the heavy glare of day, acquired personalities in the blossoming patches of soft, gray shade, the cooling desert breeze kneading through and about them in lulled, whispered whistles.

Adam’s legs became heavy and he stopped, stooped forward, his hands on his hips. He watched Becca’s silhouette ahead, a lithe spring bouncing within a still panorama of cacti and jutting rock formations. The soft, sideways sunlight cast a pleasant yellow hue on one side of everything and the air had cooled. Adam took off his hat. His sight expanded up and back and he felt connected to the blue-gray sky. He ran open fingers through his hair, brushing it back, letting the sweat on his scalp cool and dry. He stood in place and cleared his throat.

Becca heard him from far ahead. She stopped and turned, looking back at his still form across the expanse of desert. Although Adam couldn’t see her face at that distance, her carriage and stance showed concern. “I’m fine,” he shouted to her, waving his hand in her direction. “Just taking a rest.”

“Do you want me to walk back?” Her hardy voice skipped along the powdered path and bounced through the shaded hollows of rock.

“No, just give me a minute.”

“I’ve given you seven years. You can have another minute,” she said.

He moved ahead in gradual, languid steps, watching her form grow larger as he approached. Her sunburned arms and legs reflected the falling sun in a glow of long golden lines. A sudden breeze brushed a tousle of brown curl over one of her eyes and she tossed it back with a smooth swirl of her neck.

“What do you think about planting a weeping willow in the backyard next spring?” she shouted to him.

“I think that’s a great idea,” he said in between heavy breaths.

“Come on, Baby Cakes,” she said. “We get there in time, we can watch the sunset through the eye of the arch.”

He stopped, leaning forward, hands on his hips.

“It’s downhill all the way back,” she reminded.

He trudged ahead, dragging his hiking boots across the powdery terrain, leaving behind long, strewn footprints.

She waited, smiling, watching him.

“I think I’ll throw myself off the next ledge,” he joked, making a series of clumsy gestures to dramatize his exhaustion.

“Don’t tempt fate,” she said. “Come on, Mr. Girly-Man,” she teased. “I’ll draw a hot bath for you when we get back to the room. But don’t make too much noise in the tub,” she added in a goofy, contrived voice, now she mocking him. “Remember, the walls are awful thin.”

“Very funny,” he said, finally reaching her.

They stood alone in the desert, facing each other in silence.

“What?” she said softly, an awkward smile on her freckled face.

He didn’t answer, watching her gray eyes. Her face fell into a comfortable repose. A dry, gentle breeze curled cat-like through the still space between their standing forms. He gave her a kiss, not a very good one at all, but she didn’t seem to care.

“Come out and play, Adi,” she whispered. “There’s a whole world outside your head.”

He watched her gray eyes.

“Come,” she breathed the softly rasped syllable while tilting her thin torso forward, holding a muscled, sunburned arm towards him, palm open in invitation. “Come. We’ll walk together the rest of the way.”

He grasped her firm hand and they trudged forward. He walked faster, not wanting to slow her down. She walked slower, not wanting to leave him behind. The sun continued to plunge lower in the horizon as they made their way to the lovely arch. They moved quietly, in peace, as the sun threw cinnamon-laced honey here and there across the distant hilltops.

They followed the trail as it swung behind a ridge and carved itself into a steep cliff of pinkish crème sandstone. Steps had been cut into the sandstone at points where the slope became steep. The hard path continued to curl up and around the waist of the large rock formation. They followed its steep slopes in the gray shade of twilight, Adam now on his hands and knees, afraid of the large drop growing at the fenceless edge.

“Come on. You’re doing great,” Becca encouraged him, not far ahead.

They finally reached the top and stood side by side, gazing ahead at the broad, flat plane of reddish gray sandstone that lay before them in a slightly downhill slope. A deep, black fissure cut across the stone plane, splitting one slab of rock from the next. Ahead, across the fissure, stood the lovely delicate arch that they had come to see. They walked towards it, their legs appreciative of the descending slope after having walked uphill for so long.

Adam peered at the arch. One of its legs stood much thicker and broader than the other. An arm curled up and around, connecting the legs, creating a large, framed arch atop a broad expanse of lovely reddish gray sandstone.

“I bet the striations mark the ages,” said Adam, pointing at the horizontally layered texture of the arch.

“Forget the ages,” said Becca. “It’s beautiful to look at here and now.”

They peered over and through the arch, to where the distant slopes and hills reached up and touched the thinly clouded twilight sky.

“The Lord’s one hell of a painter, huh,” Adam exclaimed, stunned. “How would you like to have all of that to yourself?”

“I’d rather just have a good life,” said Becca.

Adam looked about, soaking in the wonder that was the world. He suddenly felt someone watching him. He turned and noticed a silly smile on Becca’s face.

“What?” he said.

“I got you something in that little gift shop we ducked into yesterday,” she said.

He looked confused.

“The one we went into so you could use the bathroom,” she reminded. She pulled off her maroon backpack and slung it down in front of her, yanking open its top zipper. She reached in and pulled out a small plastic carousel and held it towards him, resting it in the middle of her palm. Her face broke into a toothy, dimpled grin as she watched him. Adam stood still as she moved her free hand to a butterfly-shaped key on the side of the carousel and wound it, sending a ratcheting burr into the placid twilight with each sharp wind. She let go of the key and the carousel began to turn, playing “Silent Night” in a surprisingly melodious series of chimes. She giggled at him. The carousel began a second chorus and she sang along with it. Her voice was lovely, floating across the desert air in delicate, affectionate tones. The carousel had begun to wind down and its chimes slowed. She slowed her singing to fit its pace, finishing.

She moved her palm towards him, offering him the gift.

He picked it off her palm with a smile. “Thank you,” he said.

“You like it?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said.

They strolled across the hard sandstone and sat at a vantage point where the arch stood off to one side and from where they could gaze over the broad expanse of rock at the faraway hilltops, the clouds, the unending skies and the orange horizon. Becca reached again into her backpack and pulled out two small ceramic teacups and a thermos. She threw Adam a smile as she opened the thermos and poured hot chocolate into each teacup. She handed the sugary concoction to Adam. “I know you’ll like this.”

Adam took a small first sip, smiled, and took another bigger one. “You’re right,” he said. “I love it.”

They finished their warm drinks in silence as the sun set across the quiet horizon, throwing reddish gold rays of last light on the distant, tree studded hills. A few minutes later the sky started to darken and the stars began to show. Adam looked over at Becca, his knees up in front of him. She smiled at him, sitting cross-legged. They sat in silence in the enveloping twilight, resting under a canopy of star-splashed heavens.

The night suddenly became more silent, cooling in a quick plunge. A rustle of air gathered and moved behind them, mixing spicy tones of musk into the arid desert scents. Becca turned hastily, her brow furrowed in curiosity and surprise, looking about. Nothing. She turned back around and glanced at Adam. His head was bowed in a dour reminiscence. The gathered air brushed its graceful fingertips over Becca’s bare, sunburned shoulders in paternal gratitude, leaving behind goose bumps as it curved towards and around Adam. The gentle breath came around again and then again, until it had completed seven circles around them, and then floated off into the ageless desert, its ashen palm fading, a pale smile turning away into darkness.
Becca faced Adam. “Do you want to get married?”

Adam choked on his hot chocolate. He moved his hand quickly to cover his mouth, dropping his teacup. It fell to the hard sandstone in a tiny, shattered crash. “Damn it,” he muttered in hushed exclamation.

“Relax,” she said, stretching forward to pick up the pieces. “Let me get this cleaned up and we’ll move to another spot. I don’t want you getting a piece of glass in your butt.” Becca policed the broken shards into a plastic baggy and they stood to move. She watched Adam’s face intently as she slung her backpack over one shoulder and onto her back, pulling the straps secure under each armpit.
Adam avoided her eyes. He knew that she wanted him to answer her question, but he was afraid. She noticed his awkwardness, sensed his hesitation, and decided to let it drop…for now.

They strolled together a few feet across the sandstone, swimming next to one another in a darkening pond of twilight. Her still silence was uncharacteristic. It made Adam uncomfortable.

“I love you, Becca,” he blurted.

She smiled. “I know,” she said. She moved her palm behind Adam’s head, cupping the back of his scalp firmly, and turned his face towards her. She craned her neck forward, moving her mouth onto his. Her lips were firm, her kisses always strong and forceful. She pulled back from him, her eyes on his mouth a moment, a lost look on her face. Her eyelashes fluttered and her eyes lifted to meet his. He watched the sun’s retreating rays behind him, reflected in her pupils. The characteristic smile that was her public signature slowly formed over her mouth and a teasing spring burrowed its way back into her voice. “Now suppose you could reduce that sensation to ‘X equals negative B plus or minus the square root of B squared minus four times A times C divided by two times A?’”

“Suppose you could?” he wondered.

“It wouldn’t mean shit,” she teased. “It wouldn’t make one hill o’ beans of difference to how much I love kissing you.”

She turned to watch the sunset, standing next to him. He felt her shoulder against his and realized how much he liked that feeling. The drying sweat on the back of his shirt felt refreshing in the cool air. They stood noiselessly, side by side, as the noble desert night joined them, a quiet, imperial stranger with a soft, gray beard, wearing a flowing robe of purple felt.

Friday, October 15, 2010



...from desires and needs…
--- passion and possessions ---
need, oh blasted need!
let its blinding currents
rush, then
eddy, then
……slowly, and become Lost
in cool, green moss

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Upcoming Talk, Unitarian Universalists of Fallston

I'm speaking at the Unitarian Universalists of Fallston in Fallston, Maryland from 11am to noon on October 24, 2010. My talk, titled The Good Guys vs. the Bad Guys, explores scripture and other literary sources to sample cultural notions of who’s “good” and who’s “bad.” More details? Here's the press release.

Writing creates so many intellectually enriching opportunities beyond the written word. I look forward to a lively and enlightening interaction with the congregation of the Unitarian Universalists of Fallston.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Johnny vs. Johnny

I began writing in middle school. By high school I had finished my first batch of short stories. Some were perverse, others dull. One starred Urine as a central character (yes, the bodily fluid). Looking back, my prose was forced, lacking color; my themes were difficult to follow; my stories were glaringly unlikely with plot-holes big enough to fly a jet through; my characters were uni-dimensional, stereotypical cardboard cut-outs. Despite these searing truths, I saved some of that adolescent mess. I even posted one of those early stories on my web-site.

Guess what? That story, born of hormonally driven adolescent angst and titled Johnny vs. Johnny, has somehow become the most viewed item on my author web-site.

Is my writing as a 15 year old more interesting than my writing now?

That's a frightening question. The answer is probably even more frightening.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ramadan Mubarak!

Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, begins today and will end on or about September 10, 2010. I'm taking this time off from blogging to focus on observance and family gatherings. I'll be back after the sighting of the Eid moon. Until then, Ramadan Mubarak to the 1.5 billion humans celebrating this holy month. May G_d bless every precious living being on our glorious planet!


Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Friends: So What Do You Do for a Living?

Are there ideal vocations that prepare people for becoming great writers? If so, what are they? Both questions have been lingering in my mind ever since I read a recent post on aspiring_x's blog, Hairnets and Hopes. In Raising My Plebian Voice, aspiring_x discusses career choices, literary perceptions and writing. She shares some of her recent experiences and offers an interesting range of reactions and conclusions. I'm sure that each of you will have a unique opinion on the piece. Personally, I savored aspiring_x's raw honesty.

I've considered the relationship between vocations and writing once before. The question came up during my virtual book tour in March. An anonymous reader asked if my background as a chemical engineer influences my writing. I answered honestly: it does.

How about you? Do you believe that there are ideal vocations that serve as training grounds for writers? What's your career choice and how does it affect your writing?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Planning a Virtual Book Tour

Writing World recently published my article on how to plan a virtual book tour. The article describes a simple, five step process that I used to plan my own tour in March 2010 and includes sample text for hosts and for press releases.

Would I do another virtual book tour? As I say in the article: "Absolutely! Done right, the process yields increased visibility to an author while increasing traffic for the host blogs. It's an ideal venue through which to create and leave behind a long-lasting cyber-trail of information about your book, about your writing and about yourself. Most of all, a virtual book tour is a perfect vehicle through which to enjoy the benefits and revelations of a real-time, deep conversation with readers and literature enthusiasts the world over."

I've always said that I value our cyber-community here at Thoughts and Ponderings. I truly do. That said, if any of the followers of this blog would like to do a virtual book tour this year, I'd be happy and honored to be one of your hosts.

Wishing each of you a week full of enjoyable reading and lucid writing,


Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Friends: Learning to Write Through Other Artistic Means

Can writers improve their craft by participating in or studying other modes of artistic expression? Absolutely. A case in point: e.e. cummings was an accomplished visual artist. He imported those skills and techniques into his writing. The next time you read one of his poems, pay attention to its graphic layout. As an example, in Cummings' poem, Grasshopper, the letters and "words" appear on the page like a jolting grasshopper.

That short preamble brings us to this week's installment of Friday Friends, the July 21, 2010 post from Lynda Young's blog, W.I.P. IT, A Writer's Journey. The title, 8 Tips Actors Can Give Writers, is certainly fulfilled in the text of the post.

Although I've never acted, I have created a comic strip. I found that many of the themes, puns and dialogue from that strip found voice in my first novel. In that sense, I have personal validation that the creative impulses of non-writing artistic pursuits can and do influence an author's writing. Lynda's post is yet another instructive demonstration of how the lessons of acting can positively influence a writer's prose.

How about you? Do your non-writing artistic ventures influence your writing? How so?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Trendy Blog Award!

Medeia Sharif was kind enough to bestow a Trendy Blog Award to Thoughts and Ponderings. Hmmmm. Who would have thought that the internal ramblings of a nerd could ever be trendy? :) Alas, I accept the award with the same graciousness with which it was given. Now - the rule is that I post the award and then pass it on to 10 others; never being one to follow rules, I'm passing the award on to 5 others :). My vote for 5 trendy blogs:

Cruella Collett
Alexis Hallum
Creepy Query Girl
Jennifer Hillier
Dori the Giant

Thank you, Medeia, for thinking of me in the context of trendy {blush}!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Friends: Don't be So Sensitive!

This week's Friday Friend is Dr. Lydia Kang's blog, The Word is my Oyster. Dr. Kang's post of May 26, 2010, titled A Scientist's View of a Writer's Thick Skin, is what prompted me to click the "follow" button on her blog a couple of months ago. I've been reading each of her posts since.

Looking at Dr. Kang's illustration, which end of the dermatological spectrum are you on: "bleeds and cries easily" or "nothing gets through this sucker?"

Medical analyses aside, the truth is that many of us who want to be writers are of a sensitive nature. Somehow that doesn't seem incongruous; it takes a sensitive nature to pay attention to so many details of life and existence and to then want to communicate those observations back to the world in emotionally and intellectually pleasing and instructive vignettes of self-expression. OK, it's great that we're sensitive. But don't let that same luxurious sensitivity that compels you to want to be a writer grow horns and compel you to not want to be a writer. Let me explain. When you first get serious about writing (yes, at the beginning, that most fragile, vulnerable point in any enterprise including careers, marriages and friendships), you'll beat yourself up for the slop that you see yourself putting on paper. Day after day, draft after draft, you'll work to a point where the slop looks acceptable enough to you so you'll share it with others for critique. You'll graduate from local critiques, you'll expand the distribution of your writing. And then: agents and publishers will reject you; the self-appointed "best and brightest" in various writers' cliques will treat you like an inconsequential upstart; cyber-bullies will grow their own sense of self-worth by belittling your work in an assortment of forums.

As in life, so in writing; distill the truth from the venom.

The venom: ignore.

The truth: use it to become a better writer.

Most of all: keep writing. Use the years and your own hard work to get better and better. You'll get there! :)

Writers' sensitivities: a gift or a curse? Each of us answers that question by how well she or he manages and channels those sensitivities.

Earlier in this post, I asked you for self-disclosure regarding sensitivities. It's not fair if I don't reciprocate with equal disclosure. Looking at Lydia's illustration, I must admit that I'm closer to "bleeds and cries easily" than to "nothing gets through this sucker?" Oh, well. At least I have the gift of being able to fall in love deeply :).

Happy weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


The following is a response to a question from Rama, one of this blog's followers.

Rama asks:

Hi Mohamed,
I don't know how relevant is my way of writing a short story is with the topic in discussion.
Anyway I thought I should share with you. Before I start writing, I always have an idea of the story in my mind, but I have seen as the story moves on, my idea changes, my characters change and my situations change, in fact everything keeps on changing as I keep writing , and finally I find that my story has no resemblance to what I had in my mind. But somehow I like it. I don't know why I can never stick to my original idea. Should I consider it as an advantage or a disadvantage, please let me know what you feel.

Mohamed answers:

Dear Rama,

Please don't feel alone; my characters and stories also evolve through the course of conception. I'm sure that they do for other writers as well. My vote is to allow for that serendipity, especially in first drafts. You'll have plenty of opportunities to enhance consistencies in storyline and character once you're done the initial draft and into editing and revision.

The notion of serendipitous writing came up during an author interview that I did last year. Quoting an excerpt from that interview:

Ed: What’s your writing process?

Mohamed: Serendipity, really. (stop and thinks). It’s difficult to operationalize creativity. If we could, we’d produce Picasso’s paintings or Michelangelo’s David on a conveyor belt. That said, there are specific techniques available to artists of every medium. In my writing, I like to get a set of ideas down and then explore and expand them through prose. Sometimes the prose works, other times it’s crap. Start stringing words together – in the end, that’s the process. That’s about as simple or as complex as it gets. As R.A. Salvatore once wrote to me in an e-mail: “Writers write.”

Ed: Where did you get your ideas for Resolution 786?

Mohamed: The story started out as a concept for a play, a loosely assembled set of literary images that floated around on my desk on scraps of paper and little yellow stickies. This went on for about a year. The play carried a tentative title of “War Crimes” and was a courtroom drama with God on trial. In the midst of this never-finished draft, the Iraq War came about and the events of those days began to stand out in my consciousness. Eventually, those headlines wrapped themselves around “War Crimes,” turning the embryonic play into a cubist novel. See? Serendipity.

You say that your characters and situations change. Well, in this case, not only did that happen in my writing, but the structural medium of the piece changed from a play to a novel. Change happens. Let it.

Later in the same interview, Ed asks if I've had any specific experiences of serendipitous writing. I refer to phenomenon as "kismet" in my response. Quoting that question and its answer:

Ed: Tell us about your forthcoming non-fiction title?

Mohamed: While doing research for my second novel, I realized that I’d developed a set of techniques for creating fiction that may be useful to other writers. I decided to catalogue and describe these techniques in Creating Fiction: A Hands-on, Practitioner’s Guide. So far the draft has chapters on the essentials of reading, developing ideas, constructing narrative, style and voice, and the utility of colleagues in what is otherwise a solitary undertaking. I also have a chapter titled “Kismet,” where I explain how characters can be born from the womb of the story.

Ed: Have you experienced that?

Mohamed: Yes. The custodian in Resolution 786 didn’t come from out of my head and onto the page. He was born from within the story itself.

No only do characters change, Rama. Sometimes new characters are actually born from the story. As you might guess by now, I value serendipity and kismet in my writing. Should you consider it an advantage or disadvantage? It's neither and it's both (I realize that's a strange answer, but I AM an absurdist:)). The larger point I'm making is that the passion and magic of creation is beyond mechanistic description, somewhere outside of dichotomous right or wrong. That said:

Don't fear serendipity.

Don't fear kismet.

Let it flow.

Keep what works.

Ditch what doesn't.

In your question you make the point that although your stories evolve mid-stream, when you're done, you "somehow like it." If there ever was a benchmark for evaluating your own creativity, that has to be it. If you like it, embrace it.

Keep writing, Rama. I am and I will continue to be one of your readers :)


Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Friends # 2

Here goes the second installment of a new custom that I've created for this blog: Friday Friends. Each Friday I select an interesting, instructive or otherwise intriguing post from one of the blogs of my followers and I post a link to it.

Our second-ever Friday Friend is from Valerie Geary's blog, Something to Write About. Ms. Geary's post from June 20, 2010, titled 6 Reasons Why I Haven't Read TWILIGHT...Yet, is a lovely tribute to bucking trends. Is it dysfunctional to not embrace the current "it" phenomenon? No; I believe that it demonstrates a healthy and courageous independence of thought that's refreshing, stimulating and appealing. Whether or not you agree with Ms. Geary's 6 reasons, you can't help but applaud her courageous honesty.

How about you? Are there any "it" phenomena, current or past, that just didn't do it for you?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

y ~ eye ~ f

y ~ eye ~ f


in : ter : twined

{ legs + hearts = lives }

Thank g_d for u

"remember that time when...?"
"i forgot about that!"


y ~ eye ~ f

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Using Literary Cubism to Write a Novel

In the following question, a reader asks about using literary cubism to write a novel.

Specifically, the readers asks:

Greetings Dr. Mughal,

As a Poet/writer I'm always contemplating the best/right approach to relaying the message. Resolution 786 has introduced me to the realm of Literary Cubism, and I'd like to know why Cubism as your approach? It certainly was the best approach as Resolution 786is by far, brilliantly written. Did Cubism as your approach come before the message that Resolution 786 carries, or the other way around?

Its incredible how the elements of history and religion are infused together, along with the fragmented forms in poetry, legal documents, etc... again brilliant. How long did it take to put it all together and fine tune it in such a way that harmony is achieved in connecting all the elements together in one book?

Congratulations on a well-written book and the challenge offered to the readers, through it, to expand the mind to undiscovered realms. Your work is surely a Storyteller's Artwork. Much kudos.

Mohamed answers:

Dear reader,

Thanks so much for your kind assessment of my work. It means a lot to me, especially since it’s coming from a practicing poet.

I think the reason I use literary cubism is grounded largely in who and what I am as a human being; my multivariate geographical, theological and educational backgrounds likely contributed to my cubist inclinations.

You asked how long it took to write this first novel. It’s difficult to put a start time on beginning the novel. Here’s why: The story started out as a concept for a play, a loosely assembled set of literary images that floated around on my desk on scraps of paper and little yellow stickies. This went on for about a year. The play carried a tentative title of War Crimes and was a courtroom drama with G_d on trial. In the midst of this never-finished draft, the Iraq War came about and the events of those days began to stand out in my consciousness. Eventually, those headlines wrapped themselves around War Crimes, turning the embryonic play into a cubist novel. The novel took about six months to set into a loose, cubist form. Through the next six months, a few trusted literary friends reviewed the draft and provided comments ranging from coherency to clarity to just plain-old grammar and spelling. All in all, I think it was about a year and a half before I was happy with the final draft.

You also pose an interesting “chicken and egg” question regarding the structural antecedents of the novel: “Did cubism as your approach come before the message that Resolution 786 carries, or the other way around?”


That’s a tough one; it’s tough because in my mind, I can’t see any sharp, defined delineation between my approach to writing a novel and the eventual message that that novel carries. Writing a novel is a wholly creative process brimming with a serendipity that’s driven by the random influences of our accidental human experiences.

Consider: we set out to write an anti-war novel with a human dimension, a novel that “fits” the newspaper headlines of the year in which we’re writing it. A particularly intriguing actual headline, in adapted form, becomes the basis for a newspaper excerpt in our fictional story. A new policy or incident at work invokes the most absurd elements of human experience; that incident, again in some adapted context and form, becomes a vignette in our draft. A beautiful young woman walks by you at the mall; you mentally capture some quintessential sense of her motion and gesture and you imbue that into a female personality in your story to help bring that character into three dimensions.

For me, writing novels is a serendipitous, non-linear process of unfettered creation. Because of this, I can’t truly say that cubism came before the message or vice versa. Rather, I think my literary approach and the book’s eventual message did a year-long dance of co-creation, a wanton and impassioned tango in the ballroom of my mind. Resolution 786 is the child of that crazy dance.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with me. Best wishes with your poetry in the coming months and years.

Your fellow writer,


Friday, July 9, 2010

Friday Friends

I've created a new custom for this blog. I call it Friday Friends. Each Friday, I'll pick an interesting, instructive or otherwise intriguing post from one of the blogs of my followers and post a link to it.

Ready for our first-ever Friday Friend? OK. Here goes:

Our first-ever Friday Friend is K.M. Weiland and her blog Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors. I enjoyed Ms. Weiland's post from July 4, 2010 titled Is the Thesaurus Your Friend? I found the information instructive, even-handed and immediately applicable to my writing.

How about you? Do you use a thesaurus for creative writing?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Indictment of G_d?

In the following question, a reader asks about the indictment of G_d in Resolution 786.

The reader asks:

Mohamed, The story line seems to contain an indictment (pardon the pun) of a particular version of God (known in many circles as OOO, omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient). What would you say to that? Is the book against that version of God? Is it just pointing to questions that are asked by spiritual seekers in trying to determine how their concept of God fits their theology? Something totally different?

Mohamed answers:

Dear Reader - I see it's time for some literary hardball/fastball :). Only kidding -Resolution 786 is a novel all about asking the hard questions and your particular question is certainly consistent with that theme.

First the short answer: No. My novel is in no way meant to be pejorative towards any concept of G_d or towards any framework of spiritual belief, to include the belief that the Cosmos is inert of spiritual elements.

That said, why a storyline that focuses on the Abrahamic “face” of G_d? Simply put, because that’s the face that I, through the circumstances of my birth and life, am most familiar with. I was taught to pray in a certain direction, in a certain way and at specific times of the day. I was taught a set of stories that depict a G_d who behaved out of jealousy and anger and who, at times, hurt and killed. As a child, I questioned that G_d. I got older; I lived in Africa, Europe and North America; I traveled on pilgrimages to Varanasi, Kathmandu, Jerusalem and Mecca, into the rituals of the Masai in Kenya and through the ruins of the Mayans; I read; I lived with and loved souls of different faiths. Now, through the mosaic of those life experiences, I no longer question the G_d of my youth. I question humanity and the choices that we make for ourselves.

Adam Hueghlomm lives in a prison of his own making, trying to force logic and linearity onto a phenomenon that lends itself to neither. The notion that one may find G_d through entirely logical means is akin to saying “I will reduce the process of falling in love into an integrated set of first order differential equations and when I solve for variable ‘x,’ I will be in love.”

You can’t. I tried.

And so G_d is a minor player, background scenery in the stage that frames the story of Resolution 786. In the end, it’s a story not about G_d, but about us and our struggles and our choices and the world that we’ve created for ourselves, a world in which we see a tremendous, hopeful spirit of human kindness residing side-by-side with a shameful disposition towards butchery.

Is Resolution 786 an indictment of G_d? No. Rather, it's an open-eyed, full-frontal exploration of ourselves.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for thinking. Thank you for taking the time to ask the hard questions.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Happy 4th!

This weekend marks America's 234th birthday. I scanned the haphazard array of books in my study for an appropriate read. I settled on Jimmy Carter's We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land, a selection plucked from my small collection of signed books.

The book reminds me of our country's tradition of good deeds. As a nine year old refugee, I was a direct beneficiary of our benevolence. We Americans have a national tradition of doing good in the world. On this, our 234th birthday, I know that we have not lost our grace.

Happy Birthday, America! May G_d bless you.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Versatile Blogger Award

Thank you, WritingNut, for this award! If you haven't visited WritingNut's blog yet, give it a look; I think you'll enjoy its mix of inspiration, imagination and writing tips.

The award came with a few fun rules:

1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you this award.
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass the award along to 15 bloggers who you have recently discovered and who you think are fantastic for whatever reason! (In no particular order...).
4) Contact the bloggers you've picked and let them know about the award.

One is done!

Now to two; 7 things about myself:

1. I write fiction in the traditions of literary cubism and absurdism.

2. My academic background isn't in literature or its related subjects; I'm a chemical engineer.

3. I'm a proud American; my parents are Indian; I was born in Africa.

4. In addition to absurdist fiction, I created a cartoon strip titled Dr. Mohamed. I asked Kurt Vonnegut if he'd like to collaborate on the strip. He declined via postcard:

5. A Presbyterian minister taught me the Lord's Prayer on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem at the site where Jesus is purported to have first taught the prayer to his disciples.

6. I visited Mecca in the 1990s and got so close to the Kaaba (the large black cube) that each time I bowed to pray, the top of my head touched the base of the Kaaba.

7. Laughing, sex and artistic creativity are my favorite things in life!

Now, to pass the award on to 15 super-duper bloggers:

1. Samuel Park @ Samuel Park's Daily Pep for Writers
2. Medeia Sharif @ Medeia Sharif
3. Stephanie @ Relics of My Mind
4. Ted Cross @ Ted Cross Blog
5. Lua Fowles @ Bowl of Oranges
6. Lydia Kang @ The Word is My Oyster
7. Amanda Borenstadt @ A Fortnight of Mustard
8. Kristine @ Light and Shadow
9. Valerie Geary @ Something to Write About
10. Michele Scott @ Holy Terrors
11. Cruella Collett @ The Giraffability of Digressions
12. Jennifer Shirk @ Me, My Muse and I
13. KM Weiland @ Wordplay
14. Susan Fields @ Susan Fields
15. Talli Roland @ Talli Roland

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Latest Reader Review, "Resolution 786"

Isabel Gildyn posted her Amazon review of Resolution 786 earlier this week. This is the first time that a reader's review has made specific mention of the "trial of Jesus Christ" as part of the novel's storyline. Ms. Gildyn is right; it's in there.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Local Poetry Reading

Our very own May Kuroiwa is organizing a joint reading for two local poetry groups, the Harford Poetry and Literary Society and Lunchlines.

More details:

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: An Evening of Poetry

Join us for readings of original work by members of the Harford Poetry and Literary Society, and the mid-day poetry group, Lunchlines.

Monday, August 2nd
The Vineyard Wine Bar
142 N. Washington St.
Havre de Grace, MD 21078

Readings begin at 7 p.m.

Many thanks to The Vineyard Wine Bar; the Cecil County Arts Council and the Elkton Arts Center; and the poetry groups, Lunchlines, and the Harford Poetry and Literary Society.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Blessed Litha!

The U.S. Naval Observatory puts the upcoming summer solstice at 7:28 AM EDT on June 21, 2010. Hail the conquest of light, greetings to Ra, hail the luscious bloom of Nature!

Wishing each of your a blessed Litha,


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tantra Bensko's "Everything Experimental Writing"

Those of you who follow my blog know that my draft novel, Christmas in Mecca, contains vignettes formatted as plays, poems, e-mails, instant messages and government memoranda. I'm experimenting with those various written media to weave a tapestry of syllables that, taken together, convey the themes, meaning and spirit of the evolving story.

As an avid practitioner of cubist writing, I was elated to see that Tantra Bensko has posted a link to my article on literary cubism on her web-site, Everything Experimental Writing. Visit Tantra's site and indulge your interest in literary approaches unbound by tradition and stricture.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Reader's Question on Literary Cubism

A reader recently asked about my use of literary cubism in Resolution 786. The reader's question and my answer follow -

The reader asked:

Dr. Mughal,

Thank you so much for being willing to answer questions. I loved your first book, and hope it means more to come. I think I saw on your Facebook that you have two books in the works - one fiction and one nonfiction about writing. When are they coming out?

What I'd really like to know about Resolution 786 has to do with it's style. It seems Literary Cubism is a very interesting choice considering the fact that much of the meat of the story has to do with Adam's literal understanding of things. His way of thinking and viewing the world seems in juxtaposition to the style of the book, which for me made it more "alive" and "real" and "three dimensional" if that makes sense. The intense contrast between the nature of the main character and the style of the book adds to the intrigue. Was this intentional? Accidental? Can you elaborate a bit?


A. Reader

Mohamed answered:

Dear Reader,

First, about the two books that I have in the works - I expect and hope to have both drafted by the end of 2010. As for when they’ll be “coming out” for public consumption, we’ll see….

On your question about the contrast between the nature of the main character in Resolution 786 and the style of the book: I had never thought of it!

Yes, Adam Hueghlomm has a linear, literal mind that’s steeped in logic. Yes, on the contrary, literary cubism is a non-linear multivariate mode of viewing and telling a story from different perspectives through the use of various written media, a method of writing that’s free from any strictures of temporal propriety.

Was the juxtaposition between the nature of the main character and the style of the book intentional? No. Not at all.

Was it accidental? Not entirely.

Keep in mind, as a writer, my background is that of an Indian born in Africa and raised in the United States; a child born into Islam who has had the privilege of studying and experiencing Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Masonry and New Age thought; a chemical engineer dabbling in the humanities, theology and philosophy.

I am an amalgam of influences. It is inevitable that my written works will reflect those many sources of learning and experience. Thinking through both your question and my answer, I realize now that literary cubism is perhaps the ONLY mode of literary expression for a person with such a patchwork of geographical, theological and educational background.

No, in retrospect, my choice to use literary cubism to write Resolution 786 wasn’t to create a non-linear juxtaposition for Adam Hueghlomm’s linear intellect. Rather, I think it was a demonstration of who I am as a person and, more importantly in this context, who I am as a writer.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Write With Your Six Senses

Be a keen watcher. Be a sponge. Scan the people and the animals around you for gestures, expressions, habits, poses. Once you've honed your personal second nature for seeing, expand your sensory collection to your other four senses: hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting. Hear the unique inflections, patterns and dialogue in the conversations around you; feel the intoxicating plethora of tactile sensations during love-making; smell the evening jasmine in your father's garden; taste the grit of a desert sandstorm. All of these sensations, so many and so varied, are an invaluable cache of experiential fodder from which to build a richness of description into your writing. They provide a linguistic superstructure that bestows a three-dimensional reality to your scenes. They inform and influence everything in the composition of your fiction from dialogue to character to setting. In short, they are an essential component to giving your readers a convincing, emotionally engaging, full-fledged experience of the events in your narrative, a potent means through which to help your readers meet your characters.

Keep in mind, writing fiction is truly a creative process. Don't limit yourself to just reporting your collected experiences. Throw them into a box, shake the box around and see what kinds of interesting and contextually appropriate new syntheses you can form. I had a vignette where a character was surprised and bewildered. The second sentence in the scene is: "Crashing cymbals of bright radiance clanged before his eyes." Radiance is seen. Clangs are heard. Yet the dazed character "sees" the clang of cymbals. The discordant merging of sensory experience conveys the disorientation intrinsic to the vignette and it gives your readers an interesting, multi-sensory image to consider.

OK. I've made the case that your five mortal senses will give you more than enough material with which to weave a rich tapestry of description into the fabric of your stories.

But there's a sixth sense.

Strictly linear thinkers need not read further. Skip to the next post. The rest of you, please come this way...oh, and watch the little, dancing wood nymphs around your feet, young man. They're fragile and they don't appreciate being stepped on.

I've felt and experienced sensations beyond the traditional five senses. If any of you have "seen" inside the psychology of strangers walking past you at the mall or heard your pet's thoughts or watched a window shatter before your eyes for no reason or felt an empty kitchen blow dry, frigid air onto the back of your neck in the quiet stillness of a bright winter day, then you know what I mean. Unless one of these experiences is deeply personal or has an essentially private nature, consider including a description of it in your fiction. There's a first-person description of the afterlife in one of my novels. Yes, the novel's fiction. But almost the entirety of that vision is someone's actual experience.

Use your senses as a tool for creative writing...use all six of them.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What's in Your Writing Process?

Readers send me questions from time to time. Here's one about my writing process -

Baddestbadass asked:

I guess as someone that has great procrastination tendencies, I wonder how the process of writing a book is for different people. For you is it something you start when other parts of your life are quiet and you hibernate til it's done, or do you write whenever you can...? what is your writing process like and do you have specific writing rituals?

Looking forward to reading your new stuff.


Mohamed's answer:

Dear Baddest Badass,

Considering your name, I think it best that I indulge your question with a quick answer…or else pay a heavy price (smile).

I can relate with great procrastination. When my tenth grade English teacher (Mr. Green) asked what I wanted to be, I said, “Writer.” Thirty years later, I’m finally writing. Now that’s procrastination!

My writing process is non-process. I like to open my mind and let ideas flow; I put the ideas into words and then move the words around to create themes. Some work. Some don’t. I throw out what doesn’t work; I nurse what does.

I write because I have to, so I MAKE the time to write and I consciously preserve my creative energies for imaginative composition. If I waited to write till my life was quiet, years from now they’d be burying a fellow who always said that he wanted to be a writer but who didn’t write.

“hibernate til it’s done,” you ask. I only wish! That’s indeed my fantasy, to write the great American novel ensconced in solid, delicious isolation…but then…fragments of real-world existence intrude on the fantasy, life’s incidentals, things like: work, bills, the wife, social obligations, maintaining personal health (physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual). I write in the middle of it all, despite it all.

No, I don’t have any writing rituals. The only “act” that counts is moving fingers on a keyboard. If that counts as ritual, that’s mine.

Thank you for reading my work. And please don’t give up on writing. It’s an opportunity to create art. We are at no time closer to Creator than when we ourselves are creating, than when we passionately tap the gifts of our own artistic expressiveness.

Take care, my friend!


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Creating Characters

Tabitha Olsen's blog, Writer Musings, had an instructive post on using Character Worksheets. I'll take this tool out for a test-run the next time I'm working on a new piece of writing.

I wonder if the Lord used something similar when he created Adam? :)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Writing Science Fiction - Two Lessons from Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”

Having enjoyed Stanley Kubrick’s movie of the same title, I decided that it was time to read Arthur C. Clarke’s novel 2001: A Space Odyssey. What a well-written novel brimming with so many intriguing ideas! As I placed the finished book on my nightstand, two things stood out in my initial impressions:

1. Clarke does a splendid job of describing the beauty and grandeur of nature. Here’s the fascinating twist: he doesn’t have first-hand personal experience with the natural phenomenon that he so artfully describes. Yes, we’ve all read and written literary impressions of brilliant sunsets and peaceful dawns. Now, to write equally evocative passages about an earth-rise on the moon or about noiselessly sailing through the rings of Saturn…you get the point; in science fiction, many times you’re writing of things that you’ve never seen.

2. 2001: A Space Odyssey was copyrighted in 1968. The world’s population was roughly 3.556 billion that year. In the text of his novel, Clarke makes reference to the population of the Earth in 2001: “…six billion people….” Want to guess the actual global population in 2001? It was 6.1 billion people. Good guess? I doubt it. With first-class degrees in mathematics and physics from King’s College, London, I’m sure that Clarke must have run demographic numbers to get such an accurate forecast of the total global population thirty-three years into the future.

Taking mental inventory of the points above, what lessons have we learned about writing science fiction? There are two. First, be prepared to violate that age-old, well-worn axiom of writing that tells us to “write what you know.” The events and physical circumstances of science fiction often will take you to the brink of the unknowable. By necessity, you’ll have to write beyond what you know. Second, no matter how outlandishly speculative your core premise for a particular piece of writing might be, in the end the best science fiction gestates around a superstructure of science fact. Take the time to do the necessary research to create plausible settings of scientific truth and your readers will be much more likely to reward you with a temporary suspension of disbelief, that psychological opening that compels them to continue reading despite your narrative’s eventual introduction of: ETs; waking up an insect; living forever; time travel; putting God on trial for crimes against humanity.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Vonnegut Declines

I created a comic strip a few years back. The strip's titled Dr. Mohamed. Its title character is an American Muslim engineer with a philosophical disposition, a bi-sexual Jewish girlfriend, a dog named Buck, and an archenemy named Comet Kohoutek. Comet Kohoutek, a former heavy-metal bass player, is now a fundamentalist American Muslim convert who's repulsed by Dr. Mohamed's liberal lifestyle. The 24 strips that I completed revolve around themes of social and religious commentary with side helpings of quantum physics and special relativity.

I asked Kurt Vonnegut if he might be interested in collaborating on future strips of Dr. Mohamed. He declined in the postcard below:

I can't imagine Vonnegut not being funny enough for Dr. Mohamed. I just can't imagine :)

5 Things for Which I'm Grateful

An intimate recently became exasperated with my most current regression into melancholy. Her prescription: make a list of 5 things that you're grateful for; when you feel a slip to melancholy, pull out the list and read it.


I want to see if this works. First things first; I need to write the list.

Here goes:

1. Sex

2. Art (experiencing and creating)

3. Peacefulness

4. A family who loves me

5. Being an American

Monday, May 31, 2010

Why I Write

I can't think of a more succinct statement of why I write. Once again, thank you, Mr. Vonnegut.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Civil War Within the Alphabet, A Cryptic Excerpt from "Christmas in Mecca"

T lived in contented comforts; he hardly gave a fleeting thought to Z. Yes, T had personally witnessed the demise of R and S, had watched time’s dispassionate march and unfeeling boot heals trample S and R into transience before his very eyes. And so somewhere deep, T held an unknown knowing that Z would come. Once, mired in a bout of self-reflection that had been conscripted by a small, transitory personal adversity, T thought back on compelling words attributed to D, a fabled letter of yore. The story of D had been passed through the ages in cryptic parables that reached T through a series of retellings and translations by F, G, H and J, tales of sacrifice and heroism where D, in final feat, proclaimed that D himself, chosen before all others, would triumph at the coming of Z and that Z was indeed only the perfected reflection and anointed realization of the “new D.” Millennia after D, L is purported to have claimed that he was the Way, that he had perfected and completed the original message of D and that L and only L was a sole path to Z.

T wasn’t so sure about anything. T pondered Z many times, often in fear. In his mind and heart, T often denounced Z as a crafty saboteur, a thief, a robber.

Somewhere a universe had been born and had died.

The sun rose in the east…

T pondered and searched and ritualized to no end, but he couldn’t seem to gather enough proof to embrace or repudiate D or L. Once, quiet by accident, T had come perilously close to the Truth about Z. But that moment of philosophical immersion shattered in the midst of an encroaching offense from S, an offense that prompted a necessary and violent response from T, a response that shaped the nature of U and was essentially a mathematically precise line regression to the self-preservationist impulses of the oceanic, gurgling existence of A and the grunted cave art of B, a response justified by the vengeful commandments of C and deaf to the forgiving restraints sermonized from the mount by L.

Time’s boot heals stomped left, then right, ashes and dust, and T’s eyelids now drooped and an insight unfolded from within…or was it a voice from outside?...that told T that Hitler and Gandhi are the same soul in different circumstances, so who can judge?

T’s eyes closed and he became the whole alphabet.

U’s eyes fluttered open with a cry.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Reader Feedback: The Beauty of Life

Readers often share thoughtful and interesting observations with me. Here's one:

The reader asks:

I like the way you put words together. It's pretty and also poetic. You seem to write about macabre and bothersome parts of life like war, religious strife, death.
Will you ever write about the beauty of life?


I responded:

Dear Sandy,

First off, thanks for the literary compliment! I work hard at the craft of writing. Sometimes I succeed. Many times I don’t.

Regarding my topical choices for writing - Life is a matrix of experiences. Literature is a fun-house mirror reflection of that matrix. It’s a mirror because ALL literature, no matter how speculative or outlandish, is SOMEHOW a manifestation and product of a human being’s/writer’s experience. The mirror’s a funhouse mirror because we writers contort and distort and reframe those life experiences into alternate images that are based on the original but modulated to fit the content and context of our particular piece of writing.

Adversity is the crucible in which our character is forged. As a child, I remember a soldier who came to our house in Kampala, Uganda while my father was at work and my mother was at home with my young brothers and me. The soldier made the point that we (Asian Indians) would soon have to leave Uganda and so my mother should let him inside so that he could take our belongings. Later than year, my family and relatives and many other Indians who had lived in Uganda for generations were deported to a refugee camp in Naples, Italy. We were there because of the color of our skin, our ethnicity.

Everyone’s character is created and tempered by their life experiences. When I sit to write, those seared impressions are the first to leap from my mind and into the blank computer screen. The world teems with “war, religious strife, death.” But yes, Sandy, it teems with beauty too.

Resolution 786 is a first novel. There will be more. As I write each successive work, perhaps I’ll have the good fortune of metabolizing the strife and discord that I’ve seen in the world. When all that is successfully exorcised through the cathartic cleanse of written expression, perhaps my last work will be the world’s greatest love story :). I hope it will.

Finally, I’m compelled to note that although Resolution 786 focuses primarily on themes of “love and war and God and lust and loss,” it is not completely void of beauty. When Becca indulges Adam by listening to his philosophical dirges, she does it not from topical interest, but rather, from love. When Lamech’s mother sends him an e-mail in Iraq assuring him that his room at home is the same as he left it, that it patiently awaits his safe return, she makes those statements from love. There is love in Resolution 786. And there is no greater beauty in life than the beauty of one being’s love and affection for another.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Your Writing, Yourself

Readers posed many interesting questions during my recent virtual book tour. Here's one that I went back to and re-read today. Is an author's fiction a reflection of her or his reality? You decide.

The Q & A -

Sasha asked:

I would really like to know how autobiographical the book [Resolution 786] really is! There are certain similarities between the writers personal life story (mentioned on the cover) and that of the main character, this is not by chance, is it?

Thanks again for a great book! enjoyed reading it...

Mohamed answered:


And my thanks to you for your kind assessment of the novel!

I can’t put a numerical value on how autobiographical this novel is, but qualitatively, the short answer’s “A lot.” Scene 1 has a physical description of Adam Hueghlomm. It’s pretty darn close to what I see in the mirror. Adam’s an Indian born in Africa. Same here. Adam’s an engineer working for the Army. You can guess who else is. And the list goes on and on….

For me, fiction is a form of catharsis for long-standing psychoses. Accepting that premise, it’s inevitable that the created is a reflection of the creator. I came to a realization recently while quietly composing at my writing desk in the early winter morning: the primary male characters in my second novel are projections of major archetypes that comprise my present being. These archetypes are the noble poet; the miserable wretch; orthodoxy’s interrogator; and the curious child. I think that all writers write from their personal experiences, from who and what they are at that moment of composition. That said, I don’t think that most writers indulge themselves as much as I do in making their central characters SO MUCH like themselves. That type of self-indulgence does have an admittedly narcissistic quality to it, and I don’t give myself a free pass. On page 42 of Resolution 786, in speaking about Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Becca asks, “What kind of egomaniac puts himself in his own writing.”

The lovely Becca Gowetski might be saying that, but the truth is, that’s me taking a well- deserved jab at myself.

Thanks for picking up on the autobiographical elements of the novel. No, it wasn’t by chance. It was by self-indulgence.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Peace Talks


My thanks to Omar Khan for his insightful review of Resolution 786 on Amazon! This review's especially unique in that this is the first time that a reader/reviewer shares an interpretation of the Islamic notion of the numbers 7-8-6.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Becca Gowetski's Ode to Adam Hueghlomm


Each passing
A miracle fades
To darkness.

Our love
For the miracles,
miracles now gone,
Our bittersweet longings
Bestow upon that darkness
A tactile grandeur,
an earthly vision,
making it a place:

< virgins, harps, clouds, saints, gates >

vision, be damned!
It is,
in the end,
the darkness.

And, in the end,
the stiff slap of loss
tells us
our miracles,
our precious
living, breathing, talking



"Waiting for Godot" - Samuel Beckett's Attempt to....What?

I just finished reading Samuel Beckett's play, Waiting for Godot. Is this an avant-garde tribute to the theatre of the absurd?...a morality play structured around the quintessential themes of existentialism? angry cry born from the suffering pangs of inconsequential human experience?...

Whatever it is or isn't, Beckett's work inspires me to continue to complete Christmas in Mecca.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

John Steinbeck’s Hitchcockian Moment

And here I thought that I was the only writer whose characters stand up, think on their own and talk back while you’re writing them into a scene. In the prologue to John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, a central character named Mack talks about what he’d say if he ever ran into “the guy” who wrote Cannery Row. Among other things, Mack says that he’d have told the writer to give the chapters titles rather than just numbers. Steinbeck dutifully follows Mack’s sage advice.
Thinking back on my blogs from last year, I remember promising myself a Hitchcockian moment in each of my novels, an instant in the story in which I, Mohamed Mughal, have a personal presence that somehow molds that small slice of narrative. As one would expect and as Steinbeck clearly demonstrates, what I call Hitchcockian moments are nothing new. Writers’ characters, in some form or another, have been interacting with their creators ever since that anonymous scribe put quill to parchment to etch out Epic of Gilgamesh.

A Poem, a Cubist Piece of the Novel, "Christmas in Mecca"

Sun Dials

Stoic beard
Gray, unbegotten
Forever – pacing –

Leaping \\
>> Lunging
Streaming <<
// Crashing

Open ocean
Washing beaches
Bigger than we
Can ever know

Friday, May 14, 2010

Engineering Boundary Conditions and the Outer Limits of Literary Permission

One of the problem solving techniques that we were taught in engineering school was that of setting boundary conditions. Before solving the core problem, you defined the system by either knowing or assuming its behavior at its outer boundaries. You can do the same when creating literature. Different writers are comfortable with different boundary conditions, different limits, different edges-of-the-envelope.

Two literary techniques that I use to push my writing’s boundary conditions are literary cubism and absurdism. Literary cubism gives me permission to explore the outer boundaries of literature along the dimension of structure. Rather than narrative, I’ve used e-mail messages, legal documents, handwritten notes and poems to advance the story and define characters. There’s nothing that keeps me from using the structure of a play, a haiku, a grocery list, or someone’s doodle to achieve the same ends…and, in fact, I do in my most recent works.

Absurdism gives me license to dip my toes into the outer boundaries of literature along the dimension of premise. Can humans capture the Lord Our God and put him on trial? Sure. Do extraterrestrial intelligences co-exist with us in dimensions that we don’t perceive and, hence, don’t experience and can all this be happening right next to us at the present moment? Yes.

I encourage my fellow writers to push to the edge in everything, most certainly in your literary efforts. Edges set the tone. Edges dictate what’s permissible and possible. Edges are the crucible of creation.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Virtual Book Tour, the Third (and Final) Q & A

I promised to post questions and answers from my recent virtual book tour. Here's the third and final installment on that promise. This Q & A comes from Austin Camacho’s blog, Another Writer’s Life, in Washington, D.C.

Libby asked:

Hey, speaking of your two new books what are they about? Your stuff's a bit weird and sometimes even strange but your book's people are like real people so sometimes I feel like you're telling me what happened to you today rather than I'm reading a book like the ones in English class. Do people ever think you're weird like your books?

Mohamed answered:

Dear Libby,

You’ve served me a well-basted roast of two queries and a side helping piled high with steaming commentary. Bon appetit.

Now to clear the plate.

Starting with your last question: Yes. Through these many years, quite a few people have commented that I sometimes come off as weird…introspective…sullen…isolated.

Are my books the same? Probably. They’re the intellectual progeny of my mind and, as such, they have a strong chance of inheriting my mental and emotional deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).

Working backwards through your post, I’ll now address your comment about the “people” in my books. I’m elated to learn that you feel my characters are real. A novel’s “people” do not become well-written characters until they assume that third dimension of depth, that flawed and vulnerable humanity, that believable and recognizable voice. I’m fascinated that you think my books read like “I’m telling you what happened to me today.” That’s not entirely surprising. Vonnegut’s experiences as an American soldier in WWII are an anchor in the storyline of Slaughterhouse Five. Steinbeck’s experiences growing up in Salinas give generous contribution to the settings, images, characters and “feel” of his novels. Likewise, many of the scenes in Resolution 786 did happen to me, scenes like the debate regarding the meaning of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis while resting in bed; or the mysterious old man in a dusty Middle Eastern street grabbing onto people’s earlobes and handing them neon-green prayer beads (I still have the beads); and the beautiful and philosophically indulgent trek through the Utah desert leading to the Delicate Arch. So in all those instances, in a very real way, I actually AM telling you “what happened to me today.”

Now to your opening question: what are my two new books about?

Christmas in Mecca is a cubist novel about many things: the strategic tensions between the West and Islamic fundamentalism; our search for intelligent extraterrestrial life; the internal reconciliation of one character’s battered self-worth; the searing pangs of the unfulfilled quests in our lives and how we resolve to live with those disappointments as we journey between the womb and the grave.

Much of the book is traditional narrative. But the text also includes government memoranda, e-mail messages, and poems. Unlike the first novel, parts of the story in the second novel take the form of a play; others are dialogue structured in the form of a volley of instant messages. I don’t employ these alternate formats out of literary indulgence or as a gimmick. Chosen formats must fit and amplify the context and demonstrative power of the scene. In the case of the instant messages, I had come to a point in the narrative where two characters have a philosophically and personally revealing exchange of thought and perspective. Each character is introverted. Each is intelligent. Each is comfortable with and drawn to the written word. How best to frame such a dialogue, a discussion between two reclusive, bookish characters? I decided on instant messaging. This form of interpersonal communication preserves the informational and revelatory content of the dialogue. It also sets the conversation in a context that reveals the introverted nature of the characters, two people who prefer to exchange ideas while sitting alone in the privacy of a closed room.

That’s plenty on the first new book.

The second new book is my first shot at book-length non-fiction. It’s titled Creating Fiction: A Hands-on, Practitioner's Guide and it summarizes my literary lessons and techniques, the experiential by-products gleaned from the task of creating two cubist, absurdist novels.

Thank you for sharing your thoughtful observations of my writing and of my nature as a writer. There are many hardships to writing, things like self-doubt and finding the time. There are also many rewards. The greatest reward is to have readers like you, Libby.

Keep reading,


Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I promised to post questions and answers from my recent virtual book tour. Here's the second installment on that promise. The Q & A came from Imran Ahmad’s blog, Not-quite-a-blog, in London, England.

Curious 1 asked:

I saw so many reflections of Christ in the circumstances of Adam Hueghlomm's life. I saw him, like Christ, overcome the three temptations in the desert and even the stations of the cross near the end of the novel. Was that intentional on your part or is it just circumstantial that I saw that?

Mohamed answered:

Dear Curious 1,

I see you’ve followed the tour from Berlin to London. Do I have a groupie? If so, I love it! :)

You use the term “Christ,” an English adaptation, I believe, of the Greek “Khristos,” or “anointed one.” I don’t believe I ever use that term in Resolution 786. I do, however, create a strong thematic and symbolic association between my character, Adam, and the storied events of Jesus of Nazareth. Yes, when Adam and Becca trek through the powdered deserts of Utah, I did invoke a reflection of the three temptations that Jesus was subjected to in the deserts of Palestine: hunger, to tempt the Lord, all the kingdoms of the world.

Having personally walked the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem, I couldn’t help but structure the final scenes of Resolution 786 as a progression through that sequenced series of events (it was done subtly, I thought, so I’m surprised that you picked up on it).

But there’s more.

The novel’s sub-title is written on the front cover so that the words form the shape of a crucifix. Adam leaves for Iraq and is due “to return” on Easter Sunday. Jesus is invoked during Adam’s encounter with the old man, Mohammed, in the dusty streets of Baghdad. The soldier, Lee, sees a crucifix appear over the shattered remains of a destroyed weapons warehouse during night-time combat operations. That same soldier concocts a “story” in a fit of angst in the soldiers’ Recreation Room, a story that, although told in vulgar expressions, is remarkably similar to the Passion Play.

Yes, Jesus “appears” in numerous instances and in numerous ways in the same novel that indicts the God of Abraham for Crimes Against Humanity.

What does it mean?

I’ve found that Jesus is somehow something different to different people. In the spirit of relativistic thought, I will let each individual reader decide the “meaning” of Jesus’ appearance in each instance. And remember, in Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, there are no privileged frames of reference. In the sense of relativity that you will apply to deduce the meaning of Jesus’ appearance in Resolution 786, there also are no privileged frames of reference. Your answer will be right for you.

And that is profoundly OK.