A Canticle for A Canticle for Leibowitz

A Canticle for Leibowitz

The feast of St. Benedict is an appropriate day to write about  A Canticle for Leibowitz, a science-fiction classic by Walter M. Miller, Jr. Just as monks preserved learning in the so-called Dark Ages, the author’s monks perform the same task after a nuclear holocaust.

Miller’s three-dimensional characters are memorable. One interesting character is a Jewish wanderer in the desert, who is searching for He. Because of his quest, no doubt for Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the wanderer represents a type of Everyman.

The clash of ideas between monks and scientists shows a microcosm of friction that points to a far-reaching, disastrous, and repetitive inevitability. Despite the dark undercurrents, though, the monks are witnesses to the fact that God provides hope and redemption through the Catholic Church. The book has a strong pro-life message relayed with such skill in vivid scenes that it evokes a powerful emotional response.

A Canticle for Leibowitz may be science fiction, but it also fits into the literary category. Flowing and sophisticated text highlight the book. Sparks of lapidary prose intersperse that lighten and contrast the weightier material, the sharp humor delivering laugh-out-loud moments. The pace is sometimes slower than readers of modern science fiction might expect, but perseverance yields the reward of an unforgettable story.

Some critics feel that the book, published in 1959, has an outdated emphasis on atomic-bomb paranoia. However, contemporary society may not obsess about nuclear threat, but the danger still exists, and Miller’s work is a chilling cautionary tale.

It’s impossible to discuss the book’s astounding ending without revealing too much, but the finale demands and merits much contemplation. In fact, every reading of A Canticle for Leibowitz guarantees new revelations.


You Don’t Like Your Writers Group?

SRQ Spec and Myster Writers LogoI’ve belonged to many writers groups, and each has at least one favorable quality. Some have very sociable members. Others have many published writers. Certain groups appeal to beginners. However, I wanted to meet with people who appreciated in-depth critiquing. And this other requirement was impossible to find in other local groups: I wanted to belong to a group whose members wrote in the horror, science fiction, fantasy, and mystery categories. I enjoy literary books, and sometimes I write in that category, too. But I felt the quality of the critiques for genre would be higher if the members concentrated on the categories mentioned above.

My solution? I started SRQ Spec and Mystery Writers.

So what’s special about this group? Other than the spec and mystery focus, one of the differences is that we don’t read our manuscripts during the meeting. It seems as though it’s a waste of time when our emphasis is on critiquing, and having access to the work in advance improves the quality and depth of the feedback. Members get the manuscripts from writers (usually three) who’ve volunteered to submit their work. Submissions have approximately ten double-spaced pages and include short stories as well as book excerpts. We meet twice a month, and the meetings last for two hours. We’ve always gathered at the public library, with conference room reservations arranged in advance. Some groups meet in restaurants, but I think the distractions would detract from the quality of the critiques.

I decided to join Meetup, a group that makes communication easy between members. Each group has its own front page that the group leader can personalize; and it includes details, such as description, next meeting time and place, people attending, and messages. Clicking on one of the menu items brings a member to where he or she can upload a manuscript that all the members can access. Writers can specify if they want their work accessible to anyone or just to members.

As I mentioned in the beginning, all writers groups have something special to offer. I would encourage authors to join as many groups as they feel might benefit them. However, I think there’s a special value to meeting with people who write in the categories that interest a writer. Genre categories have trends, and writers can learn them from others who have similar interests. Meeting with like-minded people enhances opportunities for networking. And probably the best reason is that the comments are usually so much more beneficial when people critique in categories they enjoy.

SRQ Spec and Mystery Writers has had success stories with some published works. I can’t say that it has something to do with the group’s structure, but I’d like to think it does.

The Jungle Book Protesters

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Last night my husband and I saw The Jungle Book. I can’t say enough good things about the movie. I hope Neel Sethi (Mowgli) wins an Academy Award. Read more at www.patricialabarbera.com/blog. The fact that I saw it in 3-D is a plus. I haven’t watched many cartoons with famous-star voices, but the ones I have didn’t impress me. However, in this movie I think Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, and Christopher Walken did fantastic jobs of enlivening their characters by inserting their own personalities.

The characters in this film are so realistic that some people are having trouble differentiating the animated creatures from real ones. Protesters have already started their rabble-rousing. (SPOILER ALERT!)

One group called for the immediate arrest of all members of the wolf pack for illegally harboring a minor. They also accused Bagheera of human trafficking for giving Mowgli to them.

In a letter to the editor of a prestigious newspaper, a reader penned a vehement letter decrying the bear’s forced employment of a child to procure honey. In a related incident, ecology advocates stormed a theater and screamed “Justice for Bees” and “Restore the Honeycombs.”

Tiger organizations banded together, threatening a character-defamation lawsuit related to the depiction of Shere Kahn as the villain, and growled while holding up signs.

In a major city on the West Coast, a swarm of evolutionists worked themselves into a frenzy as they denied Bagheera’s claim by chanting, “Elephants did not make the jungle.” During the riot, they broke into grocery stores and looted peanuts.

Even Mowgli wasn’t immune to criticism. His behavior with the “red flower” led to accusations of criminal mischief and arson. Tabloid headlines screamed “Reform School for Mowgli.”

But not all reactions were critical. Some were analytical, for example, the article in a magazine that represents the gold standard in business savvy. The author, a famous real-estate tycoon, asks “The King Louie-Mowgli Deal: What Went Wrong?”

Finally, probably the best indication of how real the animated creatures seem occurs in a journal article written by a zoologist who saw the movie. His conclusion is yes, monkeys really are as annoying as most people think they are.


Genre Writing Excerpt on Point of View

genre writing for facebook bannerIn my book Genre Writing, I included a dedication to “beginning writers who feel like avalanche victims.” I remember that feeling I often had when I started to write, especially when I read books or magazines on writing. The amount of information overwhelmed me.

In Genre Writing my goal was to include topics in the book that would be especially useful to beginners and help them avoid common errors that people make when they start writing. There’s nothing wrong with being a newbie, but it’s nobody’s business (especially publishers), and your mistakes can reveal your status. People in the business want fresh voices, not amateurs. The excerpt I’ve included can make your manuscript distinctive.

Point of View

 Third-Person-Limited Deep View

This perspective characterizes the norm for genre prose.

With third person the main character (or perspective character) is referred to as he, she, it, or by name.


This spring he planned to visit Europe.

She received an interesting letter.

Jeremiah laughed when he heard the joke.

The limited aspect pertains to the story’s unfolding through the perspective of one character per scene.

Some publishers, especially in the romance category, allow a shift in perspective one or more times in a scene, often specifying the use of an extra space before and after.

Sometimes publishers include point-of-view requirements in the submission guidelines. If not, staying with one perspective per scene maximizes an author’s chance of acceptance.

With the third-person-limited deep point of view, no omniscient external narrator intrudes. Filters such as saw, thought, heard, and felt, aren’t used, so the reader can experience the story as closely as possible to the way the character does.

 Example of External Narrator

The man saw storm clouds darkening the sky. He heard the thunder and felt the chill around him.

 Example of Third-Person-Limited Deep Point of View without External Narrator

Storm clouds darkened the sky. Thunder roared in the distance, and wind gusts chilled his bones.

 Head Hopping

The reader learns the thoughts, feelings, and motives of multiple characters in a scene when an author head hops. Head hopping ranks as one of the major reasons editors reject genre manuscripts.


Why did he have to go to this stupid, boring play? Arnold squirmed in the uncomfortable seat.

Julie glanced at him. If only he wasn’t bored. Why did Arnold even agree to attend the theater? He should have just stayed home and watched the baseball game.

It’s so labor intensive to fix this problem, especially when the author has difficulty understanding about third-person-limited deep point of view, regardless of revision instructions. Publishers also generalize that if the author doesn’t know this important convention, he doesn’t know other usual practices. The writer gives the impression of being an amateur, so the editor may feel a lack of trust.


Instead of using italics to show thoughts, have the thoughts part of the third-person perspective. For one thing, italics are speed bumps that distract the reader and more effectively show emphasis (sparingly) or show the first occurrence of a foreign word.

Also it’s a point-of-view departure when you write the thought from a first-person perspective. Instead of I hate that man or I hate that man, he thought, consider the following: Ted spat on the ground. Evil ran through Jake’s veins.

Notice how the last example is in third person and without an external narrator. The thought is expressed through Ted’s perspective.

An exception to this convention occurs when a character speaks to another character in her mind, for example, I love you, Bob or with an interjection, such as Darn! or Ugh! Use the interjection in italics and then switch back to third person:  Darn! How would he find the answer?