BLESS ME, FATHER, for I have sinned. It has been 12 months since my last novel."

"It's Andrew again, isn't it? Didn't we conclude at your last confession that churning out lurid novels was a dubious enterprise for a Catholic priest? What's this one called?"

"Virgin and Martyr. It's about the temptation to confuse temporal and contingent political goals, however laudable, with the transcendent and the absolute in religious revelation."

"Andrew, this is confession, not the Today show. What's it really about?"

"Well, there's this uppity nun who has the cutest little ah . . . I mean, she's very pretty. But she's all emotions and neuroses and repressed sensuality. What she really needs is a good . . . ah . . . marriage. But instead she becomes a nun, and then an activist. Her old boyfriend is too polite to just belt her one and carry her off. I fix her, though. I have the Chicago cops beat her up twice, and then I send her to Latin America, where she's gang-raped and tortured and maybe killed with a chain saw. Lots of gory detail."

"Slow down, Andrew. Your confessions are as slapdash as your novels. Let's start with venial sins."

"Yes, Father. I stole a few little things."

"Little things?"

"Well, a country. I couldn't think up a name for a fictitious Latin American country, and I didn't know enough about any one of the real ones to set a novel in it, so I took Costaguana from Joseph Conrad's >Nostromo. But I told everybody I'd done it, right up front."

"That's not a sin then."

"No, but I also took the name of the dictator from Conrad, and of the prison, and of the silver mine and . . ."

"I see. Did you at least spell them right?"

"Not all the time, Father."

"What else?"

"I got the rock 'n roll groups mixed up."

"Rock 'n roll groups?"

"The Beach Boys, for example. You see, my male characters were turning out to be such prigs that I needed to show that they weren't square when they were kids. So practically every time they reminisce, I have them casually mention the hit songs of whatever year they're talking about."

"I'm not sure I could remember the year I listened to particular songs."

"Neither could I, Father, so I just checked the charts for each year and stuck the top three in wherever it seemed right. But somehow I had Catherine -- she's this sexy chick who becomes a nun -- with a limitless collection of the Beach Boys records in 1959, and of course it was 1962 before the Beach Boys even knew more than three songs."

"That comes early in the book, does it?"

"Yes, Father."

"So right off the bat, people are going to suspect you don't know what you're talking about?"

"I suppose so, Father."

"I see. Proceed."

"Well, there's lots of other minor stuff I guess I should confess. Sloppy writing mainly. Making Nick, he's Catherine's boyfriend, an expert on Brazil with no warning 300 pages into the book just because I want them to meet in Rio. Developing Catherine's character by having her write letters instead of showing her in dramatic situations. It's an easy way to skip over implausibilities and fill up pages fast."

"I gather much of it takes place in the '60s. I suppose you didn't resist the temptation to have Catherine involved in every social movement and protest going."

"I left out the farmworkers, Father, but I got just about everything else in. Civil rights, Vietnam. Catherine travels with Bobby Kennedy, gets beaten in Gene McCarthy's hotel in Chicago. These are faults, I know, but they're not really what troubles my conscience."

"It gets worse?"

"I'm afraid so, Father. I thought I could write a cautionary story about religious people caught up in politics in Latin America. But because I couldn't resist taking nasty shots at everything and everybody I've disliked in the last 20 years, I wrote stereotypes instead of characters. The theme is a serious one, lately a life-and-death one for many priests and nuns. But anyone who gets his perspective on it from my book will think any nun killed in Latin America probably had it coming."

"The sin of irresponsibility, Andrew. For your penance, I want you to read 10 good novels. Try to get something more out of Conrad than place names. And stay away from that word processor until you learn the difference between a novel and a diatribe."