Manuscript Notes (& More Art!)

Since the start of 2018, I’ve not had many opportunities to share updates with you about my writing projects and process, but a lot has been going on behind the scenes. After completing my Japanese Cinderella manuscript Hai in late 2017, I moved on to a new manuscript tentatively called The Twelve Dancing Monks of Little Todai Temple, about a prankster sumo wrestler whose shenanigans lead to being exiled to a remote Buddhist temple during the peak of Buddhist persecution in the mid-19th century, when Japan was just beginning to open up to the West.

The whimsical bit of artwork shared with this blog post was drawn by my sister Rebecca inspired by Twelve Dancing Monks. It captures a sweet moment later in the story, which I will leave to your imaginations!

Amazingly, after just five months, the drafting phase of this novel is now also complete, and while I wait for feedback on the manuscript from a handful of early readers, I’ve been able to start a third as-yet-untitled manuscript set in 1840s Edinburgh, Scotland, inspired by the life and poetry of Christina Rossetti. I can’t say much about this new one yet, but unlike the others it will be an adult novel instead of young adult. I’m drawing inspiration from an eclectic mix of novels for this one, ranging from Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory to Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, China Mieville’s The City & The City, V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. I think it’s likely to have a darker tone and cast than the others, but still with opportunities for the comic relief I enjoy so much.

I’m also expecting to publish a smattering of poetry, essays, and possibly (my first ever!) short story soon, so watch for those announcements in coming months!

The last year has been a whirlwind of change for me in terms of my writing career, and I’m forever grateful to all of you for your support and interest in my work. I’ve been able to connect with a wonderful writing community online via Twitter (@CassaCassaCassa) and continue to attend The Cabin workshops regularly here in Idaho for much-needed support in person. It’s humbling how much there is still to learn and understand about my craft, but retrospectively I can see how much I’ve grown. And it’s a delight to be able to do what you love surrounded by equally passionate friends!

Christian & Buddhist Worldviews

My Q&A response on the Progressive Christianity website this month was a really tough question: Buddhists tend to think of God as a manifestation of creation; Christians think of God as separate from creation. Do you understand that distinction?

Buddhist and Christian concepts of creation span a full spectrum of beliefs, with some Buddhists even perhaps aligning more closely with some Christians than their fellow Buddhists, and vice versa. So what’s the best way to answer this? I opted to share two examples of a Buddhist and Christian mindset from famous novelists Yukio Mishima and Victor Hugo. Here’s an excerpt of my response, which you can read for free here. (Just scroll down past the locked Matthew Fox article.)

[In Mishima’s Spring Snow,] Honda envisions “God” is the inevitable forces of all reality, churning one impermanent feature into another, obliterating free will wherever it tries to assert itself as separate. It’s really important to understand that this is not a bad conclusion in Honda’s eyes even though he fights it emotionally. Actually, it perfectly foreshadows how his friend’s beautiful life will unfold again and again in each reincarnation across the series.

By comparison all the great drama and angst of Victor Hugo’s much beloved character Jean Valjean in Les Misérables depends very much on a vision of reality and God that accommodates free will. … Unlike Honda, Valjean’s whole existence rests precisely in what choice he makes for himself—to be the best or worst of men. It creates an expectation of judgment by a neutral force, outside the ordinary forces of reality: implicitly, God as represented by the good bishop.

What is clear to me when I read Mishima and Hugo as two compelling examples of Buddhist and Christian worldviews, is that we don’t get a “free pass” on difficult questions by picking one versus the other. Both require a form of rebirth and reckoning with ourselves and the world. It is a rich dialogue, to say the least.